Stihl Dealer Days

Rural Missouri Magazine

At home in their castle
Kel and Anne Bayless live a fairy tale dream in their very own castle

by Jennifer Kettler
Kansas City, Kan., residents Kel and Anne Bayless are building a castle at their weekend home near the Lake of the Ozarks. Old Cross Castle’s 3,200-square- foot courtyard is large enough that most Missourians could fit their home in it.

Boaters near the Niangua arm of Lake of the Ozarks have gawked at an unusual construction site for nearly 15 years. Sitting high on the hill, hidden among lush oaks, stands a structure created mostly of cinder blocks called “Old Cross Castle.”

Approaching the fortress, you might think you’ve stepped into the Middle Ages as you come upon a dragon wading in a moat. You rub your eyes in disbelief as the immense archway above a wooden drawbridge welcomes you into a courtyard. Thirty-foot towers and curtain walls surround you as a knight in shining armor stands on the lookout. Not until owners Kel and Anne Bayless greet you in shorts and T-shirts do you realize this isn’t a dream.

Kel sands an arched window in preparation for welding. The couple is performing most of the construction work themselves.

“It’s not a fantasyland,” says Kel. “It’s reality.”

Making a weekend home seven miles outside of Greenview, the Kansas City, Kan., residents have been building their lakeside castle one cinder block at a time every weekend since 1990.

“I just thought it would be fun to build something that really you just couldn’t get done,” says Kel. “The fun is in the adventure of doing it. I don’t even look forward to the day when I can stand back and say, ‘Aw, it’s done.’ I’m enjoying the trip.”

Savoring the process is important to the couple. They want to do everything right to ensure the longevity of the castle. Plus, they feel hurried enough at work with Kel being a crane broker and Anne keeping busy as an accountant.

Anne laughs as she remembers how the castle came to be.“He was supposed to build me a vacation log cabin,” she says. Plans quickly changed when Kel realized there was a security problem with a log cabin in the woods.

There are no servants in this castle. Kel and Anne do all of the yard work.

“I thought if we build a log cabin it could be like Ha Ha Tonka, burn down and nobody would be there to put it out,” explains Kel, a Southwest Electric Cooperative member. “We needed some kind of security. So, I figured a 15-foot stone wall, a drawbridge and a moat would take care of the fire and security problems. Plus, the other side drops down to the lake so you can always pour hot oil on intruders,” Kel says with a laugh.

Being prepared for intruders and using the castle as a protective palace is what makes Kel’s creation unique. Contrary to popular belief, a Medieval stone building, with towers is not what makes a castle authentic. The dictionary defines a castle as a large fortified building that provides safety against invasion or a massive, imposing house. With the castle’s enormous size and 14-foot curtain walls this structure is sure to keep the bad guys away.

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Cross-shaped windows adorn the Old Cross Castle.
 
 

The inspiration for the castle came on a business trip to Ireland. After standing beneath a 1,200 year-old archway, Kel became fascinated with enduring architecture.

“A castle hopefully is built to last,” he says. “So it will last long past anybody who has any clue who I am.”

As Kel and Anne look out over the lake, they reflect on how far they’ve come.

“When we first started construction we used to stay in a camper with no electricity and take jug showers,” says Kel. “Now with the structure up and indoor plumbing, we’re thrilled.”

Kel pushes open a heavy wooden door to reveal the interior of one of the four hexagon-shaped towers. Instead of golden goblets and fine china on the dining room table, paper plates and plastic cups sit on a picnic table. Exposed insulation and unlaid carpet squares make you realize this palace is a work in progress.

Kel and Anne relax after a day working on their castle. The interior of the home is, so far, anything but palacial.

Working on the castle is a slow process with only two people. The only hired help they had was from Chris Kuse who did all of the intricate masonry work. Everything else is done by Kel and Anne, who have never built anything before.

“I don’t think there’s anything I can’t do,” says Kel.

With no plans for the castle, he has the freedom to have fun with the architecture and create whatever he wants. The castle’s medieval style includes crenelations (the teeth-like pattern along tower tops), a working drawbridge and spear-rod iron gates that display Kel’s handcrafted shields.

Perhaps Kel’s freedom of expression is best represented in the windows that give the fortress its name. Each cross-shaped window is welded by Kel and placed in the castle as a subtle symbol of the couple’s spirituality.

Anne feeds goldfish in the castle moat. The dragon sculptures add to the medievel effect.

The Christian couple enjoys working together and doesn’t see the castle as a home but as a dream. They want to show kids that anything is possibe if they try.

“I’ve watched kids come in and you can just see it,” says Kel. “Instantly they’ll start thinking, ‘Here’s a dragon in a moat and a drawbridge. This is a real castle.’ Then they walk away saying, ‘Yeah, you can do it. It can be done. Look there, they’re doing it.’”

The high school sweethearts don’t think of themselves as exceptional and believe anybody can do what they’re doing. Despite rumors, they are not rich. They pay for the castle as they go and use donated labor, materials and furniture.

Anne and Kel Bayless hang out at their favorite spot watching boaters go by. Teeth-shaped crenelations atop walls are a defining feature of a castle.

Every Fourth of July, family, friends and strangers show up for Kel’s semi-professional fireworks display with his cannons by the lakeshore.

“One of the most significant reasons for creating this- place is so family and friends can come and enjoy themselves for not a lot of money,” he says. “All they have to do is pay for food and gas to get down here.”

The humble couple doesn’t plan on going from rags to riches anytime soon. They still have to install a roof, windows and doors, stucco the outside walls, add a fountain to the courtyard and complete all of the interior design and landscaping.

After a barbecue dinner, Kel Bayless and his daughter, Linda Skeen, cuddle by the campfire in the castle’s courtyard.

When the couple retires in six years, they hope to open the castle to the public as a bed and breakfast. They are even considering hosting Renaissance festivals.

Although the castle is not officially open for business or tours, Kel and Anne welcome people to stop by on the weekends and see the castle or lend a hand.

Kel believes the experience of building something permanent for his family will inspire future generations to do something others haven’t.

“A certain kind of personality has an interest in life and wants to live beyond what the average Joe would do,” Kel says. “Climb a little higher. Run a little faster. Do something different than everybody else.”

To contact Kel and Anne Bayless write to 9735 Aberdeen, Overland Park, Kan., 66206. Jennifer Kettler, the author and photographer of this story, was a summer intern at Rural Missouri in 2005.

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