The Fuquay Springs Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2012, The Gombach Group.
The Fuquay Springs Historic District, a roughly five-block area anchored by the historic Fuquay Mineral Spring, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places for its associations with the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century development of Fuquay Springs, and as an intact collection of traditional primarily early-twentieth century residential architecture.
One- and two-story, traditional, modestly decorated houses comprise the majority of the historic streetscapes, though there are also several individually important structures and sites. Among these are the Fuquay Mineral Spring (listed in the National Register in 1986); the Varina Mercantile Building, a late-nineteenth century commercial structure and the only non-residential property in the district; the Ballentine-Spence House and Walter H. Aiken House, which are both impressive examples of the intersection of late Queen Anne and Colonial Revival architecture; the J.E. Howard House, one of three substantial Craftsman Bungalows in the district; and the Craftsman-style Ben-Wiley Hotel, one of only two hotels remaining from the town’s heyday as a mineral spring resort, and the more intact of the two.
The Fuquay Springs Historic District reflects Fuquay Springs’ development between ca.1899 and 1946. During this period there were several influences on the town’s growth, including the popularity of the Mineral Spring as a recreational destination and the town’s evolution into a tobacco market for southern Wake County. The Fuquay Springs Historic District reflects the designs, materials, scale, and finishes popular in small town neighborhoods all over eastern North Carolina in the early-twentieth century.
Prior to the late nineteenth century, the area around what is now known as Fuquay-Varina was little more than a crossroads farming community, known as Sippihaw, with a mineral spring which had been discovered prior to mid-century by farmer David Fuquay on his southern Wake County farm in the Middle Creek Township. A group of men, including Parson McCoy, Billy Sexton, and Cornelius Harnett Cofield, formed the Chalybeate Springs Corp. and began a modest development of the spring property by ca.1860 to market the spring for its supposed medicinal properties (Black, p.8). An early boardinghouse for those who came to “take the waters” was built nearby by a Mrs. McLean and a private, two-room school was also constructed. James D. “Squire” Ballentine conducted the school, supposedly the first white school between Raleigh and Fayetteville (“Community Information-Fuquay Varina,” n.p.).
As Sippihaw began to grow, it was felt that a post office was needed. “Squire” Ballentine was successful in establishing one, which he called Varina in honor of his wife, at his home south of the spring. He also acted as postmaster. The Ballentine family opened a large general store, the Varina Mercantile Company (401 S. Main Street), across from the spring in 1899. This store proved to be the focal point for the growing community for the next several decades.
Interest in the mineral spring continued to grow and in the 1890s, W.H. Aiken, W.H. Aiken, Jr., and K.B. Johnson formed the Fuquay Mineral Spring Corporation for the purpose of commercializing the spring property. By 1900 the Raleigh and Southport lumber railroad had a terminal at Sippihaw and the trains were converted into special excursion trains to ferry people to the Easter Monday and July Fourth celebrations at the spring (“Community Information — Fuquay-Varina,” n.p.). A new hotel and restaurant business began to thrive in the town. Dr. J.A. Sexton operated the new Blanchard Hotel and restaurant across from the spring around 1904; this later burned and was rebuilt. The Blanchard was considered the largest and most luxurious of the town’s hotels. (It was demolished in the 1930s.) The Barham Hotel (415 South Main Street) was also constructed to serve visitors to the spring in the early 1900s, as were several boarding houses. A pavilion was built at the spring, which was surrounded with a park-like setting and concessions stands, and where dancing in a wooden pavilion was a popular activity for visitors during the summer months. Local residents remember that Len Aiken, one of W.H. Aiken’s sons, was a favorite piano player at the pavilion and that the local Baptist congregation frowned mightily on the dancing and frivolity which took place there.
In 1902 the community of Sippihaw changed its name to Fuquay Springs, in honor of the founding family. It was also during these early years of the twentieth century that tobacco began to become an important local industry. Tobacco growers migrated from the established tobacco belt in Granville, Person, Alamance, and Durham counties to southern Wake, where the soil was well-suited for cultivation of bright leaf tobacco. A tobacco blight known as the “Granville wilt” also drove farmers along the Virginia border southward (Black, p.8.3). W.H. Aiken built the first tobacco warehouse in Fuquay Springs in 1908, a large frame building which was soon followed by brick warehouses and prizeries. The Bank of Fuquay was founded that year to serve the growing local economy.
The area around the spring and the Varina Mercantile continued to grow. In 1908 the Fuquay Land Company platted a large subdivision of town lots on the east side of Main Street (Morson Map, 1908). The next year the Town of Fuquay Springs was incorporated, with the original limits running roughly half a mile in each direction from the mineral spring (Lally, “Note to Varina Commercial Historic District File,” n.p.). The residential area east of the spring began to attract home builders by ca.1910, including “Squire” Ballentine, who built an impressive house at 109 East Spring Street (Ballentine-Spence House) around 1910. Other early residences in the neighborhood include the more modest houses at 104 and 114 E. Spring Street and the Wright House at 214 E. Spring Street. The presence of the main highway (Main Street, now US 401) drew commercial facilities and stores to Fuquay Springs, but fires in 1916 and other years destroyed many of the earlier commercial buildings (Black p.8.2).
The Fuquay Mineral Spring remained a strong attraction for the area through the early 1920s, with hotels, restaurants, livery stables, and other support businesses continuing to cater to the crowds of visitors. Towards the end of the 1920s the mineral spring business began to suffer as visitors utilized the newly-popular automobile to widen their travel destinations. As late as 1925, however, a new hotel opened to serve the spring’s guests. The Ben-Wiley Hotel (331 S. Main Street) was built by Dr. Wiley Cozart, a local physician, on a high lot overlooking the spring. The small facility gained a reputation as a fine establishment, especially known for its food, and it soon became a community landmark.. Dr. Cozart’s son remembers selling lemonade in the corner of the yard to folks who walked over from the spring.
The spring ceased to operate after the 1920s. Richard Aiken inherited the property from his father in 1933 and planned to recommercialize it. However, during dynamiting for sewage lines the spring ceased to flow (though it later did resume its flow), thereby ending any chance of reviving the old tradition. Despite the end of this early recreational industry in Fuquay Springs, the town continued to prosper, spurred primarily by the continuing success of the tobacco market. In 1920 the town was wired for electric lights; in 1937 a municipal sewage system replaced the wells and septic systems on town properties and streets were finally paved in the late 1930s (Pearl Proctor interview).
Paralleling Fuquay’s development from the late-nineteenth through early-twentieth century, the separate community of Varina grew up at the junction of the Cape Fear and Northern Railroad and the Raleigh and Cape Fear Railroad. This junction was approximately one mile north of the spring (Black, p.8.2). The railroad served as the focal point of Varina’s commercial growth, but the town’s isolation by the railroad tracks and its lack of a main thoroughfare meant that the Varina section did not grow to the same extent as Fuquay Springs did. Nevertheless, the tobacco industry and the trade resulting from the location of the rail lines did provide Varina with its early vitality. In 1963 the two towns were joined, at least in name, as Fuquay-Varina.
Mineral springs resorts (or “spas”) enjoyed their greatest popularity as recreational destinations in North Carolina during the mid-to-late nineteenth century, when “taking the waters” was considered the fashionable way to spend a long summer. One of the earliest known spas, Catawba Springs in Lincoln County, began attracting visitors in the early-nineteenth century. By 1821 it offered houses, family cabins and outbuildings for its visitors’ use. This complex grew into a major resort; by the start of the Civil War it included a 100-room, two-story hotel, bath houses and slave houses. Its clients were chiefly the upper class families of the piedmont and low-country, who fled the isolation of rural plantations during the summer months (Davidson, p.414-420). Other popular nineteenth century sites included Kittrell Springs in Granville County and Shocco Springs in Warren County (Murray, p.443).
The Civil War brought an end to many of the mineral resorts, though a recovering economy in the late-nineteenth century brought about a resurgence in their popularity that dwindled around 1930. By the turn of the twentieth century there were roughly two dozen spas statewide (Rives, p.430). One reason for the renewal of interest in these places was the availability of rail lines in rural areas and the invention of the automobile, which opened up travel considerably. Some of the spas were primarily local gathering places; others were full-blown resort operations. One of the more well-known spas was Panacea Springs, near Littleton. Its grand opening season was 1909, and it offered its guest a first-rate, 150-room hotel known for elegant cuisine, a hexagonal springhouse, twenty-acre lake and a full array of support facilities, including servants quarters. The Seaboard Airline Railroad offered special trips for visitors to Panacea Springs. The whole town was affected by the popularity of Panacea Springs, with residents taking in boarders during the peak season (Rives, p.430).
In Wake County several mineral springs were known to exist (Willow Springs and Holly Springs, for example), but only the Fuquay Mineral Spring developed into a popular early-twentieth century recreational destination (Murray, p.443). The spring was discovered around 1850 and was a local gathering place for community celebrations during the second half of the nineteenth century. By 1908 an open-sided pavilion and a gazebo over the spring had appeared on the site. Boarding houses and hotels were erected to serve the visitors, the earliest and finest being the ca.1908 Blanchard Hotel south of the Spring property. This building was demolished in the 1930s. The Barham Hotel, ca.1910, stood across (what is now) Main Street from the spring; it has been altered in recent years.
Rail service to the spring from Raleigh, Durham and Fayetteville was available by 1910. Around 1915 local residents W.H. Aiken, W.H. Aiken, Jr. and Kemp B. Johnson formed the Fuquay Mineral Spring Corporation to capitalize on the springs’ popularity. Their grandiose plans were to develop the Mineral Springs properties, and build and manage hotels, apartments, and houses, for the public. However, they apparently never achieved large scale success with this venture (Francis, pp.8.1-8.2). Like Panacea and other popular early-twentieth century spas, the Fuquay Mineral Spring ceased to operate during the early 1930s, the victim of waning interest in local celebrations and a newly-mobile population willing to drive farther for recreational opportunities.
Houses built in the small towns of Wake County in the first half of the twentieth century were similar to those being built in all parts of the country during that period. Craftsman and Colonial Revival-influenced period houses were easily the most popular styles of dwellings built by Wake County residents from the 1910s to the 1940s. Most of the popular house types were taken from or inspired by, the widely-available pattern books, magazines, and mail order catalogues that sold plans and building materials.
Commercial architecture in Wake County’s small towns in the late-19th and early-20th century was also similar to nationally popular forms. Generally two-story in height and rectangular in shape, these buildings consistently featured simple brick details on their upper floors. These details typically included corbelling, recessed brick panels, and brick arches. The only commercial building in the Fuquay Springs Historic District, the Varina Mercantile Building (401 S. Main Street) is a typical example of the building type.
Craftsman-style houses, built from the 1910s through the 1930s in Wake County, are generally gable-front or side-gable-roofed Bungalows characterized by wide overhanging eaves, exposed rafter ends, gable brackets, large dormers, and pyramidal porch posts on brick piers. Most of these are of frame construction, usually modest in size and detail. In the Fuquay Springs Historic District there are three good examples of the type: The “Buck” Johnson House (202 E. Spring Street), the Dr. Charles Cheek House (310 S. Fuquay Avenue) and the Jesse Howard House (312 S. Fuquay Avenue). Notable examples outside of Fuquay-Varina include the Montezuma Pearce House near Rolesville and the B.K. Horton House near Zebulon (Lally, Multiple Property Documentation Form p.F 138).
The popularity of the Bungalow influenced the proliferation of simple one- and two-story, gable-front frame houses throughout the county in the early to mid-twentieth century. Typically plainly finished with Craftsman-style porch post supports or exposed rafter ends, these houses were the most popular form of modest housing. In Fuquay Springs, the houses at 215 E. Spring Street (Allan Rogers House) and 409 S. Main Street are one-story examples of this. The Wright House (Wright-Barnes House) is a traditional two-story Triple A form with a Craftsman-style porch.
From the 1920s through the 1940s, Period Revival houses, especially the Colonial Revival style, were fashionable in Wake County. The best examples of the Revival styles are found in the county’s towns; rural expressions are frequently vernacular farmhouses updated in the 1940s with modern details.
Colonial Revival houses of these decades were usually of frame construction with white, plain weatherboard or brick veneer exterior walls, displaying details such as symmetrical facades, dormer windows, pedimented door surrounds, and side wings. Two noted examples in the county are the Dr. Glenn Judd House in Fuquay-Varina (outside of the historic district) and the J.K. Barrow House in Zebulon (Lally, Multiple Property Documentation Form, p. F 139). In the Fuquay Springs Historic District are several examples of this style. The Walter H. Aiken House (313 S. Fuquay Avenue) and the Ballentine-Spence House (109 E. Spring Street) are notable examples of frame houses with a late-Queen Anne overall form (irregular massing), but with Colonial Revival details. Three brick houses in the Fuquay Springs Historic District, the Dr. Wiley Cozart House (333 S. Main Street), the Barbour-Perkins House (113 E. Spring Street) and the Tom Proctor House (205 E. Spring Street) also exemplify the Colonial Revival style, with decorative brick elements (quoins, string courses) and classically-detailed pedimented entries.
Black, David R. National Register of Historic Places, Nomination form for the Varina Commercial Historic District, 1989.
Byrne, John W. Ben-Wiley Hotel — Local Designation Report, 1994.
Davidson, Chalmers G. “Catawba Springs — Carolina’s Spa,” North Carolina Historical Review, XXVIII (October, 1951), pp. 414-420.
Frances, Michelle. National Register of Historic Places, Nomination form for Fuquay Mineral Spring, 1986.
“Fuquay Varina,” Community Information, Carolina Telephone and Telegraph, 1996.
Lally, Kelly. The Historic Architecture of Wake County, N.C., Raleigh, N.C. Wake County Planning Department, Wake County Commissioners, 1994.
Lally, Kelly. “Historic and Architectural Resources of Wake County, North Carolina (ca.1770-1941),” Wake County, Raleigh, 1993.
Lally, Kelly. “Note to Varina Commercial District File,” December 11, 1992.
Morson, W.F. “Map of Fuquay Land Company, Fuquay Springs, N.C.,” July 8, 1908.
Murray, Elizabeth Reid. Wake: Capital County of North Carolina, Raleigh, N.C., Capital County Publishing Co., 1983.
“Program of the Wake County Historical Society,” May 22, 1977, Fuquay-Varina.
Rives, Ralph Hardee. “Panacea Springs: Fashionable Spa.” North Carolina Historical Review. XLII (October, 1965), pp.430-439.
Sharpe, Bill. A New Geography of North Carolina, Vol. IV. Raleigh, N.C., Sharpe Publishing Company.
Survey and Planning Files, Division of Archives and History, Raleigh, N.C.
Thomas, Beth. Interviews with: Mrs. Pearl Proctor (May 21 and June 27, 1996); Dr. Wiley Cozart (June 7, 1996); Mr. Dan Spence (June 13, 1996); Mr. Robert Prince (June 26, 1996).
“The Independent,” Vol.XLI, No.52, July 1, 1976; December 11, 1942; August 1, 1984., Fuquay-Varina, N.C.
Vertical files, Fuquay-Varina Branch, Wake County Library.
Wake County Register of Deeds, Deed Books.
Wake County Register of Deeds, Map Book 1938.
† Beth P. Thomas, Fuquay Springs Historic District, Wake County, North Carolina, nomination document, 1996, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Information supplied by: http://www.livingplaces.com/NC/Wake_County/Fuquay-Varina_Town/Fuquay_Springs_Historic_District.html