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My Turn, Joe Morris: Jimmy Hurley would have loved Bell Tower Green

By Joe Morris

Congratulations to the Bell Tower Green Committee for the opening of an extraordinary green space!

All aspects of the park’s design and construction are remarkable. Everyone involved with the committee’s efforts, including the donors, designers, contractors and suppliers are to be commended for an outstanding public gathering place. Kudos to the City of Salisbury for providing a community framework for the plan review, street improvements, utility connections and, ultimately, the ownership, maintenance and future programming that will solidify the park’s value to the Salisbury Rowan community. Well done!

I have walked through the park on several occasions since its opening, at varying times of day. My impression is that the park is being used and loved by a wide range of community residents. People of all colors, ethnicities and ages are flocking to Bell Tower Green. The attraction of the park is understandable. The central location, adjacency to downtown and nearby historic neighborhoods contextualize the park in way that is unique and complimentary to the town. 

The grandeur of the space is immense, with the large lawn, the graceful curvature of band shell, the soaring Bell Tower and the magical water wall, which is especially delightful for children. Still, the more intimate details of the park are well-placed, designed and crafted. The signage, seating, landscaping, night lighting and use of native granite all sum up to a really special place.

I am particularly grateful to the committee for the designation of the corner of the park at Church Street and Fisher Street as “Jimmy’s Corner” in honor of the long-time journalist and publisher of the Salisbury Post. This is profoundly sentimental to me in that I had the honor and personal privilege of knowing Jimmy Hurley. I remember well his commitment to the people of Salisbury and Rowan County. I genuinely appreciate the significance of the corner being designated in his honor. 

In many respects, I believe Mr. Hurley “planted the seed” for Bell Tower Green by his creation of the low seating wall, the brick pavers and the singular willow oak that occupied the corner location. The understated improvements were overshadowed, in some respects, by the immensity of the adjacent asphalt parking lot, but were not lost on the many pedestrians who sought refuge in the shade of the oak tree on sultry summer days. At the time, the planting of the tree set off a bit of a controversy with city engineers and eventually led to policy of rescinding a misguided town ordinance that, for decades, had prohibited tree planting in the public right of way. 

Later, in concert with his brothers, Gordon and Hayden, his wife Gerry and the J.F. Hurley Foundation, Mr. Hurley advocated for and funded the original Bell Tower Park and restoration of the Temple Gazebo, which survives as an important amenity of the park. Mr. Hurley’s vision for the site as a public space disregarded the complicated legal construct of the property being held in trust as he forged ahead with what he knew to be the best use of the land. 

The sands of time will slip away and some of the details of the park’s origins may be lost. While we are able, it is important to take note of the contributions of those who came before us. Jimmy Hurley would have loved Bell Tower Green as it is today. I am grateful for him.

Joe Morris lives on the South Yadkin River and is the former city of Salisbury planning director

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