Whirligig Appeal: Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in Wilson, NC


Sure, telling someone that some pieces of metal that move about in the wind really is a sight to see, and worth the drive to Wilson, NC, may not sound appealing, but trust us, it is. 

We have seen the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park featured in a few travel guides for North Carolina, and had always said how we needed to take a drive to actually see it, but had never made the time. We can think of about a thousand similar things our state has to offer that we need to take advantage of, as far as road trips go, similar to the Whirligig park. We need to make a list and start checking them off. We’re excited to not only tell you about the Whirligig Park on National Road Trip Day, but also to let you know about it before the Memorial Day holiday, when many people have an extra day off, and are looking for a way to spend some time with family, but maybe not take a big vacay. Well, if you are in North Carolina, or nearby, we have the road trip for you!

reunion of family post-covid
Reunited at the Whirligig Park with my dad, and sister Holly (right), after way too long, thanks to covid.

Due to covid, it had been almost a year since I (Shannon) had seen my sister, Holly, and 8 months since I had seen my nieces, when we decided that we would meet at the Whirligig park, to make a day of fun, and plus, Betty White could go. My nieces would rather see Betty White than just me, let’s not kid ourselves. I know my place. 

Wilson, in eastern North Carolina, is still a couple of hours drive from the coast, but not too terrible. From the triangle area, it is only about an hour. We packed up some travel bottles of water, Betty’s stroller, and away we went for a day at the park. 

Marleigh, Betty White, and Hendrix- cousins reunited at last 🙂

Some history of the Whirligig Park:

  • Vollis Simpson was a Wilson native who built these really cool whirligigs out of scrap metal. 
  • He made them by himself for his own enjoyment, and had them on his land. He said he “worked my whole life. Work won’t hurt nobody. It will only hurt your feelings.” Gotta love that!
  • Before Vollis’ death, he and his whirligigs were becoming famous, thanks to social media. People were going to his home to visit the whirligigs from all over the US.
  • In 2010, Vollis was delighted to be a part of a plan that the town initiated, to restore and relocate the whirligigs to preserve and protect them, and put them on display in a park for people to see and enjoy for years to come. It would become, what is now, the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in Historic Downtown Wilson. 
  • The Whirligig park is a spot in the center of town that hosts concerts and events and is a great space to have a picnic, gather with a group, friends, and family. You can check out their events calendar, here
One of many whirligigs- so much detail

Our day was beautiful and amazing! It was sunny and warm, and we arrived early in the day, on a Sunday, so it wasn’t crowded. The wind was just enough to move the metal pieces of art, created by Vollis himself, about to and fro. They were colorful, and detailed. Some were people sawing a log, one was a cowboy, and some were carousels. They were beautiful, and chaotic, all at the same time. It was a joy to walk around the park, looking into the sky, taking in the intricacy of each piece of art, knowing how much work must have gone into each piece. 

Some tips for you to know before you go:

  • Free parking- there are lots around the park, so you just park where you find a spot. 
  • Unless you happen to be there when there is an event or food truck, there is no vending, so bring your own food/drinks. We brought water, and I brought some treats for Betty White, so we were all set. It is ideal to bring a picnic, or you can plan to grab lunch, or beer, al fresco at Casita Brewing Company
  • They do have a couple of bathroom trailers that are decent, so you are good-to-go in that arena. 
  • Re: pups- we are always prepared with poop bags, but we did not see any pup stations, or anything that showed that they were pup-friendly, so just be prepared to have everything you need for your furry friend. Betty White did have a great time, and there was plenty of green grass for her to run and play, and shaded areas, when she was hot. This goes for your kids, too. There are shaded areas when it gets steamy. 
  • No charge for entry. Everything is accessible, and there wasn’t a formal entry area, so we just had free reign of everything. It is sort of a community space, which is really nice. There is a grassy amphitheater-style set-up feel to it, with a stage, but no seating, just lots of grass, and it is all centered in the middle of downtown Wilson, so it is just a lovely nestled feeling. 
carousel whirligig
Multiple whirligigs in downtown Wilson, NC

Be sure to take some time to walk around downtown Wilson and take in some of the shops and restaurants if you have time. I had Betty White with me, so I couldn’t go inside a lot of places, but as I walked around, I saw places I wanted to revisit next time. One of the places we must visit is Treat Yo’ Self Bakery. Not only do they have a super cute aesthetic, but they have an ahhhmazing looking cannoli cake that we must try! I’m also dying to visit The Edge, which is a collaborative art gallery. 

The beautiful thing about road trips is that when you are exposed to an area that is new to you, your eyes are open and you are enlightened to what you can experience in the future. Now, we can plan another trip to the area, and partake in more of what downtown Wilson has to offer, all thanks to a day trip to the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park. 

Let us know what you think!