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Connemara’s charm, Charleston connections

August 12, 2015

In the mid 1830s, Charles Memminger of Charleston ventured to Flat Rock is search of a summer home. Unable to find something that he liked, he purchased land and hired an architect to build a large dwelling he named Rock Hill. Today the house is known by a different name, Connemara or, simply, Carl’s House.

 

Carl Sandburg and his family moved to Flat Rock in 1945. It was Carl’s wife Paula who spurred the move from their life in the Midwest; she was looking for a new farm with a warmer climate to raise her famous Chikaming dairy goats. It is said that when she showed Connemara to her husband he exclaimed, “This is the place. We will look no further.”

 

The Sandburgs lived in Connemara from 1945 to 1969 with their three daughters and two grandchildren. During this time, Carl Sandburg published more than a third of his works while Paula Sandburg operated a premier goat farm. At the dairy farm’s peak, the herd had over 200 goats! When Carl died in 1967, Paula decided to sell the house to the United States government to preserve it as a memorial to her husband. Carl Sandburg’s Home is the only home of an American writer to have the distinction of being named a National Historic Site.

 

Goats at Connemara. All images by Jane Izard.

 

A visit to the site offers a range of activities for all with house tours, hiking trails and activities at the farm. If you have never visited, take time for a guided tour of the historic home; there are more than 65,000 artifacts on display. This year will offer a unique glimpse into the house because most of the furnishings will be inventoried and packed away for preservation work. Visitors will get a “behind the scenes” look into the Sandburg’s home, but special exhibits will be up to help show the rooms as they were once furnished. The tours are offered daily (except Christmas) and last around 30 minutes. They begin at 9:30 a.m. with the last one departing at 4:30 p.m. It is a third-of-a-mile mile trail up to the house; if you are unable to walk, please use the phone in the parking lot for assistance. Guided house tours are $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and free for children under 15.

 

 

Today Connemara no longer operates as a commercial dairy farm. However, the National Park Service keeps goats on site, all descending from the three breeds Ms. Sandburg raised. Rangers and volunteers are on hand to tell you stories and answer questions about Ms. Sandburg’s operation. This summer, park rangers are offering a cheese making demonstration; they will offer a taste of Ms. Sandburg’s recipes for goat cheese. Recipes will be given out for you to try at home. All ages are welcome and the class is free. This program is held in the garage adjacent to the home every at 2:15 p.m. every Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday through August 8. The goat farm is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

 

It is said that Mr. Sandburg would often take his chair out on one of the many rock outcroppings along one of the many trails to write or sit. He enjoyed being out in nature, observing his surrounds. The trails happen to be one of my favorite things about Connemara; there are approximately five miles of trails, varying in length and difficulty. The park’s close proximity to town is a draw for locals. Many frequent it daily to escape for some time in the woods. The longest and most strenuous hike is the trail to the top of Glassy Mountain. This mountain was the target of many of hike following July Fourth feasts and some families continue this tradition.

 

From the house to the

top, the walk is about a mile-and-a-quarter with 523 feet in elevation gain. The view is spectacular and worth the climb. The other trails include Little Glassy Mountain, Memminger Trail Loop, Front Lake Loop and Spring Trail. One may combine many of these trails to create a nice long hike! If you take your dog, please make sure to have them on leash. Don’t forget your bags, water and camera.

 

There are often special events happening at the park, so please check the website to learn about the programs offered. This summer, from June until mid-August, live performances of Sandburg's “Rootabaga Stories” and excerpts from the Broadway play, “The World of Carl Sandburg,” are presented at the park amphitheater. For more information, please visit nps.gov/carl/index.htm.

 

Jane Izard is a freelance graphic designer, writer and photographer living in Flat Rock, N.C.; she grew up in Charleston and may be reached via jane@janeandoliver.com.

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