Mercer Street

919 Mercer Street.

This house is not within the bounds of East Wilson Historic District. However, the blocks of Mercer Street southwest of the Norfolk & Southern Railroad lines have been an African-American residential area since the early twentieth century.

Now numbered 919, it appears that this house was numbered 915 Mercer Street until the late 1930’s.

The 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists laborer Thomas Hatcher and wife Estelle at 915 Mercer, as well as James Hatcher.

The 1930 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists farmer James Richardson and wife Henrietta at 915 Mercer.

In April 1935, Samuel and Annie M. Vick lost 915 Mercer Street and more than one hundred other houses and lots at auction.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 919 Mercer, paying $8.50/month in rent, James Watson, 29, ditcher on a sewage project; wife Golden, 30, worker on stemmer machine at redrying plant; and children Earnestine, 11, Bessie Jean, 4, and Lucy Gray, 1. The family had lived in Kenly, N.C., in 1935.

In 1940, James Watson registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 26 December 1909 in Johnston County; lived at 919 Mercer Street; his contact was wife Golden Watson; and he worked for Imperial Tobacco, Barnes Street.

In 1941, Johnnie Clay Jones registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 23 April 1920 in Kenly, N.C.; lived at 117 South Pettigrew Street; his contact was Golden Watson, 119 [sic] Mercer Street; and he worked as a laborer for Williams Lumber Company.

The 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists laborer James Watson, wife Golden, and four unnamed others at 919 Mercer.

On 19 April 1941, the Wilson Daily Times listed Willie Brown of 919 Mercer Street as a recipient of a questionnaire from the local draft board.

In 1944, Rev. Chester B. Beamon, pastor of nearby Trinity A.M.E. Zion church, lived at 919 Mercer Street, where he lead an adult education night school and a leadership training organization. The Beamons were likely renters, as Beamon and wife Louise were listed at 904 Mercer in the 1947 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, and shortly after left Wilson for a new pastorate.

Wilson Daily Times, 20 March 1944.

Tobacco worker Frank Lassiter and his wife Settie are listed at 919 Mercer in the 1947 directory. The Lassiter family remained in the house through Frank Lassiter’s death in 1972 and Settie Sanders Lassiter‘s in 1981.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, April 2021.

S.H. Vick’s Winona subdivision.

“Winona, a suburb of Wilson, N.C.” Deed book 68, page 457, Wilson County Register of Deeds.

In 1905, Samuel H. Vick filed a plat map for the subdivision of a parcel of land he owned along Mercer Street. Assuming Mercer Street follows its present course (the street was outside city limits until the mid-1920s), this appears to be the stretch west of Hominy Swamp. There’s no Daniels Mill Road in the area though, and the parallel Wells Alley and unnamed street do not match up with modern features. However, if you flip the map upside down to view it per the compass designation at top center, the landscape falls into place. Daniels Mill Road, then, is modern-day Fairview Avenue.

Below, on an inverted Google Maps image, I’ve traced modern Mercer Street and Fairview Avenue in red. In dotted yellow, the probable course of Wells Alley, which seems to track a line of trees that runs along the back edge of the lots facing Mercer, and the short crooked unnamed street that apparently never was cut through.

The cursive note added at upper left of the plat map says: “See Book 72 pp 527 et seq perfecting title to these lots.” At bottom left: “Lots 100 ft in debth [sic] & 50 ft in width except lots 23, 24, 25, 33, 61, 57, 58, 59, 60, & lots 1 and 2.”

A few of the 85 lots are inscribed with surnames, presumably of their purchasers: #46 Bynum, #48 Johnson, #53 Melton. In addition, lots 17, 19, 20 and 22 appear to be inscribed with the initials J.H. The 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists the home of William A. Johnson, an African-American cook, as “Mercer St w of N & S Ry.” Though imprecise, this is broadly describes the street on the map. No Melton or Bynum is similarly listed.

The 1910 census settles the matter. On “Winona Road,” restaurant cook William Johnson, 40; wife Pollie, 35, laundress; and children Mary E., 13, Willie C., 11, Winona, 4, and Henry W., 2, and dozens of African-American neighbors, mostly laborers and servants who owned their homes (subject to mortgage).

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: on Mercer Street next door to Smith Bennett and wife Mary, restaurant proprietor William Johnson, 39; wife Polly, 38; and children Wyona, 14, Margaret, 8, James, 11, and Millie, 19. Herbert and Ella Bynum owned the house on the other side, and Mollie Melton was up the street, and may have been related to the Bynum and Melton noted on the plat map.

The 1930 census reveals the house number: 910 Mercer Street, valued at the astonishing figure of $18,000. (This may well be a matter of an errant extra zero, as the 1922 Sanborn map shows a small one-story cottage at the location, which would not have commanded that sum.) Will A. Johnson, 60, worked as a cafe cook, and wife Pollie, 55, was a cook. The household included daughter Margrette Futrell, 18; infant grandson Wilbert R. Hawkins, born in Pennsylvania; widowed daughter Mary J. Thomas, 33 (noted as absent); and niece Jannie Winstead, 7.

When Sam Vick’s real estate empire collapsed in 1935, he lost three lots and houses on Mercer Street — 903, 907 and 915 — perhaps the last property he held in Winona subdivision.

816 Mercer Street.

This house is not within the bounds of East Wilson Historic District. However, the blocks of Mercer Street southwest of the Norfolk & Southern Railroad lines have been an African-American residential area since the early twentieth century.

As shown in the 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson, coming from downtown, 816 Mercer Street was the first house on the right after Hominy Swamp. (It is now at the corner of Mercer and Park Drive, but is still the first house.) The house has been updated with vinyl siding, but retains its original tin standing-seam roof.

A close-up of the sketch reveals that the odd bay window is original.

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory, at 816 Mercer, Anna Wiggins, a domestic, and at 816 Mercer (rear), laborer Archie McAlister and wife Maggie McAlister. In the 1930 directory, the house was vacant.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 816 Mercer, Ruth Lofton, 26, daywork stemmer at redrying plant; husband Benjamin, 29, storage room worker at redrying plant; niece Mary Jones, 12; children Marjorie, 7, Benjamin Jr., 6, and Herbert Lee Lofton, 4; roomer Martha Norfleet, 67, widow; mother-in-law Tincy Lofton, 56, widow, cook in-service in private home; and brother-in-law Major Lofton, 18, stemmer at redrying plant.

Benjamin Lofton registered for the World War II draft in 1940. Per his registration card, he was born 17 August 1909 in Wayne County, N.C.; lived at 816 Mercer Street; worked for Southern Tobacco Company, Wilson; and his contact was wife Ruth Britton Lofton, 816 Mercer.

The 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists Benjamin F. and Ruby B. Lofton at 816 Mercer with four others.

Major Lofton registered for the World War II draft in 1942. Per his registration card, he was born 12 December 1921 in Black Creek, N.C.; lived at 816 Mercer Street; worked for Thomas Barnes at Service Laundry, Five Points, Wilson; and his contact was mother Tincy Lofton, 816 Mercer.

The 1941 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists Samuel Hammond, a cement finisher, and wife Frances at 816 Mercer.