In Southern Pines, one man made a gift so unique that others begged for their own. Each patriotic rendering is one of a kind.

For Heath Trigg, being in the right place at the right time meant being fast asleep near a restless pet. “One night, our dog, Luke, woke me up,” he says. “I was dreaming of an American flag. I drew that picture.” He pulls out a crude drawing of the Stars and Stripes, sketched on his wife’s stiletto-shaped notepad. That sketch became a gift, which became the first Heritage Flag.

Wooden flags weren’t what Heath Trigg made, at least not at first. His father and grandfather had both been in the Navy, but Heath had never served. Instead, after graduating from Appalachian State University, he worked as a builder and woodworker in Southern Pines, creating custom cabinetry for his custom homes. When three Iraq and Afghanistan military veterans wanted to start the Southern Pines Brewing Company, they asked Heath to help design the bar for their taproom. Heath was impressed with the servicemen, and the feeling was mutual. Here’s the budget, the guys told him. Make what you want.

What Heath made was a gorgeous, tall, trellised centerpiece of a bar, and afterward, he wanted to create something special as a gift. That’s when he had the dream.

To turn the sketch into reality, Heath spent weeks shaping the slats of an oak barrel, once used for aging whiskey, into a wooden American flag. On the brewery’s opening night, September 25, 2014, Heath unveiled the flag. The three vets had had no idea. They loved it.

Almost immediately, people who saw the flag wanted their own. When they reached Heath, he responded that surely they could find a similar flag on the Internet. Most called back and told him the same thing: We can’t.

But Heath still viewed the oak barrel flag as a one-off gift, and had no plans to make more and sell them. Instead, he made another one as a present for Bryan Schnell, a Golden Knight and the Army paratrooper who strapped himself to George H.W. Bush so that the former president could make a tandem jump for his 80th birthday. Bryan posted a picture of his flag on Facebook, and a three-star general saw it. Soon after, Heath was on his way to the Pentagon with another flag — again, a gift. An aide to the Secretary of Defense saw it. And so Heath made another one for the Pentagon’s main visitor entrance. During a trip through Arlington National Cemetery, he felt like he finally understood the meaning behind what he’d made. “It makes you think how easy we’ve got it,” he says.

Finally, on November 11, 2014, Veterans Day, Heath flipped the switch on a website and started taking orders for Heritage Flags. He got 87 orders on the first day, and 15,000 emails in the first month. Soon after, he put the cabinetmaking and home building on hold.

Two years ago, at a fundraising auction, Jeff Schwartz saw a Heritage Flag for the first time. The bids kept rising, and the flag sold for about $12,000. “I fell in love with it,” he says. Jeff couldn’t afford the high price, but he followed the guy who’d made it out the door.

In the beginning, this happened a lot. People who saw the few Heritage Flags in existence had a lot of questions. Where did you get this? Where can I get one? Jeff, an Army veteran from Mooresville, has now bought 26 Heritage Flags, and he’s given away 25 of them to his friends, who are also veterans. “The design, the material — it’s unique,” he says. “I’d never seen anything like that in my 46 years.”

Heath’s shop is inside a gray, unmarked outbuilding behind a century-old home on a shady street not far from downtown Southern Pines. Heath removed his business address from his website because too many people were stopping in, and he couldn’t get any work done. He’s hoping to find a new location that’ll allow for both expansion and tours.

Heath and a dozen additional woodworkers go through 300 to 400 barrels a week, ordered from coopers in Kentucky and elsewhere who’ve retrieved them from distillers and winemakers. Men carefully break apart the barrels, flatten them, and leave them outside to dry, sometimes for weeks. Once they’ve reached the right level of dryness, pallets of slats, called staves, are cut to the right width.

At that point, the staves are sanded, then cut to the right length. Next, Ben Chamberlain assembles them like a wooden jigsaw puzzle — methodically measuring, cutting, and inserting each piece. Nothing is painted. The dark pieces are blackened from charred whiskey; the red stripes are the stained interiors of wine casks. The stripe field is attached to the hand-cut star field, and at the end of the eight-day process, two more workers coat the flags with three layers of varnish. All are made of white oak. No two flags are the same. All are built to order, and the orders keep coming in. Heath and his workers can barely keep up.

Why have these flags caught on? The story, for one. The construction, for another. The wood can’t come from just anywhere. It’s already been used in a slow, methodical way, and then it’s reimagined as a wholly new thing. A Heritage Flag is infused with meaning — a cross between a patriotic display and an intricate, naturally imperfect symbol of rural life. Such a flag quietly blends in above the brick fireplace at the Pine Needles clubhouse, or in a shop downtown, or in a home. It’s rustic. Earthy. A piece of Americana art that says something, subtly.

Most important, each flag unlocks a story. Triple amputees have talked to Heath about their service. One veteran who received a flag had stage 4 leukemia. Heath talks at length about a paratrooper who fell 100 feet straight down, and broke almost every bone in her body. After surgeries, therapy, and warnings from doctors that she’d be lucky to survive — let alone walk on her own again — she asked Heath if she could come in and help make the flags. “An inspiration,” Heath calls her. Heath sells plenty of flags — his is a for-profit business, after all — but he still gives plenty of them away, especially to veterans. “He’s not a vet, but he understands it,” Jeff says of Heath. “He feels it.”

At the brewery, co-owner Jason Ginos recounts the story of the original flag, which is hanging on the wall just a few feet away. The conversation quickly turns into a mutual lovefest between Heath and the brewers: You’re great. No, you’re great. Well, I love your flag. Well, I love your beer. They all look at the flag, a rustic touch on a large green wall. Heath finally speaks, with a small smile on his face: “There’s not a cooler one.”

Written by Jeremy Markovich, Senior Writer/Editor of Our State
Photography by Charles Harris

Reprinted with permission by Our State magazine
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Hoof-friendly terrain and residents who love to ride make the landscape of this Sandhills town blue-ribbon horse country.

I set off for the Sandhills and Southern Pines horse country on a brisk day, beneath a champion sky of blue-ribbon blue. As a girl, such days were always my favorite for riding. Cooler weather turned all of us frisky. I wahooed up and down the pasture, stopping under the persimmon tree to let my horse, Goldy, graze the fallen fruits, reins slack, me happy just listening to her chew. That was the best part, really, just being with her. Inside the barn, the dark air filled with the cidery smell of the fresh hay I pushed into the manger. I never wanted to leave, but the stars would come out and I’d remember that I had schoolwork.

Owning a horse was the beginning of my real life. Up until then, it felt as if I’d been pretending to be alive. Living is doing, and boy oh boy did I do when I rode. Time with horses gave me the unrushed sensation of being absolutely present and content, and that feeling returns the closer I get to Southern Pines.

As dense pine forests thin, farmlands sprawl, crisscrossed with fences. Barns spring up, and pastures as green as the Emerald City unfurl. I whiz past riding rings and fields bedecked with cross-country training jumps. There’s a sign for Mile-Away Farms, and, sure enough, Southern Pines and its rural outskirts merge seamlessly, their boundaries blurred by the casual beauty inherent in both.

In Southern Pines, my room at the Weymouth Center overlooks the lush estate that Pennsylvania steel and railroad magnate James Boyd bought to preserve against the ravages of the turpentine industry. One of his grandsons, also named James, inherited the property. The younger James was a writer, and, in 1914, he and his brother Jackson founded Moore County Hounds, which is still active today. Weymouth in its heyday became an equestrian hub, and there’s a stable within a stone’s throw of the main house. Soon I’m ambling down a corridor of trees to take a pear to Emmett, the pony who lives there.

From Weymouth, it’s a short walk down Connecticut Avenue to the historic town center, and although village charms are plentiful — I stop and watch a freight train glide importantly past the beautifully restored Sunrise Theater on Broad Street, the corner ice cream parlor, The Country Bookshop, and Sweet Basil Café — I make a beeline for Cabin Branch Tack Shop, which is bustling with horse lovers.

There, you can buy everything from bitless bridles to a baby’s bib that reads “Born to Ride.” The place smells deliciously of leather. I browse at least 15 brands of fly spray, high-luster shampoos and conditioners for manes and tails, hoof disinfectants, and liniments advertised to “help relieve minor stiffness, soreness, inflammation,” and feel a little bit tempted to buy a bottle of Sore-No-More for myself. If you want second-hand deals on horse gear, try “A Bit Used,” on U.S. Highway 1.

Drive down Youngs Road, and you’ll see horse farms galore: manicured estates with white fences, as well as more laid-back-looking parcels with friendly names like “Little Acres” and “Economy Farm.” I discover Den Road, a one-lane trail of soft white sand that meanders its hill-and-dale way between Youngs and Connecticut. A sign reads HORSES HAVE RIGHT OF WAY. Not since I visited my son in Zambian bush country have I traveled such a road, and I worry that my lowly sedan will get stuck, but, by Equus, it doesn’t! Soon I find Greenore Farm, a pretty little property belonging to Róısín O’Rahılly, who’s thinning the mane of a glossy black horse named Echo. He eyes me like a suitor, licks my palm, and I’m a goner. I have not been licked by a horse in forever, and the wet, broad lap of his tongue, his muzzle nudged eagerly into my hand like a velvet purse, and his oaty, huffy breath are rapturous reminders of every horse I have ever loved.

“I used to ride, until my horse ran away with me during a foxhunt,” I confess to Róısín. This breach of protocol — rushing past the hunt master — was signaled by embarrassing bleats from a bugle. But tell horse people that you used to ride, and they merely shrug. Everybody has a story about why they gave up this sort of riding or that, switched to English tack from riding Western, or stopped performing dressage in favor of jumping competitions. Róısín stopped foxhunting, she tells me. (The sport was too tame around Southern Pines, compared with her native Ireland.) But to give up being around horses on a daily basis? No way.

Some of the people I meet are close to being centaurs in their identification with the animals they care for.

At Foxtrack Training Center, I watch little girls in pink and turquoise riding breeches stand on tiptoe to groom their ponies. Owner and trainer Melanie Wyatt, who has been teaching young riders for decades, points to a 6-yearold who is using a tail comb instead of a proper curry brush. “She’s allergic to horses, but there’s no stopping her — hey, put your bandana on while you brush him,” she calls to the child.

I follow Melanie to a big sandy ring overhung with old gnarly pecan trees, where she conducts class. The white sand you find everywhere in Southern Pines provides excellent footing for horses, she tells me, and because sand never freezes, you ride easily year-round.

“How can you tell when your pony isn’t happy?” Melanie asks the class. “His ears will flatten back and he’ll wring his tail,” she answers, grabbing a nearby palomino’s tail and spinning it clockwise to demonstrate. The pony merely stands there, indulgent in the way school horses are. I ask Melanie if she foxhunts. “Yes,” she says, grinning. “I’m a ‘whipper-in.’ I watch out for the hounds who stray. By the way, in case you’re worried, hounds never catch the fox.”

Foxhunting is big sport in Southern Pines. I’d rank it alongside steeplechasing and competitive jumping as one of the most thrilling and risky things to do on horseback. Western riders might claim barrel racing or bronco busting. Anything to do with speed and jumping a horse over hurdles takes nerve.

But at Prancing Horse Center for Therapeutic Horsemanship, put on the brakes. I watch special-needs riders as young as 3 and 4 steer horses (with the aid of volunteers) around the ring. Prancing Horse is a member of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International. Because the motion of a horse closely simulates how humans walk, says Claire Pollard, the program director, “not only does riding help improve posture, balance, strength, and range of motion,” but its rhythms are familiar and comforting. There is even a rehabilitative program for veterans — Southern Pines is near Fort Bragg — called “Freedom Reins.”

My trip to Southern Pines has gotten me thinking about retiring there. Why oh why did I ever quit riding? Let’s just say that when the road forked, I didn’t choose the bridle path. I bought a watch, took a job, and that’s been its own wild ride.

“Still riding?” I’m occasionally asked by folks who knew me in my youth.

“Writing? Yes, of course I’m still writing,” I tell them. It’s an interesting coincidence how similar the two words sound. Riding and writing. I can’t think of any two personal endeavors that have raised more goose bumps in the doing, or have made me feel quite so exhilarated, airborne even when sitting still.

Written by Marianne Gingher
Photography by Faith Teasley

Reprinted with permission by Our State magazine
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