Daytrippin' to Hiddenite Center


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It's not easy to impress my 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, who spend far too much time mesmerized by high-definition TV, video games and computers. But, a recent day trip to tour the Lucas Mansion at the Hiddenite Center did just that.

Hiddenite, the town named for the green gemstone found in the area, is a one-hour 10-minute drive north of Winston-Salem and is where you will find this Queen Anne-style home built in 1900.

Little is known about the home's first occupants, but it is believed to have been a young couple who moved out after marital troubles. The home is named for its second owner, James Lucas, also known as Diamond Jim, who bought it as a vacation home. Lucas was a local gem trader in the 1920s and was known for his flamboyant dress and home furnishings, which were sold at auction in 1952. The first floor of the home now contains furnishings from that era.

During our visit, we learned that the home was originally built as two stories, but was enlarged in 1915 with the addition of a third floor. Amazingly, the third-floor addition was created by cutting the home in half horizontally. The second story was lifted up to become the third story, and the additional floor was built between the original first and second floors.

In 1981, the Eileen Lackey Sharpe obtained the property and founded the Hiddenite Center to preserve local history and encourage self-expression in arts and crafts. The home was also named to the National Register of Historic Places.

We began our tour of the center on the second floor, which contains gallery space. On display was an exhibit titled "Traditions: The Treasures of Generations" and contained family heirlooms and displays of how local families celebrate the holidays, as we visited shortly after Christmas. Other recent exhibits have included local photo archives, paintings, pottery and quilts.

The third floor contains an extensive toy and doll collection, which my kids enjoyed immensely. The collection, which spans 100 years, is impressive. There were dolls of Queen Elizabeth, Sir Walter Raleigh, Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy and many other first ladies. The collection also includes many Native American, African-American and Asian dolls.

My daughter found the ventriloquist dolls a little creepy and refused to stand near them, but she loved seeing the old baby carriages. Her favorite dolls were from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and Alice in Wonderland. The 9-year-old loved the old Bugs Bunny jack-in-the-box and vintage Mickey Mouse riding a tractor.

The first floor of the home is beautifully restored and contains a music room, dining room, bedroom, foyer, kitchen and parlor. Very young children will find it challenging not to touch items. Even my oldest was dying to pound on the piano keys in the music room. My husband carried the 1-year-old, and he was a little grumpy about that, but we thankfully managed to avoid any ugly scenes.

The kids loved the elaborate bell system found in each room, which was once used to call servants. The home also had its own power supply as well as a sophisticated fire-extinguisher system for that time period.

The first floor also contains a gem collection, and we had fun quizzing each other on the names of the different stones.

Before leaving, we stopped by the gift shop and a bought a few souvenirs: postcard, polished gemstones and holiday ornaments. In the car on the way home, the kids talked about their favorite parts of the home and carefully studied their gems - confirmation that the center was well worth this day trip.

IF YOU GO
Hiddenite Center
316 Hiddenite Church Road
Hiddenite, NC 28636
www.hiddenitecenter.com

Fees
Second- and third-floor tours of Lucas Mansion are free. A tour of the first floor is $2.50 for adults and $1.50 for students and seniors.

Hours
Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

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