Downtown mini-park groundbreaking set for Monday

By Jessica Johnson

May 15, 2014

The groundbreaking ceremony for downtown Mount Airy’s Main Oak Mini-Park will be held on May 19 at 11 a.m. at the site for the park, on the corner of North Main and West Oak Streets in downtown Mount Airy.

The ceremony is free and open to the public.

The new park came to fruition through the combined efforts of the city of Mount Airy and Mount Airy Downtown Inc., as well as a surprise $45,000 donation in memory of World War II Navy veteran Carlos Warren Jones. The donation was made by Jones’ friend Perry Robertson, a retired businessman who was employed at the Blue Ridge Hotel with Jones in their younger days.

The Blue Ridge Hotel once occupied the corner of N. Main and Oak Streets, in the same spot as the future mini-park. The park’s gazebo design pays tribute to the architecture of the Blue Ridge Hotel, with a turret on the gazebo mirroring the turret that was on the corner of the hotel.

Robertson, 87, remembers living in the Blue Ridge Hotel with Carlos Jones as they both worked there when they were around 13 or 14 years old.

“Carlos was killed in 1945 during World War II while he was serving in the Navy,” Robertson recalled. “Before he left, he and I both worked downtown. Carlos worked at Snappy Lunch, and I worked at the Old Grand Theatre. We shared a room at the Blue Ridge Hotel. I don’t know how we paid for it — I didn’t make but $6 a week, and he didn’t make much more. Hotels must have been right cheap in those days.”

Robertson was inspired to help with the park when he learned that it would pay tribute to the Blue Ridge Hotel — a place that held fond memories spent with his old friend.

Even though 69 years have passed, the impression that Jones made on Robertson lasted a lifetime: “Carlos was a nice, friendly person, and we got along real well. He was easy to get along with. He came from a good family, and had several brothers. I knew his whole family. We grew up in the same neighborhood.”

The groundbreaking ceremony will be attended by Robertson, city officials, members of Jones’ family, and it is open to residents of the community. A grand opening celebration will be held at completion of the park in September.

Carlos Warren Jones was the uncle of Leo Warren Jones of Mount Airy, and Leo’s middle name pays tribute to his late uncle. Leo said the family was “just elated” to learn of the donation in memory of his uncle.

The family, including Leo’s older brother George Jones Jr. and his wife Judy, who live in Mount Airy, and his younger sister Vicky Williams of Morehead City, as well as other family members, were touched and honored, Leo shared, adding that Jones’ has a younger brother who is still alive and living in Orlando, Florida — Dennis Jones, who is traveling to Mount Airy for the groundbreaking ceremony on May 19.

Leo said he was born in 1946, one year after his uncle was killed in World War II. Robertson lived across the street from the family until about 1954, but Leo shared that he never knew they worked together at the Blue Ridge Hotel until he read about the donation in The Mount Airy News.

“I was born in ‘46 and all I ever knew about my uncle was that picture that sat on the mantle at Grandma Jones’ house. If you ever even mentioned him, it was not a happy moment, of course, so we just didn’t talk about it,” Leo remarked. “I learned more about my Uncle Carlos from Perry (Robertson) when we went out to eat (after Robertson made the donation) than I ever knew.”

In fact, Leo said that he has heard people talk about his Uncle Carlos since then, and everyone who knew him said Jones had the same effect on them as he did on Robertson.

Leo added that he and his family have taken this as a sign to look more into his uncle’s death during World War II. The family is trying to research the ship he was on and the circumstances behind how he died, which Leo added was rumored to be a kamikaze attack on his ship.

“We really want to know what happened. Uncle Carlos was the third of five boys in the family. We really missed out on a lot by not knowing him. We want to know his story.”

Plans for the mini-park

Plans for the park include stamped concrete walkways, refacing walls along N. Main Street and Oak Street, landscaping, brick seating, and the gazebo with a turret.

City officials and the Mount Airy Downtown Inc. (MAD) group were delighted in February, when the surprise donation from Robertson was announced at a Mount Airy Board of Commissioners meeting, where commissioners were discussing how to make up for a financial shortfall for the park, with MAD stepping up to help with fundraiser efforts.

The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners approved $70,000 in municipal funds for the mini-park last year, but projected costs for park construction exceeded $100,000 to include design elements such as the gazebo with the turret. Even without the special feature on the gazebo, which was estimated at $15,000, costs still were still projected to be higher than the $70,000 the board approved, which led to the city asking MAD to launch a fundraiser project for the mini-park, which MAD approved in mid-February.

City officials were elated when Robertson stepped up with the $45,000 donation. “We all want to shout,” Mayor Deborah Cochran exclaimed at the city commissioner meeting in February when the donation was announced.

Reach Jessica Johnson at 719-1933 and on Twitter @MountAiryNews.