Friday, May 11, 2007

Back In Time

I write a travel column for a magazine, called The Piedmont. Day Tripping in the Piedmont. In case you didn't know, the Piedmont is the foothills. The counties in Virgina and North Carolina just south of the Blue Ridge; one of my favorite places in the world. This column is an easy assignment, one we enjoy.

Yesterday, we visited Chinqua Penn in Rockingham County. A vast estate in Reidsville 25 miles north of Greensboro. If you haven't seen it, make it a destination. Of course, I'll write all about it for the magazine, but I'll give you a preview here ...

The home was completed in the late 1920s by Thomas Jefferson Penn (1875-1946) and his wife, Beatrice Schoellkopf Penn (1881-1965.) Chinqua Penn reflects their elaborate lifestyle of entertaining, traveling, and collecting fine art and furnishings from around the world. Featured on A&E's America's Castles and acclaimed as an architectural American treasure, the plantation is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It's a 27-room English countryside mansion filled with furnishings from 30 countries. Surrounded by 22 acres of beautiful gardens and historic landscape, suffice it to say, my first impression was these folks had more money than they knew what to do with. Elaborate and ornate and valuable are just some of the words that came to mind as I walked into this house. As my folks collect antiques, I have a good sence of the value of "old stuff." But then the word magnificent bubbled off my lips more than once. This is North Carolina history, staring us in the face.

Michael and I received a personalized tour from the current owner, Calvin Phelps. He took us "behind the scenes." Yet, just like the Biltmore, it's exquisite. I could actually picture these people living there. Hosting grand parties, in the style of "The Great Gatsby." I have this thing I do when it comes to history. I can open my mind's eye and see the past.

There they were, the old cars lined up in the driveway. I could see Mrs. Penn in her youth, her flapper-type dress, her headdress. I pictured her holding a cocktail and a cigarette, laughing. Then I saw her as a middle-aged woman, thick around the middle, gray hair, eating breakfast with her cocker spaniels at her feet. I saw it all, easily. Her presence, in particular, is very strong in that house. Little has changed, even their bedding is the same as it was.

The one thing I noticed is the the current owners have immense respect for the property and plan to restore it to the beauty it deserves. Chinqua Penn is a fantastic place for weddings, parties, and should be one of your destinations in the near future.

Of course you can read more here:

Go to Chinqua Penn, open your mind's eye, see the past and ... go back in time. There's nothing like it.

Blessings to you and yours.

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