Former mayor tells town’s history like it is

07/22/2013 11:18 AM

07/22/2013 11:29 AM

The sneak preview of a new book on the history of Knightdale was given very much like its contents were gathered – in small snippets.

An audience of about 60 assembled at the East Regional Library Wednesday night to hear Billy Wilder, former Knightdale mayor of 16 years and co-author of “Images of America: Knightdale,” share some of the book’s richest details.

He also offered plenty of anecdotes that won’t make the book. They didn’t disappoint, either.

“It’s very important,” Dave Keithly, a Knightdale resident and history buff, said of both the upcoming book and the personal historical accounts Wilder had to offer. “It would have been nice if there were a lot of teens here. The younger people will eventually get an appreciation for history.”

Wilder, who was born in Knightdale in 1934 and has lived on First Avenue most of his life, said people enjoy learning that folks haven’t changed much over the years.

“Kids when I was growing up did the same things they’re doing now, just in different ways,” Wilder said. “We’re just like we were in the very beginning. You’ve got entrepreneurs, and you’ve got people who are interested in education and good business.”

He described the group of country women that came together in the early 1900s to fundraise for the betterment of the lone area school, much like the efforts of today’s Knightdale 100 organization.

Wilder hit on some of the more well-known history of the town – the involvement of the Hinton family in Knightdale’s formation, how the town was named after Henry Haywood Knight and the role of the cotton, lumber and railroad industries in its commercial success. He noted the building currently housing Stained Glass Associates on First Avenue is the oldest brick structure in Knightdale.

Wilder was able to provide more personal insight on some of the area’s past, like how his uncle, Eddie House, became the town’s first constable in the late 1920s and how a fire burned much of downtown in 1940.

“There was no fire department,” he said. “There was the two 50-gallon barrels of water across the street with one bucket in each barrel. That wasn’t enough.”

Other notable times Wilder mentioned were when electricity came to town in the late 1920s and when the town got its first water system in 1951. He spoke of when Knightdale Boulevard was Tarboro Road and when Old Knight Road was once Jackass Road, thanks to a local mule breeder. Knightdale, he told the crowd, was also the first town in the state to use a lagoon sewer system.

Wilder first began compiling notes in 1958, focusing mostly on the people-oriented aspects of the town’s origins. He and co-author Wanda Ramm, an N.C. State University professor and longtime Knightdale resident, have spent the last two years working on the Knightdale book.

“You learn by history,” Wilder said. “I didn’t think that when I was growing up. History was not my favorite subject. But now you look back and you can say this is what happened, and this is why it happened.

“You can relate it to today’s situation and hopefully learn what not to do.”

The book, published by Arcadia, is expected to be printed in February 2014.

Keithly said more local history will be discussed in the next 50 years, but the work of Ramm and Wilder will preserve hundreds of years of history.

“People will be talking about the history of Knightdale, ‘You remember when they built the new McDonald’s?’ ” Keithly said. “But there will be a book. I’ll be here for the book signing to get a copy of it.”


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