01/28/10 — Plaque will mark house as site of first nursing home

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Plaque will mark house as site of first nursing home

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on January 28, 2010 1:46 PM

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From left, relatives Tommy Powell, Jim Barden, Rachel Frederick Baars and Elizabeth Rudd stand with the plaque honoring the late Mary L. Casey of Goldsboro. Mrs. Casey was a nurse who founded Whispering Cedars Nursing Home on Mulberry Street, which her family believes is the first nursing home in the state.

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Rachel Frederick Baars, left, stands with her aunt, Mary L. Casey, in this 1940s-era photograph of the home at 1113 Mulberry St. Mrs. Baars and her family say the property was the first nursing home in North Carolina.

The house at 1113 Mulberry St. in downtown Goldsboro looks a lot different from the way Rachel Frederick Baars remembers that it looked shortly after it was constructed in 1933.

But even more than 70 years later, her memories of what she and her family believe to be the first nursing home in North Carolina have remained the same.

Whispering Cedars Nursing Home was founded by Mrs. Baars' aunt, Mary L. Casey, a registered nurse with a passion for helping others.

"She wanted so much to help people. She could see the idea that people needed a place to go when they were sick after they left the hospital, and that's when I really think she thought, 'This will do that,'" Mrs. Baars said.

Mrs. Casey, who married Charles H. Thompson, graduated from nursing school at Robert McDaniel Memorial Hospital in Kinston in 1915. She opened the nursing home on the advice of several local doctors, who recognized a need for a place outside of a hospital setting where patients could recover from illness, injury or other serious health problems.

Mrs. Baars worked at the nursing home for two years, and got to know the staff members who worked to help recovering patients get back on their feet. She even stayed there herself after the birth of her first child, she said.

Today, the unassuming property does not resemble typical modern nursing homes, and it is indistinguishable from the other old houses in the neighborhood. But Mrs. Baars and other family members have worked with the Wayne County Historical Society to commission a plaque noting the location's past. The plaque will be installed at the house, marking it as a special part of Wayne County and North Carolina's history.

"I have wanted so much to have it bought, because she tried so hard and was so interested in helping people," Mrs. Baars said.

Besides running the nursing home from 1933 until 1946, Mrs. Casey also worked to encourage others to enter the medical field, whether it was a career in nursing or even becoming a doctor.

"Aunt Mary always wanted a nurse to follow in her footsteps, and she sent several women to nursing school, and I think some of them even followed the profession. She sent one doctor to medical school, and he was a physician," Mrs. Baars recalled.

And today, Mrs. Casey's great-great-niece, Elizabeth Rudd, is carrying on the family tradition of helping others. Mrs. Rudd attended nursing school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and later at Duke University, and today works in the nursing profession at a hospital in Florida.

Mrs. Rudd traveled to Goldsboro last week to visit her family and see the new plaque. She has been part of the process of working with Johnna Nelson of the Wayne County Museum and the county Historical Society to have the plaque installed.

"I've learned so much, not only that this was the first nursing home in N.C., it was the first steam bath. I think she had it constructed, almost like a hypobaric chamber, so people on the weekends, I guess that would be their relaxation before spas," she said.

Researching her family history has also given her new insight into the history of her own profession, too, she said.

"It shows how, just like when Florence Nightingale first came along, and has continued through time, one, how much the public needs nursing, and two, it's kind of a lost art, what she used to do, one-on-one caring if you will," Mrs. Rudd said.