Best

The land formerly owned by Orrin Best.

Wilson Daily Times, 5 October 1928.

Here’s the plat of Orren and Hancy Best‘s former Grab Neck property mentioned in the notice of sale, with lots 12 and 13 clearly marked:

Here is the current landscape, showing that five houses sit on the 11 platted lots facing Cone between West Nash and West Vance.

Lots 12 and 13 (and a sliver of 11) are now 111 Cone Street North, a four-bedroom Colonial Revival cottage built circa 1928.

Photos courtesy of Google Maps.

The demise of Grabneck, pt. 2.

The sentiment prevailing in 1924, as expressed in the Wilson Daily Times, bears repeating:

“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.”

The 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson’s West Nash Street corridor makes this obstacle plain:

At the end of the 19th century and through World War II, Wilson’s tobacco barons and other wealthy businessmen and professionals lined blocks of Nash west of downtown with fine homes in a variety of architectural styles. By 1920, several blocks away, just beyond city limits, developers laid out West End Park in a tidy grid of new streets, including West End, Kincaid and Clyde Avenues. Between these neighborhoods, like a foot wedged in a door, was a large uncharted expanse whose few tiny clapboard houses clustered in the 1100 block of Nash. Who owned this land?

By and large, one family — the children and grandchildren of Daniel and Jane Best.

The Bests and their small houses were standing in the way of Wilson’s westward progress, and Briggs bought them out. On 27 March 1920, he did business with four sets of Bests:

  • from Clinton and Minnie Best [who preferred the spelling “Bess”] for $4250, Briggs bought three lots in Grabneck adjoining other Bests, Leah Holloway, U.H. Cozart, Tobe Barnes and Henry Barnes. (Deed book 125, page 62)
  • from Orren and Hancy Best, for $5000, Briggs bought “all of the land owned by Orren Best in Grabneck,” two lots on Nash Road adjoining Jeff Holloway and Frank and Noah Best (Deed book 125, page 64)
  • from Frank and Mamie Best, in exchange for a house to be built in Griffin Hill by John H. Griffin, Briggs purchased one lot.  (Deed book 125, page 65)
  • from Noah Best, for $8250, Briggs bought four lots. (Deed book 125, page 65)

These sales set the stage for the auction described in the Times article, but there were still some holdouts. The red arrow on the Sanborn map indicates this one-story dwelling at 1105 Nash:

It was the home of Wilson and Ada Best. In October 1925, they finally relented, accepting $4000 from H.W. and Margaret Abbitt for their 66 by 200-foot lot on Nash Street.

The Abbitts quickly tore down the Bests’ little frame house, and in 1926 erected an impressive Colonial Revival residence. The 1930 Sanborn fire insurance map shows how quickly developers moved into the area vacated by the Bests.  On the northeast side of West Nash Street, a sinuous extension of Vance Street was cut through, and houses sprang up along West Cone and West Gold.

On the southeast side, all of the Bests’ houses were razed to make room for the muscular brick showplaces of white Wilson’s elite.

Grabneck was gone.

The Abbitt house, 1105 West Nash Street.

Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, April 2018.

The graveyard artistry of Clarence Best, pt. 3.

I’ve written here of Clarence B. Best, the marble cutter whose custom gravestones can be found in cemeteries across Wilson County and beyond. Here’s more, all in Rest Haven cemetery.

  • Joseph Earl Mercer, died 1969. Apparently, a young man who loved cars.
  • Clifton L. Howard, died 1969. Best made gravestones affordable by offering customers damaged or repurposed markers such as this one, which appears to be the top portion of a larger piece.
  • Ruby M. Ellis Opie, died 1965, and Charles E. Ellis, died 1964. THEY WAS AN AFFECTIONATE SON & DAUGHTER.
  • Charlie H. Thomas, 1965. Modeled after the white marble markers provided by the military to veterans.
  • Johnnie G. Baker, died 1962. GOD LOVES LITTLE CHILDREN.
  • Rev. Nebraska H. Dickerson, died 1969. To his oft-used dogwood and cross motifs, Best added an open book.
  • Dora M. Hoskins, died 1963. Past Matron, Order of Eastern Star. DIEING IS BUT GOING HOME.
  • William Earl Artis, died 1961. Inclusion of his mother Cora Dawes’ name is unusual as is the near-italicization of the date lines.
  • James Powell, died 1939. DEAR FATHER. GOD FINGER TOUCHED HIM AND HE SLEPT.

The end of the Red Hots?

In 1938, the city of Wilson professionalized its firefighting operations, converting the white volunteer department to semi-paid status. The Daily Times originally reported that the black volunteer organization, the Red Hots, would be abolished, but here clarified that, while they were being retired from active service, they would continue to send representatives to competitions and state conventions and would be called upon in emergencies.  

Wilson Daily Times, 14 July 1938.

——

  • Ben Mincey
  • George Coppedge — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: brickmason George Coppedge, 34; wife Mittie, 34; and children George Jr., 4, and Elenora, 2.
  • Aaron Best — William Aaron Best died 21 August 1949 at his home at 1009 East Nash Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 21 September 1900 in Wilson County to Aaron Best and Nannie Best; was a widower; and had been a laborer at Export Tobacco Company. Audrey Best was informant.
  • Ambrose Floyd — in 1942, Ambrose Floyd registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 4 February 1901 in Lumberton, North Carolina; resided at 1214 East Nash Street; his contact was Clara Smith; and he was employed by Gary Fulghum, 901 Branch Street, United States Post Office.
  • W.J. Howell
  • Henry Sauls — in 1942, Henry Sauls registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 10 February 1898 in Black Creek; resided at 21 Carolina Street (mailing address 1114 Carolina Street); his contact was Hattie Davis, 19 Carolina Street; and he worked for W.T. Clark Jr., 1415 West Nash Street, Barnes Street tobacco factory.
  • Louis Thomas — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 715 East Green Street, carpenter Louis Thomas, 53; wife Lillie, 33; and children Louis Jr., 16, Charlie H., 14, and Van Jewel, 12.

Two of the oldest.

Wilson Daily Times, 28 January 1931.

Hancy Best was the widow of Orren Best, who owned much of the property in the old Grabneck community before its residents shifted over to New Grabneck.

In the 1870 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farm laborer Daniel Best, 62; wife Jane, 50; children Laura, 19, Nicy, 17, Noah, 16, and Orange, 21, and [Orren’s wife] Hancy, 21.

In the 1880 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: hireling Daniel Best, 72, and wife Jane, 55, living amid a cluster of household that included farmer Orren Best, 31, wife Hansey, 31, and children James, 9, Oscar, 6, George, 4, Fannie, 2, and Hattie, 3 months; hireling Lewis Best, 53, wife Harriette, 50, and children Daniel, 23, Sarah, 12, John, 8, and Willie, 10; and brickmason Noah Best, 27, wife Sarah, 25, and sons William, 2, and Thomas, 4 months.

On 28 March 1900, Fannie Best, 22, married Willie Rountree, 28, at Orren Best’s house. Minister R.S. Rives performed the ceremony in the presence of Levi James, Fred Vastenable and Martha Vastenable.

On 31 December 1902, Willie Barnes, 22, son of Willis and Cherry Barnes, married Hattie Best, 21, daughter of Orange and Hancy Best, at Orren Best’s residence in Wilson. A.M.E. Zion minister N.D. King performed the ceremony in the presence of Charles B. Gay, John H. Lewis, and Orren Best.

In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Nash Road, house carpenter Orange Best, 67; wife Hansy, 60, laundress; widower son Oscar, 37, grocery store owner; daughters Roberta, 22, laundress, and Bethena, 19; son Robert, 17, wagon factory laborer; and granddaughter Sarah, 8.

On June [no date], 1919, Hattie Barnes, 38, daughter of Orren and Nancy Best, married Shepherd Smith, 38, son of Billie and Polly Smith, in Wilson, Free Will Baptist minister R.D. Smith performed the ceremony in the presence of Henry Young, Henry Batts and Jim Long.

In the 1920 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Nash Street, carpenter Orange Best, 76; wife Hancey, 65; daughter Bethenia F., 28; son-in-law [sic; grandson?] Henry Sulors(?), 9; widowed granddaughter Sarah Bess, 20; great-grandson William Bess, 3; and granddaughters Nancy, 5, and Margret Fultis(?).

Oren Best died 26 March 1924 in WIlson. Per his death certificate, he was born 16 February 1848 in Greene County to Daniel Best and Jane Edwards; was a carpenter; and was married to Hancy Best.

On 8 September 1926, Bertha Best, 32, daughter of Orren and Hansy Best, married Henry A. Freeman, 44, son of Julius and Eliza Freeman, in WIlson. A.M.E. Zion minister B.P. Coward performed the ceremony in the presence of Jas. Robert Bess, Ardena Holloway and Orren Best of Wilson.

In the 1930 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: Bertha Freeman, 39, cook, and mother widowed Hancy Best, 92.

Hancy Best died 25 January 1931 in WIlson, Per her death certificate, she was 75 years old; was born in Greene County to Hardy Harper and Harriett Harper; and was a widow. Bertha Freeman was informant.

Fannie Rountree died 2 September 1953 in Philadlephia, Pennsylvania. Per her death certificate, she was born 2 February 1876 in WIlson, North Carolina, to Oren Best and Nancy Harper; was a widow; and resided in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Ethel T. Rountree, Asbury Park, was informant.

Grabneck.

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 Bing.com, 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.”]

 

In loving memory.

I have remarked at length about the artistry of Clarence B. Best‘s hand-carved gravestones here and here. In Adventures in Faith: The Church at Prayer, Study and Service, a booklet commemorating the 100th anniversary of Calvary Presbyterian Church, Best’s son Clarence H. Best and daughter-in-law published an ad honoring Best and wife Geneva “Eva” Smith Best.

Best made special mention of his father’s nickname, The Tombstone Man, and memorialized the elder Bests’ gift of a hand-crafted baptismal font, which is still in use. The carving on the edge of the basin block is classic Bestian.

This inscription may have been added later. Though apparently hand-carved, it does not appear to be Best’s work.

Many thanks to Tracey Ellis Leon, a life-long member of Calvary, for lending me a copy of Adventures in Faith and for taking the photos above.

307 North Reid Street.

The forty-fifth 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.

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As described in the nomination form for the East Wilson Historic District: “ca. 1913; 1 story; L-plan cottage with front-facing gable in side wing; cutaway bay; turned porch posts; perhaps built by carpenter John Reid.”

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: 307 Reid Street, rented for $20/month, hospital orderly Henry A. Best, 38, wife Anney C., 40, laundress, and children Thelma, 13, Dubulte, 8, and Reatha, 6; and lodgers Leslie, 23, taxi driver, and Beulah Exam, 20.

In the 1930 Wilson, N.C., city directory: Best Henry A (c) (Annie C) orderly Carolina Genl Hosp Inc h 307 N Reid

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 307 Reid Street, rented for $14/month, Joe McCoy, 40, barber at Barnes Barber Shop, and wife Mittie, 40, laundress; and, renting at $4/month, Willie Forbs, 22, truck driver for Boykin Grocery Company, wife Goldie, 21, cook, and son Jimmie, 3; daughter Erma G. McCoy, 16; and roomer Thomas Elton, 17.

In the 1941 Wilson, N.C., city directory: McCoy Jos (c; Mittie) barber John B Barnes h 307 N Reid.

Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2017.

Best and Marjorie Fulcher Stewart.

Best Stewart was born into the household of Ellen McCoy and Louis Stewart in Wake County, North Carolina, on December 24, 1912. He was the youngest of fourteen children …. As a young man in the Wilson area, Best started his career in real estate and super market business.

Marjorie Fulcher was born into the household of Barthena Best and George Fulcher on October 26, 1917, in Wilson, North Carolina. She was the second of five daughters: Hancey Lee, the oldest, and Ernestine, the youngest. She was raised in the area called ‘Grab-Neck’ on the east side of town adjacent to the area known as ‘Daniel Hill.’ Her mother was a holiness preacher.

“Best Stewart started his supermarket business as a very young man. He was a successful businessman with the assistance of his wife, Marjorie, at his side. He can be described as a brick-mason, community leader, gardener, fisher, and hunter and electrician. Even though he never completed his secondary education, he was a self-educated success.

“Marjorie was nicknamed ‘Dorgie’ by her family. … She was a warm, loving, easy-going, quiet and caring sweet wife and mother. She was also a business partner with her husband.

“In 1960 the family moved from the area known as ‘Daniel Hill’ because of the urban renewal project in the Wilson, N.C. area. Even though Best moved his family to the east side of town, he was determined to come back to his home area. In 1970 Best moved his family back to the area which was once known as ‘Daniel Hill’ where new brick homes were built. In 1974 they retired from the supermarket business.

“In August, 1977, Marjorie F. Stewart departed her life. In November 1980 Best Stewart departed his life. Even though these two wonderful people are gone, the memories of what they stood for will never be forgotten.”

Best and Marjorie Fulcher Stewart.

——

On 11 June 1913, George Fulcher and Barthena Best, both 22, were married by A.M.E. Zion minister B.P. Coward in Grabneck. Ernest Allen, Jesse Barnes and James Daniel were witnesses.

Marjorie Bethena Fulcher was born in 1917 to George and Bathena Best Fulcher in Wilson.

Geo. Fulcher registered for the World War I draft in Wilson in 1917. Per his registration card, he was born 14 September 1891 in New Bern, North Carolina; resided on Nash Street in Wilson; worked as a delivery boy for Patterson Drug; and was married with one child.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 605 Spruce Street, barber Sam Right, 25; wife Bula, 20; mother-in-law Ellen Stewart, 50, widowed laundress; brothers-in-law Lewis, 18, and Bess, 16; and daughters Myrtle E., 4, and Ready G. Wright, 2.

On July 6, 1937, Best Stewart, 25, of Wilson County, son of Louis and Ellen Stewart, married Marjorie Fulcher, 19, of Wilson County, daughter of Bathena Fulcher Lassiter. Bathena Lassiter applied for the license, and A.M.E. Zion minister B.P. Coward preformed the ceremony in Grabneck in the presence of Ernestine Fulcher, Bathena Lassiter and Wms. Bunn.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 409 Spruce Street, retail salesman Best Stewart, 38; wife Marjorie, 27; and children Best Jr., 2, James A., a newborn, and Ellen, 70, mother.

In 1940, Best Stewart registered for the World War II draft. Per his registration card, he was born 24 December 1912 in Fuquay Springs, North Carolina; resided at 409 West Spruce Street, Wilson; was self-employed at Best Stewart’s Place; and his contact was Mrs. Marjorie Fulghum Stewart. Best’s brother Louis Stewart also registered. His card notes that he was born 22 April 1909 in Libby Springs, North Carolina; resided at 409 West Spruce; worked at Export Tobacco Company; and his contact was his mother Ellen Stewart.

Ellen Stewart died 6 April 1960 at 409 West Spruce Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 2 October 1881 in Harnett County to John and Neily McCoy. Informant was Best Stewart.

Wilson Daily Times, 27 August 1977. 

Wilson Daily Times, 17 November 1980.

Text and photo courtesy of History of Wilson County, North Carolina (1985).