bird’s eye view

Anatomy of a bird’s eye view.

I first blogged here about the 1908 Fowler bird’s eye map of Wilson. While visiting the Freeman Round House and African-American Museum recently, I had the opportunity to closely examine an enlargement of the map. Here are more details:

This house, later numbered 108, was the residence of the family of Mike and Rachel Barnes Taylor.

The original location of Wilson’s African-American Episcopal church was at the corner of Lodge and South Streets.

The 1908 Sanborn map of Wilson shows the church facing the bulky R.P. Watson & Company Redrying Plant. Below, the corner today. The green storage building occupy the church’s former footprint.

Jesse and Sarah Henderson Jacobs bought the house at 303 Elba Street, top, in 1908. The lower building, on Vance Street, housed the Wilson Normal and Industrial School, the private school started after the Colored Graded School boycott in 1918.

  • Oaklawn cemetery

Fowler’s map depicts white Maplewood cemetery, but Oaklawn is just a blank expanse of turf. The unnamed street running through this area is Cemetery Street. The large building across the road was the Colored Graded School.

East Wilson aerial.

In January 1985, while the old Hotel Cherry was under renovation, Brian Ezzelle shot photos of the former Atlantic Coast Line station. In the process, he captured this slice of East Wilson. The blocks bordered by the railroad, Nash, Pender and Green Streets were home to East Wilson’s commercial district and its largest churches, with significant housing in the interior.

The intervening 33 years, arguably, have been catastrophic. Nearly all of the housing in the area shown below was demolished as substandard or derelict in the 1990s, as were stretches of commercial buildings fronting Nash and Pettigrew Streets. The city has engaged in streetscaping and the churches have renovated and expanded, but the liveliness of yesteryear, for better or worse, continues to elude this part of East Wilson.

What do we see here?


  1. Former Atlantic Coast Line rail station.
  2. 418 and 420 East Nash Street.
  3. Seed house, Southern Cotton Oil Mill, 518 Stemmer Street. Per the inventory submitted with the nomination report for the Wilson Central Business-Tobacco Warehouse Historic District, “This massive (95×145) pyramidal structure was built ca 1940. It has a prominent sloping corrugated metal roof that is crown by a gable clerestory. The building is one of the prominent visual features of the southern portion of Wilson industrial’s section. The interior is cavernous, has a cement floor and is illuminated only by the windows in the clerestory. It is presently [1984] used for fertilizer storage.”
  4. 417, 419 and (hidden) 421 East Nash Street.
  5. Abbitt Building, 506-516 East Nash Street.
  6. Orange Hotel.
  7. Possibly 542 East Nash Street, the Anne Mitchell house.
  8. Odd Fellows Hall, 549-551 East Nash Street.
  9. Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist Church, founded 1872.
  10. M&W Grocery, 117 North Pettigrew Street.
  11. 119 North Pettigrew Street had been a seafood market, but housed a used clothing store by the mid-1980s.
  12. Church Street.
  13. Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church, founded 1868.
  14. Probably 122 North Pender Street.
  15. 200 North Pender Street.
  16. 202 North Pender Street.

Here, per Bing Maps, is the neighborhood today.

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  1. Now an Amtrak station.
  2. 418 and 420 East Nash Street.
  3. Southern Cotton Oil Mill’s seed house and most of its other buildings have been demolished.
  4. 417, 419 and (hidden) 421 East Nash Street.
  5. 506-514 East Nash Street has been renovated, but most of its storefronts are empty.
  6. Orange Hotel has been a rooming house for many years.
  7. This house has been demolished.
  8. Odd Fellows Hall was demolished in the 1990s. (It actually was a little further west on Nash than I have marked it here.)
  9. Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist Church expanded its sanctuary and purchased most of the eastern end of the block for parking for parishioners.
  10. M&W Grocery’s building now houses Green’s Grocery.
  11. 119 North Pettigrew Street has been demolished.
  12. Church Street and its crooked companion, Smith Street, have been cleared of nearly all the houses that once crowded their narrow lengths.
  13. Saint John A.M.E. Zion Church remains a vital stakeholder in the community.
  14. 122 North Pender Street is abandoned.
  15. 200 North Pender Street has been demolished.
  16. 202 North Pender Street is abandoned.

Many thanks to Brian Ezzelle for sharing his photo.

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,

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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).