Lifelong Avenues resident looks to new generation to revive neighborhood

Mary Sharpe in car
Four generations of Mary Sharpe’s family have grown up in Cayce’s Avenues neighborhood, and in 75 years she’s seen the neighborhood change as much as her family has.

By Lia Grabowski
Nov. 29, 2015

Sharpe’s DNA is intertwined with Cayce’s. Her grandfather Paul Ellisor was one of the town’s founders in 1914, and she has been on the board of the Cayce Historical Museum since it was created 24 years ago.

1950s - Mary Sharpe outside home
After their marriage in 1957, Mary Sharpe and her husband, Ray, used his parents’ vacant lot to build their first home on L Avenue. Although they later moved to a larger house on I Avenue, they still own their first home. Courtesy of Mary Sharpe.

Her uncle John Ellisor created the replica of Cayce House, a trading post that later became a Revolutionary War fort, that houses the museum.

“Mary has been a pillar of this community for a long time. She’s highly respected by just about anybody that knows her,” said the museum’s director, Leo Redmond, who also went to Brookland-Cayce High School with Sharpe in the 1950s.

“It’s hard to find anybody like Mary and the Sharpe family,” Redmond said

Sharpe’s husband, Ray, also grew up in the Avenues and they raised their four children there. Although all four moved away as young adults, three have returned, buying houses of their own, and the fourth is looking to do so. One of Sharpe’s 10 grandchildren has also bought a home in the Avenues.

“Actually, it was my dream to live on the Avenues,” Sharpe said. “I always thought the Avenues were just the thing to be.”

But in a 2014 letter to The Lexington Chronicle supporting a mayoral candidate, Sharpe wrote, “Time has a way of changing so many things, but as I visit other cities and small towns, I long for the Cayce I once knew with its pride and beauty.”

1950s - Mary Sharpe at her aunt's house
Mary Sharpe sits on the porch of her aunt’s Avenues home in 1956 before leaving for school. She moved in with her aunt to be closer to Brookland-Cayce schools and her church, Trinity Baptist. Courtesy of Mary Sharpe.

While Sharpe says she has seen the neighborhood endure difficult times, she has hope the new families she sees moving in will bring new life to the Avenues.

Columbia Voice talked with Sharpe about growing up in Cayce, her community involvement through the museum board and Trinity Baptist Church, and the changes she’s seen in the Avenues. This excerpt has been edited for length and clarity.

(Listen to the full interview.)

What have you seen change throughout the neighborhood through the years?

Well, I’ve seen some negative change because a lot of the homes have become rental houses. They used to have real strict regulations about renting and upkeep and that kind of thing, and it’s slid some. However, I will say that lots of young people are moving back into the area. Because you can see, I worked in the yard yesterday and strolling babies, riding bicycles, that’s pretty much always been the case, but I’ve seen more of it recently.

And you think that’s a good thing for the neighborhood?
Yeah, that’s a great thing, it really is, because when you have young families and you can tell, I’ll ride you around the Avenues and show you, but you can tell where they’ve moved into the area because as people have gotten older, they can’t keep the yards up and these young people, they come in and they really fix up the yards, and the houses as well. So that part has been an excellent thing.

And so, you mentioned on the phone that it’s very close-knit and everyone knows the good, bad and the ugly about everyone else. Do you consider that to be a bonus or a great aspect of living here?


Yeah, the things I think that you would know about each other would be – you probably wouldn’t to put this down and it might not be good, but I’m going to share this with you – we had a museum meeting. … We had a new commissioner come on the board, and she said “I think it’d be a good idea if we get some of the oldest people in Cayce and bring them up here and interview them.” And she said “I talked to my aunt about coming”– this is at the next meeting – and she said “Well you might not want me to come because I know some things that I might not should say.” And this girl, she said “Well what is it?” She said, “Well I’m not going to tell you because it’s the scandals that went on in Cayce.” So mainly it was talking about who ran around with who, you know that kind of thing, which is everywhere. That’s basically what she was referring to I think, I don’t really know of anything that’s real scandalous.

So it’s a pretty quiet community?

Yeah, it’s pretty quiet, absolutely.

That’s probably good?

Yeah, and I really think that’s why so many young people come back here to live. It’s just like my one daughter lives in Quail Hollow now and she, in fact, just yesterday, she told me that she saw a house down here that she’s interested in. She wants to move back over here, and it’s not as nice a home as she’s in now, but it’s, you know, they refurbished it and everything, but the main thing, she wants to get back on the Avenues.

1950s - Mary Sharpe wedding
Mary Sharpe was married in the Avenues, at First Baptist Church of Cayce in 1957. The original First Baptist building, on H Avenue, now more commonly called Holland Avenue, burned in 1983 and was been rebuilt in the same location.

So, what do you think is the biggest draw for the younger generations to keep coming back? Is it that close-knit community?

I think it’s the close-knit community, and one thing that is real impressive to me – and everybody wouldn’t hear this – but right up there on the corner is – I think that church is All-Saints Lutheran, or Transfiguration, I believe it’s Transfiguration Lutheran – but when you’re working in the yard or outside, they play chimes every hour on the hour, and they’ll play hymns. And that’s, you know it’s kind of like you just don’t hear of that anymore.

So I know you’ve been very involved in the community in many different aspects. What’s made you want to be so involved in the Avenues community?

Well probably, I started out probably mainly being involved in the PTA because my kids were there, and then from there, I’ve always been involved in my church, you know with working with young people, and I still have a Sunday school class that I started out when they first married and I’ve still got some of them in my Sunday school class today out at Trinity. In fact I just sent one of them a note today, I remember their wedding well and now they’re grandparents. In fact, I have had reunion of the group here before. And right now we have about 50 in our Sunday school class, but it’s just evolved through the years, and I still hear from those who’ve moved away, so it’s very rewarding.


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