Homes are always a work in progress, regardless of whether you own a tiny house or, as in the case of Mike Newman, a castle on the rolling fields near Bellville.
A baker by trade and a world traveler by nature, Newman built his crenulated domicile on a 20-acre property over a 10-year period, starting in 1998. He and a helper did it themselves — using cinder blocks, stucco, rebar and timbers of East Texas pine.
Now in the works, a tower addition will hold five guest rooms, their purpose TBD. The castle is his home, he says, not a hotel.
Newman had thought the new tower “would be done by now.” But progress is slow and full of distractions, he says, such as running the bustling bakery that also carries his name plus the castle tours he offers visitors six days a week (but only by reservation so please don’t just show up).
A lily-filled moat surrounds the castle, as does a walking trail. Inside the perimeter wall, there’s plenty of room for multi-purpose structures and open spaces suitable for knight training — or night entertaining if there’s a private event.
The Arthurian do-it-yourselfers also made most of the castle’s furnishings, from bed frames and banquet-scale tables to cabinetry and plumbing fixtures. Unlike in the days of yore, the 21st century castle has air conditioning, running water and other modern conveniences.
Newman laughs when he recalls his original plan was to buy land and build a small log cabin in the woods. The castle idea came from a friend’s random remark. He thought, why not? He had lived in Europe in his early 20s and remembered the gracious treatment his group had received at the manor house of a friend. At the time, he wondered if some day he might have an opportunity to be similarly open-hearted.
And now he has. He likes how his home brings out the imagination in visitors of all ages. To help them, there are wooden swords for children as they storm the castle – but only on command.
Back, Way Back in the Day
In building his castle of about 3,400 square feet, Newman had a general idea of his design and enough of a plan to pour a foundation that accommodated the plumbing. Since the work itself was admittedly protracted, there was time to think about any changes or details.
Newman believes he brings art to his baked goods and to his building. Since the castle is not a standard structure, he has enjoyed taking artistic license. And since there are no “castle contractors,” to tell him otherwise, he can do pretty much what he envisions.
When in tour mode, Newman dons a jeweled crown and a battle-worthy doublet of metal-studded leather. His orientation for guests includes a brief lesson in medieval history, castle-charging etiquette, and a crowd-pleasing trebuchet launch, assisted by Avalon, his leggy Irish Wolf hound.
Guests then head over the drawbridge, which has a nifty demo of its own that requires two strapping adults to operate the wheel that raises and lowers the 3,000-pound span. There’s also a porticullis – a massive gate that lowers from overhead.
Once inside the courtyard, there’s access to an assemblage of structures Newman et al built over time as his muse dictated. There’s a main hall with dining and living spaces and a kitchen revised from its initial single-family scale, a two-story great hall for gatherings or entertainment, a tiny chapel, a bell tower with bells to ring, turrets galore and a dungeon outfitted with a variety of disciplinary contraptions. The latter room is located at ground level since the water table is high. This is Texas, not Normandy.
When the last of his guests head out, Newman changes out of his medieval clothes, pulls up the drawbridge and resumes a private life in the home that is his castle and the castle that is his home.
To visit Newman’s Castle, book a tour by calling 979-865-9804 or visit newmans castle.com. Guests meet six days a week, starting at 10:30 a.m., at Newman’s Bakery, 504 E. Main St. in Bellville.