One of my favorite places to visit is a planetarium! So naturally I decided it would be a lot of fun to visit Horizons Unlimited in Salisbury and find out a little bit more about them. What I found out was so much more than I had anticipated.
I recently sat down with Amy Pruitt, Director for Horizons Unlimited. Amy lives and breathes passion for Horizons Unlimited. Not only did she share information about the beginnings of this great place to visit, but she took me on a tour which was much more than I expected.
Jack Knox’s Dreams
Jack Knox was Superintendent of the Salisbury School System from 1934-1968. During that period, his love for education and giving back to the community was evident by his vision of more educational space for children to learn, such as the planetarium and the future Horizons Unlimited.
He had noticed a property, behind where Knox Middle School is located today (named after Jack Knox). There, stood an old, abandoned warehouse. Jack Knox didn’t see an old warehouse. What he saw was an opportunity for an additional space for learning! He envisioned a planetarium for Rowan students… a vision that he would see through even after his death. In 1967, that old warehouse became the Salisbury Supplementary Educational Center where the Margaret Craig Woodson Planetarium is located. This opened in 1968 to a crowd of folks that had gathered in excitement for what was perfect timing. Interest was mounting because of the pending NASA landing on the moon on July 20, 1969.
A Community Challenge
When Jack Knox passed away in 1983, he left an endowment to build Horizons Unlimited. Although, this endowment came with a challenge of commitment from the communities. This challenge was to match his $500,000 gift within six years of his passing, or the money would be lost. Through fundraisers, including school children collecting pennies, the community was able to raise the remaining money to match his gift in 1987 to build Horizons Unlimited beside the planetarium. You see, Knox knew that if the community was involved, heart and soul, that the passion for education would live long past the number of years that he was alive on this earth. The planetarium has been enjoyed for years by school children and adults alike. I even remember taking my children there on school field trips when they were in school.
The Planetarium and Horizons Unlimited
When most people think about going to Horizons Unlimited, they of course think about the planetarium, which just turned 50 years old this past September, but there is so much more to explore. I was lucky on the day I went to get a private screening with Neil Pifer, the resident expert on all things in the planetarium world, here in Salisbury. Fun fact… I’m a star geek! I love astronomy and sitting in the planetarium was a thrill for me. I was able to contain myself that day as Neil took Amy and I from night stars, to day stars, and back to night. It was an amazing experience.
The planetarium is great, but Horizons Unlimited holds so much more. Amy took me on the grand tour and, I have to admit, that I imagined I’d only be blogging about the stars; however, when I finished the tour, I was surprised at everything that is on the property inside and out!
How would you like to have made $70.00 total for three months and 17 days of teaching school? That’s what teachers made in the 1800’s teaching during the winter months because children needed to work during the warm months for their family farms. The Setzer School, an 1840’s log building, was relocated to the property through the efforts of Claude Pickett, a Social Studies Instructor at Knox Junior High and Harold D. Isenberg, the Principal at the same school. These two educators along with, yes, Jack Knox again, saw a vision of restoring this one-room school building for historical and educational purposes. I was lucky to get to go inside the building on my visit and, it was seriously like stepping back in time. The original benches and desk tops, the large stone working fireplace used for heating during the cold months, and the paddle, which I may or may not have experienced myself back in the day, were all reminders of why it is so important to preserve history. It proved to be a true glimpse of how far our schools have come in modern times.
After leaving the school, I was taken to see the Nature Trail that goes down to 32 acres of swamp land. The wild life on the trail is active, and all you must do is stand still and listen, to hear the scampering of squirrels or the call of birds in the woods. I understand there is even a “diva” doe out there that likes to check out the wildlife cameras as well.
Amy led me down a trail to a large tree. It’s pretty obvious that this tree isn’t native to our state. This tree was planted by Harold Isenburg in 1963 when it was only around 5 feet tall. It was gifted to Mr. Isenburg by Cliff Morgan of Orangeburg, South Carolina who was originally a Rowan County native. This tree was originally believed to be a cypress; however, Professor Jay Bolin, who frequented the trail quite often, became curious about the tree and sought out its origin. Bolin, a Botanist at Catawba College, discovered that the tree was a Dawn Redwood. The Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia by scientific name, can grow up to 50-60 feet tall and have a spread as wide as 7 feet in diameter. It is considered a fast-growing tree, and I can vouch for you that this tree is extremely tall and has a proud offspring close by to grow and enjoy the beauty of the woods around it.
A couple of fun facts about this tree is that this species is believed to have been around when the dinosaurs roamed and was thought to have been extinct until it was discovered around 1947 to be growing in a valley in the Szechwan providence of China. Seeds were collected and were distributed worldwide. It also has small, square shaped cones that are unique.
A World of Discovery
As we stepped back inside, I was taken through the educational areas of Horizons Unlimited that are all color coded. First up, was a beautiful tropical rain forest, and don’t be afraid if you see a snake or two because they aren’t real. Trust me I had to ask!
Further down in another area is an Aquaria that contains several beautiful star fish and all sorts of creatures that I had to ask about because they were so unusual. In that same room is the head of a spotted leopard that was donated. It is tremendous and a beautiful site.
There is the newly designed “Glow Room” that displays actual space pictures from NASA just off of the planetarium. Be prepared to glow yourself in there as well.
From building robots to areas that allow hands on crafting projects, there are several areas that are hands-on for students.
There is a Native American Artifact room that contains everything from pottery to a huge bear. Be sure while you are there that you see the sweet juvenile bear that is a favorite, Amy said, of all the school kids!
We walked into one room that immediately grabbed my attention, and that was the room containing multiple live tarantulas. Now personally, I’m not a fan, but to see them live and up close made me think of my friend, Ben Zino of the Wild Report on YouTube. Ben, a Rowan County native, recently posted a video about his love of tarantulas, and when I mentioned this to Amy, she told me that Ben was a camp counselor there one year, which was no surprise.
In returning to the front office in Horizons Unlimited, I sat and chatted with Amy. You see, to me, Amy now has the reigns of showcasing Jack Knox’s dream of what a great place we have here in Salisbury. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and you catch that when you spend any amount of time with her. As I see it, passion always shows, and Amy’s is brilliant.
I asked her to tell me what she wanted everyone to know about Horizons Unlimited and she said, “I want every community member to know that every child who comes through here, Kindergarten through 12th grade, and then every adult who comes through, they have ownership of the place.” Jack Knox’s dream continues every day at Horizons Unlimited. He was a man with a vision that has given and given to many for over 50 years in Rowan County.
It’s Not Just For Kids
I have spoken to several people that visited Horizons Unlimited as kids. Most recently I spoke with Ben Miller of Salisbury, and he said he had gone when in school, but hadn’t been back since. I asked him why and he didn’t have an answer. It’s not just for kids! Take time soon and visit Horizons Unlimited. Walk the nature trail, visit the rain forest, and yes even the tarantulas!
Horizons Unlimited is located at 1636 Parkview Circle, Salisbury, North Carolina and is open weekdays from 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Starting in February 2020, they will be open every 3rd Saturday from 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. for the public.
Make note of a special event on Saturday, January 18, 2020 from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. for “Moon, Stars, and More – Amateur Astronomy Night”, $2 per person. Call them at 704-639-3004 for more information. It is a family learning experience.