Protect old Obici gardens

Published 6:15 pm Tuesday, February 17, 2015

To the editor:

In 1950 my parents, children of the Depression and veterans of World War II, bought their piece of the American Dream on Longwood Avenue.

The area now known as Northgate, located between Kimberly and Elephant’s Fork on 460, was being developed by Henry and Nell Pinner. The centerpiece of the neighborhood was the beautiful gardens planted with azaleas, camellias, bulbs and flowers that the Pinners had collected from all over the world.

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We were the first family to move “out to the country.” It became our home and the first location of my parent’s business, R.W. Askew Nursery.

A year later, Louise Obici Memorial Hospital was built. My father, under the direction of Charles Gillette — ”The Genius in the Garden,” was responsible for landscaping the grounds of the new hospital and School of Nursing.

I was always told that the grounds were a treasure trove of rare and beautiful trees and should never be destroyed. Many of those trees are still located on the property.

Back in those days, there was farmland on both sides of the highway between Obici and Kimberly. We were free to explore the woods and the Pinner’s gardens. My best friend lived in Kimberly, and we visited other children who lived there and explored the banks of the river.

One of our favorite ways to spend the afternoon was to work our way down the hills along the river to the sandy beach and dig seashells out of the exposed cliffs. Arrowheads were easy to collect when the fields had just been plowed for spring planting.

Do people remember the pond behind the gas station across from Obici was the site used by many churches in the area for baptisms? As I ride along the hodgepodge that is now North Main Street, I wonder how many people even know that there is a beautiful river and wetlands behind those buildings.

I returned to Suffolk to live in my childhood home 13 years ago. So much of what drew families to my part of Suffolk is gone.

The Pinners’ gardens are broken up into building lots. The City Farm is a Farm Fresh, a Belk’s and empty storefronts. My best friend’s house is now a Chick-fil-A. The farmland and the arrowheads are paved over with a Walmart on top.

The only expanse of green left is the Obici property. What a shame it would be if it were sold forever to build apartments.

What a joy that property could provide to families and children and old ladies like me if we could admire those beautiful trees, have a spot to sit and watch the river go by, and even have a place to launch a kayak and paddle for a while in peace.

I hope the citizens of Suffolk will let their wishes be known and that this precious patch of green will be preserved for the enjoyment of all of us.

Sarah Askew Massey