North Carolina’s Shangri-La Stone Village: A Sacred Space in Prospect Hill
North Carolina has its very own version of utopia–a miniature stone village tucked away in Prospect Hill. It’s called Shangri-La. And as the name implies, it’s very magical.
The History of Shangri-La
Shangri-La is a small town built of stone, concrete, and quartz gems. It’s been standing for over 40 years.
Henry Warren, who lovingly crafted each detail, poured his soul into these structures. He was in his 70’s when he began, and since he lived near a rock quarry, he didn’t have to go into town to purchase lots of materials — he literally pulled them from the earth himself. He also found offbeat items at local flea markets, and you can find them sprinkled around the town like hidden easter eggs: A black french bulldog, a headless duck, a metal donkey, an old timey kettle. Every inch of Shangri-La was crafted with intention and passion.
A stone slab by the entrance states his purpose and dream:
“Let me live in the house by the side of the road and be a friend to man.” – Henry Warren, 1972
For around a decade, Henry Warren painstakingly crafted each detail. There’s a hotel, a school, a library, a church, a water tower, a fishing hole — 27 buildings and everything a miniature townsfolk could need. When he passed away, his loved ones finished his final structure, a hospital.
Henry’s dream has come true. With his beautiful creation, he is a friend to man. Hundreds of visitors stop by each year just to see his magnificent personal Shangri-La.
A Warm Shangri-La Welcome
When I first read about this miniature stone village off Route 86 on Strange Carolinas, I was expecting a cute and quirky tourist attraction. But that’s not what I found there. I found something way more miraculous. Instead, although Henry has been gone for many years, his artwork reached across the decades and connected with me, my husband, and our friends on a beautiful, blue-skied summer’s day, and created for us a cherished memory.
When we arrived, I felt a little strange just walking up to somebody’s house and invading their little town with my presence. After all, Shangri-La is built on his family’s private property. However, there is a guest book for visitors to sign, and the family invites onlookers. A woman was in the yard, mowing the large green lawn. I approached her nervously. She smiled and welcomed me in with a warm Southern drawl, “Hi there! Come on over! Feel free to look around!”
She is Henry Warren’s daughter, and she and her family still enjoy and maintain Shangri-La, keeping it beautiful and lively for visitors to enjoy. Truly they are a friend to man, as the sign suggests.
The buildings are much larger than I expected, and the “miniature” water tower in the center of town is still way over my head. The grass is lush, and the sky was blue, contrasting beautifully against this town of gleaming grey stone. Quartz crystals the size of my fist shine from atop the church. Little holes and doors beg me to look inside.
The Sacred Space at Shangri-La
Now this is just my opinion, but I believe Shangri-La is sacred. Henry, a retired tobacco farmer with no history in art or architecture, devoted his retired years to creating art; and this art was meant to simply make people happy. There’s power in that. For nearly a decade he poured love and creativity into these buildings, with the nothing more than the intention of making the world more beautiful. You can feel that energy there. You can feel that these buildings were made for you, simply to make you feel good.
There is something magical at this place; it’s no mere tourist attraction. As we wandered through the tall bushes, a caught sight of a Monarch butterfly. Then another. And a dozen more. Butterflies swarm the yard in numbers I’ve never seen.
“Oh, they just come for the flowers,” smiles Henry’s daughter. But I don’t know — my grandmother has a lot of flowers in her yard, too but I’ve never seen so many butterflies.
They simply add to the wonder and mystery of the little town.
The Hidden Toys
I won’t lie. I had intended to pose for a Godzilla-themed photo near a tiny building. But once we arrived, I suddenly realized this wasn’t a tourist spot. This place felt magic. It felt sacred. We sat in the soft grass and felt the sun, and felt fortunate to be there. This is not the kind of place to take Godzilla photos.
“What’s this?” Greg asked, pulling a Minion toy from a pipe atop a building.
“Oh!” our hostess laughed. “I haven’t seen that one! People leave all kinds of things here.”
I noticed them everywhere then: Toys left, hidden all around the village, proof that visitors want to stay connected to Shangri-La even after they leave. The magical pull of the little town is so strong, it’s natural to want to feel like you can be part of it.
“We need a toy,” I told Greg. He went to the car, found a keychain of a video game character. We hid him safely in his magical new home. See if you can find him when you visit!
The Guest Journal
At the end of our visit, I sat with my friends on a grassy hill overlooking the Shangri-La skyline. Greg, Ramone, Ian, Claire, and I read through the guest journal — a tome full of beautiful memories and thank you’s for the Warren family.
I wrote: Thank you for creating this place for strangers to come enjoy. Thank you for maintaining it lovingly so even after 40 years my friends and I can create this memory together.
Not many things last 40 years in this world. The fact that a retired tobacco farmer dug up rocks and gems and crafted a beautiful city just so strangers could come by and be happy, and that 40 years later he’s still giving people wonder and joy — well, that’s what we need in this world.
Maybe if everyone did that, our world really could be Shangri-La. Until then, we’ll just have to visit this one.
Visit Shangri-La Stone Village
Shangri-La Stone Village is in Prospect Hill, NC. We got a little lost trying to find it.
It sits on a private residence (but the public is welcome to visit!) at the intersection of NC-86 and Henry Warren Rd. When you see the volunteer Fire Department, just turn in there – the little side road will lead you to the house. Google map it!
Want to know more about Shangri-La?
- Shangri-La Stone Village on Atlas Obscura
- Shangri-La Stone Village on WRAL
- Shangri-La Stone Village on Strange Carolinas