It all started in 2008, when a French couple, Jean-Marc and Solange Mirat, who had retired in Arkansas were visiting France and learned of Guédelon Castle, a project began in 1997 which involves building a 13th century castle using only medieval methods and materials - a 25-year endeavor. The Mirats were enchanted by the idea and wanted to bring it to the United States, so they contacted the founder of the project, Michel Guyot, about the idea of building a similar castle in northern Arkansas. They sold a portion of their land in Lead Hill, Arkansas, for the project. Site preparation and construction on the Ozark Medieval Fortress began in 2009 and it opened to the public in May, 2010. The construction of this castle is slated to take 20 years, reaching completion in 2030 with a full-sized, historically-accurate 13th century French-style castle.
I had the privilege to visit the castle with my family in July, 2010, and greatly enjoyed the whole experience. We took the guided tour (well worth the extra $2) and our tour guide, James, made the day delightful with his stories and enlightening explanations of various aspects of the castle building process. We began with a walk through the woods above the castle and ended up at the quarry at the base of the site. There, a quarryman explained the process of quarrying and demonstrated how they split the stones to have a nice, flat "face" so they could form the outside of the castle walls. From the quarry, we proceeded to the open area where the castle was beginning to take shape. The castle sits on a slope and surrounds a small spring, as follows the 13th century French tradition. It will have 5-foot thick walls, a drawbridge and moat, and the tallest tower will reach over 60 feet in height!
|the "squirrel cage" (man-powered) crane|
Because of my deep interest in the Middle Ages, I was entertaining the idea of applying for an internship at the Ozark Medieval Fortress some time in the near future. After actually visiting the castle and being so transported back to Medieval France, I am certain that I want to take part in this project. I hope to work there over a summer, maybe even as soon as 2012, but we shall see what God has in mind...
Meanwhile, you can learn more details about the construction and its many intricate aspects at the tour guide, Medieval James's blog. Also be sure to check out the Ozark Medieval Fortress website for operating hours, ticket rates, and directions. It is only half-an-hour south of Branson, MO, so there is no legitimate reason not to go!
UPDATE: (6/19/2012) When I first visited the Ozark Medieval Fortress, in July, 2010, the tourguide, James, told me that the project did not expect to start breaking even on their investment and actually make a profit for at least four years. As the economy is generally still not doing so great, I wasn't too surprised to see the announcement on the project's website that their opening for the 2012 season was delayed for financial reasons and that they are looking for American financial partners. It really is a shame that they have not posted any more updates, so I assume they are still struggling. I would truly hate to see this project be forgotten!
So, if you happen to have a lot of money and love the Middle Ages, traditional construction techniques, a great learning place, or castles in general, you might consider having a chat with the folks over at the Ozark Medieval Fortress. :)
UPDATE: (10/28/2013) The really sad part is that the website for the Ozark Medieval Fortress has now disappeared completely. If you go to it, you'll be redirected to a French marketing firm's website. I'm deeply saddened to see that apparently the project lost even the funds or volunteers or something to run a website to at least alert people to its presence. According to an Arkansas Business article, the site was briefly listed for sale earlier this year and the owner's business practices have been called "at best unsound and at worst dishonest." I still think it's possible, if not for this particular project, than for something similar to succeed in the US. It just needs the right help...
UPDATE: (4/15/2014) I've written a blog post, "6 Lessons We Can Learn from the Ozark Medieval Fortress" or "How NOT to Build a Medieval Castle in 21st Century America," in which I discuss the 6 main problems that I see with how the OMF was run, and what mistakes anyone who seeks to either revive this project or start a new one aught to avoid. I would love to see a true medieval castle built in America, it just needs to be done properly next time.