Northside Historic District
The Northside Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. 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 Northside Historic District is significant as a residential neighborhood that developed immediately after the inauguration of rail service to Elizabeth City in 1881. With the location of the Norfolk and Elizabeth City Railroad's depot and yards along between Pennsylvania Avenue (now North Poindexter Street) and the Pasquotank River, the Northside Historic District's waterfront bustled with activity. This activity was heightened after a thorough rehabilitation of the Dismal Swamp Canal in 1897-1899 encouraged the location of steamship companies along the river. A newfound prosperity in the city attracted white shop keepers, professionals, entrepreneurs, and laborers to move into the district. This remarkable economic and social diversity, whereby simple shop keepers and laborers occupied modest dwellings in close proximity to the imposing residences of the city's industrial and mercantile elite, engendered a sense of community and neighborhood that, in large part, remains today. This diversity was all the more incredible in light of the relatively short time frame in which the district developed, with building lots being platted in 1881, 1892, 1897, 1902, and 1907. The development of nearby saw mills not only provided work for numerous mill hands, but encouraged the mill owners to build impressive residences along Pennsylvania Avenue (now North Poindexter Street). With residential development came the need for churches, neighborhood groceries, and schools, all of which were established in the district by the first decade of the twentieth century, completing the neighborhood character of the Northside area.
The period of significance of the Northside Historic District, ca.1845-1943, begins with the construction date of the oldest contributing resource, the Scott-Culpepper House (503 North Road Street), and includes all resources at least fifty years old.
The early history of the Northside Historic District was greatly influenced by the fact that the area was separated from the original 1793 section of Elizabeth City by Poindexter Creek, one of four streams flowing into the Pasquotank River through the present city. Following a stream bed that is now covered, Poindexter Creek provided a natural boundary between the developing city and the farmland that originally comprised the Northside District to the north. These farms were served by what was known in 1845 as "the main road running from Elizabeth City to Norfolk [, Virginia]." Now known as North Road Street, it followed a route that extended from Norfolk to Nixonton, the only eighteenth century town in Pasquotank County and the seat of local government between 1785 and 1799. This road remains the city's main thoroughfare north from downtown (Pasquotank County Deed Book HH, p.446; Griffin 1970, 23; Butchko 1989, 13).
While the settlement pattern of the district prior-to the 1840s has not been researched, it is safe to assume that the area was attractive because of the advantageous location just outside the municipal limits of a town that was prospering with trade through the Dismal Swamp Canal. Among the adjacent landowners of the nine-acre tract purchased in 1845 by James C. Scott (503 North Road Street) was Matthew Cluff, one of the city's leading antebellum merchants (Deed Book HH, p.446); Butchko 1989, 297). Cluff was former owner (bought in 1821) of the 140 acres which John S. Burgess (510 North Road Street) acquired in 1847; this tract, extending between Road Street and the Pasquotank River and between Poindexter and Knobbs creeks, now comprises approximately two-thirds of the land area of the Northside Historic District. Although Burgess no doubt farmed portions of this tract, he was listed in the 1850 Census as a shipbuilder. Research indicates the Burgess shipyard was near the junction of East Burgess Street and the Pasquotank River (Deed Book W, p.154; Deed Book GG, p.18; 1850s Census; Butchko 1989, 293; Deed Book 00, p.487; Deed Book PP, p.284).
The social and economic upheaval of the Civil War presaged many changes within the district. With the Burgess family selling much of their landholding, a large tract along the Pasquotank River was acquired in 1869 by the Land and Lumber Company. The first of the region's large lumber firms that was financed by Northern investors, it operated a large sawmill on the property from about 1867 until its financial failure in 1873. Among the investors it brought to Elizabeth City were Charles Hall Robinson (1848-1930) from Theresa, New York, who served as the firm's secretary, later becoming one of the city's commercial and industrial leaders. The first president, Dr. William L. Underwood, was a native of Pennsylvania, coming to Elizabeth City in 1867 where he served as the company's land agent and later managed the city's leading hotel, the Albemarle House. The company was succeeded by a partnership comprised of T. Conrow, D.G. Bush, and D.C. Lippincott (probably investors from the Northeast as none of the names are local), who acquired the Land and Lumber Company's various tracts by sheriff's sale in 1874 (Deed Book PP, p.284; Branson 1872, p.126; The Daily Advance, November 26, 1930; Historical and Descriptive 1885, 232; Deed Book WW, p.240).
The arrival of Daniel S. Kramer (1834-1899), an experienced lumberman from Pennsylvania, had a long-lasting impact upon the city's prosperity in general and the district's development in particular. In 1871 he began a saw mill on a tract at the foot of Burgess Street with his sons Charles E. (1857-1923), John A. (1859-1916), Allen K. (1861-1923), and Joseph P. (1867-1924). The sawmill would become Elizabeth City's first large and successful endeavor in an industry that would lead the city into prosperity during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1880 the Kramers moved to "Poindexter Hill," a small peninsula in Poindexter Creek, and erected a modern planing mill. This site, though outside of the Northside Historic District, is directly across North Martin Street from houses erected in 1883 for his sons, Charles E. Kramer (305 North Martin Street) and John A. Kramer (303 North Martin Street). While the Kramers maintained an operation on Poindexter Hill until Poindexter Creek was covered by culverts in the 1920s, much of the company's saw and planing functions were gradually transferred to larger and more modern mills along Charles Creek and the Pasquotank River south of downtown (Kramer 1967, 7, 10, 12, 14, 18, 19, 82; Butchko 1989, 153-154, 334 (notes 65, 66, 67).
The opening of a rail link to Norfolk on May 26, 1881 was the primary factor in the development of the Northside Historic District. The crowd which gathered for the official grand opening that day was told that, with the railroad, Elizabeth City was at the threshold of "a new departure in our business prosperity." The location of the railroad depot and shops along the river were an auspicious start for the district's development, bringing activity and prospective home builders. On June 15, less than three weeks after the railroad's inaugural run, 368 building lots owned by the Conrow, Bush, and Lippincott planning mill were offered at public sale. Of these lots, 110, or 30 percent, are located within the Northside Historic District. An additional 111 lots are located north of the Northside Historic District and were developed for industrial rather than residential use.
The Northside Historic District's most rapid development occurred from the 1890s until the 1910s, a period when numerous other building lots were developed within the area. The most active developer in the district was Mack N. Sawyer (1846-1925), who moved to Elizabeth City in 1891 after having purchased several farms on the west side of North Road Street. He was one of several natives of Camden County (which lies immediately to the east of the district though separated by the Pasquotank River) to be involved with the district's growth. Sawyer was involved with the development of two tracts that are now partially within the Northside Historic District. The first tract was developed in 1892 along North Road, West Cypress, West Broad, and Greenleaf streets in partnership with W. Lynch and L.F. Wright. The second tract was laid out in 1897 along West Cypress and West Burgess streets with Caleb W. Stevens, another Camden native who came to Elizabeth City about 1888. Sawyer built his own impressive Queen Anne style residence (701 North Road Street) in 1895 on the first tract and within the next ten years built adjacent homes (Caleb L. Whitehurst House, 607 North Road Street; Andrew Flora Toxey House, 703 North Road Street; M.P. Gallop House, 705 North Road Street) for each of his four daughters; homes for his four sons were erected ca.1910 at the southern end of North Road Street (the two survivors being Roland Sawyer House, 310 North Road Street and Marvin Buck Sawyer House, 314 North Road Street). Sawyer also developed two tracts (in 1892 and 1895) to the west of the district that are still known as "Sawyertown" (Deed Book 11, p.617; Deed Book 18, p.572; Pasguotank Yearbook 1956-57, 288; Butchko 1989, 167-169, 295).
John Q. and Lancaster P. Etheridge, who were brothers, natives of Camden County, and partners in a downtown drug store, sold lots in the 100, 200, and 300 blocks of East Cypress and East Burgess streets during the early 1890s, even though the plat was not registered in the courthouse until 1907; these "Etheridge Lots" were designated on the 1893 Greenleaf map of the city (Deed Book 31, p.293; Branson 1884, 318). Among those purchasing their lots was fellow Camden native and local merchant Joseph H. Morrisette (1846-1922), who bought almost a dozen lots along East Burgess Street between 1893 and 1899. Morrisette built not only a residence (204 East Burgess Street) for himself ca.1893, but three rental houses (206, 304 and 306 East Burgess Street) (Deed Book 14, p.648; Deed Book 15, p.615; Deed Book 19, p.406; Deed Book 20, p.593). Rental properties were important in the district's development as they provided ready homes for families attracted to the city. Numerous clusters of modestly scaled and finished dwellings are found throughout the Northside Historic District.
The development of building lots continued into the early twentieth century in a limited manner as available nearby land was becoming scarce. In 1902 Hertford lawyer and Congressman Thomas G. Skinner and a Mr. Gregory laid out lots along North Road and West Broad streets where modestly scaled homes for workers were constructed (Deed Book 24, p.109; Pasguotank Yearbook 1954-55, 129). A small development, consisting of fourteen lots at the northwest corner of Pearl and Pool streets, was recorded in 1916 by the estate of clothing merchant H.H. Lavenstein (300 Pearl Street). Houses, most likely for rental purposes, were erected along Pearl Street by the turn of the century and along Pool Street by 1914; only one of the Pearl Street dwellings (307 Pearl Street) remains, and the last of the Pool Street houses was not demolished until after 1956 (Deed Book 43, p.443; Sanborn map 1902, 1908, 1914, 1923, 1931, 1956).
The completion of the railroad in 1881 proved a catalyst not only to the development of the Northside Historic District, but, more importantly, to an expansion and diversification of the city's industrial endeavors. Lumber manufacturing led the way, with large sawmills employing hundreds of workers located nearby. One of the largest was the Blades Lumber Company, which built a planing mill between 1896 and 1902 just outside of the boundaries of the historic district along the Pasquotank River; natives of Maryland, the Blades family had come to Elizabeth City via New Bern in 1888. At the Elizabeth City mill the Bladeses finished rough lumber sent from their other mills in eastern North Carolina, and then shipped all of it to markets in the North, primarily Baltimore. The Blades mill was not incorporated until 1906 when it became the Foreman-Blades Lumber Company, merging with the Elizabeth City Lumber Company which the Blades brothers had established in the 1890s for brother-in-law Clay Foreman. The planing mill on Pennsylvania Avenue (now North Poindexter Street) remained in operation until the 1940s and was subsequently demolished (Pasquotank Incorporation Records, Book 1, p.85, Book 4, p.161; Butchko 1989, 153, 160; Sanborn maps 1892, 1896, 1902, 1908, 1914, 1923, 1931, 1956).
In addition to the Kramer and Blades mills, numerous other nearby mills and factories provided employment to workers who resided in or near the district. While factories were generally located along the railroad, additional lumber mills were situated along Knobbs Creek and serviced from secondary rail spurs. These establishments included the Elizabeth City Brick Company and the Elizabeth City Cedar Works, owned by district residents Charlie J. Ward (Charles W. Ward House, 818 North Road Street) and Henry C. Godfrey (Godfrey-Foreman House, 917 North Poindexter Street), respectively. As the city's lumber business boomed during the early twentieth century, larger and more modern saw and planing mills were erected by Foreman-Blades between 1908 and 1914 and the Kramers between 1914 and 1923 on their sites along the Pasquotank River and Knobbs Creek, respectively (Sanborn maps 1896, 1902, 1908, 1914, 1923, 1931, 1956). Many of the city's industrial, mercantile, and professional leaders built homes within the Northside Historic District during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The most prestigious address was North Poindexter Street, then known as Pennsylvania Avenue in recognition of the many natives of that state who contributed to the rebuilding of Elizabeth City after the Civil War. Among those who built here were lumbermen John A. Kramer (709 North Poindexter Street), Levin Carl Blades (907 North Poindexter Street), and Lemuel Roscoe Foreman (917 North Poindexter Street), buggy manufacturer William J. Broughton (603 North Poindexter Street), grist mill owner N.R. Zimmerman (809 North Poindexter Street), attorney Pat H. Williams (713 North Poindexter Street), and merchants Robert H. Mitchell (701 North Poindexter Street) and J.A. Rucker (803 North Poindexter Street).
Home builders and residents along other streets in the Northside Historic District represent the broad spectrum of commercial, industrial, and professional interests in the city during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Occupations ranged from wealthy business owners to modestly successful tradesmen, among them clothiers H.H. Lavenstein (300 Pearl Street) and Roland Sawyer (310 North Road Street); Coca-Cola bottler Oscar L. Owens, Sr. (207 East Burgess Street); brick manufacturer Charles W. Ward (818 North Road Street); carpenters and builders Ernest L. Gregory (112 East Broad Street), Jesse M. Davis (114 East Broad Street), Robert W. Elliott (224 East Broad Street), and John W. Martin (201 East Burgess); barber Paul K. Burgess (405 Walnut Street); awning maker J.W. Alexander (113 West Cypress Street); shoe repairman William F. Williams (308 East Cypress Street); automobile dealer Willis S. Wright, Sr. (112 West Burgess Street); banker C.B. Morrisette, Sr. (306 East Burgess Street); fisherman Thomas M. Walker (500 East Burgess Street); shipyard foreman Joseph S. Hales (300 East Cypress Street); boat captains Samuel D. Perkins (304 East Cypress Street) and Fenner B. Hopkins (409 East Burgess Street); furniture dealers James H. Wilkins (409 North Road Street) and M.G. Morrisette (402 North Road Street); and physician Walter W. Sawyer (410 North Road Street). Several farmers also chose to reside in the district, including Marvin Buck Sawyer (314 North Road Street), John C. Perry (711 and 715 First Street), and William A. Brock (803 North Poindexter Street).
The Northside Historic District was also home to numerous laborers and workers in the various saw and wood-working mills north of the district along Knobbs Creek, and in other mills and factories throughout the city. They resided, often as tenants, in modestly scaled dwellings erected in repetitious rows throughout the district. While most of their names are unknown (city directories do not exist prior to 1936), known working class residents of the district included Kramer mill foreman Ervin G. Sanderlin hosiery mill employee G. Raymond Parker (113 East Broad Street), and John A. Boseman (812 Greenleaf Street), a watchman at an unspecified mill.
As the district grew with residential development, educational and religious institutions and neighborhood groceries were established to serve the residents. Education was one of the primary attractions for homeowners, as the district's school buildings were superior to those in the surrounding rural areas. In fact, the primary reason that merchant Joseph Morrisette (204 East Burgess Street) moved to Elizabeth City from his native Camden County ca.1892 was so that his children could attend the city's schools. In 1881 the Elizabeth City Academy, a private institution established in the antebellum period and which had been reopened in 1878 by Samuel Lloyd Sheep (1856-1928), an educator from Pennsylvania, moved to a modern building (demolished) on North Road Street. In 1891 the Academy claimed to be the largest private academy in eastern North Carolina. Later that decade it changed its name to the Atlantic Collegiate Institute, remaining as the city's major school for white children until the establishment of a public high school in 1907 (Deed Book 4, p.82; Pasquotank Yearbook 1955, 83, 117-119; Sanborn Map 1896; Butchko 1989, 163). A one-story frame public graded school was built before 1896 on the site now occupied by the annex of the former Elizabeth City High School (306 North Road Street) (1893 Greenleaf Map; Sanborn Map 1896). It was replaced by a larger brick structure by 1902, which in turn was destroyed by fire between 1908 and 1914. The frame 1881 Academy building was replaced between 1908 and 1914 by a brick building as the city's first public high school for white children, which in turn was replaced in 1940 by the S.L. Sheep School (307 North Road Street). A larger and more modern Elizabeth City High School was erected across the street from the 1908-1914 building in 1923. As only a small number of blacks resided in the district, their children attended school in a large black neighborhood to the west (Sanborn maps 1902, 1908, 1914).
Four congregations have been established in the Northside Historic District to serve the religious needs of the residents. Three of these were organized during the turn of the century when residential development within the district was near its peak: Blackwell Memorial Baptist Church (700 North Road Street) in 1896, erecting their present building in 1904; a Methodist Episcopal Church (sometimes known as Northern Methodist) in 1899 that evolved into the Pearl Street Pentecostal Church (304 Pearl Street); and City Road United Methodist Church (511 North Road Street) in 1900, building in 1900-1902. Between 1936 and 1942, an Assembly of God congregation (718 Greenleaf Street) was formed that is now known as the Rock Church (Outlaw 1961, 176-180); Deed Book 20, pp.324, 330; Sanborn Map 1902; Miller 1936, 301; Miller 1942, 310).
Although the city's main commercial district was located just south of the district, a number of neighborhood groceries were established throughout the district by enterprising shop owners. Since Sanborn maps did not cover any portion of the district until 1891, and not a majority of it until 1908, little is known about commercial establishments in the district before the 1910s. The oldest building appears to be the considerably altered H.W. Tarkington Grocery (402 East Cypress Street), which is shown on the 1902 Sanborn Map. Other groceries, all of which have been altered to some degree, include the J.T. Wynn (314 East Cypress Street) and H.W. Pender groceries (727 North Road Street), both of which was were built by 1908 (Sanborn maps 1902, 1908, 1914).
Since 1943, the Northside Historic District has remained one of Elizabeth City's most intact and least compromised residential areas. The formation in 1948 of Roanoke Bible College by the Church of Christ and Christian Church denominations to train ministers for churches in North Carolina and Virginia has had a profound impact on the Northside Historic District. The small college has not only constructed three buildings (Faith Hall, 708 First Street; 714 First Street; Roanoke Press Building, 705 North Poindexter Street), but has renovated others as classrooms or dormitories. Furthering the college's impact and influence in the district has been the fact that a majority of the faculty, staff, and students live within the Northside Historic District, maintaining and renovating older houses. The racially diverse neighborhood remains home to a broad range of businessmen, shopkeepers, tradesmen, and laborers, many of whom are newcomers to the city. While none of the neighborhood groceries remain open, the churches and schools continue in operation; the former High School (306 North Road Street) is the only Junior High School in the entire county. The Northside Historic District also retains a high degree of architectural integrity. Demolitions since 1943 have been minimal, contributing to the district's cohesive and visual historic character.
An intensive architectural inventory of Elizabeth City, North Carolina was undertaken by Tom Butchko, architectural historian, between August 1984 and September 1985, supervised by Dru H. York of the Eastern Office of Archives and History in Greenville. Additional research was conducted in 1989 by Butchko during preparation for publication of On The Shores Of The Pasquotank: The Architectural Heritage of Elizabeth City and Pasguotank County, North Carolina (1989). Survey files are located at the Survey and Planning Branch, North Carolina Division of Archives and History in Raleigh, with copies at both the Eastern Office in Greenville and in the Planning Office of the City of Elizabeth City.
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† Tom Butchki, Preservation Consultant, Northside Historic District, Pasquotank County, N.C., National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.