Don't Slow me Down

Publication: THE CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL
Published: Wednesday, March 28, 2001
Page: P1D
Byline: CHERYL CASWELL

DAILY MAIL STAFF AT 86, Henry Elden isn't about to let anyone tell him to slow down.

The well-known Charleston architect has always been a world traveler.

And that isn't going to change any time soon.

Elden recently returned from a trip to Italy, where his adventures included skiing, and last fall he spent 220 hours on an Amtrak train that carried him 8,000 miles across the United States and Canada.

"I plan to do this as long as I can walk," said Elden, whose interest in seeing foreign lands was sparked by his time in the Navy during World War II. "I was in Japan after the surrender, and before coming home I decided to visit Peking, China," he said. "I was in a hurry to get home, but it was only about 150 miles away and I didn't know if I'd have the chance again." As it turned out, he had the chance to visit China several more times, taking his wife, Evelyn, and children, Ted and Barbara, with him. He has traveled to Europe 20 times, seeing Spain, France, Germany, Russia, England and Italy, taking in some of the grandest sights the world has to offer.

And Elden hasn't been a passive tourist. On his travels, he has not only skied, but also sailed, rode bicycles and waterskied. He'll turn 87 in a few months, but good health permits him to keep traveling and skiing.

"Sometimes I'll leave here in the morning, head to Winterplace and ski for the afternoon and still be home for dinner," Elden said.

He also keeps busy doing yard work and gardening in the five acres that surround his home, the landmark Top-O-Rock round steel and glass structure that he designed and built in 1969 to overlook the city.

While he has traveled the world widely and often, Elden said he always appreciates spots that are close to home.

"There's sort of an aura about travel," he said. "You don't have to go far from home. I've been to every one of the state parks. I've bicycled the Greenbrier River Trail and the C&O Trail." Treasures collected from all over the world, along with an extensive number of photographs he has taken, help decorate his home. He has a penchant for bulls and bells.

But one of his favorite souvenirs is a huge hornet's nest he brought home from a hike in Kentucky. It hangs in his living room.

"I'm an architect, and because of that I think I can enjoy buildings, nature and art more than the average person," Elden said, who worked on more than 800 projects in his career. "I really enjoy looking." He finds the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel "mind boggling," but he also found simple artistic beauty in a German shop full of colorful fishing lures.

Language, traffic, strange cities - none of those are obstacles for him as he continues to move about the world. He has had his wallet stolen only once, while on a crowded subway in Rome.

"I can usually always find someone who speaks English," he said. "And it doesn't upset me at all if I get lost.

"I've never been in such a rush that I did not stop and smell the posies," said Elden. "I don't think that's true of a lot of men." Writer Cheryl Caswell can be reached at 348-4832 or by e-mail at cherylc@dailymail.com.