As one of the most prevalent historic attractions on the Blue Ridge Parkway, The Moses H. Cone Memorial Park is “historic splendor at its finest.” For this beautiful country estate we owe our gratitude to Moses H. Cone, a prosperous textile entrepreneur, conservationist, and philanthropist of the Gilded Age. Its centerpiece is Flat Top Manor, a gleaming white 23-room, 13,000 square foot mansion.
Moses H. Cone was a self-made man in the best American tradition. His textile mills produced high quality denim fabric, earning him the title, “Denim King” Fond of nature and plagued by poor health, Moses was drawn to the mountainous region of western North Carolina with its moderate climate, fresh spring water, and clean air. In the mid-1890’s, Moses and his wife, Bertha, journeyed to Blowing Rock to design and build their summer estate, Flat Top Manor.
The 3,516 acres of the estate included Flat Top Mountain and Rich Mountain. Situated on top of a hill, the luxurious 20-room house looked down across acres of apple orchards leading to Bass Lake. In order to see the mountain vistas, Cone had a lookout tower constructed on top of Flat Top Mountain.
The Cones were “naturalists” before the term became popular, working to preserve and enrich their land. They planted extensive white pines and hemlocks and transported sugar maples directly from New England. The 32,000 apple trees Moses established produced prize-winning apples.
The magnificent Flat Top Manor is now home to the Parkway Craft Center, a craft shop of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, exhibiting works by artisans from nine Appalachian states. Mediums represented range from baskets and woodcarvings to quilts and ironwork. The bookstore carries trail maps, brochures, nature books and guidebooks. During the summer, artisans demonstrate their skills on the front porch.
Moses H. Cone Memorial Park Carriage Trails
Perhaps the aspect of the estate most appreciated by visitors today is the 25 miles of beautiful carriage roads. They remain an enduring example of the Cones’ appreciation of the natural beauty around them.
Formal rhododendron plantings are a feature of nearly all the trails. Purple or Catawba rhododendron and rosebay rhododendron are abundant, blooming in June and July respectively. Mountain laurel, also planted extensively, is admired for the large clusters of pinkish flowers appearing in late spring.
Another spring favorite found along the carriage trails is serviceberry or “Juneberry,” one of the first woodland trees to bloom. Hemlock hedges and white pine plantations also are abundant. A somewhat uncommon tree in the Southern Highlands, the transplanted sugar maple flourished in the cool, high elevations and the moist coves of the mountains.
Other trees on the estate include black, white, and red oak, several hickory species, and birch. Autumn color king of the southern mountains, the red maple with its bright red, yellow, and green leaves probably delighted Cone guests enjoying the fall scenery from the front veranda.
The 25 miles of gently sloping carriage roads in Cone Park offer many opportunities for leisurely hiking. Visit the Cone Cemetery en route to Flat Top Tower, which offers a grand panorama of distant mountains. Wander through what remains of the apple orchards. Stroll around Bass Lake, investigate the Maze and apple barn. Most of the trails are multi-purpose; along the way you may meet horseback riders, joggers, or in winter, cross-country skiers. Please be considerate of other visitors. Help preserve these historic trails by staying on the designated paths.
Download the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park carriage trails map.
A History of Moses Cone Memorial Park
Moses and Ceasar Cone were sons of a German Jewish immigrant who built a family-owned wholesale grocery business in Baltimore, Maryland. The brothers traveled the South to supply stores with inventory, and then little by little expanded into the textile business. Acting as sales agents for southern mills, the brothers established the Cone Export and Commission Company in 1890. Five years later, they built their first cotton mill in Greensboro, North Carolina. It was named “Proximity” for its nearness to warehouses, railways, and an abundance of labor. Proximity soon became known for its “heavy duty – deep tone blue denim.” Later renamed Cone Mills, the company became the world’s leading producer of denim with more than 30 manufacturing plants, thus the popular reference to Moses as “The Denim King.” Cone Mills continued to expand its product lines which included a variety of other fabrics including corduroy and flannel.
A nature lover and early environmentalist, Moses desired an estate and a lifestyle that would give him refuge from the rigors of his business empire and, at the same time, showcase his newfound wealth. In the early 1890’s, Moses and his wife, Bertha, began acquiring more than 3,600 acres of land at Blowing Rock, North Carolina, an upcoming resort area which Cone sought to promote and develop through his own private contributions. The Cone’s future estate included Flat Top Mountain, neighboring Rich Mountain, 500 acres of rolling farmland, patches of virgin hardwoods and evergreens, and breathtaking views including a view of the spectacular, rocky rise of nearby Grandfather Mountain from their front porch.
In 1899 Moses and Bertha began work on the manor house that would crown their carefully landscaped estate. Moses, eager to show the benefits of growing apples scientifically, nurtured over 32,000 apple trees in four orchards and planted extensive white pine forests and hemlock hedges. The Cones imported whitetail deer from Pennsylvania which were protected within two “parks” on the estate. The Cones also built two lakes and stocked them with trout and bass. In addition, they created more than 25 miles of carefully designed and manicured carriage roads for access to their orchards and pastures and to give local residents opportunities for horseback and carriage riding. Some 30 farmers and their families lived on the estate as informal tenants, carrying out the many chores required in maintaining such an expansive country place.
Moses and Bertha, who had no children, rejoiced in their estate and their mountain home named Flat Top Manor in honor of nearby Flat Top Mountain. The mansion is a “wonderful example of Colonial Revival construction boasting large white columns, elegant leaded glass windows and mysterious dormers high atop the house”. Building the mansion with gaslights, telephone and a central heating system was no easy task. Building materials and fine furnishings were hauled by wagon from the railhead in Lenoir, located 20 miles away. In its heyday, visitors included government leaders, business associates, local dignitaries, and visiting relatives. Among these visitors were Moses’ art collecting sisters, Etta and Dr. Claribel Cone, whose premier collection of works by friends Henry Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and other European artists, is now housed in the Cone wing of the Baltimore Museum of Art.
As key contributors to the growth of the town of Blowing Rock, the Cones donated land and funds for local schools including funds for the beginning of what is now Appalachian State University. Moses also served on the school’s original board. Moses’ contributions to education, the textile business, farming and conservation earned him the esteem and gratitude of his neighbors.
Moses died at the age of 51 in 1908. Bertha resided at and actively managed the estate for another 39 years until her death. The graves of both overlook a meadow below the summit of Flat Top Mountain.
With Bertha’s death in 1947, the estate passed to the Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro. Two years later, the hospital board donated the property to the National Park Service, with the understanding that it would be known as The Moses H. Cone Memorial Park and managed as a part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a unit of the National Park System.