Unveiling of a proper tribute
Restored portraits of Col. Henry Perry, Jane Hall Perry and their son, H. Leslie Perry, were unveiled on Monday evening at Perry Memorial Library.
“The Perrys are the reason we’re here,” said Jennifer Brax, adult services librarian.
She and Jay Stephens, the director of the library, uncovered the portraits for a gathering of nearly three dozen. The portraits of the parents bordered a portrait of the youngster at age 5, painted by his mother.
A portrait of H. Leslie Perry as an adult has hung on a nearby wall for some time.
The portraits were in “pretty bad shape,” Brax said. She thanked the Vance County Historical Society and Friends of the Library for providing funds to have them restored.
She expressed appreciation for North Carolina Room Historian Mark Pace for his assistance.
“Without him the project would never have been completed,” Brax said. “He found a photo album that I didn’t know existed.”
The paintings appear to be based on photographs in the album.
Exactly when the portraits were painted is not known. Brax thinks it might have been in the 1920s.
Whatever their age, they were in need of renovation. The restorations were done by Janet Hessling, a professional restorer of Durham. They were framed by Pete Pernell.
H. Leslie Perry was a promising young attorney when he died in 1923 at the age of 36. In addition to his law practice, he served as a city aldermen and two terms as mayor of Henderson.
His parents and his widow, Flora McKinnon Perry, established what is today known as Perry Memorial Library in his honor.
Their gift was valued at $40,000: $25,000 for the building, $5,000 for books and $10,000 in the value of the property.
The library was chartered as the H. Leslie Perry Memorial Library on May 19, 1924. The family engaged New York architect Edward L. Tilton to design the building. Inspired by Greek architecture, the library formally opened at 121 Young Street on Sept. 1 of 1924.
Over the years, the library reached out to the community. In 1926, the Dunbar Branch was established in the Negro Graded School. Later, branches were opened at the South Henderson Community House and Saint John’s Parish House in north Henderson, and a bookmobile was established by the Junior Woman’s Club and county commissioners.
In 1950, a fire forced the Dunbar Branch to move to temporary quarters on Breckenridge Street. It was later replaced by the Chestnut Street Branch.
In 1986, the library moved to the building on Rose Avenue now occupied by City Hall. In 2006, the library moved again to its present location at 205 Breckenridge Street.
Earlier this year, plans were announced to build a performing arts center, which will connect via a lobby that has been known as McGregor Hall. When completed, the lobby will be “just a lobby,” according to the planners, and McGregor Hall will be the name of the 1,000-seat performing arts center.
The entire complex, billed as a one-stop learning center destination, will be known as Breckenridge Commons. Ground-breaking on the performing arts center was expected to be this month.
The portraits will continue to hang near the entrance to the library to remind patrons that the memorial for H. Leslie Perry also serves as a gift to the community.
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