The Blue House, as 615 North Main Street is now known, fronts one of Mount Airy’s best-kept secrets.
The grounds of the house make up Robert Edwin Smith M.D. Memorial Park, a unique blend of public and private space.
The property formerly housed the office of Dr. Robert Smith M.D., who lived in the large yellow house a block away on North Main Street. Both properties operate under the Gilmer Smith Foundation, set up in 1982 by Gertrude Smith, Dr. Robert Smith’s sister. Foundation offices are upstairs and the downstairs area is used as an art teaching studio for adults with disabilities. For decades this historic home served the community by housing entities such as the Red Cross, Surry government, Surry Friends of Seniors, Hospice, Simple Living, the Mount Airy Visitor Center and the Andy Griffith Museum.
Cindy Puckett, supervisor of Buildings and Grounds for the Gilmer Smith Foundation, says that Gertrude Smith not only set up the foundation and gifted the properties but left funds to maintain and operate them. According to Puckett, Smith hand-picked the board of directors to manage the foundation and even though all of those original board members have passed on now, each picks their successor. Puckett credits Smith’s cleverness in setting up this system with the foundation’s longevity.
While the Blue House has benefited the community in many ways, the grounds are open to the public as a public park. There are a number of signs identifying the property as “Robert Edwin Smith M.D. Memorial Park” but none clearly spell out it is a public park. Puckett calls it “a well-kept secret.”
The garden, like all landscapes, is ever-evolving, Puckett says. The bones of the garden were laid out in the mid-1980s but the enormous red oak in the back could be 200 years old. Puckett is not sure how tall the tree is but its canopy spans the full width of the 150-foot wide property with a good bit hanging over on each end. The exact variety has stumped experts and arborists from NC State University and other places. “They just say it’s some kind of red oak,” says Puckett.
Puckett says the park has been the scene of much activity for the last three weekends, as high school students have utilized the formal, English-style garden as a backdrop for prom pictures. Easter week was also a busy time as dozens of people strolled in the park and took photos in their Easter finery.
Puckett says the park often serves as a quiet picnic spot for downtown workers to eat their lunch or read a book. She’s also seen people doing yoga on the lawn. “We love it when people use the park,” she says.
Aside from prom pictures, marriage proposals, picnics and the occasional yoga practice, larger events sometimes take place in the garden. Over the years, music events and even wedding ceremonies have been performed in front of the gazebo. But for those events, Puckett says you need to call and reserve the space.
Long-time Mount Airy residents know the park is a pretty spot to snap a picture or relax for a bit in a lovely spot, but the park’s discrete placement at the back of a house on a residential street make it the kind of place only insiders know about.
But on June 10, the park’s quiet charms will be made available to a wider audience when it is one of the stops on “Mount Airy Blooms,” a garden tour that is a joint project of Mount Airy’s three garden clubs, Garden Gate, Modern Gardeners and Mountain View.
That will be a good day for the uninitiated to walk down the driveway and check out one of the most beautiful outdoor spaces in Mount Airy. As an added bonus, during the garden tour, Master Gardeners will be on the grounds doing gardening demonstrations, according to Master Gardener Joy Barlow.
Demonstrations will include container gardening, garden pests and disease, herbs, edible landscape, vermiculture, the use of the color wheel in the garden and native plants for the landscape. Barlow adds that the master gardeners will be set up on the lawn of the garden and will offer handouts on demonstration topics and answer questions tour-goers might have, on the topic of the demonstrations or anything else gardening related.
“Mount Airy Blooms” will give visitors the opportunity to see history up close on June 10 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Tickets are $20 and are on sale at Webb Interiors, 1191 W. Lebanon St., Mount Airy and at the Mount Airy Visitors Center, 200 N. Main St., Mount Airy and online at Eventbrite.com.
Public restrooms will be available at the Main Street comfort station and at Cross Creek Country Club.
Proceeds raised from “Mount Airy Blooms” will go to support garden club projects in the area, including the Joan and Howard Woltz Hospice Home Rose Garden, restoration of the gardens at the Historic Moore House, maintenance and upkeep of the Main Street mini-garden fountain, lobby arrangements at Northern Hospital and special programming for the Jones School exceptional children’s class.
A Box Luncheon will be available under the Pavilion at Cross Creek Country Club, 1129 Greenhill Road, for $12. It must be prepaid by June 5. Payment may be made at the Mount Airy Visitors Center, 200 N. Main St., Mount Airy. A vegetarian meal is available. Please request when ordering.
The tour is underwritten by BB&T Insurance Services, Inc., Carolina Environmental Contracting, Inc. and SouthData, Inc., as well as other sponsors and contributors.
Contributors to “Mount Airy Blooms” include Simcon General Contractors, Surrey Bank and Trust and Webb Interiors.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.