The Ivey-Ellington House, a 1 1/2- story cottage with pointed arch windows and a green, steeply pitched roofline, has overlooked West Chatham Street since the Town of Cary was incorporated in the early 1870s.
But within the next few years it could be moved – possibly just a few feet away or even around the corner on South Academy Street – to accommodate a new, larger development downtown.
In April, a $51 million joint investment from Northwoods Associates LLC and the Town of Cary was announced on that block. If approved by the Town Council, it would bring a 55,000- to 75,000-square-foot retail and office building, 188 apartments and a parking deck to the corner of Harrison Avenue and West Chatham Street.
Some council members and local historians have expressed concern that the plan would force the Ivey-Ellington House to be rotated 90 degrees and pushed back against Ashworth Village, partially hidden by Elizabeth’s Home and Garden Shop.
The historic house is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the few surviving examples of the Gothic Revival style in Wake County and the country. There are worries that the National Register designation could be jeopardized if the house is moved from its original location.
“I love architecture and that it is such an unusual building in the nation,” Cary resident Anne Kratzer said. “It’s almost like having just a classic car that you want to show off.”
Jordan Gussenhoven, a partner with Northwoods Associates, said he hopes the project, which is a long time in the making, stimulates downtown Cary revitalization. He said the company looks forward to working with the town and First Baptist Church on South Academy Street to meet the goals of all parties involved.
“One of the unique aspects of redevelopment in a downtown is the blending of the old and the new,” he said in an email. “We are fortunate to have such an architecturally significant historical home in downtown Cary in the Ivey-Ellington House, and we feel strongly that it should be restored and activated.”
Kratzer, along with Cary residents Brent Miller and Leesa Brinkley, are members of the Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel Board of Directors, a group devoted to preserving and promoting Cary’s history.
“Historic preservation has always looked at moving as a last resort, and it’s much preferred to try to integrate new development around historic structures,” Miller said.
Gussenhoven said while an option has been proposed to relocate the house on the site and incorporate it into the project, other options could be considered.
“We would also support its relocation to another significant site within downtown if the council and staff feel that will better showcase the architecture of the home,” he said.
Brinkley added that many Cary residents have created memories at the Ivey-Ellington House.
“There’s definitely some public love for that building,” she said. “I think the building – there’s a lot of mystery about it.”
History of the Ivey-Ellington
Contrary to a common belief, the Ivey-Ellington House was never a church.
Early deeds indicated the house likely was built in 1874, but scarce and conflicting records and accounts make it difficult to determine the Ivey-Ellington’s first owners, according to the application submitted to add the home to the National Register of Historic Places.
It may have been built by John Ellington, a business associate of Cary’s founder Frank Page. It also could have been constructed by Alonzo Stanley Crocker, a woodworker and craftsman at the time, according the application and family members.
The Ivey-Ellington’s first residents, however, were Thaddeus Ivey; his wife, Mary Esther Downes Ivey; and their children. They settled in Cary in the early 1890s and lived in the house on West Chatham Street until 1898.
During that time, the yard of the Ivey-Ellington was used as a campsite for cattle drivers moving from Chatham County to Raleigh.
“They parked out there in front of our house on Chatham Street,” said Esther Ivey, the daughter of Thaddeus and Mary Ivey, in a 1985 interview with Cary historian Peggy Van Scoyoc. “They would bring their cattle in to water at our well.” Van Scoyoc writes a monthly column on Cary history for The Cary News.
The house was sold in 1898 and changed hands a few times before it was sold to J. Harrison Ellington and his family around 1918. It was later purchased by H.H. Waddell and his wife in 1946 after Ellington’s death.
Waddell was a prominent figure in Cary in the early 20th century. He was appointed as Cary’s first fire chief in 1923 and served as the mayor of Cary from 1929 to 1933.
The Waddells expanded the house, adding the kitchen in the early 1950s. It was operated as a rental property from the late 1960s until the late 1990s. The house sat vacant for many years until Waddell’s son-in-law, Jefferson Sugg, restored it, adding a small room and modern bathroom.
The Town of Cary acquired the house in 2011 as part of its downtown restoration. The Ivey-Ellington’s lawn now is often used for downtown events, including the Cary Downtown Farmers Market and Live at Lunch concert series.
Today, the building remains vacant. While paint is peeling off the building’s green roof, the interior yellow walls and hardwood floors are much cleaner and fresher. But the back room, which is used as storage for the Cary Downtown Farmers Market, has dirt ground into its carpet, and the bathrooms don’t look functional.
At a recent meeting, the Cary Town Council discussed moving the house and placing it along a similar streetscape – such as South Academy Street.
But during that discussion, councilman Ed Yerha said he would prefer the building didn’t move at all. “The lawn is part of the history of the house,” he said.
He explained that in addition to Ivey-Ellington being a cattle stop, the lawn also was a place where horses would graze when their owners would stop off at a nearby business – Harrison Wagon Company – in the late 1800s.
Kratzer agrees with Yerha.
“I would be very disappointed if it were hidden behind Elizabeth’s,” Kratzer said. “It needs to be on the streetscape so that we can all celebrate it.”
Kratzer emphasized that while the Friends of the Page-Walker don’t want the house to move, they also don’t want to impede progress in downtown Cary.
“If there’s a community that can embrace both its history and new development, it’s Cary,” she said. “We’re just asking that the development be done in a sensitive way to the historic area.”
Moving a historic house
Several historic homes, including the Mayton House and the Waldo Rood House, have been moved in downtown Cary in recent years. But this would be the first time a house to be moved is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
If the Ivey-Ellington does need to move, the town will need to work with the N.C. Historic Preservation Office to obtain preliminary approval of the new location so the house will retain its spot on the list.
Ann Swallow, the National Register coordinator with the N.C. Historic Preservation Office, said it’s possible for the Ivey-Ellington to retain its designation if it is moved to a nearby and comparable site because it was placed on the National Register for its architectural significance not its location.
But if the Ivey-Ellington House were to stay on its nearly 150-year spot, Kratzer said, the Friends of the Page-Walker would like to turn it into a town welcome center.
“It could be looked at as kind of a gateway to the new development and the revitalized downtown Cary,” Kratzer said.
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608, @KTrogdon
Want to learn more about the Ivey-Ellington? Join the Friends of Page-Walker at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 24, to learn the status and significance of many of Cary’s historic properties at “What have we got to lose? - Friends of the Page-Walker annual survey of historic properties.” The tour starts at the Page-Walker Arts & History Center, 119 Ambassador Loop, Cary.