Look carefully the next time you’re traveling up A1A north of St. Augustine and you might notice a piece of roadside architecture that’s a little out of place for the beaches of Florida. Poking above the trees is a series of large turrets that belong to Castle Otttis (yes, with three t’s).
So how did an Irish-style castle end up being built in Northeast Florida?
It was a labor of love by two men – Ottis Sadler and Rusty Ickes. In 1984, they were inspired to create a “place of peace on earth” in the form of a landscape-sculpture, a structure built to adorn or to view the landscape. They took their guidance from a 1,000-year-old castle in Ireland and worked with historians from the Catholic Diocese of Northeast Florida to re-create the atmosphere of an Irish abbey of the era.
Four years later, the concrete block exterior was complete. It took another three years and an additional person to craft the inside of the castle.
All materials the men utilized were repurposed from construction or demolition sites. There is no glass in the building’s 88 window openings, allowing the interior to be exposed to wind, light and other elements of nature. Eight spiral staircases made from cypress accentuate the imposing, cavernous interior.
The second floor has an altar, pews, pulpit and an early 1900s bishop chair made from southern heart pine. There are Christian crosses and symbols from other world religions scattered throughout.
Legally designated a “garage” by local officials, the castle does not have electricity, bathrooms or other utilities and is not ADA compliant. It was never intended to be anything more than a piece of art dedicated to the memory of Jesus Christ.
Over the years, the castle has attracted its share of critics, who say the architecture doesn’t fit in with other buildings in the area, and a host of admirers who are amazed at its simplistic beauty. In 1992, it received an award from the the American Institute of Architects for the “creation of a new landmark.”
While privately owned and not open to the public, Rusty occasionally gives tours of Castle Otttis to small groups when reservations are made 72 hours in advance. It can also be rented out for intimate weddings (like the ones performed by Sun and Sea Beach Weddings).
Inter-denominational services are held at Castle Otttis on Sunday mornings. People of all faiths are welcome as long as you leave any prejudices you might have at the door.
If you’re wondering wondering why Castle Otttis is spelled with three “t’s” instead of two, the explanation is simple. The spelling is meant to symbolize the three crosses on the hill where Christ died.