@ArchiveReynolda: Robert Conrad, Horticulturist and Reynolda Gardener

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@ArchiveReynolda: Robert Conrad, Horticulturist and Reynolda Gardener

By Bari Helms, Director of Archives & Library | @ArchiveReynolda

“It seems that it is harder for me to leave than anyone else, as it seems I have to leave two homes instead of one. My thoughts are always drifting back to Reynolda….” -Robert Conrad to Katharine Smith Reynolds, July 7, 1918.

 Conrad and his wife Sadie, circa 1970.

As Reynolda’s landscape supervisor, Robert Conrad was one of many hands that helped maintain the gardens and greenhouse. Born in Winston-Salem in 1896 to William Joseph and Molly Elizabeth Watkins Conrad, Robert Conrad was expected to become a dentist like his father. In the days before novocaine, Conrad didn’t relish the sounds he heard coming from his father’s exam rooms. Instead, after graduating from City High School in 1913, Conrad got on his bicycle and rode out to Reynolda and began working in the gardens, where he would stay for over 50 years.

Out of all her employees, Katharine Smith Reynolds seems to have formed the closest relationship with Conrad. According to an oral history interview given by Robert Conrad’s oldest son in 1994, Conrad, who his son described as “wed” to Reynolda, returned Katharine’s high regard: “He rode his bicycle out there. It was a gravel, dirt, mud road. Every morning he went to work in the greenhouse. And he thought she [Katharine Reynolds] hung the moon. She was wonderful. But that’s the way he got his beginning at Reynolda.”

With the coming of World War I, Robert Conrad had to briefly sever his ties to Reynolda. Initially found to be too underweight for military service, Conrad, on the advice of a local Marine recruiter, spent months eating bananas to help boost his weight. Conard finally qualified for service and entered the Marine Corps on June 22, 1918.

In a letter to Katharine Reynolds on June 27, 1918, Conrad’s mother recalls visiting Reynolda with her son during his final visit before he left to join his unit in South Carolina: “...it was real pathetic to see him going from one place to another stopping over different plants and flower beds for the longest time and when we came away he said, ‘I love Reynolda.’” Molly Conrad also assured Katharine that her son would cherish the radium dial wrist watch she gifted him: “[I] am so anxious to send him the beautiful wrist watch you sent him, and know it will make him happier than anything else could possibly have done. I think it was wonderful in you to remember him at this time and in this way.”

Conrad finally received his watch on July 7, 1918, and wrote his own personal thanks to Katharine: “The only trouble with the watch is the inscription on the back. When I turn it over and see ‘Reynolda’ I begin to get the blues right off….My thoughts are always drifting back to Reynolda and I look forward to the day that I might again resume relationship there.” Despite being with her husband, R.J., at Jefferson Hospital while he was in the final stages of his illness, Katharine took the time to pen a response to Conrad: “They are writing me almost daily how much they miss you at home, and I want you to know that we are simply holding the place open until you come back; we are not going to get anyone in your place even temporarily.”

After being honorably discharged from the Marines on August 13, 1919, Robert Conrad earned a degree in horticulture from the University of Maryland and returned to Reynolda. He married Sadie Trotter in 1923, and the couple lived in the Horticulturist’s Cottage in Reynolda Village. Whenever Sadie suggested that they move their family to another home in Winston-Salem, she quickly realized that she would never get her husband to leave Reynolda.

Robert Conrad remained at Reynolda until starting his own landscaping business in the 1950s. Robert C. Conrad, Inc., was headquartered in Reynolda Village, and Conrad continued working in Reynolda’s gardens in an unofficial capacity until his death in 1976.


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