By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — It’s only fitting that the rejuvenated town well and its reconstructed shelter were dedicated Wednesday to the late Christine “Chris” Whitton.
You’ve heard the expression, “going to the well.” People in Salisbury knew they could go to Chris Whitton if they had a project needing to be done. She co-chaired, for example, the multi-million dollar campaign that led to Historic Salisbury Foundation’s restoration of the train depot.
It’s also fitting the old well on South Church Street is on land owned by Rowan Public Library. Whitton loved books and usually was reading two or three at a time.
Whitton relished, too, the history of her hometown. If she were here, Whitton especially would appreciate that a young Andrew Jackson and William R. Davie likely drank from “her” well, which was steps away from the office where they studied law.
Davie would found the University of North Carolina.
Jackson would become the country’s seventh president.
A town well seems to symbolize a community’s coming together, quenching its thirst and finding resolve to move ahead. And that was Chris Whitton, close friend Margaret Kluttz and others said Wednesday. “The community can draw strength from that each time we drive by,” Kluttz said.
Christine Peeler Whitton died Aug. 13, 2009, at the age of 74.
To honor her memory, the Whitton family paid for the reconstruction of a well cover or shelter similar to one in place at the beginning of the 20th century. The family’s gift also went toward some repairs and improvements to the well’s ironwork, the landscaping, a new concrete pad under the well house and some curb and driveway modifications at the Church Street entrance to the library.
The well was dug in the mid 1700s and was last used by the A.H. “Baldy” Boyden family in the early 1900s. It also served the families of Adlai Osborne, Archibald Henderson and Spruce Macay, whose law students included Jackson and Davie.
At first it may have seemed a simple project.
Historic Salisbury Foundation trustee Charlie Peacock famously said, “If we got a good carpenter and a load of lumber, we could knock this out pretty quick.” Peacock sold Jim Whitton, Christine’s surviving husband, on the idea, and Whitton offered to bankroll things through the foundation in his wife’s memory.
But there were a lot of interested parties, research, archeological digs and historic district requirements to navigate. In the end, a small committee representing Historic Salisbury Foundation and Rowan Public Library joined forces to get things moving for a new well shelter.
Doug Black, property manager for the foundation, led the charge.
The design for the shelter could have reflected any of several different periods in the country’s history, given the well is some 250 years old. The committee members had the most confidence in a simple Victorian style, because they could match it closely to a vintage Theo Buerbaum postcard from the early 20th century.
The postcard showed the well and its shelter, the Boyden residence (where the library is today) and the historic Henderson Law Office, which still sits at the corner of Fisher and Church streets.
Jackson and Davie actually studied law at Macay’s office, located just to the right of the well and left of the Henderson office.
The shelter dedicated Wednesday in Whitton’s memory is a 10-foot, 10-inch square with a pyramid-styled roof. The four supporting posts are trunks of black locust, still covered with bark.
The 45-degree support braces also are spiny limbs of black locust. The rafters are yellow pine; the roof, cedar shakes.
F.E. Goodman Construction of Salisbury built the 9-foot-tall structure.
Several members of the Whitton family attended Wednesday’s 11 a.m. dedication, followed by a luncheon at the depot.
Walker and Whit Trevey unveiled the plaque at the top of the shelter that is in honor of their grandmother.
Other Christine Whitton family members attending included husband Jim, who is now a resident of Florida; son Jim Whitton Jr. and his wife, Barbara, who live in Amarillo, Texas; daughter Jane Whitton Trevey and her husband, Chris, who live in Greensboro; and daughter Anne Whitton Bolyea.
“This spot is important,” Historic Salisbury Foundation President Susan Sides said. “… I believe this history matters.”
Sides said someone recently came up to her at the well site and said, “You know I never really noticed the well before” and how the new shelter seems to make it more significant and appealing.
Susan Waller, who has given numerous historic tours through downtown Salisbury, said she always referenced the well and its history, but its non-descript appearance made a minimal impact.
After seeing the new shelter, a person Waller had on a trolley tour came up to her and said, “Now I get it.”
The Whitton family’s generosity “made it come to life,” said Waller, who also is president of the Rowan Public Library Board of Directors.
After returning to her hometown in the 1970s, Christine Whitton served organizations such as the hospital auxiliary, Salisbury Community Foundation, Waterworks Visual Arts Center and Historic Salisbury Foundation.
Salisbury Mayor Pro Tem Susan Kluttz said Whitton had a unique talent to get others to contribute and get behind causes, especially when she joined forces with Margaret Kluttz.
Chris Whitton’s first love was family, Susan Kluttz said.
“Second to her family, she loved Salisbury,” Susan Kluttz added. “… The history of Salisbury was her history.”
Black reassured people attending the well shelter’s dedication and luncheon that the new cover is tightly anchored.
“This is going nowhere in a hurry,” he said.
Acknowledging the project took considerable time from its first suggestion to Wednesday’s dedication, an appreciative Jim Whitton still saw a bright side, besides its coming in under budget.
“It took awhile, but it beat the Blackmer House project to death,” he said.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.
By Mark Wineka