Nazareth: Orphans, Ghosts and a Saint

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Students prepare for a bus trip from the Nazareth Catholic Orphanage, 1931. Click for a larger version. Image courtesy the NC Division of Archives and History.

On May 3, 1900, Sister Mary Agnes Price became the postmaster of the newest post office in the Raleigh area.  The post office was called “Nazareth,” named for the Catholic orphanage located near Bilyeu Street and Western Boulevard.  Sister Mary Agnes’ brother, Father Thomas Frederick Price, founded the orphanage two years earlier.

Thomas Frederick Price was the first native North Carolinian to be ordained a Catholic priest in 1886.  As a priest, he was known to be energetic and full of zeal, even continuing his sermon and cracking jokes after being pelted with vegetables.  It was Father Price’s idea to start an orphanage and seminary, and he was granted permission by Bishop Haid, the Vicar of the Apostolic Church of North Carolina.

The Nazareth Orphanage started to shelter Catholic and Protestant boys in 1898, and the seminary followed 1902.  Boys at the Nazareth Orphanage worked on the 600 acres farming, bookbinding and publishing.  Father Thomas Price published two Catholic magazines from the orphanage, Truth and Our Lady’s Orphan Boy.  It was the large volume of mail generated by those magazines that necessitated the opening of a new post office.

Nazareth Orphanage was the home to as may as 100 children at a time, and eventually accepted girls as well.  Local Raleigh businesses and residents donated items like food and books to help the orphanage.  At the Nazareth seminary, students came from across the U.S. to study to become Catholic home missionaries in the “Regina Apostolorum” building.

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A child prays at his bed in the orphanage, 1931. Click for a larger version. Image courtesy the NC Division of Archives and History.

Nazareth experienced several fires, starting in 1905, that led to gruesome ghost stories that persist even today.  Legend has it that the orphanage burned to the ground, taking the lives of many innocent children with it.  If you go there at night, you will hear the screams of children and smell smoke in the air.  That road is now referred to as “Cry Baby Lane”.

What happened, in fact, is that a fire in 1905 consumed the priest’s living quarters.  One priest was crippled after jumping from a third story window to escape the flames, and another, John Gladdish, was killed in the same manner after helping a number of his fellow priests to safety.

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The orphanage school's athletic group. Image courtesy the NC Division of Archives and History.

A fire in 1912 burned the stables, but no one was injured.  A 1961 fire, started by a priest who was attempting to burn wasps’ nests, burned the rectory to the ground, but again, no one was injured.

Father Price left Nazareth in 1911 to begin an international mission, and died suddenly in China in 1919 after his appendix burst.  That year, Catholic supporters began to call for his canonization, an effort that continues to this day.

Nazareth began to sell off some of its 600 acres, donating a portion of land where the original orphanage had stood to Cardinal Gibbons High School in 1962.  This private Catholic high school was one of the first institutions in the nation to integrate in 1953, a year before the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. In 1975, the remaining orphanage building became the home of Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, and it is still standing today.

Despite the ghostly legends, my favorite story about Nazareth Orphanage comes from one of its young residents in the 1950s.  Harry Stewart recalled yearly trips to Morehead City during summers at the orphanage.  Since they had to milk cows everyday, they took the cows with them on the train.  The orphans led about 10 cows from a spot near what is now Mission Valley through Raleigh to the train depot at the corner of Jones and West Streets.

18 thoughts on “Nazareth: Orphans, Ghosts and a Saint

  1. kate- just want to correct one little thing. harry stewart was not a resident of nazareth in the 1950s but, i believe, in the 1930s. (he was in his 30s and early 40s in the 1950s.) -one of harry’s grandchildren

  2. Right, Harry Stewart was there in the 1920’s and early 30’s. He met his wife, Teresa, there and they still are living together in a condo here in Raleigh and are in their 90’s. Teresa tells a story of when she was a little girl of another small girl being terribly burned after falling in a bonfire. She still thinks of this tragedy to this day. The girl was sent to a hospital in Greensboro where she died. The memory was firmly etched in the children’s memories as they prayed for little girl to get well every day. She believes the girl was buried somewhere near the orphanage, but after some research with the Catholic diocese office (across the street from the old orphanage location), we believe the grave-site was moved a long time ago. The old orphanage was located on what is now Centennial Blvd on the Centennial Campus at NC State, where I work. I have walked the site several times and some of the rubble is still around. -(daughter-in-law of Harry)

  3. The legend of ‘crybaby lane’ was the first local legend I heard upon moving here. The only person I knew in the area at the time shared the story with me only days after arrival. I must have spent weeks aimlessly wandering the grounds around Dorothea Dix trying to find remnants of this place. Not believing in the paranormal I wasn’t looking for ghosts, but I was interested in finding a set of ruins with a dramatic story tied to them.

    Gail – can you give me specifics on the location of the rubble still left behind? I’d like to actually find what I started out looking for more than five years ago. Thanks for sharing your story, and thanks Kate for posting this.

  4. I too, remember hearing the stories about Crybaby Lane years ago. In the ’70s a group of friends and I would go up there to get ‘spooked’ for fun. The buildings had been abandoned for years by that time. The complex of castleated buildings was an urban explorer’s dream, and I spent a lot of time up there by myself exploring them from top to bottom. NC State acquired the orphanage property from the RC Diocese of Raleigh in the early 1980s and annexed it to Centennial Campus.

    John, the area looks very different now, and one can hardly tell where the old buildings once stood. If you were to turn off Western Blvd onto Nazareth St, straight ahead at the end of the street is where the main building shown above once stood. There’s a huge electric power tower now occupying the site. I’ve been up there once or twice in the past 20 years, and other than a few bricks and some broken concrete pavement, there’s not much left of Crybaby Lane. And I still didn’t hear any children wailing– only the rush of cars gspeeding by on Centennial Blvd.

  5. I cried when I found this article. My mother lived at Nazareth from age 7 (1930) to age 12 (1935). She had never talked about it much but for some reason today she started telling me stories. She is 85. Two of her older sisters and two brothers also lived there. Although she did not know that the brothers were there until much later when they were adults. My mother’s brothers and sisters father had died and her mother remarried my mother’ father. He died when she was very young. When the depression came along her mother could no longer keep the children because she had to work as a live-in maid or nurse. She knew the Mother Superior and she agreed to take in the children and give them room and board but my grandmother had to supply them with clothes. My mother hated it. She said the nuns were mean and they were not allowed to talk except for 15 minutes during the day or on the playground. One year her mother worked very hard to buy her a coat. It was blue and my mother loved it. One of the nuns took it away from her telling her that it was too good for her. She said it hung in a closet for years. She never told her mother because she knew how hard her mother had worked for it. My mother is a beautiful woman who spent much of her time volunteering. It wasn’t until she started telling me the stories that I realized that I could research it on the Internet. This is the first article I found. I wonder if one of the boys in the group photo could have been one of my mother’s brother.

  6. It may be noted that the Father Price Council held its meeting , days of recollection, degree, including the third, at a
    suite of rooms donated to the council for the good works we did for the orphanage. Glad to hear Harry is still around, he

  7. John Morris and Raleigh Boy,

    The main building ran east to west with its northernmost wall within one hundred feet of where Centennial Blvd meets Nazareth Street. I think that if you take Oval Drive off of Centennial Drive onto campus you actually drive over the foundation to the eastern wing of the main building and have been meaning to compare the old property map with the current campus map, but keep forgetting to do so. Some of the foundation used to be visible from Oval Drive (on the western side).

    My Great Aunt is a Sister who worked there for several years before it was closed and my Grandfather, her brother, tells many stories of playing with the boys at the orphanage, roaming around the 600 acre property which had a lake and many wooded areas, and bringing food from the family farm into Raleigh to give to the residents there.

  8. Since my journey to discover my mother’s past, she’s told me many other stories about Nazareth. Mother’s maiden name is Theresa Speaks. The little girl that died after being burned from the bonfire was a friend of hers. She said that the fire was a trash fire that the kitchen used to burn trash. THey would pick the tin cans out of the fire. THen they would follow behind the corn wagon and pick up the kernels that had fallen on the ground and try to pop them over the trash fire in their tin cans. The little girl that died was stooped down by the fire and her dress caught on fire. She started to run. All of the children were screaming to her to stop and get on the ground but she kept running. The hospital in Raleigh wouldn’t take her because the nuns had no money to pay so they had to drive her in a car to Greensboro. She was there about a week before she died. It haunted my mother because the little girl had such pretty eyes. Mother had told her she had ‘angel eyes’. In searching Ancestry.com I found, in the 1930 census records a list of the children there at the time. It included my aunts Eunice and Grace McDermon. My mother was not at Nazareth yet. She didn’t go there until Sept 7, 1930, her 7th birthday.

  9. Another story my mother told me left an indelible mark at Nazareth. She said she was always kind of sickly as a child and didn’t like to go outside to play. So on Saturdays while everyone else was out playing she sat in the hall and polished everyone’s shoes. One day after getting bored with the task at hand she decided to write her name in the hallway……in shoe polish. And it wasn’t in small letters it was BIG.

  10. “The Gallagher Girls”, my mother (Mary Frances Gallagher) and her sister (Lib Gallagher) lived at Nazareth from 1932 to 1942. Their memories are very happy and they are grateful they were raised by the Sisters of Mercy of Belmont, NC in that environment. They felt they had a wonderful education and felt secure and loved. All the nuns were special to them. Also remember Floyd and Jesse Pope, cooks at Nazareth and “Aunt Liza” who worked in the laundry, who were dear people in their lives.
    Mary Frances Gallagher Donahoe lives at 333 Willow Vista Dr., Saginaw, TX 76109 and Elizabeth Gallagher Hodgin lives at 3230 Pinecroft Ct., Greensboro, NC 27407.

  11. Tom D.
    Glad to see the posted comments. My brother and I were at Nazareth from 1954 to 1962. I remember the graveyard and its general location. I have come to the site since the buildings were torn down and the original driveway was there several years ago. Is it Nazareth Street the comes off Western Blvd right at WRAL TV station and goes straight to where the main drive was. The main drive curved and ended near a magnolia tree. I have some pictures from those years mostly black and white and I recently found at book on Raleigh history that has an aerial shot of all of the buildings.
    I remeber Floyd and Jesse as cooks and one of them ran the laundry.

  12. When I was growing up my parish priest was Fr. Raymond Donahue down at St. Therese in Wrightsville Beach, NC. I remember him telling me a story about the time he burned down the orphanage (or the rectory part of it to be more specific.) He was evidently trying to get rid of wasps by using a burning kerosene rag on the end of a long stick called a “pope’s pole.” He asked the fire chief if he was liable for the accident, to which the fire chief responded “We can’t arrest you for stupidity.” I guess he wasn’t exaggerating and the story was true! Let it be known that although his judgment was questionable in this incident, he was a wonderful priest.

    http://www.northcarolinaghosts.com/piedmont/crybabylane.php

  13. Five of my brothers and sisters and I were there from 1967 – 1971. It was in the new building across the street. I often wonder what became of the children that we shared the home with. There were the Callahans, the Preetys, Eddie and Virginia Poot, Chris Bologa and of course Sister Mary David and Sister Demomfort (called Sister De-monster) and the wonderful Sister Mary Hughes. Then there are ones that I only remember their first names like Joanne. She was in charge of caring for my sister and myself. She was the last orphan while we were there. We were her flower girls when she married. I would love to connect with anyone that was there during that time. Is anyone aware of a registry or group some that we can contact. These were our family members for so long. My email is indyliman@gmail.com.

  14. the best of my childhood were at Nazereth. Sr. DeMonfort was in charge of the grade school boys dorm and she was strict, but we were a handful to say the least :} We would raid the bakerey truck and stampede hogs at a neighboring farm. We would go over the TV station to get matches from the cigarette machine to make little fires and cook our lunchtime bologna, One of these time the field burned up cause we had an underground fort with a chimney. We lived in the old buildings but I did visit the new one on the way to Ft. Bragg for basic training after leaving Boys Town, a real miserable excuse for child care with all the problems you hear about these days. my e-mail is jon49417@hotmail.com

  15. I have so much enjoyed reading your stories on here that I have actually cried! My best friend and I used to spend alot of time at the old orphanage (the remaining building left standing in the 70’s) while it was abandoned and thought it was so beautiful. It was a very special place for us. We would walk all through it and talk about how beautiful and special a place it must had been in its day.
    When it was demolished sometime in late 70’s or 80’s we were heartbroken. (and still are today!) We still go out there and walk around and remember.
    Unfortunately, we never took pictures and we are so disappointed that we didn’t! So I was wondering if anyone here has any pictures and if so, would you mind sharing them with me? I would be so grateful I can’t even describe how happy it would make me (and my best friend!).

    Thank you!
    Ghostland52@nc.rr.com

  16. I was living at the orphanage in the late 50’s and early 60’s. I was the youngest of three children in my family. We came to the orphanage after our mother dies in 1956. My dad could not support us due to bad farm years and knew my mom wanted a good education for us also. He never knew about the ‘things’ that happened to us during that time. Sister Mary Regis was mother superior at that time and Father Raymond Donahue was the priest. We were there when the rectory burined down. Floyd and Jesse were the cookes. Floyd used to sneak me poached eggs and toast up to the little girls dorm when I got sick at the table. That happened often.( these were the good moments) My sister Regina was the oldest and my brother Mike in the middle. Daddy would bring strawberries to us during the spring. I remember coming up to Raleigh the day they dedicated the New orphanage( Now the Tammy LYnn Center). I was amazed that there were only 4 beds in a room. We Had open dorms at the old building and at least 24 beds per dorm. I would like to know what happened to some of the picture books that were printed during that time that had all of us in it.

  17. My father John W Gregory was there with 2 or 3 of his brothers from about 1928 and stayed till graduation I went to Our Lady Of Lourdes catholic school from about 1958 through 8th grade some of the nazareth kids actually came to lourdes to school my father died 2005 i am finding a very few people that went there that are alive