My uncle: That’s where I was born and where John was born.
Me: At 748?
My uncle: That’s it.
My cousin: This crib right here?
My uncle: That’s where I was born.
Me: [Laughing.] Wow.
Tax records show that this tiny house — less than 800 square feet — was built around 1910. It now has two bedrooms and one bath, but the bath was undoubtedly a late addition. John C. Allen may have been the first to move a family into the dwelling; the Allens are shown there in the 1910 census of Newport News. John, who worked as a shipyard painter, reported that he owned the house subject to mortgage.
By 1920, the Allens had moved just around the corner to 2107 Marshall Avenue, the house I knew in childhood as my great-aunt Julia‘s. John Allen kept 748 and rented it out until his middle son married. John C. Allen Jr. and his wife Margaret Colvert Allen lived there until their fourth child, my mother, was two weeks old.
My grandmother: I lived I don’t know how many years in Mr. Allen’s house without any electricity. And just as soon as I moved out –
Me: He had it wired?
My grandmother: He had it wired. And one of the neighbors said she went out there in the street and laid him out. Said, that child over there with those children, washing and ironing and working herself to death, and you wait until she leaves out of your house, your son’s house? She said she laid him out.
Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, 2002; interviews of C. Allen and Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.