THE WAKE COUNTY
First 30 Years
With plans to
organize a Wake County Historical society, the Bloomsbury Chapter of
the Daughters of the American Revolution sponsored a meeting of all
interested persons. The meeting was held in the ballroom of the
Governor’s Mansion on Monday evening, November 19, 1956. The
evening’s proceedings were launched by Mrs. Vance Jerome, Regent of
the Chapter. A. L. Purrington, Jr., served as Temporary Chairman and
Mrs. Margaret H. Seawell was Temporary Secretary. Governor Luther
Hodges and Dr. Leslie Campbell, a leader in organizing the Harnett
County society, extended greetings to the group. Mr. D.L. Corbitt of
the State Literary and Historical Association spoke on the
importance and function of a historical society.
later, on Tuesday, April 9, 1957, an organizational meeting of the
society convened in the auditorium of the Department of Archives and
History, located at that time in the Education Building. William A.
Parker was elected president at the meeting. Other officers elected
were: Dr. C. C. Crittenden, Vice President, Mrs. H. B. Norris,
Secretary, and Richard Seawell, Treasurer. Members of the executive
committee were named as follows: Mrs. R. N. Simms, Mrs. J. M.
Broughton, Miss Elizabeth W. Thompson, Mrs. Vance Jerome, A. L.
Purrington, Jr., Mrs. Edith Earnshaw of Wake Forest, Mrs. H. Sprague
Silver, Judge William T. Hatch, and John Burke O’Donnell. Major
William Oliver Smith was elected Chairman of the nominating
committee. The constitution and by-laws proposed by John H.
Anderson, chairman of a committee for that purpose, were approved.
Mrs. Earl T. Wilborn was named Membership Chairman. Many of the
charter members were descendents of Wake County’s early families. In
1958 each charter member was presented with an attractive
certificate by Mrs. Bruce R. Carter, Secretary.
formative years, the society’s meetings, scheduled twice a year,
generally featured outstanding speakers who discussed some aspect of
local history; some memorable speakers were Jonathan Daniels, Herb
O’Keef and Richard Walser. As the membership increased, meetings
were held more frequently and the scope of activities expanded. In
1964 the society’s first newsletter was published with Mrs.
Elizabeth Reid Murray serving as editor for five years. Over the
years, the newsletter provided members with historical news, a
calendar of events, and historical sketches by researcher-writers
from the membership: Grady L. E. Carroll, Dr. Thornton W. Mitchell,
Beth Crabtree, Vance E. Swift, and Elizabeth E. Norris among others.
of the society have included tours of structures of historical and
architectural significance in the county’s principle communities,
and historical tours of towns of interest. Local walking tours have
been conducted by a number of the membership among these being the
City Cemetery Walking Tour conducted on Labor Day for the past
several years by Mrs. Betsy Johnson Shaw.
Law Office, ca. 1810, a Raleigh historic structure, was saved from
demolition through the efforts of society member Beth Crabtree. It
was eventually relocated on Mordecai Square and preserved by a joint
project with contributions totaling over $50,000. The Wake County
Bar Association contributed approximately two-thirds of the total
amount. The Wake County Historical Society raised some $2400 at an
auction held at Mordecai Square to help purchase furnishings.
projects of the society have included the publication of a
historical map of Wake County, and the acquisition of a showcase for
the lobby of the Wake County Courthouse to display historical
articles. Plaques have been placed honoring James Robertson,
pre-Revolutionary hero, Jacob Marling, artist, Governor Abner Nash,
and Attorney General Alfred Moore; also, Hephzibah Baptist Church, a
county landmark, and the area of the first Wake County Courthouse.
monuments were placed at two unmarked graves of historical
significance. The marking of the grave of Governor David Stone
(1770-1818) located near Knightdale, North Carolina, was a joint
project with Historic Hope Foundation coordinated by Mrs. Martha G.
Robinson. Extensive research was made by Vance E. Swift of Governor
Stone’s Wake County plantation known as “Restdale”.
Oakwood Cemetery, restoration was made of the monument of Rachel
Blythe Bauer and the placing of a monument at the unmarked grave of
her husband, Adolphus Gustavus Bauer. An architect of exceptional
ability, Bauer is best remembered locally for his work on the
Governor’s Mansion. Research for the project was made by Dr. Carmine
A. Priolo of North Carolina State University, and William B. Bushong,
sponsored the publication of the Raleigh pictorial history “City of
Oaks” authored by James Vickers, and published by Windsor
Publications, Inc. of Woodland Hills, California. The narrative was
highlighted with outstanding pictures researched by Jan-Michael Poff.
The project was chaired by Mrs. Joan Pennell, a past president of
Board and annual
meetings have continued to be held in local landmarks and places of
historical interest. It is hoped that before the next decade passes,
a suitable place will be acquired for our society’s records and
Anniversary of the society was celebrated in the beautiful Alumnae
House on the campus of Meredith College. For the occasion, Mrs.
Elizabeth Chamblee served as chairman of the Committee on
Anniversary Chairman is Mrs. Brenda M. Jordan. The anniversary year
began with a festive Opening Reception of City Market on October 24,
1986. During Culture Week on November 7 and 8, 1986, the Wake County
Historical Society received the Albert Ray Newsome Award presented
by the Federation of North Carolina Historical Societies. The award
was accepted on behalf of the society by President Davyd Foard Hood.
The Newsome Award is given to historical organizations in North
Carolina that conduct the most outstanding programs fostering
greater awareness of interest in local and community history.
A new logo for
the use of the society was designed this past year by Steve Ater, a
professor of Visual Design at North Carolina State University.
The society is
indebted to our presidents for the leadership they have provided
over the years. They have been William A. Parker, John R. Jordan,
Dr. A. M. Fountain, Sr., D. L. Corbitt, Richard O. Gamble, Charles
R. Holloman, T. Harry Gatton, Dr. Thornton W. Mitchell, Ben F.
Williams, William A. Creech, Mrs. Anne Bilisoly, J. Bourke Bilisoly,
Richard L. Rice, Mrs. Betty Silver Howison, Hardy D. Berry, Carl L.
Holleman, Mrs. Joan Pennell, Wallace G. Johnson, and Mrs. Martha G.
Robinson. The president during the 30th anniversary was Davyd
Anniversary Historian, 1977, 1987
(Written May 1987)
The Wake County
Historical Society celebrated its 30th Anniversary in
1987 with various events. The 30th Anniversary Party was
held at the City Market. During the party the lights went out, but
the event continued with the aid of candles. The group continued its
celebration with a dance at the Capital City Club. Lieutenant
Governor Robert Jordan made the keynote address.
The Wake County
Historical Society adopted its current symbol at its 30th
Anniversary Meeting. The symbol chosen represents the 3 aspects of
Wake County—Historic Buildings like the State Capitol; an open book
for universities, research, and records; and trees that are found
throughout Wake County.
The Wake County
Historical Society continued as a driving force for historic
preservation in Wake County. One of the first major projects was
Yates Mill. Mabel Dorsey was our President (1988-1990). Mabel
recognized the terrible condition of Yates Mill and made restoration
of the mill a project for our society. She assembled a group of
concerned citizens, and they made plans for how to raise money for
this group until such time as they incorporated and obtained their
tax exempt status. Eventually, a new group was formed to save the
mill. It took from 1989 to 2006 for this dream to come true. Many
WCHS members worked long hours to accomplish this.
In 1991 Mabel
Dorsey suggested that the Wake County Historical Society start
preservation efforts to save the historic L.L. Polk House. WCHS
members Mabel Dorsey and Tom Norris met with North Carolina State
University Chancellor Larry Monteith and Agricultural Commissioner
Jim Graham to obtain their support to start an organization to save
this house. This started as a WCHS project with Mabel Dorsey, Tom
Norris, Barbara Massenburg, Tom Jordan, and others working to gather
the necessary support and funds to save this house. Once again, a
separate group was soon formed to accomplish this. After many long
years of work, the restored home of Colonel L.L. Polk, is on Blount
Street in Raleigh. Once again one of our projects led to the
restoration of an historic property.
leadership of Barbara Massenburg (1990-1992) Oak View farm began its
transformation from being a run down farm house to becoming the
historical and educational park it is today. Without the efforts on
the part of the Society, this beautiful park may never have been
realized. The county bought the land for an office park in 1982.
They built several county buildings; however, they left the house
vacant. The Wake County Historical Society took the lead in
informing the Wake County Commissioners about the unusual historical
and architectural value of the house and plank kitchen. They
convinced the Commissioners to restore the house and out buildings,
and the rest is history. Again, this restoration started as a
project of the Wake County Historical Society. Members Barbara
Massenburg, Earl Droessler, and many others worked hard to make this
In 1991 the
North Carolina Society of Historians recognized the “County Courier”
with its Award of Special Merit. The editor at the time was Ellen
Beidler. Also in 1991, the Wake County Historical Society presented
the State Capitol with two authentic reproductions of 1840 chairs
for the State House and Senate. The chairs replaced two original
chairs that were going to the Museum of History.
experienced great pleasure with the completion and publication of
Kelly Lally’s Raleigh’s Comprehensive Architectural Survey: 1992
Architectural Survey of Raleigh, North Carolina. The Society had
been behind Kelly the entire time: from Kelly’s first survey to the
last. When the idea of putting her findings in a book was broached,
WCHS promised her and the County, who was financing the project,
that WCHS would help in the marketing of the book. The Society
fulfilled its pledge and experienced great pride when the book won
the best Architectural Book for the year. It was during this time
the Society had Theo Davis Printers of Zebulon reprint maps of Wake
Bates Sherwood’s presidency (1992-1994), the presentation of the
President’s Cup was established. Dr. and Mrs. Earl Droessler were
the energy behind the presenting of this award to the WCHS member
demonstrating outstanding service to the Society. The award is
presented biannually at the annual banquet. Past President Mabel
Dorsey was the first year’s recipient of the Cup. Other winners have
been Barbara Massenburg, Earl Droessler, Henri Dawkins, Elizabeth
Stoker, Tom Norris, Ray Hinnant, and Anne DeMasi.
Ray Hinnant served as WCHS President. During his term of office, the
Society completed a project suggested by Elizabeth Norris that the
WCHS place new grave markers for two daughters of Joel Lane. The
grave markers of Martha Lane McKethan Brickell (1778-1852) and
Grizelle Lane Ryan (1793-1868) had disappeared from the Raleigh City
Cemetery. The Society replaced these markers in 2000.
The WCHS was
very supportive of efforts to assist the DuBois School in Wake
Forest. After an article on Rosenwald Schools appeared in the
Historical Literary Magazine, the author of the article
presented a program to the Society. The group restoring the DuBois
School was trying to get on the National Register, but raising money
proved difficult. The Wake County Historical Society provided major
funding to help with the research and application process. They also
contributed one fourth of the amount to pay for a new granite sign
in front of the school. Former WCHS President Frank Drake
(2000-2002) presided over the ceremony when the stone sign was
concerns of the Society have been the saving and relocation of the
historic chapel of the Church of The Good Shepherd on Raleigh’s
Hillsborough Street and the turning of the Dorothea Dix Hospital
campus into an inner-city park, and restoring some of the tombstones
in the Raleigh City Cemetery. The Society prides itself in offering
support to many worthy causes such as these.
The Wake County
Historical Society usually has about six to seven programs a year.
The various topics have included a slide presentation on lost
buildings in Raleigh, what happened to the Fresnel Lens at the Cape
Hatteras Lighthouse, private cemeteries, visiting the Manassa Thomas
Pope house, hearings a history of Christ Church at Christ Church,
what it means to be southern, ghosts at Mordecai House, and on and
on. Each program has had excellent speakers that educated as well as
entertained the attendees. The Society has also taken many trips to
destinations like Edenton, Danville, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Washington
D.CV., and many more.
This has been a
society that did things. We have had projects that evolved into
separate groups that formed to save historic buildings. We have had
smaller projects to place historic signs where historic event took
place. We support groups and causes to preserve history and our
culture. We provide programs for our members. We provide trips to
historic places for our members. We are an active historical society
that strives to make a difference.
The Wake County
Historical Society is now preparing for its 50th
Anniversary. This is quite an achievement for a historical group to
last this long. They must be doing something right.