By Sara Lindau
To browse Weymouth's wood-paneled library and explore its 23 rooms is to step back in time - have a drink with the doomed F. Scott Fitzgerald, compare notes on North Carolina with Thomas Wolfe and talk politics with a young Paul Green before he wrote his famous play, "The Lost Colony."
Imagine the conversations. Then, live the fantasy when Weymouth opens the home's major rooms, lavishly decorated for Christmas, to the public. Peek at the places where Faulkner once sat and the family bedrooms that now serve as guest rooms for Weymouth's writers-in-residence program. The mansion in the woods of Southern Pines launched a literary renaissance in its day and remains a sanctuary for today's writers who temporarily live and work at Weymouth.
Weymouth's original owners, writer James Boyd and his wife, Katharine, would probably welcome all of the visitors who drop by the annual Christmas Open House. The writer's Irish-born grandfather amassed a fortune from coal and railroads in Pennsylvania and, like other wealthy Northern families, spent his winters in North Carolina. He acquired 1,500 acres of woods, including the last remaining longleaf pine forest in the South. He would help build a road connecting Southern Pines and Pinehurst, save a bank from financial ruin and support the first country club and golf course in Southern Pines that is still used today.
Katharine Boyd came from a prominent family as well - her father, Daniel S. Lamont, was President Grover Cleveland's secretary of war in Cleveland's second term.
When James and Katharine came to North Carolina as young newlyweds, architect Aymar Embury II was hired to design the Georgian-style mansion that is surrounded by stables and a large meadow. The original horse barn, paddocks and dog kennels are still used.
Boyd, an avid hunter, once said, "I would rather ride than write," and indeed, another of his legacies is the Moore County Hounds that he and his brother, Jackson Boyd, founded in 1914. The group's Thanksgiving Day hunt is a nearly 100-year-old tradition that draws hundreds of spectators every year.
For Katharine, Weymouth was "the realization of her vision: a landscape lovingly civilized out of a long-ago past of dry grass and sand spurs," says her daughter, Nancy Boyd Sokoloff. "The people who had the vision have, of course, come and gone. It's a big house that accommodated many people - the Boyd family, their guests, their friends, relatives, servants in two separate worlds that touched, upstairs, downstairs."
And then there were Christmas mornings when Sokoloff, as the youngest Boyd child, would "step over the threshold with everyone following, to swing the line in a great circle around the Christmas tree, magically transformed into a dazzling firebird that held its wings of silver and blue over piles of presents."
After James Boyd died in 1944, Katharine continued to support the arts and humanities on a statewide scale and run the local weekly newspaper. By the time Weymouth was purchased by the Friends of Weymouth in 1979, the Boyd children had scattered.
Weymouth is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The Friends preserve the home and open it for the Chamber Music Series, Ragan Writers Series and Arts and Humanities Lecture Series, plus weddings, meetings, workshops and other community events. It is also home to the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame and gardens which attract their own share of visitors. The writers-in-residence program offers stays of up to two weeks at no cost to the writers.
Today, James Boyd's writing, including his popular novel "Drums," may not be as well-known as the works of the writers he hosted, but it was his literary career that brought Fitzgerald, Wolfe, Green plus William Faulkner, well-known editor Maxwell Perkins, writer Sherwood Anderson and John Galsworthy, author of "The Forsyte Saga," to Weymouth during the 1920s and 1930s. In journalist Jonathan Daniels' memoir, "Tar Heels," Daniels quoted Wolfe as saying, "James Boyd gave North Carolina a literature before it had native writers of its own."
Daniels believed that the Boyds and their Weymouth home launched the Southern literary renaissance of their day. Today, the N.C. Literary Hall of Fame inducts both living and deceased North Carolina writers into its ranks every other year.
But in late November this year, and for the past 30 years, the hall and other rooms are transformed into Christmas wonderlands. This year's theme is "Believe in the Magic."
When another Christmas at Weymouth was gone, Nancy Boyd Sokoloff remembers, life was a blank. "We had moved into, and now out of, another dimension in time and space, leaving the everyday seeming meaningless, 'til the next Christmas."
If you go
- 2012 Christmas Open House
- Where: Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities, 555 E. Connecticut Ave., Southern Pines
- When: 10 a.m.- 4 p.m., Nov. 29-Dec. 1 with a candlelight tour 7-9 p.m., Nov. 30
- Tickets: $10 in advance, $15 at the door and $5 on Dec. 1 for active-duty military. Reservations are required for the candelight tour. Tickets are $30.
- Information: 910-692-6261 or weymouthcenter.org