Whirligig Park in Wilson showcases unique, handmade wind machines

Destination Vacation

Nestled in downtown Wilson is Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, home to some impressive handmade windmills. They come courtesy of Vollis Simpson. He built wind machines during World War 2. According to the NC Museum of Art, his interest in wind power continued after the war — and turned into these sculptures, now known as whirligigs.

“The thing that’s amazing to me is I’ve spent hours and hours, years out here, and I still see things that are new,” said Jeff Bell, executive director of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park Non-Profit.

Simpson made these when he retired. The city helped preserve them.

“Whenever you’re out here and you look at these, you can find little details and amazing things that Vollis did. So we want people to come and just enjoy the whirligigs first and foremost,” explained Bell.

Visiting the park during the day gives you plenty of sights and sounds. The whirligigs are all made of old highway signs and billboard posts collected from Simpson’s job in working to move heavy equipment. When the whirligigs were on Simpson’s farm, people would drive up with their headlights on to see the road sign scraps reflect light, and the park tries to keep that image alive for a new crowd.

“To kind of emulate that effect, we have a nighttime lighting feature,” said Bell. “We have traditional up and down lights, and then in the park we have four different push button locations, so if someone pushes one of those buttons, the up and down lights go down and then these lower lights go on around the park and you kind of make your way around the park and see all those reflectors shining back at you.”

The park is more than the collection of the whirligigs. It also showcases a city’s resolve to preserve something special in the county. The rich history told in the park drew a Fayetteville resident all the way to Wilson.

“It’s amazing that this man made these things with just scrap metal and things that he had collected. I love the story about how the city saved it when he got older and couldn’t maintain it, and the efforts that they went to present it here in the park,” explained Nina Garcia, a first time visitor to the park.

The park is the site of an old tobacco auction, and the pavilion on site pays homage to its early history. While many events are cancelled due to coronavirus, you can still come to the park on Saturdays for a Farmers and Artisans market.

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