Falls Road Historic District
The Falls Road Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. 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 Falls Road Historic District, an extremely well-preserved residential district containing one-hundred historic buildings, primarily houses, developed beginning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to 1950, is eligible for the National Register Register of Historic Places in the area of community development. The Falls Road Historic District is an intact early twentieth century residential neighborhood which grew northwestward from downtown Rocky Mount and is associated with many important tobacconists, businessmen, and physicians in Rocky Mount's history. Rocky Mount experienced a burst of construction from the late 1890s into the 1920s generated by the establishment of the Rocky Mount Tobacco Market and the Atlantic Coast Line's repair shops. Like other main streets adjacent to downtown, stylish houses were built along Falls Road in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Falls Road, essentially an extension of Main Street, experienced a resurgence in development during the 1920s as large brick homes were built for doctors associated with Park View Hospital, which opened on Falls Road in 1914.
The Falls Road Historic District is also eligible for the National Register for its significant collection of architecture. The residences of the Falls Road neighborhood reflect building practices in Rocky Mount from 1900 to 1950, when local architects and builders supplied nationally popular house designs to their clients. Contractors such as D.J. Rose, Sam Toler and architects, John C. Stout and Thomas Herman, built solid stylish houses along Falls Road, often from architects' plans. The Falls Road Historic District exemplifies popular architectural styles of the period, including the Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Neoclassical Revival, Georgian Revival and Craftsman styles. A small scattering of houses built in the early 1900s stand as a reminder of Rocky Mount's early boom of residential development. These include the circa 1900 Thorpe-Gay House, the circa 1900 Turner B. Bunn House, and the circa 1906 Lyon-Looney House. Several brick Colonial and Georgian Revival style homes represent the 1920s expansion of the neighborhood.
The Falls Road Historic District area continued to develop substantially until 1950, demonstrated by the construction of Revival style architecture. A principal example within the district is the R.R. Gregory House, a Georgian Revival style house built in 1950. Because of the substantial development of the district until 1950 and the prominence of the Gregory House constructed the same year, the period of significance of the locally-significant historic district begins with the oldest building, constructed circa 1900, and continues to 1950, one year beyond the traditional fifty-year-old criterion.
Historical Background and Community Development Context
Named after a rocky mound at the falls of the Tar River, Rocky Mount began with a post office in 1816 followed by an early textile mill powered by the falls in 1818. Some twenty years later, the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad was routed near Rocky Mount, drawing development east toward the railroad tracks and away from the falls. The momentous passing of the first train through Rocky Mount in 1840 began its long era as a railroad town. In 1867 Rocky Mount was incorporated and in 1871 the Edgecombe and Nash County line, once at the falls, was moved to the railroad tracks. As of today, the western half of the city is in Nash County and the eastern half is in Edgecombe County.
In 1890 the population of Rocky Mount was only 650. This number soon changed as Rocky Mount grew at the turn of the century with the arrival of the Rocky Mount Tobacco Market in the late 1880s. Tobacco culture spurred a multitude of allied industries drawing more and more people to the town. Stemmeries, re-drying plants and prizeries, the facilities where tobacco is inspected and packed, grew up around the sales operation. The first bank appeared in 1889 as a direct result of the large sums of money transacted at market time. This burst of expansion created a sizeable business district built from the 1890s into the 1920s. The early tobacco factories and warehouses were clustered around the railroad tracks at the northern end of downtown on Goldleaf, MacDonald, and Pearl Streets and Falls Road. Fenner's Warehouse and J.O.W. Gravely's Warehouse both stood in the 200 block of Falls Road, south of the Falls Road Historic District. In addition to the tobacco industry, the railroad continued to play an important role in Rocky Mount's expansion.
In 1892 the Atlantic Coast Line (ACL) Railroad (previously the Wilmington and Weldon) established a complex of maintenance, repair, construction and refueling facilities for the railroad known as Emerson Shops in South Rocky Mount. Although the shops were located outside the city limits, the numerous workers directly impacted the growth of the town.
In the early 1890s, efforts were made to expand the business community. A promoter urged, "Come to Rocky Mount, go into business and get wealth." In 1892, the Rocky Mount Improvement and Manufacturing Co. was formed. Composed of a group of Pennsylvania capitalists acting as the Chamber of Commerce, the company purchased 384 acres lying on the west side of town in which they laid out roads, sold lots and built houses.
The promotion of the town paid off as the first decade of the twentieth century was a period of boom and prosperity for the city. Tax valuation more than doubled between 1898 and 1905. Businesses at the time included four banks, four tobacco warehouses, six prizeries and stemmeries, four brick manufactories, three planing and saw mills, two sash and blind factories, one foundry, two machine shops, three buggy and wagon manufactories, two cotton seed oil mills, two ice factories, and one knitting mill in addition to numerous retail, commercial and service enterprises. Outside the city limits were Rocky Mount Mills and the ACL shops. This decade showed a population explosion which prompted various civic improvements. The 1910 census showed 8,000 against the 2,900 of 1900. Public water and sewage were provided in 1900 and electricity in late 1901. Main Street and two of the major roads stretching from downtown were paved in the early years of the century and sidewalks were laid in all the business and principal residential districts. A fire department of fifty-five men and two night policemen began service in 1901. Cultural enterprises included a Masonic Hall and Opera Hall each constructed on Main Street between 1901 and 1904.
Prior to 1910, there was little medical care available for the people of Rocky Mount outside of what a physician could do in his office or in a patient's house. Patients requiring serious surgery or prolonged treatment were sent to hospitals in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Richmond where the local physicians had received advanced medical training. A train named "Eighty" left Rocky Mount every afternoon and traveled sixty miles with one or two patients referred from Rocky Mount to one of two hospitals in Richmond, Virginia. The first hospital in Rocky Mount was the 1898 Atlantic Coast Line Hospital which served only the employees of the railroad and their dependents. The need for a public hospital in Rocky Mount was met in 1913 when the Rocky Mount Sanitarium was opened by a group of doctors headed by Dr. L.W. Kornegay. The general hospital of forty beds served the majority of eastern North Carolina.
Even after the founding of the Rocky Mount Sanitarium, it was obvious to doctors in the area that further medical services were needed. In 1914 Park View Hospital, a brick and concrete facility, opened its doors on Falls Road at the corner of Hickory Street, overlooking Braswell Park. Dr. J.P. Whitehead and his associates, I.P. Battle, Dr. Quillen, R.H. Speight, and J.P Speight incorporated themselves with Drs. George Ben Johnston and Murat Willis, both from Richmond, Virginia, to form the hospital. The doctors set up their offices in the hospital and Dr. Edmund S. Boice, who had been associated with the Richmond Hospital, joined them as the resident surgeon. The hospital was described in a medical journal ten years later as a general hospital with seventy beds for surgical and non-contagious medical cases. The hospital quickly faced cash-flow problems, thus the board sold the property in 1915 to Drs. Willis and Boice, with Dr. Quillen retaining a small financial interest and operating room privileges. By the 1920s the hospital was debt-free and had expanded its facility. The medical staff continued to expand allowing Drs. Boice and Willis to form the Boice-Willis Clinic, which operated out of the hospital. Park View Hospital successfully served Nash County residents until its closing in 1971, when Nash General Hospital was erected. The building was demolished in the 1970s.
As quickly as businessmen constructed commercial buildings downtown, developers built blocks of houses for white and black workers and filled suburbs with fashionable residences. Contractors were in heavy demand between 1890 to 1925. Sam S. Toler and D.J. Rose came to Rocky Mount early in this period. They were two of the first one hundred men to receive general contractor's licenses in North Carolina. John C. Stout opened his practice circa 1900 and served the community for close to three decades, building prestigious residences for many of the leading businessmen in Rocky Mount. All three men built or designed houses in the Falls Road Historic District.
The earliest houses in Rocky Mount were frame dwellings built along Franklin, Church and Pearl Streets adjacent to Main Street. Suburban growth expanded Rocky Mount in the early twentieth century with the most prestigious developments on the west side of town. A 1907 Bird's Eye View Map of Rocky Mount shows an even scattering of houses along the major thoroughfare of Falls Road, which traveled northwest from Main Street. Linking downtown with Rocky Mount Mills, Falls Road developed early on as a prestigious residential avenue where wealthy tobacconists, mill executives, leading businessmen and professionals built homes. The 1907 map also shows Grand Avenue, another important thoroughfare which ran parallel to Falls Road on the east.
Following World War I, Rocky Mount developed at a fast pace expanding in all directions on the Nash County side of the railroad tracks. The growth is reflected in the construction of parks, a modern library, a country club, and many homes. As tract builders erected blocks of low-cost bungalows for white and black railroad workers, white businessmen and professionals had homes built in the wealthy neighborhoods west and northwest of the city. In the late 1920s, the exclusive neighborhoods of Englewood (1927) and West Haven (1928) were platted and house lots around Falls Road were purchased by many of Rocky Mount's prominent residents. By the 1920s, a grid of streets flanked Falls Road. A 1920 map of Rocky Mount shows Grand Avenue, west of Church Street, was changed to Avent Street and Braswell, Earl, Wilkinson, Grace and Peachtree Streets had been laid out. The map shows a few houses on Avent and Earl Streets with a row of houses on Falls Road.
The earliest houses in the Falls Road Historic District were built in the early twentieth century and represent the Queen Anne and Neoclassical Revival styles popular at the time. Thomas V. Avent had a frame two-story gable and wing dwelling built circa 1905 at 529 Falls Road. Alex P. Thorpe, a local merchant, had a one-story Neoclassical Revival cottage with a cross-gable roof constructed in the early 1900s on the west side of Falls Road (512 Falls Road) at the corner of North Grace Street. Turner B. Bunn, the secretary-treasurer of Rocky Mount Mills, purchased a lot at the northeast corner of Falls Road and N. Grace Street (509 Falls Road) in 1904 on which he had a two-story Queen Anne style house with corner turret patterned after a design in The Ladies Home Journal erected in 1905. Local builder, Albert S. Lyon purchased a lot on the east side of Falls Road from T.V. Avent and W.S. Wilkinson, trustee for $450 in 1906 [Nash Co. DB 154 Pg. 147]. On this lot he built a two-story Queen Anne style dwelling at 521 Falls Road. William E. Fenner, a leading tobacconist, built a two-story Colonial Revival style dwelling circa 1914 at the southeast corner of Falls Road and N. Grace Street.
The arrival of Park View Hospital on Falls Road in 1914 re-established the neighborhood's prominent social status. By the 1920s doctors associated with the hospital had bought or constructed custom built houses along the road. In 1918 Dr. J.J. Williams Looney, an eye, ear, nose and throat doctor, purchased Albert S. Lyon's two-story Queen Anne house at 521 Falls Road. In many cases, several of the earlier less substantial houses were replaced with larger brick homes in the 1920s. Dr. Edmund S. Boice, a surgeon at Park View, purchased a house in the 500 block of Falls Road which he subsequently moved to a lot on Avent Street (presently 536 Avent Street). On the vacant Falls Road lot, Boice had a two-story brick Colonial Revival style house erected circa 1924. Designed by Richmond, Virginia architect W. Duncan Lee, the house was built by local contractor Sam Toler. Dr. J.P. Whitehead, co-founder of Park View Hospital and physician at Rocky Mount Mills, purchased a lot on the east side of Falls Road (517 Falls Road) from Sally P. Parker of Richmond and Kate D. Parker of Cedarhurst, New York in 1922. [Nash Co. DB 194, Pg. 18] In 1923 Dr. Whitehead had D.J. Rose build a two-story, brick Colonial Revival style residence on the lot at 517 Falls Road. The house with one-story colonnaded porch and porte-cochere was designed by a Richmond architect named Hudson. In the late 1930s, Drs. Newsome and Margaret Battle chose a house site on Peachtree Street in order to be within walking distance of the hospital. On the site at 521 Peachtree Street, D.J. Rose built a two-story, brick Colonial Revival style house for their residence.
Physicians were not the only residents along Falls Road in the 1920s. L. Lee Gravely, the secretary-treasurer of the China American Tobacco & Trading Company, built a two-story brick Colonial Revival style house at 528 Falls Road circa 1924. The house took the place of a one-story Victorian cottage which was moved to a vacant lot at 540 Avent Street. John S. Dozier, owner of Dozier & Co. general merchandise, built a two-story brick Neoclassical Revival style house at 600 Falls Road in 1929. The substantial house with a classical curved entry porch and contemporaneous brick garage was purchased shortly after its construction by William S. Wilkinson, president of Wilkinson, Bulluck & Co. Insurance and Realty. Norwood L. Alcocke, founder of Rocky Mount Nations Company, had a two-story, brick Prairie style house built circa 1922 at 624 Falls Road. Featuring a hipped roof, bracketed eaves, and a one-story hipped porch and porte-cochere, the house is the only example of the Prairie style in the Falls Road Historic District.
A 1919 article entitled "Your Own Interest in the Growth of Rocky Mount" encouraged people to build more houses in Rocky Mount in an effort to meet the housing shortage brought on by the increase in residents associated with railroad and private industries. The houses on the streets adjacent to Falls Road developed more heavily in the 1920s and may have been in response to the lack of housing at the time.
The earliest houses on Avent Street were mostly one-story gable and wings as well as some Queen Anne cottages. The street became more populous in the 1920s when bungalows were built for middle-class businessmen. Zachariah Parrish, a special claims agent with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, built a one-and-a-half story Craftsman style house with shed dormer and engaged porch circa 1920 at 544 Avent Street. Kenly H. McGee, a manager with the China American Tobacco & Trading Company, apparently built a one-story Colonial Revival cottage circa 1923 at 511 Avent Street. Carpenter, Hill L. Ezell, erected the one-story bungalow with hipped porch at 609 Avent Street circa 1923. Avent Street continued to evolve into the 1930s and 1940s as Colonial Revival cottages and Tudor Revival style houses filled in the vacant lots. Dr. Adam T. Thorp built a one-story hipped roof dwelling at 543 Avent Street circa 1930. Edward Eatman had a one-story Colonial Revival cottage built at 558 Avent Street circa 1948.
In 1917 there were three small homes all standing on the same lot on Earl Street. Identical in style and plan, these houses were probably built at the same time to serve as rentals or worker housing. Two of the houses (120 and 124 Earl Street) survive today. Both are one-story side-gable Victorian cottages with two-over-two sash windows and hipped roof porches. In the 1920s, a one-story bungalow (116 Earl Street) was added to the lot, taking the place of the third Victorian cottage. By the early 1940s three one-story Minimal Traditional style dwellings had been built on the street. The three 1940s dwellings, all similar in plan, were mostly likely built as rental properties.
R. Henry Gregory Jr., secretary-treasurer of Commercial Building & Loan Association, built a brick Tudor Revival style house with cross-gable roof at 122 Braswell Street in the early 1930s. Almost twenty years later, R. Henry Gregory, owner of Wimberly and Gregory Co., had a two-story brick Georgian Revival style house built at 110 Braswell Street circa 1950. Designed by Wilson architect, Thomas B. Herman, the house features a pedimented stoop, one-story hipped wings, and a dentiled cornice. Surrounded by a three foot brick wall and standing on 1.2 acres, the house acts as the centerpiece of the Falls Road Historic District.
Wilkinson Street (previously named Braswell) remained vacant from the 1920s to the early 1930s. Hugh H. Battle, a farmer, had a frame Dutch Colonial Revival style dwelling built by local contractor D.J. Rose on a sizeable lot on the north side of Wilkinson Street (126 Wilkinson Street). The house with a curved pedimented entrance porch and attached two-car garage is the only frame example of the Dutch Colonial Revival style in the district. Brick Period cottages and a large Classical Revival style house were constructed on the street in the 1950s by doctors and tobacconists.
The only non-residential building in the Falls Road Historic District is the Wilkinson School at the corner of Wilkinson and Peachtree Streets (500 Peachtree Street). Built in 1923, the two-story brick building was designed by the Benton and Benton architectural firm and built by contractor E.S. Derby. The school served grades first through eighth and later kindergarten through sixth grade, until its closing in the 1960s.
After the 1940s, the Falls Road neighborhood remained a premier residential area. Large and small brick homes continued to infill the lots through the 1950s. The Falls Road area continues to retain its status as a desirable residential location. The city of Rocky Mount and the district's neighborhood association, known as Falls Road Neighborhood Association, are working together to maintain the neighborhood's status.
Community Development and Architectural Significance
Falls Road Historic District is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places as an extremely well-preserved residential district which developed at the turn of the century and experienced a resurgence of growth following World War I. The Falls Road Historic District represents Rocky Mount's second and third phases of residential growth. The earliest dwellings in Rocky Mount were built along Main Street and its flanking streets in the late 1800s. The majority of these houses were lost as twentieth century commercial development wiped the nineteenth century fabric away. Falls Road boasts a solid streetscape of fashionable Queen Anne, Neoclassical Revival, and Colonial Revival style homes which represent the affluent professional and business classes from about 1900 to 1940. The neighborhood expanded in the 1920s, partly as a result of the 1914 opening of Park View Hospital on Falls Road which attracted physicians to the neighborhood. Surrounding streets in the district represent the continued growth of the area in the late 1910s through the 1950s.
The Falls Road Historic District represents the high point of residential development following World War I. The residential architecture of the Falls Road Historic District reflects building practices in Rocky Mount from 1900 to 1950, when local architects and builders supplied nationally popular house designs to their clients. Locally prominent architect John C. Stout and contractors D.J. Rose and Sam Toler built fashionable residences along Falls Road, often from architects' plans. The most prevalent style in the Falls Road Historic District is the Colonial Revival. More frequently, examples of the Colonial Revival style in the district were architect designed houses. The majority of these also exhibit an array of finely crafted classical ornamentation and are more similar to eighteenth century Georgian prototypes than the turn of the century examples built near the central city. Architect Thomas Herman of Wilson, North Carolina, and local contractors D.J. Rose and Sam Toler are known to have constructed several examples of the style in the district during the 1920s through the 1950s.
Bishir, Catherine W. and Michael T. Southern. A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Boice, Laura. Oral Histories collected in 1998.
Census Bureau, Nash County Census. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of the Census, 1880, 1900, 1910, and 1920. Microfilm at North Carolina Division of Archives and History.
Hill Directory Co., City of Rocky Mount, North Carolina Directory, Norfolk, V.A. 1908-09, 1912-13, 1914-15, 1920, 1925, 1930, 1934, 1936, 1940, 1942, 1945, 1948, and 1950.
Mattson, Richard. History and Architecture of Nash County. Nashville, N.C.: Nash Co. Planning Department, 1987.
Mearns, Kate. Central City Historic Buildings Inventory: Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Rocky Mount: Central City Revitalization Corporation, 1979.
Nash County Deeds.
O'Quinlivan, Michael. Rocky Mount Centennial Commemorative Book 1867-1967.
Sanborn Map Company. "Rocky Mount, North Carolina." New York: The Sanborn Map Company, 1912, 1917, 1923, 1954, and 1956.
Wells, Jno. J. Map of Rocky Mount, North Carolina and Suburbs, 1920.
† Michelle T. Kullen, Falls Road Historic District, Nash County, North Carolina, nomination document, 1999, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.