“A man must find time for himself. Time is what we spend our lives with. If we are not careful we find others spending it for us. . . . It is necessary now and then for a man to go away by himself and experience loneliness; to sit on a rock in the forest and to ask of himself, 'Who am I, and where have I been, and where am I going?' . . .
If one is not careful, one allows diversions to take up one's time—the stuff of life.”
-- Carl Sandburg
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site is a 246-acre property which provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of one of the most renowned poets and authors in American literary history. The park is centered around the magnificent old Sandburg home and its surrounding farm which historically went by the name "Connemara". Also surrounding the old farm is an impressive network of trails which can offer everything from simple lakeside strolls, to a historic walking tour of the sites buildings, to a more strenuous climb out to the top of Big Glassy Mountain and views of the surrounding hills. On this visit I'd be trying to take in as much of the Historic Site as I could in this one afternoon, getting four miles of walking in on the trails and stopping by most of the historic structures included on the property as well. As such this is a bit of a mashup compared to most of my albums. It starts off with a walk through the farm where I attempt to give a little bit of background information on the old buildings found there. Following that I head out onto the trails for a walk out to Big Glassy Mountain before returning back towards the main house and a walk by beautiful Front Lake to complete the tour.
Born in 1878 to a family of Swedish immigrants, Carl Sandburg came from fairly humble beginnings. Spending much of his early life in Illinois and Michigan, it wasn't until Sandburg was in his 30's that he gained fame through a series of poetry publications. In 1919 he won the first of three Pulitzer Prizes which he would be awarded during his life. In the late 1920's and 1930's he published a fantastic series of books on the life of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War for one of which he won another Pulitzer Prize. In 1945 Carl Sandburg was drawn to North Carolina, in large part due to his wife Lillian's desire to have a warmer climate in which to raise her champion goat herd. Stopping in the tiny resort town of Flat Rock (which, for the most part, it remains to this day) he visited a large farm which had been vacant in recent years. This was "Connemara". Originally owned by one Christopher Memminger, the main house was completed in 1839. During the early years the farm was first known as "Rock Hill" and under Memminger's ownership several additional buildings were constructed on the property. Upon Memminger's death in 1888 the property went through a couple of successive owners before being purchased by a veteran named Ellison Smyth. Smyth owned the farm for over 40 years and was the one who changed its name to Connemara. It was three years after Smyth's death that Sandburg first set eyes on the property. Apparently it was love at first sight as he is reported to have exclaimed, "This is the place. We will look no further." For $45,000 dollars the Sandburgs purchased Connemara and would spend the next twenty-four years there. Sandburg continued writing from his new North Carolina home...in fact, fully one-third of his works were written during his time at Connemara. His wife also made a name for herself here, her dairy goats became quite famous and to this day you can visit and see the descendants of her herd roaming the fields surrounding the farm. Carl Sandburg passed away in 1967 at which point Lillian sold the property to the U.S. Government for preservation. The following year the National Historic Site was established.
As stated earlier, in addition to the historic Sandburg farm there are a number of hiking trails which criss-cross the property...many of which were walked by Carl Sandburg himself during his time here. My intent was to walk out to the most distinctive landmark along the trail system, Big Glassy Mountain, and enjoy the scenery from its summit ledges. I started out by way of the short Orchard Trail which begins across from the main barn. By way of it, and the equally short Spring Trail after, I made the turn westward on the Glassy Mountain Trail to reach the summit. Out and back it was about two miles to the cliff overlook. The scenery from the top is nice and the trail is pleasantly graded and easy to walk. From the somewhat overgrown ledges the much higher mountain ranges to the west can be seen rising from the French Broad River Valley below. It's quite easy to see why Mr. Sandburg frequently enjoyed walking out there. After Big Glassy I retraced my steps to the Memminger Loop Trail, which I would follow next back towards the main house. There wasn't a whole lot to see along this stretch of trail but it was still a pleasantly easy stroll through the mixed pine and hardwood forests that characterize the property. Eventually I ended up down along the shore of Front Lake, which sits below the house, for a final flat walk through the pines back to my car.
Overall this was one of my favorite kinds of days outside. A wonderful mix of my two favorite obsessions, hiking and history, the tour of the old buildings of the Connemara Farm combined with a pleasantly easy stroll through a beautiful woods to a nice view was enjoyable to say the least. If you ever find yourself in this corner of North Carolina I'd highly recommend making a stop. It's a place suitable for just about anyone whether you're looking for a stroll in the woods, wanting to learn a bit of recent history, or to just let the kids out to pet the goats. Come on along with me then, won't you, as I take a tour of a lesser-known member of the National Park family...and, as always, ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.273387, -82.444722
Mileage Hiked: 4.5 miles Hike Duration: 2:00
Trailhead Temp: 40'F Trail Traffic: 10-25 people
Min. Elevation: 2,150' Max. Elevation: 2,783'
Total Vertical Gain: 750' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 213'