Cary Me Back

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

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  • 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…



  • 15 Aug 2021 11:55 PM | Chinmay Talikoti (Administrator)

    Throughout its history, Cary has always been a place whose unique features have attracted new citizens. While today that role is fulfilled by the booming tech industry, Cary High School’s Farm Life Program was the first such draw. More than 80% of the local population worked in agriculture, but there was a strong desire to improve efficiency and create more skilled labor. Furthermore, no more than 10% of rural children got past their local schools, so such a program would have a great impact on the area.

    The farm life program began in 1914, and was inspired by the school’s principal, Marcus Dry, spending three summers at A&M College (today NCSU) studying agriculture. Upon its founding, the program was so popular that delegates to the State Teachers Assembly began advocating for a similar program in their home districts after touring the facility. Because of the proximity to Raleigh, the school was seen as an excellent testing ground for new policies that would benefit North Carolina’s overwhelmingly rural population.

    The following year, townspeople came together to fund the program: local attorney James Templeton Jr. donated 15 acres on Walnut Street to build a model farm, and $1,500 was raised to erect a farmhouse, barn, and provide equipment. While the farm was abandoned after little more than a decade, the house itself still stands at 510 Walnut Street, with the barn behind it.

    In 1917, the Smith-Hughes Act became federal law, and it provided funding to teach vocational and agricultural skills in public schools. With this, the Farm Life program really took off. 

    After World War I, in 1922, the school hired a second agriculture teacher. E. N. Meekins became a valuable member of the community who assisted local farmers in increasing crop efficiency. Within 4 years, the department created an incubator capable of storing 12,000 eggs--eventually giving rise to two businesses, one of which is still operating (Cary Egg Market).

    However, this prosperity became uncertain at the onset of the Great Depression. In 1933, the school shut down the dormitories; at the same time, teachers created the Cary Community Club, which sponsored square dances every Saturday and a fair in the fall. Although the school system had fewer resources, it managed to continually create a strong sense of community.

    In spite of these repeated hardships, the faculty at the program remained remarkably stable. One such teacher was Rufus Sheldon Dunham, whose namesake park sits across Walnut Street from the old model farmstead. Nicknamed “Dad” because of his premature baldness, Dunham taught agriculture at Cary High School for forty years. He operated a cannery for locals to use during the period of rationing created by World War II, and was the reason the agricultural program did not fail. 

    Even though Cary High still had two farms after the war, there was a problem. By the 1950s, demand for agricultural training was waning, but Dunham helped pivot it to an at-home model, where students could continue to learn domestic skills and put them to use on their time. 

    The farm life program, while crucial, is still only one part of Cary’s agricultural heritage. In addition, numerous barns can still be found in and around town. One of the most interesting is the Mitchell Dairy Barn, which has now been converted to housing. Keep an eye out for both the barn and its related farmhouse the next time you’re on South Dixon Avenue!

    A final farm with special significance to Cary is Kildaire Farm, which today survives in the name of one of our most important thoroughfares. It was primarily a dairy farm, and the Kildaire family owned the Pine State Creamery, which supplied milk, eggs, and other products to area communities. Employees of the farm were nearly self-sufficient, and almost all products could be used on-site.

    Even though these farms and programs have ceased to be operational, Cary's agricultural history lies in plain sight all around us. 

  • 26 Jun 2021 1:58 PM | Carla Michaels (Administrator)

    Construction on the new Downtown Cary Park is underway, but secrets of the land are just being uncovered. How fitting that an early owner of at least part of the property, Benjamin Oliver Savage, originally from Scotland Neck, NC, loved plants and getting his hands in the dirt.

    Map of Halifax County, NC

    Ben Savage was born in 1845 in Halifax Co, NC. By 1870, he had land and was married with two young daughters. But in 1871, sorrow struck with the loss of his beloved wife Anna. He published a tribute to her shortly after her death, which read in part, “Oh! Wretched me, my Annie has flown with the angels to heaven, and has left me…. Oh, how I loved my Annie…” It was signed “By her Bennie”.


    During this time, he worked on inventions for his farming operation. He developed a pea and bean harvester, a rice harvester, and a labor-saving machine that picked and sacked cotton along the rows. The pea and rice pickers were exhibited at the Goldsboro NC fair and won first prize. He also applied for patents for his machines and went on to produce and sell them.


    Also, during this time, a new family moved to the area. Dr. E. W. Owen of Oxford moved with his family to Scotland Neck and set up his practice. His older daughter, Alice Owen had married Dr. Samuel P. Waldo in 1869, while Dr. Waldo began his medical practice in Oxford after graduating from medical school. The Waldo family moved to Cary around 1874. It was at the time of this move that Dr. Owen moved to Scotland Neck with his wife and younger daughter Lillian. Lillian Owen married Ben Savage in 1875.


    It’s unclear what precipitated Ben Savage’s move to Cary, but his father died in 1891, as did his brother-in-law, Dr. S. P. Waldo of Cary. Based on a newspaper account in 1897, the Savage family had moved to Cary some 3 or 4 years earlier, but sorrow followed them to Cary. Ben’s wife Lillian died in 1897 following the death of a daughter by his first marriage, Julia, in 1896.

    The personal challenges he faced didn’t stop him from pursuing his passion for all things green. He bought land in downtown Cary from the heirs of Rufus Jones and heirs of Josephine Edwards on the east side of Academy Street. He used this land to establish Valley Nook Decorative Landscape Nursery and Rose Farm, part of which was on the site of the Downtown Cary Park.


    Map based on the recollections of Miss Elva Templeton, circa 1906


    The entrance to the Nursery was on Academy Street, where the home of Dr John P Hunter sits now. 

    Ben had been known as a “great fruit and nut man” and built on that reputation in Cary by growing strawberries and raspberries among other fruits, and planting trees, especially nut trees, which he recommended as a source of income. He even sold raspberry vines to the State Prison in Raleigh and made a contribution of grapevines to an orphanage in the Charlotte area. His wisdom on horticultural subjects was sought after. When asked why, at the age of 73 (in 1918) he continued to plant pecan trees, he replied, “I plant some fruit or pecan trees every year… I shall plant trees every year as long as I live. I am never happier than when I am planting something.” Some of the pecan trees dotted around the new park may have even been planted by Ben!

    Photo of pecan tree taken by author from The Verandah at The Mayton

    Benjamin Savage continued to live in Cary as a widower until his death at the age of 83 in 1928. He is buried in Hillcrest Cemetery along with his wife Lillian.

    When the new park is complete and the trees growing and plants blooming, I hope you will think of Ben Savage, his green thumb and the beauty and joy of the natural world, so important to him, being created once again in this corner of Cary.


  • 07 Jun 2021 11:41 AM | Carla Michaels (Administrator)

    Part 1: Early Streets and Cary Families

    Street signs help us find our way around our area, but street signs in downtown Cary can also teach us about the history of our town. So, grab a downtown Cary map or use the one below as you read along and learn about some of the stories of Cary’s past. This is part of a Cary map published in 1962 that shows the streets we will explore below.

    The Road to Hillsborough

    Let’s start before Cary was Cary. Cary was incorporated as a town in 1871, but it existed well before that date. A road from Raleigh to Hillsborough ran through our area very early on and is captured in this 1798 Price-Strother map.



    On this part of the map, you can see a notation “Bradford’s Ordinary”. An ordinary was a combination tavern/hotel/inn for travelers. According to the history books, a man named John Bradford ran the ordinary. John Bradford owned land in Wake County, but there is no proof that he ever actually owned the ordinary or the land it sat on, but we are fairly certain that the house stood on Cary Town Hall grounds. So you might say that the road to Hillsborough was the first Cary street. Today there are remnants, perhaps, of this route along Hillsboro Street (Hillsboro Rd on the map above), which runs from N Harrison Avenue west toward Morrisville.

    Here is another map of future downtown Cary that dates to the mid-1850s when a new railroad route through the area was being proposed. The North Carolina Railroad sent out survey parties to map the right of way along the route from Goldsboro to Charlotte, and as a result, included the route through Cary.


    You can see part of what has become “downtown Cary”. Pharis Yates, who later owned and operated Yates Mill in Wake County, bought this land from his father Eli Yates of Chatham County in 1841. The road running in front of his homestead is Hillsborough Road. The proposed railway route is marked by the large pink band, and someone has penciled in the name Cary. The actual train track was laid much closer to the Yates Homestead than this map indicates.

    Railroad/Cedar Street

    From the map above we can see that the road and the railroad coexisted very early on, and the road and railroad still run side by side in downtown Cary. The street was originally named Railroad Street, for obvious reasons, was later renamed Cedar Street, and was the main street of Cary.

    In this birds-eye sketch on display at the Cary Museum in the Page Walker Arts and History Center, Jerry Miller captured Railroad/Cedar Street in its heyday as Cary’s main street, with businesses lining Railroad Street between Academy and Walker Streets. Today Cedar Street is an almost forgotten street and serves as an alternative route to Chatham Street, which today is considered Cary’s main street in downtown.

    West Chatham Street

    West Chatham Street was a continuation of the business district located along Railroad/Cedar Street. Chatham Street took its name from its destination, Chatham County and the Chatham Railroad that was planned to service important coal fields there. The name Chatham Street dates to as early as the late 1860s in early deeds of central Cary.

    East Chatham Street

    East Chatham Street from Ashworth’s Drug Store going toward Raleigh was a country lane in its early existence. It was lined with primarily residential properties and open land used for pastures. But in the 1920s, the Capitol Highway, US#1, was built along this country lane. Instead of heading into Cary down Railroad Street, the highway bypassed Railroad Street and routed traffic along what had previously been a mainly residential street into downtown Cary. This photograph shows the intersection of Walker and Chatham Streets looking east when the area was largely undeveloped.

    Prominent Citizens Lend Their Names

    As Cary grew from a wide place in the road to a village, more streets were developed and named after landowners or prominent citizens of Cary.

    Dr. Samuel P Waldo

    One of the earliest doctors in our area was Dr. Samuel Pierce Waldo, and he gives his name to Waldo Street that runs beside the First United Methodist Church in downtown Cary.


    Dr. Waldo was born in 1845 in Hamilton, Martin County, east of Rocky Mount on the Roanoke River. 


    He studied medicine after the Civil War ended, graduating from the Washington University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland in March 1868. After graduation, he moved to the Oxford, North Carolina area, and married Alice Owen, the daughter of a local doctor, in December 1868. He located to Cary around 1874 with his wife and, by that time, three sons.  He owned a drug store on what the deed described as “Main Street or Railroad Street”. He was a highly respected figure in the community and his early death in 1891 at the age of 46, after a year of failing health, was a great loss to Cary. His family home stood at 114 Waldo Street behind the post office, across from the Methodist Church. The house has been saved and restored, and it stands today south of its original location and serves as the bridal suite for the Mayton Inn.


    Walker Street

    Another early family of the area was the Walker family. If you are familiar with the history of the Page Walker Hotel, you know that half its name is derived from Jacob and Helen Yates Walker. Here is a picture of Helen as a young woman. Helen Yates Walker was born and raised in the Cary area. Jacob was a section master for the railroad.


    The Walkers bought about 26 acres from Frank Page in 1868, three years before Cary was incorporated, and this property ran along the east side of Walker Street from the railroad tracks heading south.

    When Frank Page decided to sell off his property in Cary to move to Aberdeen, the Walkers bought the hotel and about 3 acres of land on the north side of the tracks for $3000 in 1884.

    This early photo of the hotel dates to about 1916.

    The couple ran the hotel until Jacob’s death in 1915. After that Helen alternately tried to rent the hotel and run it as a boarding house. She died in 1922, and the hotel property passed to her grandchildren, children of Rev. A. D. and Irene Walker Hunter. The Hunter family leads us to the next street name.

    Mary Irene Walker was the only child of Jacob and Helen Walker. She married a prominent local Baptist minister, Rev. Alsey D. Hunter whose first wife had died, leaving one daughter.

    Rev. Hunter and Irene had four children. Sadly, Irene died in 1905, leaving her four young children and the one step-daughter. Rev. Hunter married again, to Betsy Rodwell, but not long afterward, Rev. Hunter died, leaving Betsy a widow with a child from this last marriage and the 5 children from his previous marriages.  The best known of the children was Dr. John Hunter.

    After graduating from Cary High School, John attended Wake Forest College, in Wake Forest, NC at the time and graduated with a medical degree. He practiced medicine in Cary for the rest of his life, from 1920 to 1959. He lived on Academy Street in the brick bungalow beside the new park. One of Cary’s remaining in-town chicken coops still stands behind the house. Dr. Hunter was also the president of the Cary Chamber of Commerce, and served on the Cary Town Board and the Wake County Board of Education. 

    Another child of Rev. Hunter and Irene, John’s older sister LaRue Hunter, is important to our story, too. After graduating from Cary High School, she studied at the Durham Conservatory of Music. Before her marriage to George Isaacs of Durham, she is known to have taught music lessons in the hotel, in one of the upstairs rooms.

    Templeton Street

    It’s easily overlooked at just one block long, but Templeton Street is named for another important Caryite. Dr. James McPherson Templeton was born in 1855 in Iredell County, and grew up around Lincolnton.


    He attended lectures at the University of the City of New York and went on to graduate in 1882 from Baltimore Medical College. He was in Cary by 1884 and married Rachel Jones, the granddaughter of Nathaniel Jones of White Plains, one of the earliest landowners in the area. Dr. Templeton had a large two-story home behind Cary Academy, facing what is now Kildaire Farm Rd.

    As well as being a town doctor, he was appointed by the state to coordinate the planning of the “Great Central Highway” route through the area. We learned earlier that the 1st five blocks of East Chatham Street were built as part of the project which re-routed this highway down Chatham instead of Railroad Street. He also served as President of the Wake County Good Roads Association. Dr. Templeton was a member of the Methodist Church and followed fellow Methodist Frank Page’s example of being a prohibitionist. He ran as a prohibition candidate for Congress and for governor of North Carolina. He served on the Board of Directors of Cary High School and was a member of the Cary School Committee. He also farmed AND owned a saw mill. Amazingly, he also served as a doctor in World War I at the age of 61.

    His military uniform is on display in the Cary Museum at the Page Walker. His grave marker in historic Hillcrest Cemetery reads, “A country doctor who served his nation in the time of war, his community in the time of peace, the rich and poor alike,” a fitting tribute.

    Now that we know about the marriage of Rachel Jones to Dr. Templeton, it’s an easy transition to talk about a little street that disappeared and has now reappeared in a slightly different spot in downtown.

    Jones Street

    One of Frank Page’s earliest land sales in Cary was to Rufus Henry Jones, the grandson of both Nathaniel Jones of White Plains and Nathaniel Jones of Crabtree. 


    Frank sold Rufus Jones Lot #1 in Cary in 1869 in the 200 block of W. Chatham Street.  Jones Street ran beside the current day Barnes Family Properties office and then turned a sharp corner to join Academy Street. You can see the original location of Jones Street on the above map.


    Rufus grew up in the area. His mother was Nancy Jones of the historic Nancy Jones house. He graduated from UNC in 1843 and established an early school in the area. In 1873, Frank Page sold a 1/3 interest in his Cary School to him, and he became principal of the school. Later, in 1886 Page sold his remaining interest in the school to Rufus’s daughters, Sarah and Loulie Jones. Rufus also had a very full civic life in addition to his contributions to education. He was elected to the North Carolina House of Commons in 1848, was named a town commissioner on the original Cary Town Council in 1871, and was an early and influential member of the Methodist Church. Rufus also served as Wake County’s Superintendent of Common Schools and as a Wake County Commissioner. That’s just part of the history of this illustrious Jones family member. Jones Street on the north side of W Chatham Street disappeared when the Fidelity Bank took over the entire block and built their multi-story building and parking lot. But Jones Street has returned, close to its original location. Look for the street sign in front of the historic Ivey Ellington House.

    As you navigate your way through and around downtown Cary, we hope you will look for these street signs and have a renewed appreciation for Cary's long history. We will continue this series soon with other street names that tell more of the story of Cary.




  • 06 May 2021 11:03 AM | Pat Fish (Administrator)

    Herbfest-10 Years and Counting

    Eleven years ago in 2010, the Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel’s Special Events committee worked on a plan to develop an event, featuring herbs, that would celebrate and promote the beautiful herb gardens located on the grounds of the Page-Walker Arts & History Center.  The Board members readily supported the idea and Herbfest was born!  The annual event is co-sponsored by the Friends and the Town of Cary and is held in early May.   As Kris Carmichael, Operations & Program Supervisor-Historic Resources for the Town of Cary, wrote in a news release for our 2017 Herbfest: “The beautiful gardens at the Page-Walker Arts & History Center are a downtown treasure.  While the historic center hosts other events, classes, and programs throughout the year, Herbfest highlights this green amenity and its educational herb garden when it is at its most beautiful-the spring.”

                                                 

    Our first Herbfest was hosted on May 15, 2010.  We welcomed 10 vendors who sold herbs and a variety of garden-related crafts.  Three other vendors offered herb-related demos, such as cooking with herbs and natural health & beauty aids. We initiated our plan to share and celebrate our Herb Gardens, which were named the Anne B. Kratzer Educational Gardens in 1995 in honor of the Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel’s beloved founder and creator of the gardens, Anne Kratzer, with our guests at Herbfest.  Volunteers from the Friends and the community co-maintain the garden with the Town of Cary (Please see Volunteer Opportunities on our website if you would like to become a garden volunteer).  We asked Anne Kratzer, who served as the chairman of the garden committee for years, to have her volunteers available at the Herbfest to share information and answer questions about the herbs.  Participation of these garden volunteers have provided a key contribution to the success of Herbfest every year.  They also educate our guests about the historical significance of the Smokehouse that has proudly sat in the middle of the herb garden since 1977.  The 1850’s Page Smokehouse is the only structure that remains from the homeplace of Allison Francis “Frank” Page, the founder of Cary.  The Page home property was purchased by Frank and his wife, Catherine Raboteau in 1854, and was located on the present Cary Town Hall site.  

                                                         

    There is little doubt why the Anne Kratzer Educational Gardens are a “Signature” component of Herbfest when you read Marla Dorrel’s (current chairman of the garden committee) following colorful description of our bountiful garden and what it means to have it included in Herbfest.

    “Thanks to our dedicated corps of volunteer gardeners, the Anne B. Kratzer Educational Gardens share their beauty year-round.  But it’s during Herbfest that we emphasize the educational aspect of the gardens.  On that day, volunteers are on hand to answer questions and encourage visitors to explore all four of the garden categories: Culinary, Industrial, Medicinal, and Ornamental.

    The Culinary bed holds many familiar herbs found in contemporary kitchens – oregano, rosemary, basil, and several varieties of thyme.  Lesser-known Comfrey straddles the Culinary and Medicinal beds, an appropriate location of this plant that is used in salads and teas, but also heals infections, relieves bronchial problems, and gastric ulcers.  Many of the plants throughout the garden have uses that fit multiple categories.

    The Industrial bed offers several plants that were traditionally used to make dyes for textiles.  Herbfest is the one day each year that you will find samples indicating the colors certain plants produce.  One might question finding Chamomile in the industrial section.  While we are most familiar with its use as a tea, it is located in our industrial bed due to its use as an insect repellent and yellow dye.

    As visitors peruse the Medicinal bed, it may come as a surprise to find Beebalm, which most of us think as strictly ornamental.  However, the garden brochure (available year-round at the gardens) tells us that this plant has been used to produce an infusion to treat coughs, sore throat, and nausea – who knew?  The brochure also tells us that the soft leaves of Lambs Ears have antiseptic properties and have been used as bandages for minor wounds.

    Ornamental beds give the gardens exceptional color and interest.  At the time of Herbfest, they are just beginning to develop their blooms, reminding visitors to return throughout the summer as they put on a spectacular show. And keep an eye on the bamboo “teepee” closer to the street.  This is the home of our ornamental Hyacinth Bean crop.  Seedlings are carefully nurtured in volunteers’ homes until ready for planting.  They might struggle at first, but late in the summer there will be lush vines and purple blooms, promising seed pods to gather in the fall. 

    Herbfest gives us the opportunity to educate, inform, and delight.  We can’t imagine a better way to celebrate the arrival of spring.”


    Anne B. Kratzer Educational Gardens

                                                      

    Following our first Herbfest, we sent notes to our vendors sharing that we had heard lots of praise from attendees about them.    Anabela Anca Mendes, one of our vendors (Bela Imports) wrote: “I am still thinking about the Herbfest.  It was a lovely event. When asked to make suggestions to improve the festival, Anabela wrote “Whichever direction you go it will be successful because you will make it pleasant to those attending”.  Thanks to all of our vendors, volunteers, the staff at the Page-Walker Arts & History Center, our community who attended the festival and our partner, the Town of Cary, who all  made the festival such a huge success, the Friends were excited and ready to launch Herbfest as an annual event!


    Over the next nine years, Herbfest has been celebrated each May.  The beautiful grounds of the Page-Walker Arts & History Center in downtown Cary are covered with white tents where vendors sell items related to gardening, herbs, native plants, perennials, nature and cooking.  Guests can stroll through these craft and herb booths and enjoy learning about herbs in the beautiful Anne Kratzer Educational Gardens.  In addition to visits to the Gardens, over the years the Friends have added other key events at the festival.  In 2011, in an effort to make the festival fun for all ages, we began offering an activity for children—deciding on a craft item that would be fun and would also serve to educate the kids about nature in tune with our festival theme.  Jennifer Hocken, Program Specialist-Historical & Cultural for the Town of Cary, and a member of the Page-Walker Arts & History Center’s staff, is our lead for this activity.  She chooses a craft each year that the kids will really enjoy; and with the festival always being held in early May, the crafts can also make wonderful Mother’s Day gifts.  Over the years, kids have made Herb Buddies, butterfly seeded cards, lavender sachets and corn husk dolls to name a few.                                           

    Suzanne Tilton of Butterfly Lady LLC volunteered to be a participant in the festival in 2011.  Suzanne’s company’s special interest is butterfly gardening and rare butterflies; and she offered to do a presentation for the children attending the festival— butterfly releases.  The releases are such a special experience for everyone, children and adults alike, and, although the Butterfly Lady was not able to join us again, the committee discussed how the Friends might be able to host our own butterfly releases-an opportunity to create another “Signature” feature for Herbfest.  We researched the option of ordering the butterflies online and found an ideal choice, Fragrant Acres Butterfly Farm located in Georgia.  We have been so happy with this company that we have ordered from them every year since.  We just order the number and type of butterflies we want and two special boxes in which the butterflies are shipped. Our order arrives at the Page-Walker the day before the festival where the boxes of butterflies must be kept in a cool environment (air-conditioned room or refrigerator).  One and a half hours before each scheduled release, the box of butterflies is moved to a warmer environment (75-80 degrees) to prepare the butterflies to do their magic and take wing out of their box to everyone’s delight. 

                                           

    “Painted Lady”  Butterfly

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

    Our special hosts for the releases over the years have included Brent Miller, Lois Nixon and Kris Carmichael.  Brent shares his Herbfest experiences and what the butterfly releases mean to him in the following: “It’s been an honor and joy to fill the role of the “The Butterfly Lady” and “Mr. Monarch” over the years at Herbfest.  As you might know, for many years, we’ve performed two butterfly releases during Herbfest.  We procure “Painted Lady” butterflies and then gather around the smokehouse in the Anne Kratzer Educational Gardens and release them after a short educational session about the life cycle of these amazing and beautiful creatures.  It’s wonderful to see the butterflies take wing, but the best part about the event is watching the anticipation of the children as the butterfly box is opened and  their sheer joy and amazement as the butterflies take wing, and occasionally land on someone!”

             

    “The Butterfly Lady”  -Releasing the Painted Ladies

                                              

    For Herbfest 2019, we joined the Town of Cary’s initiative as the Town Council named 2019 as the “Year of the Monarch Butterfly” in Cary.  The initiative featured the efforts from the National Wildlife Federation to challenge communities to get the word out about the threatened monarch butterfly.  The Town took the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayors’ Monarch pledge to increase native habitats and romote pollinator conservation in Cary.  Herbfest joined this important commitment by dedicating our tterfly Releases to help educate our guests about the plight of Monarch butterflies, and the steps that ery household and community member can take to support the future survival of the Monarchs.  We also commissioned local artist, Wade Carmichael, to design and create a beautiful set of butterfly wings to be worn by our release hosts.  Brent Miller, aka Butterfly Lady, debuted the wings this year and became “Mr. Monarch” in honor of this year’s special designation.

                                                                

    For seven years, 2013-2019, the Friends sponsored a silent auction at Herbfest.  Thanks to the generous efforts of Peggy Van Scoyoc and Nancy Ryan, the auction’s gracious hosts, the event was very successful.    Peggy and Nancy worked tirelessly to create beautiful and unique garden-related items each year for the auction.  Items such as birdcages, wind chimes, filled baskets, planters, decorative chairs and tiled tables, to name just a few, graced the auction stage each year.  These elegant decorative and gift items adorn many homes in our community - a gracious and ongoing reminder of Herbfest!                        

    A number of years ago, the Young Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel was created to engage teens in Cary by hosting new youthful events that incorporate the cultural arts and local history.  The teens are under the advice and supervision of the Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel.  In order to raise funds for the teen organization’s events, the Young Friends hosted their first Bake Sale at Herbfest in 2015, and it has been a big hit every year – a fantastic addition to the festival. Tables are filled with luscious home- made baked goods-breakfast, snack and dessert delights.  The Young Friends have used the proceeds they have earned over the years to sponsor their “Paint the Page” event for teens at the Page-Walker Arts & History Center.

         

                                                               

    During our 7th annual Herbfest in 2016, we helped celebrate the opening of the new Pollinator Garden at the Page-Walker.  The garden was created through a unique partnership between the Cary Woman’s Club, the Cary Garden Club, the Friends of the Page-Walker and the Town of Cary.  It is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat that features native plants.  Pollinators, including insects and animals, such as bees, butterflies, wasps and birds, are anything that helps carry pollen from one flower to the another.  Almost all of our fruits, nuts and vegetables that we eat need pollinators to produce our food. Native plants are the best source of food for pollinators; and some of the plants in our garden include milkweed, goldenrod, butterfly weed, lantana, yarrow . columbine and aster.  With some pollinators in decline, the Pollinator Garden not only provides an ideal habitat for pollinators to flourish, but also serves as an educational resource for the community.  The partners of the garden “…hope you will learn and get ideas from our garden, and then consider planting a pollinator garden-even a small one-at your home to provide nectar and host plants for the pollinators that call Cary “home” “.  Herbfest provides a wonderful opportunity each year to visit this special garden and learn all about the pollinators and their critical work from our garden volunteers.

                

                                

    Guests at Herbfest are treated to another special opportunity—a visit to the historic Page-Walker Hotel (now known as the Page-Walker Arts & History Center).  Allison Francis (Frank) Page, the founder of Cary, built the hotel around 1868 to serve railroad passengers after the railroad tracks were built through Cary in 1854.  This important building is located on the National Register of Historic Places.  You are invited to tour the site by using the fact and picture filled self-guided walking tour brochures available in the Page-Walker.  Your tour is not complete without visiting the Cary Heritage Museum located on the third floor.  The museum chronicles the history of Cary using timeline exhibits and contains significant artifacts and many educational exhibits.

                                                               

     On May 4, 2019 Herbfest celebrated its tenth anniversary.  The Friends are so grateful to everyone in the community that has contributed to the success and growth of the festival over the years; and we offer special thanks to all of our supportive vendors.  Several of our vendors have joined us for years.  Mildred and John Michael of J &M Garden Art have participated since our first festival in 2010.  They create beautiful copper garden art and are located in Gibsonville, NC.  You can learn more about their crafts on their Instagram account at Jandmgardenartshop.  Carolyn Dean, owner of Lyn’s Garden Creations in Apex, NC, sells beautiful homemade cards, baskets and many garden inspired creations: www.lynsgardencreations.com   Carolyn graciously shared her Herbfest experience in the following: “The Cary Herbfest is the Market that always creates an open, relaxed and educational environment for the entire family.  We enjoy sharing and celebrating the community’s love of gardening.  The leisurely day outdoors at the Page-Walker Arts and History Center creates a social vibe that a person can carry home and spread within their own garden—indoors and out.  We so look forward to the 2022 Herbfest and visiting with our fellow gardeners again.”  Sandra Reynolds, owner of Peak Olive Oil Co. in Cary, NC, sells an extensive variety of herbal olive oils and balsamic vinegars: https://peakoilcompany.com .  Sandra shares her vendor experience in the following: “Herbfest as a vendor has meant community to me.  It’s been a fun event to attend as a vendor but also as a customer.  I enjoy seeing the different venues and wares.  A nice variety of High quality plants and many gadgets and gizmos to browse through. The butterly release is always a hit for both kids and adults to experience.  I enjoy seeing new and repeat customers and sharing experiences using fresh herbs and herbal olive oils and vinegars.  We learn so much through community and Herbfest.”

    We are excited and hopeful at the prospect of hosting our 11th annual Herbfest in May, 2022.  We look forward to welcoming back our vendors and sponsors and all of you, our community supporters.  Please watch our website and follow our social media next spring for news about the festival.  And we invite all of you to join us on the lovely grounds of the Page-Walker Arts & History Center next May to stroll through craft and herb booths, visit and learn about our beautiful herb and pollinator gardens, enjoy home-baked goodies at our Young Friends bake sale, and experience our must-see butterfly release.  And we are especially excited about a new feature we plan to introduce to the festival next year—Trolley rides in downtown Cary.  We invite all of you to help us celebrate the 11th annual Herbfest!


  • 09 Mar 2021 4:20 PM | Peggy Van Scoyoc (Administrator)

    In the past, Cary has been called “the little town that had nothing by grocery stores.” Here is why:

    Cary’s founder, Frank Page and wife Catherine arrived in 1854, bought 300 acres of land with a house near the newly laid railroad tracks where Town Hall stands today. They converted the house into a home for their growing family. The following year, when there were only little more than 200 people living in the area, Frank built and opened the first general store, probably on Railroad Street, now called Cedar Street. By 1866, Frank had found a unique way of bolstering his store profits, by preserving the peaches from his trees and selling them.

    Notice in the Daily Standard on January 26, 1866

    Advertisement in the Daily Standard on January 26, 1866

    Around the turn of the 20th century, John Wesley Booth Jr. opened a general store on his farmland on Reedy Creek at Harrison Avenue, north of the Cary town limits. He and his family ran it for decades.

    By 1900, when Cary’s population had grown to 316, another general store owned by Wiley Jones opened on Railroad Street. And soon after, Captain Guess and Mr. Cole opened their grocery store on the corner of Academy and Jones Streets.

    The Scott brothers opened a grocery store in a wooden building at 123 West Chatham Street in the early 1900s. Years later, the Cary library was started in an upstairs room. That building was demolished in 1980.

    Drawing of Scott’s Store at 123 W. Chatham Street, courtesy of Jerry Miller

    The early 1900s was a boom time for grocery stores in Cary. Within a few decades, the Jones Brothers grocery store, M.J. Jones grocery store, J.H. Wilder grocery store, and W.T. Lynn grocery store all opened along Chatham or Cedar Streets. But by far, the largest general store of all was owned by the Gray brothers on the corner at 100 West Chatham Street and Academy Street, where the large Fidelity Bank is today. The store was the center of the community for four decades, until it closed in 1939.

    By 1930, there were seven grocery stores open and operating on Chatham Street. Why so many grocery stores? Because, beginning with the Highway Act of 1921, U.S. 1 and 64, and later U.S. 70 and 54 as well fed into and down Chatham Street, right through Cary. Businesses sprung up all long Chatham Street for the motorists passing through, as well as gas stations and places to eat and spend the night. Remnants of those businesses still exist today.

    At about the same time, Terrell’s Grocery Store was operating on Chapel Hill Road, across from the VFW building today. This store catered to many African American families in Cary. The building is no longer standing.

    By 1950, Ken-Ben’s 5 & 10 store on the corner of Academy and Jones Streets continued to operate through 1960.

    Cary’s 1939 telephone “book,” which was a one-page list, included Branton’s Groceries, Hobby’s Cash Grocery, and W.L. Rogers Grocery stores. These were the only ones with a listed telephone number.

     Lemuel Rogers started his early career buying produce at Raleigh farmer’s market, then selling it all around the area from his pickup truck. In 1939, he then expanded and opened a grocery store at 107 W. Chatham Street, adjacent to Adams (now Ashworth) drugstore. Just two lots west of Rogers Grocery store, at 117 W. Chatham Street, was Hobby’s Cash Grocery store. Directly across the street, at 122 W. Chatham Street was Denning’s Market. So there were three grocery stores on the same block for a decade or so, all competing for the same customers.

    Today at 105B W. Chatham is the door for the stairs to the second story above Ashworth Drugstore. Adjacent to the stairs is 107 W. Chatham Street, now Douglas Realty.

    Billy Rogers, Lemuel’s son, was still a boy when he began delivering groceries on his bicycle that had a large basket in front. People would call the store, some on a daily basis, and put in an order to be delivered. Those customers lived as far as a bicycle could reach on the same day as the order. Lemuel carried credit for many of his customers by running up a tab for them that they would pay off at the end of the month when they got paid. When Herb Young was a boy, he caught rabbits and traded them for candy at Rogers’ store. He was not the only one to make such trades.

    117 and 119 West Chatham Street, south side, today

    Glenn Hobby had done very well during World War II, because he was able to attract more customers through allotments. He would put cartons and baskets of produce out on the sidewalk in front of his store at 117 West Chatham to attract customers. He was a good businessman. He later bought the lot on the southeast corner of Academy and Chatham Streets, moved the house where Mr. Catronis, the shoe repair shop owner, had lived and built the building where the Kitchen and Bath store is now. He leased it to Piggly Wiggly, and the first supermarket in Cary opened in June of 1950.

    When Piggly Wiggly opened, Billy Rogers stood outside his father’s store trying not to cry as he watched all their customers cross the street to the new supermarket. Not long after, Lemuel Rogers sold his grocery store in 1952, and in 1954, he opened a restaurant down the street.  

    In the 1920s, G.H. Jordan opened a store at 122 West Chatham and Jones Streets. In 1941, he sold the store to Milton Denning who opened and ran Denning’s Market there until 1946, when he closed it due to failing health. In 1951, Milton’s son Joe bought the same building and opened his own store he called Grocery Boys. Joe and his wife Doris lived upstairs for years and had two of their three children, both sons, while living there. Since both Joe and Doris worked long hours in the store, they put a playpen behind the meat counter, where the boys could be watched by both parents and Grandpa Milton, who was their butcher.

     

    Drawing of the original Grocery Boys store at 122 W. Chatham Street, courtesy of Jerry Miller


    Right to left, 122, 124 and 126 West Chatham Street, north side, today

    The Dennings also delivered groceries from phone-in orders, using their truck. They also carried credit for their customers.

    Before 1958, Winn Dixie came to Cary and opened the second supermarket in the building at 220 W. Chatham Street where LaFarm Bakery is today. Then in 1958, Winn Dixie built a large building at 365 W. Chatham Street near the corner of Dixon Street. They moved from today’s LaFarm Bakery building two blocks west in August of 1958. That building no longer exists.

    The News and Observer, August 5, 1958

    In 1964, C.Y. Jordan built the building at 200 East Chatham Street, on the south side, where the Perfect Piece store is today. He leased the completed building to the A&P market.  


    200 E. Chatham Street when the A&P Opened in 1964

    Finding themselves surrounded by supermarkets, Joe and Doris Denning realized that if they were going to stay in the grocery business, they needed to open one of their own. So in 1964, they bought the lot at to corner of Chatham and Maynard, and built a new building where the Patel Brothers are today. When completed, they moved Grocery Boys there as an expanded supermarket. They also ended carrying credit or making deliveries. Their gamble paid off, the store was a success.

    While on vacation in Florida in 1966, the Dennings discovered what was called a “convenience store” there. Thinking this concept might work in Cary and be a successful second business of them, they built and opened one on Blue Ridge Road in Raleigh near Rex Hospital that they called Grocery Boy Jr. It was one of the very first convenience stores in Wake County, and was an instant hit. Four more Grocery Boy Jr. stores soon followed, from 1967 to 1969.

    In 1966, Joe and Harry Stephenson, owner of Cary Old Company, were friends. One day, Harry approached Joe with an idea to put a gas pump in front of his convenience stores. Joe agreed to give it a try, and the first pump was installed at the Grocery Boy Jr. on Blue Ridge Road. This initiative was also successful. Eventually over time, there were eighteen Grocery Boy Jr. stores scattered throughout Wake County, and each one had gas pumps out front. When Joe and Doris retired, their three children took over running the business.

    GROCERY BOYS AD IN NEWS AND OBSERVER:

    THE AD CONTINUES...

    WE STARTED THE SIMPLE WAY, SMALL!

    Dad, Milton Denning, started Denning’s Market in 1941, on the corner of N. Jones and Chatham Streets. In 1951, Joe Denning, a son, took over the store and ran the store until 1964, when smallness was no longer the way to go in the grocery business. Seeing that Cary was in the need for a locally owned supermarket, Joe and Doris Denning opened the GROCERY BOYS. This supermarket, located on the corner of Maynard Road and Raleigh Highway, has continued to grow and expand its service to its customers. In 1966, seeing that areas in Wake County were in need of a locally owned convenience store, Joe opened the first GROCERY BOYS JR. on Blue Ridge Road. This proved a good decision, and the second GROCERY BOY JR. was opened in the Macedonia area in 1967. With quick succession, three other GROCERY BOY JRs were opened… Number three on Lake Wheeler Road in 1968; Number four on the corner of Jones Franklin Road and Athens Drive in 1969, and Number five on Highway 64 East at Hodges Road in 1969. 

    Today, there are no grocery stores in downtown Cary.



  • 12 Feb 2021 1:27 PM | Carla Michaels (Administrator)

    Known today as a destination for hotdog specials and old-fashioned lemonade and ice cream treats, the location where Ashworth's Drugstore currently sits started out as "Uncle Bob's Corner."  Who was Uncle Bob and what was his corner? To answer these questions, let’s travel back to the early days of the town of Cary. Frank Page, the founder of Cary, bought much of what comprises downtown Cary in 1854 and started selling lots to local citizens and out-of-towners to develop and populate his new town. In 1879, Frank Page sold a prime corner lot at the intersection of Academy and Chatham Streets to a lady named Alice G Harrison, the wife of Robert J Harrison, owner of Harrison Wagon Company, inventor and future mayor of the town of Cary. The southwest corner of the intersection became the home of the Harrison family and was conveniently located close to the wagon works.


    Over the years, the wagon company was wildly successful, with good quality wagons sold far and wide. However, the company eventually succumbed to the advent of the motor car. According to Tom Byrd’s “Around and About Cary”, “the company declined after 1900 and closed about 1913.”

    That wasn’t the end for Robert J Harrison in Cary, though. Mr. Harrison ran a café and store on this corner in a two-story wood sided building that was built on the property that Alice Harrison had bought many years before. “Uncle Bob”, as he was known to students from Cary High School, was a popular figure at the school and in town. We don’t know how many years the café/store had been in existence, but it had been long enough to develop a loyal following among students at the school. A “sketch” from the 1917 CHSite yearbook of Cary High School describes him this way:


    Soon after the sketch appeared in the CHSite, “Uncle Bob”, who had been a widower for a number of years, married a lady from Alamance County and moved away to live near Elon College. Harrison sold the property shortly after his marriage. The purchaser was J M Templeton, Jr, a son of the beloved town doctor, J M Templeton.  

    Harrison’s second marriage was of short duration and ended in his wife’s death in 1919. His only living child Robert C Harrison died in 1923. After these sad milestones, “Uncle Bob” went to live in the North Carolina Soldiers Home in Raleigh. He was admitted for residency on February 3, 1926.

    North Carolina Old Soldiers’ Home

    Photo courtesy of North Carolina Archives and History

    He lived out his remaining days there, and he retained his genial nature to the end. He traveled across the south east attending Confederate Veterans conferences as far away as Biloxi, MS and Dallas, TX. He also stayed active while a resident at the Home and was known for selling North Carolina factory made socks in Raleigh, including at “State College”, now North Carolina State University. These two articles points out his enthusiasm for and pleasure in making sales, just as in “Uncle Bob’s” shop keeping days!


    Because he was one of its oldest relatives near the end of the facility’s life (the home closed 1938), he was celebrated on his 85th birthday along with two 90 year old veterans. Here are photos of Robert J Harrison, one taken in earlier days and one taken in 1928 of the three “birthday boys”! At age 85, Mr Harrison was a little grayer but still recognizable.



    Robert Johnson Harrison died at the North Carolina Soldiers’ Home on February 8, 1933 and is buried in historic Hillcrest Cemetery in Cary near the son who predeceased him.


    Before Harrison’s death in 1933, the Cary Masonic Lodge built its new building on the site of Uncle Bob’s Corner. A newspaper article from 1931 detailing the laying of the cornerstone for the new building mentioned that it was being “built on the ground where the home of R J Harrison formerly stood.” The article doesn’t make clear if the Harrisons had lived above the café/store or in a separate house on the site, but it does give a description of the new brick building:


    Over the years, the property changed hands several times, eventually being purchased by Henry R Adams of Cary. Mr Adams was the son of J P H Adams and Cora Reavis Adams, long time citizens of Cary. He was educated at Cary Elementary School and Trinity Park School in Durham. Henry's sister, who owned a drug store in Durham, is said to have influenced his decision to study pharmacy. He studied in Massachusetts, and when he returned to Cary, he bought property on the southwest corner of Academy and Chatham to open his drug store. The drug store continued to be a local hang-out and source of employment for Cary High School students just as in Uncle Bob’s day. When Ralph Ashworth purchased the store in the late 1950s, he retained the soda fountain, which continues today to offer a walk down memory lane to a simpler time and place.

    An added note: February 25, 2021

    In reviewing the "Cary's 100th Anniversary" booklet today, I ran across this anecdote from Russell O Heater, who described Uncle Bob's Corner this way: "a rather tall building which was the usual type of soft drink joint and operated by old Uncle Bob Harrison - Mr. R J Harrison of the former Harrison Wagon Company. He operated this for a long time and it was the hang-out for the Cary High School boys who came down to the "pop joint" for their cold drinks... potted meat and crackers that came out of a barrel." This anecdote adds another level of detail that brings Uncle Bob's historic corner alive!

    From the Friends of the Page Walker Hillcrest Cemetery Walking Tour brochure: "Russell O. Heater (Jan. 20, 1895-Jan. 10, 1971) was one of Cary’s earliest and most prolific developers, building Sunset Hills, Veteran Hills and Russell Hills. Known as “Mr. Cary”, he also started Heater Drilling Company, the Cary Recreation Corporation (now the Cary Swim Club) and served on the Cary Town Council and Wake County Commission. He was a leader in the Methodist Church, Boy Scouts and the Masonic Lodge. He tended Hillcrest cemetery for 25 years." Mr Heater knew firsthand the fun to be had in Uncle Bob's Corner.


    Photo credits:

    1. Photograph of Uncle Bob’s Corner – 1917 CHSite yearbook

    2. Tribute to Robert J Harrison – 1917 CHSite yearbook

    3. Photograph of North Carolina Old Soldiers’ Home courtesy of North Carolina Archives and History

    4. Newspaper clipping #1 of Robert J Harrison as sock salesman from The News and Observer, Tuesday, June 26, 1928

    5. Newspaper clipping #2 of Robert J Harrison as sock salesman from The News and Observer, Sunday, February 12, 1928

    6. Photograph of Robert J Harrison taken from the publication “Cary’s 100th Anniversary”, official publication of the Cary Area Centennial Corporation, May 1971

    7. Photograph of Robert J Harrison at age 85 from The News and Observer, Sunday, January 15, 1928

    8. Photograph of Robert J Harrison grave marker – author’s own

    9. Newspaper clipping of Masonic Lodge from The News and Observer, Wednesday, July 22, 1931


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