Salisbury's Jack Graham remembered for architectural brilliance

By Susan Canfora
Posted 7/11/22

When admirers – and there are many – talk about prominent Salisbury architect Jack Graham, who died recently, they use adjectives like “brilliant,” “talented” and …

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Salisbury's Jack Graham remembered for architectural brilliance

Martha and Jack Graham at their Pocomoke River Farm.
Martha and Jack Graham at their Pocomoke River Farm.
Graham Family Photo

When admirers – and there are many – talk about prominent Salisbury architect Jack Graham, who died recently, they use adjectives like “brilliant,” “talented” and “sophisticated.”

“He was a giant in the lifeblood of our community,” Mike Dunn, CEO of the Greater Salisbury Committee, said about the 88-year-old Graham whose many representations include The Holly Center and Parkside High School in Salisbury and Dunes Manor and The Commander hotels in Ocean City, as well as the unique, triangular lighthouse on Sullivan’s Island, S.C.

Graham, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture, studied under famed architect Louis Kahn, who taught the triangular element of design.

Graham drafted the lighthouse when he was 23, while working for the U.S. Coast Guard, but didn’t know it had been built, and was illuminated in 1962, until he read about it while looking at Motor Boating Magazine. He and his wife went to tour the structure, his wife said in a 2012 ABC News story.

Her husband had insisted on making it triangular, she said, so it could withstand strong winds, said Mrs. Graham, who wrote a children’s book based on the lighthouse he nicknamed Sulli.

“It’s quite impossible to overstate Jack’s legacy,” Dunn told the Salisbury Independent.

“He was a key player in the renovation of so many Downtown Salisbury buildings, including the Greater Salisbury Committee renovation, back in 1992,” Dunn wrote in an e-mail to GSC members.

He included a photograph of Graham with former Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Salisbury businessmen and leaders Richard A. Henson and Bob Cook.

“Now that’s a foursome!” Dunn wrote, adding Graham’s was “a remarkable life, well lived.”

John “Jack” Lewis Graham III died on June 26 and is honored in his obituary as an architect, preservationist, sculptor, futurist and boater – and each of those adjectives was capitalized by his family to illustrate the importance to those who love and admire him.

The only child of Lillian and John L. Graham Jr., he was raised in Philadelphia, studied at Friends Select and graduated from Penn Charter.

“In high school he developed his interest in drawing and design. On weekends he visited the science museums and developed his interest in science and statistics,” according to his obituary.

He and his wife of 50 years, Martha Kegan Graham, had five children, Robert Graham, Chris Graham, Louise Dusinberre, Kim Dumas and Megan Young; there are seven grandchildren.

On her Facebook page, daughter Dusinberre, of Devon, Pa., who is an art instructor, posted several photographs, including a black and white snapshot of her father in a necktie with a slight smile, sitting in a raft wearing a blue baseball cap on backward, a white-haired Graham in khaki slacks and a blue sweater sitting on a log, Graham and his wife each holding a Dachshund, and an older family photo when the children were school age.

“Celebrating the life of my wonderful, eccentric, loving Dad,” she wrote, and the post drew more than 150 comments, including condolences and words of encouragement including “sounds like your creativity came right down the line,” “your dad didn’t waste any time in life and his contributions will not be forgotten” and “he created some awesome things, including an amazing daughter.”

The eccentricity his daughter mentioned in the post was also referred to in the obituary.

“His family embraced Jack’s eccentric personality and his quirky sense of humor. For those who knew him, you’ll understand the significance of the Pocomoke River Snalaghaster, the Infinity Tunnel and the Star Bellied Sneetches,” it states, as well as the words he often said to his children when they parted, “May the force be with you.”

A celebration of life is being planned for Labor Day weekend and there will surely be stories shared about Cellar House Farm on the Pocomoke River. Built around 1730, the home was Graham’s pride and joy..

Cellar House was built on a former Indian burial site, according to Salisbury University’s Nabb Center website.

“Legend says that there lies a tunnel which extends from the swamp to a trapdoor beneath the house where goods were smuggled and pirated in the 1700s. The Grahams believe it is the tunnel that gave Cellar House its name.”

The house was unoccupied many times and sat dilapidated in the mid-20th century. In the mid-1960s, Graham began a major restoration, according to the Nabb Center.

During his career, Graham was a partner at George, Miles & Buhr in Salisbury and designed more than 600 projects including Shad Landing State Park, Delmarva Discovery Center Museum, Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, Hogs Neck Arena, Wye Institute and Aspen Institute.

He restored many historic homes including Pemberton Hall and Poplar Hill Mansion plus, of course, Cellar House Farm and was  awarded the coveted President’s Award from Maryland Preservation.

Salisbury Mayor Jake Day said Jack and Martha Graham “are two of the most generous and kind people I have met in my life.”

“Jack was clearly a brilliant and talented man who left his mark through beautiful architecture, impactful philanthropy and a rare gentleness. Our entire city will miss him terribly,” Day said.

Mrs. Graham served on the Salisbury City Council in the 1980s or 1990s, Dunn said, adding he considers her “the matron saint of the arts and a heavyweight all by herself.”

Dunn recalled being invited to Cellar House and said the extraordinary property “shows the style, class and care that Jack and Martha put into everything they did.”

“One of the things he’s credited for by many people, like Palmer Gillis, is, a lot of the architectural look of downtown Salisbury. When you’re talking about the lawyers’ officers and all of that, he was a significant influencer in that. He worked on, and designed, many of those buildings. The look of many of those buildings downtown, he played a significant role in that,” Dunn said.

“Jack and Martha lend an air of sophistication to everything they’ve been involved in for the better part of 50 years.”

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