For the majority of NoDa residents, the name Guy E. Suddreth may mean nothing. But if you live on the 28206 side, you know that Ritch and Benard Avenues have a little brother. That little brother is Guy E. Suddreth Avenue: a street so short that it has no houses on it and dead ends in both directions within two very compact blocks.
Being the inquisitive type, I began to explore the origins of this curiously named street. In the process, I unearthed a treasure trove of history about NoDa’s predecessor village, North Charlotte.
As luck would have it, Guy’s grandson, Brian Suddreth, lives with his family on Benard Avenue. So last weekend, Brian invited me over to his house for a short conversation with his father Richard Suddreth, and his uncle, Frank Suddreth. What I thought would be a rather straightforward and quick conversation to learn a few facts about their father, Guy, instead segued into a far-reaching and fascinating history lesson about life in the neighborhood formerly known as North Charlotte.
Guy E. (Everett) Suddreth was born in 1909 and passed away in 1971. He spent all his life in North Charlotte, initially living on East 35th Street and later moving to one of the first houses built on Benard Avenue, near the street that now bears his name. Guy E. Suddreth Avenue originally led to the Rosedale Plantation and was first called Rosedale Avenue. After Mr. Suddreth’s death, his family petitioned the city to change the name of the street to honor him and his lifelong contributions to North Charlotte.
According to a Charlotte News article written in 1965, Mr. Suddreth “…campaigned for better streets in North Charlotte, better police protection, more streetlights, more parks and recreation. Guy Suddreth is a reasonable man, and people listen to him.”
Over the course of my conversation with Suddreth’s family members, I learned that Mr. Suddreth spent most of his adult life owning and working in Staton’s Grocery Store, located at 3125 North Caldwell (now Davidson) Street. While some in the neighborhood recall that building being the former site of Fat City, the Suddreths remember a much earlier iteration of it housing a post office, the family’s grocery store, and a service station.
The Suddreth brothers described a grocery store significantly different from what we are accustomed to today. The store carried whole hogs and sides of beef which were handcut to each customer’s preference. They offered credit to mill families because they knew most of the men, women, and children in the area. It was common for people to leave their doors unlocked in North Charlotte, and the Suddreth family regularly delivered groceries into the homes of their customers (whether the family was home or not).
In addition to offering typical grocery items for its customers, the Staton Grocery also specialized in acquiring hard to find or newer items for the community. For example, The Suddreth brothers noted they sold the first remote-controlled television set in the city of Charlotte, and they sold and installed television antennas and other higher end appliances of the day.
The Staton Grocery was originally owned by David Caldwell Staton. Mr. Staton, who was informally known as “the mayor of North Charlotte,” adopted Guy E. Suddreth at a young age and eventually turned the grocery store over to him.
During my talk with the Suddreth brothers, I expected to get some simple background information on Guy E. Suddreth and his contributions to the North Charlotte community. Instead, over the course of a couple of hours, I heard snippets of a far-ranging set of anecdotes and life experiences. Many of these stories detailed a very different life in the history of our community than our present experience.
A few highlights of these stories included:
- Guy Suddreth handing sandwiches and other supplies from his store to soldiers boarding trains heading off to serve in World War 2
- A train derailment near the Abernathy Lumber Yard scattering debris that took months to clean up
- Numerous arsons and attempted arsons involving various buildings on what is now North Davidson Street but was named Caldwell Street for many decades (They recalled one arsonist who accidentally lit himself on fire and ran with burning clothes down Caldwell Street.)
- Paying respects to President Franklin Roosevelt as the train carrying his body passed through North Charlotte en route to his burial
- Remembering Guy’s service as a Civil Air Patrol officer: enforcing blackouts at night and collecting rubber and metals for the war effort
- An almost rural and farm-like setting here, where neighbors raised chickens, cows, goats, and pigs in their backyards, often selling eggs, milk, and butter churned by hand
- A beloved neighborhood horse getting loose and struck by a car on North Tryon Street (The brothers described watching in sadness as a policeman euthanized the injured animal.)
- Occasional shootings and fights that were the result of personal feuds, but an overall feeling that North Charlotte was a safe place to live
In one of the more interesting anecdotes, they recalled the time that an elephant from the circus had to be housed in a local barn to protect it from a coming storm. One very surprised passer-by heard the elephant bugling and ran off terrified.
All of these stories took me back to an earlier, simpler time. One can only wonder what the average mill villager would think of our current neighborhood with the light rail, music venues, abundant restaurants, and public art everywhere.
Can we even imagine what life in NoDa will be like 100 years into the future?
Author’s note: For those who would be interested in a glimpse of life in North Charlotte in the early-to-mid 20th century, I highly recommend checking out The Spirit of a Proud People by Lois Moore Yandle. This book of vintage photographs and memories of North Charlotte is available to either borrow or purchase at the Robinson Spangler Carolina Room at the main library.