Blue Ridge Parkway | MOSES CONE AND FLAT TOP MANOR HISTORY

Moses (sitting) and Caesar Cone

Moses (sitting) and Caesar Cone

Moses Cone was a successful textile mill owner and philanthropist who lived from 1857 until 1908. He was born in Jonesborough, Tennessee, to German immigrant parents, Herman and Helen Kahn. Herman changed the name to Cone upon entering the United States. The Cone’s large family of eight children was supported by Herman’s success in the dry goods and grocery business. In 1870 the family moved to Baltimore, where Herman partnered with relatives to start a wholesale grocery business.

Moses and his brother Caesar, the sibling he was closest to, got into the textile industry as middlemen, first gaining experience in sales while working with their father. They found that many mills were producing products but were waiting for buyers to find them. The Cones set out to find buyers and connect them with the mills. By 1887 they had gained enough experience in the textile industry that they decided to go into the mill business themselves, though first through investments in various established mills. In 1890 they even tried to put together a conglomeration of mill owners to corner the “plaids and checks” cotton fabric market, an organization known as the Plaid Trust to their competitors.

In 1895, Moses began the Proximity Manufacturing Company and purchased an old steel mill in Greensboro, North Carolina, then converted it into a cotton mill that specialized in producing denim. Once that began to thrive, he and Caesar opened up a few more mills and soon became the world’s largest producers of denim. Moses was known as the “Denim King.” After his death in 1908, the company would go on to supply the Levi Strauss Company. The business was eventually named Cone Mills Corporation, and it remained in business until 2004 when it finally went bankrupt. Its assets were purchased by W. L. Ross and Company and combined with assets of Burlington Industries to form International Textile Group, which continues to supply all major denim clothing manufacturers.

Moses married Bertha Lindau in the late 1880s. Though he came from a large family, he and Bertha never had children of their own. By the turn of the century the Cones were quite wealthy and wanted to build a mansion. Moses had been plagued by bad health and felt that the fresh air of the North Carolina mountains would do him good. They wanted a large estate, so they also bought up many of the farms in the area. However, they allowed the farmers to keep working the land if they wanted to. Some moved on, but most stayed.

Flat Top Manor, as their mansion would be called, was completed in 1901. Designed as a summer home, the Cones would come to stay from May through October, then spend the winter in Baltimore.

Side view of Flat Top Manor on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Side view of Flat Top Manor on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Cones constructed two artificial lakes, one being Bass Lake, which can be seen from the front porch. They also enhanced the landscape by planting white pines, hemlocks, sugar maples, and 32,000 apple trees.

View from the porch of Flat Top Manor on the Blue Ridge Parkway

View from the porch of Flat Top Manor on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Moses only lived another seven years after the house was completed, dying in 1908 in Baltimore. He had taken up philanthropy and had donated quite a lot of money to various causes. His wife continued the practice after his death. She began a trust fund to build a hospital that would be donated upon her death. This was used to start the Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro, which opened in 1953 and still operates today.

Bertha continued to live in the home after Moses died. When the Blue Ridge Parkway began construction and wanted to come through this area, Mrs. Cone was adamant about stopping it, going so far as to write President Franklin Roosevelt. When she died in 1947, she hated the Parkway so much that she willed the estate to the hospital under the conditions that it never be sold to the National Park Service. The problem was that it cost the hospital $10,000 a year to maintain the house, not much now, but quite a lot back in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The hospital wanted to give the estate to the National Park Service—the Blue Ridge Parkway had come through despite Mrs. Cone’s efforts. Finally, the hospital took the case to the State Supreme Court, and it was decided that regardless of the will, it was in everyone’s best interest for the property to be donated to the government.

When the house and property were acquired by the National Park Service in the 1950s, most of the original farm buildings were still on the land. There were so many that the NPS could not maintain them, so they sold them at auction. Winning bidders came in, dismantled the building, hauled off the materials, and put it back together some place else. Today all that remains of the structures is the Cone mansion and one barn.

The estate is now open to the public and is called Moses Cone Memorial Park. The lower floor of the mansion is used as a craft store by the Southern Highland Craft Guild. Tours of the upper floor are given on select days by the National Park Service. Twenty-five miles of original carriage roads are available for those wanting to walk around the property.

Back to the Top | Moses Cone Memorial Park


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Last updated on November 27, 2023
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