“We didn’t just buy 250 acres of land – we bought a million acres of sky,” commented Lillian Sandburg as she gazed out from the porch of Connemara. After one look at the estate, Carl is reported to have said “We shall look no more.” I know why. I had expected a dry and boring tour of an old house, but was enjoyably surprised by everything about the former home of this Pulitzer Prize winning author.
As I approached the front door, I was tempted to knock and ask permission to enter. Each room looked as if the Sandburgs were expecting us and had just stepped out for a moment. Carl’s guitar leaned against a chair as though it had just been played. The music was still open on the piano and a Gershwin album lay by the record player. A half chewed cigar and a 1969 LIFE magazine waited by the dinner plate for a man who would never be back. Lillian’s binoculars lay atop a book on bird watching as if it should still be warm from her hands. The typewriter on the orange crate was still ready for the fingers of genius to put to paper the thoughts that drifted and swirled through his mind
In the basement, the summer kitchen could have been used just that day and left ready for the next meal. None of us would have found that meal very palatable, however. This kitchen was primarily used for feeding the newborn kids as they were brought up from the goat barn. The walls in Lillian’s office proudly displayed pictures of her prize winning goats – animal portraits that may well have been taken by her brother and photographer, Edward Steichen.
A short walk to the goat barns was refreshing and photogenic; the deep red of the buildings contrasted nicely with the spring greens around them. The goats were used to people and cameras, even let me photograph a kid that had just been born the night before! Just behind the main house I passed the slave quarters that were left from when Christopher Memminger built the house in the 1830’s. It is ironic the Carl Sandburg, who was best known for his biography of Lincoln, spent his last years in a house built the Secretary of the Confederate Treasury!
The Sandburgs moved their family and their goat herd to our mountains from Chicago to find better pasture and climate for the goats, and for Carl to write. By the time Mr. Sandburg passed away in 1967, he had written 1/3 of all his works from these hills. Mrs. Sandburg sold the property to the National Park Service in 1968 and donated the entire contents, which is why the house had such a “homey” feel. If the vintage TV’s had been showing “Bonanza,” I would have thought I had stepped back in time when I came thought the front door.
Flash photography is not allowed inside the house, so be sure you know how to shut off the flash on your camera. I found it necessary to run my pictures through Photoshop and remove some of the yellow tint, also. Try to aim your camera away from the bright windows for the best pictures.
Directions from Franklin: Hwy 19/23 north to I-40; right on I-26 to exit 53 and follow signs