Billy Wilder to speak about new book Wednesday

aspecht@newsobserver.comJuly 11, 2013 

— If anyone knows Knightdale, it’s Billy Wilder.

Born in Knightdale in 1934, Wilder served as mayor from 1975 to 1991 and has lived on First Avenue most of his life.

Now, Wilder is putting his knowledge of his hometown into a new book, “Images of America: Knightdale,” which will be published by Arcadia and released at the end of August. Those hoping for a sneak preview of the book can listen to Wilder give an hour-long discussion on it at 7 p.m. on July 17 at the East Regional Library.

“I’ll probably talk about the things people may not know about Knightdale,” Wilder said in a recent interview.

For instance, Knightdale has a rich history of promoting public schools.

Like today’s local advocacy group, Knightdale 100, which was founded in recent years by local moms and Mayor Russell Killen, the “Knightdale Betterment Society for Public Schools” was a group founded by women shortly after the town’s only schoolhouse opened in 1916. Instead of lobbying for certain academic programs, as Knightdale 100 often does, the Knightdale’s first school advocates raised money for classroom necessities.

“They sold things like cotton to buy things like fans and a stove for the school,” Wilder said. As a result, “the Knightdale School was one of the first in the state to serve hot lunches.”

Wanda Ramm, an N.C. State University professor and longtime Knightdale resident, is co-authoring the book with Wilder. Ramm likely can’t attend Wilder’s discussion, but encouraged others to do so to learn something new.

“Did you know we have a governor, William Sloan, buried on Hodge Road?” Ramm said in a recent interview. “He’s buried over on the farm once owned by David Adams. (It) may still be.”

Ramm’s town is named for her kin: Henry Knight and Betty Knight. The Knights were Ramm’s great aunt and uncle. The town was likely named after the Knights because “they had the most land in town when the railroad came,” Ramm said.

“They needed the town to grow so they approached the Raleigh and Pamlico Sound Railroad Company about coming through,” Ramm said.

Ramm and Wilder both like talking about the fire that burned most of downtown Knightdale in 1940.

“The nearest fire department was Raleigh,” Ramm said. “But they got stuck in the mud on Smithfield Road and they didn’t get there for two hours.”

That was better than Clayton.

“The fire started about 1 a.m.,” Wilder said. “Clayton’s fire truck that got there at 10 a.m.”

The book will feature about 180 original photos of Knightdale, each with 100-word captions. Wilder and Ramm say they’re still looking for original photos. Those hoping to contribute to the book can contact Wilder at 919-880-8541.

Specht: 919-829-4826

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