Warm Memories, New Dreams
The community’s response to the Page-Walker exceeded our expectations. The Cary Town Council, Town staff, business and community leaders and the press were amazed at the citizen response to the opening of the first floor of the Page-Walker. It was as though a lake had been discovered in the middle of a desert. During the first three years, thousands of people took part in art shows, performances, lectures and classes. Brides and grooms formed lines at five in the morning to reserve the building for their big event. One of the programs that the Friends initiated continues today: the expansive north lawn just beckoned performances and in 1993, Phyllis Tuttle and Judy Rysdon organized the first annual Starlight Concert Series. It was an instant success with more than 300 citizens enjoying each of the four monthly concerts. For the first several years, performers were paid only with contributions garnered from passing a hat! The Page-Walker was certainly meeting a perceived community need.
Witnessing the excitement generated by the Page-Walker and related arts and history celebrations, the Cary Town Council led the effort to design a strategic arts program with long-range goals to increase opportunities in arts & history, thus enhancing quality of life in the burgeoning Cary community. As a strategic planning culmination, the Town hired consultant Danielle Withrow in 1993 to complete a cultural arts plan for Cary. Part of her recommendation was to
Photo © by Craig Zeni. Used with permission. See more of Craig's
photos at http://www.trainweb.org/zeniphotos/zenihome.html
complete the Page-Walker and hire an arts programmer for the center. The Town accepted her recommendations and included funds to complete the building in its FY 1994 budget, making it necessary to close the facility for the first half of 1994. The Town also received a grant from United Arts to hire an arts programmer for the Page-Walker, and in the fall of 1994, Robbie Stone was hired as the first Page-Walker supervisor. We were jubilant!
As the restoration project drew to a successful completion, we recognized that there was no way that our dreams for the Page-Walker could have been realized without the support and partnership of the Cary Town Council and Town staff throughout the ten-year effort. To salute our partners, the Friends hosted an elegant reception in November 1994 at the Page-Walker for Mayor Koka Booth, Mayor Pro-Tem Regina McLaurin and Council members Bob Godbold, Tom Brooks, Melba Sparrow, Richard Burton and Jack Smith. Town Manager Bill Coleman and Wayne Mingis were also recognized. We thanked them for their tremendous support over the years. The Page-Walker effort is a shining example of the phrase, “It takes a village…”
And finally, it was time for the grand opening to introduce the fully completed and operational Page-Walker Arts & History Center to the world! On another beautiful star-filled evening on December 4, 1995, the Friends and Town hosted the official dedication of the entire facility. The dedication followed the holiday tree lighting, and Larry Speakman again directed the Cary Concert Singers and White Plains Brass Ensemble on the front porch. Artwork was hung throughout the building, and on each floor, live music was performed. A special model train exhibit by the Falls of the Neuse Train Club filled the third floor and was a magnet for young and old alike. Torrey McLean arranged to have Civil War artifacts on display in the “Museum” room. The response of the hundreds in attendance was overwhelmingly positive. The Page-Walker was welcomed as a vibrant part of the community! It was a very special and emotional evening for the Friends as we celebrated the Page-Walker and embraced the future.
In 1994, the Friends also began working on their “history and education” goals for the Page-Walker. The first thrust was to form a Cary Museum Committee. The Town Council had given permission to use the small west room on the third floor of the Page-Walker for a museum, as the Town was counting on most of the floor space in the center to generate income. Members interviewed several design firms and selected A. Brothers & Associates. Museum Committee members met monthly for five years and were so pleased with the degree of cooperation of Al Brothers and his staff as we developed our plans! Exhibits were constructed to reflect the educational, political, social and economic influences on Cary. Cary residents were eager to donate memorabilia for the Museum. Miss Elva Templeton, who died in April 1993, included in her will several historical artifacts for the Page-Walker and evolving museum, notably a marble top table, glass cabinet, dolls, carriage and her father’s medical chest and instruments. Tom Byrd, author of Around and About Cary, was one of our most faithful members and an invaluable resource, not only for his knowledge, but also for his financial support.
In January 1995, a new edition of the book was printed. Tom, with illustrator Jerry Miller, offered the marketing rights for 2900 books and resulting profits to benefit the Museum. Book signings became an invaluable fundraiser. Sheila and Carroll Ogle hosted 500 visitors to their home for a book signing, and Daphne Ashworth continued her support by making the books available at her Hallmark stores. Thanks to Tom and Jerry and our many community friends, we raised the needed funds for the Museum, now called the Cary Heritage Museum.
To introduce this new treasure in the “attic,” the Friends partnered with the Town’s Cultural Arts Department under the creative expertise of director, Lyman Collins, and Page-Walker supervisor, Sara Maultsby. The dedication of the Cary Heritage Museum was part of a larger and engaging Town celebration entitled Cary Heritage Days, which took part on the weekend of May 19 – 20, 2000. The community turned out in droves to participate in the many programs that filled the weekend. The Town held a special ceremony to recognize descendants of the early founding families. Many of these families provided early artifacts for a special Cary heritage display on the third floor. On the Page-Walker grounds, exhibits included the “heritage” crafts of pottery, blacksmithing, weaving, rug hooking and woodcarving. A giant loom was erected on the second floor of the Page-Walker and visitors were encouraged to become part of an old fashioned “quilting bee.” Civil War and Revolutionary War reenactments took place on the grounds, and children and their parents delighted in the pony and carriage rides. Musicians played the American Square piano that is on permanent display in the Page-Walker, and music filled the center. To raise awareness of the historical significance of the downtown, special signs were posted in front of heritage buildings and trees. Twenty-five trading cards were printed representing the sites, and downtown merchants gave them to citizens who visited their stores. The names of those who collected all the cards were placed in a hat on Heritage Day and winners received a special prize. It was a wonderfully engaging weekend, immersing all in Cary’s rich history!
The second part of the “history and education” component was the creation of the Page Educational Gardens. We had a great acronym for the garden program: R.O.O.T. (Remembering Our Origins Today). When the Page smokehouse was moved in 1991 from its original location, one hundred yards west, the Town, at the request of the Friends, appropriated funds to restore the building. Town Horticulturalist Shaub Dunkley worked closely with the Friends and community volunteers to create raised beds around the smokehouse for culinary, medicinal, industrial and ornamental herbs. The gardens were formally dedicated in 1995 and have served as an educational vehicle to share the knowledge and lore of past generations. The Friends continue to provide funds for the plant materials and volunteers who design, plant, and maintain the gardens. The Page Educational Gardens are a stunning haven!
v v v
In conclusion, I’ve appreciated the invitation by editor Brent Miller to share my memories of the restoration efforts of the Page-Walker. We’ve come a long way from placing a tarp over the roof for water damage control and boarding the first floor windows to prevent further vandalism. And the pigeons have found another place, in another town, to roost. Thanks to the vision and involvement of the Board of the Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel, the active participation of our membership and friends, and the leadership of the Cary Town Council and staff, we can truly feel proud of our accomplishments. As I mentioned in my final article as editor of The Innkeeper in the spring of 1995, I shall always be indebted to the Board for suspending the bylaws for term of office and giving me the honor to be President for the first ten years. As all of us have said through challenging as well as celebration times, the friends we made in reaching our goals are just as much a treasure as the building itself. And so it will be in the future as we continue to be community leaders in preservation, arts, history and education.