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The Huske Family - Leaders in Commerce, Religion, Preservation

When Benjamin R. Huske opened his hardware store, folks in Fayetteville nicknamed it “Ben’s folly.”

William “Billy” Huske went all the way to Congress to sell the idea of a third lock and dam on the Cape Fear River.

But the Huskes get the last laugh. Decades later, the family name lives on – atop one of downtown Fayetteville’s most distinctive landmarks and Lock and Dam #3. Ben Huske III likes to say he’s the last of his kind, the only Huske left in the phone book, but Huskes don’t go quietly, never have. Instead, their perseverance seems to rub off. Perfect strangers labor to keep Huske Hardware House alive and the locks and dams open to outdoorsmen. The name Huske is etched into the history of three Episcopal churches, St. John’s, St. Joseph’s and Christ Church in Hope Mills. Members of the extended family helped start a fourth Episcopal congregation, Holy Trinity. Among the many generations of Huskes are six ministers, seven doctors and countless merchants. John Huske served as president of one of Fayetteville’s earliest banks. Joseph S. Huske worked to bring the Veterans Affairs Medical Center here. Margaret Huske deRosset and Rosalie Huske Kelly, aunt and niece, both received North Carolina’s most prestigious historic preservation award, the Ruth Coltrane Cannon Award.

Along the way, Huskes suffered through wars, personal tragedy and yes, losing the family name. Today, they are known as Anderson, Broadfoot, Jordan, Holmes, Kelly, Maloney, McGugan, McLean, McNeill, Mendelsohn, Mixon, Moore, Oates, Patterson, Schaefer and Tillinghast.

Those Huskes don’t go quietly, never have.

In true Fayetteville fashion, they arrived in the city with the help of a Scot.

James Hogg left Scotland in 1774. He would become a partner in Transylvania Company, an active trustee for the University of North Carolina and namesake for James Square. He gave land for Cross Creek Cemetery and was largely responsible for the decision to build the university in Chapel Hill. And in 1784, his daughter Elizabeth married John Huske, an Englishman.

Huske came to America to work for North Carolina Governor Thomas Burke. During the American Revolution, in many states guerilla war was waged between British Loyalists and Patriots. On the night of Sept. 13, 1781, Burke and Huske were seized by the notorious Tory David Fanning. They were taken prisoner, sent to Wilmington and then to Charleston, S.C., where Huske was finally released.

Huske would eventually attend North Carolina’s 1788 Constitutional convention in Hillsboro (now spelled Hillsborough), but he and the other delegates demanded that the Bill of Rights be added and voted against ratification. Delegates ratified the U.S. Constitution a year later in Fayetteville.

Hard times were not behind Huske. His young wife died in 1788, just four years after they were married, and left him with two young children. Huske never fully recovered his health from the time he was held prisoner and died in 1792. It is thought that his children were raised by their grandfather, James Hogg, who later helped his grandson, John Huske II, find work in Fayetteville.

And here they would stay.

The younger John Huske served on the first vestry of St. John’s Episcopal Church. He spent part of his career in banking. Fayetteville was a booming city, and the federal government was busy establishing banks and other businesses. The Second Bank of the United States created 28 branch offices around the country, including one in Fayetteville that operated from 1818 to 1835. Huske was president of the Fayetteville branch for much of that time, 1823 to 1835. He was commander of the Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry when Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette visited the city in 1825.

But like his father, Huske lost his young wife. Joanna Jenks Tillinghast died and left him with four children. He married his sister-in-law, Anne Power Tillinghast, and they had seven children. In all, Huske had 11 children. One of those, Joseph Caldwell Huske, would become the beloved rector of St. John’s for a record 38 years.

“He was a pastor to all the people in Fayetteville,” said a city resident who was not one of his parishioners. “He was a blessing not only to the people of St. John’s, but the community of Fayetteville.”

He was named for his uncle by marriage, Joseph Caldwell, the first president of the University of North Carolina. Huske came close to being nominated as bishop for the Diocese of East Carolina but declined because of his health. When Sherman began his march north during the Civil War, a church in New Bern sent its communion silver for safekeeping at St. John’s. When Sherman’s route shifted to Fayetteville, Huske kept two sets of silver hidden, the communion set from New Bern and the set for St. John’s. The church still uses its historic communion service.

Huske not only served the church in downtown Fayetteville, he also helped start an Episcopal congregation for African-American members. Huske died before St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church was dedicated, but a plaque at the entrance still bears his name. He also made the long trek from Fayetteville to preach at Christ Church in Hope Mills. On January 14, 1897, Huske died at his daughter’s home, an estate set in a grove of trees called Bordeaux, now home to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center. He did not live to see it, but two of his sons, two grandsons and a great-grandson would all become ministers.

His son Benjamin decided to open a store.

It would become one of a chain, all with three H’s in their names, including Huske Hardware House in downtown Fayetteville. When Huske decided to move his store to the 400 block of Hay Street, people laughed, scoffed even. It was so far out of town, they said, it was sure to fail. But soon, folks began to appreciate it as the only place where you could find car parts and children’s toys under one roof.

Benjamin Huske was the only Huske who came close to politics. He led the Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry in the Spanish-American War, and everyone in town called him Major Huske. He decided to run for mayor, but a local fisherman challenged him to a contest. “I’m going to beat you if it takes all of the catfish in the river,” he vowed. And sure enough, he won and Huske lost.

He stuck to what he knew best, running the store. The store would survive until 1970 when Ben Huske III and his cousin’s husband, Brownie Schaefer, closed the doors and sold the building. But Huske Hardware House wasn’t done yet, not by a long shot. In 1997, it opened again, this time as a restaurant and brewery. The restaurant played a critical role in the revitalization of downtown Fayetteville as it transformed from deserted to vibrant again. Then, the restaurant abruptly closed in September and folks rallied to find a new buyer who would bring it back to life one more time.

Huskes don’t go quietly, never have.

Folks are fighting to keep another Huske alive, this one several miles down the road near the border of Cumberland and Bladen counties, where a sign stands along N.C. 87 dedicated to the W.O. Huske Lock and Dam.

William Oliver Huske, whom everyone knew as Billy, was a businessman, member of the All-Southern college football team in 1913, veteran of World War I and lover of the Cape Fear River. He organized the Cape Fear River Improvement Association and spent some 10 years persuading Congress to appropriate money for a third lock and dam on the river. The Fayetteville Observer reported that Huske’s appearance before the Rivers and Harbors Committee of the House was a highlight of this campaign. “On the stand for hours, answering a barrage of questions, he demonstrated such an expert knowledge of all the angles to the proposition that he left the committee sold on the Cape Fear.”

For years, the locks and dams helped move commercial traffic up the Cape Fear from the coast. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is investigating the possibility of closing them to allow free passage for fish swimming upstream. But yet again, perfect strangers jumped in to save the locks and dams. State Rep. Margaret Dickson of Fayetteville introduced a bill in the General Assembly calling for the state to take over the locks and dams from the Corps though it would most likely require approval from Congress.

Huskes don’t go quietly, never have.

While Billy Huske was busy convincing Congress, his brother, Joseph Strange Huske, was busy convincing politicians to build a veterans hospital on Huske family land in Fayetteville. He even built a tower as tall as the second story and invited them to admire the view from the wooded lot on Ramsey Street. Huske handed out miniature replicas of the Market House to sweeten the deal and perhaps there is no connection, but the hospital was built on Ramsey Street with a replica of the Market House on top.

Joseph Huske could not have known it then, but it would be his son who would be the last to carry the Huske name in Fayetteville. Ben Huske III is a retired businessman and structural engineer, longtime Kiwanian, founder of the Operation Christmas Child shoe-box effort in Fayetteville and yes, as he puts it, the last Huske in the phone book.

But he and his cousin, Patricia Huske Schaefer, faithful keepers of the family history, aren’t done yet.

Huskes don’t go quietly, never have.

This is the second in a series of stories about families who through the years have had prominent roles in the community.