A Day’s Journey into Night
Make a day of it! Ideas for seeing more of the Sandhills and just beyond
By Elizabeth Sugg
Witness the Artisans in Your Backyard
StarWorks & Mill Creek Forge
Ready for a countryside ride? There is much craft and artistry in the Sandhills, and STARworks and Mill Creek Forge are two places to witness it. Begin on the outskirts of Seagrove where Jerry Darnell will welcome you into his workroom at Mill Creek Forge (millcreekforge.com) filled with antique blacksmithing tools as he fires up custom works for movies like The Revenant and the current series Barkskins on the National Geographic channel. For more than 50 years, Darnell has produced a wide range of ironwork from 18th-century reproductions to contemporary art pieces. This excursion should be a family affair. A former educator who taught at Pinecrest High School, watching him is mesmerizing, and he is able to describe the trade that he has become so artistically skilled at. Next door is Westmoore Pottery (westmoorepottery.com) so take a jaunt over while you are there.
About a 15-minute drive west of Seagrove is Star where a stellar experience awaits you – the artistry of blown glass. All that you see in the converted, abandoned hosiery building has been blown onsite in what is now STARworks, an arts-centered nonprofit. Check online (starworksnc.org) or call ahead and make sure your visit coincides with one of their glass-blowing demonstrations because it is fascinating. Last fall during their build-up of inventory for their well-known glass pumpkin sale, we had a chance to see two nationally recognized glass blowers. As practiced and choreographed as a ballet, they worked in tandem to shape and fuse together the body of a glass pumpkin with a distinctive stem. STARworks has a café that serves local beer and wine with a small but ample menu, and they sometimes feature music on weekend nights, a wonderful way to end a day crisscrossing the countryside.
A Blend of Revitalization & History
Since Highways 73 and 74 have been connected and improved, Winston-Salem is now less than a two-hour drive from the Sandhills. It’s a small city with many delightful aspects that depict the progressive side of North Carolina that is rooted in its history – the industrious Moravians that settled the Historic Bethabara (historicbethabara.org), Historic Bethania (historicbethania.org) and Old Salem (oldsalem.org) communities, featuring 300-year-old buildings dotting these self-reliant villages that surround modern-day Winston-Salem. They are wonderful to drive to and walk about the well-tilled gardens and village greens which may be all that is possible in Old Salem which has still not fully opened back up since the Covid pandemic. Visit their websites which feature virtual programs about the Moravians, worth taking in if you do plan to make this day trip to Winston. It will give you the flavor of the ingenuity of this German migration of artisans and educators – and note, one of the oldest girls school in the U.S. is Salem Academy & College that predates American independence – 1772.
Pack a picnic and plan to eat an al fresco lunch on the grounds of Reynolda House Museum of American Art (reynoldahouse.org). The home and estate (designed by the noted architect Charles Barton Keen) belonged to Richard Joshua Reynolds and his visionary wife Katherine, and in 1967 their family converted the property into a house museum of American art that is just the right size for a mini-lesson in our country’s art history. A new show will open in July called The Voyage of Life: Art, Allegory, and Community Response featuring works by artists including Lee Krasner, Robert Colescott, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Romare Bearden and Grant Wood. After a bit of culture, wander through the restored gardens of the R.J. Reynolds estate, and continue through the old dairy buildings that now house an array of shops. Wander the path just beyond and you will find your way through a woodland path to the campus of Wake Forest University, once part of the original Reynolda property. The Village Tavern and Penny Path Cafe & Crepe Shop are two places to refuel. You will enjoy being on foot and outside in this shady, quaint setting.
Consider an overnight and make a point to stay downtown. The Kimpton Cardinal Hotel (thecardinalhotel.com) is the choice for this trip since its rooms are in the restored original R.J. Reynolds headquarters. Built in 1929, the R.J. Reynolds building was the architectural inspiration for New York City’s Empire State Building , and the lobby interior boasts gold leaf tobacco designs that are eye-popping. The Restaurant Katherine Brasserie & Bar has an uptown seasonal menu in a tony setting. Afterwards take in an art film at A/perture Cinema (aperturecinema.com), just a two block walk up 4th Street. There is lots of nightlife nearby, so if you have been craving city life, you are about to be satisfied.
Two Excursions & a Pair of Brewpubs
Just up the road in the Sanford area are two fabulous excursions. For the family make a trek to the Aloha Safari Zoo (alohasafarizoo.org) in Cameron, the animal sanctuary on 60 acres begun by Lee Crutchfield in 2010. His mission is to provide a refuge for various species including many exotic animals that have been rescued and need a home to live out the rest of their days. This working zoo is a true family affair. Crutchfield’s mother, father, and sister all have roles in the daily activities. The layout for the different habitats are close at hand so watching the animals such as the Olive Baboon, the Asian Water Buffalo or the African Crested Porcupine is more up close and personal than many zoo experiences. Aloha depends on a core of volunteers to help with the animals so you may visit and get inspired to join in!
Just named one of the Top 100 public U.S. golf courses to play, Tobacco Road Golf Club (tobaccoroadgolf.com) is as challenging as it is fun. Tobacco Road is one of seven signature designs by the late Mike Strantz. The course opened in 1998 shortly after Strantz was awarded Architect/Course Designer of the Year. Of particular note is the 13th hole, which is significant as it is a Punch Bowl-style green which is not used in many places in modern golf architecture. This hole was originally a sand quarry for Lee Paving Company, established in the early 1960s, and became the first part of the course that Strantz designed upon seeing the property. Follow up your excursions with a brew hop between two Sanford brewpubs, Hugger Mugger Brewing Company (huggermuggerbrewing.com) and Camelback (camelbackbrewingco.com), a frothy way to end a fun day.