Central business district: East Nash Street, part 1.

In 1984, a preservation consultant prepared a Nomination Form for recognition as a National Historic District for “Wilson Central Business District – Tobacco Warehouse Historic District,” a thirty-six-block area at “the commercial and industrial heart of Wilson.” This area included stretch of Nash Street east of the the railroad, Wide Awake’s black business district, and the nomination  form has preserved forgotten details of the architecture and history of these blocks, part of which underwent dramatic, transformative loss a few years after the report was created.

Excerpted below are details of the 400 and 500 blocks of Nash Street and recent photographs of the buildings described. (The entries are presented as original with minor typographical corrections and just a few fact corrections, noted in brackets.)

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#53. Commercial building, 417-419 East Nash Street

Built ca 1920 and enlarged during the 1920s, this two-story, five-bay brick building has two altered storefronts on the first story and six-over-six sash windows enframed in a recessed brick panel on the second story. The simply finished building has decorative cornice. In the early 1970s, the interior underwent a thorough remodeling during conversion to a restaurant/lounge, including the placement of simulated wood paneling on the walls. Fortunately, the foliate detailed pressed metal survives on both stories and has a  modest molded cornice. Its earliest occupants were the Wilson Cafe in 417 and Willie Johnson Cafe in 419. The Lincoln Theatre occupied the 417 store in the late 1920s. Both stores were occupied by the W.L. Wooten (furniture) Company from ca 1936 until the early 1970s. The present owner of the combined stores is a restaurant/lounge. The second story is used for storage.

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415 and 417 Nash Street SE.

#54. Commercial building, 418-420 East Nash Street

One story, brick, commercial buildings have stood here since the mid 1880s and since the 1890s were known as the Fulcher Block. The present double-storefront building apparently dates from the mid 1880s, but has been altered several times  since, including being completely stuccoed in the early twentieth century. The 420 lower facade retains its recessed entrance configuration with overhead transom, while the 418 lower facade has been replaced by a modern door. The east corner of the building, facing toward the railroad, is clipped/angled and contains a modern replacement window. The South Railroad Street (northwest) elevation is six bays wide, with a closed-up display window at the front  and altered segmental windows toward the rear. At the rear southwest is a 1954 cement block annex. The interiors have seen numerous changes during conversion to a furniture store in the 1970s. The building’s first occupant was a general mercantile store and was succeeded by several grocery stores. From the early 1930s until ca 1971 the building was occupied by the Wilson-Purity-Holsum Bakery; since 1974 it has been occupied by the Adams Brothers Furniture Company.

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420 and 422 Nash Street NE.

#55. Star Cafe building, 423-425 East Nash Street

A simple four bay-by-six bay building built with oversized bricks, this commercial building was built ca 1928 as rental property and has an acute angled corner at the East Nash Street juncture with North Pettigrew Street. The first story facade at number 423 has been altered with shortened replacement windows, a replacement door and its transom, which has a cast concrete lintel, has been closed. The 421 storefront has also been altered and its transom stuccoed. The second story windows have cast concrete sills and have been closed. The North Pettigrew Street (southeast) elevation steps down toward the rear ad has closed bays. On the rear (northeast) elevation are two, one-story additions both ca 1930. The first one, 105 Pettigrew Street, is built of cement block and is three bays wide and has a shed roof. Both additions have altered and closed bays. A barber has always occupied the 421 East Nash Street store, first Charles Woodard, then John Hargrove from 1936 until the 1950s, and since then by the Service Shaving Parlor. The Star Cafe, Gus Glearmes [Gliarmis], proprietor, occupied the 423 store from its construction until the mid 1940s and was succeeded, consequently, by the Wilson Cafe, the Tropical Grill, the Army-Navy Surplus store, and storage for a grocery. It is currently occupied by the Whole Truth Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith. The additions/stores at 105, 107-109 North Pettigrew Street have been occupied primarily for storage; both have been vacant for many years.

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419 and 421 Nash Street NE (buildings renumbered).

#56. Wilson Bakery Annex, 422 East Nash Street

This two-story, four bay-by-three bay, brick building was built in the 1940s to enlarge the Wilson Bakery, which had occupied the adjacent stores at 418-420 East Nash Street in the mid 1930s. The first story contains large windows filled with square glass blocks and the second story contains four-pane casements. A cement block, one-story section was added at the rear (southwest) in 1954. The Wilson-Purity-Holsum Bakery occupied the building until ca 1971; Adams Brothers Furniture has occupied the building along with 418-420 East Nash Street since 1974.

From 1921 until 1930 this site was the location of the Commercial Bank of Wilson, Wilson’s first black-owned bank. Founded in March of 1921 by Samuel H. Vick (1863-1946), a prominent black Wilsonian who was involved in numerous civic, fraternal and business enterprises in the black community. Vick was responsible for the founding and erection of the Odd Fellows building (#75) at 549 East Nash Street and the construction of the 1906 Orange Hotel (#63) at 526 East Nash Street. The directors of the bank included some of the most prominent black citizens in Wilson: F.S. Hargraves [Hargrave], I.A. Slade, J.D. Reid, Dr. W.R. [W.H.] Phillips, W.R. Hinnant, C.L. Darden (see the Darden Building (#80) at 559-561 East Nash Street), C.S. Thomas and Glenn McBrayer.

#57. Joe’s Quick Stop Grill, 500 East Nash Street

This intrusive little grill was erected during the 1950s of cement blocks and faces the corner of East Nash and South Pettigrew Streets. Gas pumps are located in front of the building, which has a recent metal awning. Early Sanborn maps show this to have been the site of a frame grocery store.

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500 Nash Street NE.

#58. (Former) Harrell Store Building, 501-503 East Nash Street

Built in the early 1900s as a general mercantile store for white merchant Ephraim Harrell, this one-story, two-storefront building has some of the boldest brickwork found on small commercial buildings in Wilson. Raised cornices and dentils decorate the stepped parapet and the recessed panels of the upper facade. A raised dentil cornice also continues along the North Pettigrew (northwest) elevation. Unfortunately, both storefronts have been altered, although the 501 store retains its recessed central entrance. Both transoms have been covered. Succeeding Harrell in the 501 store was George W. Maynard’s market, the Yellow Front Grocery (W.L. Dickerson, proprietor) for about twenty years during the 1930s,  1940s, and 1950s, and the Red Front Grill. The restaurant of Rosa Rhyne occupied the 503 store from ca 1936 until the 1960s. Since the mid 1970s, Jimmy’s Pawn Shop has occupied both stores. The interior contains one large space and contains replacement walls and ceiling.

#59. Barnes Barber Shop, 505 East Nash Street

This small, one-story brick building, completely altered by the bricking in of the display windows, was built ca 1922 as a restaurant and housed the barbershop of John Barnes from ca 1928 until 1961. Since 1962 it has been occupied by Rosa’s Restaurant.

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501-503 and 505 Nash Street NE.

#60. Abbitt Building, 506-516 East Nash Street

This modest, one-story commercial building was erected between 1922 and 1930 as rental property by Henry W. Abbitt (1881-1957), a prominent Wilson auto dealer who built several  rental commercial buildings in Wilson in the 1920s. It is the most intact of any of the commercial buildings in the 500 block of East Nash Street, the traditional black commercial district. Each of the three wide bays, divided by brick pilasters, contains an identical pair of storefronts. The right (northwest) has a recessed entrance on the northwest, and the left (southeast) has a street level door on the southeast; the respective display windows are in the center. Above each surprisingly intact storefront is a transom of multi-pane, raised glass and a brick soldier course lintel. A brick panel, defined by a brick soldier course and and having square corner insets of cast concrete is located in the upper facade of each bay. The stepped parapet is capped by cast concrete. The six interiors are identical and intact. Each has plastered walls and a modest pressed metal ceiling with cornice. Only the 516 store has replacement paneled walls. The first occupants of the respective stores were the Jung Wah Laundry in 506, The City Taxi in 508, the Baltimore Shoe Shop in 510, Ezekiel Braswell‘s Restaurant in 512, an unnamed cleaners on 514, and the Sanitary Shaving Parlor. Since then, a number of businesses have been located in each store — a taxi company, a beer hall, a flower shop, a shoe shine shop, a pool hall, and numerous beauty parlors and barber shops. The current occupants are Cleo’s Beauty  shop in 506, a church in 508, 510 is vacant, Mitchell’s Pool Hall in 512, Taylor’s Beauty Shop in 514, and The Pink Tulip Beauty Shop in 516.

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Partial view of 506-516 Nash Street NE.

#61. Commercial buildings, 513, 515, 517, 519, 521 East Nash Street

These plain, modest, brick buildings, exhibiting simple brick details, were built in the 1930s to replace previous frame stores and have served a variety of commercial uses since: a shoe shine parlor, several barber and beauty shops, a cleaner, a bike repair shop, a grocer, two confectioners and several cafes. Presently, the stores house a beauty shop, a bar, a barber shop, a party store and a jeweler. All the facades have been modernized at various times.

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515, 517, 519 and 521 Nash Street NE (513 has been demolished).

#62. (Former) Wilson Variety Store, 518-522 East Nash Street

Built in 1957-1958 by Irving Mink for rental purposes, this plain, one-story, three-storefront structure is simply detailed. Its first tenant, the Wilson Variety Store, John M. Pierce, manager, occupied the building only until 1964. Since then a variety of beauty shops and bars have occupied the building.

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518, 520 and 522 Nash Street NE.

#63. The Orange Hotel, 526 East Nash Street

The Orange Hotel was built in 1906 for Samuel H. Vick (1861-1946) to serve as a hotel for Negro travelers through Wilson at a time that it is doubtful that any of Wilson’s several hotels served blacks. The two-story, weather-boarded frame building is three-bays wide and four-bays deep and is sheltered beneath a low, hipped roof of standing seam metal; interior brick chimneys with corbeled caps pierce the roof. The house’s only ornamentation is supplied by a five-bay, two-tier porch that is carried across the north faced by turned posts with small curved brackets. A balustrade of slender turned balusters connects the posts on the second story; a replacement railing of “x” shaped two-by-fours  is on the first story. The first story entrance has a double door with a two-pane transom; a single door is on the second floor. The narrow windows contain two-over-two in plain surrounds. A molded and boxed cornice with plain frieze completes the building. The rear elevation is occupied by a one-story ell. The front yard is set off by a pointed picket fence. The center hall plan interior is plastered and has symmetrically molded door and window surrounds with circular corner medallions. A handsome closed stringer rises from the front of the hall along the northwest wall.

Samuel H. Vick was a determined and successful businessman who cared about his race and aspired to alleviate injustice and therefore directed his business pursuits to the service of his people.  He built livable rental housing for Wilson’s expanding Negro population in the first decade of this century, established in 1920 the first Commercial Bank of Wilson (#56), the first bank to serve Negroes in Wilson, the Wilson Hospital and Tubercular Home (known to most Wilsonians as Mercy Hospital) in 1913, a movie theatre, an insurance company, the Lincoln Benefit Society, and the Odd Fellows Lodge (#76) in 1894. He was also active in church and social activities. Born in 1863 at Castalia in neighboring Nash County, Vick came by himself to Wilson in the mid 1870s to attend school [this is not correct, see here], working in a grocery store to put himself through school. In 1880 he enrolled in Lincoln University in Pennsylvania where he graduated in 1884. He pursued his graduate work by correspondence, obtaining his master’s degree in 1887; during this time, 1884-1887, he was principal of the Wilson Graded School. He served two terms as Wilson postmaster, 1889-1894 and again from 1898-1903. After 1903 he served under sponsorship of Lincoln University as a Presbyterian missionary and traveled for years throughout North Carolina helping to organize Presbyterian Sunday School classes. Afterward, he devoted his time to his many business and philanthropic interests in Wilson.

According to the Sanborn maps, by 1913 the Orange Hotel was known as the Lynn Haven Hotel and by 1922 it was a dwelling. Vick lost the building during the Depression and the Mechanics and Farmers Bank held title until 1944. The present owner, Mrs. Mattie B. Coleman, purchased the property in 1950 and continues to live here and rent furnished rooms.

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The Orange Hotel, 526 Nash Street NE.

 Many thanks to LuAnn Monson, City of Wilson Preservation Planner, for a correction regarding the success of the nomination. All photographs taken by Lisa Y. Henderson in July 2016.

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