Historic Webbley

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Historic Webbley
The O. Max Gardner House
Shelby, North Carolina
1852
Historic Webbley
Webbley, the historic home located at 403 S.
Washington Street in Shelby, North Carolina, is
at the center of local social and political history
and is one of the most architecturally
distinguished buildings in the area. It is best
Plaque Affixed to Webbley
known today as the home of prominent former
North Carolina Governor O. Max Gardner, but the property’s roots in
Shelby history reach back even further. James Love donated 147 acres to
form the Town of Shelby in 1841, and the town was incorporated in 1843.
The two-story house that forms the core of Webbley was constructed just
nine years later, on the plot labeled 19 on the original plat of Shelby.
Webbley is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Women’s Parlour
The House
Attorney Augustus W. Burton purchased
the lot in 1850, and in 1852 built the first
house on the property. The two-story
Italianate house faced South Washington
Street. The original house was overbuilt in
1907, but some vestiges of the original
structure and design remain visible.
The 1907 renovation included the addition of twin parlors at the front of
the house, the three-bay front with fluted columns and two front bedrooms
with adjoining baths on the
second level. The side porch
with the porte-cochere attached
was also added at that time. The
main roof is accented by gabled
attic dormers centered on its
west and north slopes, and the
Porte Cochere
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fluted columns support a full-height, flat-roof portico.
Columns & Portico
Although some of the 1852 woodwork
remains, the majority of the interior is
finished in the Colonial Revival manner,
including molded Victorian cornices and high
molded baseboards throughout the first level.
Five matching brass chandeliers hang
throughout the formal areas of the main level.
In many areas of the house, the personal
touches of Fay Webb Gardner can still be
seen, including hand-painted dining room
wallpaper that she selected on a trip to
Europe and the lavender and yellow décor in
the upper bath, which she copied from the
Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.
The Grounds
Although the property was divided in 1905,
the peaceful, ornate Webbley grounds remain
laden with history. The tiny cottage known as
The Doll House served as slave quarters
before the civil war and was converted to
sharecropper lodgings in the 1860s. At one
time, there were approximately twenty of
these small cottages on the land.
The existing carriage house was constructed
in 1917, in the early years of then-future
Governor Gardner’s residence at Webbley,
and the rose garden has been restored to its 1930s
appearance.
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Carriage House
Webbley History
The property, including the original house,
changed hands several times between its
construction in 1852 and 1905. In September of
1905, the property was subdivided into smaller
lots, and the lot including the home was sold to
attorney J.A. Anthony and his wife, the former
Olive “Ollie” Gardner. Anthony was himself a
prominent Shelby attorney, and in 1907 formed
a partnership with his brother-in-law, O. Max
Gardner.
Governor Gardner Breaks Ground
The same year, Anthony undertook the
at Civil War Memorial
extensive renovations that would overbuild and
change the style of the entire existing home. After completing the
renovations, Anthony sold the house to Judge James L. Webb. Several
members of Judge Webb’s extended family moved into the house,
including his daughter, Fay Webb Gardner, Fay's husband, O. Max Gardner
and the couple's children.
Judge Webb’s father, the Reverend George Milton Webb, also lived with the
family from 1911 to 1917. Reverend
Webb was a noted Baptist minister who
served more than 40 churches during
his ministry; his father, James Milton
Webb, was the first pastor of Shelby’s
historic First Baptist Church.
In addition to his 20 years on the
Superior Court bench, Judge Webb
served as District Attorney for 12 years. Upon his death in 1930, the house
passed to Fay Webb Gardner and her sister, Madge. The sisters lived in the
house until their deaths, Madge in 1953 and Fay in 1969.
Fay Webb Gardner Bedroom
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On Fay’s death, her son Ralph Webb
Gardner received a life estate in the
property, with the remainder to a
real estate holding company Fay had
formed during her lifetime.
Although the holding company was
formed to allow easier management
of her real estate holdings, it caused
O. Max Gardner Bedroom
unexpected complications. By the
time of Ralph’s death in 1982, corporate stock was so widely dispersed that
it was difficult to reach a consensus.
Immediately after Ralph’s death, O. Max Gardner III, grandson of
Governor O. Max Gardner, set out to purchase the property and keep it in
the family. Gardner’s father, O. Max Gardner, Jr., had been born in the
house in 1922 and Gardner himself had lived there with his parents in the
early 1950s. Because of the complications with the corporation, it took
seven years to complete the purchase. On July 7, 1989, Gardner purchased
the home and three adjacent vacant lots. Soon thereafter, he and his wife,
Victoria Harwell-Gardner, reopened the historic building as a bed and
breakfast known as The Inn at Webbley.
Politics
Webbley is commonly known today as “O. Max Gardner House”, since
prominent North Carolina Governor Oliver Max Gardner called it home
from 1911 until 1947. Although Gardner spent time in both the Governor's
mansion and in Washington, D.C., he always considered Webbley home.
His widow, Fay Webb Gardner, returned to Webbley after his death and
lived the remainder of her life in the house.
In addition to serving as North Carolina Governor from 1929 to 1933,
Gardner served as a state senator (1912-1916), Lieutenant Governor
(1916-1920), Chairman of the Board of War Mobilization (1943-1945) and
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Undersecretary of the
U.S. Treasury
(1946-1947). He was
appointed U.S.
Ambassador to England
in 1947, but passed away
before assuming the post.
Gardner, along with his
father-in-law Judge
James L. Webb, E.Y.
Webb and Clyde R. Hoey,
Governors O. Max Gardner & Clyde R. Hoey
formed the core of the
group of powerful men who became known as the “Shelby Dynasty”.
Their influence during difficult and changing times, including the
Depression era, helped to shape state and national policies that still have an
impact today.
Judge Webb’s younger brother, E.Y. Webb, began his political career in the
North Carolina General Assembly and then
served as U.S. Congressman from North
Carolina’s Ninth District for 26 years. He
served as Chairman of the Judiciary
Committee, introduced the bill to charter the
Boy Scouts of America, and promoted food
and drug regulation. In 1919, he was
appointed to the federal bench by President
Woodrow Wilson, and served in that
capacity for an additional 28 years. Webb’s
home at 331 South Washington Street was
then adjacent to the Webbley property.
Judge E.Y. Webb
Clyde R. Hoey succeeded E.Y. Webb as
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Congressman for the Ninth District, then followed in the footsteps of
Governor Gardner, serving one term as North Carolina Governor before
winning election to the U.S. Senate, where he served from 1945 to 1954.
Fay Webb Gardner, Governor Gardner’s wife and the daughter of Judge
James L. Webb, was herself a noted figure in Democratic national politics,
and her support was instrumental in the growth of Gardner-Webb
University in nearby Boiling Springs.
In addition to its distinguished residents, Webbley was visited by a number
of prominent politicians over the years, including: every Governor of North
Carolina from 1900 to 2000; Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S.
Truman; numerous members of the United States Senate, the United States
House of Representatives and members of numerous Presidential
Administrations.
O. Max Gardner III, who purchased the
property in 1989 following the death of his
uncle Ralph Webb Gardner, is himself a
noted political figure. Although he has
devoted his career primarily to the practice
of consumer law, he clerked for William H.
Bobbitt, late Chief Justice of the North
Carolina Supreme Court, served as
treasurer for J. McNeil Smith’s 1978 U.S.
Senate campaign and served as General
Counsel to North Carolina’s Democratic
Party from 1986 to 1992. During the same
time period, Gardner built a
groundbreaking law practice in which he
O. Max Gardner III
represented the 650 employees of Shelby
Yarn in the first-ever successful attempt by employees to force an insolvent
company into bankruptcy and developed a system for using the
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bankruptcy courts to fight predatory lending that has garnered him
national news coverage and made him a legend among consumer lawyers
across the country.
Arts and Literature
Webbley’s long and distinguished history as home
base to some of Shelby’s and the state’s most
influential politicians isn’t the home’s only claim to
fame. Webbley served as the inspiration for Shelby
native Thomas Dixon’s 1905 novel, The Clansman.
Ten years later, the home served as a real-life model
for D.W. Griffith’s classic film, The Birth of a Nation,
based on the novel.
In later years, when O. Max Gardner III and his wife were operating the
Inn at Webbley, guests included Whitney Houston, Dionne Warwick, Cissy
Houston, Joe Paterno, Kevin Costner and numerous local and regional
celebrities.
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