Twenty-four miles south of Asheville in Flat Rock, NC, there once lived a Midwestern poet that wrote for the common man. His name was Carl Sandburg. He was a Pulitzer Prize winning poet & biographer, most famous for his Chicago Poems, American Songbag and massive biography of Abraham Lincoln.
Connemara is a large estate of 245-acres consisting of a 22 room white mansion on a hill, backed by mountains and fronted by green pastures with various lakes, barns and outbuildings. It was sold to the government after his death and is maintained as a National Historic Site by the U.S. Park Service. The hill approaching the house is steep and the climb ascends 100 feet over a third of a mile, but transportation is provided if the walk is too much. When you get to the house, there is a visitors center in the basement. Here you can peruse the bookstore and buy tickets for the tour, which is the only way to explore the house.
The home was built by Christopher Memminger in 1838, who was the secretary of the treasury for the Confederacy. The home was next owned by the textile tycoon Ellison Smyth who named it Connemara in honor of his Irish heritage. The Sandburgs bought the estate from Smyth’s descendants.
Sandburg moved here in 1945, when he was 67, with his wife Lillian, his three daughters and his two grandchildren. The family decided to move to the mountains of Western North Carolina for the climate and privacy the area offered. Sandburg lived here for twenty-two years and in that time he lectured, traveled and continued to write and publish his work.
Lillian had begun to raise goats at their previous home in Harbert, Michigan and at Connemara there was plenty of room for their Chickaming goat herd, who grew to number over 200 in the 1950s. There are still goats here today that are related to the herd.
What is interesting about the house is that it was left in the condition that it was when Carl Sandburg died, as though nothing had changed. The house remains full of books and magazines. When the Sandburgs moved there they brought more than 14,000 volumes. If you look closely you can see that some of the magazines bear the subscription address of Sandburg.
There is a sense that a writer lived here. On the tour you can view the upstairs room he used for writing, where the walls are absolutely lined with books. He worked there each night till the early morning and slept late. His daughter Janet used to bring him his breakfast of cheese, bread and goat milk, a thermos of coffee, and some honey and fruit. When he began his day he answered letters and wrote in various places around the house, including his favorite outdoor writing spot, sitting on a chair on the rocks behind the house.
Connemara is a place that the entire family will enjoy. Children can visit with the goats that roam freely around the barn and in Sandburg’s day, often times roamed throughout the house. In the spring, they can watch the birth of the baby goats.
Many events and festivals are held there throughout the year, including musical festivals, poetry readings and performances. It is worth visiting because the day allows you to learn about Sandburg and how he lived when he was there. The atmosphere of the mountain farm invites rest and relaxation. The landscape is majestic, beautiful and peaceful.
Before leaving at the end of your day, climb the trails and sit on the rock atop Glassy Mountain behind the house where Sandburg himself walked. Here you can read a poem, stare out at the sky, and ponder something that Carl Sandburg said, “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?”
Visit the Carl Sandburg Home
Carl Sandburg Home
Carl Sandburg Home NHS
1928 Little River Road
Flat Rock, NC 28731
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. all year;
closed December 25
When visiting stay at the Waverly Inn in nearby Hendersonville, NC.
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