Event to honor Harding

Published 9:01 pm Friday, June 4, 2010

Lifestyles & Features Editor

One of Beaufort County’s most colorful figures will be remembered Saturday during a social gathering marking the official “unveiling” of the renovated Harding Square in downtown Washington.
The gathering, which begins at 11 a.m., will honor the late Edmund Hoyt Harding, for whom the square is named. The public is invited to attend, according to Dee Congleton with the Washington Area Historic Foundation.
WAHF is a sponsor of the event, along with the Washington Garden Club, Water Street Cafe and Century 21 The Realty Group, Congleton added.
Special guests will include Harding’s widow, Carolyn Harding, Washington Mayor Archie Jennings and members of the City Council.
The event celebrates the completion of a refurbishing and landscaping of the square, which is located at the intersection of Market and Water streets and adjacent to the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce.
Work began on the project in April, Congleton said. The project included replacing of brickwork in the square, as well the placement of new plantings. The square will now bloom with scarlet “Knockout” roses, tree roses, lantana and “purple showers” provided by the garden club.
The centerpiece of the square is a statue of Demeter, the mythical goddess representing spring, flowers and harvest, Congleton said. The statue was provided by Don Stroud, WAHF chairman. Work on the square would not have been possible without the efforts of the City of Washington’s Parks and Recreation Department, Congleton added.
“And we want to give a special thanks to Mayor Archie Jennings and the City Council for approving the square’s renovation,” she said.
Harding Square honors a man who, in many aspects, put Beaufort County on the map.
Harding, a Washington native born in 1890, spent his lifetime promoting the area. He was known far and wide for his humor and salesmanship.
He was “one of the most beloved, honored and widely recognized men in 20th Century Beaufort County,” wrote Gerald Butler, a former manager of the Historic Bath State Historic Site.
Harding established himself as a distinguished citizen of Washington, but his work extended to Bath, as well, where he was a driving force behind efforts to restore the Bonner House and the Palmer-Marsh House.
Harding’s literary talents were evident when he penned “Queen Anne’s Bell,” a two-part play presented in October 1955 during the 250th anniversary celebration of the incorporation of Bath. Listed in a playbill from that play are several noted Beaufort County residents, including William R. Rodman as Christopher Gale, Dr. C.C. Crittenden as John Lawson, Ashley Futrell as John Reinsset, Dr. Charles Carroll as Nicholas Daw, Rachel Futrell as Mrs. John Reinsset, Edgar Tankard as Edward Mosely and J.D. McCotter as Seth Sothell. Harding himself was cast as the town crier and narrator, and noted North Carolina author Inglis Fletcher appeared as Queen Anne. N.C. Gov. Luther H. Hodges and his wife portrayed Gov. and Mrs. Charles Eden.
According to Daily News clippings, Edmund Harding Day was celebrated in Washington and Bath on May 6, 1966. Festivities included a parade, receptions, dinners and speeches.
Harding died in Rome, Ga., on Sept. 19, 1970, shortly after completing the 4,999 speech of his career.
Some information for this story was provided by Leigh Swain of the Historic Bath State Historic Site, Elizabeth Tankard of the Brown Library and Ernest Harding Cutler.
Edmund Harding:
A life’s highlights
• When the Pamlico River bridge toppled in 1928, Harding was following the Willis Baking Co.’s truck, which fell into the river. Harding stopped just in time to avoid the same fate.
• Harding was featured as Tar Heel of the Week in the Oct. 31, 1954, edition of the News &Observer.
• Harding was a charter member of the Washington Rotary Club, which was organized in May 1920. He also was active in the local fire department, Sudan Temple, chamber of commerce and the historical society.
• Harding was honorary lifetime mayor of Bath.
• Harding was instrumental in the planning of Washington’s sesquicentennial birthday celebration, which included a 30-foot birthday cake lit by 150 candles. The event was celebrated Feb. 22, 1932.
• Gov. Gregg Cherry dubbed Harding as North Carolina’s Ambassador of Goodwill.
• Harding’s nicknames in Beaufort County included, affectionately, “The Squire of the Pamlico” and “The Ole Hoss of the Pamlico.”
Source: Washington Daily News archives and Brown Library