While many residents enjoyed funnel cakes and live music on Saturday at Celebrate Fuquay Varina, Mayor John Byrne and 20 other guests took a walk.
Byrne led the way around downtown Fuquay to the Centennial Museum, through Fuquay’s historic district, and to the mineral springs on his Mayor’s Walk.
Then and now
Several walkers spent their lives in Fuquay, and pointed out areas of downtown where other landmarks used to be.
Former mayor Gene Truelove told his fellow walkers that a movie theater used to stand where a furniture store now stands next to the Farmer’s Market.
“I was a popcorn popper,” he said.
Truelove also told walkers that a gun shop and Napa store on Main Street used to be a bus station where Fuquay workers took buses to Raleigh and other nearby cities.
Truelove also pointed out that Fuquay Varina Middle School used to be the town’s high school, and that The Fuquay Varina Independent’s office stood at the corner of North Fuquay Avenue and East Academy Street. It sits on Vance Street now.
Byrne added to Truelove’s observations in Fuquay’s historic district. He said that today’s Fuquay Gun and Gold was the first American legion building, and Fellowship Bible Church was the general store.
Six walkers viewed a video overviewing Fuquay Varina’s history at Centennial Museum. The video said that John Burt came to the area before the Revolutionary War and bought land. William Fuquay, a French soldier who fought for America’s independence, also bought land after the war, which eventually merged with Burt’s and became Fuquay Springs.
Varina got its name from Virginia Avery, who signed her letters to Fuquay schoolmaster and future husband J.D. Ballentine during the Civil War with the nickname “Varina.” The signature was a common trend said to have originated with Confederate president Jefferson Davis’s wife, Varina.
When Ballentine returned from the war, he married Avery and forever after called her “Varina.”
Byrne told walkers that Stephen Fuquay, grandson of town founder William Fuquay, discovered the mineral springs while plowing his farm in 1858. Once word got out about the springs, people began flocking to the town in the hopes that the water’s “healing powers” would cure what ailed them.
“Doctors would tell their patients ‘I can’t do anything for you’ and send them to the springs,” Byrne said. The springs catered to “the mental, physical, and really the spiritual side” of health at the time, according to Byrne.
Thanks to the springs’ popularity, more roads and railroads began to be built to accommodate the increasing traffic, which helped the town grow and modernize.
“To get a train through your town was huge, but to get your second train…was even huger,” Byrne said. “This was a resort community, a Pinehurst of its day, or a Myrtle Beach, maybe. We had golf courses here. We had bowling alleys here, and nine hotels.”
One of those hotels was a 100-room accommodation, the town’s largest, that sat less than a block away from the springs. A day care and dog grooming place sit there now.
Tobacco was king
Truelove said that the corner of South Fuquay Avenue and East Academy Street was where the tobacco market stood. An auto shop stands there now.
According to the museum video, Gold Leaf tobacco, which the town grew, could be easily recognized by its smell. Byrne told walkers how prominent of a role tobacco played in Fuquay when he and his wife moved to town in 1973.
“It [the tobacco market] was like the State Fair and the Fourth of July all wrapped up in one,” Byrne said. “Fifty percent of the income that came to the town came from tobacco.”