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Tryon Palace, A Lesson in History
Front View of Tryon Palace
The Governor's Home
My visit to Tryon Palace in New Bern, NC left me both surprised and a fan. My surprise was because I had grown up in eastern NC and had always heard about the historical significance of the tourist exhibit but had never had a yearning to visit it. I left a fan because of the experiential learning environment the palace is.
On my tour of the actual palace, I was awe struck by the ingenuity of the people who had worked there in its hey-day. An anonymous kitchen worker had figured out a way to set up the stove so that, though the work was still a drudgery, it was most expedient. There were ladies there who still cooked on that stove, re-enacting the daily lives of kitchen help who came long before them. They remain in character so that visitors get a real feel for the humanity of those former cooks.
Another part of the tour took us to the still active vegetable garden where a worker was harvesting peppers to be used in the dinner that the kitchen staff would be preparing later. When asked who would be eating that dinner, she responded that everyone who worked there also ate there. So, those ladies who were tending that 19th century stove would be cooking real food for real people. The garden is not a showpiece; workers eat what they grow. That really impressed me.
Smithy on the Grounds
From the vegetable garden, I went to the black smith’s shop. By now I was not surprised to find a real black smith working inside. He eagerly demonstrated how his work is done, showing me different plow points and other farming tools. Like the kitchen help, workers would design utensils to make their work more expedient. The black smith said that though the smithy created the tool, the person who needed it would come in with an idea, explaining what he wanted the tool to do and other details important to the design. I was immensely impressed by both his historical and technical knowledge. And the fact that he was still making and repairing some of the tools used on the grounds added to my awe.
Marigold by Design
Amazing Flower Garden
I stayed longest in the flower garden, not because a horticulturist was there to impart knowledge, but because it was absolutely beautiful. Flowers of every hue decorated the grounds. Yes, I read the names of the flowers, but the names did not stay with me. The visceral affect of the varied colored marigolds, roses, and other flora was imprinted in my very being. The beauty of the layout, the garden statues, the topiary all created such an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere that I just sat out there drinking in nature’s beauty.
The Palace's Dark History
Before leaving the estate, I had to ask about the people who had worked there when the palace was indeed a homestead. I was pleased to learn that most of the workers had been free, daily, wage earners. The tour guide was quick to add that there had been only a few slaves on the palace grounds. He seemed proud of that. I would have been more impressed had he revealed that there had been none. But, such was life in a port city in the South in 19th century America. The irony of all the beauty and ingenuity that the palace displays juxtaposed against the ugliness of its slave-owning history did not escape me, nor did it make me sorry that I had visited. The palace came alive for me, and I left proud of the people who had made life easier and more bearable for those of us who came after them. The workers had been forced to use their creativity to improve their daily lives, but they had been artists nonetheless. And their art is still alive and on display for all who visit Tryon Palace today. Amazing.