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!!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

My Blog Designer