If these Walls Could Talk

A sampling of The historic homes of Western Wake 

Think about all the stories your house could tell, if its walls could talk: The antics of your children, special overnight guests, family dinners around the table.

The old homes you’ll read about here have stories to tell too, of days in Western Wake’s history that were much different than ours, and yet in many ways the same.

Each home designated as a Wake County Landmark — there are more than 130 county landmarks — and is significant to our history as a community.

Each has been called home.

The Pugh House
103 Page St., Morrisville

Built: Circa 1870

Style: I-house with Italianate-influenced porches

Notable features: Bargeboards, or trim along the gables used to hide rafter ends, with fleur de lis motifs; sawnwork ornamentation; Italianate round arched glass panels in front door

First residents: Town merchant James Monroe Pugh and his daughter, noted artist Sarah Mabel Pugh

Fun fact: Pugh purchased the home’s lot in 1867 for $167.

Designations: National Register of Historic Places; Wake County Historical Landmark

Earned: Capital Area Preservation Inc.’s 2013 Anthemion Award for exterior rehabilitation.

He was a smart businessman, that James Monroe Pugh.

In post-Civil War Morrisville, after serving as an enlisted soldier in the 1st North Carolina Calvary, Pugh became one of the first Wake County merchants to take advantage of a new law allowing shopkeepers to sell to farmers on credit, then collect on accounts when their crops were sold.

Pugh also built a post office on his home’s lot, and served as town postmaster.

Also noteworthy is his daughter, Mabel, a pioneer in the arts world for women, who maintained a studio at the house from 1923-58 and served as head of the art department at Peace College.

“The house was originally on the southeast corner of Morrisville Carpenter Road and N.C. 54,” said Brad West, long-range planner for the Town of Morrisville, which acquired the house in 2007. “But in 2008, the house was relocated to save it from demolition after N.C. DOT deemed it necessary for a road improvement project.”

More than 100 spectators watched as the house was lifted, taken 200 yards across the railroad crossing to its current home at 103 Page St., and rotated 180 degrees. Also making the move was the home’ original 1880s smokehouse.

“The town made extensive exterior renovations to the house, restoring the original wood siding and repainting the house and smokehouse with original colors found inside the roof,” West said. “The windows were re-glazed and sealed using much of the original glass. Both porches were rebuilt using most of the original wood, and a new metal roof was added to match the original.”

While no official town plans are in place for the Pugh House, and interior renovations still need to be done, options could include converting it into an event space, museum or town offices.

James Madison Williams House
4525 Green Level West Road, Apex

Built: 1907-09

Style: Late Queen Anne farmhouse

Notable features: Hexagonal-roof turret; fish scale shingles; three tall corbelled brick interior chimneys; original staircase with turned balusters

First residents: James Madison “Jim Mack” and De’Etta Williams and family

Fun fact: The house is constructed primarily of heart pine taken from the property.

Designations: Wake County Landmark, Apex Historic Landmark

Cheers to the Williams family, for keeping their home in the family generation after generation, even as Western Wake grows up around them.

Back in the 1880s, James Madison “Jim Mack” Williams was among farmers who fled to the more fertile soils of Wake County to escape a tobacco blight in Chatham County. Here, bright leaf tobacco thrived and brought in nearly three times as much cash as other crops.

Williams built much of this house himself over a span of almost three years, with the help of local carpenters.

“It’s all built with timber off of this land,” said Eliza Currin Williams, who moved into the home in January 1988 with her husband, the late James Macon Williams, grandson of Jim Mack. “That timber was carried by wagon to Morrisville, by train to Durham, cut and sent back.”

Her favorite parts of the home are its long wraparound porch, featuring Tuscan columns, and the “dome on top” of its multi-story tower.

Mackie Williams Lambert, sister-in-law to Eliza, remembers many family reunions held at the farmhouse, and climbing the stairs inside as a child.

“It was kind of creepy going up those stairs, all that dark wood and it closed in all the way up,” she said. “Now it’s got spindles.”

The last tobacco crop here was farmed in 1997, but the Williams family isn’t going anywhere: Eliza says her son, James “Jimmy” Williams Jr., is next in line to live here.

Leslie-Alford-Mims House
100 Avent Ferry Road, Holly Springs

Built: 1840; additions in late 19th century and in the 1940s by the Alford and Mims families

Style: Greek Revival

Notable features: Original flooring; columns supporting first and second stories; magnolia trees on property

First residents: Archibald and Isabel Leslie

Fun fact: A secret passage is the only access to a three-bedroom, third story apartment.

Designations: National Register of Historic Places; Wake County Landmark; Holly Springs Town Landmark

Scottish tailor Archibald Leslie built the Leslie-Alford-Mims House for his bride, Isabelle Rogers, whose carved initials you can still see here.

Isabelle was so beloved by all, the story goes, that the family’s slaves hid her valuables on the property as Union troops advanced in 1865, then helped her tend the Union soldiers who commandeered the house for two long weeks, in hopes it would be spared from burning.

It worked, but to this day those valuables have never been found.

After the Civil War, George Benton Alford bought the house, moved his mercantile business to town, and launched an economic revival.

He doubled the home’s floor space, adding a second floor, a widow’s walk, and a ballroom for the fancy parties he favored.

He also erected a monument to Wake County Confederate veterans that still stands on the property.

The house passed to Alford’s grandson, Edwin Mims, then in 2014 opened as the Leslie-Alford-Mims House wedding venue, named among the world’s 100 Hottest New Hotel & Venue Openings by Venue Report.

“I love this house so much, its character and Southern hospitality, and the magnolia trees,” said Brooke Everhart, who operates the venue with Priscilla Erwin. “I love standing in the space and thinking of the orchestra playing, of all the parties that have happened here.”

The partners spent a year working to bring the house back to life, uncovering its original wooden floors and molding details.

Erwin’s favorite part of the home is the oversized porte cochere, which welcomed four carriages at a time in Alford’s day, and is now often used as a dance floor.

“We appreciate the history of the house, and wanted to add a modern spin,” Everhart said. “There is love in all aspects of this home. Archibald built it in the name of love.”

James Beale Johnson House
6321 Johnson Pond Road, Fuquay-Varina

Built: 1904-06

Style: Neo-Classical

Notable features: Doric portico, grand central hallways on the first and second floors, 11-foot ceilings, and pocket doors

First resident: James Beale Johnson, a descendant of the Joel Lane family of Raleigh
Fun fact: N.C. Gov. Charles B. Aycock often stayed at the house and enjoyed fishing and hunting on the land; Johnson introduced fox hunting to the area.

Designations: National Register of Historic Places, Wake County Historic Landmark
For sale: As of print date, this home is for sale.

James Beale Johnson was quite the tycoon at the beginning of the 20th century, involved in tobacco, lumber, turpentine production, investments and banking.

His home was designed by prominent Raleigh architect Charles Pearson, and at age 34 Johnson and his wife, Della, moved into the house mortgage-free.

But as the years and occupants came and went, the home fell into disrepair.

“My parents, Mr. and Mrs. Linwood E. Turner, bought the James Beale Johnson House and land historically associated with the house in September 1965 at public auction,” said the home’s current owner, Daniel Turner.

“At that time the general attitude toward historic structures was to tear them down. Little thought was given to saving the historic houses within urban revitalization. My father, who was in the vanguard of historic preservation, did not want to see the house demolished.”

The elder Turner was a recognized craftsman who spent five years tackling the restoration of the house, returning it to its former glory.

“My parents loved the house and spent the remainder of their lives keeping the house as pristine as possible,” Turner said. He’s worked to continue that legacy.

His favorite feature of the home is, “The main staircase that rises a full three stories and is embellished with handmade solid walnut stair rails and volutes. Many a bride and homecoming queen have had their photographs taken on the stairs.”

Now Turner says it’s time to pass along the home to someone new.

“Anyone who understands the love of historic houses also understands that you are merely the caretaker of the property until it is time to turn the responsibility over to the next generation. That time has come,” he said. “The new caretakers will come to love the house and strive to do the same as my family has done for 51 years.”

Ivey-Ellington House
135 W. Chatham St., Cary

Built: Circa 1870

Style: Gothic Revival

Notable features: Pointed-arch windows, steeply pitched roof, vertical board and batten siding, T-plan layout with a center hall opening to identical parlors

First residents: Thaddeus and Mary Downes Ivey and family

Fun fact: Steep gables under the sloped roof drew warm air up and away from the living spaces.

Designations: National Register of Historic Places, Wake County Landmark

Debate: Whether to re-orient or move the house to make way for downtown mixed-use development; local historic preservationists want the home integrated into development plans, and perhaps converted to a town welcome center

Rumor has it that the front yard of the Ivey-Ellington House served as a campsite for cattle drivers in the 1890s, on the move from Chatham County to Raleigh.

Known for sure is that huge trees in its yard, and its original porch, were lost to Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

The house was built for $300 by Alonzo Crocker, about a year before Cary was incorporated as a town and the same year The Cary Academy private boarding school opened. That school later became Cary High.

Home features like the Ivey-Ellington’s decorative trim were not common in rural parts of Wake County until a decade after this house was built, and were considered tangible signs of economic recovery from the Civil War.

“The pointed arch windows are one of the most distinctive features of the house,” said architectural historian Heather Wagner Slane, in her application for National Register of Historic Places designation on behalf of the home.

“The wood windows, in a ten-over-six configuration, have a fixed pentagonal upper sash that gives the window its pointed arch,” she explained, noting that the second-floor gabled dormers boast matching windows.

The house is designated as a rare local example of Gothic Revival architecture, a style centered on family life.

Thaddeus Ivey worked as an assistant to the state treasurer in Raleigh while his family lived in Cary, taking the train into the city. After the Iveys left the home in 1898 it saw a succession of owners, including the J. Harrison Ellington family, from 1918 to 1946.

Cary’s first fire chief, H.H. Waddell, then owned the Ivey-Ellington House, and it’s even been used as a rental property.

Now owned by the Town of Cary, the lawn of the home hosts Cary’s Live at Lunch concerts, the Cary Downtown Farmers Market, and other public events.

For the Record

Information from Western Wake towns; Capital Area Preservation, capitalareapreservation.com; N.C. State Historic Preservation Office, hpo.ncdcr.gov; U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, nps.gov; N.C. State University Libraries, d.lib.ncsu.edu, Alford American Family Association, alfordassociation.org; and Leslie-Alford-Mims House, mimshousenc.com.

Special thanks to President and CEO Gary G. Roth of Capital Area Preservation Inc., and Tom Hawkins of RE/MAX Advantage Realty.


  • Kelli says:

    The Pugh House
    I would love to live in this house! Should be reenactments. I would be glad to help with that!

  • Thank you for this article! I enjoyed reading it. I work for Brooke and Priscilla who restored the Leslie-Alford-Mims House and now operate it as a wedding venue.

  • Jennifer Morton says:

    “Isabelle was so beloved by all, the story goes, that the family’s slaves hid her valuables on the property as Union troops advanced in 1865, then helped her tend the Union soldiers who commandeered the house for two long weeks, in hopes it would be spared from burning.” is an absolutely disgusting passage, and everyone involved in its publication should be ashamed. I lived in Holly Springs my whole life, and I would never be proud of a history of subjugating human beings to one of the worst crimes in human history.

    There is no such thing as love between the enslaved and enslavers. When we talk about how some slaveowners were especially brutal, it is just that, *especially*. There is no way to own human beings and it not be a horrific, monstrous deed. Gratefullness–if there actually was any–that one is not experiencing the worst version of enslavement does not love make. Actions to prevent one’s own further suffering does not love make. This article may be 5 years old, but it is 151 years too recent to think this framing is anything but disgusting.

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