"The Castle" - The Joseph Franklin Bland House
The Joseph Franklin Bland House, also known as “The Castle,” was built primarily between 1930 and 1937 in the Buena Vista neighborhood of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The house is remarkable for its stone, hewn timber, and iron construction and its imposing Chateauesque design, which is strikingly different from other Winston-Salem houses constructed during the same era. The house’s 6,200 square feet features heavy oak doors, exposed structural stone and timber, and a circular stair tower, as well as materials like oil drums and railroad tracks. Its builder and owner, Joseph Franklin “Frank” Bland, was a local musician and a piano and organ builder and repairman; he owned the Bland Piano Company, which operated in Winston-Salem for at least seven decades. He was a master craftsman, and his intricate and careful work can be seen throughout the house.
Backstory and Context
Joseph Franklin Bland was born on December 4th, 1888, in Cleveland County, North Carolina, to J.F. and Elizabeth Burrus Bland. His family later lived in Asheville and Rockford, North Carolina. Joseph’s father was a noted musician and piano and organ dealer who instilled a love of music in his children; three of them, Joseph included, went on to have music-related careers. Joseph began studying music at Salem College at age fourteen and served as the organist at the First Presbyterian Church. He later studied in Washington, D.C., before returning to Winston-Salem, when he began serving as the organist at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. He married Mozelle Dugan in this church in 1917. A few years earlier, around 1913, he opened the Bland Piano Company, which sold and repaired pianos and organs. Joseph and his wife lived above the shop. The business was quite successful, opening a branch on the ground floor of the Nissen Building by 1931 and buying the Bowen Piano Company in 1937. Mozelle continued to run the company until sometime after 1983, when it was described as “the oldest remaining music company in Winston-Salem.”
In addition to being an accomplished musician, Joseph earned a reputation as a master craftsman who could, “make, build, or do anything with his hands that he wanted to.” His most impressive work is his home, which he took a deep personal interest in (some would say, was “nearly obsessed with”) for the last decade of his life. His idea for its design was inspired by a picture of a German castle and several houses he had seen. He began looking for materials to use in the home and, in 1930, purchased two lots in the very fashionable Buena Vista neighborhood. He selected the type of stone for the house’s exterior when he drove past an outcropping of it; he gathered hewn timber from the former Bohannon Grist Mill building. Joseph personally planned and directed construction of the house, and even built many parts himself. In addition to the house, he constructed a bridge, a water wheel, and a stone bathhouse and pool (only the bridge and pool survive today, and both are overgrown). Joseph, Mozelle, and their only child, a daughter named Laura Elizabeth, moved into the home by 1937, but Joseph kept building. He started constructing a chapel for family worship and had just completed building an organ for it when he died of a heart attack on July 6th, 1940. His funeral was held at the Rockford Baptist Church, where he had previously donated and installed an organ.
The chapel was never completed, and was eventually removed. However, even without it, the grand dwelling is a fitting tribute to Joseph’s artisanal skill. The stone walls, slate roof, casement windows, and heavy oak doors give it the appearance of, “a naturalistic fortress commanding its site above a ravine.” The interior features exposed stone, hewn timber, and iron, and appears like a medieval castle. The grand living room, lit by a giant wrought iron chandelier, is twenty by thirty feet in floor area and twenty-eight feet in height, and is supported by massive timbers from the former mill. Elsewhere in the house, Joseph used oil drums to construct several windows, and railroad tracks as part of the support structure in the basement. The circular stair tower is perhaps the most striking feature, with its “floating” steps and conical roof with exposed interior support structure. The house stands out from even Winston-Salem’s most elite dwellings, which were generally designed and built by the same few firms, and especially from other Depression-era homes in the region.
The house was sold out of the Bland family in 1948 and was sold three more times to a series of prominent locals before it was bought by Dr. and Mrs. Robert E. Nash in 1971. They still owned it when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. The house now has several additions, including a guest house/garage, pool and patio, catering kitchen, gazebo, and another garage, but the builders have taken pains to match the original structure’s unique style. Today, the house and its setting remain largely uncompromised.
1) Building Summary; Detailed Property Information; REID 6825496990000, PIN # 6825-49-6990, Location Address: 1809 Virginia RD, Property Description: LO103B BL1144, Forsyth County North Carolina. April 17th 2020. Accessed April 18th 2020. http://tellus.co.forsyth.nc.us/lrcpwa/BuildingDetails.aspx?PARCELPK=9823&BldgCardNum=1&SectionNum=1.
2) Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission. 091 - Joseph Franklin Bland House; Local Historic Landmark Program; Historic Resources Commission; Planning & Development Services Department, City of Winston-Salem, NC. Accessed April 18th 2020. https://www.cityofws.org/DocumentCenter/View/3877/091---Joseph-Franklin-Bland-House-PDF.
3) Miller, E. H. Miller's Winston-Salem, N.C. City Directory. January 1931 Edition. Volume XXVIII. The Piedmont Series. Asheville, NC. Commercial Service Company and The Miller Press, 1931. University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. North Carolina Digital Heritage Center. The Internet Archive. October 10th, 2011. Accessed April 18th, 2020. https://archive.org/details/millerswinstonsa28mill/mode/2up.
4) Phillips, Laura A.W. Joseph Franklin Bland House, National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form, North Carolina Historic Preservation Office. January 12th, 1984. Accessed April 18th 2020. https://files.nc.gov/ncdcr/nr/FY1056.pdf.
5) Taylor, Gwynne S. Nissen Building, National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form, North Carolina Historic Preservation Office. February 7th, 1983. Accessed April 18th 2020. https://files.nc.gov/ncdcr/nr/FY0784.pdf.
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