Spring Hope Historic District
The Spring Hope Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. 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 Spring Hope Historic District exemplifies the development of an eastern North Carolina railroad town in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The district reflects Spring Hope's emergence as the most affluent of the small railroad towns in Nash County. Located amid small farms in western Nash County, the town of Spring Hope developed at the end of a railway line that, in 1886, extended twenty-five miles west from Rocky Mount. Surrounded by productive cotton and tobacco fields and thick stands of pines, Spring Hope flourished as a transshipment point and farming service center. Between its incorporation in 1889 and the First World War, Spring Hope emerged as a major inland exporter of cotton, as well as the home of a large lumber mill and cotton seed oil factory. The full complement of small-town mercantile establishments also appeared, oriented to the railroad tracks and depot. Spring Hope's merchants, professionals, and workingmen built residences along streets around the commercial core. They erected their major churches at the junctions of residential and commercial land uses. The Spring Hope Historic District contains about two hundred buildings which are the most cohesive group of architecturally and historically significant commercial, residential, and religious structures representing the town's formative years. The buildings include the popular architectural styles of this period, reflected in traditional house types as well as in the latest, most sophisticated designs.
The history of the town of Spring Hope, in Nash County, began in 1886 when the Wilmington-and-Weldon Railroad extended a spur line twenty-five miles westward from Rocky Mount, North Carolina. The line cut through thick stands of pine trees as well as rich agricultural land — natural resources that would be the foundation of Spring Hope's commercial growth. The construction of the railroad line not only spurred local farming and lumbering, but also provided a focal point for settlement. The terminus of the railroad, about two miles east of the Tar River, attracted a host of merchant-farmers and speculators who were to shape Spring Hope's physical appearance and economy. Many came from nearby crossroads communities, such as Stanhope, Peachtree, and "Old Spring Hope." Located by a spring about five miles southeast, the original Spring Hope community was effectively abandoned as its small group of inhabitants relocated to the railroad tracks in the late 1880s and early 1890s.
The town's first plat map, executed in 1889, depicts a gridiron of streets comprising thirty-three blocks oriented to the railroad tracks running east and west. The tracks split Railroad Street (today Main Street on the south side) with Branch Street on the south and four streets, notably Nash Street, on the north. Running north and south, Hazel Street marked the west end of town and Walnut Street the east. A stage route between Raleigh and Rocky Mount angled into Spring Hope, merging with Railroad Street west of Hazel. The Spring Hope Historic District includes this original section of town as well as later additions that, by 1911, had pushed the eastern border to the Louisburg Road.
Spring Hope progressed rapidly during the first two decades of the twentieth century, its population growing from 500 in 1900 to a peak of 1,500 in 1914. The community's growth reflected town construction and expansion throughout the region in this period. Nearby Middlesex (1908) and Bailey (1908) both owed their existence to new railroad lines that spanned the western reaches of the county by 1910. Meanwhile, established railroad towns such as Whitakers, Battleboro, Sharpsburg, and Rocky Mount rapidly grew into thriving trading centers, their economies supported by timber, cotton, as well as flue-cured tobacco, eastern North Carolina's major crop of the new century. The county seat of Nashville, situated about seven miles east of Spring Hope, grew rapidly in the early 1900s as well, similarly benefiting from the Wilmington-and-Weldon Railroad line. In all of these towns building construction soared, and handsome examples of houses, churches, and civic and commercial structures appeared between the 1890s and World War I. However, with the exception of Rocky Mount, with a population of over 10,000 by 1915, Spring Hope boasted the finest assortment of architecture in the county.
The train depot defined the heart of early Spring Hope. Built in 1888, the Wilmington and Weldon Passenger and Freight Station (Main Street) is a board-and-batten structure which stands intact and on its original site near the center of the historic district. Until the 1930s the station was flanked on the east side by an eighty-foot-long platform for loading cotton bales. A local historian has written that during the 1910s 10,000 bales a season were shipped from Spring Hope, ranking the town as North Carolina's premier inland exporter of cotton. Mercantile enterprises quickly developed along the block of Main Street facing the depot (between Ash and Pine streets) and on two blocks of Pine Street between Nash and Branch. This core of retail land use is an integral part of the Spring Hope Historic District. Most of the present-day brick buildings along Pine Street were completed by the early 1900s, and are depicted in the 1905 Sanborn Map. The map shows the standard small-town melange of general stores, groceries, drugstores, hardware stores, and livery stables. Within the next decade, Main Street on the south side had acquired its present appearance — a contiguous row of one- and two-story buildings. Situated at the center of the block was the community's leading financial institution, the Citizens Bank (115-117 West Main Street). The bank was established in 1908 in a two-story Neo-Classical building, whose arcaded facade contrasts with the more open, glass-encased shop fronts in the district. Unlike the bustling south side of the street, the north side remained largely vacant until after World War II. A frame livery that had stood on the block in 1905 had disappeared by 1911, and a few small wooden stores were razed in a 1922 fire that also consumed several brick buildings along the west side of Pine Street north of the tracks.
A diversity of warehouses and industries grew up around the periphery of the business district, including Baines and Strickland Wagon Company (northwest corner West Nash and North Pine streets), Spring Hope Cotton Oil Company (alternate Highway 64), a cluster of tobacco warehouses (West Nash Street), and, dominating the north end; the Montgomery Lumber Company. The lumber mill was the town's leading employer between its establishment in 1906 and closing in 1930. At the mill's height of operation in the 1920s, approximately 20 workers were on its payroll. Although the mill and many associated houses have been razed, several worker cottages still stand along West Nash Street (208 W. Nash Street, 212 W. Nash Street, and 302 W. Nash Street).
Among the Spring Hope Historic District's burgeoning enterprises were those operated by many of Spring Hope's leading citizens. These people built commercial establishments and nearby homes that are significant elements of the historic district. T.C. May, an early arrival to Spring Hope, established a general merchandise store at 115 Railroad Street, and occupied an impressive "I house" at 401 West Main Street. His sons were actively involved in the family enterprises, that also included farms west of town. In 1913, Genatus May built a handsome Queen Anne, hip-roofed cottage (315 E. Nash Street), one of two in a row on East Nash Street. His brother, Albert May, built a pillared Neo-Classical Revival residence in 1915 at 106 North Walnut Street. May's imposing home is one of four grand Neo-Classical Revival houses in town — structures that exemplify Spring Hope's prosperity in the 1910s. Merchant-farmer Nathaniel Finch, from nearby Stanhope, occupied a distinguished example (404 South Walnut Street) on the south end of the historic district. He also invested in the Finch Building (127 W. Main Street), the largest commercial structure in town. This structure's sixty-foot-wide facade, capped by a heavy metal cornice, anchors the west end of Main Street. Local physicians J.R. Wheless and Hassell Brantley also erected stylish Neo-Classical Revival residences (211 E. Nash Street and 301 E. Branch Street) in the 1910s. About twenty years earlier, ca.1892, Dr. Brantley had built the Italianate-Queen Anne house at 225 East Branch Street. In the early 1900s, Brantley maintained an office to the rear of the Finch Building, and later, with his physician son, Julian Brantley, built a one-story brick office building at 109-111 South Pine Street.
A host of other professionals and entrepreneurs made important contributions to Spring Hope's early residential and commercial development. Hardware merchant Sidney P. Lamm not only built a handsome two-story communal building at 111 W. Main Street, but also invested in a number of rental houses — many of them triple-A cottages — along Railroad and East Nash streets. Developer and farmer John Dodd is said to have built as many as five houses along Hopkins Avenue between 1900 and 1910. W.W. Richardson was instrumental in establishing the First National Bank, as well as operating a general merchandise store and cotton oil mill in Spring Hope. Richardson's prominent status was reflected in his grand Queen Anne house, the town's finest example of the style, at 109 South Walnut Street. About 1900, Dr. William Edwards, a physician, moved to town from Peachtree, a settlement five miles north. Edwards built a house at 215 Railroad Street and established his office to the rear of Yarborough's Drugstore (101 S. Pine Street). This former drugstore (today  a dry cleaners) still includes decorative brickwork around a rear entrance where Dr. Edwards, and before him Dr. Samuel Barnes Dew, practiced medicine. Dr. Dew also maintained an office in the front-facing wing of his house (208 E. Branch Street) near Dr. Brantley's, on Branch Street. At the far east end of Branch, near the eastern edge of the historic district, three important entrepreneurs, including Alex Yarborough (412 E. Branch Street) and dry goods merchants John Mathews (417 E. Branch Street) and George W. Bunn (East Branch Street) built two-story Queen Anne houses at the turn of the century. Bunn's dwelling, completed in 1908, represented his growing financial success — for he had previously occupied a decorative, but smaller, triple-A cottage near the heart of the business district (Bunn Lane).
In a 1951 newspaper interview, Mr. Bunn recalled Spring Hope's early years of vigorous commercial activity. He remembered three saloons operating in the early 1900s, and as many as twenty general merchandise stores, including Bunn's own "racket store." The North Carolina Yearbook for 1910 confirms his recollection, recording nineteen general merchants as well as four blacksmith shops, a photographic studio in the Finch Building, and three hotels. One former hotel, the Timberlake-Griffin House, still stands at the southwest corner of South Walnut and West Branch streets. Typical of small-town hotel architecture at the turn of the century, it is a two-story frame structure with a two-tier porch. Spring Hope's growth was represented as well in the development of its religious institutions and in the sophistication of their architecture. The two churches in the Spring Hope Historic District were constructed between 1909 and 1910 by the town's Baptist and Methodist congregations, respectively (southeast corner E. Nash and N. Walnut streets; and southeast corner E. Branch and S. Walnut streets). In the 1890s, both congregations shared a small frame community building at the southwest corner of East Nash and North Pine streets. The present brick edifices, with educational buildings added in the 1950s, are refined and creative interpretations of popular ecclesiastical designs.
During the 1910s and 1920s, Spring Hope continued to show physical signs of progress, though the population remained stable. The uptown streets were paved in 1911, and waterworks installed in 1922-1923. In 1923-1924, U.S. Highway 90 was completed through Spring Hope, following east-west Nash Street. While U.S. 90 (today Alt. 64) and the subsequent paving of other county roads afforded local residents unprecedented mobility, the increased use of the automobile also changed the look and commercial character of the business district. In 1937, local historian Constance Mathews counted ten filling stations in Spring Hope, most of them strung along U.S. 90, two blocks north of Main Street. A.F. May's filling station (116 N. Pine Street), built in 1923, and Hill's Auto Service (northeast corner N. Ash and W. Nash streets), completed in 1933-34, represent the emergence of auto-related businesses.
During the 1930s, the Depression, compounded by the exhaustion of lumber resources and the boll weevil's devastation of the local cotton crop, severely affected Spring Hope's economy. The hard times also brought this small town's cultural shortcomings into bold relief. Constance Mathews criticized the fact that Spring Hope had no library nor YMCA. Young people congregated in the drugstores, filling stations, and at street corners. Like small towns nationwide in the 1930s, Spring Hope was losing its ambitious youth to the opportunities of the big city. "Spring Hope is the home of good [human] material, it seems," observed Mathews, "but the material must go abroad to find its own."
Although Spring Hope's economy recovered in the postwar decades, the new commercial activities and houses of this period tended to arise outside the historic district. As the community's role as a railroad stop and agricultural trading center diminished, the town's bankers and other leaders sought new and diversified industries that could benefit from the area's available labor force and Spring Hope's proximity to major highways.
As a result of this focus on progress, one newspaper writer, in 1964, portrayed the original downtown and surrounding streets in especially romantic terms:
Honorable old rambling white houses age gently
The writer was describing, in effect, the Spring Hope Historic District. Today, led by the owner of Sykes Seed Store (103 Pine Street) a growing number of owners of stores on Main and Pine streets are refurbishing their facades. The "whites houses" on surrounding avenues are occupied by many long-time residents — now retired. But these streets are also the home of a host of young people who commute daily by automobile to Raleigh, about thirty-five miles west. Although the commercial area has lost its traditional role as a vital agricultural trading center, hardware stores, general merchandise establishments, a drugstore, and a host of retail shops remain. Few buildings are presently vacant. Furthermore, Spring Hope has gained a new role as the home of the National Pumpkin Festival, which each October attracts thousands of visitors to the town. Taken as a whole, the Spring Hope Historic District remains a focus of economic and social activities, while epitomizing an early twentieth century railroad town in eastern North Carolina.
Avett, Wally. "Spring Hope Seeks Marriage to Industry," Rocky Mount Evening Telegram, July 12, 1964.
Mathews, Constance. Stagecoach to Streamline. Spring Hope, North Carolina: Constance Mathews, 1937.
Mattson, Richard. "National Register Nomination for the Dr. Hassell Brantley House." Raleigh: North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1986.
________The History and Architecture of Nash County, North Carolina. Nashville, North Carolina. Nash County Planning Department, 1987.
Nash County Register of Deeds, Nash County Courthouse, Nashville, North Carolina.
The North Carolina Yearbook and Business Directory for 1910. Raleigh: The News and Observer, 1910. Other years were also examined, including 1907, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1915, and 1916.
Pierce, Bill. "Industries Help Diversify Economy of Spring Hope," Rocky Mount Evening Telegram, June 2, 1955.
The Rocky Mount Evening Telegram, September 30, 1951.
Sanborn Insurance Maps of Spring Hope, North Carolina. New York: Sanborn Map Company, 1905, 1911, and 1923.
Spring Hope Historical Society. "The Montgomery Lumber Companies 1906-1930." Unpublished manuscript ca.1980, available at the Spring Hope Library.
Weaver, M. W. "Spring Hope: Home of the National Pumpkin Festival," Nashville Graphic, October 15, 1976.
† Richard Mattson, Preservation Consultant, Spring Hope Historic District, Nash County, NC, nomination document, 1987, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.