The first question people would ask when they heard about my acquiring Seely’s Castle was “What’s it like living in that place?”
The answer was, “Actually we just camp out.”
Although I was beginning to have some success in business, I never had the wherewithal to renovate and furnish this architectural wonder in the style that it deserved. We therefore furnished the castle with old attic, early Sears, Roebuck and fortuitous junkyard acquisitions.
The entry was through a huge, properly medieval-looking oak-and-iron front door. You were immediately struck by the vastness of the immense round foyer, with a 20-foot ceiling and two stories of beautiful leaded windows providing a breathtaking southern view of the mountains, downtown and Tunnel Road by day and the city lights at night.
We made the centerpiece of this room a pre-Civil War bell I’d salvaged many years before. When people admired it I would offer it to them — provided they could lug this 600-pound hunk of brass to their car.
I eventually added some huge, thronelike chairs that supposedly came from the original Battery Park Hotel. They were great for just sitting and quiet reading or contemplating the view. Happily, big interesting antiques were usually very cheap to come by, as they wouldn’t fit in most people’s homes.
The east wing contained the sleeping quarters, with three bedrooms and two baths on each floor. My wife and I, our two daughters and son decided to occupy the three downstairs bedrooms. Those rooms alone sucked up all the furniture from our former home like a giant vacuum cleaner.
The master bedroom was big enough for two queen beds plus a large sitting area containing our most important piece of furniture: the television set. There we watched “Leave It to Beaver,” “Gunsmoke” and “The Ed Sullivan Show” religiously.
My most vivid memory is getting up at 4 a.m. on July 20, 1969, sitting with my family in my castle and continually nodding off as we watched Neil Amstrong land on the moon. “What was this guy thinking?” I wondered. “Couldn’t he at least have waited till a decent hour to perform this incredible feat?”
The bedrooms sported 12-foot ceilings and also enjoyed beautiful views through the large leaded windows.
We slapped up some wallpaper, cleaned the wooden wainscoting, scrubbed and polished the tile floors and we were in business.
Since these bedrooms had been classrooms when Asheville-Biltmore College occupied the premises, there were big blackboards on all the walls, and we left them in place in the kids’ rooms, much to their delight.
Each room had a large closet, and when you opened the closet door, the light went on automatically. Supposedly Thomas Edison suggested this feature when Sealy built the castle. The fine oak doors were identical to those in the Grove Park Inn, which Seely designed and managed for many years.
I don’t recall that we did much to the bathrooms except install showers to complement the ample clawfoot tubs.
Just off the master bedroom was a room that I think was designed as an atrium. This 1,000-square-foot area became the storage space for all the things my wife collected: It became its very own old curiosity shop.
Once my partner and I bought out the contents of a five-and-dime store in Oakley. We ran a sale, and one day when we were about down to hauling the remaining stuff to the dump I made the mistake of letting my wife come to the store.
She insisted on taking home a whole rack of leftover greeting cards, among other things. They were so picked over that we couldn’t give them away. “Happy 110th birthday” and condolences because your cat died were common themes.
Our family had a sense of humor, and for every occasion we would sneak to the back closet, pick a card, change the message with a marking pen and present it to the honoree in a proper envelope, to everyone’s considerable amusement.
Underneath the bedrooms were the servants’ quarters. Over the years we had mixed success with letting families move into these quarters in exchange for helping take care of the place.
In the foyer sat a wooden ballot box that had been used by the local chapter of the Knights of Pythias; we’d acquired it along with some other ritual junk when we cleaned out their former headquarters downtown.
I called this the “Ought 2 Box.” During or after giving folks a tour of the castle, they would invariably say, “Jerry, you ought to [do something they thought would enhance the castle].” I would immediately show them the box, asking them to please place their check inside and we would get it done.
I don’t ever recall anyone putting in a check.
— Asheville native Jerry Sternberg, a longtime observer of the local scene, can be reached at email@example.com.