OK, don’t really storm the castles — you could get in trouble. But some of these Virginia castles — little-known architectural treasures in the state — are available for touring!
One day, as I drove down the very rural Route 15 outside of Loudoun County, Virginia, I saw a medieval castle. Record scratch. Tire screech. You heard me: medieval castle. Virginia doesn’t even date back to medieval times. (I know you knew that. You’re smart). How could there be CASTLES in Virginia?
I had no idea what the castle was doing there, or what purpose it served, or how I could sneak up to it and peek into the windows without looking like a peeping Tom. After looking up its history, though, I found all the answers to my questions, except the peeping Tom one — plus, I found OTHER castles in Virginia. Break out your coat of arms, peeps, ’cause we’re going on a castle tour!
Bull Run Castle, Loudon County
The story of Bull Run Castle is a quirky one. John Miller, a former Army officer (Airborne-Vietnam) and civilian contractor, retired from his job and set about planning the building of his fortress right around 1986. With an iron will and a lot of paranoia about Y2K, he completed it in the late ’90s.
When the castle finally opened to visitors, Miller was short a wife (who I’m guessing got fed up with him waxing medieval), but Miller advertised his lonely castle as a romantic bed and breakfast. For approximately $60 per night, guests could stay and have a made-to-order breakfast cooked by Miller himself. Maybe it’s needless to say, but the dream was short-lived, and the castle bed-and-breakfast is now closed. But, you could probably get away with the peeping Tom stuff if you swing by! I won’t tell.
Melrose Castle, Fauquier County
This manor in Casanova, Virginia, is chock-full of history. Built in 1853 by the Scottish Dr. James Murray, it was inspired by Murray’s fave writer, Sir Walter Scott. Scott wrote a poem titled Melrose Abbey (an actual abbey in Scotland), and Murray’s architect did his best to bring it to life. Murray’s pride and joy was finished in 1860, which unfortunately was too close for comfort with the Civil War. The castle was taken over by Union troops.
After the war, Melrose served briefly as a hospital for Confederate soldiers, and for nearly 45 years, continued to change hands. In 1907, novelist Mary Roberts Rinehart published her renowned mystery novel, The Circular Staircase, inspired by her visit to the house and the stairs leading up to the castle’s turret. In 1916, William Weightman III, polo player, racing driver, convicted polygamist (WHOA, Nellie!), and grandson of Pennsylvania quinine chemist William Weightman, bought Melrose and set about renovating and expanding it to its current 9,600 square feet of living space.
Over the centuries, the castle has been bought, sold, and even foreclosed on countless times, but it’s now been bought and off the market. Booooo! After all that history, I know you really wanted to go there (I actually did, too).
Virginia House, Richmond
Another house, maybe not technically a castle, steeped in history is Virginia House. Back in the High Middle Ages, in England, the house was built and owned as a monastery or priory for the Catholic Church. When Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church in 1536, he confiscated it and hundreds of other monasteries and convents and sold them to his very favorite people (otherwise known as royal suck-ups). The house entertained the likes of Queen Elizabeth I and even changed ownership to Queen Anne’s royal gardener.
Fast-forward to 1925. Alexander (Richmond-born statesman) and Virginia (heiress) Weddell bought the house at a demolition sale, dismantled it, and rebuilt part of it in Richmond, where it stands today and is owned by the Virginia Historical Society. Good news: it’s open for tours!
Now that we dropped some odd historical factoids on you with these castles in Virginia, what do you have for us? Share your quirky best in the comments!