Villa Place Historic District
The Villa Place 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.
Villa Place Historic District, a roughly nine-block neighborhood located three blocks west of Main Street, is the most intact early twentieth century residential subdivision in the city of Rocky Mount. The densely developed neighborhood is filled with well-preserved Queen Anne, Foursquare, Craftsman, Colonial Revival and Neoclassical Revival style houses built between about 1900 and the 1940s by employees of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and other businesses in the bustling railroad and tobacco town. The West End Land Development Company laid out the east half of the district in 1891 and sold lots until about 1907 when the American Suburban Corporation took over the development. In 1913 this company platted the west half of the district as Villa Place. The entire area is now known by this name. West School, the first public graded school in Rocky Mount, was built in the district in 1901. Its successor, the James Craig Braswell School, a brick Moderne style building, was erected on the Pearl Street site in 1940 and is still in use. The principal Villa Place Historic District landmark is Machaven (306 Grace Street; National Register listed 1980), a spectacular Neoclassical Revival style brick mansion built in the middle of the subdivision in 1908 from a design by Raleigh architect H.P.S. Keller. The strong local significance of Villa Place in the history of Rocky Mount's community development and architectural development render it eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Villa Place is undergoing a renaissance as young families move back to the inner city and restore the delightful architectural features of its dwellings.
The village of Rocky Mount grew up along the tracks of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, which came through in 1840 along the border between Nash County and Edgecombe County. As Rocky Mount grew at the turn of the century, due to the arrival of tobacco in the late 1880s, a burst of expansion created a sizeable business district built from the 1890s into the 1920s. This was generated by the establishment in the 1890s of the Rocky Mount Tobacco Market and the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad (formerly the Wilmington and Weldon) repair shops. Some seventy trains a day passed through Rocky Mount in 1905. Population rose from 650 in 1890 to 12,000 in 1920 and to over 20,000 in 1930. Developers built stylish residences on both the west, Nash County side of town, and on the east, Edgecombe County side, but the most prestigious developments happened on the west side.
The compact nine-block section of the western suburban development of Rocky Mount between Pearl, Western, Howell and Hammond Streets is known as Villa Place. The eastern half of the district, Pearl and Grace Streets, were subdivided by the Rocky Mount West End Land Improvement Company in 1891. Formed by a group of Pennsylvania capitalists who considered the growing railroad town of Rocky Mount as a good opportunity for residential development, the company purchased hundreds of acres of land west of the railroad tracks and subdivided it. The area, apparently known as the West End, grew as individuals purchased lots and had large frame houses built in the 1890s and early 1900s. Local physician W.W. Whitehead served as president of the company; local capitalist J.W. Hines as secretary. At this time, Rocky Mount had a population of 650, and its booming commercial growth necessitated large-scale housing construction to accommodate newcomers. West End gradually filled in with houses, and a 1907 Bird's Eye View Map of Rocky Mount shows an even scattering of houses over to Pearl Street. By this date additional westward streets had been laid out as far west as Tillery Street, where another railroad line, the Seaboard Coastline, curved in to meet the central railroad line. But less than a dozen houses stood in Villa Place District, almost all of them along Pearl Street.
By 1907 a new development company, American Suburban Corporation of Norfolk, Virginia, had apparently bought out some of West End Company's unsold lots and redeveloped the area as Villa Place. The subdivision plat known as Villa Place was recorded in 1913, consisting of Villa, Howell and Tillery Streets, which extend westward from Grace Street. [Nash Co. DB 200, 601]. In 1916 J.W. Perry was president; William Leigh Williams was vice president. The corporation was selling lots in Villa Place as early as 1907. Between 1907 and 1917 they sold approximately seventy lots in the subdivision to new owners, with restrictions that included that the property was not to be sold or rented to persons of African descent, and that no liquor be sold on the property for twenty-one years. Over the years, as business development has destroyed much of the eastern blocks of West End, the Pearl and Grace Streets blocks have become associated with their neighbor, Villa Place.
Since Rocky Mount grew out from the railroad tracks, the oldest houses in the Villa Place Historic District stand at the eastern edge of the neighborhood, in the 300 block of South Pearl Street. Seven of the eleven houses on the block appear on the 1907 bird's eye view map. Three of the other four were built by 1915. The houses at 304, 308 and 312 Pearl Street were built from 1901 to 1907 for Mary Thomas Bullock. Mrs. Bullock apparently lived at 308 Pearl Street, and either rented or sold the other houses. The three are two-story vernacular Queen Anne style houses said to have been built by the same contractor.
Most of the houses in the Villa Place Historic District are custom houses built for individual purchasers of the lots. In 1905 J.W. Hines (1858-1928) purchased the 300 block of South Grace Street from R.L. Huffines (vice-president of Rocky Mount Insurance and Realty Company) for $3,100. In 1907-1908 Hines constructed a spectacular Neoclassical Revival style brick mansion, known as Machaven, for his family (NR 1980). Designed by Raleigh architect H.P.S. Keller, the house with its detached kitchen occupies one half of a block. Hines made his fortune as the "ice king" of North Carolina, owning ice plants in railroad towns across the state from Rocky Mount to Salisbury. He became a developer and industrialist in later years, and is credited with being instrumental in spurring Rocky Mount's early twentieth century growth. Hines built tobacco warehouses and was instrumental in bringing the Atlantic Coast Line repair shops, Emerson Shops, to south Rocky Mount in 1892.
Atlantic Coast Line Railroad workers occupied a number of the earliest houses, the Queen Anne cottages. Agent Ethna Gordon was the first known occupant of the cottage at 216 S. Grace Street about 1912, Alexander Douglas, dispatcher, was the first occupant of the cottage at 339 S. Grace Street about 1913, and foreman Otis Bracey the first occupant of the cottage at 416 Hammond Street about 1914. Ticket agent Lewis Fountain built the Queen Anne cottage at 330 Villa Street, thus at least some of the railroad workers owned their houses. Ten years later, railroad workers were building Craftsman style houses, such as the house at 300 Howell Street that is said to be an Aladdin kit house. It was built for Atlantic Coast Line Railroad clerk Alex Hilliard about 1923. W.B. Rector, a dispatcher, built the Bungalow at 210 Villa Street for himself about 1917.
High-ranking Atlantic Coast Line railroad officials and wealthy businessmen built homes along Grace and Nash Streets. William H. Newell, an executive with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, bought a lot at 301 South Grace Street in 1910 from J.W. Hines (Nash Co. D.B. 186, 174) and built a handsome house designed by local architect H.S. Pool. The eclectic two-story frame house has Queen Anne, Colonial and Craftsman features. Local merchant Eli Epstein purchased a lot at 230 S. Grace Street from Rocky Mount Insurance and Realty Company in 1913 [Nash Co. D.B. 208, 49] and built a substantial Bungalow, one of the town's first example of the new residential style. Civil engineer John J. Wells purchased a lot in the new subdivision at 518 Nash Street and built a late Queen Anne style two-story house about 1917. Goodie J. Mills, executive for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, purchased a lot at 526 Nash Street and built a large Foursquare dwelling about 1914. Next door at 522 Nash Street, W.B. Darrow, another railroad officer, bought a lot in 1913 and built a large house of similar appearance. [Nash Co. D.B. 203, 463]. In 1914 James W. Keel, lawyer for the ACL railroad, had an imposing Neoclassical Revival style house designed by local architect John C. Stout and built at 325 Nash Street.
Middle-class businessmen built houses for their families in Villa Place. Joseph O. Bobbitt bought lot 41 in block D in 1911 [Nash Co. DB 194, 335]. Joseph Bobbitt, a local wholesaler who moved to Rocky Mount from the Aventon community in northern Nash County, built a vernacular Queen Anne style cottage about 1915 that still stands at 334 Villa Street.
Howell Street developed in the 1920s with bungalows built for railroad workers such as E.A. Williams, a machinist for the ACL railroad, who built the house at 317 S. Howell Street. Among the Bungalows on South Howell Street is a large Queen Anne style house that represents the displacement of Rocky Mount's turn-of-the-century residences built close to the central business district as it grew in the 1920s. W.D. Cochran had built his splendid house from a design by local architect John C. Stout on South Main Street about 1900. In 1923 he moved his house to a large lot on Howell Street and erected a commercial building on its original site.
In the 1920s and 1930s Villa Place continued to be a desirable residential location. Colonial Revival style houses, both frame and brick, one and two-stories in height, became popular in Villa Place. Grocer Paul Harper had the brick-veneered Colonial Revival style cottage at 217 Villa Street built for his family about 1927. Argus Alwran, a clerk for "RyMS" (Rocky Mount Sanitarium) ordered an Elizabethan Revival style plan for a brick duplex from Holland Magazine and had it built at 533 Park Place. Murray Marshall, who worked with the Carolina Telephone & Telegraph Company, apparently built the Colonial Revival style house at 515 Park Place for his family about 1940.
The only contributing non-residential building in Villa Place is the James Craig Braswell School at the corner of Pearl and Nash Streets. The West School, the first graded public school erected in Rocky Mount, was erected on this site in 1901. In 1940 a new school, the James Craig Braswell School, replaced it. This two-story brick building of Moderne style was designed by local architect Harry J. Harles and built by local contractor D.J. Rose & Son. The building with an auditorium occupies one-half of a block and still serves as an elementary school.
Villa Place was superseded as Rocky Mount's premier residential area by suburbs located farther west from the business district — West Haven, Englewood, and the area along Falls Road were developed with imposing houses on large lots in the late 1920s. Villa Place held its own until World War II, then began to decline as its large old homes were subdivided into apartments and many of the homes were owned by absentee landlords. In the 1980s young families were once again attracted to the inner-city neighborhood. They began to buy the architecturally distinguished houses and restore them. Today, Villa Place continues to slowly reclaim its past dignity. The city of Rocky Mount and the Villa Place Historic District's neighborhood association, known as Machaven Neighborhood Association, are working together to stabilize the area.
Community Development and Architectural Significance
Villa Place is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places as the most intact early twentieth century residential suburb in Rocky Mount. The Villa Place Historic District represents Rocky Mount's second phase of residential growth. The original dwellings in Rocky Mount were built along Main Street and Church, Washington and Franklin Streets flanking Main Street and the railroad tracks in the late 1800s. These houses have disappeared as twentieth century commercial development devoured the town's nineteenth century fabric. Because older residential streets have lost their historic houses, Villa Place Historic District forms the western historic residential corridor that defines the boundary of the commercial district. Its solid streetscapes of fashionable Queen Anne, Foursquare, Colonial Revival and Craftsman style houses, with the landmark mansion of Machaven in the center, represent the conservative following of fashion by Rocky Mount's affluent professional and business classes, as well as middle and lower middle-class families from about 1900 to about 1930. The district was remarkably complete by about 1930, so that it represents an unusually cohesive cross-section of architectural development during the first three decades of the twentieth century.
The residential architecture of Villa Place Historic District reflects building practice in Rocky Mount from 1900 to the 1940s, when local architects and builders supplied nationally popular house designs to their clients. Rocky Mount's most prolific contractor, D.J. Rose and Son, and its foremost architect, John C. Stout, built solid stylish houses in Villa Place, sometimes from architects' plans, sometimes from mail order house plans. At least one house in the Villa Place Historic District is built from a kit supplied by the Aladdin Company, which had a factory in Wilmington, North Carolina. One architectural feature relates the house designs to eastern North Carolina's hot and humid climate — the deep hipped roofs that shelter many of the houses. Regardless of the house style, whether Queen Anne, Foursquare, or Craftsman, the dominant type of roof is the high hipped roof. Combined with the tall hardwood trees growing in the sidewalk medians and the front and rear yards of the houses, the hipped roofs provide insulation from the intense coastal plain sun.
The development of the Villa Place district contains planning features typical of inner-city neighborhoods built before World War II. The grid patterned streets, small front yards, side driveways leading to frame garages set at the rear property lines, service alleys between blocks in the western section, and the location of the graded school at the eastern edge created an orderly, tightly-knit neighborhood that has served its residents well for nearly one hundred years.
Villa Place Historic District Boundary Expansion
The Villa Place Historic District Boundary Expansion contains approximately eight blocks located on the south, west, and north sides of the Villa Place Historic District [NR 2000] in Rocky Mount, Nash County. The additional blocks consist of the south side of the 500-700 blocks of Sunset Avenue; the north side of the 400 to 700 blocks of Western Avenue; portions of the 100 and 400 blocks of S. Pearl and S. Howell streets; portions of the 100-400 blocks of S. Tillery Street; 400-800 blocks of the south side of Hammond Street, portions of the 500-600 blocks of Chester Street, the 400 block of S. Grace Street, east side, and the 500 block of S. Pearl Street, east side. As the result of an expanded area survey, the Villa Place Historic District Boundary Expansion incorporates the remaining intact blocks of the Villa Place subdivision in accordance with its historical development. Sunset Avenue, US Route 64 Business, is a major artery that bounds the neighborhood on the north. The Seaboard Coast Line Railroad tracks form the southern boundary of the district. S. Pearl Street on the east marks the boundary between residential development and the commercial and institutional development of the downtown business district. On the west, South Tillery Street marks the end of residential development in the area until the post-World War II period. The Villa Place Historic District Boundary Expansion contains 101 houses and several stores built during the period of significance, beginning ca.1907 with the oldest buildings and ending ca.1950 when the historic development of the area was largely complete. Like the Villa Place Historic District, the Boundary Expansion is locally significant for community development as it represents the second phase of residential growth in Rocky Mount around the downtown core. As the first phase dwellings are largely demolished, the Villa Place Historic District is one of the oldest intact neighborhoods in Rocky Mount. The dense blocks of Foursquare, Craftsman, Colonial Revival, and Period Cottage-style houses of the boundary expansion is locally significant in the area of architecture.
Boundary Expansion Historical Background
In 1907, the Sanborn Map of Rocky Mount was updated. In the same year an artist from Morrisville, Pennsylvania named T.M. Fowler drew a Birds Eye View of Rocky Mount. Both maps show that the boundary expansion streets of the Villa Place Historic District were then undeveloped land with several exceptions. A block of mill houses stood in the 500 block of S. Pearl Street, adjacent to the Rocky Mount Hosiery Mill on the railroad tracks. Two I-Houses stood in the 400 block of Hammond Street. The mill houses and the I-House at 409 Hammond Street still exist today. A few old houses stood along Western Avenue and Sunset Avenue in 1907, but these were demolished as the subdivision developed to its current appearance. The Sanborn Map of 1907 makes it clear that Villa, Howell, and Tillery streets south of Sunset Avenue had not yet been laid out, but these streets do appear on the 1912 Sanborn Map. Although the subdivision plat for this area, known as Villa Place, was not recorded until 1913, the streets were in place by 1912. The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad tracks formed a natural boundary to residential expansion in southwest Rocky Mount until the mid-twentieth century. Factories and lumber yards grew up along the tracks in the early twentieth century, and south of the tracks remained large tracts of woodland until after World War II.
The expansion area of the Villa Place Historic District contains a mixture of mill houses, custom-built houses, and speculative houses. The earliest houses are mill houses standing in the southeast corner of the expansion area near the railroad tracks. The 1907 Sanborn Map shows the large brick mill of the Rocky Mount Hosiery Company behind the houses on the tracks. The majority of houses in the expansion area are modest Craftsman style houses built in the 1920s and early 1930s. Four building contractors lived in the expansion area in the late 1920s and may have built many of these for speculation. The contractors were Charles A. Wells, 419 Villa Street; Wade H. Poole, 807 Hammond Street, George W. Viverette, 511 Western Avenue, and Eugene F. Utley, 216 S. Tillery Street. They lived in substantial pyramidal cottages, Foursquares, and Craftsman-style houses.
The south end of the expansion era was fifty percent developed with Foursquare and Craftsman-style houses by 1923. These were the dwellings of railroad employees-engineers, conductors, clerks and others on Chester, S. Howell, and Hammond streets. Other railroad employees lived in modest Craftsman-style houses along S. Tillery Street. Grocery stores and a confectionery served these residents. Harry L. Daughtry's grocery, now known as Brown's Grocery, stands at 610 Chester Street. The small frame building was constructed about 1930. Daughtry lived in a handsome bungalow around the corner at 421 S. Howell Street that was built about 1917. About 1930 a brick store was built at 714-716 Hammond Street at the corner of S. Tillery Street. In 1942 this was Draine's Confectionary, a sweet shop. The West End Grocery, a flat-roofed brick store, was built about 1930 at the triangular point formed by the crossing of the railroad tracks across Hammond Street. The flatiron-shaped building still stands, although is now empty.
Lumber companies sprawled along the tracks at the southwest corner of the neighborhood. At the west edge of the district, west of Tillery Street, stood the large Tar River Lumber Company complex. This was still in operation in 1954. In the 1960s the Rocky Mount High School was built on a portion of the property, on Tillery Street between Hammond and Nash streets. This school, still under expansion, is a major Rocky Mount landmark that bounds the district on the west. The Williams Lumber Company, a branch of a Wilson lumber company that was established in Rocky Mount in 1912, stood along the tracks at S. Howell Street until the mid-twentieth century. In 1924 the company carpenters built a handsome bungalow at 524 S. Howell Street for the local manager's family. The lumber yard buildings are gone, but the bungalow is included in the boundaries of the Villa Place Historic District Expansion.
The north expansion area of Western Avenue and Sunset Avenue developed later than the south expansion area. The 1923 Sanborn Map shows houses loosely scattered along these streets. By 1954 most of the lots in the north area had been filled with houses. These houses were built for small businessmen, railroad workers, and salesmen. The largest houses in this area stand along Sunset Avenue. Physician Ivan Battle apparently built the large Colonial Revival-style house at 531 Sunset Avenue for his family about 1925. The elegant Art Moderne style Fourplex apartment building at 633 Sunset Avenue was constructed about 1945, perhaps in response to the housing needs of the World War II economy in Rocky Mount.
The oldest house in the Villa Place Historic District expansion area is a two-story frame house of Second Empire style at 417 Villa Street. It was constructed about 1880, but did not appear on this lot until about 1930. Likely it was moved from its original site close to Main Street in order to rescue it from demolition. In 1923 the Cochran House, a large Queen Anne style house, was moved from S. Main Street to 304 Pearl Street in the Villa Place Historic District in order to save it. 417 Villa Street was remodeled and enlarged when it was moved, but its Mansard roof with colorful slate patterns and its arched dormer windows recall the Victorian architectural richness of an earlier era.
Boundary Expansion Community Development and Architectural Significance
The Villa Place Historic District Boundary Expansion is locally significant for community development as the remaining blocks of the most intact early twentieth century residential suburb in Rocky Mount. The district represents the second phase of residential growth in Rocky Mount that took place adjacent to the earliest residential blocks along Main Street and the adjacent streets. These earlier houses have largely been replaced by twentieth century commercial development. Villa Place contains solid streetscapes of fashionable middle-class dwellings that bound the west side of the Rocky Mount business district. The Villa Place Historic District expansion area includes the fashionable middle and lower middle-class dwellings of Rocky Mount's working and professional classes from about 1907 to about 1950.
The residential architecture of the Villa Place Historic District Expansion reflects building practice in Rocky Mount from ca.1907 to ca.1950, when building contractors supplied nationally popular house designs to their clients. A row of five well-preserved mill houses at 507-517 S. Pearl Street built by 1907 are among the earliest houses in the expansion area. The I-House that stands nearby at 409 Hammond Street was one of two on the 1907 map in this location. One of the oldest houses in the neighborhood, it was occupied in 1915 by policeman Louis Sumner. Most of the houses in the south expansion area are pyramidal cottages and Craftsman/Bungalow-style houses built in the 1910s and 1920s. The George Gorham House, 413 Hammond Street, built about 1915, is a fine example of the pyramidal cottage type, with a tall pyramidal-hip roof, a transomed entrance, and a hipped porch with Craftsman-style posts. The house at 533 Hammond Street, apparently built about 1923 for Abraham Hengeveld, chief clerk of the Atlantic Coast Line railroad, features a transitional pyramidal cottage/Craftsman style with a high hip roof, a front bay window with a diamond-paned transom, and Craftsman-style porch posts and dormer window. Harry Daughtry's house at 421 S. Howell Street, built about 1917, is a classic example of the bungalow. The side-gabled one-and-one-half story house has a full-facade engaged porch, a shed dormer, and eaves enlivened with brackets and exposed rafter tails. In 1924 a well-appointed bungalow was built at 524 S. Howell Street for John Haggerty, the local superintendent of the Williams Lumber Company. His side-gabled house has an engaged porch that wraps around one side and extends into a porte-cochere. Across the rear is another wraparound porch that was converted a few years later into a glazed sunroom.
Most of the houses built in the north expansion area from the 1930s to ca.1950 reflect the Tudor Revival, Period Cottage, and Minimal Traditional styles. The Goddard House, 707 Hammond Street, ca.1930, is a good example of the small Tudor Revival style houses found in the area. It features a dramatically steep gabled front-wing with an arched corner entrance, brick walls, and eave brackets and exposed rafter tails. Typical of the Period Cottage-style houses in the area is the Ivey House, 526 Western Avenue, built about 1940. The one-story frame house features a corner recessed porch with latticework posts and arched soffits. The one-and-one-half story brick house, built about 1950 at 115 S. Tillery Street, reflects such features of the Minimal Traditional style as a front-gabled wing, one gabled dormer, and a side porch with cast-iron posts.
Although none of the expansion area houses are known to have been designed by an architect, there are surely examples of the work of Rocky Mount building contractors such as D.J. Rose and Son. The houses in the expansion area are well-preserved, typical examples of the major styles favored in North Carolina during the first half of the twentieth century. One particularly handsome house is the Herbert Poe House at 425 Hammond Street. Built about 1912, it features a high hipped slate roof, large one-over-one sash windows, and a wraparound one-story porch. Another notable dwelling in the expansion area is the Streigelman House at 519 Hammond Street, a particularly pleasing example of the Colonial Revival style built about 1920. The two-story house has a slate roof and a one-story porch featuring latticework posts that are a creative hybrid of Craftsman and Colonial design. About 1945 an elegant Art Moderne style apartment building of two-story brick construction was built at 633 Sunset Avenue. Pilasters that flank the central entrance bay and terminate in a parapet create a vertical thrust that offsets the horizontal emphasis of bands of corner windows separated by rows of horizontal brick belt courses.
Like the core of the Villa Place Historic District, the expansion area contains planning features typical of early twentieth century urban neighborhoods, including grid-patterned blocks, small front yards, and side driveways leading to frame garages. The orderly, well-planned neighborhood continues to serve its residents well at the beginning of its second century of existence.
Bishir, Catherine W. and Southern, Michael T. A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Fowler, M. T. Bird's Eye View Map of Rocky Mount, 1907. Copy in file.
Mattson, Richard L. The History and Architecture of Nash County, North Carolina. Nashville: Nash County 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.
Plat Map of West End, 1891. Rocky Mount West End Land Improvement Co. Copy in file.
Plat Map of Villa Place, 1913 [Nash County Deed Book 200, 601]
Rocky Mount City Directories. Hill Directory Co., City of Rocky Mount, North Carolina. (copies owned by the Rocky Mount Planning Department)
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Rocky Mount, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, N.C. (Set of maps owned by the Rocky Mount Planning Department)
Villa Place Historic District nomination form, by M. Ruth Little and Michelle Kullen, 1999. Copy at North Carolina Historic Preservation Office.
† M. Ruth Little and Michelle Kullen, Longleaf Historic Resources, Villa Place Historic District, Nash County, North Carolina, nomination document, 1999, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.