Another Chapter in City Hall History

I enjoyed Paul Hicks’ and former Mayor John Carey’s accounts of the creation of Rye City Hall, whose 50th anniversary was celebrated last month. I would like to add a little to their stories of the event.  
Our City Hall was the gift of John Motley Morehead, a founder of Union Carbide and Mayor of Rye from 1926 to 1930. He had lived in Rye a long time. He was much admired for his generosity, and had been the principal benefactor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, building a magnificent campus in conjunction with his architects.

The Rev. Joseph P. Bishop recounted to me that our city fathers, cramped in their space at the Square House felt the need for a new City Hall. It was thought to approach Morehead for a financial gift to the city, but who would do it? Bishop, senior minister of Rye Presbyterian Church, was chosen. Joe recalls that he protested that Mr. Morehead wasn’t even a member of his congregation. However, he was prevailed upon, and he paid a visit to Morehead. Joe explained his mission, and after remarking on Morehead’s celebrated generosity asked if perhaps he would consider a gift to the city in which he had lived such a long and illustrious life?

Morehead welcomed the idea, and after a series of meetings with members of the City Council, he asked to see the architectural renderings for the proposed building. His response, after viewing the plans was: “It looks like a gas station!” Whereupon Morehead asked to show the plans to his architects and from that collaboration came our magnificent City Hall, patterned, says John Carey, after the colonial Virginia House of Burgesses.

Sadly, Morehead was ill and unable to attend the dedication ceremony of City Hall in December 1964. As John Carey recounted, Joe Bishop was with him, and via phone hookup, the two who had shared the beginning of the enterprise, shared the joy of the completion ceremony.


— Phyllis McBride

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