Not more than 20 miles or so outside of Asheville and a half-hour drive from our Western North Carolina bed and breakfast is the small town of Flat Rock. The town is best known for the Flat Rock Playhouse which has been presenting excellent theater for more than 50 years. But if you stand in the parking lot of the theater and look across the street you will see a splendid white house perched high on the hill overlooking a large pond. This house is Connemara, the final home of Carl Sandburg and his wife, Lillian.
Carl Sandburg was born in 1878 in a small town in Illinois. After graduating 8th grade in 1891 he went to work. He delivered milk, harvested ice, laid bricks, threshed wheat in Kansas, and shined shoes in Galesburg’s Union Hotel before traveling as a hobo in 1897. These early experiences working gave him a strong sense of the contrast between rich and poor. After serving with the army in the Spanish-American War, he returned to his hometown and enrolled in college and while he never gained a degree he did use his college years to sharpen his linguistic skill. Sandburg was always interested in words and poetry. While riding the rails in 1897, he collected the songs and stories of the hobos and vagrants with whom he shared campfires and boxcars. In 1916 he published his Chicago Poems and his reputation as a man of letters was established. Sandburg’s poetry is raw, his subject matter is the common man and his colloquial narrative style makes Sandburg one of the most uniquely American poets of the Modernist period. Over the years, Sandburg became known as the “voice of the people”. He was fascinated by Abraham Lincoln and received a Pulitzer prize for his works on the subject. He married Lillian Steichen in 1908. She was his intellectual equal with an inquiring mind, but she was also a farmer at heart and took to raising goats and chickens in the garden of their home in Milwaukee. Eventually, as she put it, they were frozen out of Wisconsin and they moved to the mountains of North Carolina.
Here the Sandburgs made their final home. And when Carl Sandburg died in 1967, Lillian made a gift of the house and all its belongings. She left everything as it was, even to the trash in the dining room wastebasket.
Even if you know little about the Sandburgs, the house is fascinating for its frozen-in-time picture of how a family lived in the 1950’s and 60’s. I found myself recognizing games, juice pitchers and radio’s from my childhood home which made it all the more fun to go through.
Outside, the home is beautifully situated with stunning views of the mountain. Even though it was the middle of winter, it was a warm sunny day and the lack of crowds more than made up for the missing leaves on the trees. Lillian’s goats continue to be raised here and one can buy cheese and goat-milk fudge at the small store in the basement of the home. The park itself consists of over 245 acres with five miles of trails which are open to the public.
If you go:
The park is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. all year; closed December 25 and in cases of inclement weather the park may close to visitors.
There is no charge for admission to the grounds. The trails, information center and farmyard areas are open to the public.
Tours of the historic Carl Sandburg Home are available daily, except Christmas day. Tours begin at 9:30am; the last tour departs at 4:30pm. The charge for the tour is $5. Tours are offered every half an hour from Memorial Day until October and weekends throughout the year. November through Memorial Day, tours are offered once an hour on the half-hour only.