Shirley Simmons, Volunteer Director
(The museums staff has been working with our archival materials and in doing so, sharing materials donated by former Independent reporter and Co-author of History of Fuquay-Varina, Shirley Mudge Hayes, has become one goal. Shirley Hayes now lives out of state but left these materials with us after we founded the museums archives. For those readers who did not know Shirley, she grew up near the Mineral Spring as a child, was graduated from Fuquay Springs High School in the Class of 1952, and graduated from Wake Forest College when it was still the college in Wake Forest. The Hayes family lived away for a time, returned to raise a daughter, Elizabeth, and support husband Charles “Chuck” who served as Town Manager. Those of us who treasured her friendship reference constantly her articles and reporting in The Fuquay Independent. Please enjoy this first article with which most of our staff can identify.)
“Mixed Feelings About Qualifying as An Old-timer”
I looked around one recent day and realized I am fast becoming one of the town’s oldtimers.
How well I remember the days when I, as a much younger reporter for The Independent, used to search out the “oldtimers” and ask them to tap into their memories to help me with historic feature stories about Fuquay Springs and Varina.
Lula Fuquay Sessoms was a favorite. Her Fuquay family was among the earliest settlers of the area.
Then there was Margaret Ballentine Lane whose father ran a general store across the road from the Fuquay Mineral Spring. Her mother, “Miss Lizzie,” had a hat shop next door to the store.
And Edith Judd Parker (mother of Charles Parker of Parker Furniture) a lifetime resident chose father was the community’s first doctor and whose family had the first local telephone.
Today those lovely sources and many more are gone.
And now—-do I dare to say it—-those of my own generation are becoming the residents with the longest memories and the most to share about days gone by.
I’ve tried to dredge up the earliest of my Fuquay Springs memories. Varina back then (and for many years beyond that time) was another “town” on the other side of the tracks.
As a small child I lived in half of the house at the southwest corner of Main and Sunset Streets (there was no Sunset Street at the time). Daily I walked down the hill with Miss Mary Sharp—-who lived in the other side of the house with her sister—-and her cat Mosey—-to get water from the Fuquay spring, still then thought to have medicinal qualities.
There was no big, beautiful house on the hill above the spring in those days, only a small red house that had been one of the community’s earliest schoolhouses * but in my day had been turned into a residence. Eleanor Aiken Howard and her parents, Mary and Allen Aiken, lived there then.
Our walk to the spring took us behind the Main Street home of a gruff old gentleman with a white beard who, as a small child, I found frightening. (Today it makes me think of Boo Radley in “To Kill a Mocking Bird.”) His last name was Dodd. One of his sons was ambassador to Germany before World War II, but I didn’t learn that until much later.
When I finally got old enough to go to school, my mother took me on the first day to the traditional red brick schoolhouse that stood at the corner of Academy and Ennis Streets where the Middle School is today. I was placed in the classroom of Miss Ellie Nicholson who was, in her day, one of the old family, old-timers. The father of one of my classmates, Betsy Johnson Gunter, who still lives here, had been taught by Miss Ellie. In my year Miss Ellie had 40-plus six-year-olds in her room. I know this because, over the years, my mother mentioned it, always with awe.
After the preliminaries of first day were completed, Miss Ellie said those of us whose parents were with us could leave at any time. I did not want to leave. I was already in love with school. So my mother spoke to another mother who was staying longer at the schoolhouse, and she agreed to drive me home when the school day ended.
I don’t remember how it happened, but I didn’t ride home with Mrs. Bridges. I walked, west along Academy Street and south on Main, probably a mile, all told. When I got home, my mother asked if Mrs. Bridges brought me. “No,” I am reported to have said, “I walked. Every step of the way.” So proud.
That walk, by the by, took me along a sidewalk, or more accurately a path, that wasn’t paved beside a street (Academy) that wasn’t paved.
See what I mean about being an old-timer!
(*Note this building is our Ballentine Schoolhouse Museums. Also note that the museums has material on Ambassador Dodd and family, Mr. Joe’s store named Varina Mercantile, Mrs. Edith Parker and her father, Dr. Judd, Mary & Allen Aiken & Eleanor, the Old Red Building at Ennis & Academy, our first high school, and the Johnson House now used by Parks & Rec.