DigitalNC’s Images of North Carolina collection contains four early 20th century photograph albums attributed to the Oliver Nestus Freeman Round House Museum. The albums’ creator(s) is unidentified, and most the photos pasted within are unlabeled, but it seems pretty clear that they are the handiwork of Willie Hendley Freeman, O.N. Freeman’s wife. Many of the photos depict Hendley family members in Nashville or people and scenes associated with Tuskegee Institute, where the Freemans met.
Below, the cover of one of the albums and its first page. Freeman’s Texaco filling station is depicted at top center.
And this photo of a group of women taken by a Nashville photographer almost certainly depicts O.N. Freeman’s mother, Eliza Daniels Freeman, seated at middle. Willie Hendley Freeman appears to be the woman in the black dress with her hands resting on her mother-in-law’s chair.
This 1928 plat map of property belonging to Oliver N. Freeman is readily recognizable in the present-day landscape, though it does not appear the land was subdivided as shown. (The area was described as “near” Wilson as it was outside city limits at the time.)
Plat Book 3, Page 39, Wilson County Register of Deeds Office, Wilson; aerial view, Google Maps.
In 1940, 29 year-old Langstard Miller registered for the Word War II draft in Wilson County. A native of Saint Louis, Missouri, Miller listed his address as 700 Stantonsburg Street, Wilson, the home of his friend Betsy Freeman. [Was this actually his permanent address or just a mailing address?] Miller listed his employer as Dr. C.S. Robinson Minstrel Show, based on Wilmington, North Carolina.
I have found very little on Miller and nothing else to link him to Wilson. However, on 11 July 1932, Gurnie Langstard Miller, 25, son of Joe Miller and Mattie Langstard, married Annie Amelia Evans, 21, daughter of John Evans and Ida Ash, on 11 July 1932 in Northampton County, Virginia.
Betsy Freeman was not living at 700 Stantonsburg Street when the census enumerator arrived in 1940. Rather, the censustaker found City of Wilson laborer George Freeman, 56; wife Effie, 45, tobacco factory laborer; son James, 26, tobacco factory laborer; and grandchildren Edward, 13, and Doris Evans, 11. The latter were the children of Bessie [sic] Freeman and James Evans, whom she had married in Wilson on 23 June 1925. [Was Betsy/Bessie Freeman also a minstrel show employee?]
Robinson’s Silver Minstrels were a white-owned tent show that featured African-American performers. The “Repertoire-Tent Shows” section of the 21 November 1942 issue of The Billboard magazine featured this short piece:
A few months later, in the 27 February 1943 Billboard, Robinson’s Silver Minstrels advertised for “colored performers and musicians, girl musicians OK; trumpets, saxophones, piano player, chorus girls, novelty acts.” The company promised the “highest salaries on road today” and a “long, sure season.” “All performers who have worked for me in past, write” to the show’s Clinton, N.C., address.
Henry Howard is listed in B Preparatory Class in the 1905-06 catalogue. In the 1900 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: farmer James Howard, 33, widower, and children Henry, 14, Mirantha, 9, Lela Ann, 7, Kinzey, 5, and Cleo, 4; plus boarders Mary Jane, 24, and David Battle, 2. In the 1910 census of Wilson township, Wilson County: on Stantonsburg Road, Jeasee Howard, 45; wife Zillar, 40; and children Henry, 25, Marenda, 19, Lena, 17, Kensey, 15, Leaola, 13, and Jessee Jr., 16 months.
This copy of a photograph is said to show O. Nestus Freeman‘s workmen building Our Redeemer Lutheran Church on West Vance Street, Wilson. Does it though?
Freeman came out of retirement to direct the stonework at Our Redeemer, which was completed after World War II. The photo above is undated, but appears to date from earlier in the twentieth century. Moreover, this crew is clearly building an addition to a pre-existing church.
Here’s a photo of Our Redeemer published at the church’s 25th anniversary at the Vance and Rountree Streets site. (The building itself was not completed until after 1941.) This does not appear to be the same church as the one above. The men above are laying brick, not stone. The buttresses between the windows below do not appear in the image above. And the windows themselves are much taller in the image above. The church’s raised stone rake is also missing from the gable end above.
Wilson Daily Times, 7 May 1966.
On 1 September 2001, the Daily Times featured a long piece contributed by Robert B. Lineberger, whose father was pastor at Our Redeemer in the early 1940s. In pertinent part, here is Lineberger’s recollection:
“Oliver Nestus Freeman was the stone mason for the church. The stone was delivered to the lot in 1942. It was supposed to be 4 inches thick, and the supplier brought half to it from the quarry at Roleville [Rolesville, in Wake County, N.C.] and dumped it on the lot when no one was there. It was 8 inches thick. When the quarry realized its mistake, they said Dad could have it at half price if he would accept it where it was.
“He asked what he could do with it that thick. They indicated it could be split just like a cake of ice … except you would use a sledge hammer with a pointed side to it instead of an ice pick. Tap it on one side, roll it, tap it on the second side, roll it, tap it on the third side, roll it … and when you tap it on the fourth side, it would split in half. That meant the church got the stone for 25 percent of the original price!
“[My father] acted as general contractor for the church. During the early war years contractors and builders were doing all the work they could at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and Camp Lejeune. He hired Mr. Freeman, who came out of retirement to build the church.
“Mr. Freeman then lived in a stone house off of East Nash …. I mixed mortar for him and placed the stones at his directions on the scaffold on which he worked. He chose each stone for a particular place as he worked. I worked with him for a long time during the summer and after school of the year the church was built.
“Mr. Freeman was a fine man, and I learned a lot about stone masonry, mixing mortar and life from him. …”
Lineberger provided some photographs of construction, including these:
Wilson Daily Times, 1 September 2001.
These images further strengthen my belief that the first photograph depicts Freeman’s crew working on some church other than Our Redeemer.
Our Redeemer Lutheran today.
Top photo courtesy of Freeman Round House and Museum, Wilson, N.C., digitized at Images of North Carolina,digitalnc.org; bottom photo by Lisa Y. Henderson.
O.N. Freeman kept six bears at his home at 1300 East Nash Street, including Topsy, who could ride a tricycle. Below, in 1930, Topsy and two of Nestus and Willie Mae Freeman‘s daughters, Mary Frances and Connie.
Photo courtesy of Connie Freeman Banks’ memoir, The Way We Were.