Shirley Simmons, Volunteer Director

(This article detailing the Ragsdale connection to the Fuquay Independent is from the Shirley Mudge Hayes collection she left with us. Todd Caldwell was working at the Dunn Dispatch when Fuquay Springs sent a delegation to investigate his availability for coming to Fuquay Springs and opening a newspaper. Jewel Ballentine Stephens again was the citizen who remembered attending a meeting in 1935 to discuss this project. Caldwell came and began the first issue in 1935. The Ragsdales account of this newspaper publication is recounted here. )

Mildred Ragsdale Remembers the Independent’s Early Days
by Shirley Hayes

Mildred and Jack Ragsdale courtesy of daughter Jackie Seawell

When Mildred Cobb married Jack Ragsdale in 1946, she didn’t realize she was about to become just as “married” to Fuquay Springs’ 11-year-old newspaper, The Independent.

But Jack’s multi-titled job as the paper (he was in charge of advertising, production, typesetting, press operations and anything else that needed doing—except writing) absorbed him and his family.

Today probably no one in town remembers as much about the newspapers found and editor, Todd Caldwell, as Mildred does.

Unknown date but before Horace Tilley enlisted in WW II. Tilley was killed in 1945 but he had worked at Independent prior to entry into service. Left: Todd Caldwell, Middle: Jack Ragsdale Right: Horace Tilley (Photo courtesy Tilley family)

Caldwell wasn’t married when Jack went to work for him, and he was soon drawn into Jack and Mildred’s family. For years he ate lunch five days a week with the Ragsdales.

For most of his years in Fuquay-Varina, Caldwell lived in one room in the back of the Independent office building, located at the corner of Academy Street and Fuquay Avenue. He had a cot there and a hot plate.

After one brush with the law (a trooper suspected he’d had a toddy or two but didn’t charge him), Caldwell gave up driving. Then, every Friday afternoon Jack and Mildred would drive him to Raleigh and drop him off at the Sir Walter Hotel where he maintained a room. He returned to Fuquay on the bus on Monday mornings.

When Jack and Mildren’s two little girls came along, Cladwell became like a grandfather to them. “We love him like a father…or grandfather,” Mildred remembers. “And he loved us.”

As the years went by, Jack’s devotion to his job and his pride in the newspaper dictated much of his family’s lifestyle.

“We never once took a weeklong vacation,” Mildred remembers. Jack would not leave town until he was certain the week’s paper had been readied for mailing and delivered to the post office on a Thursday morning.

“We’d go to Carolina Beach, but we had to be back on Sunday night because Jack had to be at work on Monday morning,” Mildred said in a recent interview. “And before we could to home, Jack would have to stop at the Independent to be sure no one had left a machine on or a lighted cigarette in an ashtray.”

But Mildred didn’t complain—-and doesn’t complain—-about that awesome work schedule. “They were good days,” she says.

Jack grew up in Fuquay Springs (the town’s name change didn’t occur until the 1960’s.) He met Todd Caldwell when, as a high school student, he got a job folding newspapers at the Independent. After high school, he went into the Army during World War II, ending his tour in 1945. Then he went to work for Caldwell full time. The editor did all the writing and the bookkeeping. Jack did everything else.

As Mildred remembers it, Jack sold ads, then created the ads himself, hand setting the type. Some of the time he would take a bus to Raleigh, carrying Caldwell’s written news and editorial copy to be set in metal type by a Fayetteville Street printer named L. B. Cox. He would return with the type ready to go on a hand-operated flat-press. In the earliest days, the paper was printed in another town. Eventually, Caldwell went to New York and bought a press and a linotype machine. Then he hired a linotype operator.

Ragsdale learned to run the press, feeding newsprint into the machine page by page. Next the newspaper had to be folded and addressed. Sometimes Ragsdale worked all night on Wednesday night to have the papers ready for mailing Thursday mornings.

Mildred remembers Caldwell as a very reserved, very private person. He was well read and a good conversationalist once one got to know him, but he was not outgoing. When he finally married, some time in his 1950’s, he continued his routine of staying in Fuquay-Varina during the week and having the Ragsdales drive him to the Sir Walter on Friday afternoons. He didn’t tell us he was married for a long time,” Mildred remembers. “I guess after we dropped him off he would take a cab to their apartment somewhere on Hillsborough Street,” she says.

Eventually Jack learned of the union from some source and came home to make the big announcement, Mildred remembers.

Through the years Mildred, too, was drawn into helping at the newspaper, primarily operating an address-o-graph to stamp the names of subscribers on newspapers headed to the post office. Sometimes she folded papers and/or inserted advertising pages.

In 1936, Caldwell produced The Independent by sharing the two offices of Attorney Gunter and Attorney Cotton over Elliott’s Drug Store. Upon the death of Dr. Cheek, Caldwelll moved into his former office space for a time. Later Caldwell had an office near John Roger’s Service Station and in back of Newton Prince’s store. Finally, The Independent came to this location on Academy Street which is where Caldwell made his home.

When the Ragsdales learned in 1972 that Caldwell had sold the Independent to Ted Vallas, Mildred remembers that Jack was apprehensive about what the future would hold. “But as soon as we got to know Ted, our fears disappeared,” Mildred says. “He became like family too.”

After Jack’s death from cancer in 1978, Mildred continued to work for The Independent. Her work in more recent years was in classified advertising and subscriptions. Today she is retired, but she claims many good memories from her years as an integral part of the newspaper family.

She may not have ink in her veins, but she certainly knows what it is like to have ink on her fingers and her clothes….

She insists, “They were good days.”

(There was no date on this interview of Mildred. Research shows that she died in 2012. Jack & Mildred Ragsdale are buried at Greenlawn in Fuquay-Varina. The museums has a lot of material on Caldwell, Vallas and the Independent in the collection. The staff certainly misses the Independent as does all the public.)


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”

The Class of 1952 at the Centennial Gala remains a close knit group of ladies. L to R: Willa Akin Adcock, Jane Riley McCullen , Shirley Mudge Hayes, Portia Mitchell Newman, Betsy Johnson Gunter, and Frances Poe Tindal.

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.

Lula Fuquay Sessoms was the daughter of Stephen S. and Mary Fuquay who operated a laundry, cooked cakes for town employees, and told delightful stories of the family and town.

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.

L. A. Mudge, father of Shirley Mudge Hayes, came to Fuquay Springs permanently in the 1930’s. His partnership in Insurance was Prince, Mudge, Powell and Honeycutt, eventually becoming Mudge and Honeycutt. Earlier he worked as tobacco sales supervisor on the Fuquay market.

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.

Miss Marvel Carter (left) and Miss Ellie Nicholson (right) teachers at Cardenas School pictures in front of the Lena Sexton home. Miss Ellie worked well into the 1940’s at Fuquay Springs School teaching first graders.

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!

Shirley, Chuck, Joe (son-in-law) and Elizabeth Hayes Saint posed at the Centennial Gala on Oct 10, 2009.

(*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.
Shirley Simmons)


For our Centennial Birthday Celebration in 2009, the program included a presentation on the Mayors of Fuquay Springs and Fuquay-Varina from 1909-2009. During those years a total of 28 men had held the office of mayor, several more than one time. At least four other men had served as acting mayor for brief periods either following resignations or after the assassination of Dr. Cozart.

That centennial research did not uncover a lot of information on several men listed in our Roster of Mayors. Neither were we able to find anyone who could definitely remember these “missing” gentlemen to help with biographical information.

Since that time, the museums staff have kept all eyes open should any of these names appear. Sometimes a newspaper reference has surfaced; at other times a deed record has contained information. Recently, ancestry.com has also proven helpful with additional records.

While the future may reveal more biographical data as we locate more archives, we can now share a few more details of the lives of three of these mayors.

Since incorporation, our mayors have served two-year terms. There is no limit on number of terms or reelection— our current Mayor John Byrne holds the record for terms,
having been elected for ten two-year terms since 2001.

Information uncovered on three of our former mayors follows.

Mayor R. E. Kerr: 1919-1921 served only one term. From the town minutes, we learned that Kerr had served as a Town Commissioner several years. After 1921, he seemed to disappear, until we found an Independent article telling us that he had removed to Charlotte and was being recognized in the banking Industry.

Subsequently, we found that he was born September 12, 1893 in South Carolina and raised in the Rutherfordton home of his grandparents, John and Lelita Carpenter. Named Robert Emmet Kerr, he was the son of Jefferson Davis Kerr and mother Minnie Carpenter Kerr. In Fuquay Springs, the unmarried gentlemen was listed as a boarder in the Barham-Bullock Hotel in the 1920 census and was employed as a cashier in the Bank of Fuquay. His name as a notary for deeds and documents within Fuquay Springs appears from time to time in our archival searches.

Commissioners that term were A. W. Thompson, D. M. Spence, W. S. Adams, J H. Lincoln and R. T. Farabow.

After moving to Charlotte, Kerr met Ruby Edward Starnes of Mt. Holly, NC. and the two were married on April 12, 1934 by the Methodist minister of Mt. Holly. The business directory of Charlotte lists his position as Vice President of American Trust Company and Ruby as Vice President of Federal Soda Shop. They lived at 900 Mt. Vernon Avenue with two children, Robert Emmet, Jr. and Sarah Caruthers Kerr.

Kerr died March 19, 1989 at age 95, still residing at 900 Mt. Vernon Ave. He was proceeded in death by his son in 1986. Ruby lived until 1999 and was buried beside her husband in Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Mayor J. R. Boothe: 1925-1927 served only one term. Boothe had served as Clerk of Recorder’s Court and Clerk of the Board of Commissioners of the town.

John Robert Boothe, born Jan 28, 1863, was the son of William Boothe of the Holly Springs area of Wake County. He married Cornelia Holleman, daughter of William and Jane
Holleman of Holly Springs.

J. A. Boothe was relieved as tax collector in 1921 and subsequently elected on December 6, 1921 as Town Clerk and Clerk of Recorder’s Court for a salary of $15. The
town paid him a year’s salary in 1922.

Town Commissioners at this term were A. W Thompson, J. W. Prince. E. C. Fish, R. H.Barbour and G. W. Adcock.

Boothe was an established lumberman and co-owner of a firm Womble and Boothe. Within the town of Fuquay, he invested in property from the Sexton estate in Varina and in the S.S. Fuquay lands of Fuquay Springs. The Boothe’s acquired two lots from the Harrison estate on which the Keith Hardware Building, presently T. R.Ashworth Inc., was later built.

In 1930 only three years after his mayoral term, Boothe died in Durham at the age of 67. Cornelia died in 1935. Both are buried in the Holly Springs Cemetery associated with their family histories. They had one son, William Colon Boothe who married Levi Womble of New Hill.

Mayor S. A. Adams: served the shorted time as mayor in history: May 8, 1933-July 10, 1933.

The only individual who remembered him was Jewel Ballentine Stephens who said she believed his name was Sidney. With the help of Ancestry we have been able to locate further biographical information on this family.

Sidney Augustus Adams was born April 2, 1904 to William Sidney and Luta Adams in Wake County. In 1930 Sidney lived with his oldest sister, Katie, widowed by the early death of her husband Boyd Herman Jones and left with three small girls. Sidneys’ other sisters were Necie Jones Oliver and Lougenia Jones Ransdell.

William had served as Town Commissioner under Mayor Kerr. Sidney was hired as a special policeman for July 4, 1931 along with J. D. Jones, J. M. Jones and N. H. Coley. Paid $3.00 , the town gave them credit for taxes that year. Elected as mayor on May 8, 1933 while the town was struggling in the midst of the depression, on July 3 Sidney was offered $25 by the town to collect taxes. This seems to be the reason he resigned as Mayor on July 10 and J. E. Howard was elected Acting Mayor. His success in the tax collection was not recorded in town minutes nor was he mentioned again.

William, widowed, married a second time during the depression. The Adams family was living in Wake Forest by the time Sidney Augustus married Louise Shepherd of Orum, N. C. on August 19, 1940. The couple resided in Raleigh where Sidney’s place of business was Carolina Tractor and Equipment Company. When Sidney died November 15, 1973, he was employed in the parts department of Gregory Poole Equipment. He is buried at Montlawn Cemetery.

To date, no one has uncovered pictures of these mayors to add to our archives. However, we are glad to add this information on town leadership to our archival records.
Perhaps this recount may stir memories or result in materials from the public.

Shirley Simmons, Volunteer Director


The FV Museums staff try to follow up on requests or questions for individual and on information which arises over the course of our research which either adds to something or corrects something we had previously been told.

Mickey Smith, Arthur Ray Talley and others recalled some things about baseball in Fuquay Springs when we were researching for Red Seagroves article. Among other ideas, they recalled Tom Seagroves wrote for the Independent on sports.

Following up on these, research has located these details.

A Sep 22, 1949 column by Thomas Seagroves in the Independent “Sports Review” Listed were Dick’s All stars and the Varina Sluggers with both Tom and J. C. Seagroves playing

Into the 1955 issues of the Independent there is the column continued by Seagroves “Sports Review”

Names of different teams we found in different issues:

April 24, 1947: Fuquay Cowboys, Varina Sluggers
April 25, 1947: Rawls Stumpdiggers
May 8, 1947: Holly Springs Rams
Sept 8, 1949: Varina Sluggers were in finals.
April 14, 1949: Rawls Stumpdiggers, Varina Sluggers, Wilbon Owls, Dick’s Service Station All Stars, Wake Harnett Cardinals.,
Sept 23, 1954: Nemo Sherman played with Rawls Stumpdiggers
Coach: Ben Perry, playing at Fleming Field

Another issue caught our attention with this story about a Fuquay native. March 24, 1949 Bobby Chappell signed with Philadelphia Phillies. He transferred to Phillies when Dusty Cooke was trainer. Earlier he was at St. Petersburg Jr. College to train with the Yankees.

The Museums have a picture of Dusty Cooke with Babe Ruth. Dusty was Mickey Smith’s uncle. According to Mickey, Dusty was expected to be the “next” Babe Ruth until he suffered an injury.

Other Professional baseball figures from Fuquay were Bill Holland (relative of Becky Medlin’s family) and Hollis Atkinson. There may be more to be uncovered.

Bill Holland
Hollis Atkinson

From different articles we found all these individuals a lot of us may remember:
Players: Harry Rowland, Harry, “faster than lightning” was pitcher.
Curtis Cotton, Billy Powell, Leon Pearce, Phillip Ransdell, Ray Williams, Donald Wagstaff, Tom Seagroves, Red Seagroves, Tommy Howard, Clinton Abernathy, Gaither Snipes, Roy Talley, Jimmy Tilley, Joe Chappell, Ed Brown, J. K. Shearon

We did not locate anything on the African American team from Holly Springs in the Independentyet; however, Mickey and others did recall that there was a good team which they saw play.


In the year 1915, the Town of Fuquay Springs, led by former mayor, E. J. Ragsdale, requested allocation of $15,000 by the North Carolina General for the express purpose of establishing a high school in Fuquay Springs. Construction began in 1916. When the three story building opened in 1918 on Academy Street , a large school bell adorned the top of the “old red building.” The entire school, grades 1-11, were housed in this building until 1928 when a separate high school building opened facing Ennis Street.

Reporter Shirley Hayes at Fuquay Independent interviewed a number of individuals still alive in 1977, who had special connections at some point in their lives to this first high school. Her account entitled “The Walls Came Tumbling Down ” appeared on July 28, 1977 as the demolition of the building was completed by the D. H. Griffin, Company of Greensboro.

One interviewee was Myrtle Hopson who, having agreed to substitute one day for Principal W. E. Fleming, remained 29 years as a teacher. Her bell memory came from the year her class of 49 fifth graders occupied the room upstairs through which the bell rope passed from roof down to the first floor office. She enrolled a new student whom she had to seat near the bell rope area. Suddenly the young man jumped to his feet calling upon all his classmates to ”get out.” Mrs. Hopson finally quieted the student, explaining that the great shaking of the building was caused by the bell being rung above their heads. “In California, we call that an earthquake,” he insisted. Numerous individuals recounted the terrific shaking of the entire building when the bell was rung.

The bell provided the entire town with a way to keep time every school day. When the first bell each school morning rang at 8:00 a.m. , all parents and students knew to get moving, for the second bell at 8:30 a.m. would signal the beginning of classes for the day. Some recalled that the bell rang for recess, lunch and dismissal of school at 3:00 p.m. Some individuals stated that it was also rung to change classes at some point in time.

Miss May Adams who taught seventh grade was assigned the room into which the bell rope descended. Her closet on the front of the building is remembered as the actual
terminus of the rope. Miss Adams supervised the ringing of the bell for many years. When Mr. Fred Hunt took over as interim principal upon the death of Mr. Fleming in 1950, he recalled that Miss Adams had her watch brought to him to set as she has done daily with Mr. Fleming. Hunt sent word that Miss Adams should feel free to use her own watch to ring the bells at the proper times.

At some unrecorded date, during the administration of Principal Ed Farnell, the school was remodeled and an electrical bell system installed throughout what had become a campus of several buildings. At that point the huge bell was removed from atop the “old red bullding”. Fred Hunt rescued the now silent bell, building a frame for it and placing it in a prominent place in the yard. It was popular for picture taking and occasionally painting.

First High School for Fuquay Springs along Academy Street . Picture date in not recorded.

When grades 10-12 of the high school moved to Bengal Blvd in 1975, the bell remained on this frame near the old red building area. After the ninth grade moved to Bengal Blvd in 1977, the campus became totally Fuquay-Varina Middle School.

In a civic effort led by Mrs. Frances Senter, Joanna Proctor and the Fuquay-Varina Woman’s Club, the idea of building a MINI BELL PARK was born in town. The bell was rescued and kept in a secure place when the middle school renovation began. The plan was to hang the bell permanently in the Bell Park along Academy Street near the original front of the first high school building. The Woman’s Club project led to their earning the Civic Improvement Project Award during the GFWCNC 1977-78 administration. A total of $8,000 was collected from various organizations with $1,000 coming from the F.V .Woman’s Club. Masons worked to build the brick columns atop which a steel frame was mounted to hold the bell. Note in the picture how the design was built to match that of the new building for the Fuquay-Varina Middle School. The expectation was that the “old bell” was home for ever!

May Day Celebration at the Fuquay Springs High School in 1928. From the Robert Prince Collection.

Sometime subsequent to 2000, the Woman’s Club realized that the bell had been taken down from the frame. After a bit of sleuthing, Frances Senter and Shirley Simmons uncovered it hanging on a new frame in the interior of the Fuquay-Varina Middle School Campus. That is where is resides today.

Kim Johnson, current President of the Fuquay Springs Quester Chapter # 1134 and daughter of Frances Senter, brought our attention to the fact that few people seem to be aware on the current campus of the real origin of the bell. The Questers became inspired to place a marker recognizing the significance of this important piece of history. Chapter thinking is that this artifact of our town should be clearly identified and preserved.

Bell from Grennbriar (annual) in 1964. This was the way Mr. Hunt preserved the bell when it was removed from the Old Red Building.

We began trying to ascertain why it was removed, possibly when some work was being done on the new building along Academy, Street. We found that some long-time staff at the present middle school actually don’t know why a new tower was erected and the bell placed upon it.

Donald Cotton, graduate of Fuquay Springs High School, former teacher and Principal, and former official of Wake County Public Schools, suggested that we contact the Wake County Schools to see why the bell was moved and what might be done now. Mr. Greg Clark, Senior Director of Maintenance and Operations agreed to look into the matter. Word has been passing around that “someone is asking the question.” To the present date, no one seems to have an answer.

The Bell Mini Park as designed to match the middle school and placed along Academy Street in 1978.

Compounding the issue since the Questers began the effort to mark the bell is the fact that Wake County Public Schools will erect a new Fuquay-Varina Middle School at another site in the near future. Exactly what might become of the present school site has not been determined.

Hopefully, with the Fuquay Springs Questers leading the effort, one of three things can happen. Preferably the old bell can be placed again in the Mini Bell Park along Academy Street on the original building site. If not, then the Questers would like to identify a site for the old bell and to place a marker identifying the historic relic. This could mean a move to the museums grounds if the campus is abandoned and a new middle school is relocated as is being considered by Wake County presently. If there is a school kept on the campus in the future, then the bell could be marked and included perhaps along Academy Street again.

Current location of bell in interior of campus. Unidentified and largely unknown, the bell needs historical recognition again.

We solicit the public will to see this bell identified and remembered forever! Join in our appeal to Wake County Public Schools for the “best” resolution! Help us be certain that the bell is protected throughout any changes coming for that campus, too. The old bell is an important artifact from our town’s past and must not be abandoned.

Important facts relative to the Academy/Ennis/Woodrow Street campus

  • Fuquay Springs High School 1918 (first graduating class 1922)
  • Fuquay-Varina High School 1967 (first graduating class)
  • Fuquay-Varina Middle School 1975 (with move of high school grades 10-12 that year)
  • The ninth grade left the campus for Bengal Blvd in 1977.

Principals of the high school located on this campus

  • Henry A. Neal was principal one year, 1918
  • W. E. Fleming served as principal from 1919 until he died in 1950
  • Fred Hunt (Agriculture teacher) served as interim principal 1950-51
  • Edward N. Farnell became principal 1951
  • Isaac P. Davis came as principal in 1965
  • J. Don Lee became principal 1970
  • William M. Freeman, formerly principal at Fuquay Consolidated, moved from Fuquay Elementary in 1973 to Fuquay-Varina High School
  • Donald G. Cotton, student, teacher and assistant principal on this site, became the principal in 1975 at the Bengal Blvd location

The museums would welcome a listing of principals for the Fuquay-Varina Middle School on this campus to add to our archival base.

Correction to information “Historically Speaking” on School Bells
While researching, J. G. Allen’s name was found and further research adds his name to list of principals of Fuquay Springs High School)

  • Henry A. Neal was principal one year, 1918
  • W. E. Fleming served as principal from 1919 until he died in 1950
  • Fred Hunt (Agriculture teacher) served as interim principal during 1950 when Fleming suffered a heart attack J. G. Allen came as Assistant Principal in the fall of 1950 and became acting principal when Fleming died in September of 1950
  • Edward N. Farnell became principal June, 1951
  • Isaac P. Davis came as principal in 1965
  • J. Don Lee became principal 1970
  • William M. Freeman, formerly principal at Fuquay Consolidated, moved from Fuquay Elementary in 1973 to Fuquay-Varina High School
  • Donald G. Cotton, student, teacher and assistant principal on this site, became the principal in 1975 at the Bengal Blvd location

(Further research corrects the names of schools for the 1975-77 period on the campus)

  • Fuquay Springs High School 1918 (first graduating class 1922)
  • Fuquay-Varina High School 1967 (first graduating class)
  • Fuquay-Varina Junior High School 1975 (with move of high school grades 10-12 that year)
  • Fuquay-Varina Middle School 1977
  • ( ninth grade left the campus for Bengal Blvd in 1977.)

Submitted by: Shirley Simmons, Volunteer Director


The portion of our Fuquay-Varina Museums which is termed the Centennial Museum and Archive is located in the building which is clearly marked “Muncipal Building” right over the center door. Located at 131 S. Fuquay Avenue, the building does have an important historical significance which we shall attempt to share in brief. The entire 3/4 of a block, now known at Ashworth Historic Park, likewise has a remarkable history.

Prior to the erection of this Municipal Building, there was no real home for town government. At times, the Mayor and Board of Commissioners met around town, in the Ballentine Building or other places. Some official work began to take place upstairs in the Thompson Building, commonly known as Elliotts Pharmacy and Elmos, after it was rebuilt in 1916. The museums have a sketch showing the location of the Recorder’s Courtroom and offices over what is now Elmos. The Recorder’s Court dates from 1917 in that site.

At times the mayor maintained an office in the upstairs, the clerks and some other officials were known to work there, along with law offices, beauty shops, and other businesses. Some people remember that over the Elliott’s part of the building one got medical “shots” of different types. Everything town related left there in 1951 with the erection of our “Municipal Building” ie. the Centennial Museum.

The original building on the site was the Fuquay Warehouse.  Henry Talley and most of his children came to sell tobacco here.  Picture and details in museum courtesy Talley family. 

Originally about half the block on Fuquay Avenue was the site of the first tobacco warehouse (1908) in Fuquay. Following that the block then became home to a number of dwellings—Daughtry, Ashworth, Rogers, Holland, and Van Hook come to mind. There was a Bunn bakery which many remember. At one point the Fuquay Springs Post Office was located in a building where the recently vacated library was later constructed.

Heulon Dean photo of municipal building in use. Shows fire truck in bay,, courtroom area for voting, voters outside, and metal building for additional fire truck on side. Driver of truck was identified as Mr. Rowland.

Finally in 1951, the town constructed its first “muncipal” home, this building on Fuquay Avenue. Mayor Dr. Wiley S. Cozart presided over the groundbreaking and led the effort. Dr. Wiley H. Cozart recalled his father actually journeyed to New York to acquire the steel needed to complete the structure.

Independent picture at dedication of municipal building 1951. August 23, 1951 issue.

According to the Independent (August 23, 1951) the building, built by A. Y. Hairr contractor, cost the town $53,000. Secretary of State, Thad Eure, gave the dedicatory address. He declared, “Tobacco as one of the things that has moved this town. You have long helped the state to hold the leadership on tobacco but to continue to hold it, a good research program is necessary.” At that time tobacco was sold in 10 warehouses. (Eventually a high of 12 warehouses operated in the area.)

Governor Kerr Scott, Mayor W. S. Cozart, Town Manager, Willard Council and Pastor Walton M. Page of Fuquay Springs Baptist Church all graced programs in the celebration. The parade float winner was the Fuquay Motor Company. The parade route ended in a grand finale at the new municipal building. A population of 1998 citizens enjoyed the big moment.

Over time the town purchased about 1/2 of the block. At times using houses on either side of the brick building, there were offices related to town functions. The recently vacated library building was designed and constructed by the Town, and the library moved there in 1988. Also, in 1988, the Town vacated this municipal building and moved to Judd Parkway into the second municipal building which they occupied until this month. For a time DMV used the entire old municipal building for licenses and license plate operations.

Fuquay Springs Quester Chapter # 1134 signed on with the town to provide a museum called the Ballentine School House. Moved to the block in 1993, they began interpreting history there in 2000. All the civic organizations in the area supported this building’s move. Questers further secured town permission and with town help moved the Little Fuquay Springs Post Office in 2008 to operate as the second museum.

The Centennial Commission occupied the front of the municipal building during the centennial year and built a display of artifacts as an exhibit for the centennial. Not wishing these artifacts to be lost and realizing the importance of a museum/archive could be to the town, a 501 c 3 non profit was organized. Since the Centennial of 2009, the Friends of the Museums, under an agreement with the Town, have operated the portion of the museums called our Centennial Museum and Archives in the front half of the building. DMV issues licenses, by agreement with the town, in the rear portion of the building.

With the town acquisition of the Rufus Ashworth property, now the Ashworth Historical Park site, about 3/4 of the block became public property. The old library building will revert from Wake County to town ownership this month. The Friends of the Museums have expanded
their local museums complex to include other components in the Ashworth Historic Park. Presently, the complex is in dire need of additional space to save our town’s history for our posterity.

The Friends of the Museums are presently planning to complete a replica of the Little Depot to complete our rail component at the museums. This will provide access to our Caboose # 375 for everyone. They recently placed a new roof on the Ballentine School House Museum.

Centennial Museum and Archive with new awnings, October 31, 2019. Photo by Shirley Simmons for museum.

The Board of Commissioners of the Town budgeted funding in 2019 for awning replacement on the old municipal building. They have also plans to evaluate and repair the leaking roof. The latter was of great importance as there has been some slight water damage which the museum could not afford to have continue. The Friends of the Museums have been fortunate that no artifacts have been damaged and DMV has had no damage to their operation. The Friends of the Museums, a non profit 501c 3, recognize and appreciate this expenditure of the town to maintain the building as part of the museums complex.

If you haven’t come in or just driven by, please do so to admire our new blue awnings. While they do match exactly the mail box in the corner and the new town signs, definitely they give the Old Municipal Building and the Centennial Museum a “new” look.

Check us out at fuquay-varina-museums.org or Facebook Fuquay-Varina Museums. Perhaps this history of the complex will whet public appetite to come, look, and learn!


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?