Bill Sears grew up near the intersection of High House Road and Davis Drive in Cary, N.C. But when he was a kid, Davis Drive was a dirt road known as Stone Road and High House Road was a dirt road without a name. The land was a farm, part of some 1,000 acres that had been in his mother’s family for eight generations.
“It was very much part of the country,” says Sears, who went on to become an architect after earning his degree from NC State’s College of Design in 1967.
Sears says it was a working farm that grew tobacco, but only enough to keep him and his siblings busy during the summer. The family’s main business was tobacco warehousing.
Sears’ parents intended to live on the land their entire lives. But as Cary expanded, it became increasingly difficult to maintain the land as a farm. The widening of Davis Drive around 2003 took out the farm house that Sears’ parents had lived in, leaving Sears’ son as the only family member remaining on the property.
But Sears’ parents are moving back to the property, as one of the first residents in a new continuing care retirement community built by Sears. His father, John, is 91 years old and his mother, Maggie Belle, is 90 years old.
“My parents told their children that they intended to live on this farm all their life,” Sears says. “The only was to keep them on the farm was to create an environment to allow them to live there.”
And so SearStone was created. The community, which is owned by the nonprofit Samaritan Housing Foundation, welcomed its first residents on Nov. 1 and 90 percent of the residences have already been sold.
“This is a whole new attitude toward retirement communities,” Sears says. “We are now the standard by which retirement communities of the future will be measured. We’ve definitely raised the bar.”
Before launching SearStone, Sears spent four years studying existing retirement communities along the East Coast. He learned what to avoid and saw features that he wanted to include when he built SearStone. One of his primary goals was to create a community that would give residents a chance to remain active while staying engaged with the larger community around them.
To that end, SearStone is built around a four-and-a-half acre, man-made lake that includes waterfalls, a large fountain and peninsulas and islands for pedestrians. Across the lake from the residences sits a red barn that has been on the land for over 100 years. It will eventually be restored and turned into a maintenance facility.
Sears also has plans to build a botanical conservatory in the middle of the project. He says the College of Design has agreed to manage the facility, which it will use to exhibit plants and landscapes.
Sears and his wife will be moving to SearStone by the end of the year, and he says there will be much more to come as the second and third phases of the project come on line in the coming years.
But he has already completed the most important part of the project.
“SearStone was literally born,” he says, “to put my parents back on the farm.”