The “little depot” which the Friends of the Museums plan to rebuild as a component of our railroad story in the museums was the scene of a horrible tragedy which has been recounted several times over the course of history. Here we repeat the details as we have learned them for the present generation. There are three sources for this account. Emery Smith gave an interview to Shirley Simmons recounting the story. Lonnie Womble is recorded in a 1999 interview which is available in the museums done by Shirley Simmons and Frances Senter. Al Rogers gave an interview which was the basis for an article written by Shirley Hayes in the Independent, April 11, 1990. Research of census records, death certificates, and estate papers verify further details.

This Little Depot picture post card lists the line at Raleigh & Southport. That line was the designation from 1905-1911.

On April 6, 1923, the Norfolk Southern train was in the process of backing down the track toward the south. After being stopped at the depot on Depot Street, it was necessary for the engine to back up a distance on level track in order to gain enough speed to navigate the grade into what is now Varina. This would involve the area which we today know, running from about Woodland Drive across West Academy Street (Highway # 42) and up the hill along railroad street toward the crossing at Wake Chapel Road.

That morning John A. Weathers, a local farmer, and his wife, Lillie Champion Weathers, had decided to come to town in their new car driven by their adopted daughter, Erma Johnson. The Weathers invited Emery Smith, whose father either owned the farm on which the Weathers worked or was a neighbor, to ride along that morning. Emery told Shirley Simmons in an interview, that he decided he had some work to do and declined the invitation.

Erma, according to her gravestone was 19 years old, although her death certificate lists her as 17, was a novice driver. The main road from West of town originally came across the area behind the Sessoms house and crossed the railroad tracks on the southern end of the depot and continued up what is now Depot Street into Fuquay Springs. This was the crossing identified by all three—Smith, Womble, and Rogers. Womble actually walked the area in the video recording to show Simmons and Senter the site. Rogers was photographed by Hayes standing at the crossing site.

Somehow Erma either stalled the new T Model Ford or choked the engine and was unable to move the vehicle off the tracks as she attempted to leave on Depot Street and go out toward Duncan. According to an eyewitness account given by Al Rogers who was then 9 years old, Al and his brother John, who was 11 years, had been working on the Talley Farm (in the Lincoln Heights area) and were walking home. They “heard the warning whistle of the train but the driver of an automobile which was attempting to cross the track at the depot did not hear or was not able to move the automobile.” The engineer did not see the vehicle and continued to back up. The scene was described as a horrifying accident by all witnesses.

The Weathers couple were killed instantly. Erma died at the hospital that same day. All three are buried in a triple grave site at Cokesbury Methodist Church. All three death certificates indicate “accidentally killed by train” while both the father and mother’s certificates identify the N & S RR. Epitaphs are intriguing. Erma: “Her end was peace.” J. A: “His toils are just, his work is done.” Lillian: “Faithful to her Jesus even unto death.”

Norfolk and Southern had purchased the track and depot from the Raleigh and Southport R R in 1911. Originally, the depot and track were owned by the Raleigh and Cape Fear RR and often are identified as the Mills’ railroad.

Erma’s biological parents were Lucian and Martha “Minnie” Rollins Johnson. March 20, 1904 is the birth date recorded on her tombstone. She had brothers Hayes and Burnsie Johnson and a half-brother Ray. Lillie was the daughter of James and Nancy Champion of Buckhorn in Harnett County. John was born to Emily and Rich Weathers and had siblings named, Frances, Namie, Vallie, and Loula. According to the 1880 census the Weathers family lived in Chatham County.

Norfolk and Southern RR appears to have settled all claims with the families of the deceased in Harnett County court records. The gravesite is located in Harnett County in a well cared for church cemetery.

The museums are still researching to determine details of the “little depot.” Since our History of Fuquay-Varina, we have found that the building was constructed circa 1902 on the land donated for a depot of the R & CF RR by Barney and Hattie Parker Jones . One single post card does exist showing the crowd of visitors at the depot (undated.) Later property records indicate a storage use of the building. The unique roof design is found in several early rail depots. Details of the interior are hard to determine. Exactly when it ceased to be a depot and the demise of the building are still speculative.

Local architect, Mike Weeks is designing a reproduction of the depot for the Ashworth Historic Park. This building will enable access to the NS Caboose # 375 already on display and will house our railroad artifacts. These components will enable our docents to interpret our rail history more effectively. Keep watching for more details on “the little depot.”


Following the article regarding the true story of the Fuquay-Varina High School Spirit Rock, the next question became, “Who was Red Seagroves?” The museums staff took some time on Monday to find what we had in our archives. There may be an article in the Independent newspaper files which we will eventually locate but to date we are able to provide this brief introduction to those citizens who did not know “Red.”

George Earnshaw “Red” Seagroves was born June 15, 1931 into the family of Junnie Caradale Seagroves & Gertrude Baker Seagroves. The baby of the family, he joined sister, Margaret Seagroves (Hall) who served in the Post Office of Varina many years and two other sisters, Ethelene Seagroves (Wedding) and Leigh “Lee” Seagroves (Wilson). Two older brothers, Junnie C. Seagroves, Jr. and Thomas Edison Seagroves welcomed him into the boys tier of siblings.

The Greenbrier Yearbooks of 1948 and 1949 reveal that he graduated from Fuquay Springs High School in the class of 1949. Surprisingly his yearbook name was listed as Earnshaw Seagroves. Equally, surprising was the fact that he was not included in any of the athletic team photos even though he was so interested in sports. Watson Adcock and Mickey Smith remember that J. C., Red and Tom played sand lot baseball with the Fuquay team in the late 1940’s. They knew him as “RED” a nickname attached because of his hair color. Red was pictured in the Future Farmer’s of America under Fred Hunt during high school but was not listed in any high school sport.

The three Seagroves brothers served in the United States Army. Pvt. Tom Seagroves, Sgt. Junie C. Seagroves and Pvt. George E. Seagroves are all buried with military markers in Wake Chapel Memorial Cemetery. Red was a veteran of the Korean War and was active in the local American Legion Post 116. Neither of the three men ever married.

Following the Korean engagement, George E. Seagroves returned to live on Durham Street and work with the State of North Carolina as a data processing supervisor. Tim Carroll recalls this entire family of neighbors and provided some photographs. No member of the immediate family has descendants although there may be some cousins.

Red became the Voice of the Bengal Tigers, serving as public address announcer for the entire sports program for a total of years we are trying to establish. Mickey Smith and Watson Adcock know there was no announcer in the early 1950’s. They remember that Red’s brother, Tom, wrote a column for the Independent which we have verified as early as 1947 and 1949. Coaches Perry and Jones are listed but no mention is made of a press booth in game reports from Fleming Field.

Graham Myrick thinks Red might have begun announcing about 1964 when Myrick came as coach. Max Ashworth, who pulled the chains, says he believes Red was working in the booth at the Fleming Field site. Known to have worked with yards, downs, etc. were Kenneth Hair and Garlon Stuart. Stuart thinks the press box was built about 1960-61. Unfortunately, no one can say definitively when Red came onto that scene.

Everyone knows Red worked at the Bengal Blvd School press box in 1976 and thereafter. His colorful description and deep baritone voice remained the play calling feature of every home game at least through the 1991 season. Boys participating in American Legion Baseball enjoyed his support and announcing as well for many of those years.

The Student Council paid tribute to his long service with the dedication of the FVHS Spirit Rock to this special hero. Graham Myrick, football coach, and John Enloe, band director, worked with the students to recognize “Red” at halftime. A special athletic jacket embroidered with “Red” and a scrapbook of pictures were presented on “Red” Seagroves Day, Nov. 8, 1991. Mayor Alfred Johnson proclaimed the day in his honor throughout Fuquay-Varina. Red was surprised and maybe speechless for a moment.

On April 24, 2003, Red’s funeral service was held at Wake Chapel Christian Church. David Brown and Pastor Ross Marion conducted the celebration of his life. . Dr. A. N. Johnson gave a special tribute. Pall bearers were Dr. Johnson, Kelly Stephenson, Gordon Stephenson, Billy Tew, L. V. Pegram and Tim Afthaus.

To this day, no voice has come along with the depth and dedication to Fuquay-Varina Sports to match that demonstrated by Red Seagroves. His was a labor of love for his town and for the youth of Fuquay-Varina. Hopefully, Fuquay High School’s Spirit Rock can forever honor this special man on the campus while it mobilizes school spirit among future students.


Noting the frustration with the reporting on the SPIRIT ROCK at Fuquay-Varina High School, followed by calls from students who remembered some of the facts, the Museums of Fuquay-Varina researched the story today. Acting as investigators were museums volunteers, Sonia Webb, Bryant Tyndall and Shirley Simmons with some dedicated help from a local native, Edwin Holleman. Edwin suggested we present the facts as EXHIBITS, encouraging readers, bloggers and all interested to read, You, the jury now have the facts: deliver a verdict!

Based largely upon the Minutes of the Student Council from their Scrapbook of 1991-92 called “The Eye of the Tiger,” with an additional notation from the Fuquay Independent, here are the facts. The Spirit Rock was donated to FVHS upon request by letter from the Student Council Advisor, Shirley Simmons, to Martin Marietta Aggregates. It was delivered by Martin Marietta. Shirley Simmons recalls the truck which delivered and the agreement that the rock could be as large as the company could feasibly truck and deliver. This is the same rock which was located off the entrance as of 2019 and intended to be a permanent feature of the campus at Fuquay-Varina High School. Officially, it was dedicated to Red Seagroves who served as the “voice of Fuquay sports” for so many years.

Ashley Holleman was President of the Student Council, Vice President, Kelly Ransdell, Stacy Slaughter served as Secretary, Meredith Macon as treasurer, and Shirley Simmons (now at the museums) was their sponsor. Members of that year’s Senior Class who served on the Student Council were: Brenna Booker, Manya Brachear, Meredith Gardner, Ashley Holleman, Kelly Ransdell, Karen Truelove, Mark Tutor, and Jodi Wrenn. Senior Class President was June Holland. These are all verified (along with other members for lower classes) in the scrapbook.

Exhibit # 1: Page # 43 of the scrapbook as prepared in May, 1992.

This annual scrapbook prepared at the end of that school year detailing the work of the council, has this explanation of the Spirit Rock Project, along with pictures and a copy of the news clip from the Independent of Nov 20, 1991. Students, even one who is now a teacher at FVHS, can be identified.

“To show FVHS PRIDE, the Student Council sponsored a day in which students could paint spirit ides on the SCHOOL ROCK. The council arranged for a local company to donate the rock for the school. It was dedicated in honor of RED SEAGROVES, our long time announcer.”

Newsclip from Independent: “Student Council has not only aimed for high holiday spirit, but high school spirit as well. The newest addition to the campus is “The Spirit Rock” now marking the front entrance. “ (verified by Sonia Webb of museums in Fuquay Independent of that date in a front page column written by Manya Brachear.)

The following notations are excerpts from the minutes of the FVHS Student Council. Notations in parenthesis have been added by Shirley Simmons for clarity of cursory minutes to help the general reader.

Exhibit # 2: September 10, 1991: “A Red Seagroves Night was brought up. Mrs. Simmons and Ashley explained who Red is. The idea was approved.”

Exhibit # 3: September 24, 1991: “ A letter was read to Mayor (Alfred) Johnson requesting Red Seagroves Day be designated. Other suggestions: a spirit rock in his honor. Mrs. Simmons has called and a letter has been mailed to Martin Marietta as requested by them. Student council members were asked to consider where a rock might best be placed on campus. “

Exhibit # 4: October 22, 1991: “Red Seagroves Day was next discussed. Plans are underway for Nov. 8. The jacket has been ordered. Information for a booklet with letters from principals and others is being collected. Manya will take some candid shots in the booth this week which we can use in the booklet. There was a suggestion from Ashley that we have refreshments in the booth for the crew and Red and guests after the game. Mrs. Johnson will provide this but we have to serve it. The council adopted these plans.

Exhibit # 5: October 29, 1991: “Red Seagroves Day was next on the agenda. Everything is falling into place…. The Spirit Rock report was given by Mrs. Simmons. The man (from Martin Marietta) has been out of town for two weeks but is to call this week. We will give the news (about delivery and costs if any) as we get it. Suggestions were made and finally Ashley got someone to move that the rock be placed across from the sign off the entrance road. It was passed. Some talk of painting and how to do this was begun. No decision was made and members were asked to think about this until next week when we had definite dates.

Exhibit # 6: Nov. 5, 1991: “Red Seagroves Day details were gone over by Ashley…. Spirit Rock was next. Many ideas were discussed about a ceremony for decoration. It was decided to divide it (the rock) by classes finally.

Exhibit # 7: Nov. 12, 1991: “ Red Seagroves Day evaluation was next. Ashley reported that he was very surprised and appreciative…. Red did agree to come to paint the Spirit Rock if we plan a time for a painting.

Exhibit # 8: Nov 19, 1991: “Kelly proposed that on the front of the Spirit Rock be painted: FVHS and a Tiger Paw. The art department has been asked to provide a stencil and guests will be asked to paint a part of a letter. Other invited groups: all teams, classes, and all clubs, the band, and other organizations. “D” date recommended was Dec 3 or Dec 2. Coaches and clubs should decide who and how many should paint and what they might use related to the school and spirit. The council got really excited about this plan and Aubrey moved the adoption of this report. It passed for the date of Dec. 2. Kelly will get the sheet out to all clubs, etc.”

Exhibit # 9: Dec. 3, 1991: “ Spirit Rock postponed (the painting) due to rain on Monday. The date was set for Friday, Dec. 13th. It was moved and seconded….People were reminded to tell all who were planning to paint.”

EXHIBIT # 10: Dec 17, 1991: “Spirit Rock Evaluation suggested writing (painting) once a year instead of any old time.”

Subsequently, the painting of the rock could be said to follow no specific direction. Even an opponent or so has invaded. However, THE SPIRIT ROCK, which has been a feature for 28 years this November, should remain a part of the Fuquay-Varina High School permanently based upon this history, the Student Council and student intent, and the memory of Red Seagroves.

Social media can be credited with bringing this to public attention. Regrettably , social media is not the most reliable forum for documentation. Hopefully, the proper officials will be encouraged to find a way to honor this memorial and The Spirit Rock will reside on the campus of Fuquay-Varina High School for many years to come.

A Picture Is Worth What?

Often, we hear a picture is worth a thousand words! Well at the museums we try to study and evaluate the evidence shown in pictures to enhance our story of history. For historians, they are invaluable . Our collection of pictures is a major archive. We hope every one will consider sharing or giving us copies of any old photographs around the area. We try to give credit to donors and require credit when we share one.

In the past week, just such an evaluation has taken center stage and continues to intrigue. Tim Carroll sent us a picture from a collection of Durham and Southern RR which has come into the possession of and is shared by the New Hope Valley RR. This photo of the rails in Varina, dated 1934, presents much to contemplate.

Looking carefully, one can easily spot what we have often noted to be an almost right angle crossing of two rails: the D & S line and the N & S line. (Someone kindly identified the lines.) Later rail additions are not all included in this photograph.

BUT more importantly, there is no NS freight or passenger facility on the left. Where that building now stands appears to be someone’s garden. No doubt about the D & S Varina Station in the middle, built about 1910. Beyond it, clearly the building now called The Brick, formerly Varina Supply and several later businesses, is evident. Note the recent Varina Brick warehouse, clearly showing its distinctive front and skylights in the roof. One can even find the old water tower along the left rail where steam engines were refilled.

Another notable feature are the trees across from the depot along Broad Street with cars in front of the businesses there. Those trees remained until 1937. Gales Johnson captured them in his wonderful photo of Broad Street. We know those buildings have seen only cosmetic change helping detail the story of Varina.

Another photograph in the collection identifies the D & S depot looking from the west along Broad Street, dated 1940. The freight handling platforms and private homes in what is now Academy-Ennis area are beyond. Any N & S building does not show but may be hidden. This was a photo used for insurance purposes by D & S.

Now compare the 1957 Heulon Dean photo of the railroads crossing in Varina. Find the NS freight station on the left.

In the background Varina Brick still is distinct but with some additions. Also, the building. Varina Supply with additions to its left is clear beyond the depot. Gone are trees on Broad Street but buildings are still identifiable today, including the last post office, now the Aviator’s newest project. Even the multiple storage buildings only recently removed along the D & S lines were captured by Dean. Was the semaphore moved or only the angle of the lens changed as we compare both photographs?

An immediate question is when did the NS freight station appear on the scene? And how long did NS continue to use our “Little Depot” we hope to reconstruct located on Depot Street? Some earlier assumptions regarding the length of its usage and the beginning of the union depot at Varina Station now must be revisited. Did the “Little Depot” remain much longer than Hattie’s post office at the end of Depot Street?

Another Before & After Project In The Ashworth Park

These are all learning experiences available in Ashworth Park to any visitor. Hopefully, those who do walk through will be intrigued enough to come back for a tour led by our outstanding cadre of docents. Visitors are welcome from 10:00-1:00 each Monday and 1:00-4:00 each Wednesday at the Centennial Museum for tours led by an expert.

Eagle Scout, Alex Weiss began a project in the park to work with the Friends in preserving bricks from the Varina Brick Warehouse. His scout project included construction of a column using the old bricks upon which we could mark the history of warehouses in Fuquay-Varina in brief. This has enabled our docents to include information not remembered by many pertaining to the first warehouse, Fuquay Warehouse, built on Ashworth Park site in 1908. The Varina Brick which vanished from the scene in Varina is also a subject of our tours.

The Class of 1966, the last class to graduate from Fuquay Springs High school, gave us an opportunity to place a sundial atop the column. Docents always connect our change of names from Fuquay Springs to Fuquay-Varina in our tours. The original HYPHENATED name is routinely explained as we interpret our new brand, “a dash more” for visitors.

The sundial which resulted from these efforts has been quite an attraction for children. Set on daylight savings time, it is correctly read on sunny days. After we convince the children that it is not supposed to be turned, this becomes a great teaching moment.

Before we began the sundial project, a dogwood tree was struggling to survive beside the walkways
Weiss and the scouts undertook to build the column and surrounding area with help.
The column rests on a concrete base.
The surrounding area makes an interesting stopping point to view the sundial.
Plantings were place by Weiss as part of his project. Today the butterfly bushes are quite attractive to all.
The final sundial and historical marker.

Ashworth Park in Bloom

The Friends of the Museums are proud of the beauty in Ashworth Park this spring. Park and Recreation do a good job of mowing, mulching, and cleaning up on a rather regular basis. Remember they planted the donated Forest Pansy Red Bud donated by the Fuquay-Varina Woman’s Club a few months ago.

However, our pride this spring is the result of the donations and work of a number of individuals. In particular, Tom and Kathy Wiles were moving from Fuquay-Varina and wanted to find a home for their collection of day lilies. As a result of their contact with Susan Bailes, President of the FV Garden Club, we became the recipients of 133 pots of day lilies last year.

Daniel Rice, a local candidate for Eagle Scout, was working in the park for his Eagle Scout designation. Earlier Garden Club members had donated a number of iris and other plants He and his family and fellow scouts took these pots of lilies and added them into his project plans. The park benefited by their efforts.

Eagerly, we awaited the blooming of these lilies. Truthfully, we kept our fingers crossed during the drought period that they might not survive. Fortunately the rainy season of a few weeks back assured us of a wonderful sight.

This is our presentation of the story “before” and “after” in pictures. We hope it serves to say “thank you” again to the wonderful volunteers and donors who made the beauty possible.

Beginning relatively bare, there were the iris and hydrangea which Shirley Simmons and Tony from the Town Parks and Rec had moved from the Johnson House at the Mineral Spring.
The first plants to go into the area came from the FV Garden Club members.
Mrs. Rice works with the first donation from the Garden Club to fill in part of this bare area.
Daniel Rice was responsible for engineering the efforts for this project over a year.
Planting around the Johnson Playhouse was supervised by Daniel.
Around the back of the Playhouse, the Garden Club donations first were added. Mrs. Rice worked hard to get them into proper places.
Day lilies are just there for “one” day generally. Each day there appears a new and different variety.
Some of these beauties were so exciting to see this week in the no longer bare area back of the school house.
The lilies in bloom surr.ound the hydrangea this first year.


The Friends of the Museums are grateful to the Conservation CSP of the Fuquay-Varina Woman’s Club for their new tree in the Ashworth Park. Parks and Recreation, Chris Newsmen, arranged to help plant the Forest Pansy Redbud chosen by Conservation Chairman, Pam Booker and her CSP.

The Squire Ballentine School House Museum is sporting a new roof in place of the rather worn wooden shingles placed there during the original restoration in the 1990’s. The Frances Ashworth dogwood provided a beautiful view in front of the building.

Norfolk Southern Caboose # 375 is getting “herself” ready for Dedication Day on May 4. Our program will begin at 11:00 a.m. to recognize all the volunteers and donors who have assisted with the Project. Chairman Tim Carroll is working hard to get all the little details completed. The caboose sports authentic gray paint inside and will be furnished with the original stove (restored by volunteers) and other donated items.

Shortly the lilies donated and planted as part of the Eagle Scout Project of Daniel Rice will bloom. The iris donated by the F. V. Garden Club have been showing their colors already.

Every day brings something new and exciting in Ashworth Park.

May 4, 2019 Heritage Day will bring some other new things to enjoy. The House in the Horseshoe State Historic Site will bring a program dedicated to our Revolutionary Heritage. Remember our Fuquay ancestors date from the Revolutionary War Era. There will be visitors all day from this site working with the Scouts who will be demonstrating campfire cooking.

Shirley Simmons

The Finest Hotel in Fuquay Springs: The Blanchard Hotel

Hotels became important in Fuquay Springs when people “came to take the waters” of the Mineral Spring. What was the finest hotel? From the record, the Blanchard Hotel with its turret and spire standing tall above the spring clearly stands out. Then what happened to the Blanchard?

That is where the answers become harder. Research in the Independent has yielded nothing, although it is possible that the year 1940, which is one of our “missing” years, would provide that information. To date the News and Observer files have also yielded nothing. So what do we know?

“A North Carolina Postcard Album” published by the Division of Archives and History of North Carolina includes the first post card of the new hotel. Postmarked Aug 5, 1908, a year before the town was incorporated, a visitor to Fuquay Springs wrote to say “the hotel would open next Sunday.”

There is a color post card version of the hotel, mailed on June 10, 1910 from Fuquay Springs to a Charles Derhart in Beaver Falls, Pa. The writer identified himself as Isaac Griffis, 18 years old, a machinist, who plans to stay one or two more nights.

While color postcards of the spring give fanciful views with ladies in frilly dresses and parasols and gentlemen sporting their finest suits and top hats, this postcard does seem to be an actual photographic rendering, on the top of which Griffis has scrawled “The Knox”. The U. S. Census of 1910 lists Wilton A. Knox as hotel keeper. Knox is recorded as having wife, Penny, daughters, Mary and Lucille and a son, Wilton.

Finally, an early post card taken from the southern side of the creek, behind the old pavilion where dances were held, is clearly a photographic image. Note the scrawny trees, the old store hiding just behind the pavilion, and the Blanchard sitting high up on the hill with nothing growing around her. Comprised of two stories with a turret and attic and something of a basement under the back side, her porch overlooked the mineral spring. Skinny Ashworth says he can remember seeing people sitting on the porch looking toward the spring sometime during the 1930’s.

The site was originally Fuquay family land. Part of the 93 acres inherited by Alrich Partin Fuquay from his father David Crockett Fuquay on the west side of what is now Main Street, it included the spring, joined the Jones land at the depot, and worked its way up the hill to above Academy Street today. A. P. Fuquay mortgaged his land to pay for his education at UNC Chapel Hill, then returned to town to teach in the Squire Ballentine School House located above the spring. When the school closed about 1892, he left town and moved to Georgia. His property was handled by his brother and acquired by Dr. J. A. Sexton in 1898.

Maps show Sexton’s plan for lots on Spring Heights and up Main Street. Lots # 5, 6, & 7 of his platt were sold to A. G. Blanchard and his wife Maggie. Henceforth, these three lots are identified in the records as the “hotel property.” Blanchard built and named this fine structure.

Arthur Gibson Blanchard was a son of Dr. A. J. Blanchard and Harriett Rowland Blanchard who lived on what is now Highway # 55 or Broad Street across from Windsor Point. Maggie was the daughter of B. G. Ennis who owned the property along what became Broad Street. They had no children; however, there were other Blanchard descendants in Fuquay-Varina. and a nephew called “Gib” who was named for him.

Whatever the financial success of the Blanchard Hotel may have been, the Blanchards mortgaged this property and others to the Trustees of Wake Forest College September 25, 1911. Branson’s North Carolina Business Directory lists the Blanchard hotel each year; however, in 1915 it is identified as the Myatt Hotel. Again an inn keeper’s name is associated in this photograph showing more landscaping of the grounds around the hotel. To date we have no identification of the Myatt innkeeper’s name although there were many Myatt’s in the Willow Springs area.

In any event, the hotel ownership remained with the Blanchards. The Treasurer of Wake Forest College, Talcott Brewer, acknowledged by affidavit in 1923 that the $900 note on the Blanchard Hotel was still unpaid. Finally, the Trustees of Wake Forest officially sold the property to Hattie Hill Williams and husband Joseph Speed Williams in 1935. The Hills were from Louisburg and the Williams from Warren County. Their intention was to restore the hotel as a tourist attraction according to their grandson.

To date, we have located no clarity on whether the hotel was then open or was closed. These were depression years across our nation. The Ben-Wiley Hotel across the street was opened in 1925 by the Cozart family and the Barham-Bullock Hotel still operated.

In 1937, Mrs. Williams conveyed the hotel property to her daughter, Elizabeth Williams Rowland. Elizabeth, at 18 years of age and a student at Woman’s College in Greensboro, met and married handsome Walter Elton Rowland, son of Walter Lee Rowland of Fuquay Springs. Grandmother Williams died of cancer in 1938, according to Walter Speed Rowland, son of Elizabeth. Walter Speed (of Delaware) has visited the museums and was himself delivered by Dr. Cozart.

The Williams family attempted to sell the hotel to a Mecklenburg couple and then bought it back. When the mortgage on the hotel defaulted and the property reverted to the Trustees of Wake Forest College, the college auctioned the property at the courthouse in Raleigh in March of 1940. E. P. Hough purchased the hotel property for $1200.

Mrs. Pauline Holt Cozart and her husband Dr. W. S. Cozart acquired the property from Hough on October 17, 1940.

What happened to the hotel building? Walter Speed Rowland assumed the hotel burned but cannot verify this. Rupert Weathers ( a descendant of the Blanchard family) remembers playing in the closets of the abandoned hotel building as a boy. Sara Fish Ragan and her good friend Patsy Cozart Patrick both told us in separate interviews in 2019 that they seem to recall the building being demolished around the late 1940’s.

At this juncture it does appear that the hotel property was cleared for individual building sites which remained under Mrs. Cozart’s ownership until 1984-85. Since that time there have been a number of owners of these properties. If you want to locate the hotel property today, the first of these houses is scheduled to open as Piedmont Pottery, the second building is rented and occupied by Loving Loft, and the third, still a rental dwelling, is owned by Patty and John Byrne.

The Masonic Hall is not located on hotel property but rather was the site of the older store which shows in the pictures between the mineral spring and the Blanchard.

L. A. “Speed” Riggs: The Voice of Lucky Strike

Speed Riggs, a native of North Carolina, was quite a big name in the history of tobacco and even in philanthropy. Not many people are aware of his connection to Fuquay-Varina. Probably only a few people who have visited the museums are even aware of his being a feature in our Tobacco Case. We even have his “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco” LSMFT on tape in our audio visual collection. But just in case you come or you won’t come, let us tell you more of this interesting gentleman.

Lee Aubrey Riggs, the son of Mark and Callie Riggs, was born on Feb. 18, 1907 in Onslow County North Carolina. There three boys and two girls grew up on tobacco farming but moved to Goldsboro where Mark worked as a carpenter at times, too. At Speed’s death on Feb. 1, 1987, only two sisters, Beatrice Riggs Godwin and Reba Clell Riggs survived him.

Mark took his seven year old son with him to a Maysville tobacco warehouse and young Lee was captivated by the auctioneer. A drop out from school in the fifth grade, he continued to work at his dream of becoming an auctioneer, not just any auctioneer but “the best auctioneer.”

By the time he was 17, Lee had perfected a sing song chant partially to the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and told News and Observer columnist, Dennis Rogers, that he could do 590 words a minute by that age.” Now, you know why he was called “SPEED.” The average auctioneer would do somewhere between 300-400 words per minute according to some sources.

Rogers recounts that at 18 years of age, Lee tried out for a position as a Goldsboro warehouse auctioneer along with 4 other men. The crowd was so impressed they yelled, “hire the kid.” The warehouse did and Lee became the youngest tobacco auctioneer in the country in 1935.

Just two years later, one Friday night at the Liberty Warehouse in Durham, George Washington Hill, President of American Tobacco, approached him and told him he was going to New York and be the voice of Lucky Strikes on the radio. Speed says he was on the train to New York that night and the next night in front of a microphone during a commercial on Lucky Strike’s “Your Hit Parade.”

L. A. “SPEED” RIGGG, according to his relatives, always appeared dapper in his double breasted suit jackets.

Speed never made a living selling tobacco thereafter. Rogers credits him with earning $450 a week as a national celebrity at 20 years of age. The final line, “sold to American” became his trademark. Shortened to “LS/MFT,” everyone knew the commercial. He traveled the country giving interviews and speeches and doing charity auctions for Lucky Strike. During World War II, Speed sold $218 million in War Bonds, including $7 million in one day on Boston Common.

According to Rogers, Speed appeared in 11 movies. Another account credits him in 8 movies with Dale Robertson and 7 movies with Glenn Ford. He has pictures in Hollywood with Sinatra and many others.

Now for the Fuquay connection. During his two years of work before becoming the Voice of Lucky Strike, Speed sold tobacco in Oxford, Fuquay Springs, Whiteville and on the burley market in Tennessee. Riggs roomed at the Ben Wiley Hotel with Sam Amos and was friends with Bruce Howard who did the calculations on the local market.

While in Fuquay Springs, he met one of the fair young maidens of Varina in Wake County. Walter and Lola Dennis, having lived in Neills Creek, Harnett County in 1910 and in Chatham County in 1920, had moved to Fuquay Springs by 1930. Their family included the four Dennis girls: twins, Lucille and Kathleen, and the two younger ones, Myree and Nora Belle.

Nora Belle Dennis married Speed Riggs in Fuquay Springs in 1937.

A beauty, Nora Belle caught the eye of Speed Riggs and they were married on December 29, 1937 by Rev. C. H. Norris, Baptist Minister. Bruce Howard, later Mayor of Fuquay-Varina, and long time tobacconist, signed as a witness. Nora Belle and Elizabeth Howard were good friends from school days.

Among the Dennis girls, Kathleen would marry Bill Byrd and this collection of material to the museum comes from her son, John Robert Byrd. Myree married Robert Williams and their children are Robbie Williams and Jane, still residents here. Lucille worked as a postal clerk. Married twice, she eventually lived in California.

The Riggs couple made their way to California, living in Fullerton, Anaheim, and owning a ranch at Resada on which Speed raised saddle-bred Palominos. At some point they were divorced and Nora Belle remarried. There were no children. Nora Belle died in 1985.

When the cigarette commercials were banned on radio and television in 1969, Speed formed a non profit called “Your Community Fund.” His purpose was teaching job skills to the handicapped and under privileged.

Riggs raised Palominos on his ranch in California.

Ill health prompted Speed to retire to North Carolina in January, 1986. He lived with his two sisters in Rocky Mount and later in Goldsboro. When he died on February 1, 1987 in Goldsboro, his memorial service was delayed until the following Saturday, February 7. Among the speakers listed in the program was W. W. “Billy” Yeargin, President of Tobacco History Corporation and later a featured speaker across the state. Other dignitaries sent remarks according to the program and clippings kept by John Robert Byrd.

Perhaps the greater treasure was a copy of the Western Union Telegram which came to Beatrice upon his death. Dated Feb 5 Govt White House, DC

Speed always smoked his “Lucky Strikes.”

“Nancy and I send our heartfelt condolences on your brother’s death. Speed made a unique contribution to our cultural heritage and he used his time and talents to benefit the needy and to help our nation’s war effort. Our thoughts, prayers and sympathy are with you.”
— Ronald Reagan

Speed served as one of the judges at the first annual tobacco auctioneering championship in Danville, Va. on Sept 12, 1969. Actually, the writer notes that the first auctioneer began his art in Danville in 1858 with the first loose leaf sale.

Auctioneers held Speed in great acclaim across the United States. In 2003, Lee Aubrey Riggs was entered into the North Carolina Agricultural Hall of Fame.


Can you identify this caboose on the Seaboard Line? In what snowfall? Definitely a wooden caboose—— what else can you tell us?

The picture was part of the Byrd Collection which has come into the museums. John Robert Byrd was a railroad man who lived in Fuquay Springs and raised
a family in the house at the corner of Main and Ennis Street. Later the home of William “Bill” Byrd and Kathleen, it was recently torn down.

Included in the collection are these three small photos, also open to identification by experts!