Ayden Magazine Winter-Spring 2021-22

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2021-22 Winter-Spring


Quilt Lizzy breathes new life into old building


Arts and Recreation

Sacred Spaces

Fish Stew Lot 34 Films

Main Street Music Makers

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4057 Lee Street Ayden, NC 28513 Monday - Friday 8:30 AM - 7:00 PM Saturday 9:00 AM - 3:00 PM | Sunday Closed 2

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Sacred Spaces


Fish stew frenzy


Making dreams real


Collard greens and guitar strings


Howling over Arts & Rec


Cornerstone of redevelopment


Downtown development


Bobby Burns Editor Donna Davis, Karen Eckert, Kayla Green, Ariyanna Smith, Donna Marie Williams Staff Writers Lewis Smith Advertising Restoration Newsmedia Layout & Design AYDEN© is published biannually by The Standard newspaper. Contents are the property of this newspaper and the town of Ayden and may not be reproduced without consent of the publisher. To advertise in this publication, please contact The Standard at 252-747-3883.




Professor Charles Ewen looks at a map of grave plots at the African American cemetery on North Lee Street in Ayden.

Mallory Purser, Ewen, and Autumn Saski measure instrument height at the African American cemetery.

Ewen and his students have marked graves in the cemetery with pink, numbered flags.

Searching for answers in sacred spaces

ECU researchers moving ahead on with work to restore ancestral burial ground, revive stories of the past By Karen Eckert

Cemeteries are known to be quiet places, but the messages they send can be loud and clear. That’s the case with a large ancestral African American cemetery nestled out of sight in a wooded area on the east side of Old N.C. 11, on the town’s northern edge. Archaeologists and anthropologists are now studying those messages as part a community effort to restore the graveyard and document the stories of the 400 or more souls who were buried there since at least since the early 1900s. Once stalled by the pandemic, work has once again began in earnest and progress


includes numbered flags on all the graves that project leaders are working to align with online documentation they hope will grow as the project moves forward. African Americans used the burial ground before the town established what is known today as the North East Cemetery, according to officials. Evidence suggests, the cemetery was in use for about 57 years as an active burial ground, according to Helen Dixon, an assistant professor in the East Carolina University Department of History. The oldest burial with a legible headstone has 1905 as the year of death, and the most recent burial with a legible headstone has 1962, according

to Dixon. Those dates are based on the graves with markers, according to Charles Ewen, an archaeologist in the ECU Department of Anthropology. “There are three times as many unmarked graves,” he said. Ewen and Dixon are part of a five-member team of researchers who began studying the cemetery after community members asked the town to make improvements. Looking Back Annie Edwards, a lifelong resident, has relatives buried in the cemetery, which had over the years become overgrown and fallen into disrepair. She is happy that, at long last,


the burial ground is getting some much-needed attention. “I love it,” said Edwards, who is among townspeople who played a role in making that happen. She said that for more than a decade she has been inquiring about how she and others in the African American community could gain access to the cemetery for the purpose of taking care of it. At one point she was told that permission was needed, she said. For years she was referred to one person after another, she said, but no one seemed to know who owned the property or who was responsible for it, and she was often given conflicting information.


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Edwards said that she wants people to know that, although the cemetery appears to be in a neglected state, it is not because it was abandoned or forgotten. She and others were denied access to it, she said. Improvements that Edwards has wanted to see for the cemetery include getting the graves cleaned off and the cemetery surveyed to find out just how big it is, she said. She would also like for a fence to enclose it and a little driveway made so that people don’t have to park on the side of the road when visiting the cemetery. Getting Started Today some of the things Edwards wants for the cemetery are beginning to happen. She credits Ayden’s mayor pro-tem for taking action. “The last person that I went to is the one who got it moving and that was Commissioner Ivory Mewborn,” Edwards said. Mewborn brought the issue of the old cemetery before the town board in 2018, he said. No one on the board at that time was aware of the cemetery, but members were open to the idea of fixing it up, Mewborn said. It was also around that time that Mewborn coined the term “4AC,” which stands for Ayden African American Ancestral

Caring for the 4AC Through 2024, with the help of the community, researchers from ECU will be taking the following steps with the Ayden African American Ancestral Cemetery: • Conduct an archaeological study of the area • Make digital maps of the cemetery • Transcribe all headstone inscriptions into a cemetery database • Reconstruct genealogies of those in the cemetery and tie them to living community members • Use archival documents from Ayden to reconstruct the cemetery’s history • Curate an Ayden Museum exhibit • Create a website with research plans, updates and downloadable information • Interview Ayden citizens about what they know about the cemetery and what they’d like to see done to it in the future • Based on answers, we will work with town officials and share what we find with anyone who is interested For more information contact Ryan Schacht at schachtr18@ecu.edu. The cemetery can be found on Google Maps by searching for Ayden African American Ancestral Cemetery. Cemetery and is now commonly used. Among the members of the town’s Board of Commissioners, the idea emerged that perhaps a Boy Scout, for an Eagle Scout project, could make a walking path through the cemetery, according to Mewborn. That’s when ECU professor and archaeologist Charles Ewen entered the picture. The town manager at the time, Steve Harrell, approached Ewen about the Scout project, Ewen said. “Mr. Harrell wondered if my ground-penetrating radar (GPR) might

Eric Bailey, a member of the ECU research team, takes a group photo of the team meeting with Ayden town officials on Nov. 15 at Bum’s Restaurant downtown.



indicate unmarked graves that could be avoided by the trail,” he said. When Ewen visited the cemetery, he realized that it was much larger than he had expected and suggested that the proposed project might be a bit much for a Scout, he said. Finding And Flagging The cemetery covers approximately 1.5 acres, according to Ewen. The Scout instead ended up building a wooden bridge that leads to the entrance of the cemetery, he said. “(Then) upon reflection, I thought that the mapping of the cemetery might make a nice project for my public archaeology class in the spring of 2020,” he said. With Harrell in agreement, Ewen and his students did some limited clearing so that they could reveal the stone and grave depressions in the underbrush, Ewen said. The earliest efforts were put on hold when things shut down because of COVID, he said. However, since then, work has resumed and a visitor to the cemetery today will encounter 400 graves, each one bearing a pink stake flag. The flags are numbered 1-400, Ewen said. Some of the graves are merely indentations in the ground while others have headstones. Using a total station (a transit and an electronic station all in one), Ewen and his students are developing a map that plots each grave’s location with directional coordinates.


“I hope to have at least a preliminary map by the end of the year,” Ewen said. There are plans to establish a website at which a person will be able to view the map, see where a particular grave is located and then be able to find it easily when actually in the cemetery, according to Ewen. At some point there could also be a physical map displayed at the cemetery, he said. Expanding The Project A project that started out with the mapping of graves has expanded further. Ewen said that his colleague, Ryan Schacht, thought what he was doing in Ayden was interesting and wondered if there was room for a cultural anthropologist to work with the living community and their recollections of the cemetery while Ewen documented the deceased. Bringing other professors onto the project, Schacht pursued grants and ended up receiving one from the National Science Foundation and one from the National Endowment for the Humanities, according to Ewen. As a result, Eric Bailey and Cindy Grace-McCaskey, both cultural anthropologists, are conducting interviews in the community to find out what people’s memories about the Ayden cemetery are. Ivory Mewborn said that he has participated in a formal interview with Bailey and found him to be “very professional, very cordial, very engaging and … a great interviewer.” The information gathered during conversations is confidential, Bailey said, and is recorded in a manner that does not identify the names of the people being interviewed. Bailey said that interviews are conducted in places where interviewees feel comfortable, for example at Sheppard Me-


morial Library. Helen Dixon, a historian with a background in mortuary landscape and museum studies, is researching the “public history side” of the project, she said. She is studying the history of the land itself by looking at old documents and records, and is looking at ways the cemetery can possibly be a site for the public, she said. There are many ideas for what to do, Dixon said, but the researchers want to listen to what the community wants because it is a sacred space, the burial place of Ayden’s ancestors. Telling The Story In the meantime, Dixon has been adding some information to a website called findagrave. com, which is free and accessible to the public. “Find a Grave” is a site described as “the world’s largest gravesite collection” with “over 190 million memorials created by the community since 1995.” Dixon said there was already a page set up for a Dixon-StocksKitrell family cemetery at Find a Grave. It is the same cemetery now being referred to as the Ayden African American Ancestral Cemetery and that name has been added to the page. The address is https:// www.findagrave.com/ cemetery/2660213/dixon-stocks-kitrell-family-cemetery. Dixon has updated the page by posting a photo of every headstone in the cemetery and a transcript of what researchers can see on the headstone, she said. The most direct link to the full list of legible headstones is at tinyurl.com/4ACgraves. The Find a Grave website is different from a separate website that Dixon will design, the one that will display Ewen’s map, she said. The purpose of the website that Dixon plans to create will be to tell stories about those

Many of the 400 graves are unmarked but others have headstones and markers. Many of those are in disrepair.

buried in the 4AC and add photos and context that can present a fuller story of the history of the cemetery and its inhabitants, she said. In addition to a website there are plans to curate an Ayden Museum exhibit. One story that the headstones tell is that a large number of people buried in this cemetery very likely died in the 1918 flu pandemic, according to Dixon. It is very apparent because so many death dates on the tombstones are from 1918 and are way out of line in number compared to other years, she said. Dixon said it is easy to acknowledge rationally that it must have been a tough time in history. “But to see it represented in a cemetery it also just sort of takes your breath away that we are in one pandemic and we are looking at the tragic results of the last major pandemic across America,” she said. While the Ayden portion is a major component of the team’s research, it is only one part of a larger project, according to Schacht. The grants, which are for three years, also fund research to quantify the scale of African American cemetery loss in North Carolina, including other areas of Pitt County, he said.


Moving Ahead Doing repair work in the cemetery and taking perpetual care of the burial ground, will not be the responsibility of ECU, but will be up to the town of Ayden and the community, according to Ewen. Ewen said that establishing something like a “Friends of the 4AC Cemetery” group would be helpful and that he has seen that type of organization work well elsewhere. He also suggests that civic organizations and church groups get involved. Ayden’s town board is supportive, officials said. So far, a small gravel pull-off area has been installed by the town so that cars do not have to park along the road. Plans are being discussed to put up a memorial sign along the highway to identify the cemetery, according to Matt Livingston, Ayden’s town manager. The research team is extremely attuned to the fact that these are Ayden’s ancestors, Dixon said, and she knows that every member of the community wants to see the cemetery treated respectfully, given the nature of the site as a burial place. She hopes that the team can draw out people’s dreams for this site, she said. “… My hope … is that it becomes a place that the whole community can be proud of.”



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Fish stew frenzy Family recipe, limited supply has fans lining up at Fryday Nite Fish By Ariyanna Smith

Ayden may be known for its barbecue but folks are clamoring for its fish stew. Before they can get it though, they have to understand the basic economics of supply and demand. High demand and limited supply mean you have to get in line on Sunday at Friday Nite Fish, The Original Backyard, 521 W. First St. When Tonnia Pollard-Wallace and her husband, Alonzo Wallace, opened Fryday Nite Fish in 2019, they never expected to be so successful. But every weekend now, lines of customers extend down First

Street hoping to get a taste of their fried fish dishes and their famous fish stew. Tonnia is the face of the homestyle restaurant, but her husband is the one behind their signature item. Unfortunately for their customers, Alonzo spends most of his time on the road working as a truck driver. Due to his limited schedule, the stew is only available on Sundays. Occasionally, on Fridays, he makes it home early and prepares a few batches. These special occasions are always announced on the restaurant’s Facebook page with the hashtag, “Plot Twist.”

Tonnia Pollard-Wallace and Alonzo Wallace opened Fryday Nite Fish, The Original Backyard in 2019.




Initially, the stew was on the menu for the entire weekend, but they were overwhelmed by the demand. This past summer, the restaurant sold 300 bowls in 17 minutes. Now, Sundays are dedicated to selling the stew and the volume is more manageable. But even with the adjusted schedule, people will wait for hours hoping to get a bowl. Only card-carrying members of the customer loyalty program are guaranteed a serving. Otherwise, “Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” Pollard-Wallace said. The stew is a family recipe that includes basic ingredients like potatoes, eggs and sausage. The couple believes the recipe’s unique blend of spices is what has their customers hooked. Mrs. Pollard-Wallace is a licensed spice maker and her husband uses her mix in the stew. “People just aren’t used to these ingredients,” he said. The family has been making

$17 a bowl,” Pollard-Wallace explained. Once the recipe was finalized and the restaurant opened for business, they realized they had something special. The couple plans to build off the success of the past two years. Wallace is planning to leave his position which will allow him to focus on the restaurant. They have already purchased a food truck that will spotlight the stew and satisfy the overwhelming demand from the community. “It’s a whole business by itself,” Pollard-Wallace said. A secret family recipe with an original mix of spices makes the stew special, the Wallaces said.

the stew for 28 years. Pollard’s mother taught her husband how to make it. When they decided to offer it to the public, they swapped Rockfish for Tilapia to make it more affordable for their customers.

“When we were at home making fish stew for the family, we used Rockfish. Coming to Ayden we had to find a fish that would keep the price down. If we sold the fish stew with Rockfish, it would be

Fryday Night Fish is open Tuesday-Saturday from 11 a.m. until they sell out. The business opens Sunday to sell fish stew. Like their Facebook page at facebook.com/Tonniafnf/ for alerts the stew and other special items such as pork chops and barbecued chicken.


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Making dreams real

Woman opens Ayden studio to pursue movie-making ambition with Lot 34 Films By Ariyanna Smith

Trameeca Sanders started telling stories when she was a young girl. As a child, her mother used to write short stories and she would perform them at home. This early introduction to performing led her to pursue a career in the arts. Now, she owns the first movie studio in Ayden, Lot 34 Films. The studio’s name is a nod to the mobile home park she grew up in: She lived in unit 34. The parcel of land her mother’s home in Greenville was later built on was also No. 34. Sanders is a self-taught writer and director. She produced her first stage play in 2010 called “Real Men Struggle” and has since written and directed several plays and short films since forming Lot 34. She always wanted to produce her own work so she decided to purchase studio space. After a long period of researching and planning, she started turning her dream into a reality. First, she had to think about


Lot 34 Films’ camera captures actor Terrance Chapman in the short movie “If Heaven Could Hear me.”

funding the venture. She worked as a full-time medical technician and picked up double shifts when they were available. She planned to work as

much as possible so she could to save the money to purchase the building quickly. It was hard for Sanders to work long hours and live on a


strict budget but she kept her goal in mind and persevered. “God wouldn’t give me a vision that can’t be realized,” she said. Eventually, she had the money and found the perfect building to move into on Second Street in downtown. Now, she works full-time at the studio. “Most people aren’t familiar with the movie business. It’s not like a store where you can go purchase products, but the films we make are not free,” she said. She is establishing the business to place the films on streaming services and hopes to have them in theaters as well. She also is setting up the studio with a nonprofit educa-


tional component that focuses on teaching children how to make films. Previously, Sanders ran a home daycare. Like her mother, she would organize productions for the children to perform. She noticed how much the children enjoyed getting into character, but beyond the daycare, there weren’t many outlets where they could learn about the art form. It was then that she got the idea to incorporate an educational component for children in the community. She is currently planning a summer camp where children will create their own movies and at the end of the program, they will screen all the films at a film festival for their families. She and her team of collaborators are currently working on the studio’s first feature film, “A Holly Jolly Christmas.” The movie is a holiday romance that tells the story

Ursala Banks, Trameeka Sanders, Donell Knight and Terrance Chapman of Lot 34 Films.

of a nanny from the North Pole who falls in love with a widowed father. Sanders wrote

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the movie over the course of a month and is directing the picture. She will be filming at

several locations in Ayden. “They have worked with us,” she said of town officials.

“The Pool Room”a common name heard throughout Ayden, has been in operation in downtown Ayden since the 1940s. Renamed Andy’s Grill & Recreation in 1971, the Stocks family bought the iconic business and expanded its services from a pool hall to a restaurant that also serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. “We were Andy’s way before the chain and outlasted them,”said owner and manager Johnny Stocks, whose father, Andy, bought the business in the early 70s. Stocks has watched his customers grow up over the years and their families expand. “Being in business 50 years, you develop relationships. Friends and family come to Andy’s when they are in town from D.C. and New York, just like they do at Bum’s and Skylight (Inn). “I have seen generations grow up, like kids who used to come in with their grandparents and now come back with their kids. I love it.”




“We’ve been able to block off streets and get businesses involved. They are excited we are there. They have been very welcoming.” Sanders has a small team of collaborators that she works with that includes cinematographer Donell Knight and writer and performer Ursula Banks. The holiday movie is the first film the group is working on together after having produced many plays together. Sanders says the group is always collaborating despite living in different cities. “I’m always calling them to get their opinions and bounce ideas off of them. They are excellent,” she said. Sanders explained that when she gets an idea, she will start writing then step away. After a period of marination, she starts a rough draft and after revision, she begins a final script. “A script is never really done. You could be out somewhere then

get inspired. It’s true, life does imitate art,” she said. The transition from theater to film has been interesting for Sanders. She enjoys the instant gratification a live-audience supplies but also likes the flexibility of film, “You don’t have to worry about nailing it the first time. You get as many chances as you need,” she said. Some of her favorite films are “The Goonies,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “The Notebook” and “Poetic Justice.” She is interested in a range of genres and wants to produce work that everyone can enjoy. Looking ahead, Sanders plans to continue building relationships with other businesses and organizations in Ayden. She believes her venture will bring new opportunities to the residents and children in the community. She plans for the studio to produce more feature films and get them on streaming services and in theaters.

Sanders and Banks work out a scene.




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This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number H80CS10607Health Center Program, in the amount of $8,654,913or 48% of total program costs with $8,956,453or 50% financed with nongovernmental sources. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit HRSA.gov. GCHC is licensed by the state of North Carolina, led by an independent Board of Directors and is an FQHC Program grantee under 42 U.S.C. 254. GCHC receives HHS funding and has Public Health Service (PHS) deemed status with respect to certain health or health-related claims, including medical malpractice claims, for itself and its covered individuals.


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Collard greens an Music makers help fill out Ayden’s menu By Donna Davis


hen Ayden’s Collard Festival returned in 2021 after a pandemic-induced hiatus, Town Manager Matt Livingston took the stage with his guitar. And perhaps having a musician at the helm is a reminder that Ayden is not only home to leafy green collards, but a collage of local musical talent. Here are a couple of examples that even folks living between the Skylight Inn and Bum’s Barbecue may not have discovered yet. Oakdale Drive: Not Just A Destination, But A Musical Journey Ayden high school students August Meyer and Jayden Peszko call themselves Oakdale Drive. The band’s name is derived from a street in Ayden. But the impetus for the band was simply, the love of music. “We just formed out of jamming together,” Peszko said. “We got together because out of all the musicians at our school, Auggie and I were the only ones

serious enough or willing enough to play outside of school. From then, we practiced on Auggie’s street (Oakdale Drive) and the rest has been history.” Peszko plays electric guitar, acoustic guitar and bass. Meyer plays banjo, acoustic guitar, bass, drums, piano and harmonica. And quite often Meyer plays three of the instruments at the same time, as he did when the duo performed recently at R.A. Fountain General Store.

Ayden high school students August Meyer and Jayden Peszko call themselves Oakdale Drive. The band’s name is derived from a street in Ayden.




and guitar strings

Meyer and Peszko played at R.A. Fountain General Store on Oct. 29.

There they performed a mix of original music and classics such as Pink Floyd’s “The Time,” “Take it Easy,” by The Eagles and “Heart Full of Soul” by The Yardbirds. Before launching into “Purple Haze,” Peszko said, “My name is Jayden, not Jimi.” “I want you to imagine something nice,” Peszko said as he introduced John Lennon’s “Imagine.” He added with a hint of pride in his voice, “I arranged my own bass line.” Meyer bantered back, “I don’t know if they’ll get the bass line arrangement, but I hope they


like the song.” Meyer played “Cripple Creek” on banjo, solo. Friends of his may know that his first banjo appeared under the Christmas tree in 2020, but audiences would find that hard to believe, given his command of the instrument. “To be honest, I don’t really know where to credit my progress, but hard work and practice makes the most of it,” Meyer explained. “In my mind, I treat the band as a full time job, so practice is one of the commitments I make to be a well-oiled machine functioning

in the band.” Peszko agrees. “All of it goes to devoted practice anywhere I can get it. I will walk with my guitar around the halls in school and practice with this little portable amp and some headphones.” Peszko played in orchestra in elementary and middle school but quit until his interest was reignited in high school when listening to guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and David Gillmour, the later of Pink Floyd. “I picked up the guitar along with some lessons and my band director noticed how good I was getting and recruited me to play in the marching band at school and created a Jam Band club for musicians at my school.” Meyer started with drum lessons in elementary school then transitioned to guitar. “I stopped playing guitar around six years ago but picked it back up during the COVID-19 quarantine. I was inspired to play banjo by Scott Avett of The Avett Brothers. I kept learning how to play numerous instruments in my home and brought them to live performances as well.” In terms of musical styles, the duo has differing tastes, but they manage to make it work. “I most enjoy playing psychedelic blues and hard rock because of its experimental type sounds and gritty guitar tones you can come across,” Peszko said. “I enjoy playing folk rock, Americana, and bluegrass music,” Meyer explained. “It is in sharp contrast with Jayden’s style of music, but we work well blending the different styles of music genres into the music we create.”


Peszko describes how he goes about writing original music. “My creative process is ludicrous at times with me legitimately just letting my fingers glide on the fretboard and somehow a cool melody will arise. I usually make what I like in one sitting because the song or riff can go a whole new route if the energy is different.” Meyer said they once spent five hours on a single riff, and it’s their favorite song: “Jammin’ Style.” He said the songwriting process evolves “from a couple of notes on a guitar or banjo to a full-fledged song.” Fans can follow the duo on Instagram (@oakdaledriveband), YouTube (Oakdale Drive), and SoundCloud (Oakdale Drive). They have posted several songs, originals and covers on their Youtube channel and Soundcloud.

Peszko plays electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and bass.


Melvin C. “Tommy” Stalls III: Rock ’N’ Roller To Bluegrass Bender

Ayden resident Melvin Stalls says that he’s spent most of his life playing rock ’n’ roll but is currently enjoying acoustic bluegrass.

Ayden resident Melvin Stalls says that musically, he’s like Samuel Jackson from Pulp fiction: He’s in a transitional period. “I spent most of my life playing rock and roll in bands nobody ever heard of, going back to the ’80s.” But in the past year, he’s started focusing on acoustic and bluegrass. That includes traditional bluegrass and music from the likes of Billy Strings and The Steel Drivers. The multi-instrumentalist grew up with classic country, like Johnny Cash and Chet Atkins. But also Eddie Van Halen. He was influenced by his dad, who still plays guitar at age 79. On weekends they play together. His dad is Melvin C. Stalls II and is also called Tommy. Turns out, there’s a story behind the name.

Stalls’ great-granddaddy wanted to name his child Tommy, but his wife wouldn’t agree. She said that it wasn’t a real name. So they settled on Melvin. The letter “C” was put on the birth certificate for good measure, but didn’t stand for anything. Still, his great-granddaddy called his son, “Tommy.” As did the next generation and the next. So Stalls shares not only a love of guitar playing, but a name, with his dad. “When I was 15 or 16 he had an old electric guitar that he let me play.” But Stalls was raised hearing “cowboy chords” like C, F and G. So when he heard songs on the radio, he said, “What kind of chords are Eddie Van Halen and Ted Nugent playing? They don’t sound like what my Dad’s showing me.” Eventually he met others in high school and they showed him some things and he started picking up barre chords and playing in bands.

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The Ayden resident played trumpet and tuba in high school marching band at Greene Central, as he grew up in the Snow Hill area. His family relocated there from Roanoke Rapids. This was during the era when marching bands, and Greene Central’s especially, were a big deal. “We went everywhere...Macy’s parade, Disney, the Kentucky Derby,” he said. In the late ’80s he played in a few bands in the Wilson area. He just moved to Ayden about four years ago. “I always had friends here, though ... I used to work at Print One back in ’86.” Stalls gravitates to playing guitar, bass, and mandolin. He also enjoys songwriting. One original song that he is particularly proud of is called “Monterey.” The lyrics came first. “I was a history major and had a minor in English,” Stalls said. “All I did was read and write. But I found that I wrote papers better in long-hand. The words would just spill out.” And he feels the same way about writing song lyrics. The song was influenced by the early ’70s Eagles’ sound and is about meeting someone at the beach in the summer. But he must have a good imagination because he adds, “I’ve never set foot in California and I’ve never met a girl at the beach.” These days Stalls plays mainly for his own enjoyment at home, surrounded by his guitar collection, or at friends’ houses. But be on the lookout. He plans to start getting out to some local open mics soon.


Stalls plays mainly for his own enjoyment at home, surrounded by his guitar collection, or at friends’ houses.



The town made several improvements to the Arts and Recreation Center on Lee Street including installing air conditioning in the gymnasium. The vents above players practicing recently allow for more comfortable warm-weather programming in the facility.

Howling over Arts & Rec New dog park, rec center updates among reasons for residents to tail wag By Donna Marie Williams

Ayden finally has a park that’s worth barking about. Ayden Arts and Recreation celebrated the opening of its off leash dog park Oct. 2 — an addition among many tail-wagging developments with the department this year. The desire for a dog park in Ayden was “overwhelming” in a survey conducted by Arts and Rec in 2018. “People wanted it and said they wouldn’t mind driving to the dog park,” Arts and Recreation Director Tommy Duncan said. With that in mind, town leaders set their sites on establishing a safe site for pups to play at The Ayden District Park, 3909 Jolly Road. The park was large enough and a great location for everyone to hold events and have fun outdoors, especially in the summer when the splash pad opens, said park advocate and Town Commissioner Raymond Langley. Langley also saw the need for a dog park with many in town having small to no


backyards. “I feel the dog park is an amenity that helps our citizens and visitors — especially those that live in apartments as well as those that don’t have a fenced-in area for the dogs to be safe and be able to exercise and roam around freely and be social with other dogs as permitted by the owners,” Langley said. With ample room to play, the facility is situated in a fenced half acre at the District Park. It lets dogs run Tommy Duncan freely unleashed. Benches, trash cans and doggy bags are provided to assist canine companions and ensure the park is kept clean. “It gives the people a place to take their dogs so they can socialize. A lot of people have a small backyard or no backyard at all. This gives them a place for their dogs to exercize,” Duncan said. The park also gives residents a place to


meet fellow dog lovers and like-minded community members. This allows for friendship and a sense of community to evolve in Ayden, Duncan said. “They socialize while the dogs are socializing with other dogs. It’s a good meeting place for people to meet new people and make friends and for people to meet other dog lovers,” Duncan said. Since opening, Langley has been one to frequent the park taking along his pit bullhound mix Zoey. “The first day of opening we had several people attend to exercise their dogs, we had people from out of state that really enjoyed the fact that Ayden has a dog park. I feel as we continue to let people know that it is available, we will continue to see more people using the park,” Langley said. The park was partially funded through a grant from the Pitt County Economic Development Commission. While the park is modest now, Ayden Arts and Recreation hopes to add fun obstacles for the dogs to interact with, Duncan said.


“It’s closer than the ones in Greenvile and Kinston. We don’t have the amenities these have yet, but we are looking at adding to it,” Duncan said. The dog park is just one means of furthering the mission of Ayden Arts and Recreation which seeks to provide the greater Ayden community with a safe place for both adult and youth programming and sports. With four parks, a recreation complex and special programming and events, the town has something for everyone, Duncan said. Arts and Recreation Center Housed in the former Ayden High School, the Ayden Arts Recreation Center serves as the headquarters for department at 4354 Lee St. The center is home to the second largest auditorium in Pitt County, with an 850-seat capacity, classrooms and newly completed renovations to the Coach Stuart Tripp Gymnasium. Completed just this year, the renovations included updating the gym’s 1950s bathrooms by replacing the plumping and tiling, air conditioning the gym, expanding and updating the lobby area complete with a television displaying upcoming events, schedules and standings as well as an updated concessions stand. The center is also the home to a softball field, skateboard park, outdoor basketball court and a variety of both adult and youth programs. Four Parks In the heart of Ayden lies Ayden’s Veteran Park at 495 Snow Hill St. Veteran’s Park is home to an inclusive playground updated in 2015. Along with a zipline, handicap swing, climbing bars and slide set, the park also features a bathroom, picnic shelter and tennis court.


Located at 1110 Hardy St., J.J. Brown Park is a community pocket park featuring play equipment and a swing set. The park also features a picnic shelter. The District Park sits on 52 acres at 3909 Jolly Road. So far it features a quarter-milelong walking trail, playground equipment, two beach volleyball courts, a swing set, picnic shelter and bathrooms. It is home to the Mary Alice Brown Davenport Splashpad, which operates during the summer, an 18-hole disc golf course and two football/soccer fields. The newest and smallest park in Ayden is the Pocket Park in an alley just off Lee Street. It transforms the vacant alley into a green space designed for walkability and as a shortcut between downtown businesses and as a gathering spot. It is equipped with benches and a scenic mural created by Ayden native Mark Brown featuring Lt. Col. Sammy A. Pierce of the United States Air Force. Programs For All Arts and Recreation hosts a variety of programs for adults and youth. Recently, the department has added adult kickboxing to its roster. The class is taught by world-class champion Demetrius “Oaktree” Edwards who has boxed with Mike Tyson. The department is also slated to host a line dancing class beginning in January. The department offers a variety of recreational sports programming for youth including soccer, football, volleyball and basketball. Adults volleyball and kickball are also hosted by the department. Also for adults, the department offers pottery, yoga classes and more. Visit www.ayden.com/departments/arts-recreation for more information.

Ayden Town Commissioner Raymond Langley plays with his dogs at the new off leash dog facility at the District Park on Jolly Road. Langley advocated for the facility so people who don’t have backyards have a place to play with their pups.

Special Programs The department offers summer camps and special summer programs ranging in topics each week. From specialty sports camps — including basketball, soccer, cheerleading, twirl, softball, volleyball and football, to cooking, art, rocket camp to its own police academy and outdoor adventure camp, the camps offer something for all ages. It hosts special events throughout the year, including its Kite Festival in April, springtime Mother & Son and Father & Daughter dances and Easter Egg Hunt. Through partnerships with other organizations, Arts and


Rec hosts Family Splash Day at the splashpad, a Halloween celebration and Breakfast with Santa. “It’s good to have partnerships. It lessens the load on each department. There is a lot of planning and a lot more things that go into planning events than people realize. When you have someone to help share the load — especially since our department is only comprised of three people — it really helps out,” Duncan said. Looking Ahead In his soon-to-be 11 years as director, Duncan has been pleased with the growth and progress of the department.


“Every year we were growing as far as the number of people that are using our facilities or using our programs. We got to

a point where it was a steady incline,” Duncan said. “We were steadily growing by 100 year after year.”

He expects the trend will continue as more than 700 homes are expected in the near future. “We are hoping more to grow more in our programming and looking at more programs for adults. We have a really good pottery class now and we would like to see more of those programs established. We’d like to see the staff expand to handle some more of the maintenance loads of the building. There are also a couple of new sports — like handball — I’d like to try,” Duncan said. Duncan is also grateful for his staff and coaches and parents who volunteer their time and skills for the department. “All of our youth sports are coached by volunteer parents or community members that love the sport and want to teach young kids how to play it,” Duncan said. “Coaches are the backbone

of the whole program. If we don’t get the volunteer coaches we can’t run the program. We have to have them to run the teams so the kids can play. They are very critical and if it won’t for these people taking time out of their lives to do that, people don’t realize the dedication it takes to coach a time, a lot of time and energy comes into it. We have a lot of respect for our coaches and really thank them for the unthankful job they have. We have a lot of respect and thank our parents for bringing the kids to practice. It takes a lot of effort from everybody.” The department is working with community members to restart the Arts and Recreation Foundation. “It’s like a booster club for arts and recreation. They will help with fundraising and raising money to complete the Ayden District Park as well as raising funds for under-

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privileged kids so they can participate in recreation programs,” Duncan said. While programming and offerings may change, the Arts and Rec staff remain committed to their mission, Duncan said. “We work when other people play, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time while you are working. The most critical part of our job is to make sure other people are having a fun and safe time. It’s our job to make sure they are enjoying what they are doing,” Duncan said. He said a good recreation department improves quality of life when it offers a variety of programs and facilities to keep everybody engaged. “It keeps kids active and doing things. We also have high school kids that work for us as recreation leaders,” Duncan said, adding some of the recreation leaders discovered a passion for arts and recreation through the program. “They grew up playing here, went off to college and received a job in the field.” For more information about Ayden Arts and Recreation or to learn more or register for programs and offerings visit aydenartsandrec.recdesk.com.

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A $500,000 rural development grant helped the Town of Ayden and Quilt Lizzy owner Susan Harris renovate an old building on South Lee Street to house a new sewing and craft store and meeting center.

Cornerstone of redevelopment Quilt Lizzy, which opened in July, already is helping bring people back downtown, town leaders said By Kayla Green

A chance detour caused by flooding from a hurricane is helping Ayden revitalize its downtown. Susan Harris, the founder and owner of Quilt Lizzy, was driving from the coast to her home in Warrenton, where she opened her first sewing and crafting store. Flooding closed the road she was on and she needed an alternate route. A phone app redirected her up N.C. 43 through Vanceboro and had her take a left on N.C. 102, bringing her right into Ayden. When she came into town and saw the old houses she thought, “Wow, this is pretty, and gosh this kind of reminds me of War-


renton because Warrenton has a lot of historic homes. “And as I got right into downtown … I saw all these empty buildings.” The lifelong North Carolina resident had been looking to expand east, and she wanted an old building to renovate and invigorate a downtown. “I’m very passionate about seeing downtowns come back to life … you wait until you see downtown Ayden in 20 years,” she said. Harris called the town manager of Warrenton and inquired about Ayden. Soon after, she made contact with Steve Harrell, then Ayden’s town manager. Working with town officials, she identified a dilapidated storefront at 4260 S. Lee St.

A detour during a hurricane brought Susan Harris to Ayden several years ago. It wasn’t long after that she began working to open the fourth Quilt Lizzy in a dilapidated downtown storefront.



but knew the cost of restoring it would be tremendous. She worked in tandem with town officials and secured $500,000 in CDBG revitalization funding from the Rural Development Office. The Mid-East Commission assisted with the administration of the grant. After two years of renovations, delayed by the pandemic and construction challenges, the store opened on July 27 of this year. “There are four Quilt Lizzy stores in eastern North Carolina,” Harris said. “The biggest and the finest one is this one thanks to the town of Ayden.” She said she loves everything about the new store. “The functionality of it, the lighting, the location — I love the location — I love the people of Ayden. They seem very happy that I’m here. I’ve been very welcomed, and I feel very safe here.” With stores in Warrenton, Wake Forest and Jacksonville, Quilt Lizzy offers a long list of sewing and crafting products including fabric, thread and patterns. Harris said that three-quarters of her business is sewing machine sales, training, service and repair. It also offers classes throughout the year, and their calendar can be accessed online. Quilt Lizzy carries four brands of sewing machines including Handi Quilter, Janome, Brother, and Baby Lock. Harris is in the top 10 percent of the Brother dealers in the nation. Harris has sewn since she was 12 years old, and she finds joy in seeing others enjoy this hobby. She firmly believes that people are meant to have personal interaction with others and are designed to use their hands. “Seeing people learn, seeing them gain confidence. The reward of sharing … I advocate for the confident beginner. It’s very important to me to encourage people, and to make them feel welcome,” Harris said. “I generally care that people feel served.” Harris travels between the stores to ensure everything is operating smoothly and hires expert staff to run day-to-day operations. “I have great managers. I have wonderful staff,” she said. Harris is currently looking to hire a sewing machine repair tech, who she will train, and she needs another full time staff member in the store. Harris and the town are converting the upstairs of Quilt Lizzy into the Ayden Renaissance Center, where people can host events. The store has been busy since it opened.


“She took a building that was close to being demolished … and made it into a productive building,” Ayden Mayor Steve Tripp said. The unique nature of the business also has brought many people to Ayden who would not otherwise visit, he said. “As a result it gave an opportunity for other businesses to experience growth.” Tripp stated that Harris and Quilt Lizzy are key components in influencing others to improve the look of downtown Ayden. “She restored a great building and has brought business to our downtown area.” New Town Manager Matt Livingston said the renovations and success of the store show others that downtown Ayden is a viable location to have a business. “Downtown Ayden is the heartbeat of Ayden, and it’s very healthy. It’s getting healthier, and it’s doing better all the time, and I think that’s what it means when you see people coming in and revitaliz-


ing. They have faith and believe that it’s a spot — they see other businesses working out — so, they’re willing to invest as well,” Livingston said. He thinks Quilt Lizzy is going to become the cornerstone of downtown. “I think it’s creating more of a hub of activity in our downtown, and it’s spurring other businesses … to reinvest into the downtown.” Harris hopes to see downtown Ayden continue to grow. “I’d like to see us have more places to eat. I’d love to see us have a spa … We need a hardware store. I think this would be a great location for an engineering firm or an architectural firm … I think there’s a lot of potential for this place. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.” Visit Quilt Lizzy in Ayden at 4260 S. Lee St. and visit them online and on Facebook. You can also call 252-746-1590 with any questions.


Ayden’s Main Street Program is working with town officials to encourage investment in downtown with the goal of creating a bustling business district.

Downtown development Partnership with N.C. Fellow Program boosts Main Street program By Kayla Green

Ayden is partnering with a program through the UNC School of Government to help boost efforts by its Main Street Community Program to invigorate historic downtown. Working with the North Carolina Fellows program, the town was able to bring in Nina Yao as the Main Street director for a one year stint. The fellow program pairs recent college graduates with local governments. “I felt like that was a good opportunity to bring in fresh, young, great talent, and that’s what Nina is,” said Town Manager Matthew Livingston. “It was more about recruiting someone that would fit into what we are wanting to do plus bring her own flavor, her own ideas, and her own energy to the table. That’s what she’s done.” The Main Street Community Program is Part of Main Street America, an organization that focuses on historical preservation and community revitalization in order to


bring economic vitality back to the downtown, said Yao. “The focus is mainly on how downtown areas can be economic cores for small towns or big towns and focusing especially on the building stock that is already there and preserving that as a means for downtown revitalization,” she said. Ayden has been a part of Main Street America since 2006, but in the last five years due to increase in population went from a small town participant to a full fledged Main Street Community. The program lost traction during the pandemic, but Yao is confident that it will get back on its feet and move forward with positive change. In conjunction with town leaders, Yao’s chief goal is establishing Ayden Main Street as a freestanding nonprofit that can do fundraising that a town government agency cannot. “My main goal, for the year that I’m here, is to make downtown Ayden into a nonprofit, and essentially set the foundation — and connect people who are inter-


ested in this mission to each other — so the program will continue to grow.” Yao who said it has been able to subsist but not grow with current funding levels. Though there are some funding opportunities available, Main Street America can be described as a self-help program, meaning the local community must provide both human and financial resources for success. Once the program is a nonprofit, it can raise funds through events and seek grants. Yao said funds raised will be put toward revitalizing buildings, altering the streetscape, and adding pedestrian crosswalks. Livingston said it’s really up to the businesses to set-up their own goals and objectives, but personally he would like to see every storefront occupied and a resurgence of business owners in the downtown. Recently, the town of Ayden worked with business owner Susan Harris to bring Quilt Lizzy to downtown. Quilt Lizzy opened in July after renovations were completed to one of the old downtown buildings.


Ayden’s Main Street Program Director Nina Yao, second from right, is a North Carolina Fellow working in Ayden for one year to help establish the effort as a standalone nonprofit that can raise funds to promote downtown businesses like Kreative Kreations. She’s at KK’s ribbon cutting with, from left, Ayden Clerk Sarah Radcliff, Gwendolyn Yiznitsky of Gwendy’s Goodies, Town Manager Matt Livingston, business owner Teshanna Battle, Commissioner Raymond Langley, Tonnia Pollard-Wallace of Fryday Nite Fish and Sajiia Parker of Southern Bank.

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Planning Director Stephen Smith said that the renovation Harris completed already has made a positive impact. “She took a building that was completely falling down and turned it into what it is now.” While Main Street encourages self help, being a part of it does help members access funding, Smith said. “If there are other owners or other folks out there that are looking to move into our downtown and would like assistance with that, then by all means we’ll try and find as much funding


for them, through grants, as we can.” Yao and Smith agreed that growth is important. “We’d love to have a variety of restaurants downtown. There’s always been talk of a brewery,” said Yao. Several businesses have opened downtown within the last few years, and have thrived even during the pandemic. Downtown businesses include but are not limited to Marvel’s, the Doghouse Tavern, the Yellow Flower Boutique, Kreative Kreations, and Spill the Beans. The town


also has several downtown mainstays like Bum’s Barbecue, Andy’s Grill and Gwendy’s Goodies, among others The building across the street from Quit Lizzy is currently undergoing renovations. Smith stated he hopes the building is ready to be used by the spring. Smith stated that people drive the Main Street Program, and there is a need for more local involvement. There are committees people can serve on and opportunities for volunteer work throughout the year.


Yao explained that “the downtown success impacts the success of the entire town — Having more participation, diverse participation, is a big important thing especially in this early stage when we’re building out the foundation of the entire organization. “I’ve talked to a lot of people who see so much potential in Ayden especially with the new bypass, tons of houses, new houses are being built,” she said. “People want to see things happen in Ayden, and I’m hoping this program is sort of the conduit for all those ideas to take off.” Ayden has a great community feel, according to Smith. “In 10 years we’ll still be growing —downtown is slowly developing, but the town itself is developing quickly. By the middle of 2022 we’ll have about 1,000 lots that are ready to be developed — the growth in the next 10 years is going to be tremendous, so that’s exciting.” “We’re looking for the next big investor to downtown,” Smith said. “For me, that’s what’s exciting too, is the opportunities that are here. We just got to find the right people.” The Main Street program has the potential to help take that energy and make Ayden a very different place in a good way, Yao said. “I’d like to see in a place where we have a lot of the amenities and necessary things of a larger place — but retaining that small town, homey, community feel,” she said.


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