stonemason

The legacy of O. Nestus Freeman.

Beating me to the punch, Preservation of Wilson has compiled an inventory of the known surviving work of stonemason Oliver Nestus Freeman. Here you’ll find a photograph and brief description of each building or object, including the Round House and several residences across Wilson. Some have been highlighted in Black Wide-Awake here: 204 North Vick Street, 1115 East Nash Street, 1117 East Nash Street, 1209 East Nash Street, and 1300 East Nash Street.

Freeman constructed the stone exterior of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, 612 Vance Street NE, circa 1941.

Preservation of Wilson is an organization dedicated to the revitalization of Wilson’s architectural heritage.

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2019.

204 North Vick Street.

The 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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In the Nomination Form, this house is described as  built “ca. 1940; 1 1/2 stories; Nestus Freeman Rental House; locally unique dwelling with a small tower on the front facade and stone veneer; contributing stone fence; Freeman was a noted Wilson stonemason and businessman.”

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 204 Vick, Henry Spivey, 37, manager of cabins; wife Mary, 34; and children Louise, 15, Mary Lucile, 13, Vernell, 12, and James H., 10. Henry and the older two children were reported born in Spring Hope (Nash County), Mary in Kinston (Lenoir County), and the younger children in Wilson. The Spiveys paid $14/month rent.

In 1942, James Henry Spivey of 204 North Vick Street registered for the World War II draft in Wilson County:

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Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, February 2017; U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947 [database on-line],www.ancestry.com.

1300 East Nash Street.

The third in a series of posts highlighting buildings in East Wilson Historic District, a national historic district located at 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.

On 6 January 1920, surely in the morning, census enumerator Sam E. Clark left his home just south of downtown Wilson and turned east on Nash Street, the town’s main artery. In short order, he would have crossed the Atlantic Coast Line tracks and entered African-American Wilson’s business district in the 500 block. Passing the deep red brick tower of First Baptist Church, Clark would have returned to residential district, this one at the heart of black east Wilson. Clark may have parked his car just past Carroll Street, then dug into his satchel to pull out a fresh enumeration sheet and a fountain pen. He had arrived at Wilson city limits. Across the street, then called Saratoga Road, squatted a small bungalow — household number 1 in Enumeration District 110, Wilson township — and Clark set off on foot to tackle his task.

After briefly interviewing a resident, Clark carefully inscribed the name of the head of household, Oliver N. Freeman, struggling a bit over the spelling of his first name. Freeman’s listed occupation, brickmason, hardly did justice to his growing reputation as a master builder, especially in stone.

More than 90 years later, the Freeman house, now well inside city limits, yet stands at a bend of Nash Street. In the nomination form for the historic district, the house is described as: “Nestus Freeman House; bungalow with stone veneer and gabled entry porch; enlarged to this form in the late 1920s; Freeman was noted stone mason and builder in East Wilson; contributing stone fence and six concrete yard ornaments, including dinosaur.”

Oliver N. Freeman house, 1300 East Nash Street, Wilson.

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(Note that directly next door to Oliver Freeman lived East Wilson’s other artistic artisan, marble cutter Clarence Best, at 1306 East Nash.)

Photograph by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2016.

Oliver N. Freeman.

ON FREEMAN

O.N. Freeman

From North Carolina Architects and Builders: A Biographical Directory:

Oliver Nestus Freeman (February 22, 1882-September 28, 1955) was a prolific, creative, and multi-talented craftsman active in Wilson from about 1910 to his death in 1955. He became the community’s preeminent brick and stonemason and also worked in tile, but he is best known for his stonework on his own buildings and throughout the community.

“Born in rural Wilson County, the son of Julius Freeman, a carpenter, and Eliza Daniels Freeman, Freeman was educated at the Tuskegee Normal School where he majored in industrial arts. Training and experience in construction, including masonry work, constituted an important part of the Tuskegee program. As a young man, Freeman taught at Tuskegee and later at the Wilbanks School in Wilson County. He married Willie May Hendley, originally of Nashville, Tennessee, whom he met at Tuskegee. The Freemans became friends with both Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver through the Tuskegee connection. The couple settled in Wilson about 1910, and there Freeman constructed a modest brick house at 1300 East Nash Street, where they raised four children, and which has remained in the family.

“Freeman identified himself to the census takers of 1910 and 1920 as a brickmason, but he was skilled at all types of masonry work. Especially distinctive is his bold, rough stonework for foundations, chimneys, columns, and other architectural elements throughout Wilson, especially for the city’s many fine bungalows. Besides his work on buildings, he created imaginative masonry sculptures that enhance many Wilson gardens.

“Freeman’s best known works are those he built for himself. After constructing a brick cottage for himself and his wife in about 1910, in the 1920s he transformed the Oliver Nestus Freeman House into a stone bungalow. Over the years he added stone and concrete garden sculptures to his property, including a 7-foot dinosaur. In addition, he constructed nearby a rental dwelling, to help with the local housing shortage. Known as the Freeman Round House (1940s), the locally unique house of rough stone features a circular plan divided into wedge-shaped rooms. Long a landmark of the community, in recent years the round house has been preserved and opened as a local museum.”

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Another of Freeman’s buildings — Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, 612 Vance Street NE, Wilson.

Photo of Freeman courtesy of www.digitalnc.org; photo of church taken by Lisa Y. Henderson in May 2016.