Roanoke Rapids Historic District
The Roanoke Rapids Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2012, The Gombach Group.
The resources of the Roanoke Rapids Historic District reflect the development of Roanoke Rapids as a regionally-important textile manufacturing city during the early twentieth century along the banks of the Roanoke River. While development began in 1894-1895 with the construction of the first textile mill, the short-lived United Industrial Company, the real impetus for long-term development came with the construction of four successful cotton mills within twenty-two years: Roanoke Mills Company, 1895-1897; Rosemary Manufacturing Company, 1901; Patterson Mills, 1910; and Roanoke Mills Company Plant No. 2, 1916-1917. Growth was so rapid that in 1900, just three years after the incorporation of the town of Roanoke Rapids, the town had a population of 1,009 persons, a figure that more than tripled to 3,369 residents by 1920. During this period the separate village of Rosemary developed to an approximately equal size around Rosemary Mill, located about one mile south of the center of Roanoke Rapids, and when the two consolidated in 1931, the City of Roanoke Rapids included over 7,000 citizens and encompassed an area largely covered by the Roanoke Rapids Historic District. This area includes not only the three surviving cotton mills (the original Roanoke Mill was razed in 1990) and the four attendant mill villages for workers, but the separate commercial sections of old Roanoke Rapids and old Rosemary and adjacent residential neighborhoods occupied by merchants, professionals, shopkeepers, and others whose livelihoods were indirectly but unmistakenly dependent upon the textile mills. Its significance as a cotton-mill city is heightened by the fact that cotton-textile manufacturing has been the leading manufacturing industry in North Carolina since the 1880s. The Roanoke Rapids Historic District contains the industrial, residential, commercial, religious, educational, and transportation resources associated with pre-World War II Roanoke Rapids and is significant for Community Planning and Development, Industry, Commerce, and Architecture. Residential properties account for more than eighty percent of the Roanoke Rapids Historic District's resources and acreage. The Roanoke Rapids Historic District contains important examples of Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Gothic Revival, Craftsman, Tudor Revival, Rustic, and Art Moderne buildings rendered in frame, brick, and log, with industrial and commercial buildings being exclusively of brick, and dwellings being predominantly frame until the early 1920s. Buildings such as the 1906-1907 Dickens-Webb House (400 Roanoke Avenue), the 1916 Alonzo E. Akers House (501 Roanoke Avenue), the 1917 All Saints Episcopal Church (700 Roanoke Avenue), the 1920- 1921 Roanoke Rapids High School (800 Hamilton Street; NR 1988), the 1931 Imperial Theatre (1008-1012 Roanoke Avenue), and the 1938-1942 J.C. Penney Co. Building (1037-1039 Roanoke Avenue) are indicative of the district's eligibility under the Architecture Context. The Roanoke Rapids Historic District contains a high level of architectural integrity, with 982 of the 1,223 primary resources (eighty percent), and 1,188 of the total 1,948 resources (sixty-one percent) being contributing. The Roanoke Rapids Historic District's period of significance, 1894 to 1948, starts with the construction date of the "Turtle Top House" (100 Hamilton Street), the oldest surviving building in the city, and includes all resources at least fifty years old.
Roanoke Rapids after 1948
While the fifty years after 1948 have brought profound changes and advances to Roanoke Rapids, the city and its economy continue to be dominated by textile and paper manufacturing. The Simmons Company, owner of all four textile mills in the city, brought forth great changes in 1950 when it sold its mill housing to its employees at half-value, with most of the houses being bought by their occupants. Not only did this action lessen company control of its workers by taking it out of the business of being landlord, but it made first-time homeowners out of employees who might otherwise have had little opportunity to ever own their own home.
However, before selling the houses in 1950 the mill owners undertook the remarkable relocation of three blocks of dwellings within the Rosemary Mill Village. A total of thirty-eight houses in the 1000 blocks of Henry, Madison, and Jackson, streets were moved to the 800 blocks of Cedar Street and Vance Street so as to provide land for the construction of commercial buildings on Jackson and Madison streets (primarily the Dixie Motel) which are not included in the Roanoke Rapids Historic District, and a parking lot for mill employees within the Rosemary Mill complex. Though this mass-move falls two years short of the Roanoke Rapids Historic District's period of significance, the well-planned and coordinated event resulted in the houses being positioned on their new lots with nearly identical alignments and setbacks as on their original sites. So successful was the integration of the relocated houses into the rhythm and scale of adjoining streetscapes in the northwest corner of the Rosemary Mill Village that one cannot differentiate between those blocks that were not moved.
Even bigger changes occurred in January 1956 when all four local mills were purchased by J.P. Stevens and Company, then the world's second largest textile manufacturing firm. The new owners were even less interested in local life. Few senior-level officials resided in Roanoke Rapids and supervisory personnel were often brought in from outside. The company discouraged participation in local civic activities and businesses by upper-level employees who did live in Roanoke Rapids. The benevolent paternalism of Sam Patterson was dead, and the profit motive reigned supreme. The old and revolutionary hospitalization plan was replaced in 1958 with a new plan, and in 1960-1961 the company built the Roanoke Fabrication Plant to the Rosemary complex, adding 350 employees (Kern 1969, 19-22; Akers interview; Conway 1979, 19-20; Black 1992, 51-52).
The struggle for unionization of the mills was renewed during Stevens's ownership, culminating in an August 1974 election in which 1,685 employees voted for representation by the Textile Workers Union of America, while 1,448 voted against unionization. The issue continued for several more years, finally ending in Federal court (Conway 1979, 10-12). In 1988, Stevens sold its Roanoke Rapids plants to the Bibb Company, another textile giant. One of Bibb's first actions was to sell the Roanoke Mills No. 1 plant, the "River Mill," that was the oldest textile mill in Roanoke Rapids, in summer 1990 to neighbors Champion Paper Corporation, which had the complex demolished in 1991 and replaced with a modern pulp paper facility (Black 1992, 51, 53, survey file for Roanoke Mill Co. No. 1). Although still owned by the Bibb Company, textile manufacturing continues in 1997 under the West Point Stevens name at the Rosemary (1102 Madison Street) and Roanoke No. 2 (501 Jackson Street) plants. The old Patterson Mill (900 Jefferson Street) is now largely utilized as a warehouse, with its former employment office being occupied by the Bibb Outlet Store.
The city's other major industry, the manufacture of paper from wood pulp, continued to expand as well. The Albemarle Paper Company regularly modernized and increased production in its Halifax Paper Company plant along the Roanoke river, with major improvements in 1951, 1953, 1958, 1959 making possible a daily production of 450 tons of pulp, an increase of almost 250 percent in just thirteen years. In 1962 it became a subsidiary of the Ethyl Corporation, and through two more corporate mergers was acquired by the late 1980s by the Champion Paper Corporation which continues to operate the vast local plant (Kern 1969, 19, 21, 22, 41-43; Denny 1972, 68-69).
As a direct result of the devastation of the 1940 flood, work began soon after World War II on a series of dams to harness the Roanoke River for flood control, electric power generation, recreation, and as a source of municipal water supplies. These dams and their resultant lakes — Kerr Reservoir (completed 1952), Roanoke Rapids Lake (completed in 1955), and Gaston Lake (completed in 1963) — have completely controlled the river so that significant floods no longer occur. The latter two lakes, which together are half the size of Kerr Reservoir, were built by the Virginia Electric and Power Company (VEPCO), which has been a major industrial force in Roanoke Rapids since 1924. Since then VEPCO has operated an increasingly large and modern electrical generation plant along the river just downstream of the municipal boundaries. All three lakes, the smallest and nearest to Roanoke Rapids being Roanoke Rapids Lake just upriver from the city, not only provides considerable recreational activities to local residents but has been the site of much residential development (Powell 1968, 263, 417, 187; Sunday Herald, April 23, 1989; Butchko 1996, 52-53; Kern 1969, 19-22; Denny 1972, 71-73).
Of equal impact on Roanoke Rapids were changes in transportation systems, primarily the construction and completion of Interstate 95 through Northampton and Halifax counties between 1959 and 1967. While the city had previously been accessed by one federal highway, U.S. 158, which extends east-west from Elizabeth City and Murfreesboro to Henderson and Winston-Salem, and two state highways, N.C. 48, running north-south from nearby Gaston to Rocky Mount, and N.C. 125, which terminates in Roanoke Rapids after coming northward from Williamston and Scotland Neck, the completion of Interstate 95 placed the city along the major highway connecting New York and Florida. The location of Interstate 95 along the city's eastern boundary with Weldon has generated considerable travel-oriented development in strip commercial zones in addition to providing Roanoke Rapids, as the largest city between Petersburg, Virginia and Rocky Mount, North Carolina, invaluable exposure to and name-recognition among east coast travelers. Other transportation-related items included the construction in 1957-1959 of a modern concrete automobile bridge across the Roanoke River to Gaston in Northampton County and the termination of railroad passenger service into Roanoke Rapids in 1967, which, not entirely coincidentally, was the same year that Interstate 95 was completed southward to Gold Point near Rocky Mount (Kern 1969, 20, 21, 23; Butchko 1996, 152).
This period has witnessed change throughout the city. The Roanoke Hospital School of Nursing closed in 1961, with the program being taken over by the Practical Nurses School operated jointly by the city schools and Pitt Institute, a vocational school, until the opening in 1968 of Halifax County Technical Institute, now Halifax Community College. The old hospital itself was replaced in 1972 by a modern Halifax Memorial Hospital outside of the historic town limits. Social and political advances during the period brought forth not only voting and employment opportunities to all citizens, but desegregation of the city's school systems during the late 1960s. The mill villages and much of Roanoke Rapids which were exclusively the residential domain only of white citizens were opened to those of African-American descent as well, effecting considerable changes in neighborhoods (Kern 1969, 22, 24; Denny 1972, 57-60).
Like most small North Carolina cities, Roanoke Rapids has faced the challenges of the late twentieth century with mixed results. The construction of suburban shopping centers, an enclosed mall, and, in the early 1990s, a Walmart store, resulted in a serious decline for retailers along Roanoke Avenue. This included the loss of all department and variety stores and the movie theatres; several of the larger buildings have stood vacant for more than a decade. Still, the remaining stores continue to successfully meet local shopping and service needs.
Construction within the historic district since 1946 has followed national trends. The Colonial Revival style has remained the most popular fashion for housing, with ranch-type dwellings exhibiting minimal influences and more substantial residences being relatively faithful renderings. Modest elements of the style were often copied by owners of mill houses when they chose to remodel, resulting in such simple features as replacement porch posts. The style has also been utilized for new churches and elements of the style added, with varying degrees of success, to modern commercial structures as well. The modernization and air-conditioning of the textile mills during the early 1960s resulted in the removal of the sawtooth skylights and repetitive arched windows that combined to impart to these buildings their distinctive appearance while serving a functional purpose. New additions were usually built without windows at all. While new commercial buildings were built during this period that copied the forms and layouts of shopping centers, with buildings set to the rear of the lot surrounded by paved parking lots, existing commercial buildings were routinely modernized with glass and metal shop fronts and altered upper facades. Losses of important architectural resources have been most numerous along Roanoke Avenue, where new business and governmental offices resulted in the demolition of several significant residences (Black 1992, 52-54).
Nonetheless, Roanoke Rapids retains a considerable amount of an architectural fabric that illustrates the development and growth of a small, progressive city around flourishing textile and paper mills. As is often the case, many of Roanoke Rapids's historic resources have benefited from conscientious maintenance through the years, in some cases by the descendents of original or long-term owners. Certainly one needs to look no further than the monumental Roanoke High School (800 Hamilton Street) to witness the commitment of the city's citizens to preserving those buildings dear to their hearts. The school is not only the building that is most readily identified by non-residents, it is, more importantly, the building by which Roanoke Rapids natives and residents identify themselves. A similar commitment to one's sense of history was demonstrated by the congregation of First United Methodist Church (339 Roanoke Avenue) in 1968-1969 when, after a fire in January 1967 destroyed their 1919 Gothic Revival sanctuary, a stylistically-compatible replacement was constructed that utilized the surviving three-stage corner tower. While organized preservation efforts have yet to begin on a city-wide scale, interest generated by the celebration of the city's Centennial in 1997, of which the nomination of the Roanoke Rapids Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places is a central part, indicates that prospects for protecting and increasing public awareness of the city's architectural resources appear promising as the historic textile city prepares for the twenty-first century.
The buildings of the Roanoke Rapids Historic District represent the broad range of architectural fashion typical in small towns of eastern North Carolina during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While much of the architectural character of Roanoke Rapids was, in all likelihood, little different from that of neighboring towns of comparable size, the fact that sophisticated executives of the local textile manufacturing companies sought stylishly up-to-date designs by leading architects for prominent and highly visible buildings imbues Roanoke Rapids with an architectural stylishness that sets it apart from most cities of its size and relative youth in North Carolina. Whether of modest size and simple decoration or of imposing nature, these resources reflect the building traditions and styles of their day in addition to the economic stature of their owners. While the vast majority of the resources in the Roanoke Rapids Historic District are residential, the district's important industrial, commercial, religious, educational, and governmental resources enable the district to provide a remarkably complete picture of local building traditions. Furthermore, because of the district's immense size, with 1,217 primary resources situated on all or parts of 125 city blocks, the Roanoke Rapids Historic District covers almost all of the pre-World War II city which retains sufficient architectural integrity. In large part because the three textile companies exerted near complete control over four mill villages that encompass 696, or fifty-seven percent of the total primary resources, and the fact that commercial and residential development following World War II occurred in outlying areas, there has been limited intrusive construction within the district since the early 1950s. This affords the Roanoke Rapids Historic District with an admirable degree of architectural integrity. Although the district's period of significance is 1894-1948, only six resources date from before 1900. Thus, the Roanoke Rapids Historic District's architecture is overwhelmingly early- and mid-twentieth century in character, particularly the first two decades when the overwhelming majority of the mill-related houses were constructed.
Nineteenth Century Resources
All but three of the Roanoke Rapids Historic District's six pre-1900 resources are directly associated with the earliest textile mills in Roanoke Rapids/Rosemary. The exceptions are the ca.1897 Driscol-Piland-Webb House (205 Jackson Street), a handsome two-story Victorian dwelling constructed for, and presumably by, contractor H.L. Driscoll who very possibly was employed building some of the early mill houses, and two commercial buildings, the 1899 Roanoke Pharmacy Building (195 Roanoke Avenue) and the ca.1896/ca.1920 Pierce-Marks Building (201-205 Roanoke Avenue). Rosemary Mill No. 2, the former Patterson Textile Company (silk) mill erected in 1899, is an actual mill building, thus being the oldest resource in the three surviving Roanoke Rapids textile complexes. The other fifty-seven nineteenth century resources are dwellings erected for mill workers by either the United Industrial Company or the Roanoke Mills Company. These include at least four and as many as twelve two-story dwellings designed by architect Stanford White of the renowned New York firm of McKim, Mead, and White, who was a personal friend of the major investors in the United Industrial Company. Three of these dwellings (100 Hamilton Street, 238 Hamilton Street, and 128 Washington Street) are among the six "Turtle Top" houses known to have been built. These houses, so-named because of the gambrel roofs that spanned the narrow and deep structures, were originally sheathed with weatherboarding on the first story and wood shingles on the second. They are not only the only nineteenth century gambrel-roofed mill dwellings known to have been built in North Carolina, but probably the only ones designed by a principal in one of the nation's foremost architectural firms. The nineteenth century mill houses in the Roanoke No. 1 Mill Village are modest two-story frame dwellings that follow a traditional double-pile side-hall plan sheltered by a hip roof. They are uniformly plain in their finish, with simple chamfered porch posts, boxed cornices, and corner boards devoid of Victorian embellishments. Unlike the more sophisticated forms of the Stanford White-designed mill houses, it was these plain, two story rectangular boxes that were repeated through the subsequent mill villages associated with the Rosemary Manufacturing Co., the Patterson Mills Co., and the Roanoke Mills Co. No. 2. plant. While variations were seen as to roof configuration and orientation to the streets, these vernacular houses set the character for the district's four large blocks of worker housing. Smaller, but equally modest one-story dwellings of vernacular origins were built in all four mill villages during the late 1910s and the 1920s.
Twentieth Century Resources
Queen Anne and Colonial Revival Style Residences
The larger houses built in Roanoke Rapids during the first three decades of the twentieth century illustrate the many forms and variations of the nation's three most popular house styles of the period: Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and Craftsman. Queen Anne residences such as the 1906-1907 Dickens-Webb House (400 Roanoke Avenue), the ca.1910 Tillery-Jenkins House (417 Roanoke Avenue), and the 1910/1914-1915 Samuel F. Patterson House (333 Hamilton Street), indicate the continued popularity of asymmetrical forms finished with the reserved classical elements of the emerging Colonial Revival style. Colonial Revival residences during the 1920s reflected more academically correct models such as the frame 1920 Dr. Fontaine G. Jarman House (402 Hamilton Street), whose design is "The Colonial" by the Aladdin Company, and the brick 1920-1925 Patterson Mansion (608 Jackson Street) which was designed by Hobart B. Upjohn and stands as Roanoke Rapids's largest and most imposing residence. The Sears, Roebuck and Company supplied the "Glen Falls" design and material for 1919-1925 Hayes-Taylor House (807 Roanoke Avenue), one of the better of the limited number of gambrel-roofed "Dutch" Colonial Revival houses in the Roanoke Rapids Historic District. Two more Aladdin houses, "The Brentwood" as illustrated by the ca.1921 McPherson-Wilson House (738 Roanoke Avenue) and an undetermined model illustrated by the ca.1922 Virginia Bell Vincent Babcock House (712 Roanoke Avenue) illustrate the Colonial Revival style rendered with early influences from the Tudor Revival style.
During the 1930s and 1940s the Colonial Revival style was displayed primarily on one- or one-and-a-half-story cottages that followed a national pattern of continued Colonial Revival popularity. These houses, many of which were built in brick as it became increasingly available and affordable, usually had gable roofs interrupted by dormers and entrance porticos; noteworthy examples, all built between 1925 and 1938, include the Ernest W. Smith House (1113 Hamilton Street), the Curtis C. Shell House (1117 Hamilton Street), and the Burton A. Powell House (732 Monroe Street).
Craftsman Style Residences
It was the Craftsman style that dominated domestic architecture between the late 1910s and World War II. The style has its chief expression in the 105 modern, stylish, and well-designed houses sold by the Aladdin Company of Bay City, Michigan to both the mill companies and private citizens; this is the highest known number of pre-cut "mail-order" houses in any historic district in North Carolina. Ninety of these Aladdin houses are one-story worker dwellings with names such as "The Gretna," "The Princeton," "The Rodney," and "The Edison." Another seven houses were built by the mill companies as residences for mill executives, supervisors, and overseers utilizing the most stylish aspects of the Craftsman Bungalow with examples such as "The Cadillac" (905 Madison Street), "The Plaza" (William L. Medlin House, 419 Jackson Street), and "The Pomona" (903 Madison Street, 909 Madison Street and 512 Jackson Street). Surprisingly (or maybe not), the mill companies bought only Craftsman Bungalow houses from Aladdin, while none of the seven Aladdin houses erected for non-mill townspeople were one-story bungalows. However, two of these seven, "The Standard" (Wilmer D. Collier House, 319 Jackson Street) and "The Rochester" (Rosemary Methodist Church Parsonage, 800 Jackson Street), are the finest of a limited number of Craftsman foursquare houses within the district. Another, "The Shadow Lawn" (Ernest W. Eubank House, 511 Hamilton Street), is a distinctive two-story gable-front bungalow with an intriguingly Swiss character. All provide a breadth of Craftsman character to the Roanoke Rapids Historic District that is rarely equalled in eastern North Carolina.
Other Domestic Styles
Other, less popular architectural styles were utilized for dwellings constructed between the 1920s and 1948 that provide a considerable enrichment of the Roanoke Rapids Historic District. These include the splendidly-showy two-story 1925-1927 Council-Coburn House (521 Roanoke Avenue), an extraordinary Rustic style log house and the (first) Roanoke Rapids School of Nursing Students' Home (539 Roanoke Avenue), which exemplifies the formal classicism of the Renaissance Revival with prominent hipped roof, simulated arched fanlights, and distinctive pergolas. Built in 1919 as a private residence, it is "The Villa" from Aladdin. Each is the district's only domestic example of its style. The Tudor Revival style was popular among home builders during the late 1920s and 1930s, particularly for modestly scaled one- and one-and-a-half-story dwellings. Local examples, with their steeply-pitch roofs, large exterior front chimneys, and variety of window shapes were rendered almost exclusively in brick. Most, such as the previously mentioned ca.1922 Virginia Bell Vincent Babcock House (712 Roanoke Avenue), have distinct Colonial Revival overtones. Others include the 1925-1938 Wells-Harvey House (1135 Hamilton Street) and the 1925-1938 Thomas J. Alford House (700 Monroe Street), which combine picturesque Tudor Revival asymmetry with reserved Colonial Revival elements, while the Moses Brickell House (1301 Hamilton Street) and the J. Pendleton Grizzard House (508 Roanoke Avenue) are thoroughly Tudor Revival examples complete with arched porch piers framed with soldier brick archivolts.
Most of the commercial buildings within Roanoke Rapids Historic District follow popular forms and styles from the early twentieth century. Five different styles are represented. The oldest are buildings such as the 1899 Roanoke Pharmacy Building (195 Roanoke Avenue) and the ca.1906 Bank of Roanoke Rapids Building (216-220 Roanoke Avenue) on which the main decoration is supplied by the imaginative use of corbeled brickwork. The 1919 Citizens Bank and Trust Company Building (1100 Roanoke Avenue) is the finest of the few surviving Colonial Revival commercial buildings in the city, having been designed by the Wilson architectural firm of Benton and Benton who supplied plans for two- and three-story banks in small towns and cities throughout eastern North Carolina.
Most numerous among local commercial buildings erected during the late 1910s and early 1920s are structures that exhibit Renaissance Revival elements, primarily broad repetitive arches defining the upper stories, and buildings from the late 1920s to 1942 that feature the streamlined character of the Art Moderne. Examples of the former include the 1916 L.G. Shell Building (1030-1034 Roanoke Avenue) and the Marks Building (207 Roanoke Avenue), while local Art Moderne examples include a trio of large department stores — 1925-1938 F.W. Woolworth (1001 Roanoke Avenue), 1938-1942 J.C. Penney (1037-1039 Roanoke Avenue), and 1940 McCrory (1000-1004 Roanoke Avenue). These Art Moderne stores, all in the same block of Roanoke Avenue, are an eloquent tribute not only to the past architectural sophistication shown by the civic and industrial leaders but in confidence of a prosperous future. The last style represented in a local commercial building is the Spanish Colonial Revival as illustrated by the robust 1931 Imperial Theater Building (1008-1012 Roanoke Avenue). Designed by Benton and Benton, the structure is a showcase for its style, being one of the finest examples in eastern North Carolina.
The four contributing churches follow popular forms of the Gothic, Colonial, and Renaissance revivals rendered in a range of building materials. The 1915 First Presbyterian Church (440 Roanoke Avenue) is raised in rock-faced ashlar granite and is dominated by a sturdy two-story bell tower. The 1917 All Saints Episcopal Church (700 Roanoke Avenue) contrasts this with a charming wood-shingled frame design by Hobart B. Upjohn that reflects denominational roots in Tudor England. The (former) First Baptist Church (338 Roanoke Avenue) 1928-1929 and the ca.1928 First Christian Church (836 Roanoke Avenue) are imposing brick edifices raised above tall basements, the Baptist building featuring a handsome Colonial Revival style portico, while the Renaissance Revival Christian church has an in antis portico framed by large brick pilasters. Two of the three noncontributing churches continue in the Gothic Revival traditions with large masonry edifices, the 1949-1952 Rosemary United Methodist Church (900 Jackson Street) in granite and the 1968-1969 First United Methodist Church (339 Roanoke Avenue) in brick.
Educational and Governmental Buildings
A variety of educational and government buildings enrich the historic architectural character of Roanoke Rapids. The most notable of these is the splendid 1920-1921 Roanoke Rapids High School (800 Hamilton Street, NR 1988), designed by Hobart B. Upjohn. The impressively-scaled brick structure, with its crenellated four-story central tower flanked by parapeted wings, is a landmark of "Elizabethan" Tudor Revival design, made resplendent by corner octagonal turrets, oriel windows surmounted with carved gargoyles, and parapets crowned with seated lions. It ranks among the finest public school buildings ever constructed in the state. Adjacent is the 1940-1941 North Carolina National Guard Building (836 Hamilton Street), designed by Linthicum and Linthicum of Raleigh to compliment Upjohn's school. It also has a central tower block invigorated with corner towers and a host of ornamentation. The 1932 (former) Roanoke Rapids Municipal Building (632 Roanoke Avenue), designed by Eric G. Flannagan of Henderson, and the 1937-1938 (former) United States Post Office (644 Roanoke Avenue) illustrate popular forms of the Colonial Revival that were utilized during the Depression by federal relief agencies such as the Works Progress Administration for municipal and postal facilities throughout the country.
Lastly, the textile factory buildings in Roanoke Rapids are representative of brick Romanesque Revival factories erected throughout the state during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While all the windows and rooftop skylights were removed during renovations in the early 1960s, massive forms of such buildings as Rosemary Mill numbers 1 and 2, which were built in 1901 and 1899, respectively, retain the impressive and repetitive qualities of the style. Only the architect for the 1901 building is known, architect-engineer Fred S. Hinds of Boston.
While the vast majority of the 602 dwellings in the Roanoke Rapids Historic District's four mill villages follow traditional, one- or two-story, gable-roofed forms, it is important to underscore the fact that these houses are organized into distinctive ensembles of buildings. With few exceptions, the form, setback, and rhythm within each block is mirrored on both sides of the street, resulting in a distinguishable and pleasant quality that immediately serves notice to passers-through that one is within an identifiable neighborhood. Furthermore, while the adjoining mill villages of Roanoke No. 1 and No. 2 flow uninterruptedly with each other along Taylor, Monroe, and Madison streets, the Rosemary and Patterson mill villages are wholly distinct from their neighbors and each other. Each of the mill villages has its own character set by the rhythm and scale of the streetscapes, and it is this character that imbues each mill village with a visual and architectural significance of its own.
Architects and Builders
In addition to the aforementioned architects of Benton and Benton, Flannagan, Hinds, Linthicum and Linthicum, Upjohn, and White, numerous contractors are represented by buildings in the Roanoke Rapids Historic District. The earliest of these was "Major" Thomas Leyburn Emry (1842- 1910), a Virginia native, who had come to nearby Weldon in 1869 and soon became the town's leading businessman, entrepreneur, promoter, brick yard owner, and contractor. While he most likely constructed many brick commercial buildings there during the late nineteenth century, he also most likely built most of the early brick commercial buildings in Roanoke Rapids as well. Furthermore, as organizer of both the company that began the initial industrial development of Roanoke Rapids, and thus considered the "father" of the town, and the Carolina Construction Company, Emry most likely had a significant role in erecting the large brick factories of the United Industrial Company and the Roanoke Mills Company (both demolished) as well as in the construction of some of the surviving mill houses put up by the companies for their workers. Another contractor during the late 1890s, H.L. Driscol, also probably built some of these mill houses in addition to his own residence (205 Jackson Street). Other contractors of note were T.C. Thompson and Brother of Charlotte, who built Roanoke Mill No. 2 in 1916-1917, and almost one hundred of the mill houses in the Roanoke No. 2 Mill village; C.H. Byrd, who was construction superintendent for the 1920-1921 Roanoke Rapids High School (800 Hamilton Street) and several mill additions; Lee Wheeden, a local contractor and investor who most likely did the renovations in 1931 of the Rosemary Theatre that resulted in the Imperial Theatre (1008-1012 Roanoke Avenue); and Sam Brown, who not only built the 1948 John Gabriel House (736 West Eighth Street) but a number of other houses after World War II that are noncontributing only because of age. A number of contractors lived within the district and it can be surmised that they built other residences besides their own. These include, in addition to Emry and Driscoll: Eli Frank Cagle (519 Hamilton Street), Littleton A. Dickens (1337 Jefferson Street), Fred Forest (302 Jackson Street), and Samuel M. Thompson (836 Monroe Street).
The resources of the Roanoke Rapids Historic District provide a remarkable look at an industrial city in which the city's leaders consulted leading architects and design sources to erect buildings of enduring character and commanding presence. These distinctive structures coexist with hundreds of modestly-scaled dwellings constructed for mill laborers and other residents that reflect more typical examples of architectural fashion. Together, this mixture of traditionally modest house forms with sophisticated architectural design provides for a district of architectural and visual vitality rarely seen in small industrial cities in North Carolina.
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† Thomas R. Butchko, consulting architectural historian, Roanoke Rapids Historic District, Halifax County, North Carolina, nomination document, 1998, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.