Creating Paradise: Shangri-La in North Carolina

Thanks to Henry Warren, a retired farmer, Shangri-La is closer than you think—just a bit smaller than you’d expect.
by Joel Haas

Like many of us, Henry Warren wanted to retire to a verdant utopia. But unlike many of us, Warren was smart enough to realize that Shangri-La was right there in his fields. All he had to do was dig it up and put it together. 

     In 1968, at age 73, Warren commenced both his retirement and his project. By the time he died nine years later, he’d formed over two dozen stone miniature buildings into a small town in his front yard on North Carolina Highway 86, halfway between Hillsborough and Yanceyville. Most of the structures are made from white quartz, held together with gray cement. Houses are three to four feet high, and a church rises six feet to its rooftop, with a steeple that adds another four feet. It’s as tall as the miniature water tower he built. A bronze plaque deems it “Shangri-La.”

Certainly, for a leprechaun, it would be. It probably was for Warren, too: He built an outdoor grill, rock chairs and a bench which blend in perfectly among the buildings. He would cook and sit among his creations. His wife told a visitor once, “As long as he has a Coca-Cola and a cigarette, he’ll work.”

Today, Warren’s daughter Juanita Penny and her husband Van live on the property and provide upkeep to the stone village. They invite visitors to stop by anytime to see the village and Warren’s other stonework, including a walkway embedded with arrowheads.

The whimsical town that Warren built has delighted thousands of people over the years, most of whom simply came upon it as an unexpected pleasure. Beneath its name, the plaque continues, “Let me live in a house by the side of the road and be a friend to man.” And it’s a friend, indeed, who even in death can remind us that paradise is right here on earth… all we have to do is build it. —Joel Haas

Directions: from Raleigh, take I-40 West to Hillsborough. Take exit 160 toward Efland. Keep right to stay on Exit 160, then follow signs to Efland. Turn right onto Mount Willing Road. Turn left onto Forrest Avenue. Turn left onto N.C. 86 N. Travel time from Raleigh is approximately one hour.