By Courtney Phillips
When Johnny Taylor was a child growing up off of Elliot Bridge Road, Ramsey Street was a far cry from the bustling, multi-lane commercial district of today. “It used to be, kids went everywhere they wanted to go. We just rode our bikes and the only rule was that we had to be home when the street lights came on. I had friends in Kinwood, College Lakes, off McArthur Road, even all the way back to Hillendale. We’d visit each other, get a ball game together and play all day,” said the owner of Ramsey Street institution, Bobby Taylor Oil.
Johnny’s father, Bobby, started the business in 1962 on the family’s homestead, where Cape Fear Discount Drugs stands, now. In addition to distributing propane, kerosene, gasoline and fuel oil to customers across Cumberland County and selling fuel accessories, the family owns several Marathon gas stations around town. As for the North Fayetteville boom of development, Johnny said simply, “Every major corridor into Fayetteville has experienced rapid development at one time or another. They’ve been talking about opening a road from Eastover or the Wade area since I was a little boy. I’m almost 55. It was time for 295.”
Kathy Jensen, the north side district’s (District 1) city council representative and lifelong resident, said that the new road has become a “gateway” into Fayetteville and like many others, her business has been positively affected. The north side native opened An Affair to Remember Bridal and Formal Wear ten years ago in the Boone Trail extension shopping center because there was no availability to the north. Just a year and a half later, she relocated to Ramsey Street, across from Methodist University, and has never regretted the move. While business has always been steady at the current location, I-295 made it easier for customers to come from farther away. “One Saturday last prom season, we had customers from five different states in the store. They weren’t here for a soccer tournament or another reason. They found us on the Internet and drove here for us,” said Jensen.
A Northside Transplant
Gwen Holtsclaw, owner of Scrub Oaks Contemporary American Pub, was born in Gastonia, North Carolina, but grew up down I-95 south in St. Pauls. When she graduated from high school, she immersed herself in the culture of North Fayetteville as a student at Methodist College and earned a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a double major in History and Secondary Education. Her first job was teaching Journalism and English III at Pine Forest High School, which she did for seven years.
After Pine Forest, she worked at Methodist as Director of the News Bureau and cheerleading coach. Now, Gwen works as President of Cheer Ltd., one of five businesses that she and her husband, Tim, own and operate from North Fayetteville. Gwen also serves on the advisory board of the Reeves School of Business at Methodist.
In 1993, Gwen and Tim moved into a home in King’s Grant, a gated community centered around an 18-hole championship golf course and built a home there in 1997. Their son and daughter, both married, with two children each, live in King’s Grant, as well. Of their steadfast commitment to the area, Gwen said, “You’d think we’re unique, but we aren’t. There are so many families who love the north side and will always live here.”
The explosion in development ushered in many new eateries and destinations, but according to Gwen, there have always been great places to eat on the north side. “You know,” said Gwen, “people don’t think of Ramsey Street as a restaurant destination, because all of the restaurants aren’t in a row like they are on McPherson, Morganton or Skibo. But, you can get the best Calabash-style seafood and terrific barbeque at Peaden’s, delicious subs at Decker’s Brickoven, great steaks at Scrub Oaks, super pizzas at the original Pierro’s and amazing country cooking at the Rainbow.”
Of the strategic decision to bring a contemporary niche menu to the area, Gwen said, “My husband, Tim, always wanted to make a run at owning a restaurant and saw a need in North Fayetteville.” Scrub Oaks offerings include upscale dishes like sesame crusted ahi tuna with wasabi aioli, to pub fare, with a popular twist, like burgers and fried pickles. “He knew the kind of food he wanted to bring to the area and had a very clear vision. We love great food, great wine and a good cocktail in a relaxed atmosphere. Sometimes people come in and say, ‘I don’t even know where I am. Am I in the best sports bar in the world or am I in an upscale restaurant?’ The answer is, ‘yes to both,’” laughed Gwen.
Traveling north on US route 401, hustle and bustle fades slowly to agrarian countryside. In addition to mature, established neighborhoods like Kinwood, College Lakes and a golf community at King’s Grant, the area offers Greystone Farms, an equestrian community and neighborhood. New, single-family home subdivisions are interspersed with family farms and a contingent of lively collegiate housing.
To Gwen, North Fayetteville’s unique and eclectic atmosphere parallels that of a university campus. “Remember what it was like on your college campus? You had all this diversity in one place with some of the people moving in and out over the years. The north side has university professionals, students from all over the world, Goodyear executives from Ohio and West Virginia and well-traveled military families. So diverse, yet together, we have built the loveliest community here. The north side is home,” she said.
Mirroring the revitalization of the area, Methodist College became Methodist University in 2006 and added several postgraduate programs. As of August 2015, Methodist is accredited as a Level V Doctoral degree granting institution to offer the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.
Other magnate employers like the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Plant, Wal-Mart and even the modern Cape Fear Valley North Pavillion and Cancer Center ensure a steady stream of traffic and new faces, yet the small-town feeling of pride perseveres. “The people are its biggest asset,” said Kathy Jensen.
Green & Gold
No one understands the pride of the north side community better than David Culbreth, principal of Pine Forest High School. Serving approximately 1,550 students, Pine Forest is home to the county’s Academy of Information Technology. When Culbreth came to Pine Forest two years ago, he took an old-school approach to learning the history and culture of the institution. “I began taking yearbooks home and pouring over them. Ones from the ‘70s and ‘80s and, you know what? The Pine Forest names are still here. I saw the same names in the yearbooks that I see on rosters, now. Northside kids stay on the north side and there is an immense amount of pride in the traditions and heritage that come with the school.”
Recently, Mr. Culbreth delivered a farewell speech to the Pine Forest graduating class of 2015, which resonated with attendees as an embodiment of life on the north side and the role Pine Forest plays in knitting the community.
As Kathy Jensen said of the speech, “He said it all, that day.”
“I’d like to tell you something – that north side kids are special. You see, they’re taught at a young age to believe in things like faith, family and friends. North side kids are always ready to serve and, almost to a fault, willing to defend just about any and every worthy cause. And school? Well, to them, it’s a second home. Sure, they’ll crack on it from time to time, but you better not. And yep, you heard it right: there’s a fish pond in their school. No, it doesn’t have water in it, but leave it alone, because good, bad or indifferent, it all seems to happen in that fish pond and that suits them just fine. You should know that on the north side of town, green and gold letter jackets never seem to fade. They might shrink a little, but just look around on those cool fall Friday nights and one can always spot them in the stands. Those forever faithful, just read the numbers. There’s the class of ’73, ’77, ’83, ’91. Some come back and some never leave, but just let one of them get into trouble or have a need. It’s like the pines. Whisper a call to arms and before you know it, with almost a clannish fervor, everybody is back. They’re back on Andrews Road. Yeah, it’s changed a little. There’s a Panera Bread, now, and we’ve even got our own Applebee’s. There’s an interstate going up behind the old football field. Man, it has to be a different look for all of the old timers sitting on the home side.’’
A North Side Gem
While a boom of commercialism continues to lure easily recognizable and exciting names, like Starbucks and Jimmy John’s, the unique, natural features of the area cannot be replicated.
Carver’s Falls is a 150 foot wide, two story tall waterfall at the intersection of McPherson Creek and Carver’s Creek. While locals have long appreciated the beauty of the area, a seven-story-high zip line, called ZipQuest, was constructed in 2009 and has been named one of USA Today’s 10 best zip lines.
Accessible from Ramsey Street via Carver’s Falls Road, the adventure is a combination of eight zip lines, accessible by spiral staircases, tree platforms and canopy sky bridges, which range from 100 to 210 feet in length. For the most adventuresome patrons, the zip lines can be traversed at night, in a voyage called NightQuest.
Also accessible down Carver’s Falls Road is Carver’s Falls Driving Range and Pro Shop, a well-kept north side secret.
While not a natural landmark, plans for a city pool in College Lakes have been approved and will become another North Fayetteville destination, next summer.