Cary Me Back

Visit Cary's past through blog entries posted by our history loving members.

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  • 22 Aug 2023 3:43 PM | Barbara Wetmore (Administrator)

    Allison Francis (Frank) Page is certainly well publicized for his contributions to the development of Cary and is known as the town's founder. But there is another highly accomplished citizen who perhaps doesn't get the credit he should. He is Rufus Henry Jones.

    Rufus is Cary through and through. He was born here. He died here and is buried here. He was here before Frank Page, and he stayed here. And while he was here, he contributed greatly to the development of Cary and its people.

    Rufus Jones

    Two grandfathers with the same first and last names

    Rufus Jones was a descendant of one of the first land owners in this area, Francis Jones. Though Francis acquired the land in 1749, he likely never lived here, but he willed the land to his sons Tignall and Nathaniel and the two of them were two of the first white settlers to build homes in this area. Tignall settled in what is now Morrisville. His brother Nathaniel settled along Crabtree Creek in what is now central western Cary. This Nathaniel Jones was known as Nathaniel Jones Sr. of Crabtree to distinguish him from Rufus Jones's other grandfather who was also named Nathaniel Jones and living in the area at the same time! This other Nathaniel Jones was known as Nathaniel Jones of White Plains for the cotton fields he owned in the eastern part of what is now Cary. These two Nathaniel Joneses were not related, but they had children who married each other, thereby connecting the two families by blood. Nathaniel Jones Sr. of Crabtree had a son, Henry who married the daughter of Nathaniel Jones of White Plains, Nancy. Rufus Jones was the son of Henry and Nancy.

    A famous house to grow up in

    You might recognize Henry and Nancy Jones as the owners of the famous and historic Nancy Jones House. Likely built by Nathaniel Jones Sr. of Crabtree in the very early 1800s, this house still stands on Chapel Hill Road and is on the National Register of Historic Places. For a deep dive into the history of the Nancy Jones House, see Historic Houses on the Move: The Nancy Jones House by Carla Michaels. As late as 1900, a Raleigh News and Observer article reported that Rufus was the owner of the “plantation” and that the property had continually been in the Jones family since the original grant to his great grandfather Francis Jones in 1749.

    Historic Nancy Jones House
    Rufus was born on December 31, 1819, the eve of the new year 1820. He was the third of five children born to Henry and Nancy, who was Henry's second wife. A family bible record from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University shows the recording of the marriage of Henry and Nancy and the births of their five children.

    Jones Family Bible pages

    Jones Family Bible pages

    Education first and foremost

    Rufus, like all children in the early days of Cary, grew up in a family that farmed. Being a relatively well off family, the Henry and Nancy Jones family had the means to formally educate their children. Rufus attended Hillsborough Academy (also known as the Bingham Academy) in 1839 to prepare for higher education, and he went on to graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1843. He started his own career in education by operating an early school in the Cary area in 1847. He also served on the Common School Committee of Examination, ensuring the quality of teachers in Wake County. In 1873, Rufus purchased a 1/3 interest in Cary Academy from Frank Page, who had started the school in 1870. In 1886, two of his daughters, Sarah and Loulie (Louise) purchased the remaining interest in the school, and the family owned the school until stockholders bought out the Jones family interest and incorporated the school in 1896. Rufus’s home on Academy Street stood until the 1960s and was known as the impressive “Principal’s House.” After Rufus's death in 1903, the house was sold by his heirs to one of Cary High School's early principals, E.L. Middleton. The house stood on the site of the old library green, near the Cary Arts Center. This site is now the home of yet another historic house, the Ivey-Ellington House, which was moved from its original location on West Chatham Street in February 2023.

    Rufus and Sarah Jones House, later owned by an early principal of Cary High School, E.L. Middleton

    Education ran in the family. Rufus's daughters Loulie and Lily attended Greensboro Female College and studied to be teachers. Both of them taught at the private Cary Academy and as noted, Loulie was part owner of the school for 10 years.

    Lily Jones

    Connections to Chatham County

    Rufus Jones married Sarah Catherine Merritt of Chatham County in 1849. The Merritts lived in Pittsboro near New Hope Creek on a plantation they called “Cape Lookout.” Rufus's brother Algernon Sidney Jones married Sarah's sister Elizabeth Rencher Merritt. With two brothers from the Jones family of Cary married to two sisters of the Merritt family of Pittsboro, several connections between the two families and towns were made.

    Sarah Merritt Jones

    Young Sarah Merritt Jones

    In 1870, Sarah's brother A. H. (Haywood) Merritt was brought into the newly established Cary Academy as its first principal and teacher by his brother-in-law Rufus Jones. Not only was Merritt the principal of the school that Frank Page built, but was also on the Board of Trustees of the Methodist Church, the church that Frank Page had a hand in founding and building. He also served on the executive committee of the Wake County Bible Society along with Frank Page and brother-in-law Rufus Jones. After serving as an appointed town commissioner, Haywood was in the first group of elected commissioners for the Town of Cary. Professor Merritt went on later to be in charge of the successful Pittsboro Academy in Chatham County and served for many years as the Superintendent of the Pittsboro United Methodist Church Sunday School. On the state level, Professor Merritt served as a 3-term state senator. He served on the committee of education and libraries, demonstrating his commitment to education and was a leading proponent in the legislature of the temperance movement. He served as a trustee of the University of North Carolina as well as superintendent of public instruction in Chatham County. Haywood Merritt moved to Mt. Airy, NC in his later years and lived out the rest of his life there with other members of his family.

    Haywood Merritt [bearded gentleman in the middle] and family in Mt. Airy

    A time of war

    At the time of the Civil War, Rufus Jones and his family were living in the western part of what is now Cary, not far from his mother Nancy Jones, who was still living.  On the 1870/1871 Fendol Bevers map of Wake County, his home appears along Pittsboro Road (just above the number 11). The home of Nancy Jones was northeast of Rufus's home (along the railroad tracks under the “v” in Morrisville on the map). Our best guess places Rufus's home near the present-day intersection of Davis Dr. and High House Rd.

    Fendol Bevers 1870/1871 map of Wake County

    Clara Jones was an African American woman who was enslaved by the Rufus Jones family during the war. Her memories were recorded as part of a Federal Writers' Project in the 1930s, U.S., Interviews with Former Slaves, 1936-1938. Clara recalled about the end of the war:

    “When de Yankees come, Mis Sally Marse Rufus' wife cried and ordered the scalawags outen de house but dey jist laughs at her an' takes all we got. Dey eben takes the stand of lard dat we has got buried in de ole fiel' an' de hams hangin' up in de trees in de pasture. After dey is gone, we fin's a sick Yankee in de barn an' Mis Sally nurses him. Way atter de war Mis Sally gits a letter an' a gol' ring from him.”

    You can read Clara's complete narrative here.

    Politics and religion and grasshoppers

    Rufus followed in the footsteps of some of his inlaws and his own Jones family ancestors and developed an early interest in politics, serving in the House of Commons from Wake County in 1848 – 1849 and as a Wake County Commissioner. He is also noted for being the first elected mayor of Cary in 1872.

    In 1877, Cary was apparently besieged by grasshoppers and Rufus did his part to try to rid the community of these pests. This snippet from the Raleigh Christian Advocate in 1877 tells of his actions:

    Snippet from September 19, 1877 Raleigh Christian Advocate

    Rufus also participated in civic and religious activities throughout his life. He was an early member of Asbury Church, appearing on a list of members in 1853.  Rufus was also a founding member and trustee of the Cary Methodist Church and was a long-time president and member of the Wake County Bible Society.

    As a businessman, Rufus operated a short-lived tannery.

    More than an esteemed ciitzen

    At his death, his obituary noted that Rufus Jones “was held in the highest esteem by all the people of the county.” He died in 1903 and is buried in the family plot at Hillcrest Cemetery. Many Jones family members are buried there with him, including his father Henry and brother Nathaniel whose bodies were moved from their original burial spots on the Nancy Jones House property. Hillcrest Cemetery exists because of Rufus and his wife Sarah, who donated land they owned to the town in 1887 for use as a place for townspeople's burials. Cary townspeople are still being buried there today.

    With Rufus Jones being Methodist, an educator, and a member of one of the earliest and most influential families in the Cary area, it was natural for Frank Page to know and value Rufus’s influence and talents in establishing the Town of Cary. We might take it a step further and give credit to Rufus for co-founding the town with Frank.

  • 17 Jul 2023 9:28 AM | Carla Michaels (Administrator)

    Sometimes history research is a bit like Alice taking a tumble into the rabbit hole. You never know where you will end up or what you will find! Recently, a group of researchers trying to answer questions about the Ivey-Ellington House fell down the proverbial rabbit hole and ended up looking for answers regarding E O Waldo’s Drug Store! We started with this photo, which had surfaced some time ago and had reappeared in a query from Michael Rubes who is working on a presentation about the Ivey-Ellington House. (See "Upcoming Events" on our Home Page.) That’s all it took to set off in the search for answers.

    Based on what we know about 1900s Cary, the building couldn’t be immediately placed. It looks remarkably like what is known today as Scott’s Store on West Chatham Street beside the former location of the Ivey-Ellington House. What we know about surrounding buildings on West Chatham Street, it was clear that the two buildings were indeed two different buildings, not the same structure.

    One researcher (Carla) remembered a map drawn from Elva Templeton’s memories of early Cary. Elva was the daughter of Dr James McPherson Templeton, and Elva placed various homes and businesses on streets in Cary around 1906 or so. Here is a section of a map drawn from her recollections:

    On this map, what is marked “Lane to Raleigh Rd” is now known as East Chatham Street. During this time, businesses were located on Cedar Street and what today is known as West Chatham Street, both of which served as the business “district” of Cary in the late 1800s and 1900s. Just above the word “Lane” appear two buildings marked “Ernest Waldo Drug Store”. It is open to interpretation as to whether one was a home and one was a business. The two buildings sat at the corner of what is now East Chatham and Walker Street on the property of today’s Modern Service, an automotive repair shop.

    Now, take a look at a photo of Cary’s fire trucks arranged on the Modern Service property, circa 1950s, looking east to Raleigh. The street on the left of the photo is East Chatham Street. You will see a home in the background of the color photograph in approximately the same location as the home in the black and white photograph above, which is just visible. The houses are oriented the same way, facing Walker Street, although the roof of the house in the color photo may have been altered.

    In a bit of serendipity, another conversation about a completely unrelated subject brought to one researcher’s (Carla’s) attention an old newspaper in the collection of the Page Walker Arts and History Center. The newspaper had been donated by Jerry Miller. Carla made a phone call to Mr Miller and found that Mr Miller had been given the newspaper by Mr R O Heater, who wanted Jerry to draw pictures of the houses in the newspaper that didn’t exist any longer. Mr Heater had emphasized to Jerry how important the newspaper was. Mr Miller also mentioned that he had donated it to the Page Walker Arts and History Center. Carla joined the Center’s supervisor, Kris Carmichael, in looking at this newspaper. To Carla's surprise, within the pages of the “Farmer’s Journal”, published by Dr J M Templeton in 1913, was a photograph of the E O Waldo Drug Store with the caption, “E O Waldo Drug Store, East Chatham Street.” Bingo. This was confirmation that the pieces of the puzzle regarding the drug store that we guessed at were accurately put together. It also underscored the value of saving documents from the past.

    There are some differences in the two photographs of the building, which are explainable. The newspaper photograph does not have the stairs on the outside of the building and does not show any telephone wires. Those came later, as evidenced in the stand-alone photograph. The signage above the front door is different in style, if not in content, but could have needed refreshing over the years. The article above states that two years previously, fire had destroyed “their house and stock.” Does this mean a separate house and a business as pictured on the hand-drawn map? In the photo above, it appears that only the business has been rebuilt, but could have contained a residence on the second floor. Maybe that is an explanation for the “more substantially than ever” remark.

    But that isn’t all that we found down the rabbit hole. Independently, another researcher (Barb) had been looking through the Thomas Byrd Collection of research documents used in the book “Around and About Cary”. Tom Byrd’s collection has recently been painstakingly digitized and placed online at


    Out of curiosity, Barb began to browse the online research documents and found a photocopy of the same newspaper, which Jerry Miller had gifted the Page Walker! The discovery of the digitized newspaper and the original happened at the same time. What a coincidence!

    The information in the stand-alone photograph of the drug store with telephone lines led us to another rabbit hole – the history of telephone service in Cary. According to an interview with Irma Ellis, long-time school teacher in Cary and captured in "Around and About Cary," the earliest phone service started in 1899 and was located in Waldo’s Drug Store. We had to go down the rabbit hole again and ask, “Where was THAT store located?” We are not sure, but think it was the drug store started by Dr S P Waldo and probably located on the commercial (and main) street of Cary, Railroad (now Cedar) Street. Apparently, that store burned, too. The drug store seemed to have particularly bad luck with fire. Perhaps it was because the store sold not only medicines but paints, oils, and general merchandise. That is a lot of volatile material! Here is a receipt from 1885 from S P Waldo’s store found in the estate file of Araminta (Mrs A J) Page Clegg, the sister of Frank Page, who lived in Cary and ran the Page Hotel (now the Page Walker Arts and History Center) for Frank and Catherine in the hotel’s early years. After she stopped managing the hotel and it was sold on to the Walkers, she remained in Cary and died here in 1885. Sadly, the receipt doesn’t give the address of the business, but Cary was so small that an address wasn’t needed.

    Back to the telephone lines, newspaper clipping shows that the town geared up for the first telephone exchange for the town of Cary in 1915. In the photograph of the drug store below, the signage for the public telephone exchange and the line from the building to the pole are clearly visible, meaning that the photograph was taken in or shortly after 1915.

    Another bit of information came from old telephone books in the Olivia Raney Library. A few people in Cary had phones before the telephone exchange came to town. A 1916 Telephone Book shows the earliest listing of numbers for Cary, but if you look at the Apex listings, you will see that several homes and businesses had telephone service through the Apex exchange. It’s reasonable to think that since the Cary exchange was established later in 1915, that the 1916 telephone book contained the earliest separate listing of Cary numbers.

    In the 1916 telephone book, Mrs Ida F Jordan (residence - Carla's great-grandmother!), J M Templeton Sr, (Dr Templeton) (residence), and N G Yarborough (Nathaniel G Yarborough who owned the Guess-Ogle House), (residence) and The Bank of Cary on the Apex exchange joined 24 other numbers on the Cary exchange. All these numbers eventually were Cary exchange numbers.

    If anyone doubts the value of the research that makes up “Around and About Cary”, doubt no more. All one has to do is read the information in that book to learn the details of fires that destroyed the drug store, not once, but twice.

    Barb pointed out a paragraph in the book “Around and About Cary” that recounted the last fire. “The telephone switchboard and an apartment occupied by Mr and Mrs Larry Penny were located over Waldo’s Drug Store. Upon returning from the town pump one cold January morning in 1919, Mrs Penny discovered her kitchen ceiling ablaze. Said Mrs Hilliard (Lyda Barbee Hilliard, Cary’s first operator):

                   People started yelling at me to come down, but I was trying to get the long-distance operator (in Raleigh) so she could send help. Cary didn’t have a fire department at the time, and it was customary for Raleigh to send a                wagon out.”

    The Raleigh operator never came on line and the building burned. “Our long-distance service was poor,” Mrs Hilliard said.” [Said with a touch of understatement! – Carla]

    In another remarkable coincidence, one researcher (Carla) said that her grandmother (Annie Beasley Jordan of Cary) was related to Mrs Hilliard and they were best friends. The researcher knew Mrs Hilliard personally. Too bad Carla didn’t know this story as a girl so she could ask some questions!

    About Mr and Mrs Larry Penny! Larry Bryant Penny of Cary and Mary Brown of Apex were married in Cary in 1918 by W H Atkins, a JP. The apartment over the drug store was the home for newlyweds, but the fire shortly thereafter must have put some fear in them as they are listed in records from 1920 on as living in places outside “downtown” Cary. Who would blame them!

    But, wait! There is more to sort out about the E O Waldo Drug Store. Ernest Owen Waldo, Sr was the son of Dr S P Waldo, who died very young in 1891, and nee Alice Owen. Ernest ran the drug store with his father, and after Dr Waldo’s death continued the business until his own death on 26 Nov 1909. At that point, Ada Owen, Alice Owen Waldo’s sister, ran the business started by her brother-in-law. Later, the business fell into the hands of Estes L Baucom, who had attended Cary High School. His family was located in Western Wake County, and a relative, A V Baucom, owned and operated a drug store in Apex. Estes L Baucom was listed as the operator of E O Waldo Drug Store in corporate tax records of 1916 – 1917. According to Mary Belle Phillips in an oral interview with Peggy Van Scoyoc, Mr Baucom’s drug store was in the building now known as Ashworth’s Drug Store. We can speculate that after the 1919 fire, he moved the pharmacy up the street and the old burned drug store was not rebuilt. In the estate papers of Alice O Waldo, much was made of old bricks on a particular property which were sold and the proceeds distributed to heirs. Could these have been bricks salvaged from the burned building? It’s hard to tell!

    What about the other fire, the one in 1911? This clipping is all we know of details about the fire. Because the photos of the E O Waldo Drug Store show no surrounding buildings, and this clipping says surrounding buildings were saved, it would appear that this fire happened on Railroad (now Cedar) Street and the business was rebuilt on what is now Chatham Street.

    We are indebted to many long-gone Cary residents who recorded their memories for future generations. Besides Elva Templeton and her map of Cary, another Cary resident, Terrine Holleman Woodlief, also recorded her recollections in map-form about who lived where in Cary and the businesses of the time. There are similarities between the two maps, but each lady remembered different buildings. Taken together, the two maps fill in many of the gaps that the other left out. On Mrs Woodlief’s map, there is an inset of the “business district” of Cary. On the map below, Railroad Street runs across the top from left to right. Beside the brick factory, you will see a building labeled “drug store”. It is reasonable to assume that this is the drug store that burned and was reconstructed on East Chatham Street. The order of businesses lines up with our current understanding of the placement of the brick building, Jones Store and blacksmith. More research is needed on who Williams was and the type of store he/she operated.

    Another detail emerged late in the research. A daughter of Dr Waldo and Alice Owen Waldo, his wife, was Ruth Yarrell Waldo (later Mrs John Wesley Brothers), who operated the phone exchange on the property of the US Post Office on Academy Street in Cary. She came by her knowledge of telephones through the family! Deed research indicates that the property passed through the Waldo family, was owned by Ada Owen, sister-in-law of Dr S P Waldo and was contiguous to the original site of his home that has since been moved, restored, and now sits behind the Mayton Inn on East Park Street. Carla’s father, C Y Jordan, who was born in 1927 in Cary and lived almost his entire life here, told a story about visiting the house with his older cousin Betty Jordan. They knew they were allowed to observe the exchange operator, but they also knew they had to maintain complete silence! They were permitted inside because Betty’s widowed mother, Lila Westbrook Jordan operated the exchange for a time, most likely in the mid-1930s! C Y could “mimic” Mrs Jordan, who he remembered would say “Number, please” in a high-pitched voice when someone rang into the exchange for assistance. That must have been a time when more people in Cary had phones, maybe too many numbers for an operator to quickly remember who had which number!

    Just when we think we are reaching the end of the rabbit hole, something new emerges! A researcher (Michael Rubes, this time) found a group of photos in Flickr that showed views of “old” Cary. One showed a house described as the telephone exchange in Cary circa 1930 on Academy Street, noted above. This photo must be the Brothers House. It is described in deeds as a “5-room cottage on Academy Street.” C Y Jordan remembers there being two houses on the current Post Office lot, and the photo bears this out. The sign in front of the house is a wonderful detail. Southern Bell contracted to lease the house from Ada Owen for two five-year terms which ran from 1929 to 1939. The leases were found in the Wake County, NC Register of Deeds office, with deeds available online.

    Michael also pointed us to a photo circa 1910 of a phone operator in Cary. So, we circle back around to the Waldo Drug Store on East Chatham Street. Because the date assigned is approximate, it is reasonable to think that this photo was taken in the two-story building with the phone exchange upstairs. Note the pot-bellied stove and lacy curtains. Too bad we can’t see what is hanging on the wall to the right of the window. Is it a calendar that would show the month and year? Hard to say, but we can almost read the clock on the table beneath! What time do you think it says? Referring back to the first photo in the blog, there is a pipe coming out of the side wall on the second floor. Is that the stove pipe we see in the photo below? If so, the window may be the right-hand second floor window as you face the building. And is this the first operator, Lyda Barbee, before her marriage to Mr Hilliard? The 1910 Census doesn’t shed light on her occupation, as she was only 15 at the time. She finished at Cary High School in 1915 or 1916. The 1920 Census shows her living at home on Walnut Street and working as a clerk in the telephone office. The unanswered question is whether she worked in her late teens for the telephone exchange. In 1919, at the time of the last, disastrous fire, she would have been about 24 and could have started working at the exchange when she finished high school. Based on the date of the exchange, September 1915, she would have been 19 or 20, plenty mature enough and educated enough to work in the office. Cary High School records list her for the last time as a student in the 1915 CHSite, the yearbook of Cary High School. All the details seem to fall into place.

    Thus ends our excursion (for the time being) down rabbit hole, with all its twists and turns, serendipitous moments and bunny trails. You have gotten a glimpse into the fun of research and the thrill of the hunt! Many thanks to Tom Byrd, Cary’s original researcher, who captured vital details about Cary’s history that otherwise would have been lost, Jerry Miller who brought long lost structures in Cary to life, and other Cary-ites from long-gone days who left memories which have helped us on our journey. And thanks to Barbara Wetmore, Michael Rubes, and Kris Carmichael for this  team effort to try and sort through the details…down the rabbit hole!

  • 18 Jun 2023 6:37 PM | Carla Michaels (Administrator)

    The Nancy Jones House stands today between Cary and Morrisville. In its heyday, it was a singular house on what once was the original stage coach road between the capital, Raleigh, to the newly formed University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the former state capital at Hillsborough. What makes this house that seems unexceptional today such a local and county treasure? Read on and find out!

    Until the mid-1700s there was little in the way of any development in the Cary area. The land had been forest land and a hunting ground for the Tuscarora Indians until early white settlers arrived.

    First, a little county formation history. Early in North Carolina’s history, Craven County extended far inland from the coast, up to and beyond today’s Wake County. In 1746, Johnston County was formed from Craven and included the Wake County area, and finally, in 1771, Wake was carved out of Johnston, along with parts of Chatham and Orange Counties. Keen researchers will keep in mind county formation and county line changes when searching for old records.

    The earliest known landowner in the Cary area was Francis Jones of Edgecombe Co, NC. He received a land grant from Lord Carteret, later Earl Granville, in 1749 for 640 acres of land (a square mile) in Johnston County which later became Wake County and even later a part of the Cary area. He was a prosperous landowner in Edgecombe County and bought this land grant in Johnston County with some of his wealth. Buying land outside one’s area was not an uncommon practice in the day for those with the means to invest in real property.

    This is part of a map compiled by Mr Allen B. Markham, Jr. of Durham in the 1970s. He used the original land grants found at the North Carolina Archives to plot these early grants in Wake County, formerly Johnston County. Although this map is a “best guess” based on vague descriptions of land, it does show where each land grant lay in approximation to other grants. The map shows Francis Jones’ land, later surrounded by other notable Jones family land grants. Interestingly, there is no proof that Francis Jones lived on this local property. His will was probated in Edgecombe County in 1755, which leads us to believe he resided there. In his will, Francis willed the Johnston (later Wake) County land grant to two of his sons: Nathaniel (later known as Nathaniel Jones, Senior) and Tignall or Tingnall Jones, both of whom became influential figures in Wake County history. Francis also owned additional property in current Wake County which he left to other sons and a son-in-law and which spread the influence of the Francis Jones family across the county. 

    A map drawn by local artist Jerry Miller for the first edition of “Around and About Cary” contains this bird’s eye view of the area, showing the relative locations of notable features and houses, including the Nathaniel Senior/Henry/Nancy Jones House, Bradford’s Ordinary/A F Page House (destroyed by fire in 1970), Nathaniel Jones of White Plains House, the Tignall Jones Property, and the High House built by Tignall and/or son Fanning Jones. Note that all of these early Cary area historic houses are gone, except the Nancy Jones House, which makes its restoration even more important.

    Now that we have talked about the land, let’s talk about all the Nathaniels – this is where it gets “fun”!

    The Joneses are complicated families, some are related and some not. This is what makes research interesting and challenging.

    Nathaniel Jones, Senior had a number of children, two of which we will mention here: first, Nathaniel Jones, Jr, commonly referred to as Nathaniel Jones of Crabtree (C. T.) or Crabtree Jones. The other son is Henry Jones, sometimes referred to as Henry Jones of Crabtree. In his will, probated in 1810, Nathaniel, Senior divided his land holdings between all his sons. The land would legally pass to the sons after the death of his wife Anna Snickers (or Sniggers) Jones.

    Nathaniel Jones, Jr, (one of the many Nathaniel Joneses in our area) received land on Crabtree Creek in Raleigh, an eastern section of the creek that runs across a large part of Wake County. This photo shows the impressive house that belonged to Nathaniel “Crabtree” Jones, and it stands today near the beltline and Wake Forest Road in Raleigh. It was moved from its original site and restored. In this way, it mirrors the related Nancy Jones house which has also been moved and is in the process of restoration. The Crabtree Jones House serves today as a private residence. Research indicates that it was built sometime after 1810 and before 1820. Although there has been a large amount of research done on the house, we will move on from the Crabtree Jones House.

    Nathaniel, Senior gave his son Henry Jones “ old tract of Land on Crab tree whereon he lives together with all other land taken up by me or bought by me joining said Old tract on the Waters of Crabtree creek, also the land whereon I now live to him and his heirs...” The wording of the will and the known location of the original grant places this land on the western end of Crabtree Creek in Wake County.

    Establishing sons on their inheritance but not actually making the land available to them in their own names until the father and/or mother had died was not an uncommon ploy by wealthy landowners. This technique made it more likely that the sons would settle and stay in the area, rather than catching the “go west, young man” fever that many people of the time caught. This was certainly the case for the sons of Nathaniel Jones, Senior - three of the four remained in Wake County for the remainder of their lives.

    This brings us to the Nancy Jones House. Here is a portrait of Nancy Jones, probably in her middle years. Unfortunately, we do not have a portrait or photograph of her husband Henry. After extensive research on the house, including National Register documentation, deeds and wills, it still remains unclear exactly when or by whom the house was built. The house is variously dated by experts to 1803 - 1825, with most settling on circa 1803, but that still doesn’t clear up who built it, Henry or his father, Nathaniel Jones, Sr.

    According to one researcher, Nathaniel Jones, Senior built and lived in the Nancy Jones House until his death in 1810 and in his will devised it, at his wife Anna Snickers Jones’ death (sometime after 1810), to their son Henry. Could Henry have lived with his parents, Nathaniel and Anna, until their deaths? Would he have married and brought spouses into the parental house? These are unanswered questions. Regardless of who actually built the house, and who resided in the house and when, what we do know is the Nancy Jones House was the home of Henry Jones.

    The house was built along the stage road from Raleigh to Hillsborough and would have been one of the most impressive houses along the way. It was one of the very few houses that was painted bright white, which would have made it stand out for more than just its imposing size relative to modest wood-built, one-story homes along the way. Located about 10 miles from Raleigh, it would have been a convenient stop for travelers to get out, get some liquid refreshment and a meal and stretch their legs. There is no indication that it was ever an inn, simply a stage coach stop.

    There is no firm evidence as to when the house started to function as a stop along the stage road. Bradford’s Ordinary was the older tavern/inn/ordinary located on the site of the Cary Town Hall campus (also shown in a previous photo), and was located along the stage road east of the Nancy Jones House toward Raleigh. John Bradford is mentioned in Wake County Court Minutes numerous times starting as early as 1772, shortly after Wake County was formed and court minutes recorded. The December 1794 Court session showed him as an overseer of the road “from the fork near the said Bradford’s Tavern to Babb’s Lick”. (A fork in the road at Bradford's Ordinary is shown on the map above, but Babb’s Lick is not!) Hands of Nathaniel Jones, Sr and John Bradford were to work on the said road. Any mention of Bradford’s Ordinary and John Bradford, the operator of the Ordinary, disappeared from county records around 1810, and that disappearance would have left a gap in stagecoach services along the route. This loss provided a great opportunity for the Joneses to fill the gap.

    Wake County Court Minutes also recorded to whom and when tavern, public house, and ordinary licenses were granted. Although there is not a specific mention of the license granted to Bradford to operate the ordinary, the minutes DO record that Nathaniel Jones of White Plains received a public house license for his home in 1794. Operating a stage coach stop would not have been an unfamiliar undertaking for Nancy Jones, a daughter of Nathaniel Jones of White Plains, who witnessed the operation of a similar business in her own childhood home.

    Let’s take a peek inside the house that we recognize from the outside.

    These photos of the house in more modern times show high quality woodwork, such as this mantel, throughout the house. We also see shiplap and robust newel posts in these photos.

    The search for information about the house and the Henry Jones family led to the discovery of a piece of furniture in the Tryon Palace collection that was auctioned by a Jones descendant around 2010. This impressive walnut china press with yellow pine secondary wood and original glass is a lovely example of eastern North Carolina furniture and points to the wealth and social status of the residents of the Nancy Jones house. It dates to the late 1700s, so it could have been owned by either Nathaniel Jones, Sr OR Henry Jones his son, or both, with the furniture being passed down in the family. Henry was born in 1766, and being around 30 years old at the time of the making of the piece, it is possible that he could have been the purchaser, although he was still a single man at the time. His father, Nathaniel, Senior, could also have made the purchase. What we do know is that it descended through and stayed in the Jones family until it sold for $24,000 in 1982 to Tryon Palace, who supplied the Friends of the Page Walker Hotel with research information and this photograph. Just think about all the people who traveled along the stage road and stopped at the house, including a US President, governors and other dignitaries, as well as “ordinary” folk and visiting family members. They probably saw this very piece of furniture filled with china. If only the walls, and the furniture, could talk!

    So we know something about the house itself and the land that it stood on. Let’s talk people!

    First, let’s look at the family tree of Henry Jones, son of Nathaniel Jones, Sr., brother of Nathaniel Jones of Crabtree, and son-in-law of Nathaniel Jones of White Plains! Believe it or not, these three aren’t all the Nathaniel Joneses in Wake County. We will meet another one later.

    It is surprising to some that Nancy Jones was not Henry’s first wife. This family tree shows Henry’s two marriages and the children of each marriage.

    The David M Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke has a collection of letters and documents donated in 1958 by the family of Rufus Henry Jones, son of Henry and Nancy Jones. The collection contains a journal with family information that listed the earlier marriage. Here is the page outlining some of Henry Jones’ family information. You can see that he recorded his marriage to Sally McCullers Smith and the birth of their only child.

    These pages of the family Bible go on to tell the sad story of this first marriage. Henry and Sally McCullers Smith married in 1806 in Johnston Co, NC when Henry was 40, and their one child, Eliza Jones was born in July 1807. On this page, it’s interesting that Henry is referred to as the son of Nathaniel Jones who is noted as being deaf.

    Sadly, Sally died in March of 1808 leaving behind Henry and their child Eliza, who was not even a year old. Henry remained a widower for five years.

    But here is where Nancy Jones, daughter of Nathaniel Jones of White Plains arrives on the scene. Nancy was born in 1783, so she would have been age 30 at the time of her marriage to Henry in 1813, so no spring chicken at that time. Let’s look at the family tree again.

    Henry and Nancy had five children together: Algernon Sidney, Amelia Ann, Nathaniel, Rufus Henry, and Adolphus G. Although there are no letters that give details of the children in their “growing up years”, the letters we have from about 1836 on indicate that all the children from the second marriage had a deep affection for their half-sister Eliza. Eliza married Dr. John Young in 1824, and the Young family moved to Tennessee in the mid-1830s and later on to Arkansas where both passed away. Many of the letters and correspondence we have today that shed light on the Jones family stem from Eliza’s move out of the area.

    There are actually two sets of letters that have been uncovered in recent years. One set came from descendants of Eliza Henry Jones Young in Louisiana, and the other set is, as mentioned, at the Rubenstein Library at Duke in the Rufus Henry Jones Collection. The Friends will feature the most interesting parts of them in future blog posts and presentations. But here are some sneak peeks!

    First is a reference to peach wine or brandy, which will feature in a couple of anecdotes!

    In 1836 on Christmas Day, Henry Jones wrote a letter to his daughter Eliza Young who by this time was already married and living in Tennessee.

    “You wish to know my method of making Peach wine; In the first place I beat and press the peaches as late in the Evening as possible in Order to give the liquor as little chance to ferment as possible, which it will be sure to do in warm weather, next morning have a good clean tight Barrel ready, with about Eight gallons of Brandy in it before you begin to put in the peach Juice…” The letter goes on after more explanation to say, “I never added Sugar to any I ever made, but am Satisfied it would be the best, say one pound to 10 gallons I think would be enough…”

    So, now that you know the recipe, who is going to start making peach brandy? Peach trees were not uncommon in this area, and later on in Cary’s history, Cary founder Frank Page grew peach trees and harvested and canned the fruit for sale.

    Henry Jones was prominent and wealthy enough to send his sons to an academy or prep school and then on to “the university”, as UNC was known. The stage coach went right by the house, so getting to school was not as arduous a journey as it might have otherwise been.

    Amelia Ann Jones wrote to her half-sister Eliza Young on January 4, 1836 about her brothers’ recent time at the Bingham School in Mebane, NC:

    "Nat and Rufus are here enjoying their vacation very much they brought home excellent reports. Mr Bingham considers Rufus the brightest scholar but bestows on Nat equal praise for other virtues." Cary’s most famous son, Walter Hines Page, son of Cary’s founder, A F “Frank” Page, also attended the Bingham School, although much later than Henry Jones’ sons.

    After studying at the Bingham School, the Jones boys attended “the University”. In 1840, the oldest son Algernon Sidney wrote to Eliza:

    “All of our brothers are doing will [sic] at College Adolphus will graduate with a distinction proboly [sic] the first if he does as well as he has been doing since he has been there…”

    On a sadder note, the family letters also outline the death of Henry and Nancy’s son Nathaniel, who died while enrolled as a student at UNC.  One letter described his stoicism in facing death, and in a letter from Amelia to Eliza in September 1841, Amelia wrote:

    Our brother is buried in the back part of the garden alittle [sic] to the left of the head of the middle walk so that the grave is not seen as you approach it by that walk untill [sic] within a few feet of it.

    Only a few months later, father Henry died, and he was also buried on the grounds of the house in the back garden. More details about the burials will come later.

    Although the house served as a private residence, it was also noted for the people who stopped for a rest and refreshment.

    One of the most celebrated stories about the Nancy Jones House is the tale featuring the governors of North and South Carolina, who both happened to be at the Nancy Jones House, possibly imbibing some of the delicious peach brandy we have talked about.

    Here is another set of images from a newspaper article. The story goes that in 1838 the North and South Carolina governors were both at Nancy Jones’ house/stage coach stop and imbibed the first round of beverage in short order. It would appear that the refill was a long time in coming. Thus, one governor remarked to the other “It’s been a damn long time between drinks!” There have been many newspaper, magazine and genealogical journal articles written about this incident and who was actually in attendance (there is some argument about that). As it is said, “details may vary”, but the most compelling recollection was an interview with Joel Whitaker, the son of Amelia Ann Jones Whitaker and the grandson of Nancy Jones. Joel stated that his grandmother told him the story with the two governors as outlined above. Some lore indicates that Nancy Jones wasn’t as offended by the use of the inappropriate word as she was insulted by the apparent slam on her hospitality!

    Another important visitor to the house was President James Knox Polk. Polk was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina in 1795 and graduated with honors in 1818 from the University of North Carolina. While serving as the 11th president of the United States, he was asked to deliver the commencement address to the graduating class of UNC in June 1847. He kept a diary and we find this excerpt:

    Monday May 31, 1847: “At nine o’clock this morning I set out with my family and suite for Chapel Hill. We stopped half an hour at Mrs Jones’s, 10 miles on the way…

    The party arrived at about 6:00 pm in Chapel Hill, quite a long day of travel! Unfortunately, we are left to wonder if peach brandy was served to the President!

    Not long after President Polk’s visit, the latest technology was being planned for North Carolina – the railroad. The North Carolina Railroad drew up maps of all the right of way properties the railroad was purchasing in order to run the railroad line in an arc across the state. In this portion of the map, we see that the Nancy Jones (Mrs H Jones) property was located along the railroad right of way. In the close up, you can see the buildings on the property. The line was constructed in the mid-1850s, and even the railroad got a mention in family letters. There was some fallout from unexpected consequences along the rail line. Here is Rufus, Nancy’s son, telling a tale on his mother in a letter to his brother-in-law, Dr John Young in 1857.

    Rufus wrote:

    “I was to see Ma yesterday. she enjoys unexampled health for one of her age… Occasionally her feelings are upset by having an old cow, that has paid for herself a time or two in butter, run over by the Cars and killed, but that, I have no doubt, is the case with all the old women on the Rail Road, who seldom migrate beyond their own yard fences. They imagine that because they do not hear of it, that the Cars never kill the old cows and pigs of no one else but themselves.”

    When the Nancy Jones House was being inspected after the move to its present location, a short section of track was found in one of the chimneys which had possibly been inserted to shore it up. Analysis showed that it was probably a part of the original railway line. I wonder, could it have been part of the section of rail where the unfortunate cow met her maker?

    The next event of note in our area was the Civil War. By this time, the 1860s, the area around the house had grown up and was known as Jones or Jones Station, as noted on this map from around 1858. Neither Cary nor Page’s Station or Turnout is shown, just Jones and Morrisville. Cary was not formally incorporated until years later, 1871.

    By the end of the Civil War in 1865, General William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops were on the march through North Carolina, heading to Bennett Place in Durham, where Sherman would preside over the largest surrender of Confederate troops of the war. Reports from various regiments showed that troops marched from Raleigh to Jones’ Station and beyond. And we see that Union troops camped on the Nancy Jones property and the surrounding area on their way to and from Bennett Place.

    The Jones family was one of many families in the area who had enslaved people on their land. One of the enslaved women on the Jones property, named Mary Hicks, gave this account in her WPA Slave Narrative in the 1930s. To set the scene, during the war, Nancy’s son Rufus and his wife, Sarah, or Sally, Jones lived with his mother Nancy. What follows is an exact transcription of the account recorded by the WPA worker.

    Mary Hicks said, “When de Yankees come, Mis’ Sally, Marse Rufus’ wife, cried an’ ordered de scalawags outen de house but they jist laughs at her an’ takes all we got. Dey eben takes de stand of lard dat we has got buried in de ole fiel’ an’ de hams hangin’ up in de trees in de pasture. Atter dey were gone, we fin’s a sick Yankee in de barn an’ Mis’ Sally nurses him. Way atter de war, Mis’ Sally gits a letter an’ a gol’ ring from him.”

    As of 1874, Adolphus, Nancy’s youngest son, wrote to Eliza that, “Mother will be 91 years old in a few days… She retains the faculties of her mind pretty well but her physical powers are gradually giving way. She walks about the yard and garden – sometimes she walks over to a near neighbor’s house.”

    But, finally the inevitable happened and an era came to an end with the death of Nancy Jones in 1876. After Nancy Jones’ death, Nancy’s youngest son, Adolphus Jones, lived in and ran a school out of the house for a while, at or around the time Cary Academy/High School was being established in Cary. Rufus and his wife Sarah had moved to Cary proper, and Sarah’s brother, A H Merritt, was the school’s first principal. It was a small, tightly interconnected world in Cary’s early history.

    In 1878, Rufus wrote to Eliza letting her know about plans for the homeplace property. Adolphus, as a representative of the family, was selling the homeplace, so what were they going to do about the burials in the back garden? Rufus wrote, “I ought to have mentioned that Ma died 3rd March 1876 and just here while I think of it Sister, I wish to make a request of you which is this, that you furnish me, if in your power, with the date and year of Pa and bro Nat’s deaths, we have removed their remains to the Cemetery in our little village of Cary, and wish to mark their graves with suitable slabs. I suppose you have perhaps some old letters conveying to you the intelligence of their deaths.” Henry and Nathaniel’s graves along with graves of infant children formed the nucleus of Hillcrest Cemetery on land originally owned by Rufus and Sarah Jones.

    Adolphus sold the house to S R Horne and moved to Cary. After Mr Horne, several families owned the property in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We have no details about these owners.

    However, a "Cary News" newspaper article in 2000 related a number of interesting anecdotes from a later era of the house. Russell Heater is a familiar name to many Cary locals. The Heater family was originally from West Virginia and came to Cary around 1913 and started a well drilling business. Russell Heater was known as “Mr. Cary” for his love for Cary and his promotion of Cary as a great place to live. His son Bob Heater was an infant when the family began living in the Nancy Jones House for several years in the days of the Great Depression.

    Bob Heater said that his older sister, Margaret, was old enough to remember hobos from the railroad who would jump off the cars and come to the house to ask for food, along with hobos traveling the road in front of the house. Mrs. Heater always had cornbread baking and would share portions with them. Margaret also told about a sturdy peach limb that was kept by the back door in case of trouble from the hobos. There must have been local peach trees on the property for some time after the peach brandy era!

    The Depression also took its toll on the Heater family, and Bob remembered the regret that the family felt in having to sell the big crystal chandeliers in the living and dining rooms to raise money when the well digging business went bankrupt. Another anecdote Bob told was that men would drive up to the house seeking “services,” thinking that prostitutes lived and/or worked in the house (There is no image for this topic!). Mr Heater would disabuse them of that notion, and Mrs Heater would slam the door in their faces! Margaret never doubted that the house was haunted. She told about hearing footsteps and summoning her father to come search for the perpetrator, but no one or nothing was ever found.

    One final anecdote from this era! Once, when Margaret’s father, Russell, was away, the family heard what they called an “ungodly sound” in the night. Their Aunt Opal, who was staying with them and apparently “was not afraid of the devil” in Bob’s words, “got a flashlight and a gun and went down to the cellar and saw red stuff that looked like blood seeping out from the bottom of the wall. She picked up something and banged on the wall. Part of the wall collapsed and behind it was a wine cellar filled with bottles of wine that had exploded from the summer heat.” Just wondering… could some of it have been well-aged peach brandy?

    Bob Heater said that in the end “Mother wouldn’t stay there because she couldn’t keep the doors locked." The doors would be locked at night and found unlocked in the morning. Ghosts again? Mr Heater bought the red brick bungalow on the corner of Dry and South Harrison Avenues, and the family moved to downtown Cary, leaving the Nancy Jones House, and possible ghosts behind.

    In 1935, Thomas and Audrey Stone bought the property. The windmill, pictured here, blew down in the 1940s during World War II, and the scrap metal was used in the war effort. Mrs Stone lived in the house until her death in 1991. The article went on to say, Audrey “never wanted to leave this house… She was very proud in 1984 when it was put on the National Register of Historic Places. Anybody who stopped and wanted to look at the house, she would always let them in.” After her death, a succession of families lived in the house. Many reported unusual creaks and sounds unlike any other properties they had lived in. In the late 1990s, Kent Henley rented the house, became its caretaker and refinished the 2” thick plank floors and painted the interior. HE thought the noises in the house were not unusual and attributed them to the wind!

    Moving forward a number of years, the large property, including the house and acreage, was purchased by the Sri Venkateswara Temple. The temple sold the house to the Town of Cary in 2019 with a proviso that the house would be removed from the property.

    The Friends of the Page Walker are grateful to the Town of Cary for purchasing and saving the house. For the most recent history, in March 2021, the house was successfully relocated to a town-owned parcel approximately 500 feet east of the original site. The National Register designation was reassigned when a new application was submitted. The house continues to front onto Chapel Hill Road so it has retained its historic orientation to the former stage road. 

    In early 2022, Cary's Historic Preservation Commission initiated the process to recommend the Nancy Jones House be designated as a Local Historic Landmark. This process included having two commission members visit the house, assess the house for historic integrity, and report back to the HPC. Following this assessment, a consultant was hired to complete the nomination report. In August 2022, the nomination report was forwarded to SHPO for their comment. The designation process continues.

    Today, the Nancy Jones House stands ready for a new beginning, some 220 years after it began its life, around 1803. What the Town will use it for remains unclear, but the house’s historical, cultural and social significance cannot be overstated. Let’s hope a truly fitting use for the house will be decided on in the very near future, that it will include the telling of its history and provide public access, and that renovations will showcase a shining white house along the old stage road from Raleigh to Hillsborough once again. When that happens, let’s toast the occasion with peach brandy!

  • 04 Apr 2023 6:57 PM | Carla Michaels (Administrator)

    If you know even a little about Cary’s founding and history, you know that Frank Page stands in the center of it. BUT you may be unfamiliar with the original town commissioners assembled by Frank Page in 1871. These five men helped Frank Page guide Cary through that momentous year to the first election of town commissioners in 1872. Here is an introduction to some known and some little-known names of Cary’s past.

    Men named in the Act of Incorporation of the Town of “Carey”

    Rufus Henry Jones (1819 – 1903)

    Rufus Henry Jones was the son of Henry and Nancy Ann Jones and the grandson of Nathaniel Jones of White Plains (maternal lineage) and Nathaniel Jones of Crabtree (paternal lineage). His childhood home was the historic Nancy Jones House, still standing on Chapel Hill Road in Cary. He attended Hillsborough Academy (also known as the Bingham Academy) in 1839 to prepare for higher education, and he went on to graduate from the University of North Carolina in 1843. He started his own career in education by operating an early school in the Cary area in 1847. He also served on the Common School Committee of Examination, ensuring the quality of teachers in Wake County. In 1873, Rufus purchased a 1/3 interest in Cary Academy from Frank Page, who had started the school in 1870. In 1886, two of his daughters, Sarah and Loulie (Louise) purchased the remaining interest in the school, and the family owned the school until stockholders bought out the Jones family interest and incorporated the school in 1896. Rufus’ home on Academy Street was the impressive “Principal’s House”, which stood on the site of the current library green, near the Cary Arts Center.

    Besides his own daughters Loulie and Lily who taught at the school, several members of the extended Jones family were also committed to education for local citizens. Nathaniel Jones of White Plains was a trustee of the early Raleigh Academy and Rufus’ brother Adolphus built a private school in 1867 that was known to have educated Walter Hines Page. Alfred D “Buck” Jones also supported the community by sponsoring an early school for African American students.

    Jones followed in the footsteps of some of his Jones ancestors and developed an early interest in politics, serving in the House of Commons from Wake County in 1848 – 1849 and as a Wake County Commissioner. He is also noted for being the first elected mayor of Cary in 1872. He also participated in civic and religious activities throughout his life. He was a founding member and trustee of the Cary Methodist Church and was a long-time president and member of the Wake County Bible Society. As a businessman, he operated a short-lived tannery. At his death, his obituary noted that Rufus Jones “was held in the highest esteem by all the people of the county.” He died in 1903 and is buried in the family plot at Hillcrest Cemetery on land he and his wife Sarah Merritt Jones had given to the town in 1887. Being a member of one of the earliest and most influential families in the Cary area, and Methodist, it was natural for Frank Page to know and value Jones’ influence and talents in establishing the Town of Cary.

    Rufus Henry Jones

    Abram Haywood Merritt “AH” (1832 - 1913)

    Abram or Abraham Haywood Merritt was born in Chatham County, NC in 1832. As did Rufus Jones, he studied at the Bingham School in Hillsborough and graduated from UNC in 1856. His teaching career started at Olin High School in Iredell County. At the start of the Civil War, he returned to his home in Chatham County and worked as Clerk and Master in Equity for the county, a position usually reserved for attorneys. In 1870, he was brought into the newly established Cary Academy as principal and teacher by his brother-in-law, Rufus H Jones, who was married to Merritt’s sister, Sarah Merritt Jones. Not only was Merritt the principal of the school that Frank Page built, but was also on the Board of Trustees of the Methodist Church, the church that Frank Page had a hand in founding and building. He also served on the executive committee of the Wake County Bible Society along with Frank Page and brother in law Rufus Jones After serving as an appointed town commissioner, he was in the first group of elected commissioners for the Town of Cary. Professor Merritt went on later to be in charge of the successful Pittsboro Academy in Chatham County and served for many years as the Superintendent of the Pittsboro United Methodist Church Sunday School. On the state level, Professor Merritt served as a three-term state senator. He served on the committee of education and libraries, demonstrating his commitment to education and was a leading proponent in the legislature of the temperance movement, which is no surprise, given his associations! He served as a trustee of the University of North Carolina as well as superintendent of public instruction in Chatham County. Although he didn’t seek the limelight, he was a sought-after speaker and used humor and his knowledge on a variety of subjects to be an entertaining and eloquent speaker. His literary skills served him well during his time as editor of the popular “The Pittsboro Home” weekly newspaper. He was described by a great-grandson as “a dreamer, educator, poet, and public servant.”Later in life, “AH” moved with his wife, Sarah Elizabeth Purvis Merritt, to Mount Airy to join one of his sons, who had successfully established himself in business there and had become a community leader. Both “AH” and his wife lived out their lives in Mount Airy and are buried there.

    Mr Merritt is pictured below. He is the older gentleman in the middle of the photo, surrounded by his family.

    William Peter Mallett, MD (1819 – 1889)

    W P Mallett was born in Fayetteville in 1819, the son of Charles Mallet, a Huguenot who had fled France following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. He was educated in Fayetteville, his hometown and at Trinity College, Hartford, CT. From there he received his doctorate in medicine at the Medical College of Charleston, SC in 1841, practiced for several years in Tuscaloosa, AL and eventually returned home to set up his practice in Fayetteville and the surrounding Cumberland County area. In 1857 when his health declined, he moved to Chapel Hill so that his children could attend “the university”. While in Chapel Hill, he set up the first infirmary at UNC and practiced general medicine in the community and served as a physician at the university. Although his health never fully recovered, he continued to practice medicine throughout his life. As a doctor, he was known for his gentleness and studious nature. He was quiet, soft-spoken, confident and brought peace and an assurance of recovery to his patients.

    He distinguished himself as a surgeon and in 1852 remarkably performing a caesarean section on a young mother, who survived to later have several children. This was one of the first recorded C-sections in the South. He insisted upon cleanliness (before germ theory was developed), using hot water and soap for both himself and his patients, even for minor surgical operations. He also promoted the treatment of fevers with fluids and appropriate diet, which was actually considered dangerous in its day. He kept abreast of the newest medical literature.

    After the Civil War, he left Chapel Hill. He advertised to sell his property in Chapel Hill and in 1870 was “erecting some handsome buildings” in Cary. On the 1870 Census, his household is listed near the Rufus H Jones family.

    We may assume that Frank Page and Dr Mallett met in Fayetteville. Frank Page’s wife Catherine Raboteau Page shared a Huguenot background and it is likely that paths crossed in Frank’s years in the timber business in Fayetteville before Page returned to Wake County after his marriage. Frank would have been familiar with Dr. Mallet’s fine character and the esteem granted him during his lifetime, making Dr Mallett a natural choice to help guide Cary in its early stages of development.

    Dr Mallett died in 1889, working with patients up to the very end of his life. He was on his way to visit a patient when he suffered a heart attack. He was able to return home, but died the following day. He is buried in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery.

    William Peter Mallett

    Henry B Jordan (1834 – 1914)

    Henry B Jordan was born in Wake Co, NC in 1834 to Calvin and Rebecca Bagwell Jordan. Calvin Jordan was a business owner in Raleigh from the late 1840s to 1858, when he moved with most of his family to western TN. Henry stayed behind to liquidate the business. With Calvin’s unexpected death shortly after arriving in Tennessee and the closing of the family business, Henry and his family moved to southeast Wake County near the Hollands Community where his wife Helen owned property. Henry and Helen were members of the Hollands Methodist Church and active members of the community. During the Civil War, Henry was in charge of the train that brought General William Tecumseh Sherman to Raleigh en- route to the Bennett House for surrender term talks with Confederate General Joseph E Johnston. Henry was also a temperance man, firmly believing in prohibition. It is unclear how Jordan became acquainted with Frank Page, but the two shared Methodism and a belief in the temperance movement. Perhaps Frank met Henry on one of his forays into Raleigh. The Jordan family moved to Cary shortly before its incorporation, and Henry became a member of the original slate of town commissioners. He was also a founding member and trustee of the Cary Methodist Church. What Henry lacked in higher education (he had a common school upbringing), he made up for in civic responsibility, being elected as a town commissioner in Cary’s first election in 1872, serving as mayor of Cary, as a justice of the peace, as an election judge and the Public School Committee member for the District #2 for the “colored race”. In this capacity, the commissioners bought land from Frank Gray, a businessman in Cary, for the school. Jordan also owned and operated a general store in Cary and worked as a railway agent and farmer. His home was located near the intersection of Harrison Avenue and West Chatham Street, near the former location of the Ivey-Ellington house. Henry had two children with his wife Helen George Crowder Jordan. His daughter Maggie Ida Jordan married a shopkeeper from Raleigh, Robert E Ellis. One of their daughters was Miss Irma Ellis, a long-time 1st grade teacher in Cary. Miss Irma remembers her grandfather Henry taking her to visit Bennett Place and hearing the Civil War story directly from him. Henry’s son was James B Jordan, who worked as a logger/timberman and later as a Deputy US Marshall. He was shot twice in the line of duty breaking up stills (a man after his father’s heart) and eventually died in poor health caused by his wounds. Henry, wife Helen and son James B Jordan are all buried in Hillcrest Cemetery in Cary. Robert, Maggie and Miss Irma Ellis are buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh.

    Henry B Jordan

    William H Bobbitt

    Rev William Hilliard Bobbitt, DD was born in Halifax Co, NC in 1826. After joining the Methodist Episcopal Church at an early age, and in 1846, he joined the North Carolina Conference, which was the umbrella organization for Methodist churches in the state. He actively ministered for 44 years, mainly in North Carolina. Although he didn’t reside in or pastor the Methodist Church in Cary, he served in the Raleigh District for several years. He suffered a stroke near the end of his life which ended his ministerial duties, and he died in 1890. He is buried in Salisbury, NC. His younger brother, Rev James Burrows Bobbitt served the Methodist Church in many capacities, and published “The Raleigh Christian Advocate”, the newspaper of the North Carolina Conference.

    It is well known that Frank and Catherine Page were ardent Methodists and would have known Rev Bobbitt. According to a newspaper clipping from “The Raleigh Christian Advocate” in 1870, Rev Bobbitt appointed A H Merritt, among others, to prepare Sunday School lessons to be published in “The Raleigh Episcopal Methodist” for distribution and use. This connection between Rev Bobbitt and A H Merritt underscores the familiarity of the commissioners with each other. As a matter of fact, Rev Bobbitt performed the marriage ceremony of Mr Merritt and his bride, Sarah Elizabeth Purvis. When the Cary church was made the Methodist circuit headquarters for this section of NC in 1873, Rev Bobbitt was the Presiding Elder and held the District Conference in Cary the same year. This meeting must have been one of the first important meetings held in the newly formed town. He returned to Cary in 1884 for a Methodist revival, “with the gratifying result of forty persons converted”.

    William H Bobbitt

    Frank Page was an astute businessman who selected men of character and ability to join him in building the Town of Cary. Each man brought skills that reinforced the qualities that were important to Mr Page: education, high moral character, and business opportunities, as seen in the lives of the five men who joined Page to put Cary on the map. There was a minister, educator, physician, businessman, and political figure. It’s said that behind every successful man is a strong woman, and that is the case with Frank Page and his wife, Catherine. BUT Frank Page also had five strong men with him who helped get the Town of Cary started on the right foot!

  • 09 Dec 2022 1:57 PM | Michael Rubes (Administrator)

    Around 1810, Lewis Page sold a few acres of land along Crabtree Creek to his 20 year old son, Anderson. Anderson proceeded to build a grist mill on the creek a few miles north of what would one day become Cary. The Mill was built with hand hewn lumber and pegs. Called the Page Mill, it stood as a working mill until the 1920s before being mostly washed away by flooding in the 1930s. 

    Anderson's son, Frank Page, would go on to found the town of Cary in 1871.

    Anderson ran the mill himself until around 1847 when he sold his interests in the mill to his brother, Williamson, and two other men. They renamed it The Company Mill.

    Anderson Page, circa 1884Anderson Page, Circa 1884

    For generations, the Mill stood as a focal point for the Cedar Forks community. There were two other grist mills in what would eventually become Umstead State Park, but the Company Mill was the biggest. At its peak around the turn of the century, over 40 families lived around the Mill and used it for grinding their home grown corn and wheat, both for personal use and for business use.

    It was said that the Mill produced the finest quality of flour from any mill in the area. Commercially, mule drawn wagons brought sacks of corn and wheat to the mill to be ground. Two roads led to the Mill, one from the north and one from the south. By the 1920s, some folks were even driving their trucks to the Mill to have grain ground. Remnants of the southern road are still visible when viewed from the north bank of the Mill site. There was a wooden footbridge that cross Crabtree creek just downstream from the Mill, but it was not rebuilt when it washed away in the 1920s.

    View of the Mill from the Southern Bank of Crabtree Creek

    The Grissom Family was the last one to operate the mill, well into the 1920s. Their homesite was just up hill on the north bank of Crabtree Creek. Joe Grissom has told the story of how it was a steep walk down and back to the mill to get freshly ground corn, but how he liked doing it in the winter. The freshly ground corn was warm, so he would tuck the bag of corn flour under his shirt and it would keep him warm on the walk back home.

    Crabtree Creek was much higher back when the Mill was operating. The dam wall was over 15 feet high and created a sizeable mill pond. The pond was used as a local swimming hole and boating pond for folks in the summer.

    The Mill itself not only served the surrounding community as a mill, but was also often the center of social activities. There are plenty of accounts of dances and other types of events being held at the Company Mill.

    By the turn of the century, folks were coming from as far away as Durham to swim and boat in the mill pond, have picnics on the shores and attend other social events. The Mill was three stories tall, with the bottom story containing the mechanical parts of the Mill, while the middle story was an open room where the dances and parties were held.

    View of the Mill from the Northern Bank of Crabtree Creek

    Even after the Mill closed in the 1920s, people would continue to come to the Mill site to enjoy the Millpond for picnics and boating. By the mid 1930s, it was common to see over 100 cars parked along the road there on a Sunday afternoon. That lasted until the the great flood broke the dam wall and destroyed the mill. It was about this same time that the Resettlement Administration was buying up land from farmers facing ruin and there was a mass exodus of people moving out of the Cedar Fork Township. The RA purchased a lot of the land that would make up Umstead, enlisted the help of the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and went about creating Crabtree Creek State Park, which would eventually be renamed for William B. Umstead as Umstead State Park.

  • 24 Nov 2022 8:47 PM | Kerry Mead (Administrator)

    1994 was the year the Cary Downtown Farmers Market came to town. There were a few co-ops, farm stands, and popup markets in different locations over the years, but no formal farmers market existed in Cary prior to 1994. Cary started out as an agricultural community and many residents grew their own vegetables, so there was little need for a farmers' market in the beginning.

    Donna Walker and her beeswax candles booth at the Train Station location

    Starting in the middle of the 20th century, you could find fruit, vegetable, and egg stands/markets at different locations along Chatham Street, including:

    • Mack’s Fruit Stand that sold fruit and vegetables across from Taylor Biscuit Company (now where Martin’s Architectural is located on Chatham Street)

    • An egg market co-op on Chatham near Harrison

    • An egg market at Chatham and Reedy Creek Road

    Several factors came together in the early 1990s to help the market get started. One farmer, then another, sold their produce at Ashworth Village for several years. Seeds of Hope, a grass-roots organization affiliated with the NC Council of Churches, was also active in Cary and trying to find ways to help small farmers find a direct market. Finally, the Cary Chamber (and Ralph Ashworth, Chamber Chair) got involved, and supported the formation of the farmers market.

    Market fridge magnet from the 1990s

    Where the market has been located:

    • 1994: Sorrel’s parking lot (the current La Farm building)

    • 1995: The Town’s Municipal Parking Lot on Academy Street

    • 1996-2009: Cary Train Depot parking lot

    • 2010-2011: Chatham Square Shopping Center

    • 2012:2014: Office building parking lot at current-day Mayton Inn site, corner of Park and Academy Streets

    • 2014-2022: Ivey-Ellington house grounds

    • Nov 2022 to now: The Perfect Piece parking lot: 

    Cary Downtown Farmers Market at the Ivey-Ellington

    Market managers through the years:

    • Lloyd and Barbara Norris

    • Scotty Spahr

    • Donna Walker

    • Michelle Blackley

    • Karmen Patterson

    • Rick Savage

    • Leah Smith

    • Brett Pinsent

    Current-day patron favorite -- Jason of Parker Farms
  • 20 Oct 2022 8:37 AM | Barbara Wetmore (Administrator)

    “What were those funny shapes around the seal of the Town of Cary?” I wondered as I sat in my car at a traffic light, studying the decal in the corner of my windshield (required for car owners in Cary at the time). It was 1981 and I had just moved to Cary.

    Cary Town Seal adopted in 1964

    They're . . . gourds! And the words printed around the circular seal read, “Gourd Capital of the World.”

    “I have moved to the gourd capital of the world!” I remember exclaiming out loud. I couldn't wait to tell my family and friends. Wouldn't they be jealous? :-)

    By the end of that year, I had attended my first Gourd Festival at Jordan Hall and purchased my first of many gourds. Here it is (I still have it):

    I love gourds. And I love that Cary has a history tied to gourds. That history goes all the way back to 1937 and it's still going today. Public Historian and Page-Walker Arts & History Center Program Assistant Matthew Champagne has written a great summary of this history:

    85 years ago, in 1937, a group of Cary women formed a club called the “Gourd Gardeners.” The following year, in the Home Economics Department of the brand-new Cary High School (now the Cary Arts Center) these women exhibited a dazzling array of lamps, baskets, doorstops, charm rings, birdhouses, toys, and other crafts all made from – you guessed it – the gourds they grew.

    Hosted in Cary from that day in 1938 until 1999, the Cary Gourd Festival still holds the title of Cary's longest-run annual celebration. In fact, gourds were Cary's first claim to fame. Emboldened by the overwhelmingly positive response to the first Cary Gourd Festival, the Gourd Gardeners shipped a large package of their best grows to a festival in California and Cary took the gold! “That convinced us that we could grow gourds as well as anyone,” said founding member Rachel Dunham. Soon afterward, the club adopted the name the Gourd Village Garden Club, which has blossomed today into the North Carolina Gourd Society, which since 2000 exhibited their gourds at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds. Be sure to check out this year's 80th Annual Gourd Festival on November 5th and 6th.

    Early 1950s Gourd Festival in a pool hall that once occupied the former site of Crosstown Pub

    If we have any math wizards among us, you may have noticed something doesn't quite add up there. An annual festival started in 1938 should be celebrating its 85th anniversary in 2022, not its 80th. Well, in addition to the years of severe droughts, no Gourd Festivals were held between 1943 and 1945 because of our country's involvement in World War II. Like thousands of other women across the United States, Gourd Village Garden Club members aided the war effort by substituting ornamental grows, like gourds, for fruits and vegetables that could help supplement the country's limited food supply. These became known as Victory Gardens and proved significant in winning the war.

    Fortunately, gourd gardening in Cary resumed after World War II and Cary became known as the Gourd Capital of the World. In fact, in 1964, when the Chamber of Commerce sponsored a contest to design an official town seal, the winner, Marion Daugherty, decorated the border of her entry with drawings of gourds and at the bottom of the seal she placed the words, “Gourd Capital of the World.” Although the basic design has remained intact, subsequent town leaders have altered the seal slightly. The biggest change occurred during the administration of Mayor Fred G. Bond when the seal was “degourded.” The words “gourd capital” were removed and the gourd drawings were turned into decorative curlicues.

    Perfectly combining Cary's long agricultural history with our craft traditions, it should come as no surprise that the Gourd Festival now organized by the North Carolina Gourd Society stems from a Cary homegrown tradition.

    In the book Images of America: Cary by Sherry Monahan, the photo on page 45 shows the former Crosstown Pub building as the Gourd Village Garden Club. The door is set on an angle, just as the current building has retained.

    Former site of Crosstown Pub circa 1950s; it was the meeting place of the Gourd Village Garden Club

    Recent former site of Crosstown Pub in 2022

    The Gourd Village Garden Club became the North Carolina Gourd Society and moved its annual festival to the State Fairgrounds in 2000. It's still “growing” strong! This year you can take in gourds to your heart's delight at the Fairgrounds on November 5 and 6 at the 80th Annual NC Gourd Arts and Crafts Festival.

    Though no longer the home of the society or the festival, for me, Cary will always be the Gourd Capital of the World!

  • 03 Apr 2022 11:21 AM | Peggy Van Scoyoc (Administrator)


    The railroads literally put Cary on the map in the mid-19th century. Here are tales about how important trains have been to our town. Historic content was taken from the book, Around and About Cary, by Tom Byrd. Additionally, the transcripts from oral history interviews provided the majority of the information herein. Almost 100 interviews have been conducted with long-time Cary residents who shared their memories with members of the Friends of the Page-Walker history center, so those histories could be documented for posterity. Each narrator is named as a contributor.



    ESTHER IVEY: (I was born in 1890). When I was a teenager, there was a Seaboard passenger train and a Southern passenger train that was going West. We had two train stations or depots in Cary. We could take either one of the trains that we liked to go into Raleigh. The trains went parallel until they got to Cary where they had to cross. Sometimes they were going in the same direction at the same time. We would sit with our windows open and the cinders flying in. We would shout out the window to the other train that we were going to beat them to Cary.

    ELVA TEMPLETON (taken from Around and About Cary by Tom Byrd): (I was born in 1898.) In the early 1900s, both railroads had three daily passenger trains each way. Each had a southbound train that left Raleigh at 4 P.M. Some Cary passengers would take one train and some the other. The trip would result in a race, with passengers leaning out the windows, breathing cinders and shouting for their engineer to go faster.

                A keen observer of the race would be the switchman perched in a two-story structure near where the tracks of the two railroads crossed. His job was to throw open the switch for the lead train. Railroad crews called the crossing Fetner, but to local people it was “Feetner.” One engineer always approached Fetner so fast that the switchman would throw the switch and run as the train came around the curve. Another engineer played hymns on his steam-powered whistle as he rolled through town.


    BILLY ROGERS: When we were kids, we would go alone, without an adult with us, over to the train station for the train that came from the Morrisville area to go into Raleigh for the day. You could hear it when it was coming up the tracks and blowing that whistle. It was always exciting. Everybody would be in the train station, waiting. On cold days, they had a big old potbellied stove over in the corner that kept it nice and warm in there. Mr. Massey, the train master, was the only person working. He sold the tickets and ran the teletype machine. He did the whole thing. As soon as we would hear the train whistle blow, we’d all go out and get on the train, and all aboard, be off, go on through Hillsborough Street and through North Carolina State campus, and then on into the downtown train station. That was the end of the line. I don’t know where that train began each day. On any day, there would might usually be twenty-five people going to and from Raleigh on that train. 

    We would go into Raleigh on Saturday mornings to go to the movies and in between two shows, we would have lunch. The train would usually get to Cary early in the morning, sometime around 9:00, 9:30. We would go to the first movie in Raleigh, which probably started at 10:00, 10:30. Then we would walk up to the little sandwich shop and have lunch, and go to the movie next to the sandwich shop on Salisbury Street for the second show. I believe tickets were $.09 to go to each movie. That’s how we could go to the movies, have a sandwich, and pay for the train ride, everything all-inclusive, for not over $1.50 and it might not have been that much. Then after the movie, we would walk back to the train station and usually not have to wait too long for the train to come back to Cary.

    MARY CROWDER: When I was young, we had the Seaboard and the Southern coming through. We had a morning train that went into Raleigh. In the mornings, that’s the only way we had to go to Raleigh, because each family only had one car back in those days. You either rode the bus or most of us rode the train. I could ride it for a dime. We were left off in Raleigh in the central station downtown. Both the Southern and the Seaboard came in there.

    When my friends and I got old enough to go to Raleigh alone, we would go on Saturday and spend the afternoon. We would go to the drugstore on Fayetteville Street, get a toasted cheese-pimento sandwich and a chocolate milkshake, go to the movies, go to Woolworth’s and get some candy and paper dolls or whatever, and have money left over from a dollar. We rode the train for a dime, both ways, and we got the movies for a dime. A milkshake was a dime.  Sandwiches were like a quarter or a dime. Bottled drinks were a nickel. That was a lot of money though for a kid in the ‘30s. 

    CLYDE EVANS JR.: When I was about ten, twelve years old, we’d catch a train from Cary to Raleigh for ten cents. I couldn’t understand why they’d stop a big thing like that for a few dimes. The Southern went down Highway 54. The Seaboard didn’t stop, but headed south, through Apex and on down. The Southern went back toward Durham and Greensboro.

  • 03 Apr 2022 10:53 AM | Peggy Van Scoyoc (Administrator)


    The railroads literally put Cary on the map in the mid-19th century. Here are tales about how important trains have been to our town. Historic content was taken from the book, Around and About Cary, by Tom Byrd and Jerry Miller. Many of Jerry Miller’s drawings are also included. Additionally, the transcripts from oral history interviews provided the majority of the information herein. Almost 100 interviews have been conducted with long-time Cary residents who shared their memories with members of the Friends of the Page-Walker history center, so those histories could be documented for posterity. Each narrator is named as a contributor. The painting of Lonnie and Evalena Cotton, by artist Tina Winters Taylor is also included.



    RACHEL DUNHAM: When my sister and I lived at the Page-Walker Hotel, we’d walk across the railroad tracks to the old train station that was there. One of the most tragic things to me was when that railroad station was torn down. It was right across from the hotel. They had a colored room for the colored, and they had another for whites. They also had a way to send telegrams there. 

    REBECCA SAULS: I remember the depot. Cary had a nice-looking train depot. I don’t know why in the world they destroyed it, because Apex has kept their depot on the same Seaboard railway track. I remembered ours had a beautiful chandelier in there, and I did hear that the Billy Henderson family got that and put it up in their home. The old depot was across Academy Street going toward Raleigh. And there was nothing else there. It was right straight across from the Page-Walker Hotel, and it should have stayed there.

                                                              Drawing: Courtesy of Jerry Miller


    LOISE MASSEY CROW: (Daughter of train master Mr. Willie Massey): My father was the station master. My father’s whole career was working in the railroad station at Cary, and before that, he was at the Trinity station, where he began his career. My father was sent to Cary from Trinity as the telegrapher and a station agent. 

    At Cary, he did everything. He sold the tickets. He supervised the luggage. He didn’t do any of the actual work, but he supervised and saw that it was done. If you brought a bag there to be checked, he checked that bag, and put it on a little wagon to be taken up to the train. He had a very responsible job.

    If someone wanted to go to California, he would arrange the tickets from here. If they had to change trains in Chicago, he would be in touch with Chicago by telegraph and arrange so that when you left North Carolina you had your tickets all the way to California. Seems like they were in a little book, folded. So, you’d get on the train with your tickets. When you got to Chicago, the conductor would tell you ahead of time, “You are to change and get another train in Chicago, because it’s right there on your ticket. You will wait here thirty minutes before your train comes in.” So, you knew exactly what to do, because it was all written down.

    My father also had brothers who were all in the railroad as station agents and ran the station. There was one in Raleigh, and just down the road, different places. It was a railroad family. They loved their railroads.



    Lonnie and Evalena Cotton, by artist Tina Winters Taylor

    REBECCA SAULS: There was a man named Mr. Cotton who worked for the post office. Sometimes his wife Evalena was with him. He had a cart that he pulled around. He would pick up the mail off the train, put it in his cart and bring it up to the post office to be sorted. I remember Pat Gray was the name of the postman in the old days.

    FRED AND MARIE SEEGER: FRED: When the mail came through on the train, it was dropped off at the depot. The Cottons had a little cart that they pulled. They would bring the mail from the depot up to the post office. The mail came twice a day. After Cotton and Evalena brought the mail up to the post office in the cart, it was sorted and put in the boxes or general delivery. If you wanted to know if the mail had come today, you would just ask anybody in town if they had seen Cotton and Evalena today.

    MARIE: During World War II, Evalena was the person who delivered the telegrams that notified people about casualties from the war. All the people that lived in Cary that had children in service just lived in fear of her coming to their house. Any time they ever saw her walking around with a telegram, they immediately knew that it was terrible news.  My mother had two sons in service, one in the Army and one in the Navy. My younger brother was in the Army, and he was in forty-eight battles in the European theater. So, we were always so afraid when we saw her that it would be very very bad news. 



                                                       The (Page-)Walker Hotel 

    RACHEL DUNHAM: My sister Mossa and I came from Pino, North Carolina on the train to attend Cary High School. We lived in a room at the Page-Walker Hotel. The big room there was used as a dining room. At that time, train passengers would stop over and spend the night. They’d get off the Southern train. I don’t think they had any other permanent people to stay in the hotel then. It was mostly people going and coming. Mrs. Walker cooked dinner for all the train passengers. The hotel had a kind of living room on the west end, where people staying there could entertain.

    DORIS DENNING: Right behind our grocery store, Grocery Boy on the north side of east Chatham Street, there was a lady at the Westside Inn who would cook dinner for the train passengers. The train would stop there for a good while, so she would cook and have it for people who were traveling, to come there and eat dinner as they went on their journey. I think they would also come, get the food, then take it back on the train to eat as they traveled. I remember people said she did an awful lot of cooking, but she was not doing that when we moved here in 1951. That was earlier on. 

    ESTHER IVEY: The Westside Inn was a boarding house that was just behind Grocery Boy. We also had the Page-Walker Hotel where Mrs. Helen Walker was the manager. When the trains would come by, they had a dinner stop in Cary. The cook at the Page-Walker Hotel wore this big white cap, and would go out and ring the bell to entice the train passengers over to the Hotel. Somebody from Westside Inn would be there also, trying to entice them to go up there to eat instead.

    EMMA LOU JOHNSON: We have the train track right behind our house, that was on the east side of Highway 55. The house was built about 1900. That train track goes through the whole village of Carpenter for the Durham and Southern Railroad. Today (2001when she was interviewed) there are two trains a day, one to Durham and one back. The speed limit is ten miles an hour.

    My mother-in-law, Pattie May Johnson, used to tell me stories about how, during the Depression, there were a lot of hobos on the railroad. She said that for some reason, they would come to the back door of our house and ask for food. She must have gotten a reputation as someone who would feed them. And she always did, even throughout the Depression. I even remember seeing people come to our back door asking for food long after the Depression. That was nothing unusual.

    WARREN WILLIAMS: Prior to when my father bought the Page-Walker in 1939, the property had been empty and was run down, so it had been a hang-out for people coming up and down the railroad who were referred to as hobos. They would go in and out at will, and it’s a thousand wonders that the place hadn’t been destroyed by fire, because they’d get a little careless during cooler weather making fires in the fireplaces there.

  • 02 Apr 2022 2:44 PM | Peggy Van Scoyoc (Administrator)


    1895 Steam Train

    Drawing Courtesy of Jerry Miller

    The railroads literally put Cary on the map in the mid-19th century. Here are tales about how important trains have been to our town. Historic content was taken from the book, Around and About Cary, by Tom Byrd and Jerry Miller. Many of Jerry Miller’s drawings are also included. Additionally, the transcripts from oral history interviews provided the majority of the information herein. Almost 100 interviews have been conducted with long-time Cary residents who shared their memories with members of the Friends of the Page-Walker history center, so those histories could be documented for posterity. Each narrator is named as a contributor.


    TOM BYRD (From his book, Around and About Cary): In the 19th century, North Carolina provided most of the funds to build a railroad across the state. Chartered in 1849, the railroad right-of-way was surveyed through Cary in 1851, passing in front of the home of the Pharis Yates house. The railroad was built mostly by slaves, beginning in 1853, with steam engine train service beginning along the entire 223 mile-line in 1856. The railroad literally put Cary on the map.

    Morrisville got the first railroad station in the area, and Cary got a sidetrack where eastbound and westbound trains could pass each other. By 1860, a rural depot had been established. Frank Page was the agent, so it became known as Page’s Turnout. In 1862, NCRR prevailed the Southern Express Company to build a telegraph line through Cary. Because the trains began to stop occasionally for passengers, Frank built a small shelter for those waiting for a train to stop for them. By 1867, there was regular passenger service in Cary.

    In 1868, a junction was formed in Cary when NCRR allowed the Chatham Railroad to lay tracks “not less than 8 feet from their own,” and to cross the tracks near Cary. In gratitude, the Chatham railroad (later called the Seaboard) then built a “commodious depot” in Cary. Frank Page sold ten acres of land for the right-of-way for the depot at a cost of $2.00.

    Over time, the two original railroads changed ownerships and names. In 1893, the Chatham Railroad became the Seaboard Coast Line System. In 1895, the Richmond and Danville Railroad Company became the Southern Railway Company.

    In the 1860s, NCRR built what became known as the Southern station. To the horror of many Cary citizens, it was demolished in 1939. Then both train companies began to use the Seaboard station (the original “commodious depot,” and the name was changed to Union station. Then it was also torn down in 1965. The current Cary depot was built and opened in 1995.


    CLYDE EVANS JR.: The trains were the Seaboard and Southern. They had steam engines when I was a child, there weren’t any diesel engines like it is of this day. Steam engines would come through Cary, one on the right and one on the left. There were two stations then between the two tracks, one for the Seaboard and one for the Southern, and they sold tickets right there. Both would go to Raleigh but the Southern stopped all the time. The Seaboard didn’t stop too much, unless it was necessary.

    WARREN WILLIAMS: My father was a brakeman and flagman on the railroad that came through Cary. He often noticed this old brick building standing by the tracks. He was later able to buy the Page-Walker Hotel building for our home in 1939. One of the biggest enjoyments of living at the Page-Walker was sitting on the balcony and watching the Silver Medium Shooting Star, or Silver Star on the railroad, which was the Seaboard Airline Railway at that time. We got great enjoyment seeing the trains come through.


    C.Y. JORDAN:  It’s been said that my ancestors, Pharis and Alvis Yates, gave the land here for the railroad to come through. Several of my family were railroad people, including myself.  I worked for fifteen years for railroads.

    My father had a brother named Carlos Yates. That would be my uncle. He was killed in an accident at age twenty working on the railroad. He was a brakeman. I was named for him. My mother’s father was a section foreman. She had two brothers who worked on the railroad. One of her brothers was also killed in an accident. It was dangerous work in those days, especially for the brakeman. They would walk the top of the boxcars while they were moving. I’ve seen them many times when I was a boy, walking down the top of a moving freight train. He mis-stepped and went down between the cars, well... 

    When I was working for the railroad, they were beginning to become very safety conscious. Now they’re extremely safety conscious. They wouldn’t allow any personnel to board or de-train from a moving train. That tells you how conscious they are of safety.

    My father went to work as a brakeman at age sixteen. His grandfather Henry taught him the telegraph, so he became a telegraph operator. From there he left train service and became a telegraph operator and a train dispatcher. Then he pursued other ways of making a living.

    WARREN WILLIAMS: In the early days, where there were telegraph poles indicated where the railroad came by. When they built the station house, they built much heavier lines.  They had these two or three lines coming across that went down to the Fetner tower. The tower was where a man would work twelve hours a day, then another man would come to take his place. They would throw the switches to move the tracks in and out, to put a train on the sidetrack, or over on the main track. He had to watch what he was doing particularly well and be abreast of the times to keep the trains from getting into one another.

    Fetner tower was there until they torn the Cary station down. Then they went to an automatic type system which they worked out of Raleigh. My daddy had a first cousin that was a telegrapher down at Raleigh, and he was put in charge of throwing the switches from Raleigh to Hamlet, North Carolina.  I forget how many miles it is across there. He would sit and watch all the train tracks on a great big board in front of him.  He could see a train coming with a marker coming up and getting close to a sidetrack, and see another train coming, and he’d push the right buttons to put this train on the sidetrack, maybe twenty-five miles from where he was sitting. He would press another button to let this train by. It was such a precise job, you had to be real careful with it. He would sit in the chair with his mind right on what he was doing, because if it wasn’t done right, it could be a terrible catastrophe. His chair was rigged so if he had a heart attack or fell over, this thing would automatically cut off until somebody could come and relieve him. Now the new computers probably control all of that. Computers are so smart, they can do anything with a computer, you know.



    Drawing: Courtesy of Jerry Miller

    C.Y. JORDAN: When I was a teenager during World War II, my father would work sometimes down at Fetner tower, the interlocking plant. I was familiar with the other fellows that worked the other shifts down there. One in particular, old man Sam Smith, lived here in Cary. If I didn’t have anything else to do, I would go down in the afternoon and stay with Mr. Smith. During those years of World War II, we would have ninety trains through here a day, sometimes a hundred in a twenty-four-hour period, moving troops, everything. Freight trains weren’t as long as they are now due to the power of the steam engines. The most you would ever have would be two engines coupled together, a double-headed engine. There’s only so much tonnage that they could accommodate. Now there are big diesel engines, and they can put four or five of them together to carry a train a mile and a half long with a hundred and fifty cars, which is close to two miles long. So, the frequency was much greater during the war when you have steam engines. Everything was steam powered.

    Ninety to a hundred trains kept that operator, Mr. Smith, busy.  By then the telegraph system had about run its course and telephones had taken over. He gave me a headset so I could listen to what was being said up and down the road. The dispatcher was operating the trains. I’d help Mr. Smith some, throw the levers to line up for different trains coming from other directions.  

    I had one year in the Navy at the end of World War II. Then I had been working for the railroad when I was called up into the Army for the Korean War. When I got home from that in the early 50s, I went back to my job with the Seaboard Airline Railroad on Halifax Street until 1955. Then I came back to Cary and began working with my brother as a real estate developer. Things slowed down, so in 1967, I went back to work with the railroad as an Assistant Division Engineer. Worked there another ten years.

    We had accidents, train wrecks, derailments, bridges burned, a landslide covered the track over in Alabama. All kinds of things going on over that much territory. I was sent out to many problems or disasters. If it was a wreck, we’d have to get it cleared off the track, then build the track back. The worst one I responded to was a little, local passenger train that ran from Birmingham into Atlanta. It struck an earth-moving piece of equipment on the track and derailed the train. But it turned the rail over and that guided the derailed train right on down the track until it came to a stop, so it didn’t do a lot of damage. Nobody was injured to any extent. While I was in Raleigh, the Silver Star derailed on two different occasions for various causes, cause unknown on one of them. I had never been involved in anything serious, to the extent of fatalities. Most of the derailments on the railroad were due to freight trains or equipment.  In the old days before they had roller bearings, they’d have what is known as “hot box,” and that would cause a wheel or axle to break and derail the train.  They were never all that serious, but we had to clear it up quickly because there were other trains rolling. 

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