North Carolina folk artist Vollis Simpson didn’t start creating his whimsical sculptures until he retired. Making use of his skills as a mechanic and using rigs he developed as a house mover, Simpson began creating huge kinetic sculptures out of scrap metal. The creations were based on weather vanes and handcrafted “whirligigs” that could be found on barns and in yards across the South.
Simpson’s art has been widely recognized. Four of his whirligigs were displayed in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympic Games. Museums from the North Carolina Art Museum to the Folk Art Museum in New York City have displayed his sculptures.
Simpson passed away in May 2013, at the age of 94. A month later the North Carolina House and Senate designated his whirligigs as the State Art of North Carolina.
The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park was opened in December 2017. The park has about 60 of the colorful whirligigs, which were relocated from fields of Simpson’s farm. It can be almost hypnotic to watch the many moving parts slowly rotate in the wind. We visited on a sunny day, but the park has special lighting so that at night the many reflectors attached to the sculptures catch the light and recreate the effect of car lights reflecting off the whirligigs as they drove past in the dark.
Tryon Palace, in New Bern, was the official residence of the British Governors of North Carolina from 1770 until 1775. Eventually, to be more central in the newly formed state, the capital was moved to Raleigh in 1792. Some time shortly after that, the original palace was destroyed by a fire.
The palace was recreated, according to the original plans, in the 1950s. It’s an interesting part of North Carolina’s early history.
My favorite places at Tryon Palace are the formal gardens. While the plans for the original palace included garden plans, the original gardens were never implemented. The current gardens were designed by Morley Williams, who had assisted in the restoration of the gardens at Mount Vernon and Stratford Hall.
This walk along the garden wall is one of my favorite spots in the gardens. It’s a peaceful place where you can sit quietly and enjoy the beauty of the gardens. I also like that it’s just a little shaggy, not as well manicured as other parts of the garden. It just feels warmer to me.
Stagville Plantation, in North Carolina, was one of the largest plantations in the south. By 1860 the plantation held close to 30,000 acres and nearly 900 slaves. These cabins are original structures and housed several dozen slave families. The cabins were very basic- one large space with no heat, no beds, no privacy.
After the Civil War, many of the slaves stayed at Stagville as sharecroppers. Their descendants are still residents of Durham County.
Chinqua Penn was a beautiful old English manor near Reidsville, North Carolina. Originally built by Jeff and Betty Penn. The name Chinqua Penn comes from the name of a species of American Chestnut, the chinquapin and, of course, the family’s name.
Mr. and Mrs. Penn were philanthropists who traveled the world and furnished their house with the treasures they acquired on their journeys. There’s even a full scale Chinese pagoda on the property. The property was given into trusteeship by the University of North Carolina. In 2006 the property was sold to Calvin Phelps, the founder of Renegade Tobacco Company, and was closed, with all the beautiful belongings sold at auction during bankruptcy proceedings.
We were fortunate to be able to tour the property and house before the closure. One point of interest for us was the dog cemetery. The Penns were dog lovers and raised Cocker Spaniels and English Setters. The Penns buried their beloved companions in this cemetery, with Mr. Penn delivering the eulogy. It was a nice way to memorialize the animals they loved.
There aren’t a lot of covered bridges left. One problem is that the building material, wood, doesn’t hold up well to weather. The other problem is that they were originally built for wagons and horses, not today’s cars and trucks that weigh thousands of pounds. For these reasons there are only a couple covered bridges in North Carolina. This beauty was moved from its original location and now sits a few miles from the Alston House, also known as the House on the Horseshoe.
A second bridge, the Bunker Hill bridge, sits a few miles off I-40 in western North Carolina. It’s a bit hard to find, being tucked in a small wooded park off a secondary road. It’s a really peaceful place to enjoy a walk in the woods
and the craftsmanship of the wonderful old bridge.
By the way, there’s a reason these bridges are covered. Uncovered wooden bridges have a life span of only 10 to 15 years. The roofs protect the bridge from the elements and extend the life of the structure. Luckily for us, there are still some of these bridges to see.
We’re in the middle of a winter storm here and while I’m not looking forward to the ride to work tomorrow it is beautiful. We seem to get a winter storm every two years or so. Here’s a photo of our house taken during the winter storm on 12/4/2010.
I love to photograph lighthouses. When we travel, if there is a lighthouse nearby we’ll take a ride to visit the site. Here are a few we’ve visited over the years.
Bodie Island Lighthouse, Outer Banks, NC
The Hattaras Light is probably the most famous Outer Banks lighthouse but I think the Bodie Island Light is much prettier. The light was built in 1872 and stands 156 feet tall. It’s one of the few brick tower lighthouses and has an original first-order Fresnel lens.
Crooked River Lighthouse, Carrabelle, Florida
Also known as the Carrabelle Light, this cast iron skeleton lighthouse was built in 1895 to replace the Dog Island Light, which had been destroyed years before in a hurricane. The light stands 100 feet tall and housed a fourth order Fresnel lens. The light has been decommissioned and the Fresnel lens has been replaced with an acrylic replica.
St. Augustine Light, St. Augustine, Florida
This beautiful brick lighthouse was built in 1874 and stands 165 feet tall. It contains a first-order Fresnel lens. In 1980 The women of the Junior Service League of St. Augustine signed a 99-year lease on the house and grounds and began restoration. Shortly after they began the restoration the League signed a 30 year lease of the actual lighthouse and began restoration. At the end of the 1980s the League had the original Fresnel lens restored.