Cary News

Wake County’s only historic henhouse hides in Cary

Ninety years before young professionals here demanded poultry-keeping rights, a downtown chicken coop funded a local leader’s nascent career.

You can still see John Hunter’s handiwork. It survived the decades and became Wake County’s only historic-designated henhouse, recognized by national and regional registers for its longevity.

The 16-by-40-foot shed “is probably the last thing you would expect to find in downtown Cary,” where chickens are now largely forbidden, said Gary Roth, director of Capital Area Preservation.

But it wasn’t so unusual around 1920, when Hunter aspired to become one of the town’s few doctors. The descendant of Isaac Hunter, owner of Raleigh’s famous 18th-century tavern, needed money to pay his school bills.

“One of the ways that he afforded med school was to sell chicken eggs,” said John Mitchell, who restored Hunter’s brick bungalow at 311 S. Academy St. Mitchell bought the house and coop in 1991, and in 2008 had the Wake County Historic Preservation Commission designate them as landmarks. The house also joined Cary’s historic district in 2001.

Mitchell doesn’t know how many chickens Hunter kept, but he definitely broke the six-hen limit the town is now considering.

“He had quite a little chicken business going on in the back,” said Cary historian Peggy Van Scoyoc.

Proceeds from the henhouse launched a 39-year medical career, and Hunter would later serve on the Cary Town Council, the Wake County Board of Education, and as president of the Cary Chamber of Commerce.

The coop, meanwhile, became a clubhouse for Hunter’s son, Jackie, then a ping-pong room for Mitchell’s bachelor pad in the 1990s. The heart-of-pine structure isn’t in the best shape, but Mitchell is considering building an eatery in the space.

“I’ve always thought it would be a great place to sell snow cones out of, the Cary Chicken Coop Cafe,” he said.

The house, built around 1925, and the coop are considered landmarks, meaning local rules forbid destruction or excessive modification of the structures.

That designation may save the aging henhouse from a coming change. The town of Cary is plotting a park that would cover a block-wide swath around the coop, but current plans spare the house, a neighboring home and the coop.

And if the town changes its poultry ordinances this summer, the hens could come home to roost.