Creswell Historic District
The Creswell Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. Adaptation copyright © 2012, The Gombach Group.
The Creswell Historic District meets National Register of Historic Places Criterion in the areas of social history and commerce and also for architecture. The Creswell Historic District's period of significance begins in 1874, the year Creswell was incorporated; its earliest surviving building, the A.G. Walker Store, dates from between 1874 to 1877. This period ends in 1952, when significant development within the district ceased.
Creswell's vicinity had been an informal community from 1797, with settlement gradually creeping westward to the town's future site beginning in 1826, when the first post office in the area was established. With incorporation, development accelerated rapidly. Between 1874 and 1915, approximately sixty percent of Creswell's contributing resources were constructed both in the commercial district of Main Street and the residential districts of North Sixth Street, South Sixth Street, and South Fifth Street. The town quickly became a regional hub of commerce and social activity after its incorporation, and its role as such continued into the 1950s; this was enhanced during the first quarter of the twentieth century when a spur of the Norfolk Southern Railroad line was extended to Creswell in 1903.
The Creswell Historic District has a particularly strong concentration of turn-of-the-twentieth century commercial frame buildings, whose survival rate has been extremely low throughout eastern North Carolina. These buildings, one- and two-story front-gable weatherboarded structures, have large storefront windows, recessed entrances, and some Italianate style sawnwork decoration. Merchants of these stores constructed their houses, large two-story Gothic Revival and Italianate style dwellings, a short distance away; many of these houses survive intact. Both stores and houses are further distinctive, besides their intact condition, for being built in styles — generally late Greek Revival with elements of Italianate and Downingesque design — that were nearly anachronistic in North Carolina's larger coastal towns at the time of their construction.
As the twentieth century progressed, the town's focal point turned away from the dying river trade and toward a new era of transport by road and railway. The town developed further west, building mid-twentieth century neighborhoods along Sixth, Seventh, and Palmetto Streets. By 1951 when the railroad spur closed, the town of Creswell's development shifted to U.S. Highway 64, approximately a quarter-mile north of the present Creswell Historic District The shift preserved exceptional houses and commercial buildings that, otherwise, would be lost today if development had remained focused upon traditional commercial and residential areas. Besides the late nineteenth century Italianate and Queen Anne buildings, remarkable survivals in themselves, the Creswell Historic District also has intact 1920s-1930s Craftsman style Bungalows, early and mid-century Colonial Revival dwellings, and Minimal Traditional houses. Together, these buildings comprise the older village of Creswell, little changed from the mid-twentieth century.
Historical Background: Commerce and Social History
Located in eastern Washington County's Scuppernong Township, Creswell's official founding in 1874 and previous loose confederation as the community of Cool Spring from 1826 was rooted in nineteenth century agricultural trade along the small Scuppernong River. A creek at its source near Mount Tabor Church, the Scuppernong River (with some man-made assistance) was wide enough for barges and small vessels some six miles east at Spruill's Landing, the wharf that served this rural community in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Scuppernong River widens further still eight miles east of present-day Creswell near Columbia, North Carolina, where just north of Columbia it meets the Albemarle Sound at River Neck. For nineteenth century farmers in this part of eastern Washington County, with the impenetrable East Dismal Swamp to the west, a flat landscape punctuated by canals, and few existing roads often difficult to traverse due to flooding, the humble Scuppernong was a lifeline to civilization. This small body of water led to the regional markets of Plymouth, Edenton, Elizabeth City, and Norfolk, where local produce — cotton, potatoes, peas, and lumber — could be sold and supplies could, in turn, be shipped back down to Spruill's Landing.
Although just outside the Creswell Historic District, Charles Pettigrew's (1744-1807) plantation, Belgrade, is the area's earliest surviving building, along with St. David's Episcopal Church. Belgrade stands approximately a quarter-mile northwest of Spruill's Landing; St. David's, an early nineteenth century frame chapel faces Belgrade on the south side of SR 1158. Born in Pennsylvania, Charles Pettigrew, who lived in North Carolina from the age of sixteen, became an Anglican priest in 1774 and served as rector of St. Paul's, Edenton, during the Revolutionary War. Following the war Pettigrew, though never officially consecrated as such, acted as Bishop-elect of the fledgling Episcopal Church's North Carolina Diocese until his death. After his first wife died, Pettigrew moved from Perquimans County to western Tyrrell County in 1789 where he began Bonarva, his first plantation in the area. Pettigrew maintained Bonarva, eventually turning it over to his son Ebeneezer in 1803, but decided to move nine miles west in 1797 when he bought a sixty-acre tract front James Dillon. On this new plantation, Belgrade (part of a new county two years later when western Tyrrell was incorporated as Washington County), he erected an unassuming story-and-a-half frame dwelling, described by family members as a more elegant and comfortable house than any he had lived in before, which still stands. Despite Pettigrew's ill health, he worked tirelessly on temporal and spiritual matters; he cleared the swampy lands of his Tyrrell and Washington County farms, planted rice, corn, and wheat, sold his lumber, and built a church. In 1803, he wrote fellow rector Nathaniel Blount that he was building a chapel near his home. This chapel, known as St. David's Episcopal Church since its official 1857 consecration, was willed to the small local congregation around Belgrade when Pettigrew died in 1807.
By 1826 residency, including St. David's congregants, had increased to the extent that a post office was requested and obtained. The post office, known as Cool Spring, possibly took its name from the artesian wells west of the river. Located in Scuppernong Township, Cool Spring was three-quarters of a mile from the west bank of the Scuppernong River, a short distance east of present-day Creswell. Early postmasters included local farmers like Joshua Phelps (1837) and Hardy Hardison (1843), a doctor who was said to have tended to slaves and planters alike. Antebellum farmers clearing and planting along what would become Creswell's Main Street included the Woodley family and Hardy Phelps. In the late 1860s, Cool Spring did not appear in area directories but its residents, such as Dr. H. Hardison and Joseph B. Davenport, were listed as living in Scuppernong.
In April 1872 William Atkinson applied for a post office to be opened "half a mile from [Spruill's Landing"] on the north side" (actually north-northwest of the landing) to serve an area population of 1,000 between Scuppernong Town and Columbia. Atkinson stated in his application that the new post office was to be called Creswell for the Postmaster General, John A.J. Creswell. Two years later, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation incorporating Creswell as a town, only the Assembly spelled it "Cressville." This misspelling, not reflected in early local documents such as censuses, was eventually corrected in 1885.
Newcomers to the new town included Augustus Gambol Walker (1847-1931) and his bride, the former Mary Alice Dillon, who were married by St. David's rector Luther Eborn in 1874. Before moving to Creswell, Augustus Walker, born in Tyrrell County, had worked as a plantation overseer at Weston near Lake Phelps after serving in the Confederate Army. Upon moving to Creswell in the mid-1870s, Walker built a log house for his family to live in while his general store to the south of his lot and a handsome two-story frame dwelling to the east of his lot were under construction. According to family history, house and store were completed by 1878 but business directories list Walker's store as operational by 1877. The A.G. Walker Store (100 West Main Street), a two-story weatherboarded front-gable frame building built directly on the ground, still stands at the northwest corner of West Main and North Sixth streets, south of his spacious two-story dwelling which fronts on North Sixth Street. Walker's store quickly became a focal point of the new town, and the post office was located there for a time. Other businesses in Creswell in 1877 included nine other general stores, such as William Atkinson's and N.O. Eborn's. There was also H.H. Page, a shingle dealer, suggesting that the nearby forests were being timbered. In that year William H. Hardison, son of the antebellum Dr. Hardy Hardison, practiced medicine in Creswell along with Dr. E.B. Haughton.
In 1880 there were ten white families and eighteen black families in Creswell proper, totalling 141 residents. Some streets had been partially laid out, such as Main, Palmetto, and Second through Seventh streets; the white families lived along Main Street and the black families lived at the far ends of Main Street and along the other streets listed. The fact that Jesse A. Cahoon, a teacher, roomed with the A.G. Walker family, indicates that local white children were being educated some years before the 1890s founding of Creswell Academy. Six of the white families, including A.G. Walker, operated general stores in town; W.A. Alexander, who ran a general store as well, also operated a grist mill. There is no indication from 1880 census documentation that the lumber industry had any major role in Creswell's development. Among Creswell's African American residents were Ransom Bennett, a farmer who was the town's first constable in 1874, three "preachers," and Harvey Ishmal, a shoemaker. By 1884 there were fourteen merchants in town, a saloon, and H.H. Page's small lumber business, in addition to another doctor, H.H. Norman.
Creswell in 1889 was a vibrant, busy place enjoying brisk trade in town and along the river. Spruill's Landing was on the route of steamboat Thomas Newton, which took Creswell products to Elizabeth City and Norfolk and returned with provisions from those cities. Although streets existed in town by 1880, there was apparently a feeling that they could be more defined; the county sheriff summoned citizens A.G. Walker, Johnson W. Spruill, William Willey, Alfred Alexander, and Dr. J.L. Hassell to lay out streets in town properly. An article in the Plymouth newspaper described Creswell as "one of the most progressive little towns in North Carolina" with steamboats showing up four times a week, eight stores, and churches and houses under construction. The article also praised the town for having "one of the handsomest and best equipped academies in East Carolina," the Creswell Academy on the southwest corner of Middle and Sixth Streets, the founders of which included local businessman Alfred Alexander. Later that year, Creswell's local correspondent wrote the Washington Gazette that "our town is on the move." Town policeman Henry C. Spruill was building a house on Middle Street, Alfred Alexander's two-story frame house on the corner of Middle and Fifth Streets was just completed, and local merchant Claude T. Spruill had just obtained lumber to build a dwelling and large general store on his East Main Street lot near Fifth Street. Spruill's house and store, a two-story frame building housing a post office, general store, and his wife Lula's millinery shop, was finished by August 1890, during which time Alfred Alexander was adding "a nice cook and dining room" to his new house.
The 1890s continued to be a time of growth and progress for Creswell, whose population swelled to 300 residents. Thomas B. Bateman, said to be the first owner of the two-story Italianate weatherboarded residence later known as Hopkins Hotel at the southwest corner of Main and Sixth Streets, operated a steam saw and grist mill on the edge of town, and Alfred Alexander owned and operated a steam sawmill, indicating the volume of construction. In 1893, land was given to build the Methodist Protestant Church on South Sixth Street. There was also a Missionary Baptist Church in town, as well as an A.M.E. Zion Church whose minister, a Mr. Prindle, also preached in Roper, located fifteen miles west. Finally, the pull of a growing town was too much for the old chapel at Belgrade; over the objection of some of St. David's parishioners, a new Episcopal church was built in Creswell for the increased congregation. Located at the northeast corner of Sixth and Middle Streets, the frame Gothic Revival style Christ Episcopal Church, decorated in the latest style of beaded board wainscoting and patterned manufactured beaded board ceilings, was a soaring space compared to the simple country church.
At the turn of the twentieth century, 221 people lived within Creswell's town limits. Residents received their mail by horse and buggy from the Mackey's depot on Albemarle Sound, but freight and supplies continued to be obtained and shipped to Spruill's Landing. James Stokes, an African American in Creswell hired by the steamboat company, was usually on hand to put out any fires at the landing. By this time, the landing had a swing bridge that facilitated ground traffic into Creswell, yet did not impede small barges progressing on to the small settlement of Cherry. In town, fifteen African Americans were working for the local sawmills, Ransom Bennett had turned from farming to carpentry, and John Jones, a white bricklayer, was a resident. C.N. Davenport, Sr., had established a business manufacturing carts and buggies for townspeople. There was even an architect, Paul Bungfort, living on Sixth Street with his wife and three children. On the darker side of progress, the town had two saloons, operated respectively by G.D. Swain and Sanford Sexton. Residences along Main Street west of Sixth Street included C.N. Davenport's small frame house at Seventh Street and James W. Starr's two-story dwelling a short distance west.
It is during this period between 1900 and 1915 that the majority of Creswell's surviving commercial buildings are thought to have been built. There were nine general merchandise stores in 1903, of which at least three, including Claude Spruill's at the northeast corner of Fifth and East Main streets and William Willey's at the northeast corner of Sixth and East Main streets, were torn down in the twentieth century.
Between 1906 and 1911 the town grew again to a population of 300. The Bank of Creswell, a small one-story brick building located on East Main Street, was founded by Thomas Blount and Daniel Edgar Woodley. Industry increased; there were eight cotton gins in the Creswell vicinity, one of which, run by Levi S. Spruill, was located on the west side of town. Two sawmills, one owned by William T. Phelps and the other by Alfred Alexander, were also in town. The number of "drummers," or traveling salesmen, coming to town to seek orders made the concept of a hotel or boarding house a pragmatic one. A.G. Walker is listed as operating a hotel by 1903, as did Claude T. Spruill; it is possible that they boarded salesmen in their spacious homes on North Sixth Street and East Main Street. The best-known hotel in town, Hopkins Hotel, still stands at the southwest corner of Sixth and Main Streets. It was initially built as a dwelling in the late 1880s but converted to a hotel in 1912 by Thomas Hopkins, overseer of the Magnolia Lumber Company near Lake Phelps, for his wife who had entrepreneurial ambitions. Drummers and residents alike found transportation to the outside world much easier when the town depot, a spur on the Norfolk Southern Railroad line, opened in 1903. This station, demolished in the 1950s, was at the north edge of town, roughly where present-day Chesson Street, which intersects with North Sixth Street below U.S. Highway 64, is today. Claude T. Spruill was the town railroad agent, as well as postmaster, until J.C. Gatling, a Perquimans County native who moved to Creswell in 1891, became agent in 1911. By this time the automobile was beginning to appear in the Creswell vicinity, first in 1906 when the Albemarle Sound froze and mail had to be brought by car. Even so, longtime residents recall seeing more mules and wagons than automobiles until the Second World War.
In 1920 Creswell, whose population had increased to 395 people, had a stable and extensive economy. There were twelve men listed as merchants, six men who worked in blacksmithing or as mechanics, three men in the railroad business, five engaged in the building trade, two bankers, two salesmen, two doctors, a butcher, a barber, and a soft drink dealer. A.G. Walker, 72 years old, ran his general store with his son Henry. Another longtime resident, Dr. W.H. Hardison, was 74 years old but still practiced medicine; the other town doctor, J.L. Hassell, was only twelve years younger than Hardison. Of the seven teachers in town, four taught at the new brick school thought to have been designed by architect Burett H. Stephens. The other three teachers were African American women who taught at the small black school then near the northwest junction of Fifth and East Main Streets. Although there were still two sawmills in town, it is not clear how lucrative the lumber business was for the townspeople; ten Creswell men, all African Americans, were working in the lumber business, some of whom described their trade as "juniper cutting" but there are no white or black contractors listed in the area. A set of town ordinances passed in 1924 sought to smooth what rough edges remained of the town's frontier past, or frontier citizens. In addition to clamping down on the practice of free-ranging livestock, fines were levied for unsanitary privies, spitting on sidewalks or in public buildings, disorderly yards and dilapidated houses, obstructing town ditches, and cutting down or injuring the trees planted along the town's principal streets.
By the middle 1920s the heart of Creswell's industry had shifted from Spruill's Landing on the Scuppernong River to the west and northwest side of town, the area of Sixth and Seventh Streets where the railroad depot, sawmills, and cotton gins were located. The shift, a gradual one from the turn of the century, was partly due to increasingly better roads and more extensive railroad transport, such as the trestle bridge Norfolk Southern built across the Albemarle Sound to Mackeys in 1910. The Great Depression, which brought privation to all, especially spelled doom to comparatively slower and less efficient commerce by water. Adults who were children in the 1930s recalled some steamboat trade, such as shipments of oysters around Christmas time, and following the lucky bearer and his barrel home for a treat. Individuals tied to the river trade were also beginning to vanish. A.G. Walker, having run his business in Creswell for fifty-seven years, died in 1931 and his heirs eventually sold his house and store to the Barnes family; one longtime resident of the town remarked, "The river hasn't been clean since the Walkers lived here." After Claude Spruill's death, his nephew Walter Peal detached the front-gable store projecting from the west elevation of his house in 1934, and moved the house a short distance east from the northeast intersection of East Main and Fifth Streets. At approximately the same time, William Willey's two-story general store was torn down and a handsome Mission Revival service station constructed in its place.
Creswell, in time, shed itself of its riparian heritage, although African Americans who worked at Tommie Holmes' sawmill continued to fish the Scuppernong River for herring in winter months. Nevertheless, the town continued to serve as a social center for townspeople and the more rural communities of Travis, Woodley, Cherry, and Scuppernong into the 1940s and 1950s. During that time Main Street on a Saturday would be full of cars of people from morning until 11:30 at night, some of whom would discreetly indulge in a bucket of local corn liquor before heading home. Creswell High School was torn down and built anew between 1936 and 1939. Other physicians, such as Doctors Phelps and Webb, replaced Dr. Hardison and Dr. Hassell; Phelps practiced in Creswell until his death in 1962. Newer merchants inhabited the older stores along Main Street and Willie Phelps' two-section brick commercial building on the north side of the street was constructed. Eva Bateman, who had taught at Creswell Academy in the 1910s, left the world of education to run her family's store, which she did into the 1950s. In the 1930s James Walter Starr's one-story general store at 105 East Main Street became Lucy Alexander's dry goods store where local women bought their cloth for nearly forty years. Across the street, O.D. Hatfield's one-story weatherboarded shop sold a variety of goods from canned vegetables and potted meat to shoes and some clothes. By the 1950s Bill Peal's Soda Shop at 111 East Main Street was a major draw to area teenagers. And in 1954 Emily and Earl Davenport bought the concrete block grocery store at 107 East Main Street and set up their own business; in 2001, having operated the grocery for forty-seven years, they are now the oldest establishment still in operation on the street.
After the Second World War, the town's commercial center shifted away from Main Street north to U.S. Highway 64, a thoroughfare for traffic to and from the Outer Banks. Earl Davenport's drive-in theater and landing strip, Miss Donnie Smith's Restaurant, an IGA supermarket, and a number of other longtime businesses were located along the highway. One casualty of the 1950s love affair with the automobile was the rural railroad system. The Creswell depot, which had seen railcars laden with potatoes or peas en route to Mackeys on the Albemarle Sound, or local baseball players traveling to Columbia for a game, closed its doors during this time.
Creswell, its population of 426 one soul greater than in 1960, is today a quiet village; few who travel on U.S. 64 are aware that a whole townscape exists beyond the small strip mall, ABC store, and Copper Kettle Restaurant. A 1967 article for a state publication confirmed that Creswell and its environs were enjoying agricultural prosperity, stating, "The farmers are all building new brick homes, investing in more land, and they are buying expensive farm equipment. Each year they trade in their car and pick-up [truck], and the area is booming." On the down side, "The canal where you caught catfish and herring with a piece of wire from the chicken house is now fouled and polluted water where they dump trash, and even garbage." Past machinations to develop the area — a methanol plant, a medical waste facility — were not achieved. Conversely, the town's lack of success in attracting big business to locate there has preserved its remarkable early twentieth century physical character. Creswell's commercial streetscape in the old center of town retains an unusually high number of turn-of-the-twentieth century stores, framed by the complementary Italianate and Queen Anne style dwellings their merchants built.
Creswell's position as a commercial center for eastern Washington County and parts of western Tyrrell County, given its relatively high elevation, artesian springs and proximity to Scuppernong River trade, spurred its quick growth during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Historically, the town's early commercial focal point was the A.G. Walker Store (100 West Main Street, ca.1874-1877), the first dry goods business known to have been established in town. Its deep storage space, handsome bracketed cornices, and large hooded sash windows set the stage for other Italianate style emporiums in town, including the late Claude T. Spruill Store (ca.1890), a two-story weatherboarded commercial building whose wide storefront windows, bracketed shelter and cornice, and transomed double-leaf doors graced East Main Street until its 1980s demolition. In this first period of building, merchants' houses were either directly behind or attached to their stores, the former being the case for the A.G. Walker's handsome Gothic Revival-Italianate style dwelling (104 North Sixth Street) and the latter being the case for Claude T. Spruill's comparable, but less ornate, home (208 East Main Street).
Surviving Creswell residences, also constructed in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, were handsome frame dwellings not just for local dry goods merchants but also for buggy manufacturers like Alfred Alexander (200 South Fifth Street) and sawmill owner and operators like Thomas Bateman (100 South Sixth Street). Their houses, both weatherboarded buildings enlivened by cross gables, a profusion of windows, and decorative two-story porches embellished with Italianate style sawnwork, were admired both in their day and ours. These houses, as well as Roy Hopkins (106 South Fifth Street) and Claude Spruill's (208 East Main Street) houses, were spacious enough to take on boarders — teachers, ministers, employees of timber companies, and drummers. Bateman's multi-gabled Queen Anne-Italianate style residence became the Hopkins Hotel by 1911.
It is probable that most, if not all, of these residences were constructed by the same group of builders. In addition to the exterior similarities of the A.G. Walker House and the Claude T. Spruill House, both built twelve years apart, they share a common interior feature with the Hopkins Hotel (ca.1890), that of a prominent center hall with a curvilinear — and slightly awkward — staircase. All three houses' staircases, their tongue-and-groove boarding hardly concealed, share a similar awkward positioning of the newel post; rather than incorporation into the bottom step, all three newels are positioned at least six inches away from the staircase. It is possible that this builder, or team of builders, had apprenticed in a larger city and, though familiar with basic prescriptive plans and millwork, lacked finesse in final assembly.
The A.G. Walker House, however, has many smoothly executed exterior and interior details, such as diamond-pained transoms at the wide double-leaf entrance, and over many of the first floor doorways. Then, there is the Italianate mantelpiece in the west parlor, with its applied curvilinear molding and incised cartouche, as well as plain paneled window aprons. In the former pantry, patterned beaded board suggests that walls in the service rooms were much livelier than the plastered and papered walls in the house's grander parts. Only fragments of this treatment have been seen in earlier Creswell houses, one being Dr. Hassell's former office (104 South Sixth Street) where patterned beaded board still sheathes the downstairs wall and stair. The Hopkins Hotel (100 South Sixth Street) has a comparably elaborate facade, from colored diamond transom panes and sidelights to intact turned millwork frieze and balustrade. Inside, parts of the flooring are laid out diagonally in the front hall and the former dining room has a coffered ceiling and raised wainscot paneling.
Creswell is unique in that it continued to construct Italianate and Gothic Revival style dwellings for decades after their vogue had passed in larger regional cities. For example, a dwelling such as Claude T. Spruill's 1890 two-story, side-gable house with its large center gable, with flat Italianate style transomed windows, was not being constructed in nearby Elizabeth City at that time; instead, that town was building multi-gabled Queen Anne and Eastlake style houses. Actually, the Spruill House replicated the 1877 A.G. Walker House in its form — a two-story Italianate/Downingesque style residence with a large center gable, transomed windows and doors, and a shed porch with chamfered posts — but, as a replication, lacking the vigor of its inspiration. However, that the Spruill House's replication is so identifiably faithful makes it remarkable. The Alfred Alexander House (200 South Fifth Street) with two-tiered facade porch and overhanging false gable is in the fashion of contemporary dwellings, such as Edenton's John R. Wheeler House, constructed ca.1901. But the house's side-gable and two-story rear ell form, in addition to its bracketed window hoods and the imposing double-leaf entrance, differs little from its neighbors and would not have been cutting edge for its time (as it was in Creswell) in Edenton, Elizabeth City, or Plymouth.
Between 1900 and 1915, the bulk of Creswell's surviving commercial buildings were constructed, one of which was the Bateman Store at 115 East Main Street. A handsome two-story, three-bay late Italianate style frame front-gable commercial building, the Bateman Store retains a multitude of original exterior features, from the decorative cornice over pronounced gable returns, corner pilasters, and prominent molded window hoods with brackets, to projecting bay windows, and paneled window aprons. Across Fifth Street from the Bateman Store is 201 East Main Street, a two-story, front-gable weatherboarded commercial building, constructed at the same time as the Bateman Store, and nearly identical in form and decoration; aside from that its display windows do not project and that it has a one-bay side shed extension sharing the storefront's cornice. Again, these two stores were looking to a reliable local prototype, in this case the ca.1874-1877 A.G. Walker Store (100 West Main Street), but there are differences. First, the two stores continue the display of Italianate style decoration, but windows are wide six-over-six double-hung sash, instead of the elongated nine-over-six sash seen at the Walker Store. Also, the gable roof pitch of the 1890s stores is wider, and the newer buildings are wider and not quite as deep as the Walker Store. There are few 1890s frame commercial buildings of this caliber left in northeastern North Carolina; comparable examples range from the Winfall Post Office in Perquimans County to Harrellsville's Mason & Son Store in Hertford County.
These former dry goods and grocery stores, with their plainer front-gable one- and two-story frame counterparts along East Main Street's north and south streetscape, are the type of commercial buildings constructed in eastern North Carolina towns circa 1875-1895. However in nearby towns such as Plymouth, Washington's county seat, and Columbia in Tyrrell County these sorts of frame buildings were quickly being replaced with brick edifices at the turn of the twentieth century. And yet Creswell continued to construct its stores in a late nineteenth century fashion into the 1910s and 1920s, as the comparatively plain O.D. Hatfield Store (104 East Main Street) exhibits. Contrary to Plymouth and Columbia (which does retain some weatherboarded 1900-1910 commercial buildings), brick was rarely employed in Creswell as a building material (other than for chimneys, porch piers, or foundation piers) before 1940, and, except for the former Bank of Creswell (102 East Main Street), there are no brick commercial buildings constructed before 1945.
Although store operators lived over their shops into the 1940s, the new generation of merchants — James Walter Starr, George Stillman, and Edgar Woodley — were choosing to live a little farther from the commercial district in their residences along Middle, Fifth, and West Main streets by 1910. This trend of detachment from residence and business continued into the 1940s and 1950s as Creswell residents spread farther west, north, and south. North Sixth Street, with its Craftsman style dwellings and outbuildings, in addition to Dr. Harrell's impressive Dutch Colonial brick residence (212 North Sixth Street), is a good example of Creswell's expansion. Citizens at these fringes continued to operate small farming operations, as the outbuildings at Clyde Smithson's house at 219 North Sixth Street and Jake Walker's house at 306 South Fifth Street attest. African Americans, who primarily settled west of town and along Palmetto Street, which runs parallel to West Main Street east of North Sixth Street, built a number of Craftsman style dwellings in these neighborhoods between 1920 and 1940, most of which have been substantially altered.
Today, Creswell has a remarkably high number of turn-of-the-twentieth century and early twentieth century commercial buildings and dwellings. Its retention of significant 1870s, 1880s, 1890s and 1900s buildings is considerably greater than in the nearby towns of Columbia and Roper. Comparably intact towns in this region include Plymouth and Roper in Washington County, Columbia in Tyrrell County, which also retains much of its early twentieth century commercial district, and Fairfield in Hyde County. However, Columbia lacks Creswell's high concentration of late nineteenth century frame commercial and residential buildings. Fairfield, although possessing considerably intact buildings from the turn of the twentieth century, was never a rural mercantile powerhouse on the scale of this western Washington County town, nor does it have Creswell's range of architecture, reaching from 1870s Italianate to 1930s Craftsman style. The one characteristic Plymouth, Columbia, and Creswell all share are the large number of Craftsman style houses and Bungalows constructed between 1920 and 1940. Given Plymouth's position as a regional lumber center and the coming of the railroad to this area by the first quarter of the twentieth century, it is probable that Creswell obtained prefabricated Craftsman style building elements directly from Plymouth via rail, breaking its long tradition of retardataire architecture.
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________, Manufacturing Schedule for Creswell Town, Scuppernong Township, Washington County, N.C., 1880.
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Washington Gazette (Plymouth, North Carolina), January 18, 1889. Copy courtesy Loretta Phelps, Creswell, N.C.
________, January 20, 1889. Copy courtesy Loretta Phelps, Creswell, N.C.
________, June 28, 1889. Copy courtesy Loretta Phelps, Creswell, N.C.
________, November 12, 1889. Copy courtesy Loretta Phelps, Creswell, N.C.
________, August 30, 1890. Copy courtesy Loretta Phelps, Creswell, N.C.
Wyly, Marsha, "Study List Nomination for Creswell Historic District, Washington County, N.C." Unpublished Manuscript, September 2000.
Interviews and Oral History
McMullan Consulting (Hertford, N. C.) and Town of Creswell, "Creswell Revitalization Meeting," April 24, 2001 [oral history videotape].
Mrs. Margaret Barnes Furlough, Creswell, N.C., April 19 and August 29, 2001 conversations.
Mrs. Allie Ambrose Hatfield, Creswell, N.C., August 29, 2001 interview.
Mr. and Mrs. Ray and Syble Spruill, Creswell, N.C., August 29, 2001 interview.
Paul Stephens, New Bern, N.C., March 24, 2001 conversation.
† Penne Smith Sandbeck, Creswell Historic District, Washington County, NC, nomination document, 2002, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.