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Cary’s Green Thumb – the Story of Ben Savage and His Park

26 Jun 2021 1:58 PM | Carla Michaels (Administrator)

Construction on the new Downtown Cary Park is underway, but secrets of the land are just being uncovered. How fitting that an early owner of at least part of the property, Benjamin Oliver Savage, originally from Scotland Neck, NC, loved plants and getting his hands in the dirt.

Map of Halifax County, NC

Ben Savage was born in 1845 in Halifax Co, NC. By 1870, he had land and was married with two young daughters. But in 1871, sorrow struck with the loss of his beloved wife Anna. He published a tribute to her shortly after her death, which read in part, “Oh! Wretched me, my Annie has flown with the angels to heaven, and has left me…. Oh, how I loved my Annie…” It was signed “By her Bennie”.

During this time, he worked on inventions for his farming operation. He developed a pea and bean harvester, a rice harvester, and a labor-saving machine that picked and sacked cotton along the rows. The pea and rice pickers were exhibited at the Goldsboro NC fair and won first prize. He also applied for patents for his machines and went on to produce and sell them.

Also, during this time, a new family moved to the area. Dr. E. W. Owen of Oxford moved with his family to Scotland Neck and set up his practice. His older daughter, Alice Owen had married Dr. Samuel P. Waldo in 1869, while Dr. Waldo began his medical practice in Oxford after graduating from medical school. The Waldo family moved to Cary around 1874. It was at the time of this move that Dr. Owen moved to Scotland Neck with his wife and younger daughter Lillian. Lillian Owen married Ben Savage in 1875.

It’s unclear what precipitated Ben Savage’s move to Cary, but his father died in 1891, as did his brother-in-law, Dr. S. P. Waldo of Cary. Based on a newspaper account in 1897, the Savage family had moved to Cary some 3 or 4 years earlier, but sorrow followed them to Cary. Ben’s wife Lillian died in 1897 following the death of a daughter by his first marriage, Julia, in 1896.

The personal challenges he faced didn’t stop him from pursuing his passion for all things green. He bought land in downtown Cary from the heirs of Rufus Jones and heirs of Josephine Edwards on the east side of Academy Street. He used this land to establish Valley Nook Decorative Landscape Nursery and Rose Farm, part of which was on the site of the Downtown Cary Park.

Map based on the recollections of Miss Elva Templeton, circa 1906

The entrance to the Nursery was on Academy Street, where the home of Dr John P Hunter sits now. 

Ben had been known as a “great fruit and nut man” and built on that reputation in Cary by growing strawberries and raspberries among other fruits, and planting trees, especially nut trees, which he recommended as a source of income. He even sold raspberry vines to the State Prison in Raleigh and made a contribution of grapevines to an orphanage in the Charlotte area. His wisdom on horticultural subjects was sought after. When asked why, at the age of 73 (in 1918) he continued to plant pecan trees, he replied, “I plant some fruit or pecan trees every year… I shall plant trees every year as long as I live. I am never happier than when I am planting something.” Some of the pecan trees dotted around the new park may have even been planted by Ben!

Photo of pecan tree taken by author from The Verandah at The Mayton

Benjamin Savage continued to live in Cary as a widower until his death at the age of 83 in 1928. He is buried in Hillcrest Cemetery along with his wife Lillian.

When the new park is complete and the trees growing and plants blooming, I hope you will think of Ben Savage, his green thumb and the beauty and joy of the natural world, so important to him, being created once again in this corner of Cary.

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