My day job comes with a lot of perks, and one of them was having the privilege of working remotely from a medieval Scottish castle.
Except this castle is only half an hour from our office in Tennessee. Our crew had been working there for some time and we were so excited for the opportunity to check it out.
My song for this entry is “Take Me Somewhere Nice” by the Scottish band Mogwai.
The nearly 5,000 square feet Williamswood castle was built in the early 1990s.
The property was previously owned by Girls Scouts and used for camping, back then it was just woods and a concrete shed.
It has more than 40 antique stained glass windows, a stone turret, secret passages, a dungeon, gardens, ponds, a pub, fireplaces, and my favourite features- a library and a multi-level patio that overlooks the river.
My understanding of its history is that the owner, Julia, lost her son Bill to AIDS in 1991 and bravely decided to channel her grief into building something beautiful to honour him.
Bill was an avid supporter of historic preservation and had convinced his mother Julia to acquire, in addition to multiple other properties, this land in South Knoxville on the outskirts of Ijams Nature Center.
Shortly after the purchase, Bill tragically passed away, and Julia began building her castle.
Julia and Bill had enjoyed antique shopping during their lives together. When she began construction, she used salvaged items from churches, factories, schools, slaughterhouses; anything unique and interesting she could find.
When the community found out what she was up to, many residents and business owners began donating items. In fact, everything that comprises the Williamswood was found or made in East Tennessee.
The Master Bedroom is a vast two-story room filled with light shining through stained glass, hand-carved wooden staircase, bookcases, an organ, a shrine to Bill, and slick marble tiles.
On the second floor of the Master bedroom is the library.
The balcony-style library has hand-carved rails and chandeliers lighting the rows of titles.
There are doors leading to smaller landings and the rooftops, where it appears there may have been a pool or court of some type.
Julia hired a local artist to paint scenes from The Last Supper, Michelangelo’s Creation, and other paintings on the ceiling.
You must have a sense of humour to match Julia’s cleverness, because she had each of the Apostle’s faces painted as family members and friends, supposedly those who were there for her and Bill during his illness and passing.
Other family members, friends, cherubs, animals, and even Julia herself as a child are painted across the ceiling. In this version of the Last Supper, Barbie stands in place of Judas.
Off the main room is a recreation room that is commonly used for banquets and events.
Between the main room and the Black Dog pub is a functioning updated kitchen.
Even the bathrooms have a medieval flair to them.
The Black Dog Pub is dedicated to Julia’s beloved black labs.
There are statues, photos, drawings, and other relics of her furry family.
The pub is also filled with books, board games, a fireplace, and hidden passages.
This massive cabinet may or may not conceal a large screen tv. I chose to admire the painting rather than opening it up.
Behind one bookshelf you will find one of the secret passages.
A narrow staircase leads up to a Victorian style bedroom, painted pink and filled with dolls and toys.
The third bedroom is this Scottish Room fit for a knight, sleigh bed included.
I learned that Bill had taken a particular interest in the family’s Scottish heritage and often wore this tartan kilt, on display below, and even played the bagpipes.
The far end of this room has another passageway into a small mock Dungeon with chains, cuffs, and metal grates.
This dungeon is not as grim as you might think. In addition to deer heads with smart tartan ties, more of Julia’s beautiful stained glass collection bring in playful bright colours.
My favourite part of the castle is the patio, accessible by the giant glass doors of the Master bedroom or by the faery garden.
The wood is painted teal-blue and the whole structure is framed by hand-forged railings.
Each level has its own nooks and tables, chairs, and lamps, which makes this patio perfect for entertaining a larger crowd.
Wherever you sit, you can enjoy the view of the river.
The gardens, including this Faery Garden, surround the property.
Multiple sculptures, fountains, plants, and gargoyles fill these spaces of lush green. Today was a rainy fall day, and I would love to see it in the summer when everything is in bloom.
As I was writing this, I came across an interview in the Metropulse archive, Knoxville’s best newspaper that is sadly no longer in print, and found this description from Julia herself:
“What you must understand is that I don’t take this seriously. Faux is the operative word. Kids understand that this is a fun place. A ‘let’s pretend’ place. Adults look at it and cringe and ask me about the resale value… I’ve spent a lot of time, effort, and money on it, but it was just what I was doing at the time. I’ve been asked several times to have benefits out here, and have done it if it’s a cause I believe in. We’ve had a lot of gay unions and heterosexual weddings out here for friends who couldn’t afford to go somewhere else.”
In the same article, Julia confesses this wonderful secret: “People also ask me what Bill would say if he could see it. Well, I’ll tell you a secret. I slipped some of his ashes into the foundation at the very beginning. Bill has seen it all.”