Tour Your Town: Fuquay-Varina

One town plus one town equals … Fuquay-Varina.

In Wake County’s most interesting tale of two cities, Fuquay-Varina boasts two historic business districts just minutes apart, and a unique heritage built on railroads, tobacco and a mineral spring discovered in 1858, which drew people from near and far with its promise of healing waters.

Meanwhile, pen pal correspondence between a young Civil War soldier and his “Varina” would lead to their marriage and the establishment of Varina Station, at the crossroads of two timber rail lines.

Today Fuquay-Varina is among the fastest-growing communities in the state. In the midst of that progress, residents preserve its 100-plus-year history and celebrate its special charm.

The Fuquay Mineral Spring Inn & Garden, for example, built in 1927 and a registered Wake County landmark, operates as a bed and breakfast just across the street from Mineral Spring Park, site of the fabled waters. Longtime Mayor John Byrne and his wife own and run the inn.

Walkable blocks of retail and restaurant offerings reflect significant investments made in both districts; Fuquay-Varina Downtown is an accredited National Main Street Program.

They also showcase a blend of well-established and new businesses, such as Ashworth’s Clothing, open since 1937, and Stick Boy Bread Company, opened in 2008.

Fuquay-Varina boasts athletic complexes and pastoral parks, including the Carroll Howard Johnson Environmental Education Park featuring interpretive walking trails and an outdoor amphitheater-style classroom.

The town is also home to events such as the geocaching Tour de Fuquay-Varina; Run the Quay 5K; Celebration of the Arts; and the Day in Downtown festival.


The fascinating story of two towns becoming one can be found at the Fuquay-Varina Museums Complex, a gathering of local historic structures.

Museum volunteer director and retired history teacher Shirley Simmons says the “Squire” Ballentine Schoolhouse first stood near the Mineral Spring and is attributed to J.D. Ballentine, the pen-pal soldier turned schoolmaster.

Unusual in its day for its two-room setup and wooden floors, the schoolhouse features desks and books of the period, and the first diploma issued from Fuquay Springs High School, dated 1922.

Hattie Parker Jones provided the first Fuquay Springs Post Office building when she became postmistress in 1902. Its restoration as a museum by the Fuquay Springs Questers Chapter, a preservation group, won the 2009 Anthemion Award from Capital Area Preservation.

The Centennial Museum, housed in Fuquay-Varina’s 1950s-era municipal building, opened in 2009 as part of the town’s centennial celebration.

Its treasures include an 1898 organ believed to be a wedding present to railroad Dr. J.M. Judd, a hog killing vat that belonged to barbecue legend Henry Rawls, and even the mid-1800s tombstone of schoolteacher Virginia Arey Ballentine, aka Varina.

Medical equipment from the offices of Dr. Wiley S. Cozart Jr. and his son, Dr. Wiley Holt Cozart, known for progressive work in neonatal care, is on display.

Newly opened to the public is a block of 1950s-era jail cells, part of an exhibit on Fuquay-Varina’s fire and police departments. Upcoming exhibits will include ladies’ period dresses.

Simmons says the museum serves as a research center, as family genealogies, annuals and scrapbooks are compiled. Plans call for land behind the museums to be developed with caboose, tobacco barn and railroad items, for public demonstrations.

“There’s a lot of history here,” Simmons said.

Fuquay-Varina Museums Complex
131 S. Fuquay Ave.


Belly up to the lunch counter at Elliotts Pharmacy, and try the famous homemade pimiento cheese sandwich.

The counter stools swivel and the menu still features the secret recipes of the late “Miss Sally” Fitzhugh, a longtime Elliotts employee.

The oldest drugstore in town, Elliotts opened in 1914 and has been in this Main Street location since 1918. It’s currently operated by the Holleman family, including Curtis and Kitty, son Edwin and daughter Kathy Arnold.

Patrons most often choose “the big four” homemade options on the lunch menu, note the siblings, namely the fresh pimiento cheese, chicken salad, orangeades and milkshakes.

Other hits include egg salad, soups and BLTs. Classic ice cream flavors and an eye-level candy counter complete meals for young and old.

Cases displaying old tonic bottles sit alongside shelves of modern medical amenities.

“We combine old-fashioned service, like delivery, with modern (pharmacy) technology,” said Arnold of the store’s longevity. “I guess you could say we go the extra mile.”

“We were the first drugstore in town to have a computer, and the first to accept third-party insurance,” pharmacist Edwin added.

Pharmacist Curtis Holleman was born on this very street and joined the store as a soda jerk at age 14. He became owner of Elliotts in 1989 and is current chair of the Fuquay-Varina Downtown Revitalization Association. In 2010 he was named a Main Street Champion by the N.C. Department of Commerce.

Other notable food stops in town include Cooley’s Restaurant & Pub; Nil’s Bakery Café, Daniel’s on Main; and Aviator Smokehouse. Nearby, Aviator Brewing Company’s Tap House is located inside the restored Varina Station train depot.

Elliotts Pharmacy
202 S. Main St.


Fuquay-Varina’s arts scene includes everything from jewelry making classes at Carolina Bead Company and writers’ groups at Lazy Lion Books, to murder mystery dinner theater at the new Stars Theater & Arts Center and the citywide Art After Dark event, organized by the Fuquay-Varina Arts Council.

In the midst of town sits Ashley’s Art Gallery, featuring works by North Carolina and nationally renowned artists who often make appearances here.

Owner Rick Mullen says the art shows “help build a festive feeling. Art is so much more than putting a picture on the wall.”

Ashley’s is a Premiere Greenwich Workshop Fine Art Studio and former National Gallery of the Year; an authorized dealer for Civil War artist John Paul Strain; and the area’s highest ranking gallery for Thomas Kinkade art.

Among works on display are prints by Apollo astronaut Alan Bean; the wildlife art of Stephen Lyman; paintings by Chapel Hill artist Freeman Beard; and a Yates Mill Pond giclée by Luke Buck.

Ashley’s Art Gallery is housed in a former general store building owned by Mullen’s grandfather. Offering original paintings and prints, North Carolina pottery, gifts, porcelain collectibles and even classes, art has meaning for everyone here.

Mullen says he enjoys seeing the happiness art brings to people.

“There’s always more to it than meets the eye,” he said.

Ashley’s Art Gallery
701 N. Main St.


When Stephens Ace Hardware announced last year that after 77 years in business it would soon close, multi-generational customers raised such heartfelt pleas for continued service that shop owners reversed their course.

Family-owned by the five sons of late founder Isaac Stephens, the store is beloved by homeowners, decorators and do-it-yourselfers.

“The response was humbling,” said Manager Keith Davis. “The Stephens family has always been involved in its community, and we’re a full-line Ace Hardware store, so that means we want happy customers, whatever it takes.”

So, the Stephens family is keeping the tradition alive while a like-minded buyer is sought.

The term “hardware” may be a bit of an understatement here. From little red wagons to Keurig K-Cup coffees to Carhartt clothing lines, the store is more like a family adventure.

Davis says kids of all ages love the G-scale train that chugs along more than 600 feet of track suspended overhead throughout the store — and the help-yourself free fresh popcorn at the door.

Some enjoy color consultations in the store’s specialty paint department. Animal lovers stop by for bird seed,locally made resin feeders and other premium pet supplies. The store is even pet-friendly, with mascot Pepper Jack often found strolling about.

“We’re always looking for new items for our customers,” Davis said. “Hardware or otherwise, we want to find it and have it for them.”

Stihl power equipment, exclusive to independent shops, Davis says, and an in-house technician draw others, as do upscale big-brand grills.

“We have a full line of tools, plumbing, electrical, all the normal hardware stuff,” Davis said. “And then we have the specialty stuff the big-box stores don’t.”

For example, Amish Bentwood-style rocking chairs made of recycled milk cartons.

Davis sees great potential for the future here.

“I love change,” he said. “This is all about relationships, and calling people by name.”

Stephens Ace Hardware
405 Broad St.

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