real estate

Mahala Artis’ property.

Mahala Artis lived in a house on Goldsboro Street, owned by George H. and Elizabeth P. Griffin. After Griffin died in 1881, and the property went into default, trustee H.G. Connor advertised it and Griffin’s carriage and wagon factory for sale.

Wilson Advance, 21 December 1883.

Eleven years later, Artis’ own property was advertised for sale for non-payment of taxes.  Artis was on her way out of Wilson, however, and in 1899 sold her lot at the corner of Green and Pender Streets to Samuel H. Vick.

Wilson Advance, 22 March 1894.

Vick is land-poor.

Baltimore Afro-American, 9 May 1931.

We have seen that on a single day in 1935, during the depths of the Great Depression, Samuel and Annie Washington Vick lost nearly all their real property to, in essence, foreclosure. This article in the Baltimore Afro-American, which carries a faint whiff of schadenfreude, reveals some of the financial pressures that lead to the collapse of their economic empire.

Attention, Colored People! Houses for sale!

Wilson Daily Times, 7 December 1944.


Wilson has a Woodard Avenue (which runs parallel to Hines Street in East Wilson) and a Woodard Street (which runs parallel to College Street for several blocks between Pine Street and Raleigh Road Parkway.) There is no 600 block of Woodard Avenue. The 600 block of Woodard Street is between Whitehead and Rountree Streets — now squarely on Barton College’s campus — and the site of 610 is roughly under the Barton football stadium’s southwestern endzone. As this area of Wilson was a primarily white residential area, the 600 block may have contained a pocket “colored” cluster such as that found at nearby Pine and Lee Streets. However, the 1941 city directory  shows the block as solidly white.

A good bargain for some thrifty colored person.

Wilson Daily Times, 4 November 1944.

Residential segregation did not happen organically. By the early 1900s, specific areas of Wilson were designated colored (white was default), and realtors like George A. Barfoot sold the houses within them accordingly. (Barfoot, C.C. Powell, and other white realtors came to own large swaths of housing in East Wilson as a result of wide-scale loan defaults by Black property owners during the Depression.) By the 1920s, several pockets of African-American settlement west of the A.C.L. railroad and north of Hines Street were deliberately cleared to make way for upscale white neighborhoods, creating strict residential segregation patterns that held for much of the rest of the 20th century.

A rare opportunity to rent.

In 1881, Rufus Wright Edmundson ran an ad in the Wilson Advance for the lease of a house on a seven-acre lot on the east corner of Vance and Pender Streets. Wilson’s segregated residential patterns had not yet set, and Edmundson was able to extol the virtues of the parcel to white potential renters. East Wilson’s rapid development is hinted at in the notice — “all nearly new as premises were in original forest seven years ago.” Soon, Vance Street would become the southern edge of white settlement in East Wilson, and Edmundson’s property would be developed for the town’s newly emerging African-American middle class.

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Wilson Advance, 16 December 1881.

The demise of Grabneck, pt. 2.

The sentiment prevailing in 1924, as expressed in the Wilson Daily Times, bears repeating:

“The history of this Grab Neck property is interesting. Four years ago there were in this locality a number of small houses, that stood in the way of the progress of the city, and Mr. Roscoe Briggs put up the money in order to remove this obstacle.”

The 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson’s West Nash Street corridor makes this obstacle plain:

At the end of the 19th century and through World War II, Wilson’s tobacco barons and other wealthy businessmen and professionals lined blocks of Nash west of downtown with fine homes in a variety of architectural styles. By 1920, several blocks away, just beyond city limits, developers laid out West End Park in a tidy grid of new streets, including West End, Kincaid and Clyde Avenues. Between these neighborhoods, like a foot wedged in a door, was a large uncharted expanse whose few tiny clapboard houses clustered in the 1100 block of Nash. Who owned this land?

By and large, one family — the children and grandchildren of Daniel and Jane Best.

The Bests and their small houses were standing in the way of Wilson’s westward progress, and Briggs bought them out. On 27 March 1920, he did business with four sets of Bests:

  • from Clinton and Minnie Best [who preferred the spelling “Bess”] for $4250, Briggs bought three lots in Grabneck adjoining other Bests, Leah Holloway, U.H. Cozart, Tobe Barnes and Henry Barnes. (Deed book 125, page 62)
  • from Orren and Hancy Best, for $5000, Briggs bought “all of the land owned by Orren Best in Grabneck,” two lots on Nash Road adjoining Jeff Holloway and Frank and Noah Best (Deed book 125, page 64)
  • from Frank and Mamie Best, in exchange for a house to be built in Griffin Hill by John H. Griffin, Briggs purchased one lot.  (Deed book 125, page 65)
  • from Noah Best, for $8250, Briggs bought four lots. (Deed book 125, page 65)

These sales set the stage for the auction described in the Times article, but there were still some holdouts. The red arrow on the Sanborn map indicates this one-story dwelling at 1105 Nash:

It was the home of Wilson and Ada Best. In October 1925, they finally relented, accepting $4000 from H.W. and Margaret Abbitt for their 66 by 200-foot lot on Nash Street.

The Abbitts quickly tore down the Bests’ little frame house, and in 1926 erected an impressive Colonial Revival residence. The 1930 Sanborn fire insurance map shows how quickly developers moved into the area vacated by the Bests.  On the northeast side of West Nash Street, a sinuous extension of Vance Street was cut through, and houses sprang up along West Cone and West Gold.

On the southeast side, all of the Bests’ houses were razed to make room for the muscular brick showplaces of white Wilson’s elite.

Grabneck was gone.

The Abbitt house, 1105 West Nash Street.

Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, April 2018.