Barbers and bank — can you confirm this location?

A generous reader shared this breathtaking photo of seven African-American men standing on a Wilson street curb. I know nothing about its provenance. Can you help me identify the men or the location?

A few clues:

(1) My best guess for the time period is 1910-1920.

(2) Two of the seven men are wearing white barber’s jackets.

(3) One of the two men standing in vests at center may have been Columbus E. Artis. Of the two, my money is on the man at left, holding … what? Artis is not known to have been a barber. In fact, in 1913, he operated an eating house at 214 South Goldsboro Street. Artis migrated to Washington, D.C., around World War I, returning to Wilson by 1921, when he commenced a long career as the town’s number 2 Black undertaker, behind Charles and Camillus Darden.

(4) The storefront behind them is adorned with a barber’s pole, and “Baths” is painted on its enormous plate glass window. Better-quality barbershops of the time offered clients bathtubs or showers for a full grooming experience in an era in which hot water and indoor plumbing were still rare home luxuries. This shop would have catered to white clients (you can see vaguely one peering out of the window) and would have been located west of the railroad tracks.

(5) Next to the barbershop, there is a doorway. The letters visible in its multi-muntin transom are an S (imprinted or sewn onto a heavy cloth background) and B-A and a partial N. A bank. With a patron (or perhaps banker) exiting in a top hat.

(6) Though the styles of the storefronts are different, the second floor above them seems to show they are bays in a single building.

(7) An examination of the 1908 and 1913 Sanborn insurance maps reveals only one neighboring barbershop and bank in downtown Wilson — at 108 and 110 East Nash Street in 1913. The map shows a two-story brick building divided into equal-sized spaces. (In 1922, the businesses were still there, but the street numbers had changed to 109 and 111.)

Detail, Sanborn fire insurance map, Wilson, N.C., 1913.

(8) Per the 1912 city directory, 108 East Nash was home to Mayflower Barber Shop, whose owner at that time was Levi H. Jones. None of these men appears to be Jones.

(9) Per the 1912 city directory, 110 East Nash was home to Wilson Trust and Savings Bank, whose president was John F. Bruton and vice-president was Jonah Oettinger.

Is this Mayflower Barber Shop? Who are the men?

Thank you, C. Joyner!

[Update: Dana Corson pointed out an O.V. Foust photo of the construction of the First National Bank building in 1926 that confirms 109 (108) and 111 (110) East Nash Street as the location of the buildings in this photo. Ironically, the buildings were gone — subsumed in the footprint of Wilson’s high-rise building. The window forms and dentil corbelling seen above, however, continued across to 105 and 107 and are visible in this close-up.]

Raines and Cox Studio Photograph Collection, State Archives of North Carolina.

Detail from 1930 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson, N.C.

One comment

  1. What a wonderful photo – so clear! And what handsome men! Can’t wait to hear if anyone recognizes the location or the gentlemen.

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