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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.

623 and 625 East Green Street.

The fifth 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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623 and 625 East Green Street.

In Green Street’s heyday, brothers Albert and Charles Gay inhabited these adjacent houses near the intersection of Elba Street.

In the application for inclusion of East Wilson in the National Historic Register, 623 Green Street is described: “ca. 1922. 2 story. Albert Gay house; Colonial Revival house with hip-roofed, cubic form; side lights frame entry; Gay was a porter.” 625 was described: “ca. 1913. 1 story. Charles Gay house; L-plan cottage with decorative millwork in front-facing cutaway bay; contributing auto garage; Gay was a laborer.”

Albert and Charles Gay were sons of Samuel and Alice Bryant Gay. Sam Gay, son of Amos Thigpen and Harriet Gay, married Alice Bryant, daughter of Louisa Bryant, on 10 February 1870 in Wilson. P.E. Hines performed the ceremony.

In the 1870 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Samuel Gay, 24, wife Alice, 20, and brother Albert, 21.

In the 1880 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farm worker Samuel Gay, 27, wife Allice, 25, and children Blanch, 8, Louizah, 7, Edgar, 4, Charlie, 3, and Mamie, 1 month.

On 6 November 1886, Blanch Gay, 16, married Jeff Farmer, 23, at Sam Gay’s residence. J.N. Rasberry, an A.M.E. Church South minister performed the ceremony in the presence of Sam Gay, Dallas Taylor and George Farmer.

On 29 October 1891, Louisa Gay, 18, of Wilson, daughter of Samuel and Allice Gay, married Edward Barnes, 22, of Wilson, son of Willis and Cherry Barnes of Wilson township at Sam Gay’s house. J.W. Levy, an A.M.E. Zion minister, performed the ceremony in the presence of S.H. Vick, Spencer Barnes, and Thomas Deans.

On 16 March 1898, Mamie Gay married Rev. N.D. King at Saint John’s A.M.E. Zion in Wilson. Rev. O.L.W. Smith performed the ceremony, and S.A. SmithH.H. Bryant and W.J. Moore were official witnesses. [Simeon A. Smith was Mamie’s first cousin. His father Samuel Smith was married to Alice Bryant Gay’s sister Ann Bryant Smith Blount.]

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: farmer Sam Gay, 54; wife Alice, 50; and children Charlie C., 23, Edgar B., 25, Lucy, 17, Samuel, 14, Albert and Beatrice, 10, and Lily, 4.

On 6 March 1902, C.B. Gay, 24, of Wilson, son of Sam and Alice Gay, married Ella Tate, 21, of Wilson, daughter of Hardy and Mary Tate, in Wilson. Rev. N.D. King performed the ceremony at Saint John’s A.M.E. Zion church in the presence of Rev. E.A. Mitchell, J.D. Reid and S.H. Vick.

On 25 June 1902, John H. Lewis, 22, of Wilson, son of Henry and Matilda Lewis of Tarboro, married Lucy A. Gay, 19, of Wilson, daughter of Sam and Alice Gay, at Saint John’s A.M.E. Zion Church. Rev. N.D. King performed the ceremony. John Reid applied for the license, and S.C. Ligom, C.R. Cannon and Mary Taylor witnessed.

In the 1908 Wilson city directory, Samuel Gay is listed at 620 East Green Street, which was the same lot (if perhaps an earlier house) as 623. (The numbering system changed in the early 1920s, and even numbers switched to the south side of the street.)

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Charlie Gay, 28, wife Ella, 28, and Charlie, 18 months. Next door: Samuel Gay, 65, wife Alice, 55, and children Albert, 20, and Lilly, 15. Though no street name or number is listed, it is clear that Sam and Charlie and their families were living at 623 and 625 East Green.

On 20 February 1913, Albert S. Gay, 23, of Wilson, son of Samuel and Alice Gay, married Annie B. Jacobs, 18, of Wilson, daughter of Jesse and Sarah Jacobs, in Pasquotank County, North Carolina. Rev. N.D. King performed the ceremony at his residence at 38 Bunnell Avenue, Elizabeth City. Witnesses included Albert’s sister, Mrs. Mamie R. King.

On 29 December 1913, Fred Bolling Jr., 30, of Lynchburg, Virginia, and Lillie Gay, 21, of Wilson were married by Rev. B.P. Coward at the A.M.E. Zion Church in Wilson. Camillus Darden applied for the license, and witnesses included Dr. W.A. Mitchner and Elizabeth Hinnant.

Patriarch Samuel Gay died 1 February 1919 in Wilson, Wilson County. Per his death certificate: he was 73 years old, married to Allace Gay, resided at 620 Green Street, worked as tenant farmer for W.E. Warren, and was born in Wilson County. Charley Gay was informant.

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: widow Alice Gay, 45; daughter Beatrice, 26; grandson Jerome Wood, 11; granddaughter Gereddine, 10; son Albert, 30; daughter-in-law Anabell, 24; grandsons Albert Jr., 4, and Jesse, 2; son-in-law Fredrick Bolling, 35; daughter Lillie, 23; and grandchildren Delma, 4, and Fredrick, 2. Next door: Charley Gay, 39, ice house laborer; wife Ella, 30; and sons Charlie Jr., 11, and Edgar, 7. [Thus, it is clear that after Sam’s death, Alice remained at 623 with three of her children and their families.]

Mamie Gay King died in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on 28 July 1927. She was buried in Wilson.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 623 Green, widow Annie B. Gay, 30, a laundress; husband Albert, 40, a bellboy; mother-in-law Alic, 73; and children Albert Jr., 14, Jessie, 11, Hal, 8, Samual, 6, Mirrian, 4, and Ralph, 2. The house was valued at $8000. Next door at 625: Chas. B. Gay, 52, hotel janitor, wife Ella J., 48, laundress, and children Chas. Jr., 21, bellboy, and Ednor R., 17. The house was valued at $3000.

Albert Gay died 4 October 1932 at Moore-Herring Hospital in Wilson. Per his death certificate: he was born 29 August 1889 in Wilson to Samuel Gay and Alice Bryant; was married to Annie Bell Gay; and was a bellman at Cherry Hotel for 25 years. Beatric Holden was informant. [In that segregated era, Moore-Herring was a whites-only hospital. Perhaps Albert gained admission — or, at least, treatment — because of relationships he built during his long tenure as a bellman.]

Ella Gay died 19 November 1933 in Wilson. Per her death certificate: she was 50 years old; was married to Charlie Gay; resided at 402 Reid Street, Wilson; and was born in Greenville, North Carolina, to Noah and Mary Jane Brown. Informant was Charlie Gay. [It would appear that Charles and Ella Gay lost their home at 625 East Green in the early 1930s, perhaps as a consequence of the Depression. Also, Ella’s parents were, in fact, Hardy and Mary Jane Tate.]

Alice Bryant Gay died 24 October 1938 in Wilson. Per her death certificate: she was born 1 January 1854 in Wilson County to Lousie Bryant of Goldsboro, North Carolina; was a widow; and resided at 402 North Reid Street, Wilson. Lucy Lewis of Newark, New Jersey, was informant.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 623 Green, Albert Gay, 24, truck driver for retail furniture store; and his siblings Harrell, 19, Samuel, 17, Annie M., 14, and Ralph, 12; plus lodgers Mrs. Julia Russell, 40, and her son, Albert, 22. Next door, at 625: Rev. Eddie H. Cox, 49, and wife Carrie H., 32.

Charlie Gay died 2 January 1953 at his home at 220 Pender Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate: he was born 3 April 1881 in Wilson County to Samuel Gay and Alice Bryant; he was a widower; and he had worked as a laborer. Beatrice Gay Holden, 623 Green Street, was the informant.

Samuel Gay died 13 February 1954 in Richmond, Virginia, as his residence at 2412 East Main Street. Per his death certificate: he was born 2 February 1886 in Wilson, North Carolina, to Samuel Gay and Alice (last name unknown); was married to Elizabeth Gay; and was a tobacco worker at P. Lorillard Company.

Blanch Farmer died 27 March 1959 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per her death certificate: she was born 29 July 1889 in Wilson to Samuel Gay and Alice Bryant; resided at 897 East Viola Street, Wilson; and was widowed. Goldie Ricks, 1413 East Nash Street, Wilson, was informant.

Louisa Gay Barnes died 12 June 1960 in Wilson at her home at 563 Suggs Street. Per her death certificate: she was born 10 April 1871 in Wilson County to Sam Gay and Alice Bryant and was a widow. Alice Bryant [her daughter, not mother], 653 Suggs Street, was informant.

Beatrice Gay Holden died 28 July 1967 in Wilson. Per her death certificate: she was born 29 February 1903 in Wilson County to Samuel Gay and Alice Bryant; resided at 623 East Green Street; and was the widow of Jesse Holden. Informant was Albert Gay, 623 East Green. [In fact, Beatrice was born about 1890.]

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Hattie Henderson Ricks was related to Albert Gay by marriage. Her adoptive mother and great-aunt Sarah Henderson Jacobs was the second wife of Jesse A. Jacobs Jr., Annie Bell Jacobs Gay’s father. In interview given in 1998, she told Lisa Y. Henderson this:

That was the home house — where Albert Sr. lived. And his daddy would be in the back where there was a space running back to Viola Street. Albert’s daddy – he didn’t have but one leg. I think they called him Charlie, too. [In fact, he was named Sam Gay.]

He would sit in a chair, a low chair, and take a hoe and chop all the way around him. Chop, make a wedge [inaudible] and then get up and move that chair around, get back in there. And I could see him from our house [on Elba Street] in the back over the fence, ‘cause it wasn’t a wooden fence, it was just a wire fence. See him out there working. It was right around the corner from us. Annie Bell’d hang clothes out there all the way back down in the garden where he was chopping. It was a nice garden back out there. And he got around on that peg leg. And I never knowed what happened to the leg. I didn’t never think to ask nobody. I wasn’t nosy enough to ask nobody. But ever since I can remember, didn’t have nothing but that one leg. And when you see him sitting in that chair, with a hoe, chopping as far as he could reach. And make them rows, plant seeds, dig a hole, put seeds in there. And he’d call some of ‘em to bring him this thing or that thing and all.

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This annotated portion of the 1922 Sanborn insurance map of Wilson clearly shows 623 and 625 East Green Street, as well as Annie Bell’s father’s house around the corner. On this map, 623 is marked (by a small “1” in the upper left corner of the house’s plan) as a one-story house, which supports another of Hattie H. Ricks’ recollections:

And the house, well, it hadn’t always been a two-story house. They put the top on it.

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Annie Marian Gay Hawkins, daughter of Albert S. and Annie Bell Jacobs Gay. She grew up at 623 East Green Street, and descendants of her brother Albert Jr. lived there into the 1990s.

Photograph of houses by Lisa Y. Henderson; edited excerpt of interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, copyright 1998, all rights reserved; original photo of Annie G. Hawkins in the collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.

 

House fires and lightning strikes.

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Wilson Mirror, 23 August 1893.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: mechanic Charley Barber, 41; sons Luther, 12, James, 7, John, 7, and Hubert, 5; sister Mary Tomlingson, 42, a cook, and her children Ella, 9, and Charley, 4; and boarders Turner Utley, 27, John Purkison, 31, and George Garret, 25. [Charley was described as married, but his wife is not listed. She was teacher Sallie Barber.]

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Wilson Daily Times, 23 June 1911.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: merchant Lee Moore, 36, wife Louisa, 32, and son Ernest, 12.