In honor of soldiers, sailors, marines and nurses.

O. Nestus Freeman built the massive stone base of this World War I memorial.

It stands at the entrance to the Wilson County Fairgrounds (and, formerly, stockcar race track) on 301 South. A June 27 Daily Times article announcing the Fourth of July 1935 unveiling of the monument describes the base as: “a shaft or pyramid of stone 20 by twelve feet, sixteen feet high, containing 86 tons of Wilson county granite surmounted by thirty-four foot flag staff ….” No mention of Freeman.

I don’t know stone masonry technique, but this knife-edge crease, rendered in igneous rock, is pretty amazing. 

Photos by Lisa Y. Henderson, June 2021. 

Nestus Freeman’s crew at work. (But where?)

This copy of a photograph is said to show O. Nestus Freeman‘s workmen building Our Redeemer Lutheran Church on West Vance Street, Wilson. Does it though?

Freeman came out of retirement to direct the stonework at Our Redeemer, which was completed after World War II. The photo above is undated, but appears to date from earlier in the twentieth century. Moreover, this crew is clearly building an addition to a pre-existing church.

Here’s a photo of Our Redeemer published at the church’s 25th anniversary at the Vance and Rountree Streets site. (The building itself was not completed until after 1941.) This does not appear to be the same church as the one above. The men above are laying brick, not stone. The buttresses between the windows below do not appear in the image above. And the windows themselves are much taller in the image above. The church’s raised stone rake is also missing from the gable end above.

Wilson Daily Times, 7 May 1966.

On 1 September 2001, the Daily Times featured a long piece contributed by Robert B. Lineberger, whose father was pastor at Our Redeemer in the early 1940s. In pertinent part, here is Lineberger’s recollection: 

“Oliver Nestus Freeman was the stone mason for the church. The stone was delivered to the lot in 1942. It was supposed to be 4 inches thick, and the supplier brought half to it from the quarry at Roleville [Rolesville, in Wake County, N.C.] and dumped it on the lot when no one was there. It was 8 inches thick. When the quarry realized its mistake, they said Dad could have it at half price if he would accept it where it was.

“He asked what he could do with it that thick. They indicated it could be split just like a cake of ice … except you would use a sledge hammer with a pointed side to it instead of an ice pick. Tap it on one side, roll it, tap it on the second side, roll it, tap it on the third side, roll it … and when you tap it on the fourth side, it would split in half. That meant the church got the stone for 25 percent of the original price!

“[My father] acted as general contractor for the church. During the early war years contractors and builders were doing all the work they could at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and Camp Lejeune. He hired Mr. Freeman, who came out of retirement to build the church.

“Mr. Freeman then lived in a stone house off of East Nash …. I mixed mortar for him and placed the stones at his directions on the scaffold on which he worked. He chose each stone for a particular place as he worked. I worked with him for a long time during the summer and after school of the year the church was built.

“Mr. Freeman was a fine man, and I learned a lot about stone masonry, mixing mortar and life from him. …”

Lineberger provided some photographs of construction, including these:

Wilson Daily Times, 1 September 2001.

These images further strengthen my belief that the first photograph depicts Freeman’s crew working on some church other than Our Redeemer.

Any thoughts?

Our Redeemer Lutheran today.

Top photo courtesy of Freeman Round House and Museum, Wilson, N.C., digitized at Images of North Carolina,; bottom photo by Lisa Y. Henderson.

O.N. Freeman’s handiwork.

O. Nestus Freeman‘s stonework was not limited to houses. Below, a mailbox stand he created for his good friend John W. Woodard, who lived west of Wilson on Tartts Mill Road.

The handcarved inscription reads
: J.W. Woodard, R.F.D. No 4, Box 33, Wilson N.C. Nov. 12, 1935

Photo courtesy of J.W. Woodard’s grandson Daryl M. Woodard. Thank you!

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.


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:


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

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.


(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.


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.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 8.51.57 PM

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

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