Chinqua Penn Plantation

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Chinqua-Penn Plantation
Chinqua Penn Plantation.jpg
Chinqua Penn Plantation is located in North Carolina
Chinqua Penn Plantation
Chinqua Penn Plantation is located in the US
Chinqua Penn Plantation
Location NC 1998 N side, 0.2 miles W of jct. with NC 1987, near Reidsville, North Carolina
Coordinates 36°23′4″N 79°42′0″W / 36.38444°N 79.70000°W / 36.38444; -79.70000Coordinates: 36°23′4″N 79°42′0″W / 36.38444°N 79.70000°W / 36.38444; -79.70000
Area 22.8 acres (9.2 ha)
Built 1923 (1923)
Architect Ingalls, Harry C.; Et al.
Architectural style Eclectic
NRHP reference # 93000235[1]
Added to NRHP April 8, 1993

Chinqua Penn Plantation is an English manor home mansion and national historic district near Reidsville, North Carolina in Rockingham County, (about 25 miles north of Greensboro, NC) and was built by Thomas Jefferson Penn ("Jeff", 1875–1946) and Margaret Beatrice Shoellkopf Penn ("Betsy", 1881–1965) in the 1920s. The name "Chinqua Penn" was derived from the chinquapin, a species of American chestnut that was once plentiful in the area.

Chinqua Penn Plantation ranks high among North Carolina's finest well-preserved early 20th century homes, including Reynolda House, and Duke Mansion.


Thomas Jefferson 'Jeff' Penn (1875–1946)

After inheriting a portion of the Penn family tobacco interests, they relocated from Penn's Store, Patrick County, Virginia to North Carolina; Jeff Penn then augmented his fortune in stocks and bonds during the depression. He also operated a dairy husbandry and raised Holstein cattle. In later years he raised Black Angus. The Penn Tobacco Company was later purchased in 1911 by American Tobacco Company, the Duke family behemoth that made Lucky Strike cigarettes. The coats-of-arms above the picture window show the Penn family crest, as well as that of the Spencer family of Spencer, Virginia, to whom the Penns were related.[2][3] Betsy's father was Arthur Schoellkopf, Chairman of the board of directors of Niagara Falls Power Company and Mayor of Niagara Falls, New York. Betsy Penn survived Jeff by nearly twenty years, during which time she became increasingly involved in philanthropic and community activities. She created the Betsy-Jeff Penn 4-H Educational Center on part of the estate. Most of the furnishings and art, showcasing 30 countries, were placed by the Penns.[4]

The Chinqua-Penn Plantation historic district encompasses eight contributing buildings, six contributing sites, eight contributing structures, and one contributing object. In addition to the manor house, they include the landscape design (1923-1925), The Lodge Group (1923), West Cottage, East Cottage, Laundry, Garage, Clock Tower (1931), gate (c. 1925), two Sentry Houses (c. 1925), Japanese Bridge (c. 1925), Entrance Fountain (c. 1925), Cascade (c. 1925), swimming pool (c. 1925), Chinese Pagoda (1932), Rookery (1925), Formal Garden (c. 1925), Windmill Site and Root Cellar (c. 1936), Rose Garden (c. 1925), Herb Garden (c. 1925), Cutting Garden (early 1930s), Grape Arbor (c. 1932), and Greenhouse (c. 1928).[4]

The house and related buildings, and ultimately the internal furnishings, were given into the trusteeship of the University of North Carolina System. Because of high costs, N.C. State University closed the site to tours. Three years later Calvin Phelps, the founder of Renegade Tobacco Company, in August 2006, acquired the estate, claiming he intended to build a replica in Davie County. He decided to have a second home nearby and operate the site as a tourist attraction. But Phelps used funds from his tobacco company, which was successful for a while due to being exempt from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement which required a $5 per carton surcharge on cigarettes. He could sell his cigarettes more cheaply until the government began requiring exempt tobacco companies to pay "escrow" fees. Later, needed to finance his debt, Phelps obtained a mortgage backed by his companies. Bank of Granite, which had lent him money, cut him off.[5] Federal agents seized the property and assets on September 28, 2010 as part of an ongoing bankruptcy proceeding.[6] In September 2011, a bankruptcy trustee took over, and an order filed December 12 said a bankruptcy judge would require that all items in the house be sold at auction in April 2012.[7] The two-day auction took place at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex in Greensboro, North Carolina, April 25 and 26, 2012, was conducted by Leland Little Auction & Estate Sales, Ltd. and Iron Horse Auction Company, Inc.[8] ,[9] and raised approximately US$3.4 Million.[10]

In August 2012, the Museum and Archives of Rockingham County was expected to open, and certain items acquired at the auction were expected to be displayed.[11]

On September 18, 2013, Chinqua Penn went into foreclosure. SunTrust Bank bought the property from Phelps for $1.4 million.[12] Though SunTrust wanted $1.9 million, the property sold for considerably less to a private buyer.

Tourist attraction[edit]

The house and gardens are privately owned and are not open to the public. The house was once open for tours, and the plantation offered tours through March 17, 2012.[13] The Phelps family planned to restore the grounds and add some of their own furnishings to enhance the authenticity of the tour by showcasing the splendor that was evident during the Penns' residency. Their attempts to restore the house contributed to the Phelps' bankruptcy.[5]

Jeff Penn and his wife were both well-traveled, Penn having lived for some time in San Francisco, where he represented family tobacco interests in the East, including China. The Penns went on three world tours and amassed an extensive collection of priceless art, artifacts, and architectural pieces. Among those on display are a replica of King Tut's chair (one of only two such replicas), and a full-size Chinese pagoda. Elements of Spanish architecture and Don Quixote-related art works are plentiful.

Farmland adjoining the property is still operated as an experimental agricultural station by North Carolina State University.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ James Harrison Spencer, cousin of Thomas Jefferson Penn, Men of Mark in Virginia, Lyon G. Tyler, 1908
  3. ^ "The History of Spencer-Penn". Archived from the original on 2010-12-11. Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  4. ^ a b M. Ruth Little (November 1992). "Chinqua-Penn Plantation" (pdf). National Register of Historic Places - Nomination and Inventory. North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office. Retrieved 2015-02-01. 
  5. ^ a b Wireback, Taft (2012-03-12). "Business woes lead to bankruptcy, end of Phelps' Chinqua Penn story". News & Record. Retrieved 2012-03-17. 
  6. ^ "Feds confirm seizure of Chinqua Penn Plantation". Winston-Salem Journal. 2010-09-29. Retrieved 2010-09-29. 
  7. ^ Davis, Jonnelle (2011-12-15). "Chinqua Penn furnishings to be sold". News & Record. Retrieved 2010-12-15. 
  8. ^ Leland Little Auction & Estate Sales, Ltd. (2012-03-23). "The Historic Chinqua Penn Plantation Estate Auction". Retrieved 2012-03-23. 
  9. ^ Iron Horse Auction Company Inc. (2012-03-23). "The Historic Chinqua Penn Plantation Estate Auction". Retrieved 2012-03-23. 
  10. ^ Craver (2012-05-07). "Chinqua Penn auction raises $3.4M". Retrieved 2012-05-07. 
  11. ^ Firesheets, Tina (2012-06-11). "Sponsors sought for estate artifacts". News & Record. Retrieved 2012-06-11. 
  12. ^ Kesler, Brad (2013-09-20). "Once grand Chinqua Penn becomes loss to be mourned". News & Record. Retrieved 2013-10-03. 
  13. ^ Killian, Joe (2012-03-17). "Last chance to see Chinqua Penn?". News & Record. Retrieved 2012-03-17. 

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