Shepard Street-South Road Street Historic District
The Shepard Street-South Road Street 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 Shepard Street-South Road Street Historic District is significant both as Elizabeth City's earliest neighborhood outside of the original 1793 municipal boundaries and as the heart of the city's large black community since the late nineteenth century. Its development began in earnest after 1851 when it was embraced by expanded city limits. During the late nineteenth century the district became home to increasing numbers of blacks who were drawn to the area by its churches and schools. The pace of development accelerated after the 1892 opening of the State Colored Normal School (now Elizabeth City State University) on Shannon Street (now Herrington Road), and, for the twenty years before the school moved to its present campus on the city's southern end, the district was the focus of the city's growing and relatively prosperous black community. For the next thirty-one years, until 1943, the district continued to solidify as the most cohesive and important of the city's several black neighborhoods. Predominantly residential in nature, the Shepard Street-South Road Street Historic District contains dwellings, mostly of modest scale and finish, that reflect not only the variety of architectural styles popular throughout the city and nation from the 1850s until 1942, but also of house types specifically characteristic of Elizabeth City. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the district was the heart of the city's black religious life. Located here were congregations of all of the city's major black denominations, including the two oldest Baptist churches and the only Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Catholic churches: Olive Branch Missionary Baptist Church, Corner Stone Missionary Baptist Church, St. Phillip's Episcopal Church, Antioch Presbyterian Church, Holy Trinity Independent Methodist Church, and St. Catherine Catholic Church.
The period of significance of the Shepard Street-South Road Street Historic District, ca.1849 to 1943, begins with the construction date of the oldest contributing resource, the Simmons-Perkins House (701 Herrington Road) and includes all resources at least fifty years old.
The Shepard Street-South Road Street Historic District has been an important neighborhood in Elizabeth City since the early 1850s. In 1851 the area bounded generally by what is now Ehringhaus Street and Brooks, Roanoke, and Southern avenues was taken into the municipal limits, which previously had extended southward only to Ehringhaus Street (Griffin, 1970: 61-65). Prior to that year, the area was largely farmland with only scattered and isolated development. Only one dwelling remains in the Shepard Street-South Road Street Historic District predating its inclusion into the city, the ca.1849 home of boat captain Josiah Simmons (701 Herrington Road).
A small portion of the area annexed in 1851, the section bounded roughly by Shepard, Walson, White, and Road streets, was known as the "Race tract" for the old horse racing track that was located here earlier in the antebellum period. During the 1850s, scattered lots were sold to enterprising white citizens: attorney and future judge George S. Brooks (504 South Road Street), farmer Mark S. Sawyer (704 Boston Avenue), and Zion Jennett (521 White Street). Jennett's deed, dated January 1, 1860, specifies "one lot of land...upon what is called the Race tract" (Deed Book MM, page 652). This piecemeal development of the area in the 1850s began a tradition that continued throughout the district's period of significance. Brooks was the most illustrious early resident of the district, serving as a federal court judge during the turbulent Reconstruction period. He is best known for ordering Gov. W.W. Holden to free illegally imprisoned North Carolinians in 1870 (Dean, 1954-55, 107-100). One of the residents whose house no longer stands was Rufus K. Speed, who was active in the city's political affairs and served as mayor in 1860-1861; his house stood on the now vacant lot at the southwest corner of South Road Street and the street that now bears his name (Griffin 1970, 65).
Brooks, Sawyer, and Speed were among several homeowners who built along the road to Newbeggin (later Newbegun) Creek, now South Road Street. This road ran south from Elizabeth City to a rural trading community now known as Weeksville, and was the major road from the city to the southern part of Pasquotank County. An early landmark located along this road, just south of the district, was the Quaker Meeting House and Cemetery of the Narrows Monthly Meeting, established in 1795 and closed in 1839 (Butchko, 5-6, 15; Deeds N-450, AA-284, EE-456). Other important early roads extended through the district: Body Road (now Roanoke Avenue) extended southwest from the city to another rural community; Rum Quarter Road (now Ehringhaus Street) ran westward from the city; and Poor House Road (now Southern Avenue) ran south from the city to the county poor house formerly in the vicinity of the campus of Elizabeth City State University. These well-traveled roads brought activity and potential homeowners into the old Race tract vicinity.
Blacks, both free and slave, most likely lived in the district by the 1830s. Unfortunately, no comprehensive history of the roles of blacks in Elizabeth City has been attempted. An initial study of the 1860 census indicates that 217 free blacks resided in the city, although the number who may have lived just beyond the town's limits (which would have included the entire Shepard Street-South Road Street Historic District prior to 1851) has not been ascertained. The leading occupations for free black men were farm hand, carpenter, mariner, servant, and blacksmith; almost all of the employed free black women were washerwomen or servants. The census also recorded 624 slaves and fifty-six slave houses within the city, although nothing is known about the distribution patterns of either (1860 Census, Population Schedule, Butchko, 1989: 45).
As the city recovered from the Civil War, the Shepard Street-South Road Street area attracted both white and black residents, some of whom assumed prominent roles in the city. Among the whites were physician Dr. R.H. McIntosh (515 South Road Street), shopkeeper Mary F. Davis (Sundry Shop, 511 South Road Street), John P. Overman (300 Shepard Street), the Pasquotank County Clerk of Court during the late nineteenth century, and Benjamin C. Brothers (304 Shepard Street), a county commissioner during the 1870s and Register of Deeds in the 1880s. A contemporary of theirs was Elisha Overton (b.1851), a young black man who eventually would become the city's most respected brick mason. A native of Gates County, he married in 1879 the daughter of Whitmel Lane, a free black carpenter, and the next year purchased the lot whereon he later erected a handsome residence embellished with Eastlake style woodwork (517 South Road Street) (Deed Book 2, page 259).
The importance of the Shepard Street-South Road Street Historic District in the history of Elizabeth City's black population is underscored by the early location of churches in the area. While the town's first black church, now Mt. Lebanon A.M.E. Zion Church, was founded in 1850 two blocks north of the district, from 1865 until 1896 all of the black congregations organized in Elizabeth City were located here. Olive Branch Missionary Baptist Church (510 Brooks Avenue) was the first, in 1865, followed by Corner Stone Missionary Baptist Church (507 South Martin Street) in 1888, St. Phillips Episcopal Church (512 South Martin Street) in 1893, and Antioch Presbyterian Church (518 Shepard Street) ca.1896. Each was organized with the assistance of the city's respective white congregation except for Corner Stone, which was formed from Olive Branch. Two additional congregations were organized within the district during its period of significance, Holy Trinity Independent Methodist Church (607 South Road Street) in 1938 and St. Catherine Catholic Church (305 Shepard Street) in 1941, making the district home to all of the major black denominations represented in the city.
The development of educational opportunities was even more important to the growth of the district. In 1870 a school "for Freedmen and children irrespective of color" was established on Shannon Street (later Euclid Avenue, now Herrington Road); the building erected for the school (probably during the 1880s) is incorporated into the building at 708 Herrington Road. While little is known of the history of this school, it established the district as the center of education for blacks (Ballou 1966:3-10). In 1882 a public school was established in the district at what is now a vacant lot at 610 Cale Street. This school, a two-story frame structure shown on the 1902 Sanborn map, ceased operation as a public school between 1923 and 1931 and was demolished between 1931 and 1936 (Deeds 4-431; Sanborn Map, 1902, 1908, 1914. 1923, 1931; Miller 1936: 291).
In 1891 the North Carolina General Assembly created the Colored Normal School in Elizabeth City, the second institution in the state established to train teachers for the black schools. The school, the predecessor of Elizabeth City State University, remains the only black state-supported university in eastern North Carolina. Its placement in Elizabeth City was an obvious choice, for in 1891 the city was the largest in the northeastern portion of the state, an area historically with the state's largest percentage of blacks; furthermore, the city was among the ten largest in the state. The school, with thirty-six students and two instructors, opened on January 4, 1892, in rented quarters in the store of Rooks Turner, a prominent black merchant and teacher, which was located on the site now occupied by Roanoke Institute (200 Roanoke Avenue). It remained there for several years before moving to the school on Shannon Street (now 708 Herrington Road). There it grew despite almost continual financial woes.
The State Colored Normal School was a boon to both the city at large and the Shepard Street-South Road Street Historic District, for it attracted both educators and those seeking education. Chief among the former was Peter W. Moore (1859-1934), who served as the first principal/president until his retirement in 1928; he built and lived one-block from the school at 606 South Martin Street. He is given the credit for firmly establishing the school and for working tirelessly to secure facilities, faculty, and support critical to its development (Johnson 1980: 9-16; Ballou 1966: 58-62, 72-75). The regional importance of the normal school is indicated by the makeup of the first student body, which came from the neighboring counties of Bertie, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Hertford, Perquimans, and Washington, in addition to Pasquotank County (Johnson 1980: 11).
The existence of the school within the district added greatly to construction activity. In the mid 1890s Principal Moore wrote that "The most essential need of the school are [sic] dormitories, especially one for girls. As it is secured homes for all in such places as I should like them to stay, with great difficulty." Dormitories were never erected while the school was located in the district, and the students roomed in private residences nearby, subject to Moore's approval (Johnson 1980: 12-13). The 1902 and 1908 Sanborn maps show several two-story duplexes within one-half block of the school building, although only one, the Leigh-Bogue House (703 Herrington Road), remains (Sanborn maps, 1902, 1908). Although the exact role of these duplexes is uncertain, it seems probable that they were connected with the State Colored Normal School in some way. No doubt many of the simple houses in the neighborhood, such as the repetitive two-story gable-front dwellings erected before 1908 along Herrington Road, were associated with housing for students.
A third school in the Shepard Street-South Road Street Historic District, Roanoke Institute (200 Roanoke Avenue), was organized in 1896 by the black Baptist churches of the Roanoke Association (North Carolina and Virginia) as a private high school to train ministers. A large two-story frame building that was completely encircled by a one-story Victorian porch was built on Body Road, which was subsequently renamed Roanoke Avenue. This building was destroyed on February 22, 1935 by a fire that burned several nearby dwellings as well. The school was subsequently rebuilt and continues to train Baptist ministers today as the Roanoke Collegiate Institute (The Daily Advance. February 23, 1935, 1908 Sanborn Map). It is the only educational endeavor presently located within the Shepard Street-South Road Street Historic District.
The Shepard Street-South Road Street Historic District also accommodated commercial, fraternal, and entertainment activities. While the city's main commercial district remained centered on Main and Water streets to the north, numerous small neighborhood establishments catered to the district's residents. Since Sanborn maps do not cover any of the district before 1902, little is known about nineteenth century business activity. The earliest known establishment, certainly the oldest surviving store building, is that of Mary F. Davis, erected at 511 South Road Street perhaps as early as 1881. The 1908 Sanborn map shows three combination store-dwellings along Factory Avenue (now Southern Avenue), although only the Morgan-Jones Store and House (701 Southern Avenue) remains. Other establishments were located along South Road Street, Shepard Street, and Body Road (now Roanoke Avenue) (Sanborn map, 1908). By 1931 small clusters of stores could be found near the intersection of South Road Street and Roanoke Avenue and on Shepard Street, the latter including Walson's Funeral Home (204 Shepard Street, the city's first modern black-operated mortuary (Sanborn map, 1931). Known black proprietors who resided within the district included Isaac Leigh (703 Herrington Road), barber Henry C. Hargraves (108 Speed Street), confectioner J. Thomas Lamb (801 South Road Street), and grocer Luther D. Overton (608 South Road Street).
Two black fraternal organizations built halls in the district during the 1890s, the Lily of the Valley Lodge No. 7 of the Good Samaritans and Daughters of Samaria in 1896 (701 South Road Street) and the Republican Star Lodge No. 1383 of the Grand Order of Odd Fellows ca.1899 (611 Cale Street); the former had been organized as early as 1888 (Deeds 9-188,21-14; The North Carolinian. August 12,1896). These organizations provided important social and service activities for district and city black residents, activities that furthered the growth of a successful black middle class. After the State Colored Normal School vacated its Shannon Street facility (now 708 Herrington Road) in 1912 for a modern campus south of the city limits, the building was first used as a motion picture theatre, then as a public graded school, and since 1923 it has been occupied by the Golden Leaf Elks Lodge, who enlarged the building in the 1930s (Sanborn maps, 1908, 1914, 1923, 1931; Deeds 59-18). In order to provide additional recreational opportunities for black residents of the district and the entire city, the Gaiety Theatre (408 Shepard Street) was erected in 1934-1935 as the city's first large all-black moving picture theatre.
The location of the State Colored Normal School was just one of many factors that affected the development of the Shepard Street-South Road Street Historic District. While many of the white residents during the mid and late nineteenth centuries were merchants or professionals, a majority of the adult black males were laborers, primarily in the numerous lumber mills which formed the city's economic foundation from the 1860s through the 1940s. Several of these mills were located just northeast of the district and not only provided convenient work to district residents but also encouraged mill employees to reside within the district. While the White and [W.W.] Griffin saw mill was the first, operating along the nearby Pasquotank River waterfront from the late 1860s to the mid-1880s, the Kramer Brothers saw mill was the largest and most long-term, operating along Charles Creek (immediately adjacent to the district on the northeast) from the mid 1890s until the late 1920s. Other industries located on the periphery of the Shepard Street-South Road Street Historic District provided job opportunities to district residents, including grist and shingle mills, ship yards, net factories, and oyster packing houses during the late 1890s and turn of the century, and a hosiery mill, wood and coal yard, and sausage, mattress, and ice factories during the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s (Branson 1867-68: 89; 1869: 126- 127; 1872: 182; 1877-78: 239; Sanborn maps, 1885, 1891, 1896, 1902, 1908, 1914, 1923, 1931).
In the decades after 1942, the Shepard Street-South Road Street Historic District has maintained its position as the heart of Elizabeth City's historic black community. It remains the home of several of the city's most prominent black congregations, although Antioch Presbyterian Church (518 Shepard Street), St. Phillip's Episcopal Church (512 South Martin Street), and St. Catherine Catholic Church (305 Shepard Street) are no longer active, the first having closed in the 1960s and the latter two having merged with their larger local white congregations in 1966 and 1978, respectively. However, other denominations and independent churches have been organized to provide a variety of religious activities within the district. Likewise, St. Catherine's Catholic School (605 South Martin Street) closed in 1976, leaving the Roanoke Collegiate Institute, the successor of Roanoke Institute (200 Roanoke Avenue), as the district's only active school. The district's strong historical fraternal traditions were enhanced in the 1950s with the establishment of a Masonic lodge at 608 Cale Street and an American Legion Post on an adjoining lot at 611 South Martin Street; only the latter is still active. Due to the completion of strip zone shopping developments along nearby Ehringhaus Street after the 1950s, the district's commercial offerings have become increasing limited, so that now only one neighborhood store (701 Southern Avenue) remains active.
The Shepard Street-South Road Street Historic District remains predominantly residential in character. Fortunately, and surprisingly in light of the sometimes limited means of the residents, the loss of historic fabric to demolition has been minor. These losses have been limited primarily to several structures in the 500 block of South Road Street and the 400 block of Shepard Street. The major external influence on the district has been, and remains, the volume of traffic along South Road Street and Southern Avenue, two of the major thoroughfares from the central business district north of the district to the Street.
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.
Ballou, Leonard R. Pasquotank Pedagogues and Politicians: Early Educational Struggles. Elizabeth City, NC: Elizabeth City State University, 1966.
Branson's North Carolina Business Directory. Raleigh: Branson and Jones, Publishers, 1867-1868.
Branson's North Carolina Business Directory. Raleigh: J. A. Jones, Publisher, 1869.
Branson, Rev. Levi, ed. The North Carolina Business Directory. Raleigh: J. A. Jones, 1872.
________. The North Carolina Business Directory. Raleigh: L. Branson, Publisher, 1877.
________. 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, NC: The Museum of the Albemarle, 1989.
Dean, Earl. "Judge George W. Brooks Proved Courageous," Year Book. Volume 1. 1954-1955. Elizabeth City, NC: Pasquotank Historical Society, 1955.
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: 1942-1943. Asheville, NC: Southern Directory Co., Volume VII, 1943.
Pasquotank County Register of Deeds Office, Pasquotank County Courthouse, Elizabeth City, NC.
United States 1860 Census, Population Schedule. List of Free Blacks in Pasquotank County compiled by Tom Butchko, 1989. Copy at the Museum of the Albemarle, Elizabeth City, NC.
† Tom Butchko, Preservation Consultant, Shepard Street-South Road Street Historic District, nomination document, Pasquotank County, N.C., 1992, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.