Our journey to remember events of the past thirty years that shaped the Page-Walker Arts and History Center resumes as we recall the organizational meeting of the Cary Historical Society in October, 1974, and the subsequent cataloguing of early education records. As a fledgling organization with no members who had extensive experience in historic preservation, the Cary Historical Society was extremely fortunate to have had access to the resources of the Department of Cultural Resources and its Division of Archives and History in Raleigh. The “movers and shakers” of the Historic Sites Division, Al Honeycutt and Sam Townsend, were extremely supportive, even presenting a program at our organizational meeting.
During the following ten years that led to the Page-Walker effort, the Cary Historical Society, with the guidance and support of Al, Sam and other professionals, accomplished many of its goals and the effects can be seen today. The Society:
- Enlisted noted preservationist Catherine Bishir to conduct an inventory of historic structures in Cary. This inventory became a tool to identify the important architectural structures within the Town limits. Catherine advised us to “lie down in front of a bulldozer” for the Lane-Bennett Place(1774), Nancy Jones House (ca. 1803), Walker Hotel (1868), Capt. Harrison P. Guess House (earliest section ca. 1830’s), Ivey-Ellington-Waddell House (ca. 1870’s) and the Wiley Jones House (ca. 1900). The inventory also provided the historic references for Cary’s first walking tour brochure that the Society published. Of the twenty-five notable structures listed in the brochure, eighteen still stand today. The information from the Society’s walking tour brochure has been an invaluable resource for subsequent brochures developed by the Town of Cary and Capital Area Preservation.
- Worked with Preservation NC, under the inspired direction of Myrick Howard; the Division of Archives and History; and the owners of the Nancy Jones House, the Walker Hotel and the Lane-Bennett Place to assure the nomination of the historic buildings in the National Register of Historic Places. This effort helped to encourage the preservation of these structures by raising community awareness of their architectural and historical significance. Phyllis Tuttle continued this effort by spearheading the initiative with Capital Area Preservation to designate the downtown Cary area as an historic district.
- Urged the Cary Town Council to preserve the Page Smokehouse (ca 1840), located on the property of the then-newly-built Town Hall. The smokehouse was the only structure that remained on the Page estate after the homestead burned in 1970. The Society, under the direction of Mrs. Rachel Dunham and the Town of Cary’s Horticultural Department, planted an educational herb garden around the structure. Society members hoped that the more that was planted, the safer the structure would be! In 1991, the smokehouse and gardens were moved about one hundred yards east to the grounds of the Page-Walker, where they remain today.
- Helped negotiate the sale and relocation of the Lane-Bennett Place when all options to preserve it on its original site failed. The Lane-Bennett Place, the second oldest structure in Wake County, sat at the junction of US 1 & 64 at the proposed entrance of a new commercial development, Regency Park. Jeff Sugg, owner of the site, sold the 1775 building to Ruth Little Stokes for one dollar. Ms. Stokes moved the building to Ebenezer Church Road in Raleigh, where it today is being used as a private residence.
- Began an oral history collection, recording the memories of Cary’s native citizens. Peggy Van Scoyoc, current Board member and President of the Friends, has more than quadrupled the original collection and deposited the tapes in the Southern Oral History Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill for protection.
- Developed a tape/slide presentation of Cary’s history that was shared with local clubs and civic groups to educate newcomers about Cary’s rich heritage. This presentation was the precursor to the recently published study guide, “Cary-On”, developed by the Friends of the Page-Walker and the Town of Cary.
Placing these accomplishments in historical perspective, it is easy to see that one of the most significant contributions of the Cary Historical Society was to increase community awareness. The Society helped Cary residents, whether native or new, to become aware of our Town’s rich heritage and the importance of maintaining and creating tangible reminders of our history.
Growth has been phenomenal since the late ‘60’s, and we were in danger of losing touch with our past. The Society introduced the concept of historic preservation to the Town and provided opportunities for those of us who had no experience in historic preservation to identify knowledgeable professionals who could inform and guide Town leaders as they struggled to maintain a sense of community amid rapid growth.These early collaborative efforts proved invaluable as we embarked on the most challenging effort of all – the restoration of the Page-Walker.