My girl and I were heading out of downtown Elkin one time many, many, many years ago. As we drove up North Bridge Street and past the Dutch Castle — the odd little building with the colorful brickwork and turrets — she piped up and said, “I’d like to live there.”
For a moment I reflexively thought, how could I arrange something like that?
The Castle has that effect on folks here in the hometown. For decades it has intrigued and charmed us. Its unique design adds a tasty ingredient to our small-town charm.
Unfortunately for me I never had to look for an apartment in the Castle. Thus, over the decades I have had the luxury of admiring it from afar, in passing.
Then last month, while on assignment to secure a Christmas present, I had a chance to return to the Castle.
I was tickled to learn that it had reopened as the host of an antique store, one of a number of such little shops here that so delight, among others, some out-of-town friends of mine who want to visit again and have me take them around. OK kids, come on.
I found at the Castle an ol’ bus-ridin’ schoolmate of mine, Randy Rogers, and his wife, Gloria. They bought the Castle last summer from a lawyer who was quietly using it for an office.
In September the Elkin couple opened The Shoppes at Dutch Castle, successor to their West Main Antiques & Collectibles shop downtown. They said they liked the uniqueness of the building and its history.
I had been in the Castle only one time before, when I was a kid. Mom stopped to visit someone who lived in one of the apartments that existed at the time. I remember thinking how small and cramped the living quarters seemed, even to a little guy.
Then last month I walked through the door and delighted in seeing in the outer room the same English-style ceiling beams that I remember seeing when I was a kid.
I found that Randy and Gloria had fixed the place up quite nicely and had returned the Castle to its original purpose, as a retail fixture.
The Castle was built in the early 1930s by Carl Chappell and modeled on a service station he had seen in the Detroit area, according to a 1972 issue of The Tribune. It became a service station here as well, in the beginning.
Over subsequent decades the unique building hosted restaurants, offices and apartments.
During my Castle visit last month I came upon a family who took advantage of a sunny December day and the Castle’s pretty brick exterior, slate roof and picture window that served as a backdrop for family Christmas portraits.
David Renegar of Benham said they had thought of traveling up the mountain to a Christmas tree farm to shoot photos, then thought of the Castle closer to home.
“It’s a good location for an antique shop,” Renegar said. “It looks antique.”
Yes it does.
Through the years I had feared for the future of the Castle. With encroaching commercial development on North Bridge Street I could just see some developer coming along and viewing the Castle only as an eyesore worthy only of a wrecking ball in the name of progress.
But with the Castle now in the hands of two locals who love it, I’m confident Elkin and the surrounding area will continue to admire and boast of its Castle for years to come.
And they’d better love the Castle. Or I’ll tell some old school-bus stories on Randy — truly the king of Elkin’s castle.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.