Fuddtown Fever Antique auction draws hundreds of bidders

  By Thomas Wilson
  star staff
  twilson@starhq.com
  An auction of antiques drew a crowd of hundreds to the former Fuddtown General Store on Thursday morning where bidders sat under a covered tent cooling themselves with makeshift fans and buying up history one piece at a time.
  Day one of a three-day auction to sell more than 1,500 items began yesterday with hundreds of bidders descending on the Fuddtown property on West Elk Avenue seeking to browse, buy, and banter.
  "It is one of these places people have driven by all their lives and wondered, 'Someday, I'll buy that,'" said auctioneer Ron Ramsey. "Well, today's the day."
  Fuddtown, named for the property's former owner Clyde "Fudd" Campbell, became almost as historic as the antique collectibles Campbell peddled from his general store. The Fuddtown General Store housed thousands of items from glassware and pottery to license plates and an old gas pump from the mid-20th century.
  Clyde and Arlene Campbell purchased the property in the 1960s. The Campbells' four children -- Jackie, Marcia, Cindy and Phillip - inherited and now own the property. The Campbells operated the general store and a museum displaying American Indian artifacts for several years. The Campbell heirs announced plans to sell the property earlier this year.
  Ramsey's auction company is conducting the sale of personal and real property through Saturday. The old general store building and the house where former President Andrew Johnson died are part of the real property auction scheduled for Saturday morning.
  More than 400 bidders had signed up to participate in the personal property auction by late Thursday morning. Bidders came from at least three states in search of hidden treasures among the items that ranged from glassware and furniture to coffins and soda bottles.
  Ramsey said he and his employees spent nearly three weeks tagging hundreds of personal property items in preparation for the auction. Many items such as glassware and hardware sets were grouped together into one tagged item. Ramsey rented five storage containers to manage the antiques.
  "These three days are the easy days," he said. "We could have easily had 3,000 items."
  Personal property items moved quickly on Thursday with bidders snatching up decades-old antiques at healthy prices. Ramsey estimated selling 500 items each day of the auction.
  Bryan Coffie of Erwin said an antique barber poll and the gas pump were two items that had captured his interest. Like most bidders, Coffie said he had kept Fuddtown in the back of his mind waiting on the day the merchandise became available.
  "I've been waiting on this day for 15 years now," said Coffie who successfully bid to purchase a tea set. "I'd drive by and see the store and knew it would be full of stuff."
  Milling around the auction area was Cindy Large of Abingdon, Va., who remembered stopping by the general store with her father when she was a child. Large, herself an antiques dealer, said a retail store like any community landmark carried an intrinsic value to local residents. While e-Bay serves as the on-line auction house for the electronic herd, the legacy of a community's family or business gave an added appeal to bidders who remembered walking through the general store as children.
  "They have no problem paying twice what they would on e-Bay," said Large. "People attach a certain sentimental value to things when they buy them."
  Tommy Campbell, a family friend of the Campbell family, recalled the days when the general store attracted patrons as much for the ambiance as the merchandise.
  "It was a place to come and see what was here," he said. "Mr. Campbell would buy anything."
  Ron and Linda Eiber trekked from Bakersfield, N.C. to the auction in search of antique oil lamps. The couple, who moved to North Carolina last year, said they were unaware of the history surrounding the store and were rather amazed by the turnout of bidders.
  "It is probably the biggest auction I've ever been to," said Ron Eiber.
  Fuddtown's property line actually extends several feet into the Watauga River, which lies directly behind the property. The Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission gave preliminary approval earlier this month to a site plan dividing the 8-acre property into six lots.
  The real property auction begins Saturday with the remaining personal property to be sold throughout Friday and Saturday. Drawing interest from collectors and private investors is a two-story house located on property where former President Andrew Johnson died in 1875. The house - which identifies its historical image with a sign above the front door - was once owned by Johnson's daughter.
  The personal property auction continues from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Saturday. The real property will be auctioned at 10 a.m. Saturday.