Introduction to the History of Louisiana Castle
We purchased The Castle from Dr. Mark Belcher in July of 1999. The Castle was originally Dr. Belcher’s personal residence. He had placed his dream home on the market because he had moved to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Included below is a letter sent to us by Dr. Belcher describing the planning and construction of the main castle.
We thought The Castle would make a great ceremony and reception venue with the right additions. We added onto the original carport and music room to create the Ballroom. The covered deck, the hot tub, and the commercial bathrooms were constructed. We created the lawns and the grass parking lot near the rear of the ballroom. Additional land was purchased to create the large gravel parking lot in front of Louisiana Castle.
We view Louisiana Castle as a work in progress and are always looking for anything that can be done to improve it. It is our intent to continue to make Louisiana Castle better and better. If you have any suggestions, please let us know.
Dolly & Steve Illg
The Belcher Castle - History of the Castle
In 1971 while attending Louisiana Tech University I saw a movie entitled "The War Lord." The movie was the beginning of my castle adventure. At that time I stated that I would one day build a castle. Most thought I was crazy. I began while in college to draw rough sketches of the castle I would like to build. I asked architectural students and artists to help me in designing the basic design of the castle. All through college I read about castles and dreamed of the day I would be able to begin construction. Just for information, I tried to find the movie :The War Lord" for over 21 years without success. I eventually called Hollywood, California, to see if David O. Selznick (he owns the rights to the movie, and has it in his private vault) would allow me a private viewing of "The War Lord". His office said no. Years later, at a dinner in New Orleans, friends from New York (Jack & Sandy) surprised me and slipped me the movie under the table. She had found it in an obscure shop in New York (come to find out, a few years later it was released on tape).
In 1979 I went to Europe for my first experience with castles. I had already determined that I was going to build a Norman type castle, so I was particularly interested in English castles. I subsequently toured England three times seeing specific castles to gain more architectural facts about the type of castle I was going to build. As I toured England going form castle to castle, I recorded video and spoke to myself as I taped. In a few instances, other people heard me and began to follow as I taped. Being a fun-loving guy, I would lie to make the story of the castle interesting and I would watch for their reactions. I had to stop at least twice and tell the people I was lying... and then charged them $5 each for the entertainment...Nah!
In 1983, having bought two pieces of property in Washington Parish, decided not to use them, and bought land where the castle now sits. I moved a trailer on the property and lived there for six years, clearing land, landscaping and preparing to build. In 1989, my dad, John D. Belcher, began construction of the foundation for the castle. The foundation took three months to prepare with 80 yards of concrete and 3000 blocks.
After the foundation was complete, Mr. Burt Sharp and his son Darwin, began construction on the frame of the house, which took approximately six months. While the frame of the house was being constructed, Reggie Welch worked on the air conditioning and my uncle Johnny Cobb completed the work on the plumbing, electrical, television, and wiring. At this time two wells were dug for the castle. One well was dedicated to drinking water for the castle and the second well was for the air conditioning system. However, the wells can be joined in case of a malfunction. The air conditioning water travels through a filter system and is pumped into the front pond to keep it fresh. I dug a large ditch through the levee and connected it to the pond and the excess exits through the levee.
My good friend, Kenneth Strahan, worked almost daily with me to clean the castle after each day's construction. There was one occasion when I was out of town and Kenneth came in the rain and saved my sheetrock. Kenneth was a tremendous help and an extraordinary friend while we built the castle.
Next, Mr. Ovett Branch and his crew began to lay the first rock-faced brick in Washington Parish on the castle. Eventually they would lay some 85,000 bricks, which would take him and his crew six months. John D. Belcher poured all the concrete, walkways, foundations, steps and stairs. My dad and I built the gate after the castle was completed. As an incentive, I promised him a truck if he'd help build the gate, and YES... I gave him a truck.
During the construction of the castle it was called the 'four pack-a-day" house. This was because most mornings as I met with the major builders of the house, they lit up cigarettes and asked me "Boy, what do you want today?" The plans for the castle were designed in my head, and I had to convey what I envisioned on a daily basis. Since I had few drawings and no construction blueprints, it was important that the builders be able not only to build but also visualize, without formal plans, what they were to build.
There were numerous stories of the builders having to stop, put their heads together, and decide how they might accomplish a particular task, keeping in mind that this was a round house. Round plates are not manufactured and round doors and windows are very hard to find; therefore, much of the construction had to be hand fitted or made at the time. In one instance, a bricklayer worked half of a day just to place two bricks. The support for the top floors looked like a railroad trestle and was drawn on the floor of the main Keep before it was manufactured.
King Sheridan manufactured the front door and study door. The wood for the two doors came from the flooring of New Orleans dock buildings that were torn down for the World's Fair. The wood planks were 40 feet long and four and three-quarter inches thick and made from heart-pine. Mr. Sheridan had to design manufacture the doors from scratch. The front door weighed approximately 350 pounds and the study door weighed 200 pounds. Many of the pieces, such as chandeliers and other lighting fixtures within the castle, came from England with the assistance of Billy Rau on Royal Street in New Orleans. The chandelier in the main Keep is from a castle in York, England. The wall lights in the main Keep are from a castle in Wales.
The study was fashioned after Castle Coch in Wales. The dining room was fashioned after Queen Elizabeth's bedroom in Windsor Castle before it burned. The fireplace is fashioned after a fireplace in Castle Coch. And as I mentioned, the main Keep is Norman in design. The staircase was handmade in Bogalusa, Louisiana, by a gentleman whose name I cannot recall.
I added a game room to the rear of the castle because I love to play and record music. I have produced many tapes and sent them to such places as Nashville, and many artists have completed music productions at the castle.
The concrete lions, named Sid and Ernie by Kenneth Strahan, that guard the front porch were a gift bought in Chicago by Alean and John D. Belcher, my mom and dad. The outside light-poles are from Louisville, Texas. The roof is made of sheets of rubber made by Firestone, much like the roof of the Superdome. Doc Dyson of Franklinton did the initial ground-work and the remaining landscaping was completed by Douglas Blackwell, who was the architectural landscaper for several casinos on the Gulf Coast.
After two years of construction, the castle was complete, except for intermittent additions of new furnishings. My wife, DLA Belcher, was in charge of all interior design and furnishings, with the exception of the game room, which I designed. The carpet is the same type used in the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans The raised stage and lighting in the game room were for recording effects. An interesting point is that the French called the top of the house the donjon, but the English hated the French, so they called the lowest place in the castle, the dungeon. However, this could be backwards... the point is that the French and English did not feel kindly toward each other during those days. The dungeon is about 13 feet below the Keep, and although no one has ever been imprisoned... I have, on occasion, frightened the freckles off a few visiting school kids. Nothing quite like a good dark hole in the ground!
There are arrow-slit windows in the dining room that are utilized in case the people of neighboring villages attacked. Sorry, there is no murder-hole above the front door to pour boiling water, however, a nice sized rock could be vaulted from the upstairs balcony I'll wager.
The walls in several locations are 2-1/2 feet thick to ward off even the largest cannonball. By the way, it was the invention of gunpowder that halted the construction of castles in England. William the Conqueror (who started castle building in England) couldn't foresee that... but it was this that caused England to begin to build what was to become the world's greatest Navy.
Dr. Mark A. Belcher
In 1969 I transferred high schools to attend a boarding school in Brooklyn, Mississippi. During my 2 years there (graduated in 1971) I chanced upon meeting and falling in love with the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen (and still feel that way) Debra Lynn Arrington. After graduation I enrolled in Louisiana Tech University. One year later she followed me to Louisiana Tech and we resumed our courtship as well as attempting to attend classes. After one year, as many relationships do, I began to neglect her somewhat, take her for granted, and become less than a great boyfriend. While I never cheated on her, I basically drove her away by neglectful and stupid youthful behavior.
Our relationship ended by DLA (that's her name to her friends, stand for her initials Debra Lynn Arrington) telling me it was all over. She began to date a football player and I imploded. Quickly I realized my grievous mistake but it was too late to repair the damage.
I left Louisiana Tech to attend Southeastern Louisiana University and eventually enrolling in Texas Woman's University in Physical Therapy school. She also left Louisiana Tech to return to her home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and gained her degree from The University of Southern Mississippi.
I married after school and returned to my home town to set up a private practice. I was the first resident physical therapist to practice in Washington Parish. As matter of fact, when I began my practice there were only 3-4 physical therapist within 5 parishes.
Knowing I was still going to build "The Castle" I began to save my money. I lived in a $220.00 apartment for 7 years and then after purchasing the land for the castle I bought a used 80'x12' mobile home for $6,400.00, moved it onto the property and lived in it until the castle was completed 5 years later. While living on the property I saved my money and began to work the land concerning clearing, landscaping, and the initial phases of water and electrical setup. During these years DLA had also married and was living Hattiesburg, working as an accountant for the city. We had no contact through these years, but interestingly enough we later confessed that we often thought of each other.
Unfortunately as so many marriages go, mine and hers deteriorated to the point of divorce. So there I was in 1991 with a practice to run, a castle to build, and alone.
In April of that year, as every year, there is a homecoming reunion of our high school in Brooklyn, Mississippi. I had no intention of attending but my staff (98% women) went to my house chose my clothes and coerced me go. I think they were just tired of my moping about and wanted me to have some fun with old friends. During the hour and a half drive to Brooklyn I thought of many reasons why this was a dumb idea, but I drove on.
As I entered the gym I was directed to the table of graduates I was to sit with. We are seated by integrals of 10 years, i.e. 1970-1980. As I sat down I looked across the table and there was DLA. We began to reminisce and explore all the events of life that had passed in the last 20 years. Imagine 20 years had passed since I'd seen her and there she was. To my surprise I found she also was getting a divorce (please know this, I do not condone or recommend divorce, but deep-down I was elated!) Needless to say, I don't remember much about the evenings proceedings, would you?
We met over the next few months to eat and discuss our futures. Our conversation began to take on tones of marriage and how we might begin DLA's move closer. A few months later we moved her to Bogalusa, Louisiana (20 miles from the castle) and she began the work as office manager. What great times these were! Soon she was involved in every aspect of my life and I in hers. Basically, she took over the completion of the castle interior (which is where the construction was at the time). I have to admit had she not come onto the scene when she did.there ain't no telling what the inside of the castle would have looked like.
Eventually the castle was near completion, things were calming down, and we decided to tie the knot. I still lived in the trailer on the property and she lived in an apartment in Bogalusa. She took the reins and designed a wedding. She made intricate plans to fly to Reno, Nevada, drive to Carson City and obtain the license, then drive to Lake Tahoe to be married, ON THE SAME DAY! We spent our honeymoon overlooking Lake Tahoe and flew home the next day.
Now the "rest of the story"
You see, the castle had been finished for 2 months before we could get away for the wedding. When I say finished, I mean furniture, water, electricity, fixtures, everything! The house (castle) sat completely finished for 2 months. I told DLA I did not want to spend a night there until we could spend it together. Therefore, upon returning to Franklinton, we drove to the castle and spent the first night in our castle together. Don't ya just love a good LOVE STORY?....
God bless you, he sure has ME!
Dr. M.A. Belcher RPT, Ph.D