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McClatchy-Tribune  08/31/2014 7:39 AM ET
Living large: Castle built on swords within 10 minutes of downtown Chattanooga [Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn. :: ]

Aug. 31--Christopher Beasley is a self-described nerd whose passions live in both the ancient world of Medieval fantasy and the real-time world of Internet commerce.

The 33-year-old Michigan entrepreneur has amassed a small fortune combining the two worlds and will soon bring a bit of each to Chattanooga.

Next year, Beasley plans to move his eCommerce business to the Gig City and his family to a castle he is building in one of the most secluded areas within the city of Chattanooga.

"We love the mountains, and we love the fact that in Chattanooga the mountains are so close to downtown," Beasley said in an interview from his current home in East Lansing, Mich., where he has built a number of web-based retailing businesses. "This land we bought is as rural as you can get, and we're still within 10 minutes of downtown Chattanooga."

Beasley says he has dreamed of building a mountaintop castle since he sketched out plans for a stone-towered mansion while still in high school when he also began building web sites in his free time.

His early work on the Internet quickly grew into a successful web-based retailing business when he was in college at Michigan State University. He was successful enough with ventures like his Wilderness Survival web site to drop out of college and focus full time on his growing business.

Fantasy career

In 2006, when he was only 25 years old, he approached author George R.R. Martin about merchandising items featured in Martin's best-selling epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire.

Martin's books were later adapted by HBO for its popular dramatic series Games of Thrones, which is set in Medieval Eurasia.

Beasley not only was fascinated by Martin's story telling but eager to capitalize on the merchandising potential of the swords, shields and armor featured in the book and HBO series. Based upon his earlier Internet retailing success through his holding company, JAIC Inc., (the initials for "Just Another Internet Company" ), Beasley obtained the rights to sell licensed replicas of "Game of Thrones" equipment, arms, characters, armament and props.

Beasley's sword and armor retailing venture, Valyrian Steel, was launched in 2007 before the Games of Thrones caravan took off. He now markets dozens of items ranging from books to character busts to limited edition swords.

Valyrian Steel takes its name from the magically imbued metal from Game of Thrones' mythology.

Beasley says he has long been fascinated by castles and medieval warfare and began collecting merchandise from the "Lord of the Rings" series more than a decade ago.

Beasley turned his attention south to Tennessee in 2006 when United Cutlery, a Sevierville-based sword maker licensed to handle Lord of the Rings merchandise, filed for bankruptcy. Beasley hired several of the company's key employees, who continue to work for Valyrian Steel.

After initially using his business simply to distribute the swords, helmets and shields, Beasley and his designers have begun to design their own models and offer a variety of Games of Throne merchandise.

The success of Valyrian Steel is helping Beasley to live out his own Medieval-style fantasy to build his own castle.

Castle in the clouds

At the end of the winding, 2-mile road up Raccoon Mountain, Beasley bought 20 acres adjacent to undeveloped TVA land. Crews recently cleared part of the site and the foundation was dug for castle construction to begin.

Two giant 8-foot stone walls with peaked windows that were built by Santa Fe Masonry in Atlanta sit ready for installation.

Steve Birger Construction of Cleveland will build the castle, once Beasley finalizes financing for his new home.

"We're still working with the banks; it's not easy working with them on castles," he said.

As designed by River Street Architects, Beasley's castle will rise nearly 54 feet, or four stories above its mountaintop site and will be built around four circular towers. The city building permit issued earlier this summer includes plans for 10,322 square feet of finished space, including five bedrooms and giant, two-story dining and great hall gathering areas. The complex also includes another 2,220 square feet of unfinished space.

Beasley is blogging about his castle building experience under the name Ishmael at www.buildingmycastle.com.

Beasley's wife, Marie, will complete her residency in Michigan in the next month. The couple and their two children, ages 5 and 3, are planning on moving into the new Chattanooga castle by next winter.

Beasely, who now lives in a modest 2,200-square-foot home in Michigan, said the castle fulfills a lifelong dream for him "and it should be very cool for my kids."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.

 

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