Fuquay-Varina is now a growing town, actually two small towns that merged to make one larger, small town, in North Carolina. When the name “Fuquay-Varina” is spoken, the first thing everyone wonders is “how do I pronounce that?” Let’s answer that right now: “Few-kway Va-ree-na.”
The name was created by the joining of two small towns, Fuquay and Varina, in 1963. Once separated by railroad tracks, the two towns have their own unique and interesting histories.
During the Revolutionary War, a Frenchman named William Fuquay (anglicized from Forque or Fourquet) fought under the command of Marquis LaFayette in Washington’s army. After the war he bought 1000 acres of land at 50 cents an acre in what is now Southwest Wake County, 30 minutes south of Raleigh. The area was first named “Piney Woods.”
Later it was renamed Sippihaw, meaning “good will,” from the language of the Native American tribe living there.
William’s grandson Stephen Fuquay discovered a mineral spring in 1858 while plowing his field. He drank the water and later, after offering it to thirsty travelers, declared it had healing power. He later constructed a wall around the spring for protection, and left a gourd for all who needed refreshing spring water.
The spring water, high in minerals, was believed to have healing power due to the testimonials claiming that the water cured stomach, heart, and arthritis problems. Overcooking food often depleted the minerals necessary for a healthy diet. The spring water may have actually renewed depleted stores of minerals in the bodies of those who drank of it often.
Sippihaw became Fuquay Springs in 1902, named for its discoverer. By the early 1900s Fuquay Springs became a health resort to people from distant places. John Mills, entrepreneur and president of the Raleigh/Cape Fear Railroad, arranged benches on flat cars and brought 150-200 Raleigh citizens at a time on “Midnight Excursions” to the mineral spring.
A gazebo was built over the spring, and a larger building containing a dance hall and a player piano was constructed nearby. Weekend picnics, Easter Monday, and July 4th celebrations with fireworks were all great opportunities for a family outings. Baseball games were popular entertainment as well.
With tourists came the need for hotels, restaurants, boarding houses, and a drug store. Elliott’s Drug Store closed in 2013, but The Ben Wiley and Fuquay Spring Inn and Garden are still open today. Other stores sprang up on what is now Main Street or Highway 401 S in Fuquay.
Soon life in Fuquay changed again. In the 1920s with paved roads and more automobiles traveling on them, it became easier to travel to nearby beaches. Fuquay’s popularity declined.
In the mean time Varina sat across the tracks with its own train station for the Norfolk and Southern Railway, which ran from Norfolk to Charlotte.
The name “Varina” also has an interesting backstory. During the Civil War, J.D. “Squire” Ballentine, a school master in Fuquay Springs, joined the southern forces.
Ballentine enjoyed the letters of a lovely southern bell named Varina. Varina’s real name was Virginia Avery. (Many women sent anonymous supportive letters to soldiers during the war.) Through their correspondence, they fell in love.
Ballentine and Avery were married on his return home. When he became the first postmaster general, he named the post office after Varina, which continued to be his pet name for Avery.
Varina’s growth burgeoned when the tobacco leaf blight hit the tobacco farmers of Granville County. Established farmers had to sell their farms and move to non-infested soil. The rich sandy soil and the established railroad system, vital for shipping their tobacco leaves to buyers, attracted the desperate farmers.
The depot was the center of Varina just as the Spring was the center of Fuquay.
Families, stores, and later roads all developed in Varina. The town had at least 7-10 tobacco warehouses for leaf buyer auctions. Travelers on the Norfolk Southern Railway stopped off at Varina’s depot on their way to other stops between Durham and Dunn.
The town of Varina continued to grow because of the tobacco industry. But the tobacco industry began to decline in the 1950s and 60s when the surgeon general declared tobacco to be a cancer causing agent. With time, the number of smokers decreased and so did the need for tobacco.
The income of the farmers declined. However, the town’s leaders had foreseen the danger in being a one-crop town. Other industries were welcomed to the area, such as Guilford Mills, Universal Polymer, Cornell-Dublier Electronics and more which gave the town a safety net during this time. Tobacco was no longer king. The last three tobacco warehouses closed in 2004.
In 1963 Fuquay joined Varina, becoming Fuquay-Varina. Both towns had become a single community from worshiping and working in close proximity, and befriending one another. Marriages crossing the tracks were common.
Fuquay-Varina’s population continues to increase, along with a thriving economy. A number of local artists (Fuquay-Varina Arts Council and Stars Theater) are stimulating a healthy appreciation for the arts. There is now a Community Arts Center.
The Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Downtown Revitalization Association, the Growers Market, numerous local churches, new commerce, and easier access to larger cities and employment solidifies the promise of a bright future for Fuquay-Varina’s citizens.
All Photography by: Elaine Estes
The old school house and post office can still be found along with the Centennial Museum. The Museum is full of pictures, antiques, and historical memorabilia; even the old jail remains much as it was in the early 1900s. The Ben Wiley, Fuquay Mineral Spring Inn and Garden, and many other of the old buildings from that era are being renovated to their former charm.
Tobacco still grows alongside cotton fields and livestock pastures, only blocks away from the growing, bustling town. Fuquay-Varina has maintained a “small town” feel through its southern gentility, friendliness, and politeness throughout its fascinating history.
And for the last time, it’s pronounced “few-kway.”