Bull Run Castle - Closed
John Roswell Miller greets us outside his castle, grizzled and unshaven, lightly coated with plaster and sawdust. His handshake is viselike; he could probably hammer nails with his work-scarred fists. "I'm 69 and I can still take out most 20-year-olds," he brags, and we believe him.
Miller's castle stands in a former cornfield, within an easy arrow shot of the road. It's a pastoral setting, better suited for horse farms than medieval architecture. And yet John Miller, a former army officer (Airborne-Vietnam) and civilian contractor, possesses the right mix of technical know-how and military single-mindedness to pull off this project -- by himself, if necessary -- no matter what the cost. The mission is everything. He tells us that the castle will be completed by August 1999 -- is John Miller preparing for the millennium?
Facts and figures tumble out of Miller in a nonstop singsong, born of an intimate familiarity with his work: the property mortgage principal is $29,200, the castle has 14 closets and 89 windows, the iron-shod front door is 4 3/4 inches thick. It's a monologue he can perform for any and all visitors.
Miller, we quickly discover, has little respect for the efforts of more fanciful castle-builders, such as Colorado's Jim Bishop and Florida's Howard Solomon. Bull Rull Castle, Miller boasts, is a castle in function as well as appearance. "Built so it can be defended," he repeatedly tells us -- and the castle's multiple shooting ports are designed to repel much more than knights on horseback.
Miller began clearing the land for his castle in 1980, a boom time (ha) for retreatists. America's geopolitical outlook has changed considerably since those dark days but Miller -- unconvinced -- still sees nuclear bogeymen. The castle, he notes with pride, has not altered in a single detail since he laid down its plans eighteen years ago.
Such stick-to-itiveness is admirable, but often hard to live with. Miller's family, he candidly admits, has outgrown the castle project, and moved on. First his daughters peeled away, then his son left "when he turned 21 and the hormones kicked in." John's wife rode out of the kingdom just a year ago. Now he labors alone, preparing for an Armageddon everyone else seems to have forgotten.
In the heart of the basement -- the most inaccessible spot in the castle -- is Miller's workshop. He points out the ceiling -- a blastproof steel reinforced concrete slab. "Dulles Airport is only seven miles away," he says. "A principal target." When winter comes, multiple heating systems allow him to make his castle cozy with either coal, oil, or solar power. An ingenious maze of underground conduits directs the runoff from the property's drainage field into castle cisterns. Miller says he has enough food on hand to feed himself for six years.
To defray the costs of castle construction -- and perhaps keep touch with the outside world -- Miller advertises his castle as a romantic bed and breakfast retreat. "Sixty dollars a night and I'll cook you any breakfast you want in the morning," he declares. Of the four rooms available we recommend the Tourdela Amoire -- actually built inside the castle keep. You'll feel snug as a bug knowing that the walls of your love nest can withstand high-explosive artillery.
If society collapsed on a weekend, we asked, would post-apocalyptic survival be included in the bed and breakfast package? Miller smiles. "That depends on who the bed and breakfasters are."
Bull Rull Castle is a mad mix: A retreater hideout within fireball range of America's #1 thermonuclear target, doubling as a lover's getaway and an antique shop (nearly everything in the castle, including Miller's tools of battle, are for sale), being built by a guy who -- should he survive the apocalypse -- is best suited to build more castles. But to Miller it all makes sense. When he tells us the castle is popular as a meeting hall for 25 self-professed vampires, we accept it blandly. When he claims he's been asked to make his castle the "southern tourist information office" for Loudoun county, we don't bat an eye. Sure. Why not?
Is Bull Run Castle a healthy outlet for a man with a siege mentality -- or is it just kinda creepy? We suggest you visit and decide for yourself -- and do it soon. Because when society falls apart and the Bull Run Castle portcullis comes clattering down -- you'd best not be in John Miller's line of fire.
April 2006: Gilbert Julien is the new owner of Bull Run Castle. Gilbert writes: "The Castle is closed for renovations at this time, but I still give tours when I am there and folks stop by (about four per weekend). The renovation will probably last take two years and if all goes well, the castle will begin to grow further after that. John has reunited with his childhood sweetheart and now lives in Reading PA."
March 2005: The castle is reported finally under contract to be purchased.
May 2004: Still open for tours and for sale. Tour includes viewing a cable-access documentary about Miller and his castle -- including an interview with a man who claims Miller threatened him with an ax (a story Miller denies). In the film, Miller expresses his disdain for college education and his admiration for Republicans, especially George W. Bush. The castle is a popular site for Harry Potter parties.