Hotel Cherry

Fred Artis brings local history to life.

Wilson Daily Times, 15 June 1992.

On 9 October 1912, Fred Artis, 23, married Mattie Lewis, 18, in Wilson. A.M.E. Zion minister B.P. Coward performed the ceremony in the presence of Alonzo Phillips, Samuel Mercer and Tobe Beland.

In the 1920 census of Fountain township, Pitt County: Fred Artis, 33; wife Mattie, 23; and children Christine, 5, and Fred, 4.

Mattie Artis died 2 December 1927 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 32 years old; was born in Edgecombe County to Frank Lewis and Clarrisa Joyner; married to Fred Artis; and resided at 1013 Stantonsburg Street.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 101 Reid Street, school janitor Fred Artist, 56, widower; children Christine, 16, Fred, 14, and Mildred, 11; and lodger Luddie Brown, 22, private cook.

Fred Artis [Sr.] died 12 May 1936 in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was 38 years old; was born in Wilson County to Edward Artis and Addie Artis; was married to Annie Artis; lived at 101 Reid Street. Fred Artis Jr. was informant.

In 1940, Fred Artis Jr. registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 17 March 1916 in Wilson; resided at 101 North Reid Street; his contact was mother Annie Artis; and he was unemployed.

Betty Ann Artis died 4 December 1960 in Wilson at her home at 501-A Hadley Street. Per her death certificate, she was born 9 September 1925 in Wilson County to Ben Guest and Fannie Harris; and was married to Fred Artis.

Nona Braswell Artis died 17 September 1996.

Fred Artis Jr. died 18 September 2000 in Wilson.

Cherry Hotel and the color line.

Wayne County native Caswell C. Henderson (1865-1927) migrated to New York City in the 1890s, but returned South to Wilson to visit his sister Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver. Their great-niece Hattie Henderson Ricks recalled the elaborate steps he took to carry out his daily ritual. First, Henderson would leave their house on Elba Street and walk west on Green Street. He crossed the railroad tracks and walked a few more blocks before turning left on a cross street, then left to walk east on Nash Street to the Hotel Cherry. He entered the hotel through its front doors — as any white guest would — bought a newspaper, shot the breeze for a while with other white guests and staff, then exited right to walk back up Nash Street. After a few blocks, he turned right, then right again on Green and crossed the tracks back into the African-American world.

——

“Uncle Caswell had been home, he’d been to Wilson.  He come down there visiting Mama …. He passed for white.  He would go and get a paper every morning down there to Cherry Hotel.  Walk down there for the exercise and get that paper.  And they all thought he was white.  He’d go in the hotel there and ask for a paper and come in there and talk to the people.  And he’d leave the hotel and walk the other direction, then walk back down Green Street and come on home.”

Cherry Hotel in an undated postcard issued by the Asheville Post Card Company.

Interview of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved.

Bell hops at the Hotel Cherry.

In 1991, front desk clerk turned newspaper man Roy G. Taylor (1918-1995) self-published a memoir of his years working in Wilson. Though tinged with the casual racism of the time, My City, My Home offers fascinating glimpses of Wilson in the World War II era.

Here are excerpts:

“Anyway, [hotel owner J.T. Barnes] had a suite on the mezzanine floor, 221 and 223. And Jesse Knight was his personal servant and also a bell hop. Lessie, Jesse’s wife, had worked for the Barnes family.” p. 9

“The roster of bell hops at the Cherry in the 1940s included Jesse Knight, whom I mentioned earlier; Ruel BullockHenry Potter, Robert Haskins, Clarence Holly, Fred Artis, Peacock (the only name he was called by), Louis Hines and “Rent” Gay, Uncle Charlie’s son. Uncle Charlie was old and had a stiff leg and he went around with a feather mop, dusting off things, and he loved whisky better than most men love women.”

“… Henry was a large man and rather lazy acting. When he wasn’t busy he would sit in the lobby in a rather slouchy position, but jumped up hurriedly when the bell sounded. And he was the best one about going for the mail. But I’d have to say Henry was the ‘densest’ one of the crowd.”

“Ruel was of light skin, and a rather handsome man. He was a family man and had 10 children. He worked during the day, as did Henry.”

“Robert was dark-skinned and a rather tall, large man and he was a little more serious than most of the men. Robert worked mostly the day shift also but would work at night if it became necessary.”

“Clarence was a night man. And talk about sly! He was something else. Of course, all the boys were sly, although all of them were always courteous to the desk people and all were ready to do whatever was asked of them. I never remember any of the bell hops being disrespectful while I was there.”

“Fred Artis was a tall, thin man and he could swing from day to night duty. And Fred is still around. He is employed by the Arts Council of Wilson.”

“Peacock always worked nights. He was the head night man. Peacock was nice too, and he looked after the guests. But he was a sly one too.”

“Louis was a tall, well-built man that had a lot of charisma. ‘Rent’ was also thin and tall and very neat in appearance and as I recall, he worked mostly at night also.” pp. 29-30

——

  • Jesse Knight — Jessie Knight was an Edgecombe County native. When he registered for the World War II draft, he listed his employer as J.T. Barnes.

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  • Lessie Knight — Lessie Locus Knight.
  • Ruel Bullock — Ruel Bulluck was an Edgecombe County native. He married Louise Missouri Jones, daughter of Charles T. and Gertrude Johnson Jones, on 10 December 1930 in Wilson. In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 412 Viola, owned and valued at $2000; Charles Jones, 61, janitor at Vick School; wife Gertrude, 59, a tobacco factory stemmer; daughter Ruth Plater, 35, divorced, teacher; grandsons Torrey S., 12, and Charles S. Plater, 11; son-in-law Ruel Bullock, 35, a hotel bellboy; daughter Louise, 30; grandsons Jacobia, 7, Robert, 6, Harold, 4, and Rudolph, 7 months; and granddaughter Barbara Jones, 6.

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  • Henry Potter — John Henry Potter was a native of Aurora, Beaufort County. In the 1925 city directory, Henry Potter, bellman, is listed at 719 East Green. In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 1210 Atlanta [Atlantic] Street, hotel bellboy John Potter, 40; wife Ruth, 28; and daughter Ruth, 9 months.
  • Robert Haskins — Robert Douglas Haskins was the son of Robert and Gertrude Haskins. In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Robert Haskins, 55, drug company salesman; wife Gertrude, 48; and children Mandy, 36; Elizabeth, 33, cook; Estelle, 29, beauty shop cleaner; Robert D. Jr., 29, hotel kitchen worker; Lossie, 24, N.Y.A. stenographer; and Thomas, 20, barbershop shoeblack; plus granddaughter Delores, 15, and lodger Henry Whitehead, 21.
  • Clarence Holly — Clarence Virgo Holley was a Bertie County native. He registered for the World War II in 1940 in Wilson. Clarence Holley died 4 May 1964 at Mercy Hospital. Per his death certificate, he was born 23 May 1919 in Bertie County to William Holley and Molly Smallwood; operated a shoeshine parlor; and lived at 300 North East Street. Informant was Elma Holley.

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  • Fred Artis — Probably Fred Artis Jr., who was the son of Fred and Mattie Lewis Artis.
  • “Peacock” — Levi Harry Peacock was the son of Levi H. and Hannah Pyatt Peacock. In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 204 Vick Street, hotel bellboy Levi Peacock, 30; wife Elouise, 28, a public school teacher; children Jewel D., 4, and Thomas L., 14; and mother-in-law Etta Reaves, 50, post office maid.

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  • Louis Hines — Probably Louis Hines Jr. In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 303 Elba Street, Eva Hines, 50, household servant; son Charlie, 21, yard boy; and daughter Henrietta, 13, shared a household with Louis Hines Jr., 21, whiskey storage loader; wife Dolly M., 19, tobacco stemmer; and daughter Martha L., 6 months.
  • “Rent” Gay — Edgar Reynold Gay was the son of Charles B. and Ella Tate Gay.

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Undated postcard.

[Sidenote: I can guess, but perhaps someone can clarify what “sly” meant in the usage of the day? — LYH]