Grande Dame of Southern Pines Turns 100
The difference between history and real life emerges from an eyewitness. Katherine Wiley Muddimer has spent all but a few of her 100 years in Southern Pines.
Whereas locals know about Glen Rounds, the nationally acclaimed artist/writer/illustrator who lived on Pennsylvania Avenue, "Kitty" Wiley had dinner with him before boarding the train for New York. Prankster Rounds arranged for the waiter to spill spaghetti on her dress.
Townspeople gossiped about Katharine (Mrs. James) Boyd, chatelaine of Weymouth. Muddimer knew her as a Girl Scout leader.
"Southern Pines is just the best place to live," Muddimer says. "I love it here."
The wonder, she continues, is how little the town has changed since her father, Robert Edgar Wiley, served as mayor in the 1920s.
Muddimer, a resident of Penick Village, celebrated her centennial Friday, Jan. 22. The following day, she was toasted at a party for family and friends, arrang ed by her niece Jean Bartlett, who lives in Virginia.
The centenarian needed little prompting in a conversation lasting over an hour. Her eyesight may have dimmed but her anecdotal memory survives.
Muddimer's father came to Southern Pines from Virginia at a time when the climate drew people who had contracted - or were avoiding - tuberculosis. Robert Wiley, a pharmacist, opened Town Center Pharmacy at the corner of Broad and New Hampshire streets.
Young people gathered there.
"It had a soda fountain," Muddimer says, with animation. She recalls the chocolate ice cream, and even Westley Viall, the fellow who scooped it.
The Wileys lived in a brick house on Massachusetts Avenue. In the summer, Kitty and her older sister, Sarah, slept on the screen porch that nearly surrounded the house.
"It was hot, but we didn't know any different," she says.
Muddimer was a teenager attending Charlie Chaplin films at Mr. Picquet's theater (now a Broad Street boutique arcade) during the Roaring '20s when the literary salon established by James Boyd attracted Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson and others.
She doesn't remember them, but recalls that Mr. Picquet was fussy about the films he showed. She saw them all.
"I had a boyfriend who worked as an usher," she says. "He got me in cheap. Then when the picture started he came and sat down beside me."
Her social life also included ballroom dancing classes at the Carolina Hotel. Partners were hard to come by, Muddimer says, because "the boys didn't like to dress up."
Despite the distance, young people from Southern Pines mingled more with contemporaries from Aberdeen and Pinehurst than they do now, she believes.
Muddimer has mixed memories of Katharine Boyd, who helped with the Girl Scouts and wore beautiful dresses. However, "She couldn't understand what (life) was like for (less-affluent) people."
Kitty walked or rode her bike everywhere: to school ("there was only one"), around downtown and to Emmanuel Episcopal Church. But, because the congregation had only three children her age, she attended Sunday school at the Congregational Church.
One day, preteen Kitty came home to a surprise from her father: a set of golf clubs. She played at the Southern Pines Country Club as a schoolgirl and for years afterward. Her handicap, she says proudly, was about 12. Photos from the 1940s show her belonging to the Pinedodgers, a women's golf association. She also played tennis - and credits physical activity for good health and longevity.
Muddimer cannot remember ever having a serious illness.
Robert Wiley died at age 49 of pneumonia. His wife moved with the girls to Virginia briefly to be near relatives, then returned to Southern Pines.
A family scrapbook includes a high school graduation invitation and photo of the 13 students, including Dwight Hoskins and Harold McNeill, dated May 27, 1927.
After high school, Kitty Wiley went off to Goucher College in Baltimore.
"But I only was there two years," she explains.
Kitty's mother asked if she intended to teach.
"When I said no, that was the end of college," she says.
Instead, the independent young woman returned to Southern Pines, where she found a job selling children's clothes at Tot's Toggery, then women's wear at Mrs. Hayes' Dress Shop on Broad Street. This job led to a successful career in fashion retailing. When Mrs. Hayes retired, Muddimer took over the business.
"I had two employees but I did everything - the books, the buying, everything," she says.
Buying trips to New York (with competitor Jean Edson) were exciting. Muddimer recalls arriving by train at the old Pennsylvania Station and staying at the New Yorker Hotel across the street. She attended showings in the garment district, returning with frocks in the $25 to $100 range.
During World War II, she was a member of the U.S. Citizens Defense Corps and a Red Cross Certified Nurse's Aid.
No compliant Southern belle, from childhood Muddimer displayed a strong will and definite ideas.
"I took after my mother," she says. "She didn't like to be told what to do and neither did I."
Bartlett, Muddimer's niece and surrogate daughter, remembers her wearing beautiful clothes from the store.
"The customers called her Kitty," says Bartlett. "She loved that place."
Muddimer lived with her mother until she died. Then, in the late 1950s, she met a British widower who had moved to Southern Pines from Ohio and built a house behind the Wileys'.
"He was mixed up in the oil business," Muddimer says.
They became acquainted at church and married in 1960. Muddimer sold the store to spend time with her husband. They were good companions, often seen eating at Jack's Grill. After he died, in 1970 she moved to Penick Village rather than live alone.
"It's built on Weymouth land," she says proudly. "I used to date one of the architects."
With age, Muddimer's interests have narrowed.
"I was brought up at the bridge table," she recalls, and continued to play until her eyesight dimmed. She stayed current with politics (which she says killed her father) until her 90th year.
At 100, Katherine Muddimer seems content with a life that spans more advances than any previous century. She has no regrets.
"I wouldn't change a thing. I was happiest when I was 7 or 8, when I had my mother and father and sister and could go anywhere I wanted," the tiny, still beautifully dressed woman says.
"I knew every single person in Southern Pines and everybody knew Mr. Wiley's little girl. We had a good doctor, a dentist, we had everything. Southern Pines was the best place in the world to grow up."
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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