Story by Emma Castleberry | Photos by joye ardyn durham
When asked why he chose to spend 18 years building the elaborate home he calls Castle Rock, Bruce McTaggart answers simply: “I was born into a trailer and I wanted to live in a castle.” Born in Honolulu, McTaggart spent his childhood moving to several states as an Air Force brat before settling in North Carolina. “All my uncles in Virginia built their own homes,” he says. “So I followed suit.” While studying civil engineering at A-B Tech, where he learned to draw blueprints, McTaggart bought a piece of property in Barnardville in 1977.
He started by cutting down 14 large hemlock trees with a chainsaw. McTaggart’s building philosophy is largely influenced by a quote from one of his engineering professors, Ken Driver, who said, “If at all possible, build with materials indigenous to the region and in harmony with nature.” McTaggart laid the foundation for the home before he even pursued a loan, which was hard to obtain because of his occupation as a musician. Asheville Savings Bank took a chance on him and he’s been their customer for 30 years. McTaggart didn’t even end up needing the entire loan, using the last disbursal as a down payment.
Although the house itself is just over 1,000 square feet, it boasts a 14-foot ceiling, an expansive fireplace, a sunken living room and a spiral staircase. “It’s the smallest big house in the world,” McTaggart says. “Except for stoves and telephones, I handcrafted everything—kitchen cabinets, doors, window casings, trim, herringbone paneling. Much of it was crafted from the hemlocks I cut down originally.” The house was certified green before the GreenBuilt Alliance existed, but earned formal recognition as a green building in 2009.
While the interior of the home is interesting, the exterior is what really sets it apart. Specifically, the remarkable stone archway, stone bridge and 10-foot stone waterfall that earned the home its name of Castle Rock. Stonemason Stanley Bencivenga worked on the elaborate structures for 17 years with the help of McTaggart and sculptor Stephan Vynyarsky. Behind the waterfall’s cascade is a stone depiction of Viking Leif Erikson trading with an American Indian chief. “The Vikings really were the true sailors of that day,” says McTaggart. “They were bartering with the Indians long before Columbus came over. This is my own testament and revolt to that frame of thinking.”
Suwana Cry purchased the home from McTaggart in 2010. “We went in the driveway, saw the stonework and didn’t even bother to look inside the house,” she says. “Every time we have a delivery or somebody comes to the house, they ask to take a picture. I call it my castle.” McTaggart and Cry have maintained a jovial friendship over the years that Cry has lived in the home, but it wasn’t always that way. “Suwana and I, we started off like two cats in an alley,” says McTaggart. “She didn’t really appreciate the home for what it was.” To support his asking price, McTaggart sought out a highly respected stonemason in the community and asked for an appraisal on the waterfall and other stonework. “The appraisal essentially said, ‘If you could even find a mason to attempt this project, the rockwork alone in the waterfall would cost $150,000 and the entrance would be another $15,000. But you won’t find anyone to attempt this.’” McTaggart handed the appraisal to Cry, who was beginning to understand that the home was far more unique than she’d initially realized. “If you go to my house with him, he can tell you a story for every stone and beam and piece of wood,” says Cry. “For Bruce’s children, this is their history. Even when he is gone, his grandchildren can talk about how he built this.”
Suwana Cry is owner of Suwana’s Thai Orchid in downtown Asheville.