Enslaved People, Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Photographs

What was.

Photographs from the Welch-Nicholson House and Mill Site National Register nomination file held at the North Carolina Historic Preservation Office, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Raleigh. Many thanks to File Room Manager Chandrea Burch and National Register Coordinator Ann Swallow.

My great-great-grandmother Harriet Nicholson Tomlin Hart walked these rooms.

This, of course, is all gone now. Burned to the ground one night in the 1980s.

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Agriculture, Enslaved People, Land, Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Other Documents, Photographs

The Welch-Nicholson House and Millsite.

How have I overlooked this?

The house in which Thomas A. Nicholson lived, in which J. Lee Nicholson grew up, in which Lucinda Cowles Nicholson toiled, and in or around which Harriet Nicholson spent her childhood in slavery is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Since 1980. And only today did I find the gloriously detailed nomination report — which includes a photo! And to think that I must have been within a few hundred feet of the place, if it’s still standing, when I nosed around the Nicholson cemetery in the rain last December.

Bear with me. Here’s the entire report, all 13 pages’ worth. I’ve only read it through once, but give me time.

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Enslaved People, Land, North Carolina, Other Documents, Photographs

Dr. Ward’s house. And me.

After my recent rediscovery of a Confederate map that revealed the locations of several plantations significant to my genealogical research, I began searching for more information about John Lane, Silas Bryant and David G.W. Ward‘s landholdings. Pretty quickly, I found a link to a copy of a nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places Inventory, submitted for the Ward-Applewhite-Thompson house near Stantonsburg, North Carolina. This Greek Revival house, dating back to about 1859, was owned and occupied by several of the area’s leading planters — including “country doctor” D.G.W. Ward, who purchased it in 1857 — and it and its outbuildings are little changed from their antebellum forms.

As I read the detailed architectural description of the house and its setting, a tiny kernel of recognition began to form in the back of my mind. A big, white, two-story house? Set well back from the road? Just outside Stantonsburg? Could it …?

I scoured the maps attached to the nomination form, trying to lay them over the current topography. State Road 1539 … that would be Sand Pit Road today …  just east of a fork in the road and just north of the Norfolk & Southern Railroad (which was not there in Ward’s time) … and there it is, just like I remember.

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Yes. Like I remember.

I’ve BEEN in this house. Many times, though long ago.

Growing up, my sister and I were very close to my father’s sister’s daughters. Our local family was quite small, but my cousin’s father came from a big family with deep Wilson County roots. Her grandmother had nearly a dozen siblings — whom we also called “aunt” and “uncle” — and we were often invited to attend their family gatherings. I remember best the delectable Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners gathered around tables groaning with food, but there were also the annual 4th of July family reunions at Aunt Minnie’s out in the country near Stantonsburg. The Barneses were tenant farmers for an absentee landowner and rented his large two-story house. We’d pull off the road into a sandy circular drive and park under the trees alongside cars with New York and New Jersey plates. I vividly remember my cousin’s great-uncles and cousins tending a barbecue pit in which a split pig roasted, chickens strutting among them.  A screened side porch protected platter after platter of home-grown, home-cooked goodness.  My memories of the interior of the house are vague: a central staircase, two large front rooms, the kitchen in back. (The staircase I remember mostly because, carefully tending a tall glass of lemonade, I missed a riser and slid down their length, smacking my ribcage against the steps and knocking the wind out of myself.)

I couldn’t believe it. It is exciting enough to identify D.G.W. Ward’s house and find that it is still standing, but to realize that I knew the house at which Appie and Mittie Ward had lived and worked as the enslaved children of their own father was uncanny.

IMG_4960Ward-Applewhite-Thompson House today.

Photo taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2014.

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Land, North Carolina, Other Documents, Photographs

The death of Green Street.

As my father put it, all the “big dogs” lived on Green Street. The 600 block, which ran between Pender and Elba Streets, two blocks east of the railroad that cleaved town, was home to much of Wilson’s tiny African-American elite. There, real estate developers, clergymen, doctors, undertakers, educators, businessmen, craftsmen — and a veterinarian — built solid, two-story Queen Annes that loomed over the cottages and shotgun houses that otherwise lined East Wilson’s streets.  Booker T. Washington slept there.

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The north side of Green Street as depicted in a 1922 Sanborn map.

During my childhood, a half-century into its reign, Green Street was slipping, home to widowers and dowagers struggling to stay on top of the maintenance and expense imposed by multi-gabled roofs, ranks of single-paned windows, and wooden everything. Still, its historical distinction as black Wilson’s premier residential address held, and a drive down the block elicited a bit of pride and wonder.  In 1988, East Wilson, with Green Street its jewel, was nominated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Every house on the block depicted above was characterized as “contributing,” and the inventory list contained brief descriptions of the dwellings and their owners. #617, for example, was the Walter Hines house, a two-story “Queen Anne house with hip-roofed central block and projecting cross gables,” and Hines was described as “a prominent barber and property owner.”

Historic status, though, could not keep the wolves from the door. Even as the city’s Historic Properties Commission was wrapping up its work, East Wilson was emerging as an early victim of that defining scourge of the late 1980s — crack cocaine. As vulnerable old residents died off — or were whisked to safer quarters — crackheads and dealers sought refuge and concealment in the empty husks that remained. Squatters soiled their interiors and pried siding from the exteriors to feed fires for warmth. One caught ablaze, and then another, and repair and reclamation seemed fruitless undertakings.

This is the north side of Green Street now. The left edge of the frame is just west of #611. THERE IS NOT ANOTHER HOUSE UNTIL YOU GET TO #623. They are gone. Abandoned. Taken over. Burned down. Torn down. Gone.

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[Sidenote: 623 Green Street was built for Albert Gay, a porter at the Hotel Cherry downtown. Albert married Annie Bell Jacobs, daughter of Jesse A. Jacobs, Jr., and their descendants remain in the house. Charles Gay, next door, was Albert’s brother. And around the corner, in the small ell below Pilgrims Rest Primitive Baptist Church, 303 Elba.]

Photograph taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, October 2013.

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