September 19, 2005

Start: Orlando, Florida
St. Augustine, Florida
Miles: 180 miles
Route taken: Interstate 4 to Interstate 95, exit at
Ponte Vedra Beach to A1A, south, exit at St. Augustine.


        My rush to reach Ponte Vedra Beach to meet some friends for lunch prohibited me from seeing any sites north of Orlando and in some ways I felt like I was cheating myself.

        After I visited with my friends, one of them told me of a man who had a castle in his backyard, near St. Augustine and even though it was backtracking in a sense, decided I wanted to see it.

        The castle is visible along A1A  in Vilano Beach, just before you reach St. Augustine if you are heading south.

        It is difficult to miss. It is 51 feet high and pokes above the surrounding trees.

        My trespassing went unnoticed until I met some teenagers who lived at the house in front of the castle. I inquired about the castle and one of the kids quickly fetched her dad.

Rusty is very peaceful man, you sense it the minute you meet him. His movements are very deliberate, no step wasted. He contemplates every word spoken to him, you can see it in eyes.  Logical and thoughtful, Rusty has a background as a musician and construction.

        So it is surprising that he would act on a dream he had one night while sleeping. The vision was telling him to build a castle in his backyard and it kept coming to him while he slept.

        Rusty had owned this two-acre property across from the beach since 1976 and decided he would follow the vision.

        He along with friend, Ottis Sadler started on the exterior in 1984. They set out to design this as a landscape sculpture resembling an Irish castle, though neither had been to Ireland and knew little of that type of architecture.

        The used split-face concrete block, steel reinforced rods and poured concrete and Rusty estimates the weight at more than 7 million pounds.

        As is his meticulous nature, Rusty thought out every part of the structure. A deeply spiritual man, Rusty wanted the castle to be a remembrance of Jesus Christ and the front of castle has a large cross above the entrance.

        There is another smaller cross on the east end that faces Jerusalem and the blocks of concrete atop the towers are made to look like the crown of thorns Christ wore at the crucifixion.

        While Rusty is a Christian man, there are touches of other religions in the building. Inside a Catholic symbol is on the alter and a star of David is carved out in the wood on the second floor. There is even a yin and yang symbol in the floor on the third level.


        There are windows, but no glass. Eighty eight openings allow wind and light to flow freely in and out of the castle.

        “The building was simply allowed to exert its own insistent will,” Rusty said. “I knew nothing of what I was building. The visions were what guided me.”

        He and Ottis felt a sense of completion in 1988, four years later and Rusty was content to let the sculpture be, but was convinced to enhance it by working on the inside. A third person was brought in to decorate the interior.

        The eight staircases spiral in different directions and form and are made of Cypress wood. The second story has an alter, pews, pulpit and bishop chair made from Southern heart pine pulled from an old general store built in the early 1900s.

        All of the material used to build the structure was gathered at construction or demolition sites. The workers were either tearing something down that could be used or had left over material they didn’t want.

        “It is the proverbial rejected stone,” Rusty said with a laugh. “In some cases we were doing them a favor by taking it away.”

        The work of art had three focuses: Let the elements flow through freely, create a large cavernous area for a humbling effect and create a building that is as strong as possible.

        The one focus Rusty didn’t count on is the most powerful. It is the overriding sense of peace people feel when they enter the castle.

        That is an extension of the man. Rusty is peace and love and no negativity surrounds him. On Sunday at 11 a.m. is a church service for all faiths. Rusty doesn’t call it a non-denominational service, but an inter-denominational service.

        “There is too much negativity in the world,” Rusty said. “I wanted a place of love, that is what this is.”

        MTV was scouting locations for a show called Fear and saw the castle. They thought it would be perfect for the show and called Rusty. He didn’t respond and two people showed up, knocking on his door. They tried to convince him this would be a great scary place. He said little, walked them to the castle and showed them the inside. The two walked out after experiencing the beauty and peace of the castle, apologizing for wasting his time.

        “This is not about fear,” Rusty said. “This is about love.”

        The castle is named for his friend, Ottis, and called Castle Otttis. The three t’s are symbolic of the three crosses on the hill where Christ died.

        Rusty gives tours to schools, senior organizations and other groups for free. People from all over the country come and visit and many from Great Britain marvel at the work.

        “They always say this should be in their backyard, not mine,” Rusty said. “I always have to laugh at that.”

        Commercial projects are usually not done, though country singer, Brittany Roe shot a music video in the castle and weddings are held there.

        Pictures of the castle are allowed, but Rusty is quick to get out of any frame taken.

        “This is about the art, not me,” Rusty said. “I don’t own it, in some ways it owns me. I am just a part of it.”