Rooted in Campbell
“Papa never kept up with the names of his children too well. When Papa wished to address the youngest, he would start the roll call. When his breath ran out, he would exclaim, 'Hey, You.' The family combined the words and gave the last of the mob the name, 'Hugh.'"
— Excerpt from ‘Neil’s Way,’ by Hugh A. Matthews, M.D.
in 1978, Hugh Matthews — who one year later would be named a Distinguished Alumnus by Campbell University — published “Neil’s Way,” a book about growing up the youngest of 13 children born to Annie Jane Stewart and Neil Archie Matthews.
Much of the book takes place in the Matthews home (called the “Big House” or the "Pearson Place"), which is also depicted on the book’s cover. Neil Matthews rented the house and the 200-acre farm that came with it from Cornelia Pearson Campbell, also known as “Miss Neelie,” for one 500-pound bale of cotton per year in 1909.
But if there’s a point where Stewart’s family tree begins to weave through the timeline of Campbell University, it is about 25 years earlier — before that first class at Buies Creek Academy in 1887 — when Neil Matthews befriended Dr. Campbell, described as “red-haired, tall and immaculately dressed” in the book.
The First CAMPBELL Car
You might recognize the name of the first man who owned a car at Campbell University. There’s a lecture hall and scholarship named after him to this day.
Blanton A. Hartness, class of 1928, introduced the automobile to Buies Creek in 1927. It was the same year Ford Motor Company introduced its popular Model A, the successor to the Model T.
Hartness would go on to have quite a career in North Carolina. He owned Sanford Milling Company Inc. and eventually Vanco Mill in Henderson. His family produced the popular Snowflake and Hartness Choice flour brands used in kitchens throughout Eastern North Carolina for years. The company is still going strong today.
Hartness’ name graces a lecture hall in the Science Building and a scholarship awarded annually to a full-time student in the CPHS.
The two men were polar opposites in almost every way, according to Stewart.
Campbell was the stoic leader, a man who “wherever he sat, he was the head of the table,” according to another book on the school’s history, “Big Miracle at Little Buies Creek,” by the late Dr. J. Winston Pearce. Matthews, on the other hand, was rugged and uneducated … a man who was more comfortable in the cotton fields than in a room full of people.
Campbell was a dynamic preacher and pastor who led several churches in Harnett and Sampson counties. Matthews, too, was a man of God, but a man more known for language that would make a sailor blush … a man, Stewart said, who once asked Campbell to walk ahead of him so he alone could get a buggy unstuck from a muddy creek bed. The story goes — a story passed through generations of Stewart’s family — Campbell walked up a hill, and a few minutes later, saw Matthews walking behind him with the buggy successfully freed from the mud.
“Neil just cussed it out of the creek,” Stewart said with a grin. “I guess he just didn’t want Dr. Campbell standing there.”
Despite their differences, the friendship worked. And having Matthews by his side proved to be beneficial to Campbell University’s founder.
According to the Harnett County history books, Matthews’ team of mules played a considerable role in hauling bricks for the construction of Buies Creek First Baptist Church, which left the one-room wooden building it had occupied when Campbell joined to move to its current location across from the campus building that bears his name.
Stewart said as their friendship grew, Matthews became somewhat of a right-hand man for the doc.
“I was told that if Dr. Campbell needed anything done in the community for the school, he went to Mr. Neil,” Stewart said. “I have heard of several instances where Neil came to Dr. Campbell’s defense for important issues at the time.”
Stewart said Matthews’ mules also helped haul the bricks and supplies for the Kivett Building, Campbell’s signature structure constructed in 1903 after a fire destroyed the previous main building a few years earlier over Christmas break.
Six years later, when Matthews moved his family to the “Big House,” the two families’ homes were separated by a pasture and what is now U.S. Highway 421. Campbell would visit the Matthews regularly, Stewart said, and would talk on end about the school’s future.
“A lot of what made Campbell Campbell happened there,” he said.
By 1926, Buies Creek Academy had grown to become Campbell Junior College. Eight years later, Dr. Campbell died months after suffering a heart attack. Matthews died almost exactly 11 years later from a stroke.
“My great-grandfather … he and Dr. Campbell were the best of friends,” Stewart said. “My family has passed down so many good stories about the two … I wish I had written them all down. I remember a story of the time Dr. Campbell asked Neil just how many kids he had, because, you know, he had so many.”
“‘Dang if I know,’ my great-grandfather said. ‘I haven’t been home yet today to count ‘em.’”