Franklin Barker

Written by Heritage interpreter Bailey Roberts

When us Heritage Interpreters aren’t giving tours or sitting at our desks doing research, we can be found keeping up the appearance of the mansion.

I love to work outside, there is something so calming about getting your hands dirty when planting flowers, or pulling weeds no matter how meticulous it gets. But one, sweltering afternoon (as this week has been) Austin Pittman, another heritage interpreter and I, were scheduled for a maintenance day. unfortunately for us, we were tasked with some yard work for that morning and afternoon.

The Mansion Garden is certainly a love/hate relationship. It’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, to sit in and walk through. But working in it can definitely have its challenges. For historians, it is not only important to preserve the artifacts and furniture that is inside the house, but the actual house itself as well. It is just as important. So Austin and I had to do the monumental task, most appropriately titled: Vine Control.

Since the spring, we have noticed a series of vines creeping up along the Garden wall, as well as the house walls via the garden. There were also maple trees starting to crop up around the air-conditioning unit in the side-yard. Yea, what seemed like an easy two person job was a stress case of trying to chop roots around the various electrical tubes and wires attaching the house to the unit. Needless to say, we cut the trees and left the roots for another day when the sun isn’t beating down on top of us. The vines were a whole other beast in itself. Taking them off the wall was an easy business, but untangling them from the other plants, and pulling them from the ground, well that was not an easy business, to say the least. There was one section of the garden, where it was literally just a pile of vines that we had previously thought were plants. As I started pulling and tearing, it was clear that it was just one big vine-tangled around itself. There is now a beautiful plot of garden land that can be filled with something that’s a little more beautiful to look at, and that’s not a vine.

Working at the mansion is sometimes jumping outside your comfort zone. History is something which is ever changing, a field that is always so full of surprises. It’s one big mystery that always needs solving. Pulling down vines, cutting down trees, weeding and planting is one of those aspects of local history that not many people realize happens. The garden is just as much history as the artifacts or the furniture, and it also needs care and preservation, even if it means getting your hands dirty.

But even gardening has its surprises. Growing underneath my office window was a small pine tree. How it started to grow there is beyond me, but alas it did not belong. After removing it, its roots were still intact and the tree was still in good health. The green thumb in me decided to keep the tree and appropriately name it Franklin Barker.

There is a tradition here whenever we find an animal in the garden, or when one shows up in the mansion (a story for another day) we always name them. Animals should have names too right? So why not a small pine tree? Franklin now sits in a large terracotta pot, with a name tag, on top of my desk. He keeps me company here at the mansion, and it’s nice to have some green inside my office, it’s important to have plants around you, even if my office window looks right out into the garden.

It truly is an experience, to say the least, working at the mansion, because I never know what is going to happen that day, or what to expect. History works that way sometimes. We write our own stories and work with the challenges and surprises that face us ahead. Whether it’s vine control, tree trimming, or tree planting, every day is a new adventure and I can’t wait to tackle what it has it store for me.