The demise of Grabneck.

These stories appeared in early and late editions of the Wilson Daily Times on 8 January 1924 and paint an unsurprising picture of the erasure of Wilson’s African-American Grabneck community.

One paragraph unabashedly spells it out, emphasis added: “The history of this Grab Neck property is interesting. Four years ago there were in this locality a number of small houses, that stood in the way of the progress of the city, and Mr. Roscoe Briggs put up the money in order to remove this obstacle.” Obstacle cleared; a “fashionable residence section” emerges.

The lots sold like gangbusters. Atlantic Coast Realty Company handled the auction, which pulled in $21.935. “The property, which was formerly owned by Mr. R.G. Briggs, and others, was divided into 26 lots, all of which faced on Nash Street. This property was purchased by Mrs. Cora M. Dupree, Mrs. Sarah E. Griffin and Messrs. Troy T. Barnes, J.C. Eagles and H.P. Yelverton.”

[Sidenote: Wilson Best held for almost two more years. Pressure from “the people of Wilson” to remove obstacles to the gentrification of West Nash Street must have reached fearsome intensity by time he sold to Harry Abbitt in October 1925.]

New Grabneck.

By the mid-1920s, Grabneck was gone. A mile and a half away, however, New Grabneck emerged in a clutch of unpaved streets on the far side of Hominy Swamp, a tributary of Contentnea Creek that wends its way, generally unobtrusively, across south Wilson. Per the 1930 Wilson city directory, all of the residents of this new settlement were African-American.

Hill’s Wilson, N.C., City Directory (1930).

Several of New Grabneck’s residents, including Bertha Best Freeman, Ida Jordan, Jeremiah Scarborough and Frank Mitchell, had lived in Grabneck. Was this coincidence, or were Grabneck’s people deliberately resettled on vacant property on another edge of town?

New Grabneck was short-lived. As noted in this recollection by Marjorie Fulcher Stewart (a Best descendant), the area was cleared about 1960 in an urban renewal project that created moderate-income and public housing for whites.

This undated World War II-era air raid warden district map shows New Grabneck as an unpaved L off unpaved Connor Street, which branches from South Tarboro Street. Connor Street is now Forrest Road, and the New Grabneck lane is Jefferson Street. (See Paul Sherrod’s recollection here.)

Locations of former Grabneck and New Grabneck communities today. Map courtesy of

Air raid district map in private collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.


From the 1979 National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form for the West Nash Street Historic District:

“Harry West Abbitt House, 1105 West Nash Street.

“One of the largest and most impressive examples of the Colonial Revival style in Wilson, this two-and-a-half story, five bay-by-five bay, double-pile brick residence was built for automobile dealer Harry West Abbitt (1881-1957). It was designed by Solon Balias Moore (1872-1930) and constructed by Robert and James E. Wilkins in 1926. Abbitt was a native of Virginia, came to Wilson ca 1915, and opened Wilson’s first Ford dealership. In addition to being one of the pioneer automobile dealers in Wilson, he was the builder of numerous rental commercial properties. This lot was purchased by Abbitt in October 1925 from Wilson Best, a black bricklayer who resided here. The Bests owned a significant portion of this area, then known as Grabneck, which was occupied by blacks at the turn of the century. The massive Abbitt House is sheltered beneath a gable roof and is flanked on each side elevation by twin interior end brick chimneys with slightly projecting exposed faces which have stone shoulders. The east facade features a slightly projecting formal entrance bay crowned by a front gable. This bay contains an entrance with sidelights and transom on the first story and a similar arrangement surrounding a six-over-six sash window on the second story. The front porch is carried by Tuscan columns and is echoed on the south by the glass enclosed sun porch and on the north by the porte cochere. The fenestration consists of six-over-six sash windows with brick soldier course lintels that have stone keystones and end voussoirs and stone sills. Completing the substantial Colonial Revival finish are dentiled boxed cornices with dentiled frieze which return on the central pediment and the end gables, the dentiled porch frieze, two front gable dormers which contain handsome arched windows, and a brick soldier course water table. Shed rooms which flank a screened porch occupy the rear elevation, which has a handsome second story latticed balustrade. Access to the interior was not permitted. At the rear of the house is an equally handsome two-story, two-car garage that echoes the finish of the house. It has a central peaked gable, returning boxed cornices at the side elevations, an exterior end chimney with stone shoulders, stone sills under the six-over-one sash windows, and brick soldier course lintels over the windows and car bays. Abbitt died in 1957 and his widow, Margaret (Dixon) Abbitt continues to occupy the house.”


In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Nash Road, Wilson Best, 28, bricklayer; wife Ada, 30, laundress; and children Wilson Jr., 2, and Noah, 14 months.

The Bests’ close neighbors included members of their extended family, including Wilson Best’s father Noah Best and uncle Orren Best Their enumeration district, 114, was almost entirely African-American, with houses clustered just outside town limits on or near Nash Road, Raleigh Road, Finch’s Mill Road, Winona Road, and New Creek Road.

The Sanborn Fire Insurance Company did not map the Grabneck neighborhood until 1922, when city limits pushed further northwest.

Here is 1105 West Nash Street, a small one-story wooden dwelling. Abbitt razed it to build his manse.

Sanborn fire insurance map, 1922.

The 1908 and 1912 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory show clusters of Best families at Nash Street near Bynum Street and Best’s Lane near Nash — a dozen in 1912. By 1916, the number had dropped to nine, and by 1920 to eight. By the 1922 city directory, pressures on Grabneck — now seen as attractive real estate for Wilson’s prospering white middle class — had reduced the number of Bests to two, Wilson and Ada at 1105. Had landowners in the community been pressured to sell or other otherwise pushed out? When the Bests sold out in 1925, the makeover of West Nash Street was essentially complete. By 1930, Grabneck’s former residents had dispersed southwest to New Grabneck, southeast to Daniel Hill, or across town to East Wilson, and evidence of this facet of the African-American history of the city slipped into obscurity.

Modern map of Wilson per, with Wilson Best’s land marked.

[Coda: on 10 January 1950, the Wilson Daily Times published a Centennial Anniversary edition to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of Wilson. One article, “Citizen of 1949 Returns to Look at Modern Wilson,” reviewed city landmarks through the eyes of fictional time traveler Rountree Tomlinson Aycock Woodard Barnes, born in 1825. As he roamed neighborhoods north of downtown, Barnes remarked, “I haven’t enough time here to say that the trees on Nash Street are as pretty as they were in 1849. … There is no real Grabneck section now. Only pretty homes and grounds.”]


Sale for taxes.

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Wilson Times, 5 May 1899.

This notice of impending sheriff’s sale for non-payment of property taxes included these African-Americans (and a reference to Washington Suggs):

  • Charles Barber — Or, Charles Barbour.  In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: mechanic Charley Barber, 41; sons Luther, 13, James and John, 7, and Hubert, 5; widowed sister Mary Tomlingson, 42, and her children Ella, 9, and Charley, 4; and boarders Turner Utley, 27, John Purkison, 31, and George Garrett, 25.
  • Morrison Barnes
  • Josephine Battle — possibly, Josephine Moore Battle. [Note that African-American women were not afforded honorifics in the Times.] Possibly, in the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: laborer Paul Battle, 26; wife Josephine, 27; and children Clestia, 3, and Earnest Battle, 6 months, and Tiney, 8, and Jessee Moore, 6. In the 1900 census of Washington, D.C.: on Q Street, laborer Paul Battle, 46; wife Josephine, 40; and children Israel, 24, Austen, 17, and Indimuel, 11. (All were born In North Carolina except Indimuel, born in D.C.)
  • Dennis Batts — In the 1900 census of Toisnot township, farmer Dennis Batts, 46, widower; and children John H., 22, William A., 20, Mary J., 17, Patience, 15, Haywood, 13, Hattie, 11, Samuel, 9, Gorman, 6, and Rosa, 3.
  • Smith Bennett — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widowed brickmason Smith Bennett, 47, and daughter Addie, 20, with boarder Robert Wilkerson, 36; and lodgers Archie Williams, 34, and Samuel Wooten, 18.
  • F.K. Bird — Franklin K. Bird. In the 1900 census of Raleigh, Wake County: at 575 Blount Street, preacher Frank Bird, 42, wife Agnes, 36, and children Oscar S., 17, a laborer, Mamie, 15, a student, and Fred, 12.
  • Mark Blount — Marcus W. Blount. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: the widower Mark Blount, 38, a cook, and his children Coneva, 10, Dotsey, 9, and Theodore W., 6, were lodgers in the household of George Faggin, just a few households away from Samuel Vick.
  • John Boykin — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: house mover John Boykin, 50; wife Dicy, 44, cooking; and children Sallie, 19, cooking, James, 18, day laborer, Dotia, 14, Susia, 14, Lillie, 10, and Eliza, 7.
  • Julia Bryant — Julia Suggs Bryant. In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farm laborer Harry Bryant, 34; wife Julia, 34; and sons Leonard, 10, and Leroy, 4. [Julia S. Bryant was the daughter of Washington and Esther Suggs.]
  • M.D. Cannon — Mack D. Cannon. Mack D. Cannon died 15 December 1938 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he resided at 210 Pender; was married to Bettie Cannon; was employed as a barber; was born in Oxford, North Carolina, to Henry Cannon and Mary Dinger; and was buried in Wilson. Marie Mathews was informant.
  • Clara Dupree
  • Julius Freeman — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: 56 year-old carpenter Julius Freeman, wife Eliza, 46, and children Elizabeth, 19, Nestus, 17, Junius, 11, Ernest, 9, Tom, 6, Daniel, 4, and Ruth, 4 months.
  • Nancy Hardy
  • P. Horne — Pompey Horne?
  • Walter Kersey — in the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: blacksmith John Kersey, 61; wife Julia, 53; and son Walter, 21; plus boarder William Joyner, who worked in the blacksmith shop. In the 1910 census of Center township, Marion County, Indiana: widower Walter Kersey, 40, a blacksmith, was a boarder in a household at 914 Weikel Street.
  • Sam McGowan — in the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Pettigrew Street, hotel porter Saml. McGown, 57; wife Ann, 42; and children Bettie, 18, and Margaret, 16, both nurses, Saml., 12, Minnie, 3, and Lanie, 1.
  • Charlie Parker — in the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: carpenter Charles Parker, 32; wife Maggie, 23; and children John, 6, Charles, 3, and Henry, 1 month, plus lodger Florence Hooks, 18.
  • Phillis Phillips — On 18 May 1893, Hood S. Phillips, 22, of the town of Wilson, son of H.C. and E.E. Phillips, married Phillis Gay, 24, of the town of Wilson, daughter of Wiley and Catharine Gay. Rev. H.C. Phillips performed the ceremony at the A.M.E. Zion church. Witnesses were Annie Mincy, Annie Thorn and Alex Warren.
  • Ed Pool — Edmund Poole.
  • John W. Rogers — in the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: John W. Rodgers, 30; wife Mary E., 22; sister Minnie, 17; and boarder Sallie Barber, 35, described as “widowed.”
  • George Short — perhaps, in the 1900 census of Toisnot township, Wilson County: farmer George Short, 39; wife Martha, 35; and children Lizzie, 8, Minnie, 5, and Dorah, 2, and boarder Basha Joyner, 47, farm laborer.
  • Dennis Smith
  • S.A. Smith — Simeon A. Smith. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: school teacher Simeon A. Smith, born 1849; his wife Minnie E., born 1865, also a teacher; and their son [sic] Georgie, 3, all natives of North Carolina.
  • George Thomas
  • G.H. Towe — Granville H. Towe. In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: schoolteacher Granville Tower, 40, wife Rosa, 40, and children Ophelia, 21, Addie, 18, Stella, 15, Ambrose, 14, Granville, 12, Powhatan, 9, Marry, 7, and Sinclair, 7.


The Washingtons arrive from Goldsboro.

This Indenture made the twenty ninth day of December in the year one thousand eight hundred & sixty six (1866) between Richard H Blount of the county of Wilson & State of North Carolina of the first part & Jerry Washington of the Town of Goldsboro of the County of Wayne & State of North Carolina of the second part. Witnesseth that the said party of the first part for & in consideration of one hundred dollars $100 lawful money of the United States to himself paid before the delivery hereof, hath bargained, sold & by these presents doth grant & convey to the said party of the second part his heirs & assigns forever all of a certain piece or parcel of land lying & being in the county of Wilson & State of North Carolina which is known & described as follows to Wit beginning at the line of Arthur D Farmer in the County road to Goldsboro near the Town of Wilson & running with the line of said road seventy yards to a corner thence at a right angle from said corner directly back one hundred & forty yards to a corner thence again forming another right angle & running in a straight line with parallel with the aforesaid Goldsboro Road to the aforesaid Arthur D Farmers line Thence with street line back to the beginning forming a parallelogram in figure & containing by estimate ten acres, together with all the appurtenances & all the estate, title & interest of the said party of the first part therein, and the said party of the first part doth hereby covenant & agree with the said party of the second part that at the time of the delivery thereof, the said party the first parties ts the lawful owner of the premises above granted & seized thereof in fee simple absolute & that hw will warrant & defend the above granted premises in the quiet & peaceable possession of the said party of the second part his heirs & assigns forever. In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand & seal This 29th day of December one Thousand eight hundred & sixty six  R.H. Blount

Signed sealed & delivered in the presence of C. Lee Parker, Henry E. Benton


Newly freed Jerry Washington and Jane Washington registered their four-year cohabitation in Wayne County in 1866. Just before the year ended, Jerry Washington bought ten acres of land just outside Wilson town limits and moved his family 25 miles north.

Six years later, Washington paid $1000 for another ten acres on the south side of town.

Deed book 2, page 238, Register of Deeds office, Wilson.

Jerry Washington buys near town.

State of North Carolina, Wilson County  }

Know all men by these presents that for and Consideration of the sum of one Thousand Dollars to me in hand paid the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged doth grant bargain sold and conveyed and doth hereby bargain and sell and by these presents convey unto Jerry Washington his heirs administrators and assigns all that certain piece or parcel of land situate in the State of North Carolina & County of Wilson, near the Town of Wilson and bounded as follows Beginning at a stake on the Barefoot roads and street leading from the African Church to said Road thence with said Road to Jerry Washingtons corner thence with said Washington line Four hundred and twenty feet to a stake thence Two hundred and ten Feet to R.W. Taylors line Thence with said Taylors line to the line of the W&W R.R. Line thence with said R.R. line to Allen Tyson Corner thence with said Tysons line to Washington Suggs Corner thence with said Suggs line to the street Thence with said street to the beginning said to Contain Ten acres Be the same more or less to have and to hold the same forever and I do hereby warrant and defend the title to my whole Interest in said piece or parcel fo land to the said Jerry Washington his heirs and assigns against the claims of any and all persons whatsoever In testimony whereof I hereunto set my hand and seal this the 11th day of Oct 1872   W.M. Gay, Mary Gay


This deed, the second filed in Wilson County by Samuel H. Vick‘s future father-in-law, Jerry Washington, is notable for its reference to “the African Church.” Though Barefoot Road has not been definitely identified the reference to the church and to the Wilmington & Weldon Rail Road suggest that this parcel was located near modern Hines and Pender Streets.

Deed book 23, page 486, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

Tate purchases a lot.

On 29 October 1892, Hardy Tate purchased for $700 from George D. and Ella M. Green a 1/3-acre lot on Green Street between Green and H.C. Phillips.

The house Tate erected on this lot burned to the ground under suspicious circumstances shortly after completion. Tate later built this house, probably on the same lot.

Deed book 31, page 342, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.

Washington Suggs’ first real estate transaction.

State of North Carolina Wilson County

Know all men by these presents that for and in consideration of the Sum of Sixty dollars to me in hand paid the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged that I Virginia C Edwards of the State and county aforesaid hath bargained sold and conveyed and doth hereby bargain sell and convey unto Washington Sugg of the county and State aforesaid to him and his heirs and assigns a certain piece or parcel of land situate in the County of Wilson State of North Carolina and bounded as follows to wit beginning at a stake Allen Tyson corner thence with Thomas Hadley line two hundred & ten feet to a stake Calvin Blounts corner thence with said Calvin Blounts line two hundred & fifty two feet to a Stake corner grave yard Lot thence with said grave yard lot two hundred and ten feet to a stake on street leading to the African church thence with said street two hundred and fifty two feet to the beginning to have and to hold to him the said Washington Sugg his heirs and assigns in fee simple forever and I Virginia C Edwards for myself my heirs and assigns do hereby warrant and defend the title of the aforesaid land unto the said Washington Sugg his hairs and assigns free from the lawful claim of any and all persons whatsoever. In testimony whereof I hereunto set my hand and seal this 23rd day of March AD 1870  /s/ V.C. Edwards

Witness M.J. Edwards

Received and registered 22 August 1870 …


This deed is remarkable not only as the first filed by Washington Suggs, just five years after his emancipation in Greene County, but also for its reference to the “graveyard lot” and “the African church.”

If the graveyard lot is, as it surely appears, the cemetery later known as Oakdale, this deed pushes the founding date of that burial ground back more than 25 years.

The African church appears to be the church later known as Jackson Chapel (and later still, after a merger, as Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist Church), which was located on Barnes Street just off Pender Street (then Stantonsburg Street), a block south of Nash Street. If so, this deed pushes back the date of the building of the congregation’s first edifice.

Sugg’s new neighbor, Calvin Blount, was also African-American and formerly enslaved. His will, drafted in 1909, contains this provision — “Fourth: To my beloved sons Wright Blount and Tillman Blount, whom I have not heard from in many years — I do hereby give and bequeath to them to share and share alike my other lot of land on the edge of the Town of Wilson, State and County aforesaid, adjoining the lands of G.W. Sugg, Cater Sugg, and the Colored Cemetery, containing about one acre.”

Deed book 4, page 135, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.


Cemetery lot.

In 1898, Rev. Owen L.W. Smith purchased from the Town of Wilson, in the person of Mayor John F. Bruton, lot 7, F Street, Section North of Oakdale Cemetery (col’d). Oakdale was the mysterious cemetery of Cemetery Street, south of the business district.

This document raises so many questions:

  • Oakdale was a city-owned property. When was it developed? Where are records?
  • Where is “the official plat of said cemetery”?
  • O.L.W. Smith’s family, including members who died shortly after this plot was purchased, are now buried in the Masonic cemetery. Where they, and the countless other burials at Oakdale, exhumed?
  • Why and when did the cemetery close?

Deed Book 46, page 348, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson.