Webbley, more commonly known today as the O. Max Gardner House, was the home of one of North Carolina’s most prominent 20th-century public leaders. A key figure of the State’s famous “Shelby Dynasty,” Oliver Max Gardner enjoyed a distinguished career that included service as State senator, lieutenant governor and governor from 1929 to 1933.
August W Burton
Cleveland County was created on January 11, 1841 from Lincoln and Rutherford Counties with the County seat being Shelby and the story of Webbley begins with attorney and Freemason Lodge Master 1 Augustus W. Burton 2 soon after. He and his wife, Julia L. Olmsted built the two-story house facing south Washington Street—the original core of the current house—in 1852.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, it interrupted the life of Shelby and Cleveland County 3 with many of the local men serving in the Confederate forces. Burton raised Company E, 12th Regiment of NC Troops on April 22, 1861 4 and they fought in many major conflicts including Chancellorsville, Gaines Mill, Sotsylvania, Malvern Hill, and Gettysburg.
Burton lost everything during the war and presumably Webbley. A.R. Homesley, the first Clerk of Court of Cleveland County, somehow obtained the property which deed referred to it as the “A.W. Burton property” at some time during the war. R. M. Roark acquired the property in 1863 and was put out by the Union troops in 1865. He stopped making his payments and then filed the bankruptcy in the Caper Fear District in 1868.
Adelaide Alice Williams Eddins McAfee
The property was then sold at auction by the U.S. Government in 1869 and the highest bidder was Thomas Dixon. Dixon was the father of the famous writer of “The Mind of the South” and the brother-in-law of Adelaide Alice Williams Eddins McAfee 5. Dixon then deeded the property on April 1 to Mrs. McAfee for the $1,002.00 in consideration. The property included 7.5 acres on the East side of South Washington Street between the Rudisill and Andrews properties and ran deep to Flat Rock Creek.
Mrs. McAfee then moved into the house with her then husband, Col. Leroy (Lee) M. McAfee 6 and her daughter, Minnie Eddins. The McAfee’s only child had died during birth.
Mrs. Adelaide McAfee’s daughter, who had changed her name form Mary Adelaide to Minnie McAfee Eddins to include her step-father’s name, graduated from the Raleigh Female Seminary and 1872 and became a voice teacher at the Shelby Female Academy and was known throughout the state as the “Mockingbird of North Carolina.”
On December 22, 1874, Minnie Eddins married William Joshua (Josh) Roberts, whose family were landowners of property situated between Shelby and Kings Mountain. The couple lived in the Webbley with Mrs. McAfee until her death on November 18, 1888 and continued to live in the house after her death. During their marriage, their three sons were born in the Webbley: William Joshua Roberts, Jr., born September 13, 1875; James Eddies Roberts, born February 25, 1885; and George William Roberts, born in 1890. Josh Roberts, Jr., married Frances Eskridge was the grandfather of Adelaide Austell Craver. James married Luna Roberts and George married Edna Cabe and they moved to Florida.
Minnie Eddins Roberts died in the Webbley on August 12, 1892, at the age of 37 from Typhoid fever. She left her husband a life estate in the Webbley with the remainder to her three sons.
Josh Roberts married Mamie Logan after Minnie’s death and they resided in the Webbley where the following children were born: Catherine Roberts, September 26, 1895 (married William J. Arey); Ben Roberts, born 1898 (married Katherine Borders); John Roberts, born in 1900 but died in 1901; Robert Roberts, born in 1903 and killed in World War I.
Their last children, Saran Roberts, was born on July 24, 1905 and married C.C. Horn, Mary Roberts from 1907 and married Hubert Whisnant, and Ruth Roberts, born in 1911, were all three born after the couple moved out of the Webbley and back to the Roberts Farm.
On Jun 17, 1905, William Joshua Roberts and William Joshua Roberts, Jr, for himself and for his minor brothers, deeded the Webbley to H. I. Washburn, who the same hear deeded the Webbley to Clyde R. Hoey (Governor and US Senator to be). Also, in 1905, Clyde R. Hoey and his wife, Bess Gardner Hoey (Max Gardner’s sister), deeded the Webbley to J. Edgar Poag. Mr. Poag subdivided the property and then deeded Lot. #19, with the Webbley structure and out-buildings, to J.A. Anthony.
Anthony the engaged in substantial renovations of the Webbley and sold the property to Judge James Love Webb in 1911.
On April 1, 1869, Mrs. Adelaide W. McAfee purchased the property at a sheriff’s sale and lived there for nearly 20 years. In 1905, J.A. Anthony, a prominent Shelby attorney bought the home and, by that point, a much reduced lot. Anthony and his wife, Ollie Gardner Anthony, initiated a Colonial Revival renovation in 1907 which totally changed the appearance of the house.
Anthony’s brother-in aw and law partner was Oliver Maxwell Gardner. Gardner married Faye Webb, a member of the politically influential Webb family. In 1911, Judge James L. Webb, Faye’s father, bought the enlarged house from J.A. Anthony. The Webbs and the Gardners (including two of Max and Faye’s three children) moved into the home which quickly acquired the name Webbley. Gardner had spent much of his life on a farm and took pride in that lifestyle. He kept several cows at Webbly to instill the same work ethic in his sons, Ralph and James. While the boys herded the cows to pasture on the other side of town and brought them back at night for milking daily, they were embarrassed by this type of labor and were known to take the cattle through alleyways to prevent discovery of their work.
O. Max Gardner’s first step in his climb to political fame came in 1910 when he was elected to the State Senate. After holding many other offices, he was elected Democratic governor of North Carolina in 1928. In light of the spectacular defeat of the national Democratic ticket that year, Gardner’s victory was a testament to his superb political organization and personal popularity. As the state’s chief executive during the first years of the Depression, he was credited with initiating programs that helped many small farmers weather the difficult times. He later served under President Franklin Roosevelt as chairman of the Advisory Board of the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion, and under President Harry Truman as Undersecretary of the Treasury. He was appointed ambassador to the Court of St. James, but did not live to fulfill that appointment. Much of the last 25 years of his life were spent in Washington, D.C., but Gardner always considered Webbley his home. After Gardner’s death, Faye returned to Webbly to live with her sister, Madge Webb Riley. The two inherited the house as the only surviving children of Judge James L. Webb. Madge died in the early 1950s leaving Faye as sole owner of the estate. She lived at Webbley until her death in January 1969. Of her three sons, only Ralph survived and lived in the house.
Modern History Webbley is not only reflective of United States politics, but of the entertainment culture as well. Webbley was the base for Thomas Dixon’s 1905 novel The Clansman, and according to Ralph Gardner, also the setting for a segment in D.W. Griffith’s 1915 cinema classic The Birth of a Nation, based on this novel. In May of 1993, O. Max Gardner III and his wife, Victoria Harwell Gardner, turned the home into a bed and breakfast with a political theme. The Inn at Webbly was one of the nation’s finest inns, but closed in 1998 due to an illness in the family which made operation of the inn difficult. Webbly is located at 403 S. Washington St. in the Central Shelby Historic District.
The Historical Society recently acquired Webbley from the Gardner family.
- Freemasonry Comes to Cleveland County Masonic Lodges in Cleveland County—The first lodge established in Cleveland County was Cleveland Lodge No. 202, Shelby, which was chartered in 1858. It was born out of Lincoln Lodge No. 137, Lincolnton. Their first Master was Augustus W. Burton, who was also the first Master of Lincoln Lodge in 1851. W. Bro. Burton was also to be the first Master of several other lodges in North Carolina. John F. Stephens would serve as its Secretary for the first few years. The first lodge meetings were held above a store located across from the Court Square on Lafayette Street. The Masonic Building located on the Southeast corner of Washington Street and Warren Street was built in 1921 primarily as a Lodge Temple. A York Rite Royal Arch Chapter also had its charter there, as did Shelby Lodge 744 for the first 10 years of its existence. The building’s Egyptian architecture stands as one of Shelby’s most notable buildings and is a continuing reminder of Masonic pride. For many years it was the tallest structure in Cleveland County and was the first building in the county to have an elevator. In 1985, Cleveland Lodge moved into a new building located at 1436 East Marion Street. Cleveland Lodge No. 202 is the largest lodge in the county with about 200 members. ↩
- Born in Lincoln, North Carolina, USA on 1820 to Robert H Burton and Mary Fulenwider. Augustus W married Julia L Olmstead and had 2 children. He passed away on 1877 inCleveland North Carolina. Burton lost everything during the Civil War where he served as Captain of the Cleveland County Regiment that he formed in 1861. Family Members Parents Robert H Burton 1791-1825 Mary Fulenwider 1793-1878 Spouse(s) Julia L Olmstead 1824-1904 Children Robert H Burton Frank O Burton 1851-1898 one stillborn 1858 ↩
- Union General George Stoneman’s army from Tennessee, a force of 6,000, entered western North Carolina in the spring of 1865, ravaging property, food and supplies in the Shelby vicinity. Cleveland County resident James Carson Elliott in the Southern Soldier Boy: A Thousand Shots for the Confederacy, wrote of Stoneman’s men “marauding the country in quest of horses and provisions.” There was little physical damage, however, to individual residences or town property and the intact town of Shelby escaped the task of physically rebuilding. Shortly after Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Virginia, in 1865, Federal troops moved into Shelby and occupied the Courthouse Square, the very visible and central location that had always been at the heart of the town. They subsequently occupied the A.W. Burton home on South Washington Street as their Field Headquarters and Hospital. The Reconstruction period following the war brought tremendous social and political changes in the Shelby community. ↩
- The 12th Regiment of NC Troops were stationed at Fort Caroline in Norfolk, Virginia. The men were trained at Garysburg, NC, and became part of the 2nd Regiment of the NC Volunteers of the Army of the Confederacy, referred to as the “Cleveland Guards” and Burton served as Captain. ↩
- Mrs. McAfee was the daughter of a prominent York, SC, lawyer, legislator, Senator and Federal Judge, the Hon. George Washington Williams and the daughter of Sarah Beatty Williams (widow of James B. Eddins). ↩
- Col. McAfee was a native of Cleveland County, having been born in 1836. He graduated from the University at Chapel Hill in 1862, receiving the highest honors in a class of 69 students. At the beginning of the Civil War he was a resident of Texas, where he practiced law, but he came back to North Carolina and entered the service of the Confederacy as a private soldier. He attained the rank of Colonel in the 49th N.C. Regiments, the highest ranking officer from Cleveland County in the Confederacy. After the War, McAfee organized the Ku Klux Klan for Cleveland County. The Klan met in the little Doll House behind the Webbley (former slave’s cabin). McAfee died in 1873, at the after of 37. Lather his nephew, author Thomas Dixon, dedicated his novel, The Clansman, to his uncle, Leroy McAfee. Thomas Dixon’s mother was Amanda McAfee, the sister of Leroy McAfee. ↩