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Their castle is their home

August 24, 2009|By JULIE E. GREENE

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - I was about to get out of the car when I heard a "hello."

I looked around and didn't see anyone.

Then I heard the voice again and I looked up, so far up my head was craned all the way back.

There, peering through the crenellation atop the wall, was a head with a short, gray, Prince Valiant-type haircut.

This was Jim Dupont and the crenellation is an architectural feature around the top of his castle.

Yes, Dupont built a castle. Dupont, 64, a retired computer repairman, claims to have assembled almost all of the exterior concrete block walls above the basement on his own after having someone with experience show him how.

After Jim meets me at the entry tower, I meet his wife, Pat, and we sit down in the kitchen to chat.

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The inside of the house looks modern American rather than medieval European. The walls are drywall and there are the usual kitchen amenities. There's electricity and indoor plumbing, and the home has a septic system.

There are some round rooms because the castle has two towers. There's a great view from the rooftop where you can see West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. And there are rough indoor stairways. The steps are basically scrap wood and some of the nails stick out significantly. The railings are made of narrow tree trunks with the bark still on.

A castle, really?

Sitting in the kitchen, I ask the obvious question. (No, not "Are you a Dungeons & Dragons fan?" though I do get to that.)

Why did you build a castle?

"We don't really have an answer to that," Jim Dupont said. "We like castles."

Several years ago, they were hanging out with three other couples, and castles came up in the discussion. The eight friends fantasized about building a castle with four sections, so each couple would have their own section, Dupont said.

The others gave up the idea years ago, but not Dupont and then-girlfriend Pat.

The two began searching for property where they could build a castle and not worry much about building codes. Dupont wanted to do a lot of the work himself and make changes as he went along without worrying about having to get new permits and inspections every time he made a change.

Their land search took them to North Carolina, Virginia's Eastern Shore, southern Virginia, Morgantown, W.Va., Winchester, Va., Pennsylvania and Washington state.

Eventually they looked close to home in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle and settled on property east of Berkeley Springs. When they bought the 75 acres in 1996, there were no building codes, Dupont said.

The castle is up a long, curvy, steep driveway and is not visible from the road. When Dupont goes to the roof, he can only see a few other homes, so as big as the castle is, it's pretty well hidden, even in the winter when the trees are bare, he said.

Pat Dupont - the pair married three years ago - said she had mentioned to friends that she and Jim were building a castle. But it wasn't until her friends visited that they realized it was literally castle-shaped and not just a really big home.

"Some people think it's really neat," Jim Dupont said. "I think other people probably think it's strange."

Fun, but hard work

The Duponts are having fun with it. They give the different rooms names. The living room is the Greeting Chamber, the dining room is the Feasting Hall, and the family room is the Gathering Chamber.

And the home's interior design has some quirky features. There are two thrones and an armor helmet in the Feasting Hall. There are swords and various crests on the walls and small gargoyle statues.

There's no suit of armor, yet. Dupont wants one, but they are expensive. Most of the medieval-style dcor was found at yard sales, auctions, and on eBay.

A textured toilet seat cover with a dragon motif was a gift. Another dragon holds toilet paper.

"I have a fondness for dragons," said Pat Dupont, 64, who showed off a dragon trinket that holds her letter opener.

Jim Dupont wanted to build the castle out of stone. But after completing a wishing well and gate posts in stone, he realized that constructing the entire home out of stone would take too much effort and time. There are stone fireplaces and the Duke's Suite has textured wallpaper so the walls look like stone.

The Duponts estimate they have spent $131,000 so far to build the castle. That doesn't include the cost of the land. With Jim Dupont doing most of the work, they have saved on labor expenses. They did hire professionals for certain things, like installing the well, septic, and heat and cooling systems and pouring the concrete floor in the basement.

One drawback is the cost of heating. They use oil to heat the 5,000-square-foot home.

Their castle is their home

The Duponts allow the public to track the progress of their castle construction online at www.dupontcastle.com.

Dupont estimates that 80 percent of the keep, or homze, is done. There are still several rooms that need finishing and flooring. Eventually, he'd like to add a courtyard and a Great Hall, which could be rented for events.

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