Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Finding Mitford, Part 2

I've been MIA from Blogland for the past few weeks.  I had just intended to take a few days, or maybe a week, off.  Sometimes we all need a break.  I've been reading other people's blogs, but I just couldn't seem to find the energy or inspiration to do anything on mine.  Last week was a really bad week for us -- you know how life has a habit of throwing those curve balls at us.  We're just hoping for a better month in October. 

In July, I did a post about the fictional town of Mitford from the series of books by Jan Karon.  Mitford is actually based on the real town of Blowing Rock, North Carolina.  In the first post, I shared a lot of pictures of the town, including Father Tim's church, the antique shop, and the town park.  That was a long post, and I decided to save the rest of the pictures for a second post.

If you've read these books, you'll remember the character of Sadie Baxter.  In the author's words, "Miss Sadie Baxter was the last surviving member of one of Mitford's oldest families.  At the age of eighty-six, she occupied the largest house in the village,

...with the most sweeping view."

"And she owned the most land, much of it given over to an aged but productive apple orchard."

Miss Sadie's house in Mitford was called Fernbank; and it was such a prominent part of the stories, I was very determined to find this house.  You see, after I read the books about ten years ago, my husband, our son and I drove up to Blowing Rock for the day so that I could wander around and try to find the places that Jan Karon wrote about.  It was fun for me, but by the end of the day, I was really puzzled.  Where was Fernbank?  Oh I knew the house wouldn't really be called Fernbank, with a big sign out front identifying it as such.  But still, based on the description in the books, nothing seemed to fit.  There were several large, old homes that could possibly have fit the bill (most had been turned into Bed and Breakfasts or shops).  But after walking and driving through the main part of town several times, I realized the house just wasn't there.  Surely they hadn't torn it down?  Or did this house exist solely in the imagination of the author?  Somehow, I didn't think so.

I couldn't get that house off my mind; I guess I love a good mystery, and I felt more determined than ever to find it.  But time went by, we were busy with other things, and we didn't go back to Blowing Rock right away.  Then one day in autumn we were taking one of our drives in the mountains, and I happened to get a glimpse of a big white house just off the Blue Ridge Parkway.  When I asked my husband about the location, he said it was not far at all from the town of Blowing Rock.  So the next time we stopped at one of the information centers along the parkway, I looked at the brochures until I spotted the house.  It was called Flat Top Manor, and it was part of Moses H. Cone Memorial Park.  Well, what do you know ;)

We didn't have time to stop at the house that day, but some months later, we made a point to visit Flat Top Manor.  As soon as I got a good look at it, I knew.  This was Fernbank.

What a wonderful old house!  And the history of Flat Top Manor is very similar to that of Fernbank in the Mitford books.  In the books,  Sadie Baxter's father, who built "Fernbank", earned his money in a lumber mill located in the valley near Mitford.  In real life, Moses Cone and his brother, Caesar, earned their money in the textile industry.  In 1895, they built their first cotton mill in Greensboro, North Carolina, named it Cone Mills, and went on to become the world's leading producer of denim.

In the Mitford books, the author talks about how Miss Sadie loved to give away the apples from her family orchard; and the firm, slightly tart apples had come to be called "Sadie Baxters".  The village cooks preferred to make their pies from Sadie Baxter apples rather than Granny Smiths.

Moses Cone who built Flat Top Manor, along with his wife, grew over 30,000 apple trees in four orchards on their 500 acre estate.  The Cones were key contributors to the town of Blowing Rock, and they donated land and funds for the beginning of what is now Appalachian State University.  The Manor House is now the home of the Parkway Craft Center, which features crafts by hundreds of regional artists.

I don't have any pictures of the interior of the house to show you.  As best I recall, it wasn't really furnished, except for a few pieces here and there.  I do remember the rooms were large with high ceilings and lots of fine mill work (carved molding and such), which was considered a status symbol at the time.  Now, it's mostly used as a venue for the arts and crafts sold there.  Tours of the upper floors are available at very limited times.

Here are the remaining pictures we took on our visit Memorial Day, 2011.

Looking down at the back of the house...

The approach from the side of Flat Top Manor...

Imagine how long it must have taken to carve all the spindles in these banisters.

More side views...

I love the elegant Greek Ionic columns.

More pretty columns and a wonderful conservatory for enjoying the sunlight and the spectacular views.

This drive runs along the front of the house.

I'd hate to have to keep all this woodwork painted :)

This looks like one of the few remaining apple trees on the property -- kind of sad I think.  You can tell it looks very old.

This is a side view of the carriage house belonging to the Cone family.  Sadie Baxter talked about her papa's carriage house in the books.

Fernbank's namesake plant.

Thanks for stopping by The House at Forest Manor, and I hope you enjoyed the tour.  I'll be joining Susan at A Southern Daydreamer for Outdoor Wednesday and The Tablescaper for Seasonal Sunday this week.  I hope you'll visit these blogs to see some creative and inspirational posts.  Have a great week!!



  1. Wow Denise, this was another great tour! I missed you xo

  2. What a beautiful and wonderful home. It looks like it is kept so beautifully. I just can't imagine the work required to keep it. Looks like it was freshly painted, beautiful yard. What fun. Thanks, Richard from My Old Historic House.

  3. What a stunning house in such a wonderful location.
    Just takes my breath away.
    Thanks for the great tour!

  4. I have read all the books of the Mitford series and LOVED every one. I must take a trip to blowing Rock. This home is stunning in all the detail. Thank you for sharing this beautiful home.
    Hugs, Jeanne

  5. Hi Denise - Thanks for visiting me at The Writer's Reverie - glad to have you following as a friend! I'm jumping onboard with you here at Forest Manor! This was a great post about an amazing house! So cool of you to do some detecting in locating the real life inspirations for Jan Karon's Mitford. I confess, I have not read the books - even though I think I own them in my basement, somewhere. I used to own them . . . I know it sounds strange - but my husband is a bookseller and I know I did have the series - just not the time to invest in them. Currently close to finishing the 8 books in the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter by Susan Wittig Albert. Part of my 2011 resolution to "read for pleasure" this year - rather than work.
    Look forward to getting to know you better!

  6. I loved that! Makes me want to reread all the books. What a beautiful house, imagine living there!
    I think I will dig out my Mitford cookbook. My friend Monique sent it to me. Her blog is La Table de Nana. She loves the Mitford series too.
    Have you read the new Jan Karon books? I haven't yet.

  7. Oh, Denise! What fun! I love the Mitford books and with your help, the town has come alive even more! I may have to reread the books now! Have a delightful week and welcome back!

  8. What a stunning mansion! The grounds are fabulous too, I wander what it was like to live in such huge homes, they did have huge elegant Spanish mansions too, only in those days they had lots of serveants. Thank you for sharing, I enjoyed the tour very much. Just dropped from SS at The Tablescaper. Hugs, FABBY

  9. I read the series and I have to say the house you share with us is even more magnificent than I imagined. Just gorgeous. What woodwork. I love that you were persistent enough to find it! I loved those books. I think I need to go back and reread them. They're so comforting.

    Great to have you be a part of Seasonal Sundays.

    - The Tablescaper

  10. Beautiful photos. I'm going to have to read all the of the Mitford series books now. I've read a few and loved them, I just find it difficult to find the time to read right now with a 2 year old. I've got to carve out a little time.
    As a child I went to the Julian Price Park campground with my best friend and her dad. It must have been in October because we went to the Moses Cone Manor for "Ghost" stories in the family cemetery. I remember we walked along the trails from the house to the cemetery and they told us stories from the Cone Family. The upper floor is supposed to be haunted. I don't believe they still do this any longer, as I have looked into it. But should I find that they do I want to go again. It was very interesting.

  11. What a beautiful home in a spectacular location! How exciting that you figured it out. I think you're right from all the clues you pieced together. Did you discuss this with the locals? They must surely know. As I recall Fernbank had seen better days, yet this home looks very well cared for, which makes me happy.

  12. Just realised that I had not followed up your E-mail about posting on Blowing Rock on going through all my E-mails. What a treat and such memories. I am sure the Mitford House was one I visited. Just off the Parkway and not far from the Blowing Rock turn off on the same side as BR. Thanks for the memories.

  13. An excellent post, Denise. thanks again. How interesting to see the house that inspired Jan Karon to create the character of Sadie Baxter and the house-character of Fernbank. Thanks for your persistence in finding it. while reading this post, I got a flashback to the query I got from two women who had spent much of their Saturday last summer, trying to find two houses where my family lived (from my descriptions in my book "A Good Home"). I was a bit surprised that people would connect so much with a home described in a book that they'd go looking for it, but as I read your post, I as so thankful that you went looking for this one. Thank you again, Denise.

  14. The first time we visited Blowing Rock and drove out to Moses Cone I was only vaguely aware that the Mitford series was based in the town and I had only read one or two of the books. However, as I first caught a glimpse of this house through the woods, I KNEW it was Fernbank. I don't care what the real name is, it will always be Fernbank to me. Love this area and will be visiting for a whole week next month. Thanks for the post.



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