Cary Me Back

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

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  • 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.

    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.

    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.

    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”.

    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. 

  • 31 Jan 2022 9:04 AM | Barbara Wetmore (Administrator)

    Cornwall Road, south of downtown Cary, holds a special place in Cary's African American history. From the mid-1800s and into the 1900s, it was home to many African Americans, some whose families settled on and began farming the land just after the Civil War. It also was the place where African Americans began worshiping under a brush arbor in 1868 on a site where they had begun to bury their loved ones. Now surrounded by newer homes and the Glenaire Retirement Community, a significant remnant of Cary's African American past still remains at 300 West Cornwall Road. The sacred land where families began burying their loved ones as early as 1866 is now a 1.39 acre cemetery owned and maintained by Cary First Christian Church. And it has some stories to tell . . .

    Stories of leadership, service to country, enslavement, education, and more

    When you step through the cemetery gate into Cary's African American past, you will find the resting places of the first African American businessman and community leader in Cary; founders of the new Cary Elementary School (for Colored Children); businessmen, farmers, and laborers; church founders, leaders, and supporters; community organizers; large land owners; educators; WWI, WWII, Korean, and Vietnam War veterans; free and formerly enslaved African Americans and people of mixed race. You will see grave sites of prominent families and grave sites of unknown persons. And you will walk upon ground where known and unknown persons are laid to rest with no grave marker to indicate where.

    Seven members of the Committee for a New Elementary School in the Colored Community who were instrumental in establishing a school for African American children in 1937 after the Cary Colored School near the present day Cary Elementary School burned down are buried at Cary First Christian Church Cemetery (CFCCC): Arch Arrington, Jr., Willis Cotton, Mae Hopson, Effie Turner Jones, Emily Arrington Jones, Connie and Lillian Turner Reaves. The new Cary Elementary School (for Colored Children) went on to become present day Kingswood Elementary School.

    Cary Elementary School (for Colored Children) ca. 1937

    One of the most prominent families buried at CFCCC is the Arrington family. Patriarch Alfred Arrington has the earliest marked birth date in the cemetery: 1829. He was the son of an enslaver on a plantation in Warren County, North Carolina where he learned many trades. Alfred was freed before the Civil War came to Cary during the late 1860s. Both he and his son Arch Arrington, Sr. were craftsmen and became large landowners in north central Cary. Arch, Sr. was one of the first African American businessmen and community leaders in Cary. He married Sallie Blake, sister of John Addison Blake, the founder of the Union Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church on North Academy Street in Cary.

    Arch Arrington, Sr.

    Sallie Blake Arrington
    Arch and Sallie's son Arch Arrington, Jr. organized the African American community to build a new school for African American children in 1937 after the Cary Colored School near the present day Cary Elementary School burned down. Arch, Jr.'s brother Goelet Arrington and sister Emily donated the land to the Wake County School System for the school, which went on to become Kingswood Elementary School, located today at 200 East Johnson St.

    2300 formerly enslaved persons were interviewed and their memories recorded as part of the Federal Writers Project that produced U.S., Interviews with Former Slaves, 1936-1938. Three of them are buried in Cary at CFCCC: Eliza Blake Nichols, Martha Jones Organ (unmarked grave), and Chaney Utley Hews (unmarked grave).

    Eliza Blake Nichols
    (Photo from Library of Congress, Manuscript Division)

    One of the earliest marked graves in the cemetery is that of Jennie Beckwith, who died in 1896 at the age of 31. She was the first wife of John Beckwith, who was born into enslavement in Cary and was 9 years old when the Civil War ended. His memories were also recorded in U.S., Interviews with Former Slaves, 1936-1938. John was a farmer and later a beloved custodian at Cary High School when it was located on Academy St. He was remembered for ringing the bell, signalling to students that they should all be in their seats in their classrooms. John is buried in an unmarked grave at Wake County Home Cemetery off Noble Road near Five Points in Raleigh. Several other Beckwith family members are buried at CFCCC in unmarked graves.

    One fourth of the 86,000 troops from North Carolina in WWI were African American. Seven WWI and three WWII veterans are buried at CFCCC, along with one Korean War veteran and two Vietnam War veterans. WWI veterans: Exum Arrington, William Boyd (unmarked grave), Clarence Cotton, James A. Cotton, Harry Jones, Herman Lee, Arthur Moore. WWII Veterans: Clyde Louis Arrington, Fletcher Beckwith, Bruce Jones. Korean War Veteran: Emerson “Dick” Arrington. Vietnam War Veterans: Archie Wayne Jones, Edgar B. Jones.

    Bruce Jones, WWII Veteran

    The earliest marked grave in the cemetery is that of little Hattie Turner, who died as an infant in 1891. She was the daughter of Bob and Lucy Turner. Sadly, 10 infants are buried at CFCCC.

    Caring for the cemetery

    During 2021, members of Cary First Christian Church partnered with the Town of Cary and the Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel to take steps to make the public aware of the significance of this historic cemetery, the first cemetery to be designated as a landmark in Cary and in all of Wake County. The Town planted new trees and helped clean up the cemetery and also enlisted Verville Interiors & Preservation to repair some of the damaged headstones. Volunteers from the church worked with volunteers from the Friends of the Page-Walker to research the history of the cemetery and the people who are buried there and to produce a walking tour brochure, which is now available outside the gate of the cemetery. The refurbished cemetery along with the brochure were revealed at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on October 30, 2021.

    Not the first time the cemetery received some love and attention

    It's possible the cemetery would not be standing in its original location today if not for the efforts of church member Sallie Jones. Sallie, a descendant of historic Cary African American families including the Arringtons and the Blakes, made it her personal project in the 1980s to preserve the Cary First Christian Church Cemetery to save it from being lost. She hired archeologists to survey the cemetery and produce a map of marked and unmarked graves and she enlisted the help of the community to clean up and restore the cemetery, which had fallen into disrepair through overgrowth of vegetation and some vandalism. Desiring to honor those unknown persons buried in unmarked graves, Sallie worked with experts at the state level to identify some of the unknown names, spending many hours going through archived records. In a critical step, she registered the cemetery with the state, protecting it from ever being sold. Sallie Jones, today at age 96, was a key contributor to the development of the newly released walking tour brochure through her knowledge and remarkable memory of the people buried at the cemetery.

    Sallie Jones

    Formerly unknown people buried in the cemetery now identified

    The cemetery holds approximately 262 burials as of 2021. Of these 262 burials, around 102 known persons are buried in graves with markers that display names and dates. About 160 persons are buried in graves either unmarked or marked with boulders, piles of stones, quartz, and uninscribed or unreadable stone, concrete, marble, and granite. Some are buried in graves marked with uninscribed concrete slabs placed by the church after the archeological survey revealed that 139 of the 160 unmarked graves had been unknown until 2002. The vinyl stickers seen on these grave markers correspond to locations on a map produced by the archeological survey. Through the tireless efforts of church member Sallie Jones and additional research by church volunteers and the Friends of the Page-Walker, 113 of the people buried in unmarked graves or graves with unreadable markers have been identified. 47 unknown persons still remain to be identified.

    A look at the land in the 1860s and its subsequent history

    Stories passed down tell that African Americans began burying their loved ones on the land as early as 1866. Research revealed that the land belonged to James Allen at the time, a white man living in Wake County, who then sold it to Mariah Seagroves Horton and her husband William, also both white and of Wake County. Interestingly, the Hortons sold the land to James Joseph (J. J.) Hines of Craven County in 1869. J. J. Hines was a white traveling minister who sometimes preached in Asbury. Ownership of the land stayed among white people of Craven County until 1879, but statements in deeds reveal that sometime between 1869 and 1877, J. J. Hines conveyed one acre of the 35+ acres he had purchased from the Hortons to a religious congregation, presumably the early members of Cary First Christian Church. In 1879, when Tranquilla and George Dowell of Wake County purchased the land, the deed contained this statement: “(excepting) nevertheless one acre of said tract at its north west corner on which a church has been built by certain colored (people) containing 34 1/2 acres more or less, after deducting said acre excepted.” The church structure to which this deed is referring might have been the brush arbor under which the early members of the Cary First Christian Church congregation worshiped from 1868 to 1883, when they moved into their church building on Holleman Street near present day Cary Elementary School. In 1909, George and Tranquilla, also white, conveyed a piece of land to “Trustees for Colored Cary Christian Church”: John Beckwith, Handy Jones, and Dennis Jones. The land in this deed increased the cemetery size to approximately 1.377 acres, the size that it is today. Handy Jones and Dennis Jones are buried at CFCCC. In 1968, the church moved to its current location at 1109 Evans Road. Today, the cemetery is the only vestige of the congregation at its original location.

    Unique grave markers

    The most unusual and historically significant grave marker in the cemetery is a rare segmental-arched wooden headstone, dating back possibly to the mid-1800s. There are no markings or engravings remaining on this wooden marker to enable us to know who is buried here. Many grave sites in the cemetery are marked by simple pieces of rock or boulders with no inscriptions, or are not marked at all. Though researchers have been able to identify 113 of the 160 people who are buried in unmarked or unreadable graves, it's likely that people who were buried before the late 1800s might never be identified because of the lack of records dating back to that period and because enslaved persons were often not accounted for by name but simply by the number of them that were enslaved by a land or property owner.

    Many of the readable grave markers in the cemetery display funerary art, including cherubs and crowns, stars, clasping and praying hands, laurel branches, ivy vines, and engraved interlocking chains and letters such as “FLT” for Friendship, Love, and Trust that denote the deceased's affiliation with the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows (not to be confused with the International Order of Odd Fellows, whose constitution included a “whites only” clause until 1971).

    Some of the grave markers are made of concrete. Family stories tell us that the African American Hawkins family made gravestones, along with the Satterfield family. Both families' homes were on West Cornwall Road, very near the cemetery. Though researchers have not been able to confirm it, it's possible the Hawkins and Satterfield families made some of the gravestones here.

    A few of the gravestones are marked with hand-scratched inscriptions, including the gravestones of Nazareth Jones, Mattie Norris, and Rev. Boyd, one of the early ministers of Cary First Christian Church. One unusual set of stones represents not a grave marker, but rather a memorial marker. No bodies are buried with the stones, but one them contains a hand-scratched inscription: “In memory of Geo. W. Day and family.” A second engraved stone with the names of all the family members accompanies the hand-scratched stone. The George Washington Day family was originally from Orange County, where a large number of mixed race families migrated from Virginia in the early 1800s. Census records show they were living in Cary in 1880. Although further research is required, it's possible that this family is related, albeit distantly, to Thomas Day, the renowned furniture maker who left Virginia and settled in Milton, North Carolina in 1823.

    Not the only African American cemetery in town

    Many African Americans from the Cary community are buried in the private Turner-Evans Family Cemetery at 800 Old Apex Road in Cary. The Turner and Evans families owned large tracts of land in that area in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Evans family owned and still owns a large amount of land to the west on Evans Road -- which is named for them -- and donated the land on which the Cary First Christian Church is currently located on Evans Road. Some members of the Turner and Evans families are buried in CFCCC and some members of the families buried at CFCCC are buried in the Turner-Evans Family Cemetery as a result of marriages between the two families.

    Explore Cary's rich African American history

    Take a walking tour of the Cary First Christian Church Cemetery with our new brochure (available at cemetery entrance). Trace Cary's African American history on a self-guided driving tour (download here) or follow along with a guide on one of our African American trolley tours (check here for availability). Stop by the front desk of the Page-Walker Arts & History Center to purchase a copy of Peggy Van Scoyok's book Desegregating Cary.

    Help build a memorial to those buried in unmarked graves

    Contribute to a fund to erect a simple memorial to known and unknown persons who are buried at Cary First Christian Church Cemetery in graves that are unmarked or graves that are marked with unreadable stones. Contact or call 919-467-1053 to learn how.

  • 08 Oct 2021 9:54 AM | Barbara Wetmore (Administrator)

    Mysteries and legends of ghostly tales tend to come to us from days past, and in Cary several of our haunted legends surround two old properties, one that still stands.

    Mysteries and hauntings of the High House

    The oldest property, which is no longer standing, was the High House that stood on what is now, not surprisingly, High House Road. The house was built in the 1700s and named for its tall physical presence and its location atop a hill just across from the present day Maynard Crossing shopping center. You can read all about the history of the High House in this blog.

    Back view of the High House.

    The intrigue surrounding the High House involves a mystery about a buried treasure. In Around and About Cary, Tom Byrd recounts that Margaret Williams told of a treasure hunt by her father Leander Williams, who was born in the High House in 1883. After the family moved away, Williams had a dream about valuables buried in the hearth. When he learned the next morning that his mother had had the same dream, the two of them rushed to the house, only to discover that someone had already torn the hearth apart, brick by brick. Perhaps the source of these dreams was this account in Tom Byrd's book of an encounter at the High House by General Sherman's troops near the end of the Civil War:

    When the soldiers arrived at High House, they found an old black man apparently crippled by gout and with a heavily bandaged foot resting on the hearth. What the soldiers never knew was that the foot concealed a removable stone under which valuables were hidden.

    As for being haunted, there are stories of the ghost of a woman who has appeared both on the grounds and in the house when it was still standing. Robert Hoke Williams in his account The Ghost of High House tells of a legend that two men were in love with the same girl and one day while attending a horse race, one of the men in a fit of anger, during a quarrel with the girl, grabbed her and strangled her to death before he could be stopped.

    One other tale of a sad and tragic death of a woman involves a possible first wife of Fanning Jones.  Fanning was the first owner of the High House. This passage is from High House Mystery:

    Some of the old fireplace brick remains, and a cemetery is located nearby. Only a few tombstones remain, so it is not known if Mrs. Fanning Jones is buried there. She died a tragic death only a few years after her marriage in 1799. The Raleigh Register September 8, 1806, reported that Mrs. Jones "... was found in a grove far from the house, depraved of all reason, where it is supposed she had been praying (having been very religious for some time past). She remained in the deplorable condition till her death... (on July 27, 1806)." (p.3)

    The phantom horse of the Page-Walker Hotel

    Another spooky legend involves an iconic Cary historic building, the old Page-Walker Hotel, built in 1868-1871 by Cary founder Frank Page.  The hotel  is still standing and now serves as the Cary Arts and History Center.  Frank Page and his family lived just to the west of the not-yet-built hotel on the site of the current Cary Town Hall in 1865. During the last days of the Civil War in the spring of 1865, union troops camped at the Page homestead for about 3 weeks and kept their horses in the barn with an armed guard. On the last night of their occupation, the youngest of their wounded died. The next morning as they lined up their horses to depart, they discovered that the dead soldier’s horse had disappeared.  It was never seen again.

    Years later one springtime night not long after the hotel was built, all the horses in the stable started kicking and whinnying. Legend has it the stable boy heard the sound of a lone horse galloping full force down the dirt road in front of the hotel, but when he looked at the road there was no horse or rider in sight. Other “hearings” of the phantom horse have occurred through the years, but no “sightings.”  Listen for the sound of the phantom horse's galloping hooves the next time you are at the Page-Walker on a quiet evening . . .

  • 26 Sep 2021 8:42 PM | Kerry Mead (Administrator)

    As part of our extensive oral interviews with past Cary residents, Peggy Van Scoyoc recorded the following interview about prominent Cary citizen, Reverend John William Meadows, with his great-grandson, Jimmy Gibbs. We're reposting this interview as part of our September focus on the naming of Cary Regional Library's rooms to honor the Town's past.

    The Rev. John William Meadows was one of the most prominent and influential people in this area’s  black community in his time. He was born in 1880 in Granville County, but most of his life was spent  in Cary. He was a college graduate, and a well-respected minister of Hickory Grove Christian Church from 1919 until his death in 1954. He also was the principal and one of three teachers at the original Cary Colored School from 1900 through 1935.  

    Meadows’ first wife died giving birth to his only child, Curtis. He later married his second  wife, Annie Mitchell Meadows, who also became a teacher at the Cary Colored School for many years, right alongside her husband. Annie taught grades 1-4, and Rev. Meadows taught grades 5-7. Black students were then bussed to Berry O’Kelly High School across from the Raleigh state fairgrounds. Meadows’ great-grandson, Jimmy Gibbs, talked to us about his great-grandfather:  

    JIMMY GIBBS: Our family has a lot of history here in Cary, thanks to my great-grandfather. He was very distinguished, one of those high society people in this area at that time. He had a beautiful home on Cornwall Road, across from the Glenaire Retirement Center. His property backed up to what is now  the Carolina Pottery store on Kildaire Farm Road. It was a large, two-story home. It did have  electricity, but no running water. There was an outhouse in the back and a lovely barn. They actually had hired help, which was very unusual in the black community at that time.  

    My great-grandfather was very busy. Not only was he an educator, but he was a minister and a leader in the Lincoln Christian Church Conference as well. When he wasn’t teaching and being a  principal, he was doing his ministry work, traveling around to the churches within the Lincoln Conference. He was the vice-president of that conference, which caused him to do a lot of traveling on the weekends. So, he wasn’t only preaching in his church in Cary, he preached at several other  churches in the area as well, using Cary as his home base.  

    The Cary Colored School was a three-room wooden building that stood right behind the  playground of Cary Elementary School, so it was right up the street from his house. The school had  wood-burning stoves for heat, and an outside privy. Sadly, the school where he and his wife taught all those years in Cary was burned down in 1936, just a year after he retired from teaching. Then, long after Rev. Meadows died, his house on Cornwall Road also burned down in the 1970s.  

    Much of the Cary’s Heritage column is taken from the book, Desegregating Cary, published in February of 2010. The book is a collection of oral history interviews conducted with local residents by  the Friends of the Page-Walker History Center. The rest comes from later oral history interviews with local citizens.

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