Cary Me Back

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

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  • 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.

  • 26 Sep 2021 7:05 PM | Kerry Mead (Administrator)

    As part of our extensive oral interviews with past Cary residents, Peggy Van Scoyoc recorded the following interview with beloved Cary teacher, Ruth Cathey Fox. 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.

    Recorded 6/10/99

    Peggy Van Scoyoc (PV):  This is Peggy Van Scoyoc.  I am in the home of Ruth Fox in downtown Cary.  It is Thursday, June 10, 1999, and I am here today to speak to Mrs. Fox in her home.  So Mrs. Fox, you where reading some notes to me just now.  Some notes and information that you had written down for our interview today, and I would just love if you would go through them for us on the tape.

    Ruth Fox (RF):  Walker Hotel, as I have known it.  I moved to Cary from the Charlotte area in 1919 when I was only seven years old.  My father was connected with the Seaboard railroad.  He roomed at the Walker Hotel for six months before my mother and I joined him.  No meals were served at the hotel, no electric lights and no indoor plumbing.  History has it that when the Hotel was first opened, passenger trains, the Seaboard and Southern, had regular meal stops at the Walker Hotel.  I lived nearby and had friends who lived in the Walker Hotel after Mrs. Walker’s death.  How we did enjoy running up the stairs to the third floor [to visit friends who were boarders].  After Mrs. Walker died, they rented that building.  A family lived there, they had one daughter that was about my age in the same grade.  I would visit her and we would have a lot of fun running up the steps to the third floor.    

    Cary High School and Farm Life School - the first public high school in North Carolina dating back to 1908 according to the cornerstone in the building.  Many from out of state boarding students attended school here and how the townspeople would meet the trains as the students would arrive.  We had a boys’ and a girls’ dormitory, and teacher training course granted a Class C teachers certificate.  Farm Life and Dairy Poultry School - many exhibits at the State Fair.  School was granted a two day holiday to attend the fair.  

    Streetlights in Cary were turned on each evening by hand.  Central location, the corner near what is now South Academy and West Chatham Street.  The telephone office was upstairs above the corner drug store.  Only two churches - the First Methodist in the present location, and the Baptist was at the corner of what is now West Chatham Street and West Streets.  However, the Baptist Church now is located on South Academy Street.  We had a lovely so-called boarding house here, that was called the Westside Inn and it has been demolished.  No house to house mail was delivered.  We rented a box at the post office.  And I remember our box number was 174.  And no zip codes then.  Telegrams were sent to the ticket agent at the railroad station, the Seaboard and Southern, and then they were delivered to the addressee.

    PV:  That was fantastic.  Thank you so much for writing all that down and sharing that with us.  That is so valuable to us.  Life was a little different back then than it is now.

    RF:  I wonder how it sounds.

    PV:  I’m sure it sounds wonderful.                          

    RF:  I married Charles Fox [who] had three children [from a previous marriage.]  He taught poultry science. I went to Lewisburg College, the oldest junior college in the nation, 1787.  Then I transferred to Columbia College, Columbia South Carolina.  I majored really in music. [I began teaching] in 1933. I taught the second grade at Cary Elementary School for 34 years. I drafted into the first principal-ship at Briarcliff School. I had forty years service. I also directed the high school glee club for a number of years.  I directed the choir at the Methodist Church for eight years.

    PV:  Tell me about the early years of your teaching career.  What you taught, the methods that you used, and how those have changed for you over the years?

    RF:  Well, at that time we had so many rural children that were bussed in, you know.  We had very few, not too many here in the Cary area, but they came in from Morrisville and that area.  And they were so attentive, and the parents, oh they appreciated the teachers so much.  The little boys, at that time, lived way out in the country, you know, near the airport at that time.  And they had what were called rabbit boxes they put out in the woods to catch rabbits.  Well, those mothers would dress those rabbits and send the rabbits in to me already dressed.  In the cold weather, we’d put them out on the ledge of the window to keep them cool.  They would send me homemade butter, big old collards they would bring in on the bus.  They were so, so appreciative.

    PV:  And how did you see that change of the years?

    RF:  Well, more sophisticated families, I’ll say, moved into the Cary area and having come from large cities moving in here, that made quite a difference.

    PV:  I would imagine so.  How did the curriculum change over the thirty-four years that you taught second grade.  From the first few years of teaching until the last few years of teaching the second grade.

    RF:  Well, of course, the teachers were required to go to summer school, you know, to review all the new inventions that came in.

    PV:  Every summer?

    RF:  No, not every summer, but periodically.  

    PV:  The curriculum changed?

    RF:  Oh yes, we had to be brought up to date on that, you know.  Of course, they don’t even teach phonics anymore.  But many years, we did teach phonics.

    PV:  Do you think that was good?  Did it work well?

    RF:  Yes, I thought it was good.  

    PV:  What else changed?

    RF:  Discipline.  

    PV:  How did it start out and how did it change?

    RF:  Years ago, the children and their parents, whatever the teacher said was law and order. There was so much appreciation from some of the folks. So much appreciation. But I enjoyed the influx of Cary.  McGregor Downs. I had all the McGregor Downs’ children over at Briarcliffe. 

    RF:  [Briarcliffe opened in] 1967. M.B. Dry was superintendent Principal at Cary High School when I was a student.  And I came back as one of his teachers.  [Mr. Dry] was so understanding as my Principal when I was at school and also as one of his teachers.  [He was principal for] about twenty six years.  His wife, Mrs. Dry, was in charge of the boarding students, the meals. That was done away with in 1933, the boarding students. I was so fortunate at Briarcliffe during integration.  They had closed Holly Springs school which had been an all black school and all those students came to Briarcliffe, which made it very, I won’t say easy, but it was very convenient to have all of them there together rather than from here, yonder and everywhere. My former students still come to see me. [I was Principal of Briarcliffe] 1967 to 1973. I took my graduate work at Appalachia State University in Boone [for] three summers. When I first started teaching at Cary Elementary School, second grade, the parents were so appreciative of every little thing that you would do. They seemed to find no fault about anything. Most of them were farmers, not too well educated, maybe to high school.  They thought what the teacher did was absolutely fine, anything. We had black teachers too. I was never accustomed to black teachers at Cary Elementary when I taught there. The black teachers were very loyal.  Of course, our custodian and maid, they were black.  Some of the cafeteria workers were black. We had excellent food service [at Briarcliffe]. The house that we bought [when I was a child] had electricity but it had no indoor plumbing. 

    [As a child we played] jump rope, drop the handkerchief, London bridges falling down. Who’s that knocking at my door and the person would say,  it is I.  But sometimes they’d forget and say, it is me.  Hide and seek.  Sometimes they’d have a baseball game.  Farmer in the Dell.  I haven’t thought of those things in years. [I’ve lived in this house] since 1950.  

  • 26 Sep 2021 6:28 PM | Kerry Mead (Administrator)

    By Pat Sweeney

    WHP – Walter Hines Page – or “WAT” a nickname favored by the Page family for their first Cary-born son, therefore Cary’s true “First Son” is, historically, Cary’s most widely known man of political consequence.  WHP capped his public life by serving as the Ambassador to the Court of Saint James during WWI, as part of the Woodrow Wilson administration.

    Readers interested in revisiting or learning about the role WHP played in this war can do so through Pulitzer-prize winning autobiographies by Cooper and Hendrick, old newsprint and commentaries aplenty on the web or in libraries with extensive historical materials. The Olivia Raney Library located nearby in southeast Raleigh is such a library.

    The Wake County's Cary Regional Library chose to salute WHP as a son of Cary because of his career in journalism and publishing. Books, book, books were always a keen part of WHP’s life.  He learned to read at his mother’s knee as a home-schooled, if you will, boy.  In those days, home-schooling was basically the way of early education.  Lucky the child whose mother was herself a reader and devourer of the written word.  It is said that Katherine Page always carried a book in her apron or dress pocket to enjoy during brief respites in an otherwise hectic day! As a single/only child for four years, WHP was the epicenter of his mother’s world.  Walks thru the woods, learning and observing the world of Mother Nature and quite times lingering over books like The New England Primer, a book of verse introducing children to the alphabet using Bible lessons, awakened a sincere fondness and joy in the written word…

    Most Caryites of recent emigration first learn of WHP from the highway history marker along Chatham Street near the Page-Walker Arts & History Center, part of the original homestead of Cary’s founder, Frank Page, as well as birthplace for WHP. Father and son both would choose independent career paths from their forebearers.  The plow and the hoe would be exchanged for more modern, contemporary career paths.  Frank seeing the future economy of industry and business became a woodsman and lumberjack, and WHP would venture off into the world of words, ideas and international diplomacy. Both father and son understood the power of personal relationships and partnerships as they practiced the power of persuasion for change and development in their chosen areas of interests.

    WHP, in his early scholastic years, met and was mentored by social activists who saw the need for ‘the rebuilding of the commonwealth’ following the Civil War upheaval of social and cultural norms, especially in the South, and most especially in his beloved North Carolina. Joining other social visionaries of the time, WHP helped sow the seeds of social and cultural reform and development that would become the basis for Cary’s present-day position in the economic and social dynamism that is the Research Triangle…A prime example of this WHP local activism is seen in his contributions to the founding of NC State University.  As member of a group of seven self-appointed ‘public-spirited’ young men (so described by author Hendrick) WHP aided and abetted the establishment of The “State College for Agriculture and Engineering,” later to become NC State University.

    Because the Page family left Cary after only 26 years of residency, and WHP earlier becoming a part-time resident while attending the Bingham School in Mebane, NC, Trinity College in Durham, NC, Randolph-Macon in Ashland, VA, and lastly concluding his formal studies at the newly founded Johns Hopkins College in Baltimore, MD,  the early years of WHP’s career and social activism have not been highlighted in the Cary memory and reflections of him. The hope is that the newly dedicated room to him in our library will spark a collective interest and discovery of our local boy’s hiding-in-plain-sight historic presence among us…After all, aren’t we all the product of our childhood family ties and cultural landscape?

    Wat, as I shall now reference him, hoping you feel more familiar with him after this brief introduction, loved Cary and its environs wholeheartedly. In fact, I would say his love for this place and his family were of equal proportions…In his own writings throughout his life, he speaks of returning to Cary for rest and re-focus, describing Cary and North Carolina as his place of personal refuge, his place of sustenance in times of emotional fatigue, his underpinning as well as fount of his work on behalf of ‘rebuilding the commonwealth.’

    Experiencing the worst of the Civil War at a safe distant in Cary, Wat, nonetheless was shaped by the war’s presence, especially as Sherman and the Yanks spent approximately three weeks in the area bringing the war to a virtual close.  These days allowed Wat to meet and interact with the “enemy” in a ‘face-to-face’ manner; to be challenged in his mindset about the war, its’ causes and effects on not only his family and State, but society and the country as a whole…

    I have penned a slim volume, available in the library, about Wat and his Civil War childhood here in Cary. The story is my imagined days and nights (based on WHP bibliographies by Cooper and Hendrick) of Wat as the First Son during Cary’s founding years and the intersection of his coming-of-age years and the issues of racial relations during the Civil War. Especially interesting to me are the crosswinds of the Civil War and their impact on this young boy’s evolution as advocate for public education, journalism and publishing – all born and bred from his Civil War roots. It is an easy read; check it out!!! (Wat, A Son of the Civil War, by Sweeney)

    By way of introduction to WHP’s deeply held love for these parts, please enjoy the following lines from his poem “The Song of the Pines,” disclosing his love for the Old North State, especially the State’s long-leaf pines.

    They hang their harps for the winds to sweep-

               Strung to a soft low Southern tone;

    An ocean of music from mountain to deep

    Waves with the waves of the wind – lone

               And how is their song,

                     Centuries long,

    The song of the lands that beneath them sleep.

              . . . . … . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . .

    The fair in their sound are laid to sleep,

    The bones of the brave beneath them rest;

    The hopes of the dead die not, but keep

    In their song a thrill for a younger breast.

         ‘Tis the tale of her years,

          That the old State hears

    Roaring in music from mountain to deep.

    Majestic, eternal, the swell of their roar-

    A burden of hope, if a burden of woe-

    Telling In song, traditional lore;

    Ernest and tender, solemn and slow,

          A promise and prayer,

          Forever they hear,

    From the past to the future for evermore.

    There are many more local stories to be shared about WHP, aka Wat.  Watch this space…

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