A Little Gilded Age Tobacco Money

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.  

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.

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A Sitting Deck By The Rock Dam
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I think that this is called the Summer House
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A boardwalk borders “Betsy’s Pond”
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The Spring House
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The Spring House
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The Trail
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I think that this is the Stew Site, where the original owners prepared Brunswick Stew for guests. (based on the National Trails Database: ” Just below the trailhead are the stone remains of the Stew Site where Jeff Penn cooked his famous Brunswick Stew for their guests. Now in ruins are massive stone tables and benches, a chimney and fire pit with rails for moving the huge cast-iron kettle, and an elegant stone Spring House with slate pyramid-shaped roof.”)
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The Finish Line

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:

The Chinqua Penn Walking Trail website

The Chinqua Penn Walking Trail Facebook Page

The National Recreation Trails Database

Chinqua Penn Plantation Wikipedia page

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Author: Beth Barton

I like to joke that I am a Texan living abroad. My husband is a Mainer and we chose to live in Henry County, Virgina because of its abundant natural beauty, temperate climate, and slow pace of life. We love small town America, the outdoors, cats, and chickens. I keep hoping to someday discover my inner artist but have so far only excelled at purchasing supplies. I am an accountant at heart. Sad, but true.

4 thoughts on “A Little Gilded Age Tobacco Money”

  1. I love the stories about that period of time. When touring the mansions in Newport, RI, the stories of how wealth was achieved, relationships and individual personalities were as fascinating as the mansions.
    I have the book, Empty Mansions but haven’t read it yet. I’m waiting for the colder weather..:)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s really very good. I didn’t expect to sympathize with the woman he was writing about, Huguette Clark, but I did by the end. I was actually mad at her relatives on her behalf by the time I finished it.
      I love the old estates, particularly the grounds. I understand that the houses may be to expensive to run but it sure seems like the grounds should be able to be kept open. I think that England has something set up to help keep their country estates from getting to the point that they’ll be torn down (but I might be wrong). I wish that the US would do something to that end.
      btw, if you like Empty Mansion, definitely try Fortune’s Children. That was exceptionally well written.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am a big fan of those old mansions as well, I love exploring these historic monuments of granger. I am always fascinated by the architecture and the interior design, seeing how some décor trends remained around and impact us for years. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for visiting! I missed an opportunity to tour Edith Wharton’s house in Massachusetts last year and regret it. There’s another house not far from here that, while not a gilded age house, I think that I’ve just got to go see and I bet you would like too. It’s called Korner’s Folley (there’s an umlaut on that “o” so it’s pronounced Kerner’s). He was in the design and decor business and built his house to showcase every passing fancy. http://www.kornersfolly.org/ We are also thinking about getting down to Vanderbilt’s Biltmore in Asheville, NC. That, however, is about 3 hours away and tours are pretty pricey. (http://www.biltmore.com/)

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