Detail.

I have written here of 303 Elba Street, a small L-plan cottage a few steps off East Green Street. Built before 1908, it is among the oldest surviving houses in the East Wilson Historic District, though its days are clearly numbered.  Their names are lost to time, but the carpenters that built this house by hand were almost certainly African-American, drawn from Wilson’s tiny pool of talented craftsmen.

A peek into the house, now abandoned, reveals few original details, but the ones that remain speak to the attention paid to the aesthetics of even working-class housing. The fireplace surround — simple trim molding on the mantel shelf and across the header and, on the mantel legs, double brackets atop delicate spindles. The pleasant asymmetry of the door’s five floating panels.

My family spent three decades in this house, laying hands all over it. My grandmother told me:

And I had pneumonia.  And they was sitting up with me.  Said I hadn’t spoken in three days.  And so that old clock where Annie Bell took, it was up there on the mantel, it struck two o’clock.  Mama was sitting on one side of the stove, and Papa on the other.  So I said, when the clock struck, I said, “It’s two o’clock, ain’t it, Mama?” And they thought I was dying, so they had been sitting up with me.  But I didn’t think nothing ‘bout it, and I went on back to sleep.

This mantel.

Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson; quotation adapted from interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.

2 comments

    1. I’ve always thought of this house as “my grandmother’s house,” though my family last lived there circa 1940. I’ve heard so many stories about their lives there that my mind’s eye had painted an interior. I knew squatters had taken over since it was abandoned about eight years ago, but I was not quite prepared for the squalor inside. Shortly after I took this and other photos, the house was boarded up. I visit every time I go home and lament its inevitable demolition.

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