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500 East Green Street, update.

This two-story house at the heart of East Wilson Historic District likely is not long for this world.

As detailed here, J.D. and Eleanor Frederick Reid built this two-story dwelling at 600 East Green about 1922, the year after the Commercial Bank, for which Reid was vice-president and principal promoter, opened. 

In 1945, the Reids sold the house to the Redemptorist Fathers of North Carolina, who converted it into a convent for the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the African-American order whose nuns taught at Saint Alphonsus Catholic School.

The Redemptorist Fathers held the house until 1969, then they sold it to private owners? and it began its steep slide. The city of Wilson condemned 600 East Green in 1977, but took no further action against it. In 1990, the city repealed the condemnation order to allow a new owner to rehabilitate it. This Daily Times article described plans for its renovation, and Roderick Taylor Jr. described a little of its history.

Wilson Daily Times, 26 December 1990.

In 1994, Oxford House, a living facility for recovering addicts, took over in the space. I have not been able to determine how long it remained open. It is clear, though, that the Reid house/nunnery has been vacant and moldering for much of this century. Since I photographed it in 2016, it has lost the midsection of fascia and soffit above the upper floor and the front porch ceiling has begun to collapse.

Negro cabins.

In 1914, Atlantic Coast Realty prepared a plat map showing the subdivision of Martin Applewhite’s Toisnot township farm into five parcels. The map shows the buildings on the property, in a “large house,” barns, and various dwellings, including two “Negro cabins.”

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Plat book 1, page 18, Register of Deeds Office, Wilson. (Sidenote: some of these hand-drawn plat maps really are things of beauty.)

The most blighted fraction.

In the early 1970s, Maury and neighboring streets, already hemmed in on one side by the railroad, were further cut off from the fabric of the larger community by the construction of Hines Street extension and the towering Carl B. Renfro Overpass. In the unselfconscious lingo of the early 1980s, the Wilson Daily Times described the neighborhood bounded by Gay, Stemmery, Pender and the railroad as “the most blighted fraction of the Wilson ghetto.”

The article focuses on the city’s efforts to eliminate blighted housing (“more often than not, … stem[ming] from the landlords’ greed”) and provide adequate public housing for its poorest citizens. Interviews of some residents offer stark testimony about the deterioration of many houses in the neighborhood, some already more than a half-century old.

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Wilson Daily Times, 24 October 1981.

Close-up of photograph of shotgun houses facing Pender Street, near Stemmery Street. All were demolished in the mid-1980s.

A related article in the same issue of the Daily Times highlighted successes of the Wilson Department of Community Development, which, via a multi-million-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, offered grants and low-interest loans to homeowners to improve their property.

Thirty-seven years after its rehab, this house at 309 Elba has relapsed into serious disrepair. 

For sale in the colored section.

In the late 1940s, the Wilson Daily Times regularly ran classified ads for housing restricted to African-American tenants and buyers. The realty companies that placed the advertisements below were white-owned.

The lot Cecil B. Lamm & Co. was hawking lay in the Vicksburg Manor subdivision, land once owned by Samuel H. Vick.

Wilson Daily Times, 19 February 1946.

Realtor George A. Barfoot sought to unload houses to both homeowners and investors.

Wilson Daily Times, 19 August 1947.

J.E Miles offered building lots across East Wilson. (Where was Stronach Avenue?)

Wilson Daily Times, 9 December 1948.

George A. Barfoot, who was the major player in East Wilson real estate sales in this period, advertised what appears to be the short sale of 706 East Viola. Realtor Hugh S. Sheppard showcased a more modest offering, a two-room house near Export Leaf Tobacco Company, which was at 601 South Goldsboro Street.

Wilson Daily Times, 15 August 1949.

A Woodard plantation.

Headed east from Wilson toward Saratoga and Greenville, this house stood just beyond city limits near the fork of Highways 91/264 Alternate and 58. It was set back perhaps 75 yards from the road on the left. I took these photos circa 1990; the house was demolished about a decade later. I was informed by a knowledgeable source that the dwelling was built circa 1832 by William Woodard, but it does not match the description of Woodard’s house in Ohno’s Architectural Heritage book or in the Woodard Family Rural Historic District nomination form. Though its ownership is unclear, there is no doubt that this home dates several decades before the Civil War and anchored a plantation worked by enslaved people.

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Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson; aerial image courtesy of Google Maps.

Green Street, today.

As my father put it, all the “big dogs” lived on Green Street. The 600 block, which ran between Pender and Elba Streets, two blocks east of the railroad that cleaved town, was home to much of Wilson’s tiny African-American elite. There, real estate developers, clergymen, doctors, undertakers, educators, businessmen, and craftsmen built solid, two-story Queen Annes that loomed over the surrounding neighborhood.  Here were early 20th-century East Wilson’s movers and shakers; Booker T. Washington slept here.

The north side of Green Street as depicted in a 1922 Sanborn map.

By my childhood, however, a half-century into its reign, Green Street had slipped. Wilson’s small but growing black middle class was building ranch houses further west, and Green was home to, if not working class renters, then dowagers struggling to stay on top of the maintenance costs imposed by multi-gabled roofs; oversized single-paned windows; and wooden everything. Still, Green Street’s historical aura yet shimmered, and a drive down the block elicited pride and wonder.

In 1988, East Wilson, with Green Street its jewel, was nominated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Every house on the block depicted above was characterized as “contributing,” and the inventory list contained brief descriptions of the dwellings and their owners. Historic status, though, could not keep the wolves from the door. Even as the city’s Historic Properties Commission was wrapping up its work, East Wilson was emerging as an early victim of that defining scourge of the late 1980s — rock cocaine. As vulnerable old residents died off — or were whisked to safer quarters — crackheads and dealers sought refuge and concealment in the empty husks that remained. Squatters soiled their interiors and pried siding from the exteriors to feed their fires. One went ablaze, and then another, and repair and reclamation seemed fruitless undertakings.

This is the north side of Green Street now. Facing east toward Carroll Street, the left edge of the frame is just west of #605. There is not another house until you get to #623.  They are gone. The homes of Hardy Tate and C.E. Artis, of the Hines brothers, of Dr. Barnes, of Charlie Thomas, of Rev. Davis. Abandoned. Taken over. Burned up. Torn down. Gone.

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These four houses (##603, 605, 623 and 625) and a church at the corner of Elba are all that remain of the buildings shown in the 1922 Sanborn map above.

Photograph taken by Lisa Y. Henderson, October 2013.

722 East Green Street.

The twenty-seventh 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 East Wilson Historic District: “ca. 1935. 1 story. Sidney Boatwright house; brick-veneered Tudor Revival cottage; Boatwright was a barber.”

304 North Reid Street.

The sixth 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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The East Wilson Historic District nomination form does not reveal much about 304 North Reid Street: “ca. 1930; bungalow with gable-end form; fanlight in gable; probably built as rental property; contributing garage.”

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County, the house at 304 North Reid was occupied by three lodgers: Carrie Melton, William Nunn and Beatrice Jones.

Hattie Henderson Ricks and family moved into the house shortly thereafter and remained into the early 1950s. Of her time in the house, she said: And on Reid Street, Jesse Knight was in the house on this side. On that side there, a fellow that worked out to the hospital. He got married and his wife moved in there. She didn’t stay in there no time, and then somebody else moved in there.

Photograph taken circa 1982 by Lisa Y. Henderson; interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Henderson, all rights reserved.