In 1908, a Harnett County runaway (known variously as Eliza Smith, Lydia Smith and Alice Williams) testified against Josephine Blount, who operated a house of prostitution out of the Orange Hotel on East Nash Street.
The three-story Hotel Union first appears in Sanborn fire insurance maps of Wilson in 1908. The wooden building had two storefronts on the ground floor and accommodations above.
The hotel also appears in the 1913 Sanborn map. By 1922, however, the Hotel Union was a boarding house. Its ground floor had been expanded to add another commercial space, and the one-story extension on the back of the building comprised a separate dwelling. There’s no listing for a black-owned hotel or boarding house in the 1922 Wilson city directory, but the 1925 directory shows the Whitley Hotel at 535-537 East Nash. Maggie A. Whitley was proprietor. In the 1928 directory, the address of the Whitley is 541 East Nash. The hotel is visible in a postcard of East Nash Street circulated in the 1920s.
In January 1928, a fire broke out in a second-floor bedroom of the Whitley. Quick action by the fire department prevented extensive damage.
Wilson Daily Times, 5 January 1928.
The 1941 edition of The Negro Motorist Green Book lists the Wilson Biltmore at 541 East Nash Street, which appears to be a later iteration of Hotel Union/Whitley Hotel. (This observation matches Samuel C. Lathan‘s recollection.) The building burned to the ground in the late 1940s.
On 5 September 1920, Henry Coleman, 32, of Wilson, married Mattie B. Williams, 18, of Wilson, at her home in Wilson. Disciples of Christ minister Walter Williams performed the ceremony in the presence of Jim Barkidale, Fillies Barkdale and A.L. Spates, all of Sampson County, North Carolina.
In the 1928 and 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directories: Coleman Mattie B (c) h 526 E Nash
In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 526 East Nash Street, paying $12/month in rent, widow Carrie Shaw, 48; and children Robert, 21, dry cleaning plant laborer, Cornie, 20, laundress, Louise, 18, private nurse, Jovester, 17, Aline, 15, and Nettie R., 12. Also paying $12/month, DaveHarris, 32, guano plant laborer; wife Bessie S., 27, laundress; and children Timothy, 12, Roy, 10, Ardria M., 8, Roland, 5, Odessa, 3, and Herman, 1. Also paying $12/month, boarding house keeper Mattie B. Coleman, 25; tobacco factory stemmer Enemicha Kent, 20; tobacco factory stemmer Carrie M. Shine, 22, and Callonia Shine, 15; wholesale grocery delivery boy Mitchel Hamon, 24, and wife Ella, 17; restaurant dishwasher James Nelson, 21; laundry ironer Irene Rountree, 27; and cook Maggie Downing, 26.
In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 526 East Nash Street, rented for $20/month, Mattie B. Williams, 36, rents room-lodging house; Herbert Wiggins, 25, filling station helper; Ernest Davis, 28, veneer factory fireman, and wife Dolly, 29, both of South Carolina; George Rountree, 33; and Sadie Collins, 31, of New York, cafe proprietor.
Mattie Bea Coleman died 10 November 1986 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 3 March 1904 in Wilson County to Thomas Williams and Sylvester [maiden name unknown]; resided at 526 East Nash; was a widow; and was a hotel owner. Informant was widow Hattie Margaret Williams of Baltimore, Maryland.
This rare postcard depicts an equally rare image of East Wilson’s early business district in the 500 block of East Nash Street. Close examination of the photograph reveals fascinating details, many of which help date the image. The photographer set up his camera near the curb (a surprising feature!) on the south side of the street. First Missionary Baptist Church, built in 1913, would have been across from and slightly behind him. On the far horizon looms the brick bulk of the Hotel Cherry, built in 1917.
At least ten people — all of whom appear to be male — were captured in the image, including these seven standing or walking along the right side of the street:
These commercial buildings supply clues to the location of the photo. The three-story building, constructed in 1894, is Odd Fellows Hall, home to Hannibal Lodge #1552. Its ground floor contained an ever-changing array of store fronts, and a sign for Maynard’s Market/Fish & Oysters is visible here. As early as 1914, Samuel Vick‘s Globe vaudeville and moving picture theatre was housed on the second floor. The sign hanging from the corner of the building pointed the way to the theatre’s side entrance.
However, by 1922, a one-story wooden structure, housing a barber shop and sharing a wall with the hotel/boarding house, appears in the gap. See below. (Note also that the theatre’s exterior staircase is gone, traded for enclosed access.) This building, with its shallow gable-end roof, is visible in the postcard image.
The Model T Fords (and a single mule and wagon) also help date the photo to the early 1920s.
There is an artificial quality about the neatly trimmed hedges and suspiciously uniform trees ranged along the left side of the street. Though this portion of the image may have been hand-drawn, that side of the 500 block was in fact lined with private homes.
Families living in this block included the Mitchells, (#540), the Sutzers (#536), and the Yanceys (#538).
This stretch of East Nash Street today, courtesy of Google Maps. The commercial buildings on the right side of the street, including the historic Odd Fellows Hall, were demolished in the 1990s.
Postcard image courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III, Historic Wilson in Vintage Postcards (2003).
The Negro Motorist Green Book (later titled The Negro Travelers’ Green Book and called the Green Book) was an annual guidebook for African-American travelers. New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green published the volume during the Jim Crow era, from 1936 to 1966, when hotels, restaurants and other businesses openly discriminated against black motorists. To counter the inconveniences and dangers and inconveniences they faced along the road, Green created a guide to services and places relatively friendly to African-Americans.
Only a few of the many Wilson businesses catering to black clientele were listed in the Green Book. The 1941 edition of the guide is excerpted below.
Victor H. Green, The Negro Motorist Green-Book (1941).
Biltmore, East Washington Street — The 1941 Wilson city directory does not list a hotel on East Washington, nor am I aware of any hotel at any time on Washington.
The Wilson Biltmore, 539 East Nash Street — The 1941 Wilson city directory lists Libby McPhatter‘s cafe at 539 East Nash. However, per the nomination form for Wilson’s Central Business District Historic District, McPhatter’s cafe was at 541, in one of two buildings erected after the three-story Hotel Union burned in the late 1940s. [3/1/2019 — See first link for an update on the Wilson Biltmore.]
M. Jones, 1209 East Queen Street — The 1941 Wilson city directory does not list an M. Jones at 1209 East Queen Street, nor an M. Jones who is a taxi driver.
The 1948 Green Book lists the same three businesses in Wilson. Odd.
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 Bullock, Henry 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.