Help needed to restore Utzman-Chambers garden

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 21, 2021

When volunteers started spring cleaning at the Utzman-Chambers House on March 1, they found the wet winter had significantly damaged the little garden by the back porch.

Standing water had destroyed many of the garden’s bulbs, herbs and perennials.  The Utzman-Chambers House, owned by the Maxwell Chambers Trust and operated by Rowan Museum, was built between 1815 and 1819 and originally stood at the corner of West Innes Street and South Jackson Street.

When the house opened as Rowan Museum in 1955, a boxwood garden was installed in the back yard. In recent years, volunteers have pulled weeds around a small plaque that states, “Cpl. Franklin Fletcher Smith, Jr. Memorial Garden given by his mother.” For the 21st century volunteers, the significance of the dedication had been lost.

A few conversations helped fill in the history. First, there was Clyde, who tended the garden for years and then Rosalie Laughlin, who also tended the garden and whose parents Rosalie and Bill Kizziah were among the Rowan Museum founders. Both of these history lovers knew Smith Jr. grew up in the stucco house at 201 South Fulton St. and that as an adult he lived in the stucco house beside his parents. Edward Clement, a friend of Smith Jr’s son, Boofie, recalled Smith Sr. owned a drug store on North Main Street. The drug store sign is still visible on the back of the building. Current owners of the Franklin Fletcher Smith House, Pam and John Schaffer, recalled being told that Smith Jr. died in World War II in a cargo plane crash flying from Australia.

With these bits of information, Brenda Goodman, Rowan Museum board member and volunteers found the site, which confirmed Smith, Jr. enlisted in the U.S. Army in Rowan County and died outside of combat during his service in World War II. Commendations he earned listed on the site included: World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Army Presidential Unit Citation and Army Good Conduct Medal.

To restore the Smith memorial garden, volunteers Brenda Goodman, Randy Lassiter, John Kesler, Kay Wilson, Amy Pruitt and Betty Mickle have consulted with Darrell Blackwelder, retired agricultural extension agent, and are working to solve the drainage issues, build new beds and add new plantings.

If you would like to contribute to this project, please make your donation to Rowan Museum, 202 North Main St., Salisbury, NC 28144 and write a notation “for Utzman-Chambers Garden.”

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