President Lyndon B. Johnson described poet and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Carl Sandburg as “America’s voice,” but it was the quiet that drew Sandburg, in 1945, away from life in Southwest Michigan after almost 20 years. Sandburg, who’d moved to Michigan from Chicago, this time traveled, at age 67, to a new home on a lush piece of mountainous land in western North Carolina.
You can experience the solitude he sought by strolling the expansive grounds of the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site just off I-26 a few exits southeast of Asheville and 30-miles north of Greenville, SC.
But Sandburg didn’t leave his Berrien County home in Harbert easily. His wife Lilian, who’d been born in Hancock, Michigan, preferred the Carolina climate for raising her prize-winning goat herd. “I love it here,” Sandburg said upon leaving the Lake Michigan home where he was known to skip stones. “I am going to miss it all.”
The floppy-eared, white and tan varieties of goats the guests now encounter at the Connemara Farms Goat Dairy on the National Historic Site grounds are descended from Lilian’s original herd of 200 champion milk-producers. While his wife produced mountains of milk, Sandburg kept busy there, too. He often worked all night and ended up writing more than one-third of his literary works during the 22 years in Carolina before passing away there in 1967. He’d found, during the last years of his life, what he described as a “the creative hush” in the mountain air of his 245-acre estate.
You can be as active as you wish during a visit in any of the seasons – there are five miles of short, long, easy or vigorous trails beyond the small visitor center through those forest acres, along the ponds, and past the farm buildings leading up to a scenic view up mile up at the very top of Big Glassy Mountain, where the Sandburg family picnicked and sang along while he played guitar.
“We didn’t just buy 245-acres…we bought a million miles of sky, too!” Lilian exclaimed at the time.
The stately Sandburg home, built in 1838, is visible from the parking lot for those who prefer not to make the 0.3-mile, 10-story walk up to it to peer in the windows or to take a guided tour. He’d insisted the goat barn be built out of earshot as not to disturb his writing, which sometimes took place just behind the home on a sloped, rocky outcropping where Sandburg would sit after lunch with a tablet of paper and a pencil to craft poems in the quiet.
“…to sit on a rock in the forest and ask of himself ‘Who am I, and where have I been, and where am I going?’”
Plenty of locals walk their dogs, tote backpacks or push strollers throughout the mountain farm and forest. It’s an easy diversion to stretch your legs during a drive from Michigan to Hilton Head or Florida. If you stay in the area the historic Biltmore Estate, an American castle, is nearby in Asheville and a vastly different, manicured experience compared to the simple, natural charm of Sandburg property.
There is no charge to park your car or wander the timeless property…or write poems.