501 East Barnes Street.

This building does not lie within East Wilson Historic District, nor was it ever occupied by African-American residents. I include it, however, because it lies east of the tracks, has housed  Black-owned and/or -operated businesses for decades, and has an unexpected hidden history.

The 1988 nomination form for Wilson Central Business-Tobacco Warehouse District described J. and F. Service Center at 501 East Barnes Street thus: “Although extensively altered, the core of this structure, a rectangular frame dwelling under a low hip roof, dates from the late 1880s according to the Sanborn Insurance Maps. In the mid 1890s a smokehouse was added at the east corner; the pleasant gable roofed structure has returning boxed eaves and a standing seam roof. About 1940 Reuben A. Wilder added a small, three-bay-by-two-bay frame store onto the west (along South Pettigrew Street) and converted the property into the Wilder Grocery and Cafe. It currently houses an auto repair business and a large sliding garage door has been added to the Barnes Street elevation of the original dwelling.”

A ride past the location today offers no hint of its origins. A modern Google Maps aerial view, however, clearly reveals the original house at the heart of what is now 501 Car Wash.

Image courtesy of Google Maps.

This detail from the 1897 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson shows that the original dwelling, described as a boarding house, was oriented toward Pettigrew Street.

As late as the late 1940s, several houses stood between Wilder Grocery at 501 East Barnes and Wilson Chapel Free Will Baptist Church. All had white occupants. Across the street, but further east toward what is now called Pender Street, five houses sheltered African-American families. By about 1950, all the houses in the 500 block of East Barnes had been demolished.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, May 2022.

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