For more than 60 years, Jim Bishop has been building a castle nestled in the San Isabel National Forest, stone by stone. Bishop’s perseverance and dedication to his quest are a testament that everyone has greatness within. A very colorful character with a lot of passion, Bishop welcomes visitors to his handmade castle in the woods.
Article and photos by Michelle Post
The road through the San Isabel National Forest in Rye, Colorado seems to meander forever, twisting, and turning. There were no signs to let us know we were heading in the right direction for our day trippin’ adventure until, peering over the tall pines, was a dragon made from iron. Its eyes pierced over the forest looking for any intruders who would attack the castle. Its mouth open and ready to snap. We knew we had arrived at Bishop Castle.
Words cannot express the feelings of amazement as I walked up to Bishop Castle. It was like stepping back in time to the days of King Arthur. The castle is the imagination come to life of its architect and builder, Jim Bishop. He has worked for more than 60 years on his labor of love. He was only 15 years old when he bought the land for $450, but did not realize what the land would yield decades later.
Bishop did not start building a castle, but instead a home for his family. He used the local rock of the forest, and each time someone visited they would comment, “It looks like you are building a castle.” A vision was birthed, and Bishop began building his castle. The castle is built with rocks and trees from the surrounding forest. The castle has a great hall as of old filled with stained glass windows. The great hall can be rented for weddings. However, you must know the castle does not come with any modern amenities like bathrooms.
On each side of the castle stands a unique tower with the left tower reaching 160’ in height. It is possible to climb all the way to the top, but it is not for the weak of heart – seriously. On the right side, the tower is half rock topped off with a wrought iron onion dome resembling the great architecture of Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. All the iron in the castle is the mastery of Bishop himself, a trait he learned while working in the family ornamental iron business.
One of the most unique features of the castle is what I call “the bridge to nowhere.” An iron bridge reaches over the center of the castle but does not go all the way. For the risk takers, it is possible to walk out on the bridge experiencing a 360-degree view of the San Isabel National Forest; in a word, it is breathtaking.
Bishop is an inspiration. For I have had the pleasure of visiting with him on each visit. I know the stories of how he is “passionate” about politics, and it is easy to rile him up. But, he is more than that. He told me when he was a young man in school that his teacher said to him, “He would never amount to anything.” And, as I look at his single-handedly built castle, I say she was dead wrong.
I asked Bishop if he would ever be finished with the castle and he said, “No.” He showed me his whole vision for the Castle and pointed out what and where the next building projects will take place. I asked him, “How long do you think it will take?” He said, “Maybe 300 years. And I will work on it as long as God will allow me. So, I better get back to work.” Bishop is – and has created – a legacy to the belief, “greatness lies in all of us, and no one has the right to tell you otherwise.” I am grateful to have met the architect of Bishop Castle, and I am reminded of the importance of the lessons of belief in oneself, the power of perseverance, and the importance of going for your dreams, despite the obstacles along the way.
The cost to tour the castle is free; however, donations are accepted for the Bishop Castle Nonprofit Charitable Foundation for Newborn Heart Surgery. Bishop Castle is open year-round; however, I recommend visiting in the early Fall for the colors of the San Isabel National Forest are breathtaking, and visit on the weekend because that is when Bishop is working, mixing mortar, using the small bobcat to haul rocks to his next creation, and climbing up and down to scaff, molding to put into place the next rock. Bishop is a testament to the American spirit, “if you believe in yourself, willing to put in the work, and persevere, there is nothing you cannot accomplish.” To learn more, visit www.bishopcastle.org.