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A Brief History of Cary's Railroads Segment 2

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.

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