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LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: Visiting Pinehurst and learning about entrepreneurship and the history of building community in NC

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Gwenyfar Rohler explores Pinehurst before the holidays.

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“Since when do you play golf?” Jock asked me with curiosity.

“I don’t. I have a 42 DD handicap,” I quipped.

“I don’t … remember that in golf terms.”

“It means my cleavage impedes any hope of a backswing.”

“Oh.” He blushed. “But if you don’t play golf, why would you go to Pinehurst?”

TINSEL AND BOWS: Gwenyfar visited Pinehurst on a day trip and checked out their old theatre, which has been renovated into a shopping center with multiple businesses. Photo by C. R. DeVries.

TINSEL AND BOWS: Gwenyfar visited Pinehurst on a day trip and checked out their old theatre, which has been renovated into a shopping center with multiple businesses. Photo by C. R. DeVries.

It was a legitimate question—one, frankly, I am still having trouble articulating.

But on a very pretty day in December, I descended upon the golf-resort town with two dear friends.

There are parts of Pinehurst that remind me of the Biltmore—not visually, per se—more like in sense and scale. So it wasn’t really surprising to learn Fredrick Law Olmstead’s firm laid out the village (he also did the Biltmore Estate and, most famously, Central Park in New York City). Like the pretend rustic charm of Biltmore, there is a beautiful, perfectly planned sense about the curving lanes, which eschew anything as pedantic as a grid. I admit the entrepreneur’s side of my mind is attracted to Pinehurst.

It was developed in the middle of the Sandhills area of Moore County, North Carolina, from a rural stretch of land selling for less than $1.50 an acre in the 1890s. It has become one of the premier golf resorts in the country—and within a decade of development. It is pretty remarkable to think about it.

The driving force behind the development was James Tufts, who made his fortune inviting the Arctic Soda Fountain. From the Tufts Archives page:

“Tufts hired the firm, founded by Frederic Law Olmsted, the country’s most prominent landscape architect and design firm, to plan the resort village. For a contract price of $300, the Olmsted firm designed a New England-style village with curving, twisting roads, leading from a central village green.”

All this came in the wake of the efforts of another entrepreneur, John Tyrant Patrick. Patrick developed the nearby resort at Southern Pines. Dig this from his entry in the NCPedia:

“By 1878 he was proprietor and editor of the Pee Dee Herald in Wadesboro, as well as the owner of a general store and a captain in the State Guard.”

Writer and entrepreneur? Yep, I’m starting to see the connection. He was such passionate promoter of nearby Anson County as a place for Northerners to relocate to for their health and climate (nothing changes, does it?) that the governor and “The State Board of Agriculture, Immigration, and Statistics became interested, and the governor named Patrick to be North Carolina’s first general immigration agent. In July 1883 he became head of the Department of Immigration.”

Ahh! Immigration again, and again. We can’t really escape it in North Carolina, can we?

To be clear, Patrick was charged with encouraging white immigration from the North to the Tar Heel State, specifically to bring capital investment here—and of course the subtext is to increase the white vote. Clearly, he was successful, estimating in 1887 in excess of half a million was spent on land and manufacturing investments from out of state. The almost quarter of a million collected in taxes for the state would be considered a good return on investment since North Carolina paid Patrick and his staff of one less than $3,000 for their salaries and expenses. It was Patrick who personally guided and assisted Tufts to locate the land that would become Pinehurst.

I have to imagine they either got on wonderfully or were so very alike they couldn’t get along at all—both hard-working entrepreneurs who moved up through the ranks and took advantages of the age they lived in. They shared so many commonalties.

I remember when reading “The Gilded Leaf” about the Reynolds tobacco family, that the tragedy for the second generation was they inherited so much wealth, they never learned the joy was not in the spending of it but rather in the excitement of hatching an idea and making it real. Yes, RJ Reynolds was fabulously wealthy and successful and spent lavishly—but for him the joy and excitement was building, growing and developing the business. The toys and trophies were secondary. It’s the same sense I get with these two—they were proud of their successes, but it was the process they enjoyed most.

To someone who loves all things slightly wabi-sabi and filled with heart and substance, as opposed to perfectly manicured Pinehurst is not really my scene. The areas around it—Carthage, Reservoir Park—are beautiful and interesting. But they turned their theater into a shopping center.

Nearby Carthage is actually home to the annual “Buggy Festival,” which celebrates transportation, not insects. The big industry in Carthage after the Civil War was the Tyson and Jones Buggy Co. One of the owners, William T. Jones, was born into slavery, served in the CSA, and made money in POW camps, selling moonshine to Union officers. From John Chappell’s 2012 article in The Pilot:

“Few in Carthage today realize its builder and former owner was a black man of mixed race, who lived openly with his white wife, operated one of the biggest factories in the South, taught Sunday school in the Methodist church, served on national and local boards, and was admired and loved without any mention of race.”

His former home is now a lovely B&B: The Old Buggy Inn.

One of the murals on the Carthage Mural Trail (yes, it has a mural trail!) is also in honor of the two men who steered the company that employed so many. Clearly, by the time the mural was painted, Carthage had come to terms with Jones’ race because he is depicted as an African-American on the wall. It got me talking again with a couple of friends about the role of public art as what it can and can’t do. What is the future of public art in our community? (That discussion is coming for another column.)

So, no: Golf is not really my thing. Crossing the street, one of my companions pointed at a sign for a book store in the old post office.

“Really?! A book store!”

I wasn’t getting a reading vibe from Pinehurst as much as a golfing vibe, so excitement poured over me. It was the happiest moment of my trip. (Actually, I behaved pretty badly, as tends to happen when I start feeling all kinds of moral superiority. It is one of my failings, I admit. But I’ll tell you a secret: All of us literary types are snobs to some extent.) The Given Book Shop, which supports the Given Library and Tufts Archive, is where the heart of Pinehurst can be found.

We wandered in to find a community holiday program—with ornament-making and and gift-wrapping in progress. They had displays on wheels that could be rolled out of the way to make room for events. Watching the local JROTC cadets move tables and set up, while moms with little kids dressed in their holiday finery, trooped in started to feel like a place with real people. Of course, I looked around and started tallying up overhead and pricing, deducting and adding (I can’t help it). And probably neither could William Jones, John Patrick or James Tufts. I’m willing to lay odds all three men—just like me—would have been thrilled to see so many families coming together to make memories.

That’s community, something that no amount of building and planning, and capital investment can make happen. But it is priceless.

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