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Dromborg Castle: “Dreams the Size of Mountains”

Joan and Bruce Johnson were hippies living in a twenty-square-foot root cellar with no electricity and no running water. After a few years, they saw the business potential of the forests around Fayetteville. And they founded White River Hardwoods, manufacturer of hardwood mouldings and millwork. 

After founding their company, the Johnsons traveled the world. Inspired by the castles in Europe, they set out to build their own in Northwest Arkansas. Five years and 4000 tons of native stone later, Dromborg Castle stands in the middle of 40 acres of forested land, less than 10 minutes away from the University of Arkansas. 

The Map Room gallery inside Dromborg, 3rd floor

Dromborg means “dreams the size of mountains” in ancient Nordic. The castle, complete with a helipad, bookcase that opens into a secret room, and 300° observation deck, certainly lives up to its name. The Johnsons spared no expense in building and cultivating the space. After twelve years, the Johnsons are ready to pass the castle along to new owners. 

“We built this house in our forties and stewarded it well,” Joan Johnson said. “It’s time for someone else to steward it.”

Since its creation, Dromborg has served as a hub for philanthropic events, a venue for wedding photos, music performances, and more. According to Joan, she hosted people every other weekend last year, totaling over 2000 guests. 

As I walked around Dromborg, I was mesmerized by the hand-carved millwork that embellished nearly every wall, cabinet, and doorway, and I’m not alone. Dromborg is also a popular field trip destination for architecture students at the University of Arkansas. 

According to Katherine Hudson, the listing agent, Joan Johnson uses the space to show her potential customers what is possible. The ancient classical architecture paired with the beautiful wood mouldings have served as a starting place for Joan’s subsequent design projects. Through the years, Dromborg’s architecture has received all kinds of accolades including the Best Residential title in Masonry Construction’s 2009 Project of the Year

But Dromborg is far more than its specs.

Back of Dromborg

When taking in Dromborg in all its glory, it’s easy to forget that this castle is a residential home. In fact, some people have mistaken it for a tourist attraction and wandered past the gate and up to the house while Mrs. Johnson was cooking dinner (Pro tip: don’t do this!). 

When I saw photos of Dromborg, I didn’t envision it as a place where laundry is washed, meals are cooked, markers are spilled, and work gets done. But the mundane things that take place there make the castle home not only for the Johnsons and their family but also for their guests. 

Paul Haas, who Joan Johnson described as her “third son”, became acquainted with the family when he was hired as the music director of the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas in 2010. After an initial meeting with the Johnsons, they extended an invitation to stay with them when he came to town from New York.

“I was completely bowled over when we drove up.” Haas said. “I didn’t think such a thing existed anywhere except for in Europe.”

Since then, Paul has stayed at Dromborg about six times a year. The space has been the source of inspiration for his musical compositions and personal breakthroughs. He credits Joan and Bruce with “imbuing the space with themselves” and cultivating its creative energy. 

Dromborg is a luxury residential home, but it has potential to be developed into a variety of other facilities depending on the future owner’s needs. 

“This soil is perfect for grapes!” Hudson said. The clean air, temperate climate, and fertile soil make it the perfect place to produce wine. She can also envision Dromborg and the land around it as a restaurant, museum, retreat center, or a hotel. 

If you’d like to schedule a private tour at Dromborg, my father, Tong Sing Puang, is passionate about Northwest Arkansas real estate and would love to help you set something up! You can contact him at tspuang@kw.com or by phone at 479-426-3416.

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