Greg Bassett: Who was Fred P. Adkins and why does he have an obelisk?

The Fred P. Adkins obelisk is lifted into place during on Salisbury's Downtown Plaza.

The Fred P. Adkins obelisk is lifted into place during on Salisbury’s Downtown Plaza.

If it wasn’t for the aluminum obelisk on Salisbury’s Downtown Plaza, few people would have any clue who Fred P. Adkins ever was.

Then again, even though there’s a 30-foot-tall memorial dedicated to him in the very center of town, hardly anyone knows what Fred P. Adkins ever did.

Until about a year ago, I didn’t even know.

Adkins, it turns out, was indeed a great man. Testaments to his time here can be seen all over Salisbury.

A businessman and civic leader from the 1920s through the ’50s, Adkins ran his family’s lumber yard, the E.S. Adkins Co. on North Salisbury Boulevard. To get all that lumber, the family owned acres and acres of trees all over the Eastern Shore. E.S. Adkins was the local equivalent of Home Depot and Lowe’s before there was such a thing as Home Depot and Lowe’s.

Adkins lived in one of Salisbury’s grand homes on Park Avenue, overlooking the city’s busy port on today’s North Prong. He was a leader in the city’s service clubs, and saw the business and cultural possibilities Salisbury possessed.

I never knew that Fred P. Adkins and his brothers, Dale Adkins, Harry C. Adkins and Samuel F.M. Adkins, purchased a large stake in the failing Wicomico News, invested significant cash in it, and converted the publication into The Salisbury Times in the 1920s. Salisbury might never have had a daily newspaper without Fred P. Adkins.

Just after World War II, he was at the head of another local group that pioneered air service to Salisbury with Chesapeake Airways. The airline was ahead of its time and lost money, but it established the service that links Salisbury with the rest of the world by air.

He was an early backer of the plan to build the Wicomico Hotel (the city’s enduring modern landmark) and had a vision that Salisbury Teachers College could be far more than just a local institution.

I also had no idea that it was Fred P. Adkins who demanded Bethesda United Methodist Church give up its old Church Street structure and build a new church on North Division Street. That distinctive granite pile construction that defines the church? That was done at Fred P. Adkins’ insistence.

I found a newspaper clipping written by the late-great Dick Moore, in which Fred P. Adkins states his philosophy:

“If we are careful, and want to do the right thing, it usually works out.”

All right, so maybe Adkins wasn’t the most eloquent community leader Salisbury ever had. But that simple philosophy makes sense to me.

Greg Bassett is the Salisbury Independent’s editor.

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