I am fascinated by the Gilded Age. The termed was coined in the 1920’s (credited to Mark Twain) and refers to a period from 1870 to 1900 when a few Americans made obscene fortunes and competed with each other in the ostentatious display of their wealth. They thought that they were building monuments for all time in the elaborate homes that they built, quite often copying country estates in Europe. Instead, they built albatrosses that succeeding generations simply could not afford to maintain. While most of the mansions that I’ve read about were built (and often subsequently torn down) in New York or Newport, RI, at least one – the Biltmore – was actually built not far from here in Asheville, North Carolina.
- When the Astors Owned New York by Justin Kaplan
- Fortune’s Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt by Arthur T. Vanderbilt II
- Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Paul Clark Newell, Jr.
By the 1920’s, when Chinqua Penn was built, the Gilded Age was over and had become fodder for the likes of Fitzgerald and Twain. It may not technically be a Gilded Age mansion, but it certainly has some of the accouterments that at least remind one of the beautiful side of that kind of display of wealth.
The trail itself has several features that are just breathtaking and there are beautiful stories here that have not been well-preserved. The more ostentatious embellishments to the private home, like a fountain from Versailles, seem to overshadow what appears to have been a great love story that only the people maintaining the walking trail can tell you. Along the path is a rock dam that creates “Betsy’s Pond”. There is a small sitting area down by the base of the dam and a poem from Mr. Penn to his bride. The Stew Site still stands, sort of, as a testament to days when the couple entertained guests with Brunswick Stew.
There is a real “Somewhere in Time” feel to the path. A talented photographer and good writer could easily make this place come alive in a picture book.
I took the following photos with a little Canon Powershot as I attempted the 5K in 2016. It was a foggy day and warm, possibly the worst conditions for me personally and I didn’t finish the race, making it around the loop only once. I want to go back this fall to walk the trail when the leaves start to turn and take pictures with a better Nikon. The Chinqua Penn Walking Trail is definitely one of the better kept secrets of this area and I’d love for real photographers to put it on their “must shoot” list. It may be one of the most beautiful trails I’ve seen.
The 2017 5K is scheduled for this weekend, September 24, 2017, at 2 PM.
In 2016, the Run With The Cow Udder 5K was not a timed race. It is a good, well-organized community fundraiser for the trail and well worth the trip. The loop, however, is closed to visitors while the 5K is underway, so you may well want to plan more than one trip to fully enjoy everything the trail has to offer.
For more information on the trail, please see: