Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park ready for today’s opening

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Click the play button to watch a video from the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park.
Drew C. Wilson | Times

Henry Walston hopes the wind is blowing this afternoon. He wants the whirligigs to turn in the wind and put on a show for the big grand opening.

The ribbon will be cut at the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park Thursday in a ceremony that starts at 4 p.m.

Guests will include Wit Tuttell, executive director of VisitNC, as master of ceremonies; Susi Hamilton, N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources secretary; Wayne Martin, executive director of the N.C. Arts Council; Carol Simpson Kyles, Vollis’ daughter; and Wilson Mayor Bruce Rose.

Thursday’s event will include family-oriented activities by Wilson Parks and Recreation and music by Fireside Collective. Walston, park board director, said he and other board members will be available to show people around the park and answer questions.

Several food trucks will be on site for those who want to buy dinner or sweets, and stick around for the grand illumination of whirligigs at 7 p.m.

Take a blanket or some chairs and plan to stay awhile this evening.


The opening is a long time coming for Walston and others who have planned and raised money and watched the lot along Goldsboro Street fill up with Simpson’s giant whirligigs.

“I always thought we were going to accomplish our goal,” he said.

Walston hopes he won’t get too emotional Thursday when he talks about the many partners who have made the project happen.

“There were just so many people,” he said. “It took a real group effort.”

The park project is a partnership between Wilson Downtown Properties, the city of Wilson and the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Museum.

The park has received support from many organizations and individuals across the country including ArtPlace America, the Kresge Foundation, the Kohler Foundation, the N.C. Arts Council, the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Walston said it is a good feeling to see Simpson’s artwork on display in his home county. It’s also rewarding to see the park as the planners envisioned it and to see the economic development that is a result of the park, he said.

“It’s making quite a statement about Wilson throughout the country.”

Walston wants the park to become a draw from people to come to Wilson — to stay and spend money with area merchants.

“I want the park to continue to be a strength for economic development,” he said, citing projects including the major Whirligig Station apartment complex work going on across Goldsboro Street. “I’m convinced it will be.”

He also wants people in Wilson to enjoy the park. Take a walk, have a picnic, enjoy an evening concert or buy something at the relocated farmers market.
“We want this to be a community living room that people will utilize,” he said.

Walston has made a point to ride by the park most days and stop to talk to visitors from here and across the country who want to see Simpson’s giant windmills.

He has often pointed the visitors in the direction of the restoration center, where all of the work took place to prepare the whirligigs for the park.

“That was really a draw,” said Walston, adding it was almost sad to see the restoration work ending.

Walston has nothing but praise for the workers who welded, painted and did whatever was required.

“They were just totally dedicated,” he said. “They were the unsung heroes.”

And they all had a common goal: “We tried to be as true to Vollis as we could possible be,” he said.

Walston recalls seeing Simpson at the restoration center on several occasion.

“Vollis would come down there whenever he was able,” Walston said. “He loved what they were doing and was so appreciative.”

The restoration workers, installers, landscapers and so many more worked through this week to get the 30th whirligig completely installed and the park ready for the big day.

“We’re in good shape,” said Jeff Bell, executive director.

Bell hopes a big crowd will show up to launch the park and see the ribbon-cutting. Imagination Station will bring a Rube Goldberg machine to cut the ribbon, he said.

“I think it’s going to be neat to be here when we open,” Bell said, adding the park will be here for a long time and residents should enjoy being there for the launch.