Story of Castle Gwynn is a Labor of Love

March 1, 2007

By Jessica Mozo

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2007. Castle Gwynn has since received its second turret, as well as nationwide recognition thanks to the castle’s appearance in Taylor Swift’s music video “Love Story.”

France, Wales, England – certainly. Nestled high in the Alps overlooking the moors of Scotland – absolutely. But turrets in Tennessee?

Not likely, you say?

If that’s your final answer, then you apparently have never driven the scenic stretch of State Route 840 near Arrington and Triune, where a white stone and brick structure rises through the trees on the west side of the road. It looks strikingly like, well … a castle.

Castle Gwynn in Arrington, Tennessee

And, in fact, it is. It’s Castle Gwynn, a startling replica of a 12th-century Welsh border castle and the private home of Nashville-native Mike Freeman, a portrait photographer, and his wife, Jackie, a retired schoolteacher. It’s also the location of the annual Tennessee Renaissance Festival each May.

History of Castle Gwynn

A work in progress since 1970, Castle Gwynn began as a product of Mike Freeman’s imagination in a high school architecture class. A teacher instructed students to sketch their dream house.

“I started drawing the plans for a medieval castle,” recalls Freeman, now 55. “In 1980, we broke ground on it.”

For Freeman, the question was never “if” he would build his castle – it was always “how.”

“If you’re willing to work hard, anything’s possible,” he says with the glint of experience in his eye. “People think just because I live in a castle, I’m rich. But for perspective, consider the fact that I work 12- to 18-hour days, and it has taken us 26 years to build the castle so far. I pay for it as I go, and when I run out of money, I stop working.”

Following his high school graduation, Freeman spent 10 years establishing his photography career, doing research and looking for land on which to build his castle.

“After talking about it for 10 years, I either had to build the castle or become the biggest liar in Tennessee,” Freeman says with a chuckle.

Freeman met a man named John Covington who became enchanted with his idea, and Covington made it possible for him to buy 40 acres of land near Arrington and Triune.

“He was kind of like the grand­father I never had,” Freeman says.

When he was ready to start building, he called upon Kenneth Canaday, a master mason from Hickman County he’d made a deal with a decade earlier.

“I dated his daughter in high school and asked him then if he’d help me with the fancy work on my castle one day,” Freeman says, grinning. “He said, ‘Yes, if you stop dating my daughter.’ So I did, and he did.”

With the occasional help of Canaday’s four sons, Freeman and Canaday spent two years of weekends molding 14,000 bricks into 60 arches in the castle kitchen. In return for their work, Freeman photographed all four of Canaday’s sons’ weddings.

“Mike does a lot of bartering and swapping trades,” says Jackie Freeman. “Nobody’s given him anything. He’s worked and bartered around the clock for all of it.”

With its brick arches, stained-glass windows and handmade tile floor depicting a coat of arms, the intricately detailed kitchen is the castle’s crowning glory. But it’s only the beginning.

SEE ALSO: Sutton Old Time Music Hour in Granville

Castle Gwynn boasts two seven-story towers connected by a brick cloister, or walkway, with Indiana limestone arches. A stone and brick double staircase, modeled after a staircase at the White House, descends from the front of the castle and has been the backdrop for several weddings, including the Freemans’ own.

The couple resides in Castle Gwynn’s north tower, and the south tower, still under construction, is used mainly for entertaining guests. Both towers are stucco white.

“Castles were often white, because there’s no way an intruder can climb a white wall on the darkest night without being seen,” Freeman says. “Gwynn is the Welsh word for ‘white,’ so Castle Gwynn means ‘White Castle.’ ”

The south tower’s first floor is a garage, above which is the great room – a two-story reception area with a balcony, domed ceiling, brick arches, chandelier and hooded fireplace.

Castle Gwynn in Arrington, TN

New Additions Planned

Plans for the south tower’s upper floors include a honeymoon suite with a personal elevator and hot tub.

The aforementioned kitchen is on the north tower’s ground floor. A small elevator hides behind an elegant wooden door, as do modern appliances like the washer and dryer. Electrical outlets are also hidden, as well as the 21st-century heating and cooling systems.

Take the elevator or winding stairs up from the kitchen, and you’re in the living room, which features a brick fireplace, antique furniture, stained-glass lamps, a collection of 16th-century medieval swords and a 450-year-old original painting of Queen Elizabeth I.

Upper floors in the north tower include the master bedroom and bath, a den/game room, an armory where Freeman plans to display his seven suits of armor, and an exercise room with a hot tub and triangular windows. Each floor has a bathroom.

A 12-ton, 30-foot-diameter cone-shaped roof tops the north tower, while a similar one under construction rests on the ground below waiting to be installed atop the south tower.

Jousters at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival

RenFaire Draws a Crowd

Every weekend in May and on Memorial Day, the Freemans open parts of their medieval home to the public during the Tennessee Renaissance Festival, which they started in 1986.

“People were very curious about the castle, so we thought if we did a festival once a year, we could share it with people,” Freeman says.

During the festival, the castle grounds come alive with entertainers dressed in Renaissance clothing; artisans selling jewelry, costumes, artwork and accessories; food vendors selling everything from turkey legs to funnel cakes; jousting tournaments by knights on horse­back; games and man-powered rides; and tours of Castle Gwynn.

Though it took him 11 years to break even on the festival and required more work than most people would care to invest, Freeman insists both the castle and the festival have been well worth his efforts.

“I never gave up,” he says. “And I’ve been fortunate to have some very talented people share in my dream.”

Tennessee Renaissance Festival
Tennessee Renaissance Festival

Go back in time to the days of juggling, human chess games, jousting, giant turkey legs and more at the annual Tennessee Renaissance Festival, held on Freeman’s property. You can also tour Castle Gwynn during the event.

The 2014 dates are as follows: May 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18, 24, 25, plus Memorial Day May 26
Hours: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., rain or shine

Learn more at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival website.

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Comments

  1. rachel bach says:

    We are going to Nashville next weekend (aug.13). i was wondering if people are allowed to come visit the castle?

    • Blair Thomas says:

      Rachel,
      I can’t be sure without contacting the folks at Castle Gwynn, but I believe they only open the castle for tours during the Tennessee Renaissance Festival every May. You can call to double check. Their phone number: (615) 395-9950.

      Hope this helps, thanks for reading!

      Blair
      Tennessee Home & Farm

  2. Mairiea Williams says:

    Do you allow weddings at castle Gwynn

    • Blair Thomas says:

      Hi Mairiea,
      You’ll have to contact the folks at Castle Gwynn for questions about hosting events and tours. Their phone number: (615) 395-9950.

      Hope this helps, and thanks for reading!
      Blair Thomas
      Tennessee Home & Farm

  3. dan klawonn says:

    What a beautiful view of your home from 840. We marvel at it everytime we are driving to nashville, like today. We found it on the internet. Maybe we will come to see it firsthand now during the designated times. Very happy to no people still believe in dreams and persue them. Congratulations

  4. Mandy Richey says:

    I was told in passing that photographers are allowed to take pictures at the castle such as Senior Pictures. If this is correct , I would love information on when this can be done and do you have specific photographers who are permitted to do so.
    Thank you.

    • Blair Thomas says:

      Mandy,
      To find out information about when the castle is open as well as if pictures and portraits can be taken there, contact the folks at Castle Gwynn. Their phone number: (615) 395-9950.

      Hope this helps, and thanks for reading!

      Blair Thomas
      Tennessee Home & Farm

  5. julie says:

    Do you rent the.castle out for special occasions such as weddings

    • Blair Thomas says:

      Julie,
      To find out information about renting out Castle Gwynn, you’ll want to contact the castle owners directly at (615) 395-9950.

      Hope this helps, and thanks for reading!

      Blair Thomas
      Tennessee Home & Farm

  6. Kay says:

    I live in Wisconsin and my 12 year old daughter is going on a trip to tn in about a week. She is going because of Taylor swift because of course Taylor is her role model. How good of a chance do you think there is the owner would let her check it out?

    • Jessy Yancey says:

      Kay, I’m not sure, but you can contact the owners at (615) 395-9950.

      Thanks,
      Jessy Yancey
      editor, Tennessee Home & Farm

  7. jessica says:

    i went there before and went inside and tored around

  8. deb s says:

    I always wanted to learn how became of the castle. What inspiration

  9. Danny Ramsey says:

    I am involved with doing an independent film and am writing to ask if there is a chance we could film there. Your Great room would be ideal.. the scene is a meeting taking place… it is a Si Fi/ Action film and has a strong anti-neo nazi theme. We would most likely need two days on a weekend. We can list you in our credits and put the picture of the castle on our theater poster and dvd cover as well. We are pros coming together to do this project, but on a start up budget. Please let us know if you might be interested in doing this sometime in the next few months. Thank You so much for your consideration! Happy to pass on more information if you are interested! Danny Ramsey

    • Rachel Bertone says:

      Hi Danny,

      To find out more information about using the castle for filming, you will need to contact the owners directly at (615) 395-9950. Hope this helps! Thanks for reading!

      Rachel Bertone
      Editor
      Tennessee Home & Farm

  10. Becky says:

    Can’t wait to hear the 2013 dates!!

    • Jessy Yancey says:

      Hi Becky, thanks for the reminder. We’ve updated the post with 2013 dates!

      Jessy Yancey
      editor
      Tennessee Home & Farm

  11. Debbie says:

    You know we have the same dream Mr. Freeman. Congratulations! And I really admire your determination to make your dreams come true. I was so inspired. I hope one day I can come to see your castle.

  12. Sharon Stuckey-Schreiner says:

    I am a the 5th great grand daughter of Samuel Gwinn who was born between 1745-1752 in Augusta, VA, his father Robert Gwinn born in Wales around 1720 and died 1785 in Augusta, VA…I would like to know why you chose the name Gwynn as the name of your castle…Some day my dream is to go to Wales to see my family castle…also would like to see Castle Gwynn..

    • Dee says:

      “Gwynn is the Welsh word for ‘white,’ so Castle Gwynn means ‘White Castle.’
      Here’s the answer to your question – it was in the article above the comments.

  13. Dan Hanson says:

    Our family will be traveling in your area Saturday, June 22 and were wondering if we are able to view the castle and the grounds. All the information I can gather is, the castle is a private residence and open only during the May Festival to guest. We would of course respect your privacy in not approaching the grounds if it is not possible.

  14. Gwendolyn Brown says:

    Hello, my name is Gwen, i past by your place today and showed it to a friend of mine, we are over the road drivers and were on our way to a truck stop in Murfreesboro, Tn.
    I wanted to see if i could find any information/ back ground and low and behold i typed in Almaville and a list came up, one being about your castle.
    I thought it was neat to find out the name that you chose because that is also what my name variation means as well, more so to add Lady of Vision, or White Lady.
    I just wanted to share that with you and let you know that this is the second time ive seen your place as ive traveled by, the first time for my friend.
    We both enjoyed seeing it very much.
    Cudos to you for your effort and perseverance.
    I hope that you are able to continue your endeavors so long as you feel it is unfinished.
    Perhaps someday, both i and my friend and stop by and say hello.
    Bright Blessings!
    Gwendolyn Shepperson Brown

  15. Jill Edwards says:

    While traveling recently on 840 my girls spotted the castle and fell in love. My little one asked “mommy does a princess live there?” So we got on line to find it. Your story is amazing and your castle is awesome.

  16. lela baker says:

    been there and it is AWESOME!

  17. Don McNeal says:

    Just drove by the castle on 840.What a great story……..I will check it out next may!

  18. Tiffany marlin says:

    Do they allow weddings to take place there?

    • Jessy Yancey says:

      Hi Tiffany,

      You’ll have to contact the folks at Castle Gwynn for questions about hosting events and tours. Their phone number: (615) 395-9950.
      Hope this helps, and thanks for reading!

      Jessy Yancey
      Tennessee Home & Farm

  19. Madget Tidwell says:

    Mike, I love visting your castle every year. Someone said you graduated from dickson high school. I graduated from dickson in 1977.

  20. Trent Gill says:

    Wow! When I passed your castle on the road I was blown away. My family is originally from Scotland and I have been obsessed with castles from a very young age. You have inspired me to dream for MY own castle ! I am definitely going to come back this way with my Mom and take advantage of your generosity to allow the public a peek. Thank you ! Trent Gill

  21. Kalidawn says:

    I know this article is a couple years old, but some friends and I are in the area from out of state, only for a month more and would love a tour if the owners are willing. Do you have their contact info?

  22. Kathy says:

    I was wondering if you did the high school annual and senior pics at
    Glencliff in 1979. I had a Freeman do my pics there.
    Please send email on your dates in may 2015. Would
    love to bring my grandson.
    Also, are there any pictures of the inside of home posted?
    Thx,
    Kathy Carr