History of the Town of Cary
In the pre-colonial period, the earliest known inhabitants of the area that is now Cary were Tuscarora Native Americans. In the 1750s, white settlers and explorers came to this area and in 1760, John Bradford opened an “Ordinary,” or inn, so the first name of the place we now know as Cary was “Bradford’s Ordinary.”
Around the time of the Revolutionary War, Nathaniel Jones of Crabtree owned most of the land that’s now western Cary, and Nathaniel Jones of White Plains owned most of the land that’s now eastern Cary. It was hard to keep up with the Joneses at that time!
In the first half of the 19th century, Eli Yates arrived and his family operated sawmills and gristmills. Rufus Jones started the community’s first free school and the first church, Asbury Methodist, was established near what is now Trinity Road and East Chatham Street.
Although settlers had lived in the area for over a hundred years, the beginnings of the town are traced to 1854 with the arrival of Allison Francis (Frank) Page and the state‑owned North Carolina Railroad (the northernmost track). An astute business entrepreneur, lumberman, contractor and miller, Page purchased 300 acres of land for $2000 and built a homestead, a sawmill, a post office, a dry goods store and a hotel near the railroad. A second railroad, the Chatham, reached the town in 1868.
Thanks to the leadership of Frank Page, Cary was incorporated in 1871. Page served as Cary's first Mayor and postmaster. The town was named after Samuel Fenton Cary, a temperance leader and Union general from Ohio. Because of Page's opposition to whiskey, the town was incorporated as a "dry" community and remained so for the next one hundred years. Another example of Page's belief in the temperance movement is that in 1890, he constructed the dignified Park Hotel in Raleigh (demolished, 1975) "because he wanted to see in the Capital of his State a first class Hotel without a saloon."
Page and his wife, Catherine Raboteau from Cumberland County, raised eight children in a house that was located on the site of the present Town Hall. The home burned in 1970. The Page children, five boys and three girls, became prominent in North Carolina government, transportation, banking and business.
Walter Hines Page, Cary's most distinguished citizen, was born in the Page home in 1855. He founded The State Chronicle which was the forerunner to The News and Observer, was editor of The Forum and The Atlantic Monthly, and joined Frank Doubleday to establish the publishing firm of Doubleday, Page and Co. In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Page as Ambassador to Great Britain. Page was very influential in convincing the U.S. to join the war on the side of the Allies. Page was also a staunch proponent of practically oriented education for everyone and was a leader in the establishment of the school known today as N.C. State University. Says one of his biographers, "No other man has seen so clearly or stated so forcibly and directly the significance of universal education in the South in establishing a democratic society."
The Page family moved to Aberdeen in 1881 where Page built the Aberdeen and Asheboro Railroad, the longest and most profitable in North Carolina. Frank Page died in Raleigh in 1899 and is buried in Aberdeen.
- Listen to tales of Cary's past. Our oral histories bring you the recorded voices of many present and past Cary residents, some who remember seeing Civil War veterans walking the streets of Cary!
- Delve deeper into Cary history with publications developed and sponsored by the Friends.
- Schedule a speaking engagement. A knowledgeable Friend can speak to your group about a variety of educational and entertaining topics.
- View our collection of Preservation Speaker Series videos, brought to you by experts in their field and citizens of Cary young and young at heart.