Log in Newsletter

For Women Only


By Miriam Landru

Windows boarded up with plywood. White paint peeling off in clumps. Foliage and weeds taking over like kudzu. It’s a sight we see all too often when it comes to once old, elegant buildings and homes that are now ignored. and it's a sight that The Woman's Club of Fayetteville is hoping to prevent from ever happening to their beloved Heritage Square. 

Heritage Square, hidden away from downtown Fayetteville on Dick Street, is a one-acre property featuring the Sandford House (built in 1800), Oval Ballroom (built in 1820) and the Baker-Haigh-Nimocks house (built in 1804). 

Elaine Kennebeck, a newcomer to Fayetteville who now serves as president of the club, is spearheading the effort to revitalize and upkeep the grounds of Heritage Square. She is a native of Phoenix, Arizona who retired here with her husband after having a posh career as an interior designer, working for many professional athletes. 

She realizes that membership and interest in the cause has waned. So, over the last year, Kennebeck has been responsible for bringing fresh ideas and momentum back to the Club. “I want to move the Club out of the depths and make it successful again. I am the type of person if I am going to do this, I am going to do this,” she emphasized. The Club is currently at 50 members and she expects 30 more by the end of their early fall meetings.

One Fayetteville icon, founder of the Lafayette Society and co-founder of the Cape Fear Botanical Garden, Martha Duell, has re-joined the Club after a seven-year absence. “The club needed me. It has gone down a lot. I used to be the one who raised the money,” Duell said. 

And raise the money is what Duell did. Since mid-August, $12,000 from various donors in the community will be put toward needed repairs. “We have to keep up three beautiful old buildings. We are growing leaps and bounds as a city, but we are not taking care of the old….We just need a couple of good sugar daddies to help us,” she kidded.

The Woman’s Club

The Club began in 1906 and was responsible for the first library in Fayetteville and Cumberland County that occupied the second floor of the Market House from 1907 to 1910. The Club moved into the Sandford House in the 1920s and rented it for many years. During that lease, to house the many unmarried, working women who were coming into Fayetteville to help with the war effort, the house was turned into a temporary dormitory. In 1941, the Club purchased the house and later petitioned the National Register of Historic Places to make the Sandford House, Oval Ballroom and the Baker-Haigh-Nimocks House all national historic landmarks. In the early 1970s, that petition was granted. Today, the sole purpose of the Club is to promote and preserve the history and integrity of Heritage Square. 

When the Club was first founded it was all about morning teas and socialization. “When I joined 60 years ago, it was a tea club. You came and had tea. You had hats on and gloves. The dues were $3.00,” explained Duell. Realizing the importance and that times have indeed changed, Kennebeck is looking to garner new membership with the addition of Thursday evening meetings and that is something the old school Duell wholeheartedly supports. “In this time now, the young people work. A lot have husbands, but they also work.”

Happy Hauntings

The stately, classical style home now plays host to bridal showers, teas and weddings as well as the sole meeting place for the club. The home is also where the resident ghost, Mrs. Sandford, reigns. A few paranormal societies in the Carolinas, one being Night Whisperers in nearby Clinton, NC, have conducted paranormal tours in the over 200 year old home. Some of the Club members have seen Mrs. Sandford’s ghost leaning over the staircase rail in the front room. They promise it. “The belief in the club is that she is happy that we are keeping up with everything and keeping everything clean,” said Kennebeck. She added, “I myself have never seen her, but I am still open to those types of things.” Luckily, the ghost of Ann K. Simpson, the first woman ever tried for murder in Cumberland County, doesn’t show up too often in the Oval Ballroom. When the Oval Ballroom was attached to the Halliday-Williams House (it was moved to Heritage Square in the 1950s), Simpson allegedly killed her husband with a poisonous dessert concoction of arsenic-laced syllabub.

The Year Ahead

Duell is in good spirits that the next fiscal year for the Club will be the best ever. At the end of our interview, I posed the question, “What will happen to the buildings if the money isn’t raised?” To that, she kindly, yet firmly responded, “It will be raised. I know we will have a wonderful year. My hope is to keep going, to get the younger people involved.” There was a slight pause, because I knew what was coming next: “You better join. I want you to join.”