West Nash Street Historic District
The West Nash Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. 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 West Nash Street Historic District, the most impressive residential avenue in Wilson, was the home of many of the most prominent and successful merchants, businessmen, and tobacconists in Wilson from the early twentieth century to the present. While most of the older homes in the 100-500 blocks of West Nash Street, built by Wilson's leading families in the mid and late nineteenth century, have been lost to commercial expansion, the area included in the West Nash Street Historic District, the 600-1500 blocks, is a remarkably intact neighborhood of impressive houses built by the well-to-do in the early twentieth century. In rare instances were these constructed by the sons of the men who had built the impressive mid and late nineteenth century houses closer downtown. Rather, the houses in the West Nash Street Historic District were built for men who were attracted to the unlimited business potential in early twentieth century Wilson, a prosperity based on the growth and marketing of flue-cured tobacco.
Wilson, a city of 34,059 (1980 Census) located on the broad upper coastal plain of eastern North Carolina, grew from the late eighteenth century trading settlement of Toisnot; the name is said to be derived from Tosneac, the name of a Tuscarora Indian town located nearby in the early eighteenth century. An area center for the production and marketing of naval stores, the development of Toisnot and the nearby community of Hickory Grove was dependent upon the availability of transportation, which was first supplied by Contentnea Creek and later the Raleigh to Greenville post road.
Spurred by the completion of the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad (later the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad) in April 1840, the communities of Toisnot and Hickory Grove began to develop as the area's trading and transportation center. On April 29, 1840 the Toisnot Depot post office was established. The railroad brought an immediate influx of new settlers from the surrounding area to the communities, including men who would play leading roles in the development of Wilson throughout the nineteenth century. The town of Wilson, named for General Louis D. Wilson of Edgecombe County, who had died of yellow fever in 1847 during the Mexican-American War, was chartered on January 29, 1849 and incorporated the communities of Toisnot Depot and Hickory Grove.
Wilson during the late 1840s and the 1850s was prospering and was led by the merchants and planters who derived their wealth in association with the productive agricultural lands surrounding Wilson. Such prominent men as Willis Napoleon Hackney (1823-1887), who had come to Wilson in 1852 and had established a successful carriage and wagon factory (in the Wilson Central Business-Tobacco Warehouse Historic District), merchant prince Moses Rountree (1822-1887) (lived in the Old Wilson Historic District), and merchant-cotton buyer-politician General Joshua Barnes accrued great wealth and built impressive Italianate and Gothic Revival houses in the 100-600 blocks of West Nash Street; all but the Rountree and Davis houses have been lost. These were built by Oswald Lipscomb (1826-1891), a master builder who came to Wilson in 1849 and influenced the town's architecture like no single person has since. His only three surviving documented houses are included in the Old Wilson Historic District.
In February, 1855, the people of Wilson and others a long distance from the Edgecombe County seat at Tarboro were finally successful in gaining passage by the General Assembly of an act creating Wilson County from Edgecombe, Johnston, Wayne, and Nash counties. The first courthouse, an impressive Gothic Revival style building, was erected later that year on the site of the present courthouse (1924) (National Register listed) (in the Wilson Central Business-Tobacco Warehouse Historic District).
Because of Wilson's advantageous railroad location, post Civil War recovery was rather rapid in the town and county. The 1870s and 1880s witnessed an expansion of Wilson's mercantile and transportation businesses, the formation of the Wilson Cotton Mills in 1880s to provide local manufacture for the area's large cotton crop, and the openings of Wilson's first banks in the early 1870s. By the 1870s Wilson was again enjoying a construction boom, with additional impressive store and residences being built. Lipscomb and later his successor as Wilson's most prominent builder, James E. Wilkins (1835-1904), built impressive late Italianate, Queen Anne, and Second Empire houses along West Nash Street which splendidly reflected the extreme wealth attained by Wilson's merchants.
Due to several years of low prices for cotton, the area's staple cash crop since the 1840s, and the phenomenal prices brought at markets in Henderson and Durham by flue-cured tobacco grown by several pioneering planters in Wilson County, the cultivation of tobacco expanded rapidly during the 1870s and 1880s. Census records show that in 1869 just 1,898 pounds of tobacco were grown in Wilson County. By 1879 this had increased to 8,745 pounds, and in 1889 the crop totaled 232,966 pounds. This phenomenal growth demanded a local market and the Wilson market opened in September, 1890, and sold 1,508,109 pounds in the first year. Growth of the market was rapid and by 1902, the first year for which money records survive, the Wilson market handled 22,296,077 pounds, worth a total of $2,430,272. This was quite a sum of money to flow through a town of just 3,525, and the town prospered from its newly found tobacco wealth. This tobacco boom attracted numerous experienced tobaccomen from the counties along the North Carolina-Virginia border, the "Old Belt," where tobacco had been an important cash crop throughout the nineteenth century. These men came to Wilson and with their knowledge, experience, and ambition, led Wilson to the forefront of tobacco marketing in the United States. By 1919, with a record crop of 42,330,509 pounds and an unheard of price of 53.67 cents per pound bringing a total of $22,720,289.44 in sales to Wilson, Wilson surpassed Danville, Virginia as the nation's largest market for flue-cured tobacco. Wilson, whose economy continues to be dominated by the growing and marketing of flue-cured tobacco, has remained the national leader since 1919.
The tobacco boom of the early twentieth century resulted in a level of commercial, industrial, and residential building activity that had not been seen in Wilson's short history. Residential neighborhoods (white) expanded north, northeast, and northwest of the central business district and the older residential neighborhoods. While other neighborhoods contained a mixture of large and modest houses, the most impressive houses — first in the Queen Anne and Neo-Classical Revival styles and later in the Colonial Revival, Bungalow, Georgian Revival, and Tudoresque styles — were built in the blocks that comprise the West Nash Street Historic District as a chronological extension of the impressive mid and late nineteenth century houses built along West Nash Street before the advent of tobacco. Unfortunately, thirty-five impressive houses (out of the forty-nine shown on the 1930 Sanborn Map) have been lost to commercial encroachment in the 200-800 blocks of West Nash Street since the 1930s. The West Nash Street Historic District contains the survivors of the 600-800 blocks and the remarkably intact neighborhood on the 900-1500 blocks of West Nash Street.
Nowhere in Wilson was the city's tobacco wealth displayed more prominently than in the handsome residences built in the early twentieth century (mostly in the 1910s and 1920s) in the West Nash Street Historic District. Here the pioneers and leaders of the Wilson tobacco market built impressive stylish residences. These tobacconists included Ula H. Cozart (1869-1948) (900 W. Street) and Thomas M. Washington (1862-1933) (903 W. Nash Street), co-founders in 1893 of the Centre Brick Tobacco Warehouse; Benjamin F. Lane (1859-1916) (601 W. Nash Street), a co-founder in 1903 of the Liberty Tobacco Warehouse; Alexander Greene (804 W. Nash Street), the proprietor of one of Wilson's earliest prize houses (a facility where the cured leaf was packed into hogsheads for transport to a processing plant); Selby H. Anderson (1874-1862) (901 W. Nash Street), a co-founder of the (first) Planters Tobacco Warehouse in 1892 and later a partner in the prosperous export firm of Whitehead-Anderson Tobacco Company; Norbane M. Schaum (1885-1951) (904 W. Nash Street), the president of the Wilson Tobacco Company; John S. Leach (1877-1939) (1129 W. Nash Street), manager of the American Tobacco Company's Wilson offices and later part owner of the Farmers Tobacco Warehouse; and Ben T. Smith (1887-1944) (1505 W. Nash Street), a co-founder in 1920 of the (second) Planters Tobacco Warehouse and later president and manager of the Smith Tobacco Warehouses. Later inhabitants of the district included Penn T. Watson (1411 W. Nash Street) and William T. Clark, Jr. (1415 W. Nash Street), whose fathers had founded tobacco companies in Wilson in 1893 and ca.1900, respectively. With few exceptions, the houses associated with these men are the only surviving houses built in Wilson by its pioneer tobacconists.
The West Nash Street Historic District was also home to many of the town's wealthiest and most prominent merchants, lawyers, and politicians. Foremost among these were the Woodard brothers, Frederick A. (1854-1915), Sidney A. (1865-1915), and Paul L. (1869-1939). Frederick A. Woodard, a prominent lawyer and the only person from Wilson County to serve in Congress (1893-1897), built a flamboyant Queen Anne mansion in the 1890s; it was unfortunately replaced by the intrusive John Hackney Agency (608 W. Nash Street) in 1974. His brother and law partner, Sidney A. Woodard built a handsome, yet restrained, Colonial Revival style house (604 W. Nash Street, ca.1900). However, it was their younger brother, Paul L. Woodard (610 W. Nash Street) who had the greatest impact on Wilson. As president of P.L. Woodard and Company, a general mercantile store founded in 1899 by the three brothers, and as president of the Contentnea Guano Company, founded by the three brothers and Graham Woodard, the son of Frederick A. Woodard, in 1908, Woodard was one of the most influential agri-business leaders in Wilson during his lifetime. Other leading merchants and businessmen, among the most prominent and wealthiest in Wilson, who built in the West Nash Street Historic District were William R. Bryan (509 W. Nash Street), the proprietor of a livery stable, wholesale grocer Calvin Woodard (905 West Nash Street), L.T. Dildy (1001 W. Nash Street) and Samuel E. Agnew (1210 W. Nash Street), partners in a hardware and building supplies company, car dealer Harry West Abbitt (1105 W. Nash Street), Samuel W. Richardson (1311 W. Nash Street), the president of the Wilson Hardware Company, and John T. Barnes (1403 W. Nash Street), one of Wilson's most prominent businessmen and a partner in the Barnes-Harrell Company and the Cherry Hotel (National Register listed).
Because of improved transportation, permitting farmers to live away from their farms, many farmers in the Wilson vicinity chose to live in Wilson in order to take advantage of the city's excellent educational opportunities and many cultural and social activities. Two of the largest and most successful, Charles R. Harper (606 W. Nash Street) and William W. Graves (800 W. Nash Street), built impressive residences, particularly the Graves House (ca.1922) which is without question the finest and most ambitious house in Wilson today. Graves was also prominent as a realtor and neighborhood developer during the 1910s and 1920s.
Another important person in the life of West Nash Street was John D. Gold (1867-1957) (1000 West Nash Street). The son of Pleasant Daniel Gold (1833-1920), a prominent Primitive Baptist minister in Wilson and the publisher of Zion's Landmark, the news organ of the Primitive Baptist Church,  John D. Gold was the founder in 1896 and 1902 of two newspapers which merged in 1936 to form The Wilson Daily Times, the city's only newspaper today. Both Gold's widow, Daisy H. Gold (1002 W. Nash Street) and daughter, Elizabeth (Gold) Swindell (906 W. Nash Street), also built houses in the West Nash Street District.
Other prominent Wilsonians who lived in the West Nash Street Historic District were Selby H. Anderson (1874-1962) (901 W. Nash Street), who was chairman of the board of Branch Banking and Trust Company from 1915 until his death in 1962; Dr. Benjamin S. Herring (1879-1930) (806 W. Nash Street), a cofounder of the Moore-Herring Hospital (now razed) in 1913; William A. Weathersby (1007 West Nash Street), the Wilson County Sheriff in the late 1930s and early 1940s; physicians Dr. Frank G. Smith (1133 W. Nash Street), K. Carl Moore (1206 W. Nash Street), Henry B. Best (1415 W. Nash Street), and George Erick Bell (1501 W. Nash Street); William E. Smith, the developer of the West End Park neighborhood which includes the odd numbered houses between 1127 and 1527 West Nash Street; and George E. Walston, the president of the Planters Bank.
D.C. Williams, Jr., a prominent Wilson businessman, the owner of Williams Lumber Company, and a real estate developer, built several speculative houses in the North Kincaid, North Lucas avenues neighborhood immediately north of the 1200-1400 blocks of West Nash Street. These noteworthy but modest, similarly finished bungalows are some of the earliest documented dwellings built in Wilson for investment. Williams financed the erection of a number of commercial and residential properties in Wilson during the booming 1910s and 1920s and was active in the lumber business until his death in 1983.
The West Nash Street Historic District contains houses designed not only by all the architects practicing in Wilson during the early twentieth century, but also several of the state's leading architects. Most numerous are the works of Solon Balias Moore (1872-1930). Born in Rutherford County, Moore came to Wilson about 1905. He was a trained carpenter and family tradition states that he worked as a carpenter and studied architecture at night. He formed a partnership from ca.1910 to 1915 with Charles Collins Benton, after which he practiced on his own until his death. Moore was one of the most prolific architects in Wilson's history and over thirty buildings that can be attributed to him survive, thirteen in the West Nash Street Historic District. A photograph collection of some of his works assist in documenting his designs. Moore was especially known for his talent with the Bungalow and Colonial Revival styles, which is excellently displayed on his varied works in the West Nash Street Historic District. Representative examples include the Selby H. Anderson (901 W. Nash Street, ca.1917) and M. Douglas Aycock (1111 W. Nash Street, ca.1926) houses in the Bungalow style and the Henry West Abbitt (1105 W. Nash Street, 1926) and J.S. Adkins (1400 W. Nash Street, ca.1926) houses in the Colonial Revival style.
Brothers Charles Collins Benton (1887-1960) and Frank Whitaker Benton (1882-1960) were both Wilson natives who returned to Wilson in the early twentieth century after receiving their architectural training — Charles at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Frank at the Architectural Institute of Oklahoma. Both were active in Wilson until their deaths, and the Wilson Central Business-Tobacco Warehouse District and the Old Wilson Historic District contain numerous structures of their designs. Curiously enough, only three houses in the West Nash Street Historic District have been attributed to them: the William L. Israel House (1306 W. Nash Street, 1939) to Charles Collins Benton; his own residence (1200 W. Nash Street, 1938) to Frank Whitaker Benton; and the impressively Tudoresque style John T. Barnes House (1403 W. Nash Street, 1927) to the partnership (from ca.1915 to 1935) of Benton and Benton. They no doubt are responsible for the designs of many more.
John Christie Stout (1860-1921) practiced in Wilson from the late 1890s until 1906 and is responsible for the designs of the West Nash Street Historic District's two oldest houses, the Lane-Bardin House (601 W. Nash Street, ca.1899) and the Woodard-Peacock House (604 W. Nash Street, ca.1900). A native of Randolph County, he had studied architecture under Thomas A. Klutz and practiced in Wilmington during the 1890s prior to being attracted to bustling Wilson. He moved to Rocky Mount in 1906 where he enjoyed a successful practice until his death.
Thomas (Tommy) Breinig Herman was born in Topton, Pennsylvania in 1885 and came to Wilson in the early 1920s and practiced here until his death in 1956. Little is known of his early life. He designed a number of impressive buildings in Wilson, four of which are located in the West Nash Street Historic District. They are: the Dr. C.A. Woodard House (908 W. Nash Street, 1935), the James D. Blount House (1300 W. Nash Street, 1940), the Best-Clark-Tucker House (1415 W. Nash Street, 1925), and the Barnes-Bell House (1501 W. Nash Street, 1927).
Other architects represented in the West Nash Street Historic District are James A. McGeady of Wilson: McGeady-Thompson House (106 North Kincaid Avenue, ca.1923) and McGeady-Hollowell House (1308 W. Nash Street, ca.1929); James Raleigh Hughes of Greensboro: Norbane M. Schaum House (904 W. Nash Street, ca.1925) and King-Watson Nabors House (1411 W. Nash Street, ca.1926); J.T. Crittenden of Wilson: William R. Bryan House (509 W. Nash Street, 1917); and Harry Barton of Greensboro: William W. Graves House (800 W. Nash Street, ca.1922). Barton was one of North Carolina's most prominent architects during the early twentieth century and is perhaps best known for his courthouses in Alamance (NR), Cumberland (NR), Guilford (NR), Johnston (NR), and Surry (NR) counties.
While numerous contractors and contracting firms were active during the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s, when most of the West Nash Street Historic District was developed, relatively few of the houses, only twelve of ninety-nine, can be attributed to any particular builder. The most prominent contracting firm in Wilson during that period was Wilkins and Wilkins, composed of brothers William B. (1877-1956), James E. Jr. (1877-1954), and Robert S. (1878-1935), the sons of James E. Wilkins, Sr. (1835-1905), the most prominent builder in Wilson during the 1880s and 1890s. Yet only three houses can be attributed to the Wilkinses: the Norbane M. Schaum House (904 West Nash Street, ca.1925), the Henry West Abbitt House (1105 W. Nash Street, 1926), and the Barnes-Bell House (1501 W. Nash Street, 1972). They no doubt are responsible for many more. Other contractors with attributed work in the West Nash Street Historic District include Joe W. Stout of Sanford, William W. Graves House (800 W. Nash Street, ca.1922); W.M. Jones of Wilson, Dr. C.A. Woodard House (908 W. Nash Street, 1935); B.J. Boyles and Company of Wilson, Nadal-Weathersby House (1007 W. Nash Street, 1916-1917) and Agnew-Blackwell House (1210 W. Nash Street, 1921); Claudius Cecil Rackley of Wilson, Foote-Rogers House (1005 W. Nash Street, ca.1918), L.T. Dildy House (1001 W. Nash Street, 1912), and James D. Blount House (1300 W. Nash Street, 1940); and T.P. Batten of Wilson, J.S. Adkins House (1400 W. Nash Street, ca.1926).
Since the district ceased its initial development in the early 1930s, there have been few changes in its architectural character. While several houses, apartments, and offices were built in the 1950s and 1960s, these were for the most part built on previously undeveloped land. The only immediate threat is the plan of St. Therese's Catholic Church to eventually build a sanctuary at 704 West Nash Street, the site of the former Graham Woodard House (700 block W. Nash Street, razed 1976) (the church has been "planning" to build here for over twenty years [as of 1979]). While Wilson's wealthiest and most prominent families have chosen to build in the suburbs and along Raleigh Road since the 1930s, the West Nash Street Historic District is now home for a mix of both retired and young business and professional leaders of Wilson, in addition to descendents of the original owners who have remained in several of the houses.
Bainbridge, Robert C. and Ohno, Kate. Wilson, North Carolina Historic Buildings Inventory. Wilson, North Carolina: City of Wilson, 1980.
Bass, Vidette. Branch: A Tradition with a Future. Wilson, North Carolina: Branch Banking and Trust Company, 1979.
Boykin, J. Robert, III. "Elected Official of Wilson, North Carolina, 1849-1976," 1977. Unpublished work available in the Wilson County Public Library.
Cheney, John L., Jr., ed. North Carolina State Government, 1585-1974. Raleigh, North Carolina: Office of the North Carolina Secretary of State, 1975.
Clark, Dr. W.B., Jr. Unpublished research of the history of the Wilson tobacco market, ca.1983, in his possession in Wilson, North Carolina.
Connor, R.D.W. North Carolina-Rebuilding an Ancient Commonwealth, 1585-1925. Chicago: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1929.
Crittenden, Powell, and Moody, ed. 100 Years — 100 Men. Raleigh, North Carolina: Edwards and Broughton Company, 1971.
Daniel, J.M., Jr. Hackney-The History of a Company. Wilson, North Carolina: Hackney Brothers Body Company, 1979.
Gold, Daisy Hendley. "A Town Named Wilson." 1949. Unpublished work available at the Wilson County Public Library.
Gray's New Map of Wilson, North Carolina. Philadelphia: Jacob Chase, 1882.
Industrial and Commercial Wilson, North Carolina. C.E. Weaver Series Progressive Cities, 1912.
Insurance Maps of Wilson, North Carolina. New York: Sanborn Map Company, 1884, 1885, 1888, 1893, 1897, 1903, 1908, 1913, 1922, 1930, 1962.
Johnston, Hugh B., Jr. "Bits of Wilson History," 1979. Unpublished work available at the Wilson County Public Library.
Lefler, Hugh Talmage and Newsome, Albert Ray. The History of a Southern State — North Carolina. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1973.
Mayo's Map of Wilson, 1872. Original drawing by E.B. Mayo, copied 1923 by F.R. Thompson. "Minutes of City Council, Wilson, North Carolina," Nine Volumes, 1850-May 27, 1907. Unpublished work available at the Wilson County Public Library.
North Carolina Division of Archives and History, Survey and Planning Branch. Raleigh, North Carolina. Survey files for Wilson City, 1979.
Ohno, Kate. Wilson County's Architectural Heritage. Wilson, North Carolina: Wilson County, 1981.
Sketches of Wilson, North Carolina — Who's Who and What's What. Richmond, Virginia: C.E. Weaver, Central Publishing Company, 1928.
The Wilson Daily Times, Wilson Centennial Anniversary Edition, 1949.
The Wilson Daily Times, Bicentennial Edition, July 4, 1976.
The North Carolina Yearbook and Business Directory. Raleigh, North Carolina: News and Observer, 1907, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1915, 1916.
Tilley, Nannie May. The Bright-Tobacco Industry, 1860-1929. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina, 1948.
Wilson County Register of Deeds, Wilson County Courthouse, Wilson, North Carolina.
Wilson Historic Properties Commission, Municipal Building. Designation reports for the following Wilson Historic Properties: Williams-Cozart House, Selby H. Anderson House.
Wilson, North Carolina Directory. Richmond, Virginia: Hill Directory Company, 1980-1909, 1912-1913, 1916-1917, 1920, 1922-1922, 1925, 1928, 1936, 1941.
† Tom Butchko, Preservation Consultanty, West Nash Street Historic District, Wilson County, North Carolina, nomination document, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.