Goodnight Raleigh - a look at the art, architecture, history, and people of the city at night

Saint Mary’s School and Junior College, Raleigh, North Carolina

Saint Mary's Portico_web

Our Flashback Friday postcard this week features what is no doubt the grandest Neo-Classical portico in Raleigh. It adorns the façade of Smedes Hall, the principal building on the Saint Mary’s School campus.

Saint Mary's Portico_back_web

Dear Mom,
Kathleen and I are spending a few days in Raleigh — will be going home Saturday. We are staying in Rhea’s apt. while she is in New York,
Bill has his glasses now and I think they are going to help him heaps.
Will write you soon.
Love — Flossie

Did you notice the position of the stamp? The particular placement of the stamp on a letter or postcard was a popular fad among many correspondents during the first half of the 20th century — upside down signified “I love you.”

From Modest Greek Revival to Neo-Classical Monumental

Smedes Hall was erected in the late 1830s on the campus of what was then a small Episcopal boys school situated on the western outskirts of the city of Raleigh. The school eventually closed due to a lack of funding. It reopened in 1842 as Saint Mary’s School for girls under the directorship of the Rev. Aldert Smedes.

Known as ‘Main Building’ at the time, Smedes Hall was modeled in the Greek Revival style popular in North Carolina in the decades of 1830s-1850s. It featured an austere, symmetrically aligned core structure, adorned with a modest, doric temple-form porch.

State Archives of North Carolina photo

State Archives of North Carolina photo

Smedes Hall in its original form as it appeared in the late 19th century. 

Saint Mary’s School prospered during the late 19th century, and several new buildings were erected on the campus to accommodate a growing enrollment.

In 1909 the façade of Smedes Hall was redesigned and embellished with the monumental Neo-Classical portico we see today. The redesign was the work of the German-born North Carolina architect Charles E. Hartge, who also designed the Wake County Home for the Poor in 1915. It too features a grand Neo-Classical portico.

The photo below of Smedes Hall was taken shortly after the addition of Hartge’s portico to the building’s façade in 1909.

State Archives of North Carolina photo

State Archives of North Carolina photo

In the 21st century Smedes Hall still visually dominates the Saint Mary’s campus. It has been designated a Raleigh Historic Landmark.

Of particular special interest is that in the 1930s the talented and prolific North Carolina photographer Bayard Wootten took the photo of Smedes Hall featured on this week’s postcard.

Wootten was a major regional photographer and perhaps North Carolina’s most significant photographer during the first half of the twentieth century.


Our Flashback Friday white border ‘Natural-Finish’ postcard this week was published locally by Gray and Thompson of Chapel Hill.

“Flashback Friday” is a weekly feature of Goodnight, Raleigh! in which we showcase vintage postcards depicting our historic capital city. We hope you enjoy this week end treat!

Discuss Raleigh

  • Recent Comments:

    • LJG: I’m currently involved with a project at 221 S. Wilmington. Will have to walk by tomorrow after I drop off...
    • Linda Brisbois Brown: I was a waitress there in 1968 while at State, working with Bob Bell, and Pat Crowley and Jim...
    • Avery: Thanks for your article. Seeking accurate information is among the biggest concerns for the younger...
    • Marrin: It’s apparent that the writer is a statistics geek. I enjoy the way he writes and organizes facts....
    • Luis: Excellent pieces.
    • Sandra brown: I use to attend this beautiful church when i was small and an orphan in the methodist home for children...
    • sandra L brown( sandra ray): Yes maiden name sandra ray .i use to live in the all girl cottage in the orphanage...
    • donald gore: The first “Embers Club” was at 320 W Davie St. in the late 60’s .. There was a fire...