City of Wilson

Bird’s eye view.

“During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the cheap cost of printing lithographs coupled with the pride of small towns laid the foundation for the success of artists who specialized in hand drawn panoramic birds-eye view maps of American cities. The idea behind the panoramic birds-eye view was to draw the town at an oblique angle from an imaginary vantage point in the air, from the viewpoint a bird would have flying over the city. Although the scale of certain buildings were exaggerated to make the town more visible, the accuracy and attention to detail was otherwise so meticulous that each building was almost an exact copy of its real world counterpart down to the number of windows it possessed. There were numerous artists that gained popularity during this period. One such artist was Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler, known more by the name printed on each of the maps he completed, T.M. Fowler.” From Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler, Pennsylvania State Archives, http://www.phmc.state.pa.us

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In 1908, T.M. Fowler issued a bird’s eye map of Wilson. Drawn from the perspective of, say, a hawk floating above what is now Barton College, the map focuses on the town’s most prosperous districts. The Atlantic Coast Line Rail Road slices across the top left corner of the map, however, and beyond the track — Black Wilson.

Though none of the district’s buildings were highlighted on the margins of the map, a close examination reveals several that are immediately identifiable. At (1), looming over the 600 block of Green Street, is the turreted home of postmaster-cum-real estate developer Samuel H. Vick. At (2), at the corner of Green and Elba Streets, Pilgrim Rest Primitive Baptist Church. At (3), Calvary Presbyterian Church. At (4), Darden and Sons funeral home. At (5), First Baptist Church. At (6), Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church.

Continuing across the top of the map — headed southeast on the ground —  at (7), down Stantonsburg Street, the Colored Graded School, and (8) the stemmeries and tobacco factories of Little Richmond.

In 1908, little of East Wilson was inside city limits, which did not extend much beyond Pender Street or the tobacco factory district. Thus, many of the houses and other buildings depicted in Fowler’s fabulous map, including the graded school and all of Vick’s neighborhood, were not surveyed in the Sanborn fire insurance map produced the same year.

Sanborn fire insurance map, Wilson, North Carolina (1908).

Green Street, today.

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, and craftsmen built solid, two-story Queen Annes that loomed over the surrounding neighborhood.  Here were early 20th-century East Wilson’s movers and shakers; Booker T. Washington slept here.

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

By my childhood, however, a half-century into its reign, Green Street had slipped. Wilson’s small but growing black middle class was building ranch houses further west, and Green was home to, if not working class renters, then dowagers struggling to stay on top of the maintenance costs imposed by multi-gabled roofs; oversized single-paned windows; and wooden everything. Still, Green Street’s historical aura yet shimmered, and a drive down the block elicited 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. 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 — rock 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 their fires. One went ablaze, and then another, and repair and reclamation seemed fruitless undertakings.

This is the north side of Green Street now. Facing east toward Carroll Street, the left edge of the frame is just west of #605. There is not another house until you get to #623.  They are gone. The homes of Hardy Tate and C.E. Artis, of the Hines brothers, of Dr. Barnes, of Charlie Thomas, of Rev. Davis. Abandoned. Taken over. Burned up. Torn down. Gone.

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These four houses (##603, 605, 623 and 625) and a church at the corner of Elba are all that remain of the buildings shown in the 1922 Sanborn map above.

Photograph taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, October 2013.

This matter of carrying fire arms is getting to be serious.

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Wilson Advance, 18 November 1897.

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In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Jordan Taylor, 50, day laborer sawing wood, and wife Matilda, 45, shared a house with Dennis Brooks, 35, wife Mary, 27, and daughter Aleonia, 8. Next door, [Jordan Taylor’s son] Jordan Taylor, 24, wife Eliza, 25, and son Greemon, 3, who shared a house with Sallie Taylor, 27, and her son Rufus, 14, and lodger Mary Jones, 17.

Roscoe Barnes’ injuries sound life-threatening, and he is not found in the 1900 census of Wilson.

720 East Green Street.

The forty-second in a series of posts highlighting buildings in East Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located in Wilson, North Carolina. As originally approved, the district encompasses 858 contributing buildings and two contributing structures in a historically African-American section of Wilson. (A significant number have since been lost.) The district was developed between about 1890 to 1940 and includes notable examples of Queen Anne, Bungalow/American Craftsman, and Shotgun-style architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

As described in the nomination form for East Wilson Historic District: “ca. 1940; 1 story; double-pile house with bungalow type detail.”

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 720 East Green Street, clothes washer Bell Ross, 64, and her daughters Thelma Hill[illegible], 29, and Dorothy Watson, 24.

In the 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Ross Belle (c) h 720 E Green.

Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2017.

 

The once moral man is the father of the bastard child.

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News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 2 November 1909.

Rev. Owen L.W. Smith had, of course, been a Presiding Elder of the A.M.E. Zion Church and United States minister to Liberia. The News & Observer‘s restraint in covering his downfall is especially remarkable when earlier coverage of the affair is considered. The Smith-Moye had scandalized black Wilson. Moye not only worked for the church, she was married, and her husband had been driven off by Smith’s peremptory claims to her time. Just as shocking — the magistrate’s dismissal of Smith’s suit!

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News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 27 August 1908. 

“Delia R. Moye” was Delia A. Moye, listed in the 1908 city directory as a teacher residing at Goldsboro near Bank. Also at that address, her teenaged son, porter Albert Moye. In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 459 Goldsboro Street, widowed laundress Della Moye, 31, with her children Albert, 17, twins Hattie and Mattie, 9, and Ethel, 2, who was Smith’s child. (In subsequent city directories, too, Delia Moye was described as a laundress. She lost her teaching job as a result of her pregnancy. She also likely was not actually a widow.)

On 18 August 1944, Ethel Mae Moye, 35, daughter of O.L.W. Smith and Della Smith [sic], married David H. Coley, 49, son of W.H. and Luanna Coley, in Wilson. A.M.E. Zion minister W.A. Hilliard performed the ceremony in the presence of C.L. Darden, Norma Darden and Mrs. Ambrose Floyd.

Delia Ann Moye died 19 April 1955 at her home at 1207 East Washington Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 27 March 1882 in Greene County to Sandy Malone and Mattie [maiden name unknown; was widowed; and was a retired school teacher. Informant was Ethel M. Coley, 1207 East Washington.

He will not do so.

On 7 October 1889, Amy Kimble swore that her husband Edmund Kimble had abandoned her and their child. Witnesses testified for her, and a justice of the peace sustained the charge, ordering Kimble’s arrest. He was picked up nine days later.

Edmund “Kimble” is likely the Edmund Kimbrough listed as a laborer residing at 219 South Railroad in the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C. city directory. I have found no documentation of Amy Kimble/Kimbrough or their children.

Miscellaneous Records, Records of Wilson County, North Carolina State Archives.

The last will and testament of Zebulon M. Johnson.

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On 19 November 1905, Zebulon Johnson, 33, son of Jere and Minnie Johnson, all of Northampton County, married Armittie Powell, 25, daughter of Isaac and Georgia Powell, at Jerusalem Church, Rich Square township, Northampton County, North Carolina.

In the 1910 census of Rich Square, Northampton County: Armittie Johnson, 28, and her children Elvalene, 3, and Allene, 1 1/2, are listed in the household of her mother Georgianna Powell, 61. Armittie is described as married, but her husband Zebulon is not found.

In 1918, Zebulon Myer Johnson registered for the World War I draft in Nash County. Per his heart registration card, he resided at R.F.D. 3, Rocky Mount; was born 17 September 1872; was employed as a chiropodist and farmer; and his nearest relative was wife Mittie Johnson. [Where did Johnson receive his medical training? Was he actually a physician?]

On 1 December 1926, Zebulon Johnson, 48, of Wilson, married Roberta Battle, 38, of Wilson. Missionary Baptist minister Fred M. Davis performed the ceremony in the presence of Mamie Lucas, Ella Allen and Henry Lucas.

In 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1008 East Nash Street, chiropodist Zebulon M. Johnson, 56, and wife Roberta, 37.

On 13 July 1934, Zebulon Myer Johnson died in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 61 years old; born in Bertie County to Jerry and Winnie Johnson; was married to Robetta Johnson; and worked as a chiropodist. He was buried in Rich Square, North Carolina.

As noted in the document above, Johnson’s will entered probate ten days after his death. As required, for several months, his executrix ran an ad in the local newspaper, notifying claimants and debtors of their obligations.

Wilson Daily Times, 21 August 1934.

There was a response — likely, unexpected. Armittie Powell Johnson, who lived in Rocky Mount, stepped forward to file a claim. By the brief notation handwritten in the will book, above, it appears that she asserted that she, and not Roberta, was Zebulon Johnson’s legal widow. I have no further information on the outcome of this challenge, but it is clear that Roberta Johnson remained in the house she had been bequeathed in the will.

Roberta Battle Johnson died 28 July 1958 at Mercy Hospital. Per her death certificate, she was born 3 October 1889 in Wilson to Parker Battle and Ella (last name unknown); was widowed; resided at 1108 East Nash; and worked as business manager for Mercy. Informant was Grace Battle Black, 1108 East Nash Street.

[Sidenote: Zebulon Myer Johnson was the grandfather of noted Nash County educator and activist Kanawha Zebulon “K.Z.” Chavis (1930-1986), whose mother was Arlin Johnson Chavis.]