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Where the Heart Is

by | Aug 6, 2020 | Davidson History, News, Top Left Box

The Helper-Walley house was constructed in 1896. (Bill Giduz photo)


This is a story about home. About love and family and neighbors. About a hot, humid August day in 1960 and a similar August day in 2020. And so many days in between.

Betty Walley – named the Queen of N. Main Street by her neighbors. (Bill Giduz photo)

Betty Cashion Walley, who retired in 1997 after 42 years in the Davidson College Athletics Department, has made her home on North Main Street for 60 years now. Her neighbors decided to make a bit of a fuss. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Home. An evocative word that with luck brings feelings of warmth and security and love. A word that has come to mean even more to us in the time of COVID. We were so busy, with full calendars and five stops to make even before the grocery store. That was Before Times. Now, six months into Covid Times, we’ve had to slow way down, hunker in our homes, and form quaran-bubbles with like-minded neighbors. Distancing, playing games, and working puzzles. Movies on TV. Zoom with colleagues or cousins. The dishwasher is always full.

Covid Time will pass, and After Times will be something…different. We don’t yet know what that means. But when we get there, we may do so with a new appreciation for our walls and our roofs, our porches, our gardens, and our neighbors.

The oldest Davidson residential areas grew up around the town’s major source of employment, the college, and are generally known by street names—like Lorimer Road, South Street, Mock Circle.

(Bill Giduz photo)

Here’s what Mary D. Beaty, daughter of a Davidson College professor and Town mayor, wrote 40 years ago about North Main Street in Davidson, a History of the Town from 1835 to 1937 (Warren Publishing, Davidson, N.C., 1979):

No residential section of Davidson is nearly as old as the part of Main Street which begins opposite campus and stretches northward…. North Main Street defies narrow classification. It is the nineteenth and twentieth century mixed. It is antebellum and Victorian and modern, frame and brick, town and gown, boarding house and private home. It is Davidson’s history at a glance.

It still is.

There are many neighborly stories to tell, but today, we salute Betty Walley, the delightful doyenne of today’s close-knit neighborhood along historic North Main.

“I grew up about a mile north of Davidson,” Betty tells me. She remembers paying 11 cents at the movie theater where the CVS now sits. She recalls a restaurant on Depot Street and a grocery store where Toast now serves a good breakfast.

“The town is nothing like it was,” Betty says, but without judgment. Change, it seems, is an obvious process, not something to regret.

“I attended Mt. Mourne School through eighth grade and then attended Davidson High School. That’s where I met Dick Walley. He was a year ahead of me. And in about 1950 or so, North Mecklenburg High was completed. Dick went to North for his senior year, and I went to Mooresville High and finished my junior and senior years.”

In love, Betty and Dick got married after high school and started a family.

Betty Walley was joined by her sons – Scott (l) and Rick (r) to celebrate 60 years of living on N. Main Street. (Bill Giduz photo)

In 1955, Tom Scott hired Betty as the secretary in the Athletics Department. She retired in 1997 as executive secretary. Over the years, she worked for about seven athletic directors, including Terry Holland and Jim Murphy, who retired in 2018. She can tell some stories.

The Walleys bought a home on North Main Street for about $7,500 and moved in on August 6, 1960, with six-year-old Rick. “There were times when both boys were growing up that a little extra room would have been nice, but we managed, and I liked where I was,” she says.

As described in the Historic Preservation Commission’s report, the “the Helper-Walley House remains one of the few pre-1900 residential structures along the tree-lined road and one of two extant hall-and-parlor houses in the town. Built around 1896-1897 by Harlan Helper, son of Helper Hotel proprietor Hanson Helper and his wife Emma Potts Helper, the Helper-Walley House reflects the changes in tastes for architectural styles, having been remodeled by Helper in the 1920s to incorporate the popular Craftsman style while retaining its original character.”

Mary Beatty’s history identifies Betty’s home as the Helper-Wally House. Hmmm. No “e” in Wally?

“Well, Dick had a little sign made to hang on a post in the front of the house. He spelled our name with an ‘e,’ because he thought it looked better that way.” Betty shares this bit with a smile and slight shrug. Seemed like the important part of the story was remembering Dick, not so much the “e.”

A little rain didn’t dampen the spirits of anyone in attendance – like neighbors Autumn Rierson Michael, her, mom, and 2 of her kids. (Bill Giduz photo)

On move-in-anniversary eve, there was a bit of rain. It’s summer after all, and it passed. Betty knew a little fuss was coming, but when she answered the door at 7 o’clock, she was surprised by 60 blue and white balloons tied to the porch railing, dancing in the air. More than 30 North Main residents had gathered happily in her front yard—masked and distanced in 2020 fashion—to celebrate their neighbor and the home she has made there for 60 years. Surprise guests were Betty’s boys, Rick and Scott, her sister Carol Cooke, and brother Philip Cashion. Plus spouses.

Davidson’s mayor, also a neighbor, said a few words. After a rousing toast to Betty, to her banana pudding and cheese popovers and steady presence in the life of North Main, folks strolled home, just down the street, leaving Betty with a warm memory and beautiful notes to read, and read again.

“This old house, built in 1896, has embraced us with gentle arms through the years.

I have loved my home from the beginning, the location and the neighborhood,” Betty says.

We understand why.

See more photos from the celebration at our .photos website. 

Meg Kimmel

A professional communicator with a long career in higher education, Meg now consults and volunteers in areas where words and images work together to tell a story. She's a proud member of Davidson's Class of 1977 and lives nearby with her husband, Don, Davidson professor emeritus of biology, with whom she shares a family grown by kinship and choice.

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