“Be Like Vollis” – a day at the Wilson Whirligig Park


Some of the best travel ideas are day trips within an hour’s drive. Fact is, locals often don’t enjoy what is right in front of our faces.

With that in mind, plus our desire to take the grandchildren on a fun North Carolina outing before they headed out for the move to Miami, Rebekah and I took the kids over to Wilson Monday, while their parents unloaded and repacked both the cars for the early departure Tuesday morning.

Wilson is one of those agricultural towns that is struggling to maintain a vibrant population and an active center. In its heyday the city was a regional leader for tobacco production and became a very prosperous community. The downtown boasts some choice architectural detail, with a lot of extremely cool buildings and storefronts, but too many business spaces are empty and the demise of “in person” shopping surely means it will remain a real challenge to keep the community alive.

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in Historic Downtown Wilson

IMG_8803One creative and visionary move was the construction of a park – right on the edge of the main street – featuring the world’s premier collection of whirligigs. It’s quirky, it’s fun, and it’s quintessentially rural North Carolina.

Here is how they are described on the Website:

“This one-of-a-kind art park in the heart of Historic Downtown Wilson, NC provides fascinating artistic, educational, and recreational opportunities at the intersection of art and science. We invite you to explore our vision and to join the effort to realize this significant creative placemaking and arts-driven economic development project.”

The short story is that folk-artist/farmer/mechanic Vollis Simpson created a series of giant, whimsical, one-of-a-kind windmills and erected them on his farm near Wilson. By the time he died (at the age of 94, in 2013), his work had become famous worldwide.

The massive structures – 40-60 feet tall – require periodic maintenance to keep working so the city created this unusual park to promote and preserve Vollis Simpson’s legacy.

So we rolled in, not really knowing if the place would capture the imagination of a six and an eight year old. The trip could have ended up as a five-minute in and out…

David figuring it all out!

But of course it didn’t. David and Beks were immediately entranced. They made their way around the park once, fairly slowly, then raced around the walkways, walls, and grassy areas, and then they went around again, this time very slowly, examining every detail and sometimes circling back.

David even pointed out – accurately – where repairs needed to be done. The visit was a resounding success, so much so that the children wanted to return after lunch in a classic local diner in the center of the city.

IMG_E8767For Rebekah and me, other than simply enjoying the presence of two exuberant grandchildren, we thoroughly enjoyed the folk art aspect of the exhibition. The idea of Vollis Simpson – constructing these gargantuan moving, working, wind-powered works of art, keeping his life focused, and motivated, and engaged, and creative until just a few months before his death – speaks to us of so many things about life that are wonderful.

So here’s my take-away from this. Spend more time with your grandchildren (of course) but, also, be like Vollis Simpson.

I like it. Maybe I’ll adopt it as a motto. “Be More Like Vollis.”

So, click on the first photograph then scroll through them all. You will be amazed… and then you will want to make sure and take a trip over to Wilson. You will be glad that you took the time. And make sure to live like you mean it. This guy obviously did – DEREK


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