Bishop Castle, the legendary roadside attraction that Jim Bishop began building five decades ago along Colorado 165 in the San Isabel National Forest, just outside of the tiny town of Wetmore, has gone through some tough times lately.
Back in 2015, when Jim and his wife, Phoebe, were both battling health problems, David Merrill, a man they considered a friend, talked Jim into making him a trustee of Bishop Castle. Soon, Merrill was claiming that he owned the property and was turning it into Castle Church – for the Redemption, according to the Custer County Clerk and Recorder’s Office.
The Bishops hired a lawyer and won back their castle, but they acquired some big legal fees in the process. And now they're facing another challenge: Early on March 28, a fire broke out that destroyed a guest house and the Castle's gift shop ... the sole source of income for Bishop Castle, since visiting the place is free.
Here's the announcement on the Castle website:
Due to a fire on property, Bishop Castle will remain closed on March 29, 2018.
Our beloved gift shop caught fire yesterday and the entire grounds will be closed today for thorough investigation. At this time we do not know how long this will take and we appreciate your patience. If you would like to help, please consider making a tax-deductable donation using the button.
"The gift shop is our primary source of income," Jim's son, Daniel, told the Colorado Springs Gazette. "That's the biggest concern now, is trying to get it rebuilt, so we can have an income."
Jim Bishop was just fifteen in 1959 when he paid $450 for a two-and-a-half-acre parcel of land at 9,000 feet on the edge of the San Isabel National Forest. It was money saved from mowing lawns, throwing newspapers and working with his father, Willard, in the family ornamental iron works,” according to the story on bishopcastle.org. “Jim had dropped out of high school that year over an argument from his English teacher, who yelled at him, ‘You’ll never amount to anything, Jim Bishop!’”
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But Jim had towering ambitions. For the next ten summers, he and his father would work together at Bishop Ornamental Iron Shop, then head up to the mountains, where they’d camp and think about building. In 1967, Jim married Phoebe, and “in 1969, at the age of 25, Jim decided it was time to start building a cabin in the mountains they so loved. Since rocks were plentiful, everywhere, and free, he chose to start building a one-room stone cottage ...”
And he's been building every since, adding twists and turns to his Castle until this latest setback.
The result (although Jim says the Castle still isn't finished) is a 160-foot-high, beloved Colorado landmark, and a towering achievement of folk art, one that's been featured on national travel shows and in roadsideamerica.com.
But for the Bishops these days, it must feel like their Castle is under siege.