Plymouth Historic District
The Plymouth Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2012, The Gombach Group.
Plymouth Historic District is located on the southeast side of the Roanoke River along the Washington/Bertie county line. The Plymouth Historic District is a somewhat irregularly-shaped area, lacking the appearance of either a square, a rectangle, or a triangle. Instead, its varying shape and boundaries represent the gradual development and growth of the town from the Roanoke River bank to the southeast through Third Street on the east and through Fort Williams Street — two blocks deeper — on the south. That area varies between four and five blocks in width and is generally bounded by Latham Lane on the northeast and Monroe Street on the southwest. Moving southeasterly from the Roanoke River, it includes: Water Street — the commercial/business avenue immediately parallel to the river; Main Street — the principal residential avenue and the partial route (on the east) of the Columbia to Washington (Williamston) Road; Third Street — the site of three significant churches and the avenue (west of Washington Street) that formed the west arm of the Columbia to Washington Road; Fourth Street; and the entire two-block length of Fort Williams Street. Washington Street, the major northwest/southeast artery in town and the second major residential avenue, figures for six blocks in the district from its head at Water Street southeasterly to the edge of the Norfolk & Southern Railroad. (CSX) tracks. The Plymouth Historic District also includes properties along varying lengths of the presidential streets parallel to Washington Street: Madison Street; Adams Street; Jefferson Street; and Monroe Street. The Plymouth Historic District extends in angular-fashion to the southwest off West Fourth Street to include a group of eleven properties on Wilson Street and Winesett Circle. The Plymouth Historic District occupies approximately fifty percent of the developed area in the town inside a triangle formed by the city limits on the northwest, the Atlantic Coast Line RR tracks on the southeast, and the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on the southwest. That triangular-shaped area was largely the town of Plymouth until suburban expansion began in earnest in the 1930s.
The Plymouth Historic District, including 270 principal buildings and sites and 145 secondary buildings, structures, and sites, is the largest and densest concentration of architecturally and historically significant resources in the town of Plymouth. Within the 270 principal resources there are: 195 contributing buildings; 72 non-contributing buildings; and three contributing sites. There are 141 secondary buildings, mostly outbuildings, garages, and storage buildings; 63 are contributing; 78 are non-contributing. The Baptist Church Cemetery (South corner of Monroe and Third streets) is included in the Plymouth Historic District; there are three other cemeteries that are supporting features of individual buildings and counted as sites. The cemeteries at Grace Church (107 Madison Street) and Plymouth United Methodist Church (109 East Third Street) are contributing sites: the later-day cemetery at Toodle's Funeral Home (305 Wilson Street) is a non-contributing site. There is one contributing structure, the cement and rock yard enclosure at the Tarlton T. Gardner House (205 Wilson Street). There is a total of 414 resources in the Plymouth Historic District.
The topography of the Plymouth Historic District is generally flat except for a slight rise on Washington Street, near Fort Williams Street, that gave the area the name "Washington Heights." Situated parallel to the southeast bank of the Roanoke River, the town is elevated only a few feet above the river's shallow bank. Because of this and the high water table in Plymouth, there are several small shallow open ditches along property lines or by the sides of streets that drain the area of the district and the perimeter property. Overlaying this relatively flat landscape is a grid pattern of paved streets that are flanked by cement sidewalks.
In part because of the gradual development of the small town over a long period of time and within relatively small boundaries, there are few consistently planted street trees and other consciously-designed landscape features. Instead, the landscape of the district is made up of natural growth and planted trees and shrubs, reflecting the choices and nurturing of each lot owner, that shade both the lots and portions of the streets. The principal trees in the Plymouth Historic District are: Magnolia grandiflora; red and Atlantic cedars; pecan trees; white, water, and other oaks; and holly, maple, pine, and sycamore trees, among others. The second tier of volunteer and planted trees include dogwoods, crepe myrtles, and redbuds that are treated in both specimen and group/linear (streetside) plantings. Common privet grows in both controlled and uncontrolled fashion in the district, and it is used mainly for hedges along property lines or to separate front and rear yards. Because of the temperate climate and the well-watered soil there is a large number of flowering shrubs used as foundation plantings, shrub borders, and specimen plantings. In order of their general popularity and occurrence throughout the Plymouth Historic District are: Camellia japonica and Camellia sasanqua; Azaleas; Lonicera fragrantissirna; Abelia grandiflora; Yucca Filamentosa; Ligustrum; Nandina domestica; and others.
Excepting the intact brick streetscapes of the commercial district on Water Street and most of the 100 block of Washington Street where buildings stand immediately next to each other, the Plymouth Historic District is largely residential in character and appearance. The 100 and 200 blocks of Washington Street, 100 block of West Main Street, and the 100 block of Adams Street contain a mix of business, institutional, and some residential buildings. The brick and brick veneer churches on Madison, Third, and Washington streets are the only punctuation in the district made up of mostly one- and two-story frame houses. Regardless of the size of the lots on which the houses stand, they are built close to the street and follow relatively consistent facade lines. There are shallow front yards that are grassed over; deeper rear yards contain any outbuildings and the occasional grape arbor. In some few cases houses have visible side yards of consequence.
Although there are several impressive buildings in the Plymouth Historic District that reflect significant local or regional interpretations of the national architectural styles of the 19th and early-20th centuries, the predominant character of the district is shaped by a relative sameness of scale, workmanship, material, and quality of design. The majority of the Plymouth Historic District's vernacular frame and brick commercial, civic, religious, and domestic buildings, erected largely between 1880 and 1930, are simply ornamented with the successive devices and motives of the late-Victorian, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and Bungalow styles.
Reflecting the slow and gradual growth of the town from ca. 1814 until 1941, the Plymouth Historic District recalls and represents the development of the town as an important port on the Roanoke River, as the seat of Washington County after 1823, as a center of the local maritime lumbering trade, and as a county trading and mercantile center. Because of the nature of village life and the gradual development of the town over a period of two centuries, it also represents in its large stock of domestic buildings the residences of a broad range of its citizenry: from the handsome houses of the affluent members of its merchant and land-owning class, through the dwellings of the middle class of its professional men, managers, and salesmen, to the largely rental houses of servants, laborers, clerks and workers in the maritime lumber and wood manufacturing plants and fisheries. Although Plymouth was established in 1787, there are but six surviving buildings that recall the early-19th century and antebellum life of the town. Its trade and its sheltered position on the Roanoke River, above the Albemarle Sound, caused it to be fiercely contested through the Civil War. After the war, those same factors encouraged a renewal of the town's fortunes and its trade in the later 19th century. Tragedy struck again on 14 April 1898 when fire destroyed much of the commercial district. Capital that otherwise might have seen its expression in the construction of fine houses and public buildings was required to rebuild the business places of the merchants and commission buyers. Nevertheless, the town flourished in the decade from 1900 until 1910 and it grew, slowly, but steadily, to the opening of World War II.
The period of significance begins with the earliest known building in Plymouth, the Picot-Armistead-Pettiford House (302 West Main Street), erected ca.1814, and continues through the 19th and 20th centuries to include a final group of buildings, mostly houses, erected in the period, 1937-1941, following on the opening of the North Carolina Pulp Company. Brick and frame buildings embody the distinctive characteristics of their type, period, and method of construction and collectively they portray an important view of small town architecture in eastern North Carolina. Likewise, many of the buildings in the district are the work of a small group of regional and local builders: Burrell Riddick of Suffolk, Virginia; and William Joseph Jackson, Benjamin F. Nurney, and Robert L. Tetterton, all of Plymouth. Collectively, these buildings constitute a district, occupying much of the original 1787 town, that portrays and is associated with Plymouth's sequential stages of growth, near-destruction, renewal, and development as a port, trading center, and county seat on the Roanoke River.
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† Davyd Foard Hood, Plymouth Historic District, Washington County, North Carolina, 1990, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.