▶ BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
Moses H. Cone
Located on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Blowing Rock, Moses H. Cone Memorial Park preserves the 3,500-acre estate of textile entrepreneur, conservationist and philanthropist, Moses Cone. With 25 miles of carriage trails and full craft center, Moses H. Cone Memorial Park has something to offer everyone.
Moses Cone Manor House
During the summer months, visitors can join a ranger for a tour of the second floor of this 20-room, Colonial Revival style mansion (circa 1901). Although most of the upstairs bedrooms and guestrooms remain bare, posters depict historically researched, digital reconstructions of the furnishings of each room representative of the years the Cones occupied the house. Visitors will be regaled with stories of local dignitaries who visited the estate and discover how the mansion was built with some of the first gaslights, telephones, and central heating systems in the area. Tours depart at 10am, 11am, 2pm, and 3pm beginning June 7 and will be held every Saturday and Sunday throughout the summer. Reservations are required the Friday prior by calling 828-295-3782.
No matter which of the 25 miles of gently sloping carriage trails you choose, an abundance of native Appalachia flora planted by Moses himself encourages visitors to appreciate nature’s beauty as Moses and his family once did. The Cones planted acres of white pines, hemlocks, and sugar maples, which still stand today, along with acres of mountain rhododendron that add pops of pink and purple color to the trails in late spring.
From Flat Top Manor, descend past the carriage house and down Deer Park Road to see the old apple barn, which once stored the harvest of more than 32,000 apple trees. Remnants of the Cone’s four orchards remain today.
Follow the Craftsman’s Trail for a quick 20-minute loop stroll around the Manor, which the Cones are said to have walked together every morning.
For another popular, 5.6 mile round trip hiking option from Flat Top Manor, cross under the Parkway and veer right along Flat Top Road, which passes by the Cone Cemetery, where Moses, Bertha and Bertha’s two unmarried sisters are buried. The path continues to the Flat Top Observation Tower; from this vantage point, hikers can enjoy sweeping panoramas of distant mountains.
Those really looking for a challenge can start from the Manor and hike an 800 foot ascent to the top of Rich Mountain, passing Trout Lake along the way. This 9.5 mile round trip hike also offers picturesque views.
Horseback riding is allowed on all carriage trails, except around Bass Lake and the paved road in front of the manor house. No horse rental is available. Parking for personal horse trailers is located at Trout Lake and along Highway 221 near the entrance to Bass Lake.
For those with a North Carolina or Virginia fishing license, two man-made lakes, Trout Lake and Bass Lake, are fully stocked. Grab a pole and reel in your catch just as the Cones did more than a century ago.
Parkway Craft Center
The 13,000 square foot Flat Top Manor was built in 1901 and now houses the Parkway Craft Center, one of five shops of the Southern Highland Craft Guild featuring handmade crafts from hundreds of regional artists. Throughout the season, local artists demonstrate their crafts on the beautiful porch of the Manor.
Moses H. Cone was a self-made man in the best American tradition. His textile mills produced high quality denim fabric, earning him the title, “Denim King.” Fond of nature, and plagued by poor health, Moses was drawn to the mountainous region of western North Carolina with its moderate climate, fresh spring water, and clean air. In the mid-1890s, Moses and his wife, Bertha, journeyed to Blowing Rock to design and build their summer estate, Flat Top Manor.
The 3,516 acres of the estate included Flat Top Mountain and Rich Mountain. Situated on top of a hill, the luxurious 20-room house looked down across acres of apple orchards leading to Bass Lake. In order to see the mountain vistas, Cone had a lookout tower constructed on the top of Flat Top Manor.
The cones were “naturalists” before the term because popular working to preserve and enrich their land. They planted extensive white pines and hemlocks and transported sugar maples directly from New England. The 32,000 apple trees Moses established produced prize-winning apples.
Perhaps the aspect of the estate most appreciated by visitors today is the 25 miles of beautiful carriage roads. They remain an enduring example of the Cones’ appreciation of the natural beauty around them.
Formal rhododendron plantings are a feature of nearly all the trails. Purple or Catawba rhododendron and rosebay rhododendron are abundant, blooming in June and July respectively. Mountain laurel, also planted extensively, is admired for the large clusters of pinkish flowers appearing in late spring.
Another spring favorite found along the carriage trails is serviceberry or “Juneberry,” one of the first woodland trees to bloom. Hemlock hedges and white pine plantations also are abundant. A somewhat uncommon tree in the Southern Highlands, the transplanted sugar maple flourished in the cool, high elevations and the moist coves of the mountains.
Other trees on the estate include black, white, and red oak, several hickory species, and birch. Autumn color king of the southern mountains, the red maple with its bright red, yellow, and green leaves probably delighted Cone guests enjoying the fall scenery from the front veranda.
The 25 miles of gently sloping carriage roads in Cone Park offer many opportunities for leisurely hiking. Visit the Cone Cemetery en route to Flat Top Tower, which offers a grand panorama of distant mountains. Wander through what remains of the apple orchards. Stroll around Bass Lake, investigate the Maze and apple barn. Most of the trails are multi-purpose; along the way you may meet horseback riders, joggers, or in winter, cross-country skiers. Please be considerate of other visitors. Help preserve these historic trails by staying on the designated paths.