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 in the State's famous "Shelby Dynasty," O. Max Gardner (1882-1947) enjoyed a distinguished career that included service as a State Senator, as the State's youngest Lieutenant Governor (1916-1920), and later as Governor from 1929 to 1933.
Gardner, who was a Shelby native, was the son of Dr. Oliver Perry Gardner, a physician and veteran of the Confederate armies, and Margaret Young Gardner. The youngest of a family of twelve children, he entered the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now North Carolina State University) in January, 1900 and graduated in 1903. As a student at North Carolina State, he was elected captain of the football team. Upon graduation, he was appointed an instructor in Chemistry and served in that capacity until 1905, when he entered the law school of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At Chapel Hill, Max Gardner played on the football team and was elected captain of the squad at the end of the 1905 season. He is the only person to have served as captain of the football team at both State and Carolina and was the first State alumni to serve as Governor of North Carolina.
During his term as Governor, Gardner's administration was responsible for legislation which resulted in a thorough reorganization of State government, including unification of the highway system, the formation of the Highway Patrol, the consolidation of the University of North Carolina, the extension of the constitutional school term, the passage of a workers' compensation law, and the abolition of that State tax on real property. He often referred to the combining of State, Carolina and the Woman's College in Greensboro into a Consolidated University of North Carolina as the most important achievement of his career and he is known today as the Father of the Consolidated University.
On the national level, the former Governor served under President Franklin D. Roosevelt as Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion. He also served under President Harry S. Truman as Undersecretary of the United States Treasury. He was appointed as the United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James in early 1947, but did not live to fulfill that appointment.
Gardner's wife, Fay Webb Gardner (1885-1969), was one of the most vibrant political personalities in the history of the State of North Carolina. It has often been suggested, and not entirely in jest, that she was the equal of her husband as a politician. After Governor Gardner ended his term of office and moved to Washington in 1933 to open a national law practice, Miss Fay, as she was known by her friends, became one of the capital's most popular and most favored citizens, moving easily among presidents and their wives, ambassadors, kings and queens, senators and congressmen, and numerous other notables on the Washington scene.
Miss Fay, who was also a Shelby native, was popularly known as the first lady of North Carolina long after Governor Gardner's death in 1947, and she remained a positive force in public and humanitarian services until her own death in 1969. She had the uncanny ability to be at ease and at home in the White House, the Governor's Mansion, or at the home of a friend in Shelby. These characteristics were publicly recognized by more than three score of the most important members of the State and National Democratic Party when she was honored in 1958 by the Women's National Democratic Club in Washington. During these ceremonies, she was described by former President and Mrs. Harry S. Truman as "North Carolina's all-time gracious citizen. A wonderful woman, and the wife of one of the great men of our time." During these same ceremonies, Eleanor Roosevelt stated that Miss Fay was "always the same - cordial, enthusiastic, human, understanding and delightful." Margaret Truman added that as long as she could remember "Miss Fay had been an ornament to political and social life in North Carolina and Washington."
Webbley, which was never actually owned by Governor Gardner, was the home of Miss Fay's parents, Judge James L. Webb and Kansas Love Andrews Webb. The home is named for Miss Fay's father who, along with her uncle, Judge E. Yates Webb, formed the first generation of the renowned Shelby political dynasty.
Besides being the home of two great political families, Webbley comprised the setting for a segment of Thomas Dixon's The Clansman and for D. W. Griffith's classic movie "The Birth of a Nation." In addition, W. J. "Sleepy" Cash, author of the historic work, The Mind of the South, was a frequent visitor at Webbley in the post 1911 period.
Although Governor Gardner spent much of his last 25 years in Washington, he always considered Webbley home. And, he expressed a strong desire to return to Webbley whenever time permitted. Some of his fondest memories recalled receptions at Webbley for political dignitaries and other special guests. As a matter of fact, almost every Governor of North Carolina from 1900 to the present time has been in the home at one time or another. The home, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, had been cited by the United States Department of the Interior as one of the most distinguished residences in the State of North Carolina.
Max recently moved his law office from Webbley so the Historic Society can ensure its legacy for generations to come.