Riverside Historic District
The Riverside 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 Riverside Historic District is significant as a neighborhood that developed during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a period in which the city expanded not only in population but also in commercial and industrial importance. The history of the Riverside Historic District, however, begins in 1857 with the construction of the Messenger-Fearing-Morrisette House (911 Riverside Avenue), an impressive plantation house built in the Greek Revival style but substantially altered ca.1958. From 1857 until the 1890s the district was agrarian in nature, containing both the Fearing farm and the farm of the Underwood family at its eastern edge. The Riverside Historic District's development primarily reflects the platting of subdivisions along the Pasquotank River in 1893, 1902, and 1926. During the ensuing decades a Riverside address was one that was desired both by the children of the men who had shaped the city's fortunes during the late nineteenth century and the self-made industrialists and businessmen who came to Elizabeth City seeking opportunity during the early twentieth century. While smaller, more modestly-scaled dwellings were erected in neighborhoods to the south of the district for shopkeepers, small businessmen, and workers, Riverside Avenue became, and has remained, a fashionable residential avenue in Elizabeth City inhabited by people active in all aspects of the city's affairs.
The period of significance of the Riverside Historic District extends from 1894, the construction date of the oldest contributing resource, to 1943, so as to include all resources at least fifty years old.
While the area that now encompasses the Riverside Historic District was settled during the third quarter of the seventeenth century, and a grist mill was erected along nearby Charles Creek in 1757 (Griffin 1970: 5-6, 24), the history of the Riverside Historic District does not begin until 1857. In February of that year, William Messenger purchased fifty acres along the Pasquotank River outside of the municipal limits of Elizabeth City and shortly thereafter erected an impressive two-story Greek Revival residence (911 Riverside Avenue) that had a commanding view of the river (Deed Book MM, p.126). The property was acquired in 1860 by Mrs. Clara B. Bradford, who resided in Elizabeth City; the plantation house was presumably occupied by an overseer or other members of the large Bradford family. In 1887 she sold the farm to her step-nephew John Bartlett Fearing, Jr. (1862-1923), who occupied the house and farmed the land until his death.
Considering the pace of Elizabeth City's growth during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, subdivision of the farm would not have been surprising, but Fearing sold only six lots along what is now Riverside Avenue for development. The first was a one-acre tract along the river in what is now the 900 block of Riverside Avenue, just west of the boundary of the Riverside Historic District. It was sold in 1889 to James Y. Old who built a saw mill there (Deed Book 10, p.578). Old sold the property and the mill equipment (the latter being enumerated in the deed) in July 1891 to Kramer Brothers and Company (Deed Book 12, p.9). The Kramers, the sons of Daniel S. Kramer, the developer of the city's first large sawmill, were owners of the city's largest industrial complex, operating saw and planning mills from 1870 until 1961 (Butchko 1989: 153-155). Along Riverside Avenue the Kramers operated a sawmill until the late 1910s. By 1923 the Riverside mill was operated as R.B. Cotter and Son Saw Mill and by 1931 the site had been cleared of all buildings (Sanborn maps: 1902, 1908. 1914, 1923, 1931).
During the 1910s Cotter acquired the property of the J.F. Snell and Willey Marine railways, or shipyards (Deed Book 46, p.205; Deed Book 47, p.485; Deed Book 48, 223; Deed Book 50, p.9; Deed Book 50, p.443; Sanborn maps 1902, 1908, 1914, 1923;1931). The Snell shipyard was established by 1877 and the Willey Shipyard ca.1896; each relocated to Riverside in the 1890s (Branson's 1877-78: 238; Branson's 1896: 1896). Though both were located west of the Riverside Historic District in what is now the 700 and 800 blocks of Riverside Avenue, the shipyards (which became the Elizabeth City Shipyard ca.1920) and the sawmills provided not only employment opportunities for early residents of the district, but encouraged the construction of nearby homes for foremen and managers.
Several other nearby industries, each situated at the western end of Riverside Avenue near Charles Creek, provided employment to area residents: the net and twine factory of S.S. Fowler, a migrant from Pennsylvania, made nets and seines for area fishermen from 1881 until the late 1890s; J. Wilkins ran a shingle mill along Charles Creek during the late 1890s; and the Elizabeth City [oyster] Packing Company operated for a brief time after the turn of the century (Historical and Descriptive 1885: 222; Sanborn maps 1885, 1891, 1896, 1902; Branson's 1897: 479).
The other lots sold by Fearing went to R.O. Preyer in 1891, to Joseph Porter in 1918, and to Graham W. Bell, Miles L. Clark, and Bascom S. Sawyer in 1923, respectively; the last three were sold just nine months before Fearing's death (Deed Book 11, p.582; Deed Book 35, p.356; Deed Book 57, pp.353, 356, 430). Preyer was an industrialist from Cleveland, Ohio, who, in 1891, joined Kramer Brothers and Company. Soon after his purchase, Preyer erected a handsome Queen Anne/Eastlake style house at 921 Riverside Avenue. He sold this house in 1893 and in 1918 it was acquired by Teresa Porter, whose husband, Joseph, bought an adjacent lot from Fearing the same year to expand the property. Unfortunately, the house was demolished in 1987. Sawyer, the proprietor of a ladies ready-to-wear store downtown, erected an American Foursquare house (927 Riverside Avenue) on his lot in 1925, and the next year oil dealer Miles L. Clark had an impressive Normanesque residence (914 Riverside Avenue) built on his lot; the rest of the Fearing estate was subdivided the same year. The Bell property, at 912 Riverside Avenue, lies just outside of the district to the west.
Four days after Preyer sold his house at 921 Riverside Avenue, he acquired a sixteen-acre tract from merchant C.C. Allen that extended southward from Riverside Avenue between what is now Flora and Raleigh streets (Deed Book 14, p.284). This tract contains two of the oldest houses in the Riverside Historic District. In 1894 Preyer completed a new, larger two-story Queen Anne/Eastlake dwelling at 1109 Riverside Avenue, a house which the local newspaper said "attracts much attention and excites admiration" (Economist-Falcon, March 16, 1894). Preyer left Elizabeth City in 1900 and later settled in Greensboro; his Riverside property was eventually acquired by the Riverside Land Company and is included in its 1902 plat map (Deed Book 26, p.236). In 1900 Preyer sold a lot to lumberman L.L. Hayman, who shortly thereafter built a residence (1101 Riverside Avenue) which he sold in 1917 to Clenthious C. Bailey. That same year Bailey became co-founder of the Riverside Lumber Company, which operated a small sawmill along the river at what is now 1100 and 1106 Riverside Avenue only until the mid 1920s (Deed Book 45, p.540; Incorporation Book 2, p.155; Sanborn maps 1923, 1931).
The establishment of industry, particularly marine railways and sawmills, along the western end of Riverside Avenue created the need for nearby residential areas. In 1893 Abner L. Aydlett, a local businessman, offered one hundred lots for sale along Riverside Avenue and Morgan, Hunter, and Jones streets at the western end of the district (Deed Book 14, pp.39, 79). While dwellings of traditional form and modest decoration were erected along Morgan, Hunter, and Jones streets for workers and shopkeepers, larger and more stylish residences were built during the next three decades on the choice riverfront lots along Riverside Avenue for professionals and businessmen. Among these home builders were wholesale grocer and candy manufacturer William H. Weatherly (735 Riverside Avenue), attorney (and Weatherly's son-in-law) J. Kenyon Wilson (733 Riverside Avenue), and grocer Gideon M. Hughes, Jr. (747 Riverside Avenue).
The next part of the Riverside Historic District to be developed was the eastern end, which was platted by the Riverside Land Company. The company was incorporated in April 1900 by some of the leading men in the city: among them physician, druggist, and industrialist Oscar McMullan; realtor and developer Mack N. Sawyer, industrialist and merchant Daniel B. Bradford (a son of Clara B. Bradford, the early owner of the Riverside Historic District's oldest house [911 Riverside Avenue]); newspaper publisher and merchant Robert J. Mitchell; merchants F.M. Grice, Dennis M. Jones, and J.T. McCabe; physician and druggist Andrew L. Pendleton; and banker, industrialist, and Kramer brother-in-law Patrick H. Williams (Incorporation Book 1, p.172; Branson 1897: 479). The next month the company acquired a tract of about twenty acres which they divided into numerous building lots, of which less than one-third are included within the district. (Deed Book 23, p.54; Deed Book 26, p.236). Their tract, which was known as the "Cottage Farm," was acquired from C.C. Allen and Robert O. Preyer and Preyer's father-in-law, philanthropist William Yost of Cleveland; it had been owned by the Underwood family during mid century (Deed Book 21, p.475; Deed Book 23, p.54; Deed Book 6, p.283). The Riverside Land Company sold all the lots in less than four years, and formally dissolved in May 1904 (Grantor Index 1700-1915, pp.457-460; Incorporation Book 1, p.337).
Throughout the first four decades of the twentieth century the Riverside property, which extended eastward from Flora Street (known until the mid 1940s as Roanoke Street) and southward to Perquimans Street, grew into an important residential neighborhood within Elizabeth City. An important aspect in its growth and popularity was the construction in 1914 of the Elizabeth City Hospital, the city's first public medical facility, at the eastern end of Riverside Avenue. (The once-impressive Neoclassical Revival style edifice, designed by Benton and Moore of Wilson, North Carolina, survives in a much altered form.) (Butchko 1989: 176). The neighborhood became home to a variety of people who played important, if not leading, roles in the .business, professional, and social affairs in Elizabeth City. They included osteopath John H. Bell, Sr. (1115 Riverside Avenue), surgeon Mora S. Bulla (1207 Riverside Avenue) — both attracted in part because of the nearness of the hospital; merchants Kenyon Bailey (1105 Riverside Avenue) and Hansa L. Trueblood (701 Raleigh Street); boat captains Grover Hill (1201 Preyer Street), James P. Gregory (700 Raleigh Street), and Benjamin F. Stowe (704 Raleigh Street) — who may have had dockage for their vessels nearby; carpenter W.L. Waldorf (708 Raleigh Street); and lumberman Harold C. Foreman (1116 Riverside Avenue). Shipyard machinist John B. Markham (1209 Riverside Avenue) enjoyed an especially convenient location, most likely walking from his residence to work at the Elizabeth City Shipyard at the other end of Riverside Avenue.
Three years after the 1923 death of John B. Fearing, Jr., the remainder of the Fearing property was subdivided into 245 building lots by his heirs and given the name Pine Grove, a name that has long since faded from usage (Deed Book 87, p.533). Only a small portion of this tract, which extends southward from the river to Park Avenue, and from Agawam Street on the west to Flora Street (then Roanoke Street) on the east, is included within the Riverside Historic District. The Fearing property developed slowly at first, and although only three dwellings were erected during the first five years, each is architecturally distinctive: the Normanesque style home of oil dealer Miles L. Clark (914 Riverside Avenue); the remarkably situated Craftsman Bungalow of grain mill owner George W. Beveridge (1006 Riverside Avenue), and the brick Tudor Revival cottage of newspaper advertising salesman E.O. Baum (922 Riverside Avenue), whose wife, Submit, was a daughter of John B. Fearing, Jr. (Sanborn map 1931).
During the 1930s and early 1940s, particularly after 1935 as the regional economy began to recover from the Depression, additional examples of the Craftsman Bungalow, Tudor Revival, and Colonial Revival styles were built for aspiring businessmen. Among those choosing to build within the old Fearing property were farm implement dealer J. Carroll Abbott (1012 Riverside Avenue), lumberman Wiley B. Coppersmith, Jr. (915 Riverside Avenue), automobile dealer Thomas J. Jones (1001 Riverside Avenue), lawyer W. Clarence Morse, Jr. (605 Agawam Street), banker Wyatt R. Aydlett (607 Agawam Street), and dry cleaner Zee Rochelle (604 Agawam Street). While only nineteen dwellings were on the entire former Fearing property in 1936, eleven within the Riverside Historic District, by 1942 the number had swelled to fifty-eight, seventeen within the district (Miller's City Directory 1936: 287, 303, 313, 320, 321; Miller's City Directory 1942: 294, 311-312, 312, 324, 327, 331, 332, 333).
The majority of plans for residences in the district were probably architect designed or selected from contemporary pattern books, yet only one of the designs is known. Mrs. Harold Foreman recalled that the architect of their Tudor Revival style house (1116 Riverside Avenue) was Stratton O'Hammond of Kentucky or Tennessee (she did not remember which). The architect of the George W. Beveridge House (1006 Riverside Avenue) is said to have been from Norfolk, Virginia. However, the contractors for several of the dwellings, and presumably their associated outbuildings as well, are known. Like his father William S. Chesson, Sr. (1867-1950), district resident William Simon Chesson, Jr. (1902-1961), was one of the city's leading builders during the early twentieth century. Father and son often worked together, and it is difficult to distinguish which built a particular structure. As the careers of both Chessons coincided with the development of the Riverside area during and after the 1920s, and the son's with the popularity of the Tudor Revival style, their works are prevalent in the Riverside Historic District, particularly in the former Fearing property. Seven Riverside Historic District properties are known to have been constructed by William S. Chesson, Jr., six of which are Tudor Revival in style: Harold Foreman House (1116 Riverside Avenue), Jaccia F. Burrus House (901 Riverside Avenue), Elisha Coppersmith House (1005 Riverside Avenue), W. Clarence Morse, Jr. House (605 Agawam Street), Wyatt R. Aydlett House (607 Agawam Street), and the builder's personal residence (609 Agawam Street). The lone non-Tudor Revival style house known to have been erected by Chesson is the Colonial Revival Zee Rochelle House (604 Agawam Street) (Butchko 1989: 317). No doubt there are other undocumented resources in the Riverside Historic District built by either of the Chessons. Two other local contractors are known to have built district properties. Ralph Burgess of neighboring Camden County erected the American Foursquare style Bascom S. Sawyer House (927 Riverside Avenue) in 1925, and Lord Byron Perry (1869-1948) constructed the Craftsman Bungalow George W. Beveridge House (1006 Riverside Avenue) on piers over the Pasquotank River in 1926 (Butchko 1989: 317, 322). Contractor W.L. Waldorf lived in the district but it is not known if he built his own Craftsman Bungalow (708 Raleigh Street) or any other district houses.
The Riverside neighborhood continued to develop in the two decades after 1942, the end of the period of significance. Postwar construction was particularly numerous in the former Fearing property, the largest and most recent of the three components of the district. The influx of military families to the United States Coast Guard Base and the United States Naval Air Station south of Elizabeth City created severe housing shortages locally during World War II. To meet these needs, ninety-five houses were erected between 1942 and 1949 in the Fearing property, particularly along Tuscarora and Bartlett avenues in an area known as the "Cabbage Patch" for its previous use. While the Cabbage Patch houses were simple repetitive one-story dwellings, others nearby display popular elements of the Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, and Craftsman Bungalow styles. Development of vacant lots continued through the 1950s, a decade that saw the construction of thirty-six houses in the old Fearing estate. By 1960 there were few vacant lots available, and less than ten houses have been erected since (Miller's City Directory 1949-50; 1960-61; 1970). Likewise, full development was nearly achieved between 1949 and 1970 along Riverside Avenue with the addition of twelve dwellings; only four houses have been erected since.
Intensive architectural inventory of Elizabeth City, North Carolina 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 Pasquotank 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.
Brown, Alexander Crosby. The Dismal Swamp Canal. Chesapeake, Virginia: Norfolk County Historical Society, 1967.
Branson, Rev. Levi, ed. Branson's North Carolina Business Directory. Raleigh: Levi Branson, Publisher, 1884, 1889, 1896, 1897.
Butchko, Thomas R. On The Shores Of The Pasquotank: The Architectural History of Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County. North Carolina. Elizabeth City: The Museum of the Albemarle, 1989.
Historical and Descriptive Review of the State of North Carolina. Second Volume of North Carolina: the Eastern Section. Charleston, South Carolina: Empire Publishing Company, 1885.
Kramer, F. K. "Kramer-09 Years in the Lumber Business in Elizabeth City, North Carolina." Elizabeth City" unpublished manuscript, 1967.
Miller's Elizabeth City. N.C. City Directory: 1936-1937. Asheville, NC: Southern Directory Co, Volume VI, 1936.
Miller's Elizabeth City, N.C. City Directory: 1938-1939. Asheville, NC: Southern Directory Co, Volume VII, 1938.
Miller's Elizabeth City, N.C. City Directory: 1942-1943. Asheville, NC: Southern Directory Co, Volume VII, 1943.
Pasquotank County Record of Deeds, Elizabeth City, NC: Pasquotank County Office of the Register of Deeds, Pasquotank County Courthouse.
Pasquotank County Record of Incorporations, Elizabeth City, NC: Pasquotank County Office of the Register of Deeds, Pasquotank County Courthouse.
Prince, Richard E. Norfolk Southern Railroad. Old Dominion Line and Connections. Millard, Nebraska: R.E. Prince, 1972.
† Tom Butchko, Preservation Consultant, Riverside Historic District, Pasquotank, NC, nomination document, 1992, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.