Around this time of year, the cherry trees are blossoming all over Washington, D.C. People plan visits to the nation’s capital to coincide with the beauty of the blooms. Here’s a little known fact about Denton: It’s spelled different, but we have a chairy orchard abloom here year-round.
From the corner of Nottingham Drive and Churchill Drive north of East University Drive, go west on Churchill just past the curve and look left. Nestled between two houses in this well-established neighborhood, bordered in back by Avondale Park, is a vacant lot covered with, well, chairs.
“We were fast friends after moving here 44 years ago at about the same time,” Judy Smith said of Anne Pearson, her neighbor across the vacant lot. “Our kids were close in age, and this lot was their playground.”
So the two families went in together and bought it. As the kids were growing up, there was hide-and-seek amongst the big trees, crude baseball diamonds, soccer games and tree houses. Back then, the creek behind the houses was still just a creek, the present-day concrete banks still far off in the future. Where the park sits now were untamed woods. It was a paradise of adventure for the Smith and Pearson youngsters.
As children do, the kiddos grew up and moved on. Judy, Anne and their husbands stayed to see the whole area flesh out with families and the park.
But the vacant lot remained vacant. That is until about a decade ago, when Judy got the idea to take the old tree by the creek and turn it into a chairy tree. With a selection of various-sized wooden chairs all painted red, she decorated the tree from branches to roots, and presto! A chairy tree. Why? “It was a joke to make people laugh!” she chuckled.
Most of you probably know Judy Smith, at least by sight. She tootles around Denton in a pink, polka-dotted car touting her business, Rose Costumes. When she’s not in the car, she’s recognizable by her attire. No matter the occasion, she’s usually donned in apparel from the costume shop.
She is definitely attention getting, and the costume business is booming year round because of it.
Some might label Judy Smith eccentric. Fair enough. I think of her, and now Anne, too, more as the embodiment of original and independent.
Judy is quick to give credit where credit is due. “The orchard was Anne’s idea.”
Anne says she woke up one morning about a year ago, and the thought just came to her: What if the chairy tree were just the beginning? She shared the idea with Judy and the two began a quest to fill the vacant lot with chairs, something that would delight people and make them smile.
Known these days as the chairy fairies, Judy and Anne started acquiring chairs from garage sales and other cast-offs. They built their orchard using just one strategy: a chair was a chair.
That likely explains the orchard’s eccentricity that easily outmatches Judy’s. A salon-style dryer chair with the hood still on it.
A decrepit wheelchair. Straight back chairs, stools and chairs with the seats rotted out long ago. Rocking chairs, lawn chairs, baby chairs and even a giant chair with Papa Bear’s name painted on it.
Word spread fast about the strange collection building in the vacant lot on Churchill. Random people started stopping by to see it. Since last August when the orchard really started taking shape, hundreds have visited. Lots take pictures. Others bring picnics.
Some just oooh and ahhh. Judy tells of one young man who brought wine and candles to woo his lady and proposed right there in the orchard. The recent addition of a chairy arch has attracted couples seeking a Dentonesque, original, independent spot for wedding photos.
I found Judy last Sunday evening in the Chairy Orchard affixing a blue, doll-sized chair to Anne’s fence that borders the orchard.
She was diligent about its angle and placement among the scores of chairs already adorning the wooden fence.
The chairy tree is now a corner anchor for what has become an entire orchard of more than 150 chairs of every size and scope imaginable. Straightening from the chair-on-fence task, Judy was eager to show off the newest addition.
Dangling from a branch somewhere near the center of it all was a chandelier artfully constructed from tiny wood-hewn chairs.
Many have wondered what it’s really all about. “The point of the orchard? There’s not one!” Judy exclaimed. “It’s all fun, and people love it!”
There’s no cost to visit the Chairy Orchard. Everyone is welcome. And it’s about as original and independent as Denton gets.
KIM PHILLIPS is vice president of the Denton Convention & Visitors Bureau at the Denton Chamber of Commerce. She loves promoting Denton’s original, independent spirit through the city’s sense of place and cast of many characters. She can be reached at email@example.com.