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North Carolina Highway 86 may not be the road to heaven, but it’s the road to Shangri-La. The north-south route slices through the heart of Caswell County, breezing into the

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North Carolina Highway 86 may not be the road to heaven, but it’s the road to Shangri-La. The north-south route slices through the heart of Caswell County, breezing into the

North Carolina Highway 86 may not be the road to heaven, but it’s the road to Shangri-La.

The north-south route slices through the heart of Caswell County, breezing into the small, unincorporated community of Prospect Hill before reaching Orange County. It’s easy to miss if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but Prospect Hill is where you’ll find Shangri-La.

The brainchild of retired — and now deceased — tobacco farmer Henry L. Warren, Shangri-La is a miniature stone village of chest-high buildings fashioned from truckloads of white flint rock, quartz, red brick, cement, and Warren’s whimsical imagination. The fantastical village, perched on a slope just off of Highway 86 — beside Warren’s homestead — includes all kinds of structures, from a farmhouse to a doghouse to an outhouse. There’s a church, a hospital, a mill, a motel, a movie theater, a general store, a jail, a library, a City Hall, even a liquor store — pretty much everything you’d find in a real village.

Stone and cement church that's part of Shangri-La Stone Village

It took Warren nine years to create his Shangri-La. He incorporated discarded items, like an inverted table leg for the church steeple, into the village. photograph by Alex Boerner

“Some [people] call it White Rock Village,” Warren once told a reporter. “I named it Shangri-La.”

He borrowed “Shangri-La” from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential retreat of the same name, which later became Camp David. Before that, Shangri-La was the Tibetan paradise written about in James Hilton’s 1933 novel, Lost Horizon, and that’s what the term has come to mean in common language — a beautiful, imaginary place of near-perfection.

Shangri-La certainly became Warren’s paradise. Beginning in 1968, at age 75, the Caswell County native spent the last nine years of his life creating the village, inspired by a miniature waterwheel that he’d spotted at a Hillsborough antiques shop. Day after day, Warren quarried the stone from his property and his neighbor’s, hauled it to the village, and methodically erected building after building, solidifying each structure with cement that he mixed himself.

“Like most farmers, you get used to working with your hands, and you want something to do when you retire,” says Jillian Medlin, executive director of the Caswell County Chamber of Commerce, who grew up in the same community as Shangri-La. “So from sunup to sundown, he would go out there and work on this little village of his.”

It began with a mill. Then the miller needed a house, a place to buy food, a … you get the idea.

It began with a mill. But then the miller needed a house. Then he needed a place to buy food and a place to worship. Then he needed — well, you get the idea. As he built, Warren incorporated some quirky odds and ends to add to the village’s appeal. The church’s steeple, for example, is an inverted table leg, painted white. Other items scattered throughout the village like hidden Easter eggs include cast-off doorknobs, plumbing fittings, ceramic animals, and old pieces of iron. At the entrance to Shangri-La, Warren placed his motto engraved in stone: “Let me live in the house by the side of the road and be a friend to man.”

The locals watched with curiosity as Warren labored alone in his growing village, consuming a bottomless supply of cigarettes and Coca-Cola. Eventually, folks went to see the village for themselves, and they marveled at Warren’s creation. Children, in particular, have always enjoyed the unorthodox attraction, and they revel in leaving behind toy figures to live in Shangri-La. Warren characteristically downplayed his obsession with the village. “Just a hobby,” he liked to tell folks. “That’s all it is.”

No, Shangri-La was — and still is — much more than that. When Warren died in 1977, at age 84, he left behind a North Carolina treasure, a timeless community that — nearly half a century later — continues to attract and inspire visitors from near and far.

“We get folks calling all the time, wanting to know when and how they can visit this place,” Medlin says. “People still love to come see this wonderful little village.”

Henry Warren would have loved hearing that. Some people spend their whole lives searching for their version of utopia, but Warren built — and shared — his.

Shangri-La Stone Village
11535 NC Highway 86
Prospect Hill, NC 27314
(336) 694-6106

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This story was published on Feb 26, 2024

Jimmy Tomlin

Tomlin has been a features writer and columnist for the High Point Enterprise since 1990. His writing has won numerous state, regional, and national awards.