Barry Saunders

Saunders: A buried find offers a glimpse of the past

As a preservationist and historian, Janie Fetner Gosney would have been impressed with the discovery Meredith Hefner made last week.

Gosney, who served on the first board of the N.C. Society for the Preservation of Antiquities, might have even invited Hefner in for some lemonade and finger sandwiches, because – its lack of historical significance notwithstanding – the find at least would’ve made it easier for Gosney to drive.

What Hefner found in her first week as a Raleigh resident was Gosney’s wallet with her driver’s license, insurance policy number and her Ivey’s credit card.

You dedicated shoppers know that Ivey’s no longer exists. The department store that was popular throughout the South was bought out in 1990, which was two years after Gosney died – in 1988 – at age 88.

“I went out for a walk with my dog,” exploring her new neighborhood, Hefner told me, “and he started investigating something. Something else caught my attention. ... It was a leather wallet” that contained Gosney’s stuff.

‘Didn’t have to dig’

“I didn’t have to dig,” Hefner said. “I gently picked it up, because it was just lying there” under a light layer of dirt.

Hefner, a chef, is a Winston-Salem native who moved to Raleigh last week from West Virginia.

Considering the wallet’s condition and its undisturbed contents, she thinks it had lain where it was found for decades.

Even though the wallet was not found on her street, Hefner realized the address on the license was three doors down from her recently purchased home on The Circle Drive.

From the wallet’s contents, we know only that Gosney was born March 17, 1900, had her license renewed in 1978 and had good taste in clothes, since Ivey’s was considered a high-end store specializing in tasteful raiments.

Pictures of her in the book “A Lasting Gift of Heritage,” a history of the Society for the Preservation of Antiquities, confirm that suspicion.

In the book, written by Davis Louis Sterrett Brook, we learn that she was the first secretary-treasurer for the SPA and led the first statewide tours of historic homes and gardens across the state in 1938.

When I spoke with Brook on Monday, he said Gosney and other SPA members were “motivated people who loved their state and wanted to preserve its significant architectural heritage.

“They felt North Carolina had fallen behind Virginia and South Carolina” in terms of its preservation efforts and “were tired of being the valley of humility between two mountains of conceit.”

Despite the title of secretary-treasurer, it is clear from Brook’s book that Gosney was the de facto head of the SPA.

‘Done by some woman’

In the book, Brook published this letter, written in May 1939 by Christopher Crittenden, director of the N.C. Historical Commission, stating that “the Society ... should be headed by a man, but most of the actual work of organization should be done by some woman, who will be called Executive Vice-President, or something of the sort.”

Yikes!

“That,” Brook said, “was reflective of the times. If he were alive today, he wouldn’t be making that statement.”

At the least, he wouldn’t be putting it in writing.

Brook, who published “A Lasting Gift of Heritage” in 1997, said he regrets that he wasn’t far enough along in its research to talk to Gosney. “It was my understanding that she and her husband” – a former Wake County state representative, Charles A. Gosney – “didn’t have any children. Losing her wallet and driver’s license at that age probably threw her for a tizzy, sort of like a building being torn down.”

I hope the discovery will help her rest easy, the way she would have after, perhaps, rescuing a doomed building.

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