The last house in Hamlet
1974 - 1988
by Russ Lancaster
We pulled out of the driveway around 9:00 that night in May 1988 without any idea what lay ahead for us in Jacksonville. There were a few tears shed by Helga and I as the years of memories of that house on 414 Spring Street flooded over us.
We first moved to Spring Street in February 1974. The move was made on a week-end with the help of many of our friends. They had showed up on James Avenue with their trucks and cars. That’s how Hamlet folks were… they pitched in without asking. I can’t remember all the folks that helped us that week-end. I do remember Jimmy Saunders who was my best friend back then being there. And I remember Tommy Bullock as well. He was a surprise helper that I had not treated very nicely in the past, yet he was there doing his part as well.
We were going to rent the house from Jimmy Suggs. He owned a furniture or appliance store at the time on Main Street. This was before he managed the Western Auto store out on West Hamlet Avenue. He had shown us the house and had it all spruced up for us.
We had nice new neighbors on the street. Mike Stogner owned the two-story house to our East. Mrs. McEwen lived across the street next to the old Raby house which was now empty. David Davenport and Bobby and Brenda Patton lived a couple of blocks to the West and old Mrs. Ketner lived next door on the Western side. Nat and Ruth Campbell lived behind us.
It was like going back to my childhood. I grew up on Washington Avenue in the late forties and early fifties just a block to the North. In fact, I had lived in the house on Washington where the Campbells now lived.
The house had been built by Bill Boney back in 1929. It was made of brick and had many unique characteristics that we liked. It looked small from the outside, but inside it was quite large.
As you entered the front door, there was a small foyer separated from the living room by an archway. The living room was huge and had a working fireplace. Through another archway you entered the large dining room. The kitchen was next with a swinging door being the way of entrance.
There were two bedrooms and a bath downstairs. The upstairs was one gigantic room that ran the entire width of the house and there was a half bath up there. The upstairs as well as the dining area downstairs had cabinets and drawers built right into the walls. The two closets upstairs were walk-ins and ran the width of the house on either side.
There was a basement that took up nearly half the width and length of the house. In the basement was a gas hot water heater and gas furnace. The furnace was old but well-built and was still in use when we moved 14 years later.
The back of the house had a screened in porch and a utility shed was just outside the kitchen area for storing tools and stuff.
We had three children when we moved there in 1974. When the fourth was born in 1975, I suggested we buy the house. We had been renters and I felt it was time we settled down. After all, I was approaching 34 years of age (old, I thought at the time) and didn’t intend to move again.
We found Jimmy willing to sell at a reasonable price and a mortgage company (whose name I can no longer remember) willing to lend us the money. No down payment would be needed and the closing costs were minimal. I would find out years later that Jimmy Suggs had something to do with that which I knew nothing about at the time. He had guaranteed the mortgage company payment for the first 5 years or so if I were to fall behind in payments (I never did and he must have known I was reliable).
We raised our children there in that neighborhood, in that house without too many troubles. Helga would like to have that same house today (only she would like to have it in Jacksonville where we live today). Three of our four children finished high school while we lived there and went their own ways, the fourth was there from birth through her 13th year. Yes, we made and left some memories there all right.
In 1988 I found out that the work I did for the railroad was being transferred to Jacksonville and that I would have to follow it in order to keep my job. We had vacationed the previous two years, first in Clearwater, then in Hollywood, and the idea of moving to Florida intrigued us.
At the same time, I had apprehensions. After all, I would be 47 later that year. I had lived in Hamlet all my life and my house was nearly paid for. I wondered… was I too old to start over? What would living in Jacksonville be like? Would I meet new friends? Would I lose contact with my old friends? How could I pay house payments in two states until my house in Hamlet was sold?
Helga and I decided….. yes, we would make the move. As long as we had one another we could handle any difficult situation. But first, I needed to talk with my dad. He was less than a year from dying of the cancer he had so valiantly fought for the past couple of years but his condition would deteriorate rapidly. He and I talked for hours and he made me understand that I needed to take the opportunity being given me and make the move. I didn’t fully understand but knew his wisdom and decision making were better than mine.
So, in my late forties, we did the unthinkable. We left friends, family and a way of life that we were comfortable with to face the unknown. We moved to another city, another state, another home and a new way of life with no one but ourselves to give us further guidance.
So, you see, as we left that night in May 1988 why we may have felt a little saddened. We were leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar. We were leaving friends behind to move to a place where we knew no one.
Looking back all these years later, the move was a good decision. The people in Hamlet we left behind helped us with letters of recommendation as we closed telephone, electric, gas and other accounts. Those letters helped us get established without huge security deposits in our new city.
And we quickly found new friends in Jacksonville. The new friends we have found here are just as important and loyal as those we left behind in Hamlet. The main difference is that we were all strangers as we arrived to a centralized CSX in Jacksonville.
We came from places like Pittsburgh and Baltimore. We came from the North and South all as strangers with but one thing in common… we worked for the railroad. We found one another and new friendships were formed.
At the same time we adapted to our new life by living one day at a time for the first year with the problems of moving being solved point by point. Each day we would remind ourselves… a year from now this will be forgotten and sure enough it worked out just that way.
My youngest daughter has now lived as many years in Florida as she did in Hamlet (13 years in each place). She has no southern accent having lost it as she melded in with the folks in Florida who all seem to have come from somewhere else. I still have my old southern drawl and have no intention of losing it. It is part of where I grew up and a part of my being that belongs with me.
All our friends have turned out to be from the North, but they have accepted us and our flaws just as we have accepted them and theirs. None of us are perfect by any means but our friendships are strong.
That night we left Hamlet for good, physically that is. Our roots have grown deep and strong in Florida and we will probably retire here soon. But we have never truly left Hamlet in mind and never will.
I know many of our readers that come to this site grew up in Hamlet or at least spent a part of their life there yet moved on to other places. Most left Hamlet without spending as many years there as I did yet Hamlet had a way of putting a lasting impression on them as well as me.
Like me, those folks remember the people and places of that place in the heart of the sandhills of Richmond County. They have their own memories and have found a way to reflect on them in their own ways. We all still have contacts there and go back from time to time to a Class Reunion or the Seaboard Festival. Or sometimes we stop and spend a night on the way to visit a relative in another city.
And then there are those of us, myself included, who go back to Hamlet in an instant by way of a memory of a place that treated us so well.
The names of the folks and places there have dimmed, but only a little. I am glad I remember them and how they influenced my life.
I am thankful for the opportunity to write about Hamlet in these little tales that were originally meant for my family only and that once in a while they stir a memory or two for anyone else that visits here.
For I know that you, like me, will be able to say… I remember Hamlet
This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.
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