Smith Street

The death of Mattie Merritt.

Wilson Daily Times, [16?] January 1923.


In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: Fannie Meritt, 53, widow, washing; daughter Martha, 35, washing; boarder Tom Deanes, 31, preacher; and lodgers William Kiterrel, 34, tobacco stemmer, and Willey Williams, 37, day laborer.

In the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Merritt Martha A (c) laundress h 121 N Railroad

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: laundress Fannie Merritt, 58, widow, and daughter Marthy, 40.

Fannie Merritt died 21 April 1915 in Wilson, Wilson County. Per her death certificate, she was 67 years old; was born in N.C. to Bailum Bess and Millie Jones; and was a widow. Mattie Merritt was informant.

Mattie Merritt died 16 January 1923 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 60 years old; was born in Duplin County, N.C., to John Middleton and Fannie Best; was single; worked as a laundress; and lived on Smith Street. Cause of death: “Heart trouble stated to us. Found dead in her room had not been sick. No doctor in attendance.” Richard Best of Warsaw, N.C., was informant.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

517, 519 and 521 Smith Street.

Wilson Daily Times, 23 September 1985.

I offer the photo above not for the East Nash Street parking lot ribbon-cutting, but for the rare view of three early 20th-century houses on Smith Street. Smith Street is not located in the East Wilson Historic District, nor was its single block included in the Wilson Central Business-Tobacco Warehouse District, though it lies just behind East Nash and Pettigrew Streets. Its mid-section once densely packed with working-class housing, Smith Street is now completely cleared.

A 1922 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson shows that the first two houses are 517 and 519 Smith Street (formerly Zion Alley). The house at right, 521, does not appear and was built between 1922 and 1928.

(The parking lot was built on the site of houses and shops at 527, 529, 531, and 533 East Nash Street and 514 and 516 Smith Street.)

The 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists domestic Lula Hill at 517; domestic Jane Taylor at 519; and cook Minnie Smith at 521.

In the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 517 Smith Street, renting for $10/month, widow Emma Bissette, 30, and lodgers Mattie Coleman, 22, and John Harington, 34. At 521 Smith, at $16/month, widow Minnie Smith, 37, cook, and lodgers Elnora Norflet, 24, laundress; Davie Shoulders, 26, painter; and Alfreter, 6, and William E. Norflet, 4.

Samuel H. Vick owned 517 and 519 Smith Street and lost them with dozens of other parcels of land in a forced sale in April 1935.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 517 Smith Street, renting at $9/month, Ardelia Currie, 66, washing; son Garfield McMillan, 53, farm delivery for retail grocer; roomer Albert McPhail, 21, dishwasher at the Elite Cafe; granddaughter Ardelia McWorsins(?), 26, maid; and roomer Sara Gregory, 24, laborer. At 521 Smith, renting at $10/month, Luther Newsome, 50; wife Helen, 30; and children Mildred, 15, Beulah, 13, Luther, 1, and Donnell, 2 months.

In 1942, Elex [Alex] Currie registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 30 May 1898 in Robeson County, N.C.; lived at 517 Smith Street, Wilson; was an unemployed odd jobs laborer; and his nearest relative was Ardelia Currie, 517 Smith Street.

Ardelia Wearring died 13 July 1943 at Mercy Hospital, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 29 years old; was born in Robeson County, N.C., to Garfield Mills and Alice McCary; was married to Sam Wearring; lived at 517 Smith Street; and was buried in Rountree cemetery.

Ardelia Currie died 23 August 1943 in Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was 60 years old; was born in Robeson County, N.C., to Hardy Curwell and Laura Jane Smith; worked as a laundress; was widowed; and lived at 517 Smith Street. She was buried in Rest Haven Cemetery, and Alex Currie was informant.

The 1947-48 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory lists factory worker Rosa Hicks at 517 Smith; Victoria Lane at 519; and Jack and Addie Vail at 521. Vail operated a grocery store at 315 Elba Street.

An auctioneer advertised 521 Smith Street for sale in the spring of 1948.

Wilson Daily Times, 16 April 1948.

Wilson Daily Times, 17 July 1958.

The 500 block, 1930.

Sanborn fire insurance map, Wilson, N.C., 1930.

As a supplement to this post, here is an excerpt of the 1930 Sanborn fire insurance map of Wilson detailing town’s Black business district. Though the northeast side of the 500 block of East Nash Street was almost completely commercial, the southwest side was largely residential. Segregation was in full effect at the time, but several white merchants operated businesses catering to African-American clientele, and one, Jesse Verser, lived on the block (around the corner from his Stantonsburg Street grocery.)

Detail of the Sanborn map showing several tenant houses on the west end of Smith Street, the tightly packed commercial buildings on Nash, Verser’s home at 504, and the sole freestanding two-story house on the north side of Nash at 529. Notice, behind 509, a garage (marked A) and toilets (marked WC). There were also garages behind 511 (with nearby gasoline tank) and 513-515. Several of the businesses were owned by native whites or Lebanese immigrants, and there was even a Chinese laundry.

Nash Street

  • 500 — Gatlin Amos J & Co (Amos J Gatlin, Jas P Gatlin) gros 500 E Nash
  • 501 — Maynard’s Market (Geo W Maynard) gros 501 E Nash and 401 Stantonsburg
  • 502 — vacant
  • 503 — Barnes Rachel G (c) restr 503 E Nash r 1118 E Nash
  • 504 — Verser Jesse W (Frances) gro 100 Stantonsburg h 504 E Nash; Verser Bettie (wid Jesse W) h 504 E Nash
  • 505 — Barnes John (c; Rachel) barber 505 E Nash h 1118 do [ditto]
  • 506 — Wah Jung Laundry (Yee G Wah) 506 E Nash
  • 507 — Ziady Jos gro 507 E Nash h 107 E Pettigrew
  • 508 — Service Barber Shop (c) (Ernest A Artis) 508 E Nash
  • 509 — vacant
  • 509 1/2 — Stokes Thos (c; Babe) fish 509 1/2 E Nash h 615 W Wiggins
  • 510 — vacant
  • 511 — Lupe Peter (c) shoe shiner 511 E Nash h do
  • 512 — Braswell Ezekiel (c; Mary E) restr 512 E Nash h 1118 1/2 do
  • 513 — vacant
  • 514 — Lesley Samuel G (c; Lillian) tailor 514 E Nash h 802 Robeson
  • 515 — vacant
  • 517 — Moore John H (c; Armincie) shoe repr 517 E Nash h 1113 Atlantic
  • 519 — Phillips Chas (Minnie A) bicycle repr 519 E Nash h 410 Herring
  • 521 — Smith Preston (c; Minnie) clothes presser and clnr 521 E Nash h 314 Stantonsburg 
  • 523 — Wooten W L Co, H Paul Yelverton pres, Jesse W Thomas v-pres, Wm L Wooten sec-treas, furn 523 E Nash
  • 525 — Thomas Chas S (c; S Blanche) barber 525 E Nash h 719 E Nash
  • 527 — Phillips Wm H (c; Rena) dentist 527 E Nash h do; Shade’s Pharmacy (c) (Isaac A Shade) 527 E Nash
  • 529 — Coppedge Sarah (c) factory hd h 529 E Nash

Smith Street

  • 506 — Johnson Wm (c; Lula) lab h 506 Smith; Johnson Wm J (c) lab 506 Smith
  • 508 — vacant
  • 510 — Reaves Robert (c; Daisie) lab 510 Smith
  • 514 — Lee Addie (c) factory hd h 514 Smith 

The transition from commercial to residential on the south side of the street. 526 is the Hotel Orange, a boarding house run by Mattie B. Coleman.

Nash Street

  • 516 — vacant
  • 518 — no listing
  • 520 — Dixon Lenora G (c) billiards 520 E Nash h 611 do
  • 522 — Atkinson Henry (c) shoe repr
  • 524 — Gilliam Matthew S (c; Annie L) phys 524 E Nash h 805 do
  • 524 — Howard Mary (c) lndrs h 524 E Nash
  • 526 — Coleman Mattie B (c) h 526 E Nash
  • 528 — Bowser Sarah L (c) smstrs h 528 E Nash
  • 530 — Stokes Turner (c) carp h 530 E Nash

Mid-block, two multi-story buildings dominated — the Whitley Hotel and the Odd Fellows lodge hall. The Odd Fellows building featured commercial space at street-level and the Globe Theatre above. 

Nash Street

  • 531 — Swindell Deborah (c) hair drsr 531 E Nash h 630 Suggs
  • 533 — Taylor Bertha (c) dom h 533 E Nash
  • 535 — Najim Geo candy mfr 535 E Nash h 107 S Pettigrew 
  • 537 — Lucas William T (Sallie) gro 537 E Nash h 216 N Railroad
  • 539 — no listing
  • 541 — Whitley Hotel (c) (Maggie A Whitley) 541 E Nash; Marshall Lodge IBPOE
  • 543 — Jones Luther J (c; Lula) restr 543 E Nash h 712 Hadley
  • 545 — Ford Cleaners (Herbert H and Alf J Ford jr) 545 E Nash
  • 547 — Am Legion, Henry Ellis Post (c); IOOF, Hannibal Lodge, No 552 (c) 
  • 549 — Fahad Kattar billiards 549 E Nash h 313 N Pine
  • 551 — Rutherford Geo (c; Maggie B) restr 551 E Nash h 1200 Queen

Smith Street

  • 516 — Britt Mamie (c) factory hd h 516 Smith 
  • 518 — Ray Neil (c; Annie) junk 518 Smith h do
  • 526 — Gay Wm (c) lab h 526 Smith

In the eastern third of the block, the south side of the street was almost entirely residential. Ideal Pharmacy and First Baptist Church dominated the north side.

Nash Street

The final stretch of the south side of the 500 block, all commercial.

Nash Street

  • 550 — vacant
  • 552 — Alston Robt T (c) watch repr 552 E Nash h [ditto]
  • 554 — Baxter & Co (Herman C Baxter, Jas F Downing) gros 554 E Nash

Stantonsburg Street [now Pender]

  • 100 — Verser Jesse W (Frances) gro 100 Stantonsburg h 504 E Nash

I confess surprise that, as late as 1930, the entire 100 block of South Pettigrew was an all-white residential street.

South Pettigrew Street

  • 107 — Ziady Jos gro 507 E Nash h 107 S Pettigrew
  • 109 — Hawley Geneva Mrs h 109 S Pettigrew
  • 111 — vacant
  • 113 — Nordan J Herman (Kath) lab h 113 Pettigrew
  • 115 — vacant
  • 117 — Hinnant Geo W (Mary A) projectionist Lincoln Theatre h 117 S Pettigrew; Robinson Sarah E (wid John R) h 117 S Pettigrew
  • 119 — Brown Edgar (Mamie) woodwkr Hackney Bros Body Co h 119 S Pettigrew
  • 121 — Bradberry Cora O hlpr 121 S Pettigrew; Bradberry Geo F pntr Hackney Bros Body Co h 121 S Pettigrew; Bradberry Luther farmer h 121 S Pettigrew

Smith and Church Streets, today.

Smith and Church are narrow streets running parallel to Nash Street between Pettigrew and Pender Streets. By the 1930s, both were densely packed with working class housing, mostly wooden double shotguns, as shown on the 1930 Sanborn fire insurance map.

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By the 1980s, these blocks had developed grim reputations, and today they are, essentially, vacant. There are no remaining houses on Smith Street and only three on Church. 507 Church Street, shown below just to the left of the word “Church,” is clearly visible above as a long, narrow shotgun house.

Aerial view of Smith and Church Streets in 2017, courtesy of Mapquest.

Smith Street in July 2016, looking west toward Pettigrew Street, with the Cherry Hotel looming on the horizon.

Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson.