Spohr Gardens is the culmination of the creative efforts of Charles and Margaret Spohr, who lived and worked there for more than 40 years.
Born in East Orange, New Jersey in 1914, Charles Dolbeer Spohr was the son of the head of the auditing department at J.P. Morgan and Company in New York City and the grandson of a Civil War veteran. His familiarity with Cape Cod goes back to childhood when he vacationed with his family in Centerville with his family. At the age of 14 he saved two people from drowning off a Cape beach. Two years later, while serving as a lifeguard at Craigville Beach, he saved two little girls from drowning. He was cited for both acts of heroism. After graduating with honors from Mercerberg Academy in Virginia, Charlie went on to the Virginia Military Institute (graduating in 1938) and a distinguished career as a civil engineer. He worked for Humble Oil and Refining Company (which later became Exxon), Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA), participated in the Third Locks Project in the Panama Canal Zone, and the building of the Texas Tower on Georges Bank. The tower was used to radar monitor the Soviets during the Cold War. During World War II, Charlie served in the Combat Engineer Battalion, 80th Division of Patton’s 3rd Army. He participated in the invasion of Normandy and continued on to the Siegfried Line in northern France where he was seriously wounded. He retired from the Army in 1947. Following the war, Charlie worked for the Army at Camp Edwards, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Francis Associates in Marion, MA. Margaret Ellen King was born in Empire, Michigan in 1915 and was a graduate of the John Hopkins School of Nursing in Baltimore, Maryland. During World War II she served as a second Lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps. She also served for twenty years in the Air Force and worked as head of the maternity ward at Otis Air Force Base.
Charlie and Margaret met at the Mayo Clinic in Chicago, where he was convalescing from his wounds, and she was serving as a nurse. They married in 1946 and moved to Quissett in 1950 where they bought the first two of what would become six acres on Fells Road along Oyster Pond. They called their home ‘The Fells’. Thus began a life-long mission which transformed these acres into the beautiful and unique Spohr Gardens which we know today.
Charlie (Doddie) and Margaret (Skip) were equally involved in the evolution of the gardens, but their areas of interest differed. Margaret designed the gardens, intending them to be informal, friendly and inviting. She laid them out by sections on paper and odd numbered slabs referring to Margaret’s plans can still be seen in the Gardens. During the winters, both Charlie and Margaret poured over catalogs together, selecting bulbs, trees, shrubs, and perennials and ordered as many as they could. Careful records of the purchases were kept, noting common and botanical names, date, nursery and price. This information is invaluable for researching and replacing plants as needed today. Although Charlie participated in the selection of the plantings, he was particularly fascinated with what he called “the decorations”—the anchors, millstones, cobblestones, chains, lanterns and watering troughs which he acquired and integrated like sculptures among the flowers, trees and shrubs of the Gardens. Ever the engineer, Charlie designed the irrigation system which is still in use today.
As a result of these efforts, the Gardens today provide a breathtaking succession of colorful blooms from early spring through late summer beginning with the daffodils followed by the azaleas, rhododendrons, lilies, and summer and fall blooming perennials. There are also climbing hydrangeas, hostas, and many shade loving perennials. In addition to the azaleas and rhododendrons, skimmia, Andromeda, and leucothoe cover the hillsides. Specimen trees include magnolias, American hollies, cryptomeria, dawn redwoods, umbrella pines, and 4 types of beech trees—American, European, weeping and copper.
Among Charlie’s “decorations” which accent the Gardens are his anchors. As a boy he started to collect small anchors. He was particularly interested in early anchor; their design, age, places of origin and their evolution into modern anchors. His adult collection included anchors circa 1760, 1850 and, his most prized—a 1760 English anchor intended for use on the H.M.S. Bounty. It was found to be faulty and left ashore for repairs. It measures 14 ft. long, has 8 foot arms and weighs 2,475 pounds. How Charlie acquired this beauty is unknown. He also inherited a collection of large anchors from a fellpe engineer who worked for the Baldt Anchor Company in Wilmington, Delaware. Thirteen historic anchors now rest atop the retaining wall on Oyster Pond.
Charlie also collected 75 millstones from around the country. They range in size from 6 inches to 8 feet. Several weigh tons. He located them by researching old town records, and seeking out old mills. He then purchased and removed them from their original settings, extracting them with a hoist which he designed for his truck. Forty millstones are embedded in the patios around the house. Other, larger, millstones are scattered around the Gardens, resting among bulbs and trees, catching the eye of admiring visitors.
A huge bell cast by the famous bell maker, Jonathan Mann in 1882 for a church in Dedham that burned down sits between the two main paths. Another smaller bell is located by the water.
Cobblestones from New Bedford line the main paths. Granite watering troughs transformed into water fountains and bird baths and bollards are charming accents found throughout the Gardens.
Over the years, Charlie and Margaret received many awards for the Gardens, including awards from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, the Cape Cod Board of Realtors, the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce and the Falmouth Garden Club.
Charlie passed away in 1997, and Margaret died in 2001. They had shared their Gardens with the public from the very beginning. To assure that the Gardens would continue to be maintained and open to the public, the Spohrs established the Charles Spohr and Margaret Spohr Charitable Trust. Upon their deaths, the property was left to the Trust, with the requirement that it be open to the public year around free of charge.
Credits: Mike Kadis’ oral history of the Gardens
Upper Cape Local
Cape Cod Times
“Times Past” Newsletter of the Falmouth Historical Society, November, 1997, pgs 7-8