Past open fields and farms with grazing cattle, just 20 minutes northwest of Mount Olive, is a small unincorporated community.
Though the weathered dirt roads are now paved over, and the schoolhouse and church are no longer standing, a new sign is ready for installation near the intersection of Raynor Mill and Jordans Chapel roads.
The sign redesignates an area that was forgotten more than 114 years ago: Starlight.
At one time, the small community encompassed a schoolhouse, church and William Bizzell’s general store. Inside the store was a post office named Starlight.
“The little crossroads right here, at one point in its life, was really known as Bizzell Grove,” said Barry Keen, who lives in the area. “In 1894, they established a post office within the store.
“Mr. Bizzell owned the store, and he was the first postmaster.”
No one knows why or how the name Starlight came to be, but it served the area for nearly 11 years as a satellite post office of Dobbersville, which was a satellite office of Mount Olive and so on, Keen said.
“You would think they would have named it Bizzell Grove Post Office, but if you read the paperwork, it says to pick a name that resembles no other post office in the state,” said Pete Keen, who lives at the crossroads. “So, we’re assuming that there was another Bizzell Grove or Bizzell Post Office somewhere in the state of North Carolina.”
When Bizzell’s wife died and the post office closed, the name slowly faded out of use. Though maps from the early 1900s show Starlight and the buildings that once stood there. After some time, the name disappeared from local and state mention.
Pete and his son, Christopher Keen, began noticing something new when severe weather storm warnings flashed across the TV screen.
“When I first heard about Starlight about 15 years ago when the technology came in with the weather, if you’ve got severe storms in your area, they zoom right into your community,” said Pete. “We started seeing Starlight — I had never heard of it.
“Every once in a while, you’d look at the weather and there it would be.”
Piquing his curiosity, Chris began researching Starlight and the community that was built 100 years ago near where his parents’ house now stands.
Every time a storm rolled through, his phone buzzed — severe weather warning for Starlight. A historian at heart, Chris and his family members took on the task of getting the name back on the Wayne County map.
But, the task wasn’t so easy.
Chris, who was born with cystic fibrosis, fell ill during the process of getting Wayne County and North Carolina to recognize Starlight again. His mother, Debbie Keen, and uncle Barry picked up where he could not.
Debbie and Barry called the Wayne County Planning Department but were told they would need to send a petition to the Wayne County Board of Commissioners. The North Carolina Department of Transportation required the county to approve a resolution to re-establish the Starlight community name in order to add it to the map.
Near the end of January, a petition with 45 signatures, Chris’ included, were sent, and the commissioners unanimously approved re-establishing Starlight on Feb. 19. At that time, Chris was too sick to attend the monthly meeting, and his uncle went in his place.
On April 5, Berry Gray, Wayne County planning director, drove through midafternoon traffic from Goldsboro to Chapel Hill to hand-deliver Chris his personal Starlight sign. Chris died on April 6 at the University of North Carolina Hospitals.
“One of the first things (Berry) said, and this is hard for us to talk about, but I remember him saying that he had never met Christopher before, but from what he heard about him he was a Starlight of this community,” said Pete, Chris’ father.
Chris, who was born May 20, 1983, was a self-proclaimed “Christian, ham radio operator and history and music enthusiast.” He worked with the Jordans Chapel Volunteer Fire Department and loved visiting the beach, museums and North Carolina battlefields.
His parents, Debbie and Pete, and siblings, Caroline and Kelly Grace Keen, remember Chris as a fighter who loved life. Despite his illness, Chris continued pursing education and learning about history and whatever else he became interested in. He graduated from the University of Mount Olive in 2007, and earned his ham radio license.
“He was our hero, and everybody that knew him felt the same way,” Pete said.
Chris’ family will officially install Starlight’s sign on Chris’ birthday Monday at around 11 a.m.
“Because of him, this community will be back on the map, because they knew what a fighter he was,” Debbie said.
Since Starlight was officially recognized and placed on the map, Chris’ father gave a lot of thought to the name. While no one knows how or why Starlight came to be, Pete remembers what Gray, Wayne County planning director, said when he visited Chris in the hospital.
“I thought about how they got that name 125 years ago when they picked the name,” Pete said. “I don’t know.
“He is our Starlight.”