Bill Kirby Jr.: Life in the log house of long ago

By Bill Kirby Jr.

Once upon a time, you found the old log house nestled under the tall pines and the dogwoods off Raeford Road, and what may have been the most picturesque landscape in this city. The long and circular driveway curled around the large and raised flower bed covered in purple phlox.

For John and Sudie Wooten, the cabin between Raeford Road and Breezewood Avenue that John Wooten built in 1939 was home, where they would raise their three daughters, and not to forget Butch and Mr. Brown, the Doberman pinchers forever on guard along the fence line.

“My father was a very unique individual and truly a self-made man,” Martha Wooten Goetz says.

A native of Fremont in Wayne County, where he grew up on a farm, John Wooten eventually found his way to Fayetteville by way of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Raleigh, where he worked as a pharmacist for the Eckerd Drug Store chain. And it was where he would meet the love of his life, Sudie Cloninger, who was from Buncombe County and worked in the cosmetics department.


“Mr. Eckerd had a policy that no two employees could date, so when he saw them together at the movies one night, he told them one of them had to be transferred,” Martha Goetz says. “Daddy found another position in Fayetteville at Horne’s Drug Store on Hay Street, and Mother transferred to Eckerd Drug in Fayetteville.”

When it came to business, John Wooten had an observant eye. “He noticed that numerous young men got off the train across the street from the drugstore and they had money to buy supplies before starting their basic training at Fort Bragg, which was becoming a bustling military installation preparing for World War II,” Martha Goetz says. “They were given $15 to buy supplies and would go to the drugstore. Daddy realized the boom to come and decided to open his own store.

He realized there was a great opportunity to grow the drugstore business.” With partner George Markham, he opened Fayetteville Drug Co. downtown and later was a partner in Wooten-Hall Drugstore across the street from what today is the Cameo Art House Theater along Hay Street. “When World War II started, soldiers came in his store to buy things they needed before boarding the train downtown to be shipped out to war,” Joan Wooten Nicholson says about her father. “The store shelves were almost empty when they left. One of the things they bought was the cough syrup that he made, labeled and sold.”

John Wooten opened Wooten Drug Co. in 1953 on Haymount Hill. He later opened another Wooten Drugstore along Raeford Road, where his brother-in-law Sam Henrickson owned and managed Henrickson’s luncheon counter and soda fountain before the building eventually was destroyed by fire in the late 1950s.

For John and Sudie Wooten, the cabin between Raeford Road and Breezewood Avenue that John Wooten built in 1939 was home, where they would raise their three daughters, and not to forget Butch and Mr. Brown, the Doberman pinchers forever on guard along the fence line.

“I have vivid memories of the night it burned,” Martha Goetz says. “I was very frightened of the high flames. Luckily, our home and the adjacent apartments were spared.”

John Wooten later opened Cape Fear Drug around 1960, adjacent to the log house home.

When it came to owning drugstores, replete with lunch counters and soda fountains, John Wooten was not in business alone. Sudie Wooten was right there with him.
“Daddy was the pharmacist,” Joan Nicholson says. “Mother baked hams that were the best and made the delicious pecan pies that they served.”

For the Wooten sisters, Bettie, Joan and Martha, the drugstores were like heaven. “We loved Daddy’s drugstore and Uncle Sam’s lunch counter,” Martha Goetz says, “because we got free sundaes and banana splits.”

A Happy Home
For the Wooten family, there was no place like the log house. For John Wooten, it was his dream home. He ordered the architectural plans from California in the late 1930s, and with a few hired hands, he built the home on the scenic property from cypress trees from Hope Mills Lake. “The original front porch was supported with beautiful logs with the wider, swollen base, which had been in the water,” says Martha Goetz, the youngest of the Wooten sisters. “The living room and den shared a large stone fireplace, which was open on both sides. We spent most of our time on the large, wraparound back porch. It had large, paneled windows, which opened to the outside for a wonderful cross breeze.”

Adjacent to the log house, John Wooten constructed 10 apartments, which Bettie Wooten Downing, the oldest of the Wooten sisters, remembers were filled with young military couples.

“Mother would take the young military wives ‘under her wing’ and teach them to sew,” Bettie Downing says. “She and Daddy offered them support any way that they could. When food was scarce, even strangers would line up at the back door. Mother never turned them away. She would always give them food or dinner.” Sudie Cloninger Wooten had a compassionate heart for others, always volunteering at her beloved Hay Street United Methodist Church to help others in need or watching out for her sisters Eunice McNeill, who lived just around the corner in the little white house along Forsyth Street, and Louise Henrickson Morton, who lived across Raeford Road in the cul-de-sac at the end of Willborough Avenue.

Life in the log house was a happy home. It’s where John Wooten tried and usually failed to outwit his “Madame Queen” love of his life in nightly card games of bridge, but where Sudie Wooten was a master of the game with few peers. And where the Wooten girls admired their father and will tell you they were blessed with “an absolute perfect mother,” who insisted on nothing less than the best of her daughters.

The Wooten sisters, Joan, Bettie and Martha, recall frolicking in the swimming pool and having cousins Sam Henrickson, Jimmy Henrickson, Nancy Henrickson and Barbara Candler McNeill there for July Fourth picnics from noon until dark, and to include homemade peach ice cream and watermelon.

“Most of all, she was always there for my sisters and me,” Martha Goetz says. “She encouraged us to be independent and taught us cooking, sewing and other skills. We
were always expected to do well in school. We always knew that she was there for us and gave us her unconditional love. But she also never let us feel sorry for ourselves.
Probably because of her difficult childhood, she expected us to solve problems, remain optimistic and always keep our chin up. She believed in focusing on others rather than
on herself.”

She made their clothes, and the sisters still recall those Easter dresses in the colors of their choice. They remember the homemade corsages of rosebuds by
their mother’s hand. And missing Sunday morning church services never was an option for Sudie Wooten’s girls.


“We were there every Sunday,” Joan Nicholson recalls. And how, oh how, the sisters say, their mother could cook, and those Sunday afternoon dinners of chicken and dumplings, roast beef, pork roast and vegetables were such a delight. The poundcakes and the pecan pies, too. A Gaping Hole in The Yard Not to forget the Olympic-sized swimming pool, either, and the day somewhere around 1954, when John Wooten needed dirt for a construction project, brought in a bulldozer, dug up the backyard and had Sudie Wooten in a tizzy because she worried those girls of hers might fall into the gaping pit. Nicholson and Martha Wooten Goetz to walk again through the home where they grew up.

“It had sat vacant for quite some time when we moved in,” O’Quinn says. “There was a lot of repair and renovation for us to do. It is absolutely gorgeous now, very much a home, and the family is thrilled we are here to love it and cherish it. There is a bench in the yard with a plaque on it honoring the Wootens. It’s a very special place and is literally my second home. I know there are a lot of memories attached to this special place for many Fayetteville natives.” For the Wooten sisters, the moment was poignant.

They see their daddy puttering around in the yard and the Dobermans following him along. They see their mother in the kitchen. They see a Christmas morning.
They see a Thanksgiving dinner. They see hiding Easter eggs in the frontyard. They see yesteryear.

The Wooten sisters, Bettie, Joan and Martha, recall frolicking in the swimming pool and having cousins Sam Henrickson, Jimmy Henrickson, Nancy Henrickson and
Barbara Candler McNeill there for July Fourth picnics from noon until dark, and to include homemade peach ice cream and watermelon.

“Don’t worry,” John Wooten offered Sudie Wooten assurance. “That’s going to be a swimming pool.” And sure enough, it was.
“It gave us lots of fun in the summer,” Martha Goetz says. “I loved being able to swim into the evening hours.”

The Wooten sisters recall frolicking in the swimming pool and having cousins Sam Henrickson, Jimmy Henrickson, Nancy Henrickson and Barbara Candler McNeill
there for July Fourth picnics from noon until dark, and to include homemade peach ice cream and watermelon. Bettie Wooten Downing remembers having friends Larry Thompson, Jack Thompson, Irene Thompson, Frances Pritchard and Dianne Bennett there.

A Poignant Moment
Today, the old log house is home to His Outreach Worldwide ministry founded by Lynne Robertson O’Quinn, who welcomed Bettie Wooten Downing, Joan Wooten

Epilogue
John William Franklin Wooten died at age 70 on February 24, 1976. He was creative. He was innovative. He was a pharmacist. He was a dreamer of what
could be if a man set his mind to his dream. Sudie Cloninger Wooten died at age 86 on October 13, 1993.

She was a seamstress. She could set a table with the silverware ever so in place and serve a dinner that would make a five-star restaurant chef envious. She had a heart for
others, and always was there with a hand to help them along life’s way. She was a mother, who taught her daughters that life was a gift from God for them to never forget, and not
for a single minute or hour of their days.
“Our childhood was the best,” Martha Goetz says.
“I would describe it,” Joan Nicholson says, “as almost idyllic.” “I loved every minute of growing up there in the log house,” Bettie Wooten Downing says.


“We had church friends to the pool. And I have so many fond memories of playing in the neighborhood as a young child.”

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at bkirby@cityviewnc.com, billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961. Read more of his columns in our weekly Insider newsletter. Subscribe at cityviewnc.com or text CityView to 22999