Help Me Write – The Story of the Kyser Drugstore Family

“It was frustrating to gather bits of disconnected information without understanding how it all fits together.”
― Wendy Percival, Author


I readily identify with the Percival quotation as I begin to write about the Paul Kyser family. Because I don’t know enough, the storyteller that lives within me wanted to create my own tale. With a fascinating historical backdrop, (the 1890’s when Paul Kyser moved to Rocky Mount, I could carry on from there. We have some idea of the manners and fashion of that decade. I could write a whole chapter about the 1890s through 1905 as part of the Edwardian era, also known as the Gibson Girl era. Dana Gibson created the iconic Gibson Girl look with extra wide puffy tops and blouses paired with a curved corseted waist, A-line skirts, voluminous Gibson hair topped with a large flower and feather hats. Men’s style was still formal from the Victorian era but growing more relaxed. You see how easy it is to set the stage for the beginning of our Kyser story.

Did you ever play one of my favorite games of making up the beginning of a story and dropping out, letting the next person continue on, and the next and next? It’s great fun with children, but this time I am going to play the game with you. I’ll give you some details about Paul Bynum Kyser (1856-1937) and his family, and from what you’ve been told, who you might have known, please help me understand how it all fits together. ThePaul Kyser family keeps on giving with multiple generations of interesting people who left a great mark on Rocky Mount. Connected by marriage in ways you may not have known or forgotten, this has the making of a long tale. Help me with it.

(Use the COMMENTS section below: to write what your contribution. Thank you!)

Recently I wrote about Andrew Clark, Investor, who is renovating two commercial buildings on Main Street. The Kyser Drugstore building is pictured here at 135 S.E. Main St. In 1979, Kate Meams wrote in a Central City Historic Buildings Inventory about this building.

“The Kyser Drugstore was established in the 1890s by Paul and Emily Kyser* and moved to its present location c. 1912. Mrs. Kyser has the distinction of being North Carolina’s first licensed woman pharmacist, though family tradition states that she never practiced. The building, altered somewhat over the years, retains two cast-iron pilasters manufactured by Mesker Brothers, a firm well-known for this type of ornamentation. The building also possesses one of Rocky Mount’s earliest neon signs, recently put back in working order.”  *Emily Royster Howell 

This photograph says: Main Street looking North, showing the Kyser Drug Co. Rocky Mount, NC. (Corner of Main and Tarboro St. )

The Kyser home at 219 Sunset Ave

Two notable chapters in this story are Paul Kyser’s son and youngest child, James Kern “Kay” Kyser, who became a noted entertainer, which included musical comedies. His daughter, *Virginia Kyser, who married Walter Carleton Noell. Walter became one of the first franchisees of Hardees Foods, and with his two nephews, Nick and Mayo Boddie began  Boddie-Noell Inc. The downtown Carleton House Motel and Restaurant were named for Walter Carleton Noel.   *Virginia Graves Kyser + Walter Carlton Noel

Below: This is what The Carleton House once looked like. An important place marker in Rocky Mount. It has been bought by Jesse Gerstl and his investment group and once underway will be saved. There are exciting plans and hopefully, it won’t be long until we are headed to the restaurant again as in earlier days.  We will raise a glass of sweet tea to Walter Carleton Noell and to his wife Virginia and the Kyser family.

After Paul Kyser’s death, one of his sons-in-law, James Stanley Pierce I (1897-1965) took over management of Kyser Drugs, which was probably the 135 Main St location.


Charles Dunn -Way Back When Provided This Clipping


13 thoughts on “Help Me Write – The Story of the Kyser Drugstore Family

  1. Stepheny, I confirmed the following with Mayo Boddie, Sr.: Virginia Kyser was indeed Carleton Noell’s first wife but she passed away in 1955. Mr. Noell then married Nick and Mayo Boddie’s maternal aunt, Annie Lou Mayo Holt. Mr. Noell, Nick, and Mayo opened The Carleton House in March, 1961, and then founded Boddie-Noell Enterprises, Inc. in 1962 and as the saying goes….. the rest is history!


    1. You are wonderful to add this piece of information. I’m grateful to you and Mr. Boddie, Sr. for adding to the richness of the fine achievement of these families. I owe you a glass of sweet tea and further conversation on a day I hope will come. THANK YOU.


  2. My Dad was a Musician and I remember him talking about playing with Kay Kyser. I wish I could see his pictures from his early days.


    1. I’ll bet you can find photographs by googling, Images of Kay Kyser’s band. See what pops up. Thanks for your comment. Don’t you love the sound of ‘early days?’ We all have them with our memories and hearing the songs we grew up with. For some reason, I am remembering at this moment learning to ride my bike on Asbury Ave in front of my house and repeated crashes falling over into the neighbor’s hedge. Hope you find some pictures!


  3. Paul Kyser’s older son, Vernon Kyser, was a professor of industrial and pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of North Carolina. He was a consultant and chemist to many national and state industries, and an author in the fields of sciences, economics and social subjects.


    1. Vernon Kyser was my great grandfather. I used to spend a lot of time with him in my youth in Los Angeles. His daughter Sara Curtis Kyser was my grandmother. One day, I hope to travel to Rocky Mount and Chapel Hill and view the old houses and drugstore. Thank you for your website.


  4. I believe the wonderful restaurant Just What the Doctor Ordered was located in the Kyser Drug building on Main Street at one point. I will have to check my cookbook when I get home. As I remember, it was selected as the location for the restaurant because of its history as a drug store.


    1. Thanks, Carole for this. Andrew Clark had gone to the library to find out more about the building and he mentioned the restaurant. If your cookbook has a recipe from there, please add it here. Working on thoughts about how we can all author this info on this building/Kyser story. Think about it with me.


      1. The cookbook is nothing but recipes from there. I confirmed in the cookbook that the restaurant was indeed at 135 SE Main Street. Billy Vick shared some history about the building in it. I got my copy at Almand’s Drugs at Westridge, but I would be happy to share with Mr. Clark and you if it’s not available there. (I miss that restaurant; I would love to see it come back!)


  5. Had no idea the Kyser and Boddie-Noell families were related. We loved Kay Kyser’s music and were big fans of the Carlton House in the mid 1990’s. It was THE place for the great buffet lunch. In the evening it was white table cloths, great food and service and piano music! The place had class.


    1. I’m sorry I missed the Carleton House in its day. I’ve been all through it so I have that experience when thinking about everyone congregating for lunch. The changes will be great, but I’m sure the spirit of the place will have its way with the newcomers. It will become a meaningful place once again. Isn’t that splendid!


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