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Jim Bishop's Castle

From Small Cottage to Giant Castle

by Jantje Blokhuis-Mulder

After being told in no uncertain terms by his English teacher that he would never amount to anything, Jim Bishop dropped out of school. The year was 1959 and Jim had just turned 15. It was also the year that he became a landowner.

Jim had always felt inexplicably drawn to mountains near where he lived. One day while on a bike ride with friends, he spotted a for sale sign. It was two and a half acres of land at 9000 feet, enclosed on three sides by the grandiose San Isabel Forest in southern Colorado.

Jim wanted this piece of land and he convinced his parents that owning it would be a great investment. He had worked hard cutting lawns, delivering newspapers and helping his father out in the family owned ornamental ironworks. His parents, Willard and Polly, agreed.

Because by law, Jim was not old enough to own land they signed for the land deal. The price was four hundred and fifty dollars. Over the next eight years, during the summer season, Jim and his father camped on the land and cleared the dense wooded area.

In 1967 Jim married his sweetheart, Phoebe. Two years later at age 25, he decided to build a cabin on the land. The area was full of rocks. They were everywhere, so his cabin became a one room stone cottage. All during the short summer seasons (things freeze up early in the mountains) Jim worked on the cottage.

During the early years, because the season was so short, Jim's father Willard often pitched in. A forty foot cylinder was hauled up the mountain to be used as a water reservoir. This Willard surrounded with stonework, which made it look like a tower. As the work progressed on this and after seeing the stone walls, local people teased Jim saying, "Hey what are you building - a castle?" After a while Jim said, "Yes I am! I am building a castle."

At first his family could not believe him. They thought it was too large a project and wondered how Jim would ever pay for it. Even Willard wanted out. But the thought of building a castle was now deeply entrenched in Jim's brain and he forged on.

He worked alone, without blueprints and without plans, room by room, stone after stone, using rocks from the state highway ditches, felling and milling the timber himself. As the creation got higher and higher he built scaffolding. Tree trunks became floor supports; railway ties, the forms for his arches. The one bedroom cottage grew and grew into a giant castle. Over the years Jim has had plenty of problems and frustrations with bureaucrats but he kept right on building.

Today the castle stands an awesome 160 feet high. Built out of thousands of tons of rocks, it is hard to believe that one man who holds a full time job in the family iron works, has the energy to continue using all of his resources and spare time to build it.

In the mid 1980s, the Pueblo County hospital had a truckload of discarded stainless steel warming plates destined for the dump. A friend, hauling the plates thought Jim could probably make better use of it than the dump. How right he was.

All through the next winter, Jim worked riveting and hammering, creating a chimney. He started with a frame and then added thousands of stainless steel scales that he had cut from the trays. When he was done as spring arrived the chimney had become a dragon. Next Jim dragged the monster up the mountain and installed the creature in front of the grand ballroom eighty feet in the air.

Then came the donation of a hot air balloon burner. It was placed in the back of the dragon's throat making it a true fire breathing dragon. If you are visiting the site during the summer months, the dragon spouts fire on the weekends.

Today (thirty some years after its beginning), the castle is an awesome structure of soaring towers and bridges. When you consider that everything you see was forged, hammered and built by hand, by one man... you can't help but be amazed. What was planned as a one room cabin became a magnificent castle which, if the Bishops have their way, will always be free to the public.

Giving Back
Jim's wife Phoebe, after trying for eight years, finally received a 501(c) 3 non-profit charter from the IRS, which allowed her to create the Bishop Castle Non Profit Charitable Foundation for NewBorn Heart Surgery. Having this charter made it possible to set up and maintain a donation box through which the building is funded. Phoebe also started a gift shop to help in buying the materials needed to build the castle.

Even though the IRS said they did not need to donate anything through the new charity charter until the completion of the castle, the Bishops have managed to donate funds to help in covering medical expenses for young children without insurance coverage.

Hooray for the Bishops! We owe them a large debt of gratitude for their perseverance and creativity. It proves to all of us, that you can do the imposible if you believe in your self and your dream. It gives all of us reason for inspiration and hope.

Bishop Castle is located off the Colorado state highway 165. Take exit # 74 off I-25 at Colorado City and head toward the mountains on 165 for 24 miles you will see the signs, or the scenic route from Colorado Springs Hwy, 115 south to Florence, turn left on Hwy 67, then right on 96 in Wetmore at the next junction turn left onto Hwy 165 it's 12 miles down the road.

Text © Jantje Blokhuis-Mulder; Photos Reprinted with Permission

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