La Grange Historic District
The La Grange Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. 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 Town of La Grange, located in western Lenoir County, exemplifies the small railroad towns that took shape in North Carolina's coastal plain primarily during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The town developed alongside the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad, which in 1858 linked the port of Morehead City to the town of Goldsboro (the eastern terminus of the North Carolina Railroad). La Grange thrived as a small rural market center, particularly during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The buildings that grew up around and adjacent to the railroad corridor endure as a cohesive collection of historic resources that illustrate a range of mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century architectural styles. The La Grange Historic District is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places in the areas of community planning and development, commerce, and architecture. The period of significance begins in 1858, when the railroad was completed, and continues through 1950.
Historical Background, Community Planning and Development Context, and Commerce Context
Originally named Moseley Hall for a nearby plantation, La Grange emerged as a railroad market town with the completion of the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad in 1858. The railroad connected Lenoir County to the eastern port of Morehead City and to the eastern terminus of the North Carolina Railroad at Goldsboro, fourteen miles to the west. The town was incorporated in 1869 and named La Grange for the Parisian estate of the Revolutionary War hero LaFayette.
The railroad connections opened distant markets for the agricultural products of the area, thereby boosting both the cash-crop economy and La Grange's role as a market center and shipping point. Cotton was the main cash crop in Lenoir County in the mid-nineteenth century, but as prices dropped steadily throughout the 1870s and 1880s, profits declined. When brightleaf tobacco cultivation began in earnest in 1895, it quickly supplanted cotton as the economic mainstay. In 1906, a special edition of the Kinston Free Press noted that La Grange "has good tobacco and cotton markets," and is "an excellent shipping point." Typical of railroad towns throughout the region, by the early twentieth century tobacco-related industries lined the railroad tracks at the edge of the commercial core. In 1914, there were four tobacco-related buildings (three warehouses and a prizery) along the railroad tracks in La Grange. By 1919, there were eight — including three warehouses, a stemmery and four rehandling facilities. The only major tobacco-related industrial structure remaining from this period in the La Grange Historic District is a stemmery, the J.M. Edmunds Building, which is now part of the Hardy-Newsome Industrial Complex (501 West Railroad Street).
In the last half of the nineteenth century, La Grange also attracted a variety of other small industries. A boot and shoe shop was mentioned in Branson's North Carolina Business Directory of 1869. The Rouse Carriage Works was established in 1882 and was the forerunner of the present Rouse Funeral Home. In 1897 there were five industries listed in Branson's: blacksmithing and wheelwriting (S. Taylor), saddles and harnesses (Asa McCoy), building and three contracting firms (B.F. Fuller, J.H. Kinsey, and F.M. McKoy).
The Hardy-Newsome Bean Harvester Factory was significant as a major industry in La Grange that was not dependent on the selling or processing of tobacco. The initial manufacturing plant, the Hanly-Newsome Building, is the centerpiece of the Hardy-Newsome Industrial Complex (501 West Railroad Street). Built around 1918, it is a fine two-and-one-half story factory building of red brick with a distinguishing stepped-parapet gable. Quickly the company expanded and absorbed a nearby industrial complex, the J.M. Edmunds Company (tobacco stemmery), and added foundry products to its inventory. Included in the Edmunds acquisition was the J.M. Edmunds Building (500 W. Railroad Street) and a small frame Commercial Building (100 South School Street), which originally served as a company store. Both buildings are included in the Hardy-Newsome Industrial Complex, which stands at the western edge of the historic district.
While industries appeared along the rail corridor, a flourishing commercial district defined the center of town. Branson's North Carolina Business Directory for 1869 (the year the town was incorporated) listed four merchants in La Grange. By 1877, the number had increased to ten, and by 1897 there were twenty-two merchants in town. The focus of the commercial activities was the 100 block of South Caswell Street. The 1914 Sanborn map shows a jeweler, a printer, a bank, a drug store, a motion picture theater, furniture stores, hardware stores, and clothiers in addition to an assortment of grocers, general stores and dry goods merchants all doing business along South Caswell Street near the railroad tracks. By 1925, both sides of the 100 block of South Caswell Street were lined with red-brick stores.
As businesses and industries grew, so did the residential areas of town. Initially, houses appeared along East and West Railroad streets, facing the tracks. West Washington Street began developing by the 1890s. The early years of the twentieth century brought more expansive growth — population estimates doubled from 750 in 1893 to 1,500 in 1925. By the 1920s, houses filled the entire area encompassed by the historic district.
During the late nineteenth century, La Grange also emerged as an educational center for the surrounding region. By the 1880s, the town supported three private academies. Colonel A.C. Davis established a military academy, the Davis School, in 1880 to provide a well-rounded education along with the military background that young men could carry with them to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis or to the United States Military Academy in West Point. The Davis School was highly successful, and its complex of buildings once took up an entire city block. An outbreak of meningitis caused the school to close in 1889. Today, Davis's 1887 residence, the A.C. Davis House (131 East Railroad Street), is the only remaining building from the school complex.
The public school was established in La Grange around 1892. In 1928, during a county-wide consolidation movement, the building which now houses the La Grange Elementary School (402 West Railroad Street) was erected for the La Grange High School. The two-story brick building was designed in the Colonial Revival style by prominent Wilmington, North Carolina architect, Leslie N. Boney.
Religious life in the community predates the town's founding. The Bear Creek Baptist congregation, which dates back to the 1750s, was based a few miles northwest of the current site of La Grange. Around 1880 the church building was moved into the new town, and the congregation continued its worship there. According to the 1872 and 1884 editions of Branson's North Carolina Business Directory, the only other organized congregation at that time was the Hickory Grove Methodist Church. Although the Presbyterian congregation was organized in 1883, it did not construct its Gothic Revival-style church building, the (former) La Grange Presbyterian Church (201 South Caswell Street; National Register 1986) until 1892. The (former) La Grange Free Will Baptist Church (114 North Caswell Street), a similar style structure, was erected in 1895 for a Methodist congregation. The 1880s and 1890s saw an active expansion of the religious communities in La Grange. By 1897, Branson's North Carolina Business Directory listed eleven separate churches (eight for white congregations, and three for African Americans), including Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, AME Zion, and Disciples of Christ.
By the mid-twentieth century, growth and development patterns in La Grange paralleled national trends. The Great Depression of the 1930s stifled economic expansion, and curtailed construction. By the late 1940s, after World War II ended, housing trends shifted-single-story brick veneer ranch houses quickly supplanted more traditional residential construction. By mid-century, there were few vacant building lots remaining within the area encompassed by the historic district; this is reflected in the fact that only a few ranch houses exist within the La Grange Historic District boundaries.
The contributing architectural resources in the La Grange Historic District clearly represent the variety of traditional forms and nationally popular architectural styles that marked small-town development in eastern North Carolina from the mid-nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries.
The earliest buildings in the La Grange Historic District are frame Greek Revival style houses contemporary with the completion of the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad in the late 1850s. The single-pile c.1852 Sutton-Fields House (114 West Railroad Street) is a side-gabled house with a symmetrical facade, glazed front door surround, wide cornerboards and a pedimented portico. The nearby double-pile c.1860 George Taylor House (302 West Railroad Street), features a broad pedimented portico supported by two sets of triple Tuscan columns. Both houses feature wide cornerboards, gable end returns and pedimented porticos that are typical of the simple Greek Revival-inspired dwellings erected statewide in the mid-nineteenth century.
The c. 1860 Shade Wooten House (204 West Railroad Street) is a striking Gothic Revival cottage facing the railroad tracks. The house exhibits the steeply-pitched roof, decorative zigzag bargeboards and board-and-batten siding that are all hallmarks of the Gothic Revival style that was popularized in the mid-nineteenth century by architect A.J. Davis and landscape architect A.J. Downing. The Shade Wooten House is the only Gothic Revival house in La Grange, and is a rare example of the style in eastern North Carolina.
In common with small towns throughout the region, the Italianate style arrived in La Grange about 1880. A fine example is the Sutton-Jones House (310 North Caswell Street). A traditional one-story, single-pile frame house, it has a combination hipped and gabled root: interior chimneys and a shed porch. The defining stylistic characteristics are the bay windows on the front and side elevations which have paneled aprons, and the heavy carved brackets that adorn the eaves of both the main roof and the roof of the bay windows.
Examples of traditional, regional house types are found in abundance throughout the La Grange Historic District. Simple three-bay, single-pile, side-gabled dwellings with rear ells were commonly built across North Carolina in both rural and urban settings. In La Grange, houses of this type date from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries and exhibit few or no high-style embellishments. A good, intact example of a one-story side-gabled dwelling is the house at 203 South Charles Street. It has weatherboard siding, a standing-seam metal root: and a hip-roofed porch with simple turned posts. Another representative example is the house at 304 West Railroad Street. Like 203 South Charles Street, it also has a rear ell and a hip-roofed porch that are typical elements of this single-story side-gabled form.
The two-story I-house and its Triple-A variant are seen primarily on West Railroad and West Washington streets. Typical examples of I-houses are the house at 310 West Railroad Street and the house at 313 West Railroad Street. Both are three-bay with glazed front door surrounds and full-width hip-roofed porches. The Triple-A subtype of the I-house form takes its name from the third gable, centered on the forward slope of the roof. A good example is the house at 216 West Washington Street, which dates from the late-nineteenth century. In this house, the extra gable of the roofline is repeated on the porch roof and again on a small side-door shelter. The c.1900 Pinita Frazier House (123 East Railroad Street) is another good, intact example of the Triple-A form.
The house at 216 West Washington Street also features unusual peaked window surrounds. These same window surrounds can also found elsewhere in La Grange, and less commonly in the surrounding areas of Lenoir County. They were likely the work of one of the three contractors known to have been active in La Grange in the late nineteenth century. Other houses in the La Grange Historic District which exhibit these window surrounds include the 1887 Colonel A.C. Davis House (131 East Railroad Street), the 1857/1900 MacDonald House (210 West Railroad Street) and the c.1886 Kennedy House (201 West Washington Street).
Around the turn of the twentieth century as La Grange continued to grow, the wealthier merchants and professionals were drawn to the latest nationally popular architectural designs. Many of these new homeowners opted for more up-to-date picturesque fashions, including sophisticated Queen Anne architecture, derived from pattern books or designed by professional architects. These residences are distinguished from traditional regional types by their consciously asymmetrical massing with multiple projecting gables, and included both one-story and two-story forms. Of frame construction, they were embellished with such exterior elements as patterned wood shingles in the gable ends, decorative bargeboards, sawn brackets, spindlework porch friezes, stained glass windows and wraparound porches.
The well-preserved Octavius Taylor House (127 East Railroad Street), built around 1895, is a highly decorated example of the Queen Anne style. It is a large two-story, side-gabled house with a projecting front-gabled wing that has clipped corners. Fishscale shingles and decorative bargeboards adorn the cross gables. The expansive wraparound porch features turned balusters, turned columns and a spindlework frieze. Even the roof is ornamental — its slate shingles were laid in a decorative pattern. Another particularly handsome example is the c.1898 Sutton-Kinsey House (107 West Washington Street), a two-story frame house with irregular massing and a complicated, multi-gabled roof. All four of the front-facing cross gables have decorative patterned shingles, half-round windows and roof cresting; the largest cross gable has an Eastlake-style bargeboard. The wraparound porch and second-floor balcony are delineated by a spindlework frieze, turned posts and spindlework brackets. Both the Octavius Taylor House and the Sutton-Kinsey House are large and exuberant expressions of picturesque domestic architecture.
A more modest expression of the Queen Anne style is the Dr. Lee Adams House (106 Center Street, built about 1900. This two-story frame house has the same cross-gabled roof and projecting bay with clipped corners as the Octavius Taylor House. An important difference is the unadorned porch supported by simple Tuscan columns.
The more conservative interpretations of Queen Anne domestic architecture in La Grange tended to display little trimwork and simple L-shaped configurations. Twenty-seven such L-plan houses, nineteen of which are one story, are evenly distributed throughout the La Grange Historic District. Representative examples include the house at 103 West Washington Street and the house at 107 East James Street. Both are unadorned dwellings with weatherboard siding, standing-seam metal roofs and plain shed porches.
During the early twentieth century, the Colonial Revival and Neoclassical Revival styles gained popularity in North Carolina and nationwide. In La Grange, the Pitts-Creech House (105 North Caswell Street epitomizes the Neoclassical Revival style in its monumental two-story front porch and second-floor balcony. The Colonial Revival style is expressed locally in a number of rectilinear two-story houses with center front dormers and full-width front porches. Most illustrative of this is the Roose-Joyner House (212 West Railroad Street), built in 1916-1917. Although altered by vinyl siding, the Roose-Joyner House possesses characteristic elements of the style — symmetrical facade, paired windows, a hipped roof and hip-roofed dormer and handsome square wood porch columns with simple Tuscan capitals. Simpler examples of the style in La Grange are the house at 308 South Caswell Street and the Wooten House (122 East Railroad Street). Both differ from the Roose-Joyner House in the use of single windows and Craftsman-style porch supports. The 1918-19 Leon Fields House (110 West Washington Street), is brick veneer. This house is distinguished by its porte cochere and spacious wraparound porch with tapered brick supports.
By the second decade of the twentieth century, bungalows were being built in the area encompassed by the historic district. This new national style was broadly disseminated by architects through a proliferation of plans published in builders' guides, newspapers and magazines, and rapidly gained widespread popularity. It was characterized by simple lines, low-pitched roofs with deep eaves and exposed rafters, engaged porches and the use of natural materials. The c.1920 Windham House (214 W. Railroad Street) is a fine example of the bungalow style. This house features a low-slung gable roof with an oversized dormer, a deep front porch with battered porch supports, and a porte cochere. It is the only house in La Grange with a pebbledash exterior finish. A more typical example is the house at 308 North Caswell Street. It has a side-gabled roof, gable-roofed dormer and engaged porch with Craftsman-style supports.
La Grange's residential streets surround a compact commercial core that lies along the 100 block of South Caswell Street, and extends onto the south side of the 100 blocks of both East and West Railroad streets. The core of the business district is comprised of contiguous rows of primarily one- or two-story red brick buildings treated with simple decorative brickwork. The exception is the (former) Rouse Banking Company Building (101 South Caswell Street), built in 1908. Situated on the northeast corner of South Caswell and East Railroad streets, this two-story brick building is one of just two buildings in La Grange executed in the formal Neoclassical Revival style. It is also the only commercial structure in that style. The building features a temple-form facade whose massive fluted pilasters with Ionic capitals support a modillioned pediment. A more typical La Grange commercial structure is the Simeon Wooten Building (121 South Caswell Street). Built in the early 1910s, it is a two-part brick commercial structure with a stepped parapet and corbelled brickwork. The original storefront has been modernized with plate glass windows — a common alteration in the commercial district after World War II.
Nearly half of the buildings in the commercial area date from the 1910s, built after a devastating fire destroyed most of the 100 block of South Caswell Street in 1911. In addition to the (former) Rouse Banking Company Building at the northern end of the block, eight buildings at the southern end are known to pre-date the fire. The most notable of these are the two-story Kinsey General Store (138 South Caswell Street) and its companion, the matching one-story commercial building (140 South Caswell Street) next to it. Both were built c.1880, almost certainly as a pair. Both buildings retain their original storefronts, which include decorative cast-iron elements on the facade. The Kinsey General Store has a recessed entry and handsome stained-glass transoms.
Two antebellum church buildings are situated within the La Grange Historic District. The oldest, the c.1857 (former) Back Creek Primitive Baptist Church (210 West Washington Street), was moved into town around 1880, sited with its gable end perpendicular to the street, and eventually was converted to civic use. It is a small structure with a symmetrical facade (now the side elevation) and gable end returns, whose architecture reflects its origin as a simple country church. The First Missionary Baptist Church (201 North Caswell Street), built around 1860, is much larger. It is similar in form to the (former) Back Creek Primitive Baptist Church with its symmetrical facade and gable end returns. In 1888, the church was renovated. A front vestibule and spire were added. The La Grange Historic District contains two churches erected in the 1890s, the (former) La Grange Presbyterian Church (201 South Caswell Street; NR 1986) built in 1892, and the (former) La Grange Free Will Baptist Church (114 North Caswell Street) built in 1895. Likely constructed by the same builder, both churches have steeply-pitched roofs with gabled dormers, and front towers with entry vestibules.
The present La Grange Elementary School (402 West Railroad Street) occupies a building that was originally constructed as the La Grange High School. The 1928 two-story brick Colonial Revival building features grouped windows and a monumental gable-roofed portico on the facade. It was designed by prominent North Carolina architect, Leslie N. Boney. Based in Wilmington, Boney designed a range of residential, religious and civic architecture throughout the region during the early and middle years of the twentieth century.
Across West Railroad Street from the school, the Hardy-Newsome Industrial Complex (501 West Railroad Street) spans an area across both sides of School Street and anchors the west end of the historic district. There are two notable early-twentieth century factory buildings that are distinctive for their stepped-parapet gables. The Hardy-Newsome Building, west of School Street, was built around 1918, and another industrial building was in place east of School Street by 1925. Another early-twentieth century building in the complex is a former tobacco stemmery, the Edmunds Building, a two-story structure with five-course common-bond brickwork and segmental arches over two-over-two sash windows. Though damaged by fire, it survives basically intact. Later structures include a c.1970 office, various sheds, storage buildings, and a water tower.
In summary, La Grange exemplifies late-nineteenth century railroad market towns in North Carolina's coastal plain region. The town, developed after the completion of the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad in 1858, contains a cohesive collection of both traditional and popular architectural styles dating from the late-nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries. The earliest houses in town date from the mid-nineteenth century and display Greek Revival, Gothic Revival and Italianate stylistic elements. The late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century houses consist of traditional forms, that include I-houses, Triple-A and one-story side-gabled cottages. Turn-of-the-century residential architecture embraces the Queen Anne style, and displays the complex forms and exuberant wood trim which are hallmarks of that period. After c.1910, the Colonial Revival and Neoclassical Revival styles enjoyed brief popularity, but were quickly supplanted by the bungalow style, which predominated until the early 1940s. Non-residential architecture also plays an integral role in the architectural history of La Grange. A compact business district of one- and two-story commercial structures defines the center of town while churches, built between the 1850s and the 1950s, are more evenly distributed throughout the district. An architect-designed school and an important industrial complex anchor the western edge of the La Grange Historic District.
Bishir, Catherine W. North Carolina Architecture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990.
Bishir, Catherine W. and Southern, Michael T. A Guide to the Architecture of Eastern North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Branson's North Carolina Business Directory For 1867-68. Raleigh: Branson & Jones, 1867.
Branson's North Carolina Business Directory. Raleigh: J. A Jones, 1869, 1872.
Branson's North Carolina Business Directory. Raleigh: L. Branson, 1877, 1884, 1896, 1897.
Daughton, Virginia Pou. "A Bright Spot in La Grange." The State, Sept. 1980, pp. 10-12.
Herring, Nannie Braxton. Untitled, unpublished manuscript, 1919, 1955. (From the files of the Survey and Planning Branch of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.)
Industrial Issue of Kinston Free Press, 1906.
"La Grange Thrived Some 125 Years." News Argus (Goldsboro, NC), 29 Mar 1970, p. D-14.
Lenoir County Historical Association. The Heritage of Lenoir County. Winston-Salem NC: Hunter Publishing Company, 1981.
Little, M. Ruth. Coastal Plain and Fancy: The Historic Architecture of Lenoir County and Kinston, North Carolina. Winston-Salem, NC: Jostens Printing & Publishing, 1998.
North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, Survey and Planning Branch. Survey files for Lenoir County. Created by Robbie D. Jones, with Scott Power and Penne Smith, 1994.
Sanborn Map Company, Sanborn Insurance Maps of La Grange, 1893, 1897, 1904, 1908, 1914, 1919, 1925 and 1945.
Wrenn, Tony P. Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1984.
† Frances P. Alexander, Richard L. Mattson and Mary Beth Gatza, Mattson, Alexander and Associates, La Grange Historic District, Lenoir County, NC, nomination document, 1999, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.