The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park was originally conceived with the input of hundreds of Wilson citizens including downtown stakeholders, artists, youth groups, neighborhood associations, and business leaders. Through multiple community meetings, Wilsonians helped contribute to the design and vision for the park. As the project progressed, a workforce training program was developed and implemented in partnership with Wilson Community College, Opportunities Industrialization Center of Wilson, and St. John’s Community Development Corporation for whirligig repair and conservation. Over fifty jobs were created throughout the course of the whirligig restoration effort.
Based on designed by award-inning landscape architecture firm Surface678, the two-acre park features thirty of Vollis Simpson’s whirligigs. This is the largest collection in the world and includes some of Simpson’s most colossal and impressive sculptures. The Green, a central grass amphitheater, is a reference to the pond on the Simpson farm, with the surrounding whirligigs installed as they originally were around the body of water. This space, which includes a stage, was created to host various concerts and performances. Mimicking rows of crops in the fields and long lines of tobacco ready for auction in the warehouses, the rows of concrete and garden squares in the park pay homage to Wilson’s agricultural heritage.
The Pavilion, a large, open-air shelter, was created to house downtown arts, crafts and farmers markets, as well as other community events and activities. The pavilion, designed by Hood & Herring Architecture, echos surrounding tobacco auction warehouses. Specialty night lighting illuminates the thousands of reflectors attached to the whirligigs, recreating the mystical experience at the original location when car headlights rounded the curve near the Simpson farm.