Once upon a time… before watching Game of Thrones or touring castles in Europe… I taught my children and literature students tales of fairies, dragons, and knights. That chivalry must never die and dreams do come true.
We’d then travel to The Tennessee Renaissance Festival to wander Covington Glen, a 16th Century village located outside of Nashville.
There I tried to teach my son and daughter archery as my dad had tried to teach me. I still remember the archery tournament in Kentucky where he’d won the “Robin’s Hood Award” for hitting the bull’s eye with his first arrow, then splitting that arrow with his second shot. He wanted me to compete in contests, too. No pressure. 🙂
Two decades later… a couple of weeks ago my daughter chose to celebrate her birthday at the Fest where we watched jousting and my son handed me a bow and quiver of arrows to see if I could still hit a target. Last weekend I returned to finally meet the man who created the beloved tradition that throngs of folks enjoy–many in costume–yearly.
Mike Freeman greets guests outside Castle Gwynn, located on forty acres he bought in 1976 near Triune. Friendly, fun, and sincere, he tells the inspiring story of a lifelong quest:
The first two most commonly asked questions are, ‘Do you live here?’ Yes I do. For the last 31 years I’ve lived here with my wife, Maggie, and our 2 dogs. The 2nd most commonly asked question is, ‘When are you going to get it finished?’ The answer: ‘When one of you wins the lottery, please remember me!’ I’ve been doing that for the last 34 years. It hasn’t worked yet. (laughs)
In 1970 I was a senior in high school who drew my dream house, a castle, in architecture class. Being a poor boy from Flat Rock, the only way I could do it was to build it myself. I am proud to say I built something from scratch, which means I started with zero. I did have a lucky break. By chance I got into photography my senior year of high school. My next door neighbor had been in Viet Nam and won a camera in a poker game and had forgotten how to work it. The deal was to learn how and teach him.
He did, and by graduation of his senior year, he photographed senior prom. Next he worked for a photography studio that needed 13 high school composite shots done in a month.
I got it done for them, and it only took me only 360 hours—90 hours a week. I used to think that was a lot of hours until I went into business for myself. (laughs) It you are willing to work 12-18 hour days, I guarantee that you can do absolutely anything in the world if you want to bad enough. I proved that, but to say I did this all by myself would be a gross exaggeration. I had a whole lot of help from a whole lot of people to make this dream possible including yourselves for coming out to the festival this year.
He gives credit to his wife, Jackie Harmon, who he married in 1988, the first wedding held at Castle Gwynn; to his parents, and to a master mason and his four sons who worked with him weekends for almost two years laying the brickwork in the kitchen. They started with 8 brick arches, but by the time they finished, they had 60 of them. 14,000 bricks Hosting four weddings helped with the cost. For the full story and credits of building the castle, go here.
I asked Mike what inspired a high school senior to want to build a castle. He said when he was five, his father returned from WW2 with a book of postcards of castles along the Rhine River. I asked if any movies or books were influential, and he immediately said Charlton Heston’s The War Lord, a 1965 film about Medieval warfare in 11th century Normandy. His interest in history and sense of humor can be seen throughout the property.
No costume? No worries! But if you want one… there are many on site.
I confess I returned, too, to stop by the Lady Smith Jewelry booth to look again at her cameo mermaids and sterling silver Celtic pieces.
The Fest runs yearly every weekend of May through Memorial Day. Check schedule for jousting, shows, and castle tours. Vendors for food, beverages, rides and games accept cash only though the admission gate and some vendors accept credit cards. Other Rules of the Realm are here. Stop by, sit a spell, and enjoy the magic.