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Fountain, North Carolina: Lester Gay's Whirligigs

Lester is gone, but you can see his hand-made whirligigs in a local store.

Smith-Yelverton Hardware

US Hwy 258, Fountain, NC
Smith-Yelverton Hardware. At the intersecton of US 258 and Hwy 222, the only stoplight in town.
By Appt.- Local health policies may affect hours and access.
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Visitor Tips and News About Lester Gay's Whirligigs

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Lester Gay's Whirligigs

Visited the remaining collection of Lester Gay's Whirligigs on 10 July 2004. Alex Albright [caretaker of what remains] was very helpful. We bought a Whirligig via a donation to the Fountain Fire & Rescue Department. The old Smith-Yelverton store, where the Whirligigs are stored, is an attraction in itself [old radios, adding machines, tools, etc.]. Definitely worth a stop if you're passing through eastern N.C.

[Charles Weaver, 07/18/2004]
Lester Gay's Whirligig Farm

The Lester Gay whirligigs owned by Fountain Fire & Rescue are in storage in the old Smith-Yelverton building, downtown Fountain. Six have been sold for $200 donation each to the Fire & Rescue; donor gets to walk through and choose, and also gets a pole for display. Approximately 75 remain available. Price may increase at Fire & Rescue's discretion. Contact Alex Albright for access to the collection:

[alex albright, 03/30/2004]

Lester's remnants.

Lester Gay's Whirligig Farm - Gone

Sad to say that Lester Gay's field of 250 whirligigs is gone. Lester has died, and the whirligigs were taken down, donated to the fire department for some future fundraiser, and are currently in storage. There are still a few of Lester's whirligigs here and there around town, but seeing one or two is nowhere near as impressive as seeing the whole field of whirligigs that used to be at Lester's farm.

[Dean Jeffrey, 03/11/2001]

Lester Gay makes them, using bicycle rims, or used to. He's in his 80s, arthritic, has stopped, though he did make two more, one more time, for the Fountain, North Carolina, volunteer fire dpt annual fundraising auction held last weekend. His yard is covered with them, 250 or so. They are not as spectacular as Vollis Simpson's [in Lucama, NC]. For one thing, they're all of uniform height, so clearly he's going for a different effect, more like a garden, the design of the board part itself the critical element in 'gig design. Lester has visited with Vollis and he likes Vollis's work, but he has looked more at how the whirling mechanisms have worked than in the packaging. In the eastern corner of Pitt County, NC, just east of Fountain. Off NC 222, go south on s.r. 1231 for .5 miles. Lester's garden of whirlygigs will be on the right, at the intersection with s.r. 1236.

There are a lot of Lester's 'gigs in the area, all gifts, because he has never sold them.. And at least one counterfeit, west of Fountain on NC 222 at the intersection of s.r. 1246, at Henry's Store. Mr. Bailey there finally talked Lester into giving him a 'gig, but after he got it he copied the design, made a bigger one, and used Lester's stick. He has put Lester's somewhere in the back of his little store, Lester believes.

Update: Henry Bailey of Fountain was a great admirer of Lester Gay's work, and he and and his wife were grateful that Mr. Gay chose to give them one of his whirligigs. Mr. Bailey once tried to copy Mr. Gay's work as a tribute to it, and for a while a 'gig that he'd worked on could be seen at the now-closed store noted in the last paragraph of my posting. There certainly was never an intention by Mr. Bailey to counterfeit a Lester Gay 'gig, nor did he ever do such a thing, and I'm sorry that my original writeup gives that impression. Mr. Bailey might, in fact, be just the man to repair your whirligig, whether made by Mr. Gay or not.

[Alex Albright, 03/15/1998]

Nearby Offbeat Places

Freeman Round House and African American MuseumFreeman Round House and African American Museum, Wilson, NC - 15 mi.
Muffler Man - White's Tire #2Muffler Man - White's Tire #2, Wilson, NC - 15 mi.
Vollis Simpson Whirligig ParkVollis Simpson Whirligig Park, Wilson, NC - 16 mi.
In the region:
Bunyan Muffler Man, Rocky Mount, NC - 29 mi.

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