neighborhood

Lost ‘hoods, no. 2.

“The Atlantic Coastline Railroad tracks separated a black and a white world almost. And then there was Hines Street that wasn’t a connector in those days, but just a street. And there was Daniel Hill, where colored people lived. Then there were six houses between Lee and Gold Streets close to the city lot where black people lived. And Mercer Street in Five Points was all black. There were two ice companies near the railroad tracks and one area was called ‘Happy Hills’ where a few blacks lived. ‘Green Hill’ near the other ice company was a white neighborhood. Except for the above-mentioned, I don’t know of one black family that lived beyond the tracks. But I’m not saying there might not have been a few isolated cases. But Daniel Hill was where 99 percent of the black population lived anywhere on the west side of Wilson.” — Roy Taylor, My City, My Home (1991).

The 1930 edition of Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory reflects the full flower of segregated Wilson, with street after street east of the railroad occupied entirely by African-American households in patterns still easily recognized today. However, here and there clusters of houses appear at unfamiliar locations, either because the streets themselves have disappeared or because we have lost collective memory of these blocks as black neighborhoods.

Here are a few more:

  • Banks Alley

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I’ve been unable to locate this street.

  • West Lee Street

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An earlier post explored the small African-American settlement that coalesced around Lee and Pine Streets by the turn of the twentieth century. By 1930, this community had contracted to three small duplexes on Lee Street and half-a-dozen around the corner on Pine.

1922 Sanborn fire insurance map, Wilson.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 202 Lee Street, paying $16/month rent, Willie Walter, 21, odd jobs laborer; wife Lulu, 15, servant; and roomer Novella Townsend, 25, laundress. Also [in the other half of the duplex], paying $16/month, cook Mamie Nord, 47, and her son Rufus J., 21, odd jobs laborer. At 204 Lee Street, paying $16/month: laundress Lizzie Larry, 49; Maude Lofty, 100; Lizzie’s daughter Anabel Larry, 28, and her sons John H., 12, and M.C., 13. Also, paying $16/month, Jasper Thigpen, 47, transfer truck driver; wife Dora, 33; and daughter Allie, 16.

  • North Pine Street

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 405 Pine Street, paying $10/month rent, Adele Matthews, 42, laundress, and Sarah McMullen, 23, laundress. Also [in the other half of the duplex], paying $10/month, odd jobs laborer David Sanders, 35, and wife Carry, 44, laundress. At 407 Pine Street, paying $12/month: servant Ella Pulley, 30. Also, paying $12/month, Egarber Barnes, 24, jail attendant, and wife Nanny, 25, laundress. At 409 Pine Street, paying $12/month, practical nurse Lizzie Bullock, 70; and children Ernest, 43, house painter, Obert, 33, hotel cook, and Gertrude, 35, laundress. Also, paying $12/month, truck gardener Charlie Moye, 29, and Edward Williams, 53, farm laborer. At 411 Pine Street, paying $10/month, greenhouse gardener Windsor Ellis, 41; wife Rachel, 34; and children dry goods store janitor Douglas, 20, John H., 10, and Elaine, 5; and lodger Fred Moye, 26, café cook.

  • South Street

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In 1930, the east and west ends of South Street were largely home to commercial and industrial outfits. The middle block, however, the 300s, housed in uncomfortably close quarters a stone cuttery, a couple of black families, the black Episcopal church, and a notorious whorehouse.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 304 East South Street, high school janitor Joseph Battle, 80; wife Gertrude, 42; and daughter Clara, 22; and five boarders, Earnest Heath, 24, cook; James Pettiford, 36, barber; Robert McNeal, 23, servant; Essie M. Anderson, 18, servant; and Viola McLean, 24, “sick.” At 306 East South: tobacco factory laborer William Barnes, 28; wife Loretta H., 23; and brother Charles Barnes, 22, servant. At 309 East South, widow Mattie H. Paul, no occupation.

Karl Fleming wrote of “veteran madams” Mallie Paul and Betty Powell, who operated Wilson’s “two twenty-dollar whorehouses,” “sexual emporia [that] had operated for at least thirty years [by the late 1940’s] … situated in similar two-story wood houses near each other just behind the tobacco warehouse district.” Though Fleming curled his lip, Roy Taylor fairly gushed about Paul: “One sight that got my attention, along with everyone else’s in the area when it occurred, was the march of Mallie Paul and her girls from their home on South Street, to women’s stores downtown to purchase clothing, cosmetics, and other necessities. And those women were beautiful! … There would be 10 or 12 of them walking leisurely toward the hotel from Douglas Street, then turning on Nash. …”

Most of Wilson’s tobacco warehouses succumbed to arson in the final decade and a half of the last century, and the 300 block of South Street is entirely industrial.

  • Taylor Street and Taylor’s Avenue

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  • Wiggins Street

This entire street is gone, cleared for the extension of Hines Street over the railroad tracks (via Carl B. Renfro Bridge) to connect with Nash Street a few blocks west of highway 301 as roughly shown below.

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1922 Sanborn fire insurance map, Wilson.

Lost ‘hoods, no. 1.

The 1930 edition of Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory reflects the full flower of segregated Wilson, with street after street east of the railroad occupied entirely by African-American households in patterns still easily recognized today. However, here and there clusters of houses appear at unfamiliar locations, either because the streets themselves have disappeared or because we have lost collective memory of these blocks as black neighborhoods.

Here are a few:

  • New Grabneck

Was Grabneck the same as New Grabneck? I’m not sure of the location of either.

  • Pecan Road

Pecan Rd 1930

There is no Pecan Road in Wilson, though there is a Pecan Court off Kincaid Avenue in the approximate neighborhood of Pecan Road.

  • Oil Mill Alley

Oil Mill Alley, oft-cited in Daily Times‘ crime beat columns, lay in the shadow of the fertilizer plant at the edge of the large cotton oil mill complex on Stemmery Street. It no longer exists.

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  •   Parkers Alley

Parkers Alley, then known as Vicks Alley, is clearly shown in the 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson as a small lane bordered by five small single-family dwellings and two duplexes.

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To my amazement, Parkers Alley, now Parker Lane, still runs southeast from South Douglas Street, as shown in this Google Maps screenshot:

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  • Young’s Alley

Young’s Alley is gone, likely lost to the urban renewal projects that reshaped Daniel Hill in the 1960s. On the 1922 Sanborn map of Wilson, it is labeled Townsend Alley.

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Today, West Spruce no longer intersects South Bruton, and the former Young’s Alley — designated as a red diagonal below — cuts through the middle of a large block bounded by South Bruton, West Hines, Warren and Walnut Streets.

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Little Richmond?

In 1895, Richmond Maury Tobacco Company of Danville, Virginia, purchased a site at the south corner of South Railroad and Stemmery (then Taylor) Streets and erected a five-story frame building. (The original building burned in 1920 and was replaced by a three-story building in 1922.) Richmond Maury operated a tobacco stemmery here, a facility in which the stem of a cured tobacco leaf was stripped prior to processing for packing and shipping. In 1896, Maury sold the plant to Tobacco Warehousing Trading Company of Virginia, which retained the Richmond Maury name. The stemmery employed scores of African-Americans, and a 9 January 1896 article in the Wilson Advance asserted that three or four hundred people had shown up at a labor call. The factory needed experienced hands, however, and brought in workers from Virginia to fill its needs. This influx of laborers had to be housed, and in June 1896 the Wilson Daily Times reported approvingly on Richmond Maury’s plans for a mill village called “Little Richmond.”

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Wilson Daily Times, 11 June 1896.

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Sanborn map, Wilson, North Carolina, December 1897.

Over the next four months, the company brought in more than one hundred factory hands by train.

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Wilson Daily Times, 14 August 1896.

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Wilson Daily Times, 16 October 1896.

The boosterish mood quickly faded, however. Just two weeks after “a car load of 50 negroes” from Lynchburg arrived, the editor of the Times complained that Little Richmond was already a “young hell” well on its way to ruining Wilson’s reputation: “We stand and wonder at each outrage and think, well perhaps this is the climax — but instead it gets worse.” He attributed a swelling crime rate to the influx of African-Americans drawn by Wilson’s tobacco boom and urged immediate intervention.

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Wilson Daily Times, 30 October 1896.

Richmond Maury got the hint. Blaming the problem on “outsiders” raising ruckuses, it hired a personal prosecutor to make sure that all Little Richmond residents charged with crimes felt the heavy hand of justice.

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Wilson Advance, 11 March 1897.

Here’s Colonel Bruton in action:

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Wilson Advance, 11 March 1897.

Seven months later, the cutting and shooting continued unchecked.

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Wilson Daily Times, 15 October 1897.

A month later, the Wilson Advance described “the Little Richmond Negroes” as workers bought from Danville, Lynchburg and other old tobacco centers to work in Wilson’s new stemmeries. The paper had no suggestions for dealing with this “source of annoyance.”

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Wilson Advance, 11 November 1897.

Thirteen years later, Little Richmond remained a disagreeable locale to many, as indicated by concerns raised over the possible placement of passenger rail station in the neighborhood.

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Wilson Daily Times, 24 June 1910.

So just where was Little Richmond? (Editor’s note: I’d never heard of it.) Though the landscape is much changed, the basic street grid is not, and the section is not hard to find.

Little Richmond

What’s there now? Not much. The houses of Little Richmond were clustered along Railroad Street, the north side of Stemmery and across the tracks on Layton and Wayne Streets. Few remain, and none on Railroad or Stemmery. (The sole set of cottages left on Stemmery date from a later period.) On-line aerial maps show the factory that replaced Richmond Maury, but they are outdated. The buildings were demolished in 2013.

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