Houses

1018, 1020, 1022 and 1024 Mercer Street.

These abandoned endway houses (as shotgun houses have been traditionally known in Wilson) were built in the 1930s, toward the end of the era of wooden construction for rentals. Their exteriors are in remarkably good shape, each with original siding, tongue-and-groove porches, and tin roofs, though the porch posts appear to be replacements. 

Eula McAllister, Arth Williams, Luvenia Dew and Roger B. Hooks were heads of household at 1018, 1020, 1022 and 1024 Mercer Street in 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, April 2021.

Upcoming event: a study on shotgun houses.

Preservation of Wilson presents a webinar with University of North Carolina-Greensboro graduate student Monica T. Davis on her work on East Wilson’s shotgun houses. Meet Monica here, and join Monday’s Zoom call for more!

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The promo photo depicts a row of endway houses (the local term for shotguns) on Carolina Street, just east of its intersection with Wainwright Street. Until I was nearly ten years old, I lived a block down Carolina. I remember these houses best in the early 1970s, well before this photo was taken, when there was no curbing or gutters, and the houses stood on brick pillars in clean-swept dirt yards.

The 1940 aerial of this area shows the houses in a row of fourteen nearly identical dwellings. (As described in the East Wilson Historic District nomination report, most were built circa 1917 and have shed-roofed porches, but one has a hip-roofed porch; another has a second-story addition; and another is a later-built bungalow.)

Nine of the endway houses are still standing.

919 Mercer Street.

This house is not within the bounds of East Wilson Historic District. However, the blocks of Mercer Street southwest of the Norfolk & Southern Railroad lines have been an African-American residential area since the early twentieth century.

Now numbered 919, it appears that this house was numbered 915 Mercer Street until the late 1930’s.

The 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists laborer Thomas Hatcher and wife Estelle at 915 Mercer, as well as James Hatcher.

The 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists farmer James Richardson and wife Henrietta at 915 Mercer.

In April 1935, Samuel and Annie M. Vick lost 915 Mercer Street and more than one hundred other houses and lots at auction.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 919 Mercer, paying $8.50/month in rent, James Watson, 29, ditcher on a sewage project; wife Golden, 30, worker on stemmer machine at redrying plant; and children Earnestine, 11, Bessie Jean, 4, and Lucy Gray, 1. The family had lived in Kenly, N.C., in 1935.

In 1940, James Watson registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 26 December 1909 in Johnston County; lived at 919 Mercer Street; his contact was wife Golden Watson; and he worked for Imperial Tobacco, Barnes Street.

In 1941, Johnnie Clay Jones registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 23 April 1920 in Kenly, N.C.; lived at 117 South Pettigrew Street; his contact was Golden Watson, 119 [sic] Mercer Street; and he worked as a laborer for Williams Lumber Company.

The 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists laborer James Watson, wife Golden, and four unnamed others at 919 Mercer.

On 19 April 1941, the Wilson Daily Times listed Willie Brown of 919 Mercer Street as a recipient of a questionnaire from the local draft board.

In 1944, Rev. Chester B. Beamon, pastor of nearby Trinity A.M.E. Zion church, lived at 919 Mercer Street, where he lead an adult education night school and a leadership training organization. The Beamons were likely renters, as Beamon and wife Louise were listed at 904 Mercer in the 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, and shortly after left Wilson for a new pastorate.

Wilson Daily Times, 20 March 1944.

Tobacco worker Frank Lassiter and his wife Settie are listed at 919 Mercer in the 1947 directory. The Lassiter family remained in the house through Frank Lassiter’s death in 1972 and Settie Sanders Lassiter‘s in 1981.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, April 2021.

622 East Green Street, revisited.

Courtesy of the Freeman Round House and Museum, a clear photo of the Samuel and Annie Vick house at 622 East Green Street in its spindled and turned-post prime. The Vicks and two of their children are shown left of the porch steps.

The house has been considerably altered in the 110 or so years since this photo was taken. The entire wooden porch structure, including gazebo, is gone, and the wide siding has been covered in ashlar. The street was then unpaved, but it appears that curbing was being laid. The low ashlar wall at the sidewalk still stands, though it has been patched and modified. Recalled Hattie Henderson Ricks, who grew up just around the corner on Elba Street and was a playmate of Doris Vick Walker

“We used to come back on the wagon from out there at Five Points, and the old mule ran away from me and Mama [Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver]. It went over the fence. Me and Mama was on the wagon. It had one of those spring seats up there, we was sitting up there, and a paper flew up before the mule, it was a little gray mule, and it was half-blind in one eye. It didn’t have a name. And we went right over the top of Sam Vick’s fence. 

” … We swept up out there to Five Points, and we come back and we come down Green Street. That’s when the trees, a row of trees was from Pender Street all the way up to Vick Street, and there were trees, a row of trees right in there, and you come on one side and the other side, and we was on the side coming home and a piece of paper or something blew up and scared the mule. And, honey, he took right off over there in Sam Vick’s yard. And that stone … thing up there, well, the wheels got up there, the wagon when she turned?  The wheels were over in the yard on the flowers, and Mama had her foot up on the dashboard, holding him back. Just pulling back. She said, “Well, you got over there, now get up and get back!” And she backed up, and sho ‘nough … but it scarred his legs all in the back where was on that place trying to get back. But I jumped off, I jumped off the wagon. Was standing there looking at ‘em. And we home. I said, we’re right there, home.”

Oral interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.

816 Mercer Street.

This house is not within the bounds of East Wilson Historic District. However, the blocks of Mercer Street southwest of the Norfolk & Southern Railroad lines have been an African-American residential area since the early twentieth century.

As shown in the 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson, coming from downtown, 816 Mercer Street was the first house on the right after Hominy Swamp. (It is now at the corner of Mercer and Park Drive, but is still the first house.) The house has been updated with vinyl siding, but retains its original tin standing-seam roof.

A close-up of the sketch reveals that the odd bay window is original.

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, at 816 Mercer, Anna Wiggins, a domestic, and at 816 Mercer (rear), laborer Archie McAlister and wife Maggie McAlister. In the 1930 directory, the house was vacant.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 816 Mercer, Ruth Lofton, 26, daywork stemmer at redrying plant; husband Benjamin, 29, storage room worker at redrying plant; niece Mary Jones, 12; children Marjorie, 7, Benjamin Jr., 6, and Herbert Lee Lofton, 4; roomer Martha Norfleet, 67, widow; mother-in-law Tincy Lofton, 56, widow, cook in-service in private home; and brother-in-law Major Lofton, 18, stemmer at redrying plant.

Benjamin Lofton registered for the World War II draft in 1940. Per his registration card, he was born 17 August 1909 in Wayne County, N.C.; lived at 816 Mercer Street; worked for Southern Tobacco Company, Wilson; and his contact was wife Ruth Britton Lofton, 816 Mercer.

The 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists Benjamin F. and Ruby B. Lofton at 816 Mercer with four others.

Major Lofton registered for the World War II draft in 1942. Per his registration card, he was born 12 December 1921 in Black Creek, N.C.; lived at 816 Mercer Street; worked for Thomas Barnes at Service Laundry, Five Points, Wilson; and his contact was mother Tincy Lofton, 816 Mercer.

The 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists Samuel Hammond, a cement finisher, and wife Frances at 816 Mercer.

603 East Green Street, revisited.

The Washington Wilkins house at 603 East Green Street, built circa 1930, was burned beyond repair last night.

The destruction of this historic house is tragic, but secondary to the well-being of the last family to live in it. Wishing them well as they recover from their loss.

[Update, 4/15/2021: since this posting, the Wilson Times published an article detailing the local fire department’s efforts to battle this fire and the resiliency of Hunette Francois, the Haitian immigrant who lived in the Wilkins house for six years and lost everything in the blaze.]

Thanks to Edith Jones Garnett for sharing this image.

Frank Rountree plat map.

This 1923 plat map detailing part of Frank Rountree’s property shows, at left, the block now home to Wilson’s main United States post office and, right, the location of a Family Dollar store. 

The 1922 Sanborn fire insurance maps of Wilson reveal more detail about Rountree’s property. The houses he owned in this block are marked with asterisks. Most were double-shotgun houses built as rentals for African-American tobacco factory workers. 

Rountree’s properties on the other side of Hines are again marked with asterisks below. The houses fronting the north side of Hines Street had white occupants, but the double-shotguns behind them on Sunshine Alley and along South Goldsboro had Black tenants. (West of the tracks, especially on the southern perimeter of downtown, segregation patterns were checkerboard, blocks by block.) See more about short-lived Sunshine Alley here.

Plat Book 1, page 268, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson; Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson, N.C., 1922.

“Negro dwellings” destroyed.

Wilson Daily Times, 23 September 1929.

In the Jim Crow era, even buildings were racialized. Houses were not merely in “negro” neighborhoods; they were somehow, at their essence, “negro houses.” This brief article reports the destruction by fire of three houses on East Nash Road, in the vicinity of present-day B.O. Barnes Elementary School. Though the houses were owned by Ben Eagles, a wealthy white tobacconist, and one was being used as storage, they were “negro dwelling houses.”