Celebration honors city’s ‘greatest ambassador’

Published 9:24 pm Sunday, June 6, 2010

Community Editor

Edmund Hoyt Harding wore many hats, but he also had a green thumb, according to his widow, Carolyn.
Which is why the newly, refurbished Harding Square serves as a fitting tribute to the man considered by many to be Washington’s greatest ambassador.
“He would really appreciate this. Among other things, he loved flower gardening,” said Harding’s widow during a social hour Saturday morning marking the completion of the square, which is located at the intersection of Market and Water streets and adjacent to the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce.
The renovation project, which began in April, included replacing brickwork in the square, as well as the placement of scarlet “Knockout” roses, tree roses, lantana and “purple showers” provided by the Washington Garden Club. The centerpiece of the square is a statue of Demeter, the mythical goddess of spring, flowers and harvest.
Carolyn Harding commended the work of the garden club, as well as the Washington Area Historic Foundation, and all others involved in the project.
“They did an excellent job with the replanting,” she said. “It was extremely nice.”
She called the social hour, which began at 11 a.m. with a rededication ceremony in the center of the square, a wonderful occasion.
Don Stroud, president of the WAHF, opened the ceremony with a history of the square and WAHF member Dee Congleton followed with kind words for its namesake.
The square was originally dedicated in 1968, according to Stroud.
Congleton said Harding wore many hats.
“He was one of the foremost leaders of (historic) preservation in Beaufort County,” she said.
According to Congleton, Harding was nationally known as a humorist and after-dinner speaker. Gov. Gregg Cherry dubbed him North Carolina’s Ambassador of Goodwill.
Bartow Houston, a Harding family friend, led a rendition of one of Edmund Harding’s most beloved songs, “I’d rather Wash-Wash in Washington, than bathe in ancient Rome,” during the rededication ceremony.
The song was penned by Harding and Carl Goerch, owner and editor of The State magazine.
Before leading the crowd of about 40 in the song’s chorus, Houston spoke shortly about the square’s namesake.
“He made little Washington famous,” Houston said. “He was the greatest ambassador the state ever had.
The ceremony was capped off by a speech from Washington Mayor Archie Jennings, who said the restoration of Harding Square was the “greatest thing to happen in my short tenure as mayor.”
Jennings, who began his term as mayor in January, gave much credit to Congleton for heading up the restoration effort.
“Every big job deserves a ramrod. Dee is that ramrod,” he said.
The mayor said he hopes the project will inspire similar projects in neighborhoods throughout the city.
“It starts right here, but let this not be the end,” he said.
While Jennings was quick to applaud the efforts of Congleton, she reflected much of that back to the WAHF, WGC, as well as event sponsors Water Street Cafe and Century 21 The Realty Group.
She also thanked the Washington City Council for approving the project. On hand for the unveiling were council members William Pitt, Ed Moultrie, Bobby Roberson and Doug Mercer.