Cana/Pino: Rachel Dunham held onto her home until the end

Published 12:00 pm Tuesday, June 20, 2023

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By  Betty Etchison West

Cana/Pino Correspondent

The worship service at Wesley Chapel United Church will be at 10 a.m. through June and a visiting preacher filling the pulpit.

The new preacher, Randolph “Randy” Perdue will preach his first sermon at Wesley Chapel on July 9 at 11 a.m. From that time on the worship service at Wesley Chapel will be at 11 a.m. Sunday School will begin at 10.

Mr. Perdue will be preaching at Union United Methodist Church, the other church on the charge, at the early service.

Kathy and Bob Ellis have retuned from Manteo where they spent time with and celebrated the birthday of Kathy’s aunt, Peggy Cline Angell. Peggy, who celebrated her 92nd birthday, is the only living sister of Kathy’s mother, Nora Cline Latham. Ann Cline, Peggy Angell’s sister-in-law, went with Kathy and Bob to Manteo. Kathy reports that her Aunt Peggy is doing well.

Many years ago, a young lady who grew up at Fern Hill Farm, located just beyond the present Eaton’s Church Parsonage, was, with the help of an older sister, able to go Cary to board and attend Cary High School.

Several years after she finished high school and college, Rachel married the Cary High School agriculture teacher, Shelton Dunham, who everyone in Cary seemed to know, like, and call “Dad” Dunham.

Rachel and “Dad” Dunham bought about 40 acres of Cary land on Kildare Farm Road in 1939 and built a house. I spent the night at the Dunham’s house about 1941 and there were about four or five houses on Kildare Farm Road. Now there are hundreds of houses, businesses, churches and what-have-you.

Presbyterian Homes wanted to buy the Dunham property and build a retirement home. After much “back and forth” the Dunhams agreed to sells with the legal agreement they would be allowed to live in their home as long as they lived.  “Dad” Dunham died early, but Rachel lived many more years, probably more than the Presbyterians expected. The Presbyterians finished the first part of their building project and tried to get Rachel to move there, no cost. That make Rachel mad. She made the Presbyterians live by their original agreement, and she lived in her little cottage until her death when she was nearing 100.

After construction began on the retirement home, Rachel continued to live in her cottage and fretted about the noise next door.   

Rachel Dunham was my and Marty Etchison Babcock’s first cousin, once removed.  Marty, who lived in Raleigh, spent many hours visiting her Cousin Rachel and caring for her as she aged. Rachel Dunham was the daughter of my Aunt Susan Eaton—the lady who I wrote about some weeks ago who said “Write It Down, Record It,” which many of you commented on.

Marty and her husband, Bill decided they should look for a place to spend the rest of their days.  You guessed it. They chose Glenaire and moved there a few years ago. The people in charge of Glenaire knew that Marty was the cousin of the former owners of the property on Kildaire Farm Road. Recently as they were getting ready to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Glenaire, they asked Marty to write about the Dunhams for an anniversary booklet.  The following is the article that Marty wrote, which I am including it here because I think Davie County’s many Master Gardeners might be interested in the information about plants. In fact, “Dad” Dunham, who taught agriculture at Cary High School for 40 years, went to N.C. State when he was a much older man and got a master’s degree in plant propagation.

“Long before there was a Glenaire at the corner of Kildaire Farm and Cornwall Road, my husband, Bill, and I spent many Sunday afternoons on this spot visiting my cousin, Rachel Eaton Dunham, whose mother and my paternal grandfather were siblings.  She and I both grew up in the tiny Cana community, which is located about 20- miles west of Winston-Salem, albeit in very different eras; as she and my father were born in 1904.

Driving down the garden lined driveway past her prized smoke tree was always a joy.  In fact, when we visited during the week, it wasn’t unusual to find her working in those gardens into her late 80s.  Enormous pine trees towered over her house and 28 acres of woods that framed it.  Her patio featured rare plants and led into a screened back porch overflowing with family treasures and history.  (One unusual plant was the putrid smelling Corpse Plant, which she thankfully displayed only briefly.)

She was always eager to give visitors a plant.  In fact, she “graciously” shared English Ivy with us for a backyard ground cover.  Naively, we failed to anticipate the unintended consequences of that invasive plant.  Consequently, I spent many long, backbreaking hours correcting that misjudgment.!

Once the property had been sold to Presbyterian Homes, Inc.  and before construction had begun on Glenaire, Cousin Rachel urged me to preserve some of the numerous ferns throughout the woods to prevent their loss during construction.  The current pond was, of course, there, accessible only by a long walk into the woods, and, as today, is surrounded each spring by effusive displays of yellow irises.

One cool spring morning Bill drove my friend, Angie, and me to a spot nearest the pond.  We trudged in toward the pond, dug up several magnificent ferns along with their rich, water-laden soil, and nearly broke our backs lugging them back to the car.  Those ferns graced our backyard for many years before our move to Glenaire as did the dogwood tree, ajuga, Japanese fern, and other plants that Cousin Rachel showered upon us.

Cousin Rachel regaled us with stories about plants, Cary history, Walter Hines Page, and the Smoke House Garden which she and Cary friends created.  She regularly lamented all the changes in Cary since she and her husband “Dad” Dunham bult their house here in 1939, particularly the heavy traffic on Kildaire Farm Road which, compared to today, was only a trickle in the late 80s and early 90s.

AS Bill and I began researching retirement communities, we returned again and again to Glenaire, not only because of the facilities and the people, but because of its comforting familiarity.  The welcoming environment which greeted us as we moved into 2205 Fernglen Place mirrored the warmth which enveloped us on this spot long before there was a Glenaire.  We still love it!”