Wendell Boulevard Historic District
The Wendell Boulevard Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
Setting and Description
The Wendell Boulevard Historic District is a residential area just north of the Wendell Commercial Historic District (National Register, 1998) of Wendell, North Carolina, a small tobacco town that boomed in eastern Wake County around the turn of the twentieth century. The Wendell Boulevard Historic District is a roughly three block linear area with the majority of the district's buildings located on the north and south sides of Wendell Boulevard. The Wendell Boulevard Historic District extends east from Buffalo Street to Old Zebulon Road along Wendell Boulevard as well as one block south on Buffalo Street, north on Main Street, and north on Mattox Street.
The Wendell Boulevard Historic District is located within a larger residential neighborhood; however, the Wendell Boulevard Historic District boundaries encompass the most architecturally intact area. Streets with a majority of post-1958 and/or less materially intact buildings were excluded from the boundary. A county operated public school, Wendell Elementary School (ca.1985), is located on the north side of Wendell Boulevard adjacent to the district's western edge. South of the district on North Main Street is the Wendell Commercial Historic District (NR, 1998).
The Wendell Boulevard Historic District contains a total of fifty-nine primary resources and is primarily residential. There are only four non-contributing primary resources. Roughly thirty-five of the district's primary resources have dependencies, the majority of which are contributing frame gable roof garages or sheds. There are two contributing religious properties and two commercial properties. North Main Street and Wendell Boulevard meet at a "T" intersection which is the approximate center of the district. This is where the district's two religious institutional buildings are located. Wendell Baptist Church is a 1937 Neo-Classical Revival brick church at 3651 North Main Street. A second monumental, classically-inspired brick church is located at 129 North Main Street. Wendell United Methodist Church, built in 1923, features a large pedimented portico with paired Doric columns. At the district's west end are its two commercial structures: the ca.1958 service station at 3400 Wendell Boulevard and a non-contributing ca.1970 brick commercial structure, Wendell Drug, at 3430 Wendell Boulevard.
The overall setting of the Wendell Boulevard Historic District is that of a middle class residential enclave of a small North Carolina town. Dwellings address the street, facades are parallel with the curb, and setbacks are generally uniform. The properties have generous front yards, with lots measuring roughly half an acre. The exceptions are the Bill Griffin House at 3501 Wendell Boulevard, the M.C. Todd House at 3851 Wendell Boulevard, and the J.H. Sanders House at 3901 Wendell Boulevard. These large homes are among the more stylistically realized in the district and possess larger yards of roughly three-quarters of an acre. Yards are landscaped with locally popular varieties of dogwoods, crepe myrtles, azaleas, pines and large hardwoods such as oaks. In the sidewalk planting median on the north side of Wendell Boulevard between North Hollybrook Road and Old Zebulon Road are mature oaks that provide a leafy canopy over the street. Wendell Boulevard Historic District has Works Progress Administration (WPA)-constructed concrete curbs and sidewalks.
The dwellings range in size from modest, one-story gabled dwellings to large two-story dwellings with irregular Queen Anne massing. Styles represented are Queen Anne, Craftsman, Colonial Revival, Minimal Traditional and Ranch, with Colonial Revival as the most predominant style. Buildings in the Wendell Boulevard Historic District date from the 1890s though the 1970s; however, the period of historically significant building ends in 1958 with the construction of the district's last Ranch style dwelling.
The Wendell Boulevard Historic District retains an excellent degree of architectural integrity. While some of the individual dwellings have undergone alterations such as replacement windows and siding, the overall streetscape is not negatively affected, and many properties remain highly intact. The Wendell Boulevard Historic District's setting is further enhanced by mature oak trees, landscaped yards and WPA-era curb, gutter and sidewalks.
The Wendell Boulevard Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for the significance of its residential architecture. The linear district is a roughly six block residential area in the eastern Wake County town of Wendell. There are fifty-nine primary resources in the Wendell Boulevard Historic District. The district possesses the densest and most intact concentration of historic residential resources in Wendell. It is significant within the local architectural context of Wake County.
Incorporated by the General Assembly in 1903, Wendell developed as a tobacco market and railroad town. Many of the town's residents made their living by tobacco; as warehouse owners, brokers, auctioneers, gentleman farmers, crop insurance agents or bankers. The district was the neighborhood of choice for the merchant class of "tobacconists," a local term referring to a person who made their living in some way related to the production and/or sale of the crop or ancillary services, from the early 1900s through the 1950s. As such, the Wendell Boulevard Historic District possesses a progression of houses built in the Queen Anne, Craftsman, Colonial Revival, Period Cottage, Minimal Traditional and Ranch styles. Houses range from modest in size and detail to quite large and stylish, such as the Mallie Asa Griffin House, a substantial Queen Anne dwelling with an elaborate, double-height wraparound porch. The Mallie Curtis Todd House is Wake County's only example of the "aeroplane" bungalow — a fanciful interpretation of Craftsman themes popular on the west coast.
The period of significance begins ca.1890 with the district's oldest dwelling, the Knott House, and continues to 1958, the approximate date of construction of the latest Ranch house. The historic buildings in the Wendell Boulevard Historic District generally retain their architectural integrity, including original materials, porches and windows. Two non-contributing primary resources were built after the end of the period of significance, and two, both on N. Buffalo Street, are non-contributing due to alterations. The Wendell Boulevard Historic District also retains integrity of setting including large oak trees, mature yard plantings, and WPA-era curbing, gutters and sidewalks.
Historical Background and Context
This rural area was first known as the Rhodes School House community and was comprised of small family farms and the Rhodes School. The school was established in 1861 on land donated by Ambrose Rhodes. In 1891 headmaster M.A. Griffin changed the school's name to Wendell Academy to reflect the name of the new post office.
Three events contributed to the growth of Wendell from a rural community to a small town with a robust tobacco based economy. The fist event was the formal incorporation of the town by the North Carolina General Assembly on March 6, 1903 (Pleasants 9). Then in 1906, the Raleigh and Pamlico Railroad line was completed, connecting Raleigh to markets in the eastern part of the state and passing through Wendell. Local lore holds that schoolteacher Mallie Asa Griffin gave the town its name. Griffin chose the name to honor American physician, historian and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes. However, the town's name is pronounced differently than that of its namesake. The vernacular pronunciation "Wen-dell" (with emphasis on both syllables) is said to mimic the call of the railroad conductors as they passed through town. While this story may explain the unique pronunciation of the name, it also attests to the importance of the railroad in Wendell's history.
The "Granville Wilt," a crop disease that afflicted North Carolina's northern piedmont tobacco belt, had the greatest impact on the growth of Wendell. As the Granville Wilt spread, destroying crops and livelihoods, tobacco farmers found eastern Wake County's soil conditions amendable to the cultivation of bright leaf tobacco. An influx of farm families fleeing the wilt led to the establishment of a tobacco culture in and around Wendell at the turn of the twentieth century. Tobacco markets followed the crops, and the small rural community of Wendell was transformed into a regional tobacco trading center and burgeoning town with its own local bank, shops, churches, and other industries. Historian George S. Pleasants summarizes tobacco's impact on Wendell's growth: "No single commodity has been as influential in the town of Wendell's development as has tobacco╔It helped build schools, churches, homes; educated children; and supported local businesses (11)."
Several important business concerns drove the town's economic growth and subsequently the development of the historic district. Tobacco agriculture created many possibilities for the growth of Wendell, and local capital was required to support farmers and nurture businesses. In 1907, the Bank of Wendell was founded by Rayford Bryant Whitley. After achieving success as a businessman and local politician in neighboring Johnston County, Whitley recognized the potential for growth in Wendell. Whitley's bank was "critical to the success of the local tobacco market and played an integral role in the town's economy," (Thomas 8.12-13). The bank's early stockholders read like a "who's who" of Wendell with prominent families of the district such as the Hobgoods and Todds represented. District resident M.A. Griffin also charted a second bank, Farmer's and Merchants, at this time.
The Wendell Leaf Market, Wake County's first tobacco market, was established in 1907. C.S. Hobgood and Amos Dean built and operated the town's first warehouse, the Star Warehouse, around this time (Pleasants 11). By 1920 four large, brick tobacco warehouses had been built within the town limits (Thomas 8.13).
Once the tobacco market was established, the town continued to prosper. The population almost doubled from 759 to 1,239 between 1910 and 1920 (Lally 234). The tobacco market proved hardy to the Depression, and the town weathered the period fairly well, although building within the Wendell Boulevard Historic District does appear to have virtually stopped in the early 1930s. Local construction projects continued through the efforts of the Works Progress Administration and Wendell's curbing, gutters, and sidewalks were laid along the streets in the 1930s.
From 1941 through 1945 Wendell residents focused on World War II and the war effort. The return of young soldiers home to Wake County caused a bump in the number of farms in operation. The 1940 agricultural census lists 5,255 farms in the county; by 1950 that number rose to 6,200 (Martin 1-4). Tobacco continued to be the county's leading crop and Wake County was the fourth largest tobacco-producing county in the state. Due to the strength of the local tobacco economy, the Wendell market continued to thrive in the post-war era. In 1947, Renfro Leaf Tobacco Company was formed in Wendell to handle leaf purchases at local tobacco markets. Also in 1947 Producers Cooperative Association built a 31,000 square feet warehouse in Wendell. This was the first cooperative warehouse to be owned and operated by tobacco growers in eastern or piedmont North Carolina. (Martin 4).
The healthy tobacco market allowed Wendell's economy to continue to expand. Between 1942 and 1958 fifteen, or just over one-third, primary resource buildings were constructed in the district.
Although tobacco was Wendell's mainstay for most of the twentieth century, by the 1990s North Carolina's tobacco culture was nearing its end. The Wendell Leaf Market was closed in 1999. It was the last market in Wake County to do so. However, the town has adapted to a new regional economy based on research and technology. Today Wendell is growing rapidly as a bedroom community to Raleigh and the Research Triangle. Wendell's shops, restaurants and service business cater to its population of roughly 5,000 residents. Both its Wendell Commercial Historic District and the Wendell Boulevard Historic District remain vibrant, active areas. In order to instill community pride East Wilson Avenue was renamed Wendell Boulevard in 1994.
The Wendell Boulevard Historic District contains fifty-nine primary properties. Within it are examples of several types of nationally popular architectural styles spanning the period from circa 1890 through 1958; Queen Anne, Craftsman, Period Cottage, Colonial Revival, Minimal Traditional and Ranch. The "house" property type is discussed in depth in the "Historic and Architectural Resources of Wake County, North Carolina (ca.1770-1941). The document should be referenced for a thorough discussion of historic architecture in Wake County.
The term "tobacconist" is a local one referring to a person who made their living in some way related to the production and/or sale of the crop or ancillary services. Families who directly worked in the tobacco industry built many of the district's homes. Building styles in the Wendell Boulevard Historic District do not fall neatly into a chronology. In the small, yet independent-minded community of Wendell, individuals simply built homes they liked. In many instances styles were built concurrently with one another rather than in succession. Due to the district's small size many of the resources are the only examples of their style represented in the Wendell Boulevard Historic District.
Precise construction dates are not known in most cases, but all of the buildings likely post-date ca.1890, when the Wendell Academy and post office were founded. One of Wendell Boulevard Historic District's earliest structures is the ca.1890 Knott House, a one-story, hipped-roof Queen Anne cottage at 345 Mattox Street.
Three one-story, hipped-roof houses, each with twin front gables and wraparound porches were built around 1910; 3711 Wendell Boulevard is the most intact of the three, with original weatherboard siding and Doric porch columns. The other examples, 3721 Wendell Boulevard and 231 North Main Street, retain their forms with replacement siding and porch posts. Also built ca.1910 is the Mallie Asa Griffin House (3720 Wendell Boulevard), a local interpretation of the Queen Anne style with a fanciful, double-tiered, wraparound porch. Architectural historian Kelly A. Lally deemed the house "the largest and most ornate dwelling in Wendell."
The triple-A form house, a regional vernacular type, is present in both one and two-story versions, with five examples in the Wendell Boulevard Historic District. This form was common in North Carolina from the 1870s through the 1930s in rural, small town and urban settings. The Wendell Boulevard Historic District's examples fit this broad pattern with construction dates from ca.1900 through ca.1920. 3980 Wendell Boulevard is typical of the triple-A form: a one-story, side gable house with a front-facing gable for decorative purposes only. This particular house has battered Craftsman porch posts suggesting the porch may not be the original one.
The Wendell Boulevard Historic District's only true Bungalow is the spectacular ca.1920 Mallie Curtis and Martha Todd House at 3851 Wendell Boulevard. Although Craftsman windows and porches are present in the district, for example at 3910 Wendell Boulevard (H.D. Powell House) and 3931 Wendell Boulevard, respectively, the Todd House is a fully executed "aeroplane" bungalow. The shingled house displays typical Craftsman features such as low-pitched rooflines, exposed rafter tails, a prominent porch, oversized triangular eave brackets and banded window sashes. Surmounting the roof is a stepped-back second story, containing two bedrooms, which defines the airplane bungalow form. The form was so named due to this second-story "cockpit," with the ground story spreading out below like the wings of a plane (Sprouse 13). The style is not commonly seen outside of California where it originated and certainly was a daring choice for the Todds in small town eastern North Carolina.
The Wendell Boulevard Historic District's strongest stylistic influence is the Colonial Revival, which is evident in both of its church buildings as well as its residential architecture. The district's only true "Cape Cod" dwelling is the Hurley D. Powell, Jr. House (3900 Wendell Boulevard). The house features Colonial detailing such as twin dormers, a pedimented entry porch with Chippendale balustrade, 6/6 windows with paneled shutters and beaded siding. The J.H. Sanders House (3901 Wendell Boulevard) is a brick, two-story Georgian Revival house with typifying features such as a symmetrical facade, broken pediment entry surround and brick quoins. The ca.1950 Bill Griffin House (3501 Wendell Boulevard) has a double-height Mount Vernon-inspired porch — an architectural tribute to an idealized colonial era.
The Wendell Boulevard Historic District has four Period Cottages. Defining architectural characteristics of the Period Cottage include asymmetrical facades with steeply-pitched, front-gable wings or entry bays, arched entryways, brick or stone front facade chimneys, simulated half-timbering in the gables, and casement or diamond pane windows. 255 Old Zebulon Road is a one-story brick dwelling with a projecting front gable and a facade chimney. A similar house, this one with a side sun porch with arched openings, is 3320 Wendell Boulevard (Carl Johnson House). Next door at 3340 Wendell Boulevard (White-Scarboro House ) is a frame Period Cottage with a distinctive sloped roof line.
The Minimal Traditional style makes its first appearance both nationally and locally in the 1930s and continued to be used through the 1950s when it was supplanted by the Ranch. The style was a modest choice for a nation recovering from economic hard times after the Depression, and a few years later World War II. The style takes it name from its use of traditional stylistic references, in a minimal, or stripped down manner. Minimal Traditional houses often lack full-facade porches or entry porticos, fancy pedimented door surrounds and elaborate cornices. Eaves and rakes are often flush. The style's small size and lack of applied decorative detail and large porches kept down construction costs and enabled the dwellings to be completed quickly and inexpensively. There are six Minimal Traditional Houses in the Wendell Boulevard Historic District. 219 Old Zebulon Road is representative of the style. It is a simple one-story gabled box with a pared down Federal Revival entry surround topped with a simplified "fanlight."
The one-story Ranch house with its long, low lines is America's omnipresent post-World War II style; an architectural reminder of the nation's explosive growth after the war. As such, the Wendell Boulevard Historic District's four Ranch houses (3960, 3950, 3911 and 3961 Wendell Boulevard), built between 1950 and 1958, are important indicators that Wendell was influenced by this national trend. "Modern" Ranch houses were built by prominent citizens, such as the Hunter, White, and Vaughn families who wanted an up-to-date and stylish house in which to live. However, in keeping with the conservative tastes of a small southern town, the Wendell Boulevard Historic District's Ranches possess a clear preference for colonial precedents. The district's few Ranches are infill properties and as such represent the next in a series of popular styles rather than an example the Ranch neighborhoods found in other Wake County towns.
A Ranch style house is a rectangular dwelling with emphasis on the facade width. They are always one story in height, with a shallow-pitched hipped or side-gable roof. Often, an overhanging eave adds to the form's horizontal appearance. Ranch houses may be clad in brick, stone, wood or stucco as the form was often interpreted through local building traditions. The first Ranches had casement windows, with double-hung or horizontally sliding sashes appearing later on. Picture windows and attached garages or carports are common.
The Wendell Boulevard Historic District's earliest Ranch house is the ca.1948 Apple House (3950 Wendell Boulevard). The brick house illustrates the transition from Colonial Revival precedents to the modern Ranch form. The one-story, side-gable dwelling has a recessed entry with a pilastered entry surround. A plain frieze runs under the overhanging roof. The George and Lucy Vaughn House at 3961 Wendell Boulevard was built in 1957. This example, while definitely a Ranch, clings to a few colonial decorative elements such as 6/6 windows. The ca.1958 brick and stone veneer Willard and Hoy White House at 3960 Wendell Boulevard is the district's most fully actualized Ranch house with an attached garage and no hints of colonial precedents. The 1958 construction date of this house marks the end of the period of significance.
The Wendell Boulevard Historic District represents the densest and most intact concentration of historic residential resources in the town; it was the preferred address for prominent citizens from 1890 through 1958. The Wendell Boulevard Historic District contains an illustrative collection of large and high style buildings when compared to neighborhoods outside the district. While adjacent streets do have buildings dating from the period of significance, the large number of post-1958 buildings detracts from the historic streetscapes. South of Wendell Boulevard and west of the Wendell Commercial Historic District is an area known as the Third Street district (not NR listed) comprised of Third Street, South Main Street and Cypress Street. This area has a good but small collection of intact frame and brick Craftsman Bungalows and modest Colonial Revival houses. Both districts compare favorably with one another in terms of resource quality, but the resources of the Wendell Boulevard Historic District span a longer period of time (1890-1958) and therefore more architectural styles are present in the Wendell Boulevard Historic District than in the Third Street area.
Cambier, Nora. Interview with author, May 29, 2008.
Hinnant,Carol. Interview with author, May 29, 2008.
Hinnant, Ray. Interview with author, May 29, 2008.
Lally, Kelly A. The Historic Architecture of Wake County North Carolina. Raleigh: Wake County Government, 1994.
Lally, Kelly A. "Historic and Architectural Resources of Wake County, North Carolina (ca.1770-1941) Multiple Properties Documentation Form." On file at Survey and Planning Branch, Historic Preservation Section, NC Department of Archives and History, Raleigh, 1992.
Martin, Jennifer F. Draft Addendum to Wake County Multiple Properties Documentation Form. On file at Survey and Planning Branch, Historic Preservation Section, NC Department of Archives and History, Raleigh, 2007.
Pezzoni, Daniel J. "Sunnyside," R.B. Whitley House Local Landmark Report." On file at Capital Area Preservation, Raleigh, 2007.
Pleasants, George S. Building a Town: Wendell, North Carolina. Virginia Beach: The Donning Company Publishers, 2003.
Sprouse, Andrew. Local Landmark Designation Report for M.C. and Martha Todd House. On file at Capital Area Preservation, 2006.
Thomas, Beth P. "Wendell Commercial Historic District Nation Register Nomination." Survey and Planning Branch, Historic Preservation Section, NC Department of Archives and History, Raleigh, 1998.
Wake County Architectural Survey Files. Survey and Planning Branch, Historic Preservation Section, NC Department of Archives and History, Raleigh.
Wake County Tax Maps and Property Records. On file at Wake County Courthouse, Raleigh, North Carolina.
† Ellen Turco, Circa, Inc., Wendell Boulevard Historic District, Wake County, NC, nomination document, 2008, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.