On Monday, July 27, First Lady Laura Bush, accompanied by Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), visited Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site and announced a National Park Foundation $50,000 grant to the park to help expand its outstanding Junior Ranger and youth education programs.
Laura Bush is honorary chair of the congressionally-chartered, Washington-based National Park Foundation. Established in 1967, it is still the only organization engaged in national grant making to support the national parks. NPF raises private funds (there being no federal appropriations) and uses them to make strategic grants, create innovative partnerships, and increase public awareness of parks and park programs. The list of corporate donors is headed by heavy hitters like American Airlines, Ford Motor Company, and Unilever.
Located in the western North Carolina mountain town of Flat Rock (pop. 2,565), Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site preserves the residence of Pulitzer Prize winning writer-poet Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), who lived and worked there for the last 22 years of his life. Carl Sandburg Home promotes the legacy of Carl Sandburg by preserving his residence and educating the public about his influence and place in American history as a poet, writer, lecturer, minstrel, social thinker, and onetime political activist.
In addition to Sandburg’s 22-room residence, the park includes a dairy goat herd, barn and sheds, rolling pastures, wooded mountainsides, five miles of hiking trails, two small lakes, a trout pond, flower and vegetable gardens, an amphitheater, and an apple orchard. The farm, which sprawled over 240 acres, was named Connemara.
The dairy goat herd and outbuildings were all key components of Connemara. Carl Sandburg’s wife Paula bred prize-winning dairy goats, and she was very serious about that, indeed. It was Paula who found the farm in this tranquil southern Appalachian setting, and it was she who convinced Carl that the place would make an ideal new home for them. For them and her champion goats, that is. In contrast to their Michigan lakeshore residence, where they had lived for 17 years, the North Carolina mountains offered greener pastures and a longer browsing season.
Assisted by her daughter Helga, Paula ran a big dairy operation (with a herd numbering as many as 200 animals) and produced goat milk sold throughout the Southeast. She also shipped animals to other breeders. In fact, she built a national reputation on the exception quality of her herd (the Chikaming herd), and one of her Toggenburg goats became the American all-breed milk production champion. Paula took care of all aspects of the business, freeing Carl to tend to his writing. Paula continued to raise goats until 1966.
The 240-acre landholding was a nearly ideal choice for the family, which consisted of Carl and Paula, their two daughters (Margaret and Helga), and three grandchildren. Connemara had a rambling (22-room) house that provided plenty of living space and lots of room for Sandburg’s office and huge library.
One of Connemara’s most attractive features was its ample pasture – more than 30 acres – that provided forage and rambling room for Paula’s champion dairy goats. The children and grandchildren enjoyed an idyllic life centered on activities such as riding horses, playing in the woods, and helping with the goats, cows, chickens, hogs, vegetable garden, apple orchard, and butter- and cheese-making. You might say that Connemara was a microcosm of the rural America that inhabits our cultural memory.
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site was established in 1968 (the year after Carl Sandburg died) and will celebrate its 40th anniversary on October 17.
When you go there today, it’s a “feel good” sort of visit. It puts you in mind of a time that was simpler, quieter, slower, friendlier, more humanly scaled, and closer to nature. I know that Laura Bush liked Connemara.
While at the park, the First Lady toured the home, petted the goats, talked with children in the Junior Ranger program, and of course, announced the $50,000 grant.
She praised the park’s youth programs, saying that "By getting youth involved in our national parks at an early age, we can ensure that these valuable resources, our most magnificent natural and historic sites, will be preserved for generations to come.”
It’s well that Carl Sandburg Home got the national recognition that the First Lady’s visit brought, and that hefty NPF grant is also well deserved. For many years now, the park staff and the people of western North Carolina community have been doing a whale of a job with the resources at hand.
Volunteers, including many youngsters, have helped to make Carl Sandburg Home a standout national historic site.
The park’s friends organization, The Friends of Carl Sandburg at Connemara, helps to generate financial support for park programs that “…. continue the Sandburg tradition of revealing great truths through novel, poetry and song.” Friends volunteers support rangers, provide guide services and information, work in the barn and gardens, and, among other things, help to catalog and preserve Sandburg documents and memorabilia.
A children’s group, the Flat Rock Exceptional Sandburg Helpers (FRESH), assists with farm chores and provides visitor information at the Carl Sandburg Home farm area. The Friends of Carl Sandburg at Connemara, in cooperation with the 4- H Agricultural Extension Service Program in Henderson County, established the FRESH program in 1990. It’s been funded in part by the Hendersonville Lions Club.
This will not be the first time that the National Park Foundation has blessed Carl Sandburg Home with a grant. In 2005, NPF and Unilever (one of NPF’s Proud Partner sponsors) awarded a $5,000 challenge grant to support the park’s Junior Ranger Program, which was launched in 2006. The Community Foundation of Henderson County donated $5,000 so the park could meet the requirements for the matching funds grant.