Ben Blair photo
Moses Cone manor
Moses H. Cone Manor, Blowing Rock, N.C.
Atop of Rich Mountain where the 360-degree view includes Grandfather and Beech Mountains, you are at the peak of a private world that textile baron Moses Cone created more than a century ago. The nearly 4,400-foot peak is accessible via one of the many trails in the Cone Memorial Park located along the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 294.1.
Moses Cone was the archetypal first-generation American who used his wealth and influence to help others in his community. Having made a fortune in textile manufacturing, the man once dubbed “The Denim King” and his wife Bertha had a country estate built to display their hard-earned wealth. Cone bought almost 3,600 acres from local farmers and promised former land owners they could stay and work on his estate. It was considered a fair arrangement.
At the time, Blowing Rock, N.C., was a nouveau riche town, attracting many summer residents who were in search of cooler climes—a practice that carries on today.
“We just wanted to get out of the Piedmont heat,” said Kevin Leonard of Charlotte. Leonard and his wife Mindy took a short walk around the Cone Manor before meeting friends for a picnic lunch.
The trails of Moses Cone Park offer a glimpse into the family’s enduring legacy and the treasure they left behind. Having taken a page from George Vanderbilt, Cone developed his estate to be self-sustaining. During its construction he consulted noted forester Gifford Pinchot, who had also worked on the Biltmore Estate. Cone planted apple trees and built several barns to sort and process apples. Only one of the original barns still stands. Remnant apple orchards contain a wide variety of old Southern varieties. Some are now rare and thus important to understanding the history of orchards and the preservation of heirloom apples.
Exploring the 25 miles of carriage roads and trails is the best way to take in Moses Cone Memorial Park’s tamed beauty. Like all parks on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the trails are well maintained and posted with signs. Walking here is not a solitary experience. Visitors hike, jog, walk their dogs, and ride horses. Horseback riding is allowed on all trails except the Bass Lake loop. Moses and Bertha Cone were fond of carriage rides and the around the property paths were consequently developed for such excursions.
Try the 0.8 mile loop trail around Bass Lake. It’s flat, scenic, and handicapped accessible. Water lilies cover most of the lake. Bliss and Sue Williams, summer residents of Blowing Rock, recently donated $100,000 to the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation to establish an endowment in their name. Their gift assists in the perpetual care of Bass Lake.
Another popular hike goes to the Cone Cemetery. Moses Cone, Bertha Cone, and Bertha’s two unmarried sisters are buried on the property. The Cones were Jewish and loved by all in the Blowing Rock community. At Moses Cone’s funeral, a Baptist minister slipped a Bible into the coffin. That started a rumor that valuables had been buried with the textile magnate. In 1924, grave robbers disinterred the body. With picks and a sledgehammer, they went through the concrete covering. In the Jewish tradition, the casket was wood instead of steel. Bertha Cone had the body reburied and recovered with concrete. She was so shaken up by this incident that she decided to be cremated instead of buried after her death. A green metal fence surrounds the four graves that face east to a great view beyond. Flat Top Road climbs through open meadows, continues past the turn-off to the cemetery, then switchbacks into the woods to reach Flat Top Tower. Round-trip, you’ll walk 5.6 miles and ascend 500 feet.
If you want a little solitude, go to Rich Mountain (9.5 miles, 800 ft. ascent). You’ll pass Trout Lake, another lake created and stocked by Moses Cone. There are fewer visitors at that lake, partly because there’s no loop trail around it. Walking up Rich Mountain Road, a carriage road, you’ll also be on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, marked by a white circle. This trail leaves the park and heads out to Julian Price Park. Moses Cone enjoyed building rock walls, and the top of Rich Mountain is marked with a low rock wall. Along the carriage road, spring brings a wealth of wildflowers including bloodroot and spring beauty. Later, rhododendron burst in bloom. In summer, the sides of the carriage road show off spiderwort, bowman’s root, jewelweed, joe-pye weeds, firepinks and larkspur. Whether you’re looking for a quiet stroll, a history lesson, or an afternoon picnic with friends, Moses Cone Park is a treasure waiting to be discovered.
Want to explore?
The Flat Top Manor entrance to Moses H. Cone Memorial Park is on the Blue Ridge Parkway, MP 294. You can pick up a trail map at Flat Top Manor.
The Bass Lake entrance to the property is on US 221, just south of Blowing Rock, N.C.
There are no picnic tables in the Cone Park, though you can picnic on the grounds. Picnic tables and a campground are available at Price Lake on the Park at MP 297.
Tours of Flat Top Manor are available on weekends in the summer. The tours are free, but you must register. Call 828.295.3782 to reserve a spot.