One of our younger residents remembered her step grandfather, E. T. Burchette, and sent us some pictures of the Cream Center for our collection at the museums. After talking with her and others, we decided to publish some of the interviews and her pictures in “Historically Speaking. “
Elijah Thomas Burchette and Ruth of Varina gave birth to five children: E. T., Jr,; James, Dot (Dickens) Ben and Ruth (Wilson). The elder Burchette farmed the land of Dr. Raymond Edwards, now the location of Bentwinds, and lived with his family off what is presently Nash Road. The Burchette children grew up in the Varina area and attended Fuquay Springs High School. Dot still lives on the farm where she raised her family. Ruth taught school in Virginia and at Hardbarger’s Business College in Raleigh where she still resides. The three sons are deceased.
E. T. was possessed of an infectious laugh, friendly, and loved by all the community. Ruth described him as a “left-handed golfer” with a million friends. He married twice. From his first marriage, he has a daughter, Gayle Puckett who lives in Wilmington. His second marriage to Margaret Motley gave him two stepdaughters, Paula and Sandra. Angie is the grandchild who loved and remembers him. She shares these pictures and contacts with her aunts.
After serving two years in Germany during World War II, E. T. came home to open his business sometime about the early 1950’s. We have been unable to definitely date the Twin City Cream Center but Chet Hairr thinks it would have existed until the late 1950’s.
Chet and Donald Cotton locate the building thus. First there was the Varina Farmer’s Exchange and Joe Mullen’s service station (now Jersey Mikes and The Art Gallery) then, Wayland Williams’ BBQ (which had earlier been Payne’s Restaurant). Next was The Cream Center building. It had begun life as a service station with an overhang and gas tanks in front. When first opened the building also housed Perry Howard’s Oil Co. but shortly thereafter the Cream Center expanded into that right hand section. Chet locates the Cream Center as “across from the Tastee Freez.” The railroad (Durham and Southern tracks now removed) passed between the Tastee Freez and Varina Knitting and south of this building as recalled by Max Ashworth.
E. T. was famed for his “ice cream and milkshakes,” Max testifies. Chet, who actually worked there during high school, along with Donald Averette, remembered much more of the menu. E. T., and later Chet, operated a machine into which they poured 2% milk from a 7 gallon container. They made all their own ice cream which was sold by the scoop, cup, or cone, in banana splits and in sundaes. One item in particular, Chet recalled as “the Honeymoon Special,” contained pineapple, cherries, and coconut. Another popular feature was packaged sandwiches which they heated in a toaster. Then there were “Long Johns,” a cream filled doughnut also heated in the toaster. Available were fountain cokes, cherry pepsi, and soda drinks. Chet says the juke box was popular and music was piped outside for the cars as well. Inside there was a bowling machine as an added attraction.
While there was room inside for customers, many individuals just drove up and blewthe horn for service. Bus boys, like Chet, then scurried outside to take orders and then deliver them to the cars. He says they also sold gasoline.
Always one with an eye for business, E. T. was the big boss. James Burchette and Joe Mills, an older adult, were among supervisors of the youthful bus boys. Ruth, Dot and all agree that the major customers consisted of teenagers who saw The Cream Center as the town’s most popular date night . The Sunday attraction of ice cream brought out adults as well. The Cream Center opened at 9:00 a.m.in the morning and remained open until 11:00 p.m. at night according to Chet.
Everyone seems to agree that Burchette did not own the property but no one is quite certain when The Cream Center closed. Odell Betts and Jimmy Cotton, trucking businessmen, seem to have operated the business briefly according to Chet. After their stint, Frank Pleasants returned the building to its original usage as a service station. He appears to have added the two bays for a garage on the left as seen in the Dean photo dated 1961.
James Burchette worked for many years thereafter at the FCX. E. T. took up another career with Al Smith Buick where he would remain until he retired. E. T. died in 2010.
The Cream Center holds a place in the hearts of many who grew up and were part of the Fuquay Springs-Varina teenage scene during the 1950’s. Sonja Averette Musser (sister of Donald Averette) Willa Akins Adcock (who grew up across Broad Street) and Billy Yeargan (tobacconist of NC fame) all have reminisced about those days on “Way Back When.”
Source material from Interviews with Ruth Burchette Wilson and Dot Burchette Dickens, Max Ashworth, Donald Cotton, and Chet Hair. Pictures courtesy of Angie Bunn.