The Future of Rolesville’s History

January 2016

By Julia Colborn

A year ago, Terry Marcellin-Little broke ground on Rolesville’s future history museum, The Little House on Main Street. That accomplishment came after nearly three years of acquiring permissions and rewriting renovation plans to pass all legal and safety inspections.

From the Rolesville Board of Commissioners passing a resolution to support the John L. Terrell House in December 2012 to the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources adding the property to the N.C. Study List in June 2014, intense research had to be conducted. With the help of volunteer Betsy Wall, Marcellin-Little explored past lives beyond names and dates and has now reached the point of planning physical exhibits to showcase it all.

Marcellin-Little started forming the idea for a history museum shortly before she attended Rolesville’s 175th anniversary celebration in January 2012. There she met Michael Bailey, who volunteered to display local artifacts from his personal collection. They informally discussed collaborating on the project at the time, then they met again that year in September during Rolesville’s first History Walk. Bailey volunteered his services, and the Terrell property was then introduced to the public.

“[Since then] Michael Bailey and I have continued our collaborative vision as plans for a future museum have progressed,” Marcellin-Little said.

Bailey began collecting artifacts when he was in middle school. He was raised on an abandoned dairy farm dating to the late 1800s, the Bledsoe Dairy, which provided milk for the Raleigh area. He used his older brother’s metal detector to explore the property, where he soon started discovering pharmaceutical bottles and other artifacts. The discoveries ignited a passion for local history.

“Over the years, I have consulted with archaeologists on certain artifacts and have built a collection of reference materials, books and publications on artifact dating, preservation and identification. … It’s a very rewarding hobby,” he said.

Thirty years later, Bailey’s collection spans centuries, including buttons from the Revolutionary War era as well as early Native American spearheads and arrowheads. These artifacts can provide a learning experience on their own. What initially appeared to be an odd piece of metal shaped like a pie slice soon began to resemble coins he recognized from the 19th century. In researching one piece, he discovered that coins were often cut in halves and quarters to make change.

“Every one of these artifacts has been held in the hands of those who lived and worked before us.  This gives us a personal view of the past life here in Rolesville,” he said.

Bailey will explore just about anywhere around.

“Rolesville is Wake County’s second oldest town. Where you drive around, it’s hard to see some of the history that actually exists,” he said.

Back when plans for building Rolesville Middle School were still being discussed, he made sure to examine Tom’s Creek before construction began. He found evidence of an encampment – including sword tips, most pieces of a broken cooking pot and cutlery. Bailey compares these artifacts to “puzzle pieces that can be put together” and finds that they reflect what is found in the book Our Past: History of Greater Rolesville Area by Eloise Averette Freeman (1976), a PDF of which can be found at the Town Hall.

The final stages of the restoration process are underway but will need to be completed before details for the various exhibits can be finalized. One of the rooms will be a dedicated History Room, where many of the artifacts donated by Bailey will be displayed.

During the town meeting on December 7, Bailey presented a preview of artifacts that are under consideration, depending on the creative processes of Marcellin-Little and Bailey.

“The vision of the actual exhibits is certainly due to evolve and is subject to change as they are designed for installation,” said Marcellin-Little, who plans to include at least one rotating exhibit.

With announcements of opening day still pending, Rolesville will soon have a great museum to be proud of.

Photos by Julia Colborn