The South Main Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
The South Main Street Historic District is located in Kernersville, North Carolina. The district covers approximately 45 acres stretching about six blocks along South Main Street/NC Route 150, once the stage road to Salem, with portions of four side streets, as well as several properties along South Cherry Street, which parallels South Main Street.
Kernersville is a sprawling town, with a ten-block-long main street (North-South Main Street) paralleled by North and South Cherry Street to the west, with a major cross street (East Mountain Street and West Mountain Street) and several smaller cross streets and alleys. The South Main Street Historic District is bounded roughly by the rear lot lines of the 100-600 blocks of South Main Street. The eastern boundary is the rear lot lines of the 100-300 blocks of South Main Street, and the western edge of Salisbury Street which extends from South Main Street at a 45 degree angle. Interspersed among the older commercial and residential fabric in the district is mid-twentieth century development. Beyond the core of the town, strip development has occurred along each leg of the main crossroads.
The streets are two lanes wide, with parking along portions of the commercial blocks of South Main Street. The appearance of the original village is retained and enhanced by mature street trees, by Harmon Park, and by landscaped house lots. These lots are generally narrow, with houses set close to the street (in large part this is the result of the widening and paving of the roads). Several of the larger houses have deep rear lots, particularly those on the west side of South Main Street, where lots tend to stretch through the block to South Cherry Street. The blocks close to the main intersection have cement sidewalks; the 600 block of South Main Street does not.
The South Main Street Historic District has a total of 88 resources. Four of these, Korner's Folly and its three attendant outbuildings (413 South Main Street, 1880), are already listed in the National Register. Of the remaining 84, 57 (68%) are contributing; 27 (32%) are noncontributing. There are 29 outbuildings, two cemeteries (sites), and two fences (objects) included. The statistic which best indicates the high architectural significance of the district is that 21 of the buildings have pre-1900 construction dates.
The streetscape in the South Main Street Historic District consists of approximately one block of commercial properties located in the 100 block of South Main Street, and residential properties interspersed with commercial properties along the rest of the streets. The majority of the commercial properties date from the late nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth century, during Kernersville's period of industrialization and commercial development. The residential properties date from ca.1834 to ca.1930, with a wide range of types.
The earliest surviving architecture in the South Main Street Historic District is residential. The oldest house in the South Main Street Historic District is the Spears House, 307 South Main Street (1834), which had an 1834 dated brick in the chimney found during recent renovation. Most of these early dwellings have been altered over the years, and bear little resemblance to their original style and massing although these attributes can generally be determined. The earliest houses are simple in detail, either one or two stories in height, and constructed either in heavy mortise and tenon framing, or log.
The Joseph Korner property, which ran from the intersection of what is now Mountain Street along both sides of South Main Street, was gradually split up among the third generation of Kerners, and a number of homes were built in the 1850s. These houses exhibit a more sophisticated character, are generally Greek Revival in detailing, two stories in height and, are constructed in common bond hand-made brick. The Dr. Elias Kerner House (414 South Main Street, 1857), built in 1857 is representative of the style. The nearly-full facade two-tier porch has been altered somewhat by the replacement of the original turned balustrade and the removal of decorative bracketing. As with most of these houses, a two-story brick ell was added to the rear. The popularity of brick for residential construction continued well into the 1870s, providing a continuity in fabric within the district.
The 1870s saw the rise of a distinct style of house in Kernersville, associated primarily with members of the Kerner family. This style consists of a two-story "L"- or "T"-shaped house, usually with the leg of the "L" or "T" parallel to the street. The porches are generally in the angle of this leg. These houses are all masonry, generally of hand-made brick, with walls sixteen to eighteen inches thick, with a rear ell. The Theodore Kerner House (620 South Main Street; 1877) is the best, most mature example of the style, with segmentally-arched bays, heavy drip molding, stone lintels, and corbelled cornice. The house follows the typical center-hall plan, with one room to the north and two to the south.
Frame residential architecture with elaborate decorative work, best evidenced by the Elias Kerner Huff House (217 South Main Street; 1880), became popular. This one-story frame cottage has a number of additions to the rear and a band room, originally situated beside the house, was joined to it about the turn of the century. Huff helped organize and was the first director of the Kernersville band, and constructed a tiny band room to the side of his house for rehearsals. Double doors could be thrown open for performances. Huff was a local carpenter who also worked on Korner's Folly (413 South Main Street; 1880) and many decorative details of the Folly can be seen in this house. Both the exterior and interior of the house exhibit a wealth of turned and sawn work including a wraparound porch with lattice work, bargeboards, decorative shingling, turned balustrade and spindle frieze.
The last trend in residential architecture from this period of development was the embellishment of two-story frame dwellings with restrained late Victorian detailing. The James P. and Addie Kerner Adkins House (418 South Main Street; ca.1890) is the best, most intact representative of this style. The two-story house is sheltered by a side-gabled roof with false facade gable with decorative shingling in the gable ends. The house is center-hall in plan, one-room deep with one-story rear ell. The form is repeated in the house at 503 South Main Street (ca.1890), although this house has been substantially altered; and the Professor Weatherly House (625 South Main Street; ca.1890), among others.
The commercial architecture of the period is represented by the Greenfield and Kerner Tobacco Factory (402 South Main Street; 1884), a massive three-story brick building, fairly typical of surviving commercial architecture of the period. The three-bay facade exhibits details popular in Kernersville commercial architecture, with segmentally-arched bays divided by pilasters which create a paneled effect.
The popularity of decorative brickwork in commercial architecture continued into the first decade of the twentieth century. The (former) Bank of Kernersville (100 South Main Street; 1903) is a showcase of decorative brickwork, with segmentally-arched bays, pilasters and corbelling. The interiors of Bodenhamer's Store (311 South Main Street; ca.1910) have been renovated for office space, but the exterior still exhibits its decorative brickwork and pilastered bays.
The South Main Street Historic District contains representative examples of several early twentieth century styles, including late Queen Anne/Colonial Revival, cottage and bungalow styles. The Queen Anne/Colonial Revival is represented by the Sam Vance, Sr., House (ca.1910) on 117 West Mountain Street. This two-and-a-half-story frame house has a hip roof with cross gables, Palladian-inspired window treatments in the gable ends, a wraparound porch and Colonial Revival interiors.
The Bungalow also enjoyed popularity in the district during the 1920s. Serving as a transition between the earlier styles and the bungalow, the Dr. O.L. Joyner House (109 South Cherry Street; ca.1920) is a story-and-a-half frame dwelling with nearly pyramidal roof, exposed rafter ends, interior chimney, and engaged porch. Three frame cottages built in the 400 block of South Main Street (404 South Main Street, W.O. Doggett House, ca.1920; 406 South Main Street, R.L. Vereen House, ca.1920, 1950; 408 South Main Street, J.W. Woolen House, ca.1920) all have modest bungalow detailing including exposed rafter ends, brackets, and engaged porches. The P.A. Fontayne House (615 South Main Street; ca.1920) is one of the best examples of the Bungalow style in Kernersville. This low-frame dwelling has an asymmetrical gabled roof and engaged porch, and was the first prefabricated house in Kernersville, with sections coming in by truck.
The Colonial Revival style is found in the district in a number of houses. Several homes, including the Gentry-Greenfield House (610 South Main Street; ca.1860, ca.1880, ca.1900) and the Harmon House (149 South Main Street; ca.1860; ca.1880; 1928/29) were remodeled in the style during the twentieth century. The style is well represented by DeWitt Harmon's Office (150 South Main Street; ca.1928). This tiny building is three bays wide and three bays deep, with a pyramidal roof and one-bay portico on slender columns.
The South Main Street Historic District contains two churches, both of which contribute to the character of the district. In 1922 the congregation of the Kernersville Moravian Church added a large, two-story Colonial Revival, styled brick educational wing to the south of the sanctuary. The congregation of the Main Street United Methodist Church (306 South Main Street; 1924/25) built a new church in 1924/25. The Colonial Revival styled brick sanctuary features a full-facade engaged portico with Ionic columns and dentil cornice. To the south and west lies the cemetery, with an assortment of mid-nineteenth to present funerary monuments.
During the 1920s commercial architecture turned from decoratively detailed brick buildings to larger, functional brick buildings with large show windows and modest detailing. The S and R Motor Company (200 block South Main Street; ca.1928) is a two-story brick building which is functional in both design and execution. About 1930 the Pinnix Drug Store (101 South Main Street; 1904, 1986) was remodeled in an austere Colonial Revival style, with plain brick veneering, large show windows and modest molded cornice.
The Depression brought a cessation of development in the district, and little or no development took place in the district until after World War II. During the 1940s and 1950s several cottages and houses, mainly with modest Colonial Revival detailing, were built. An excellent example of this styling is the Elizabeth Sparks House (223 South Main Street; ca.1940), a one-and-a-half-story brick cottage with a wrought-iron balustrade across the roof of the full-facade porch. The Methodist Rectory (304 South Main Street; ca.1959) and the Charles Collicutt House, (604 South Main Street; ca.1950) are two-story brick dwellings built in the 1950s. The Rectory has a one-bay two-story portico; the Collicutt House has an engaged full-facade two-story Mount Vernon porch.
Today Kernersville is surrounded by 1970s and '80s development. The close proximity of I-40 has promoted service-related strip development to the south and north. Apartment and condominium projects have been built along the west side of South Cherry Street, effectively ringing the South Main Street Historic District.
The South Main Street Historic District in Kernersville, North Carolina, is a six-block-long section containing a significant concentration of historic buildings dating from the formation of this crossroads community in the early nineteenth century, through its development as a railroad town in the 1870s, its late nineteenth century industrial boom, and the diversification of its economy as an early twentieth century commercial center. Among the fifty-four principal buildings are thirty houses, dating from the 1830s to 1930; seven stores and other commercial buildings dating from the 1880s to 1930, two of the originally established churches of the settlement, with graveyards, and one remaining tobacco factory. The most important landmark in the South Main Street Historic District, already listed in the National Register, is Korner's Folly (413 South Main Street), an eccentric brick Victorian style mansion built by Jules Gilmer Korner, grandson of the original Kerner settler, Joseph Kerner, over a period of years, being substantially complete in 1880. Korner, under the pseudonym "Reubin Rink," was one of the first commercial artists in the South, and created a national reputation painting "Bull Durham" billboards to advertise for the Blackwell Tobacco Company, and later Duke Tobacco Company, of nearby Durham, North Carolina. The twenty-two room "Folly," containing a ballroom and a theatre, functioned as Kernersville's social center well into the twentieth century. The local Little Theatre still presents plays there in the summer. Seven other Kerner/Korner houses — substantial, architecturally significant Greek Revival and Italianate two-story brick houses dating from 1857 to 1889 — face one another across South Main Street. These houses are a testament to the importance of the successive generations of Kerners to the growth of Kernersville in the nineteenth century. The Kerner and Greenfield Tobacco Factory, built in 1884, one of only two remaining tobacco factories in town, stands in the district. Although these pivotal buildings and the other contributing buildings possess considerable individual architectural significance, making the district eligible for the National Register, the chief significance of the South Main Street Historic District lies in its evocative mixture of dwellings, stores, and factory representing the quintessential Victorian small town main street. Kernersville is one of the few Victorian main streets which survive in North Carolina. While most Victorian main streets were long ago rebuilt with solid rows of commercial buildings, this mixture of industrial, commercial, and residential buildings make the South Main Street Historic District eligible for the National Register because of the strong association with the settlement period of the nineteenth century.
There are two architecturally significant contributing churches in the South Main Street Historic District: Kernersville Moravian Church (504 South Main Street; 1867, 1892), with its cemetery, and the Colonial Revival style Main Street United Methodist Church (306 South Main Street; 1924/25), with its cemetery. Both cemeteries have examples of funerary art from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Two houses in the district, the Dr. O.L. Joyner House (109 South Cherry Street; ca.1920) and the Rufus Harmon House (201 South Cherry Street; ca.1860) were moved in order to prevent demolition. The Joyner House was moved to the adjacent lot in the 1980s; the Harmon House was moved a few lots west to the present site in the 1950s.
The earliest known building in the town, the Spears House (307 South Main Street; 1834) is located in the district, and examples of all the property types are also found there, including Greek Revival brick homes, later Italianate brick homes, including three representatives of the locally significant T- and L-shaped houses, both one and two-story frame Victorian houses, and several good examples of early twentieth century dwellings and commercial buildings, including the Bank of Kernersville and Bodenhamer's Store (ca.1910)
The first really distinct architectural style of domestic architecture in the South Main Street Historic District coincides with the transition of the crossroads to a village. During the 1850s and 1860s a number of two-story brick Greek Revival style houses were built by third-generation Kerners. The three surviving examples of the style are located along the 200 and 300 blocks of South Main Street, and attest to the popularity of the style and the relative prosperity of their builders who included Elias Kerner, a doctor who also operated a grist mill; and Richard P. Kerner who was involved in a number of businesses which included the inn, a general store, a tanyard, sawmill and cotton gin.
In 1837 John Frederick Kerner donated a tract of land to the Methodist congregation, to which his wife belonged, and the congregation built a small frame church on the site. This is the oldest congregation, and the site of the first cemetery at the crossroads. In 1867 John Frederick Kerner again donated land, this time to the Moravian congregation, which immediately built a modest brick church. The core of the present sanctuary contains the walls of the original church, but has been remodeled and enlarged a number of times since its construction. To the rear lies the Moravian cemetery and a small brick-walled Korner family plot. The Moravian cemetery is not arranged in traditional choir formation, but is laid out in a neat grid pattern with uniform concrete slabs with stone tablets, keeping the spirit of the organization of earlier Moravian cemeteries.
The Civil War halted development at Kerner's Crossroads, but by 1871 the area had developed sufficiently to be incorporated into a town named after its founding family. Two years later the Western North Carolina Railroad established a line through Kernersville, connecting the town to Greensboro to the east and Winston to the west. The coming of the railroad and the recovery of the agricultural economy in the surrounding countryside provided the impetus for the rise of tobacco manufacturing in the district..
The development of a manufacturing economy resulted in a period of growth in Kernersville which culminated in an important feature of the district: the development of decorative brickwork, both in residential and commercial and industrial buildings. Two examples of decorative brickwork in residential architecture of the 1870s survive within the district. Constructed of handmade brick laid in common bond, these houses are two stories in height and are either "L" or "T" plans with porches along the leg of the "T" or "L" which parallels the street, and decorative bay surrounds.
Of the five tobacco factories in Kernersville, one, the Greenfield Tobacco Factory (402 South Main Street; 1884) still stands in the district at 402 South Main Street. This brick factory is three stories in height, with segmentally-arched bays defined by pilasters which give the facade a paneled appearance. In fact, a promotional bulletin produced for the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce in 1888 stated that "...there are more brick residences, stores and factories in Kernersville than any other town of its size in the State."
The story of tobacco in the South Main Street Historic District would not be complete without mention of Jule Gilmer Korner (one branch of the family uses the spelling Korner) who worked for Duke Tobacco company as an artist. Korner was the grandson of Joseph Kerner. Jule Korner, operating as the Reuben Rink Decorating Company, was responsible for the "Bull Durham" signs which were the trademark of the company. Korner was joined by his younger half-brother, Henry (Henry Korner House, 303 South Main Street; 1889), who was called "Little Reuben Rink.".
Certainly the epitome of the extravagance of late-nineteenth century architecture is found at Korner's Folly (413 South Main Street; 1880, National Register), the home of Jule Gilmer and Polly Anne Marston Korner. Korner, an interior decorator as well as an artist, built the house as a showcase of his decorating talents with twenty-two rooms on four levels and twenty fireplaces. This quote from the nomination of Korner's Folly to the National Register of Historic Places best sums up the significance of the Folly:
"Korner's Folly, one of North Carolina's few spectacularly eccentric buildings, is a unique monument to one man's extraordinary imagination, combining a sense of fun and fancy with the ingenuity of the immigrant clockmaker and the exuberant, full-blown extravagance of the nineteenth century tobacco tycoons."
Korner began working in Kernersville in 1875, and it is likely that he supervised the building of a number of the 1870s brick houses and the 1880s commercial and industrial buildings, since they and the Folly share a number of stylistic features, including the decorative corbelling, panels and pilasters. It is known that he worked with Elias Huff (Elias Huff House, 217 South Main Street; 1880), a carpenter, and stylistic elements found at the Folly are found also in Huff's house. Korner also brought Caesar Milch, a German painter, to Kernersville to paint the murals in the Folly. Milch painted murals at the house Henry C. Korner (303 South Main Street; 1889) built for his mother after his father died in 1889. The murals have deteriorated, and were painted over.
Korner's Folly was the focal point for much of the social life in the district during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Mrs. Korner organized a Little Theater which presented plays and musicals, and in 1897 Jule Korner converted the top floor of the Folly to a theater for their use. The third floor was occupied by a ballroom where numerous parties were given. The local Little Theater continues to utilize the theater for its productions, and parties, and receptions are still held in the ballroom.
The prosperity of the 1880s and 1890s might have ended when the tobacco conglomerates of other piedmont towns, particularly Winston and Durham, overtook the smaller manufactories at the turn of the century. But Kernersville enjoyed a diversity of commercial enterprises, and the tradition of small family-operated businesses continued. The Kerner and Greenfield Tobacco Factory (402 South Main Street; 1884) was converted to a hosiery mill. The (former> Bank of Kernersville (1903) opened January 1, 1903 at 100 South Main Street, and a year later Pinnix Drugstore (1904, ca.1930, 1986) opened across the street at 101 South Main Street.
The late 1910s and early 1920s saw the introduction of the automobile as a major social and economic force in Kernersville. The second motor company in town, the S and R Motor Company (200 block South Main Street; ca.1928), built by Clay Smith and Carey Ragland, opened in the 200 block of South Main Street about 1928. The building still stands, virtually unaltered, and still functions as part of the Chrysler dealership in town.
The 1920s were a period of growth for the churches in the district. The Kernersville Moravian Church (504 South Main Street; 1867; 1888, 1892, 1922, 1952, 1962) added a large brick educational facility to the south in 1922, and the Main Street United Methodist Church congregation constructed their third sanctuary on the land donated by John Frederick Kerner in 1837. This 1924/25 brick Colonial Revival sanctuary is the best example of a Colonial Revival style church in Kernersville. It features a full-facade portico on Ionic columns, arched bays and belfry, with education wings to the rear. Beyond the sanctuary is the cemetery, which dates from the mid-nineteenth century.
The advent of the Depression effectively halted growth in the district. There was virtually no new architectural fabric added along South Main Street until about 1940 when several homes were built. Growth continued slowly into the 1950s and 1960s, and the 1970s and particularly the 1980s have been an economic boom period within the district, with a renewed interest in development, particularly in residential development. The area has become a "bedroom" community for nearby Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem. The resulting development has destroyed much of the historic fabric in the heart of Kernersville, and South Main Street has its share of later homes interspersed with the older homes.
The history of the South Main Street Historic District is the story of numerous piedmont main streets. The initial settlement stage was followed by the development of industry and a mercantile community, finally taking on the trappings of a town, with attendant diversified industries and support businesses. Much historic fabric of the district has been lost in the last fifteen years to the dramatic growth of the area, but significant examples of the Greek Revival, Victorian and late-nineteenth/early-twentieth-century styles remain, along with significant commercial structures. The South Main Street Historic District retains its ambience of a turn-of-the-century piedmont town.
Bicentennial Committee. Kernersville, North Carolina, Bicentennial. Winston-Salem: Hunter Publishing Company, 1971, revised 1976.
Fries, Adelaide, et al. Forsyth: The History of a County on the March. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1976.
Korner, Joseph Gilmer. Joseph of Kernersville. Durham, N.C.: Seimans Printery Inc., 1956.
Lefler, Hugh Talmadge, and Newsom, Albert Ray. North Carolina: The History of A Southern State. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1974.
Robbins, D.P. "Descriptive Sketch of Winston-Salem, and Its Advantages and Surroundings." Winston-Salem: Sentennial job Print; 1888.‡ Virginia Oswald, Consultant, South Main Street Historic District, Kernersville, Forsyth County, NC, nomination document, 1987, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Wasington, D.C.
Cherry Street South • Harmon Lane • Main Street South • Moravian Lane • Mountain Street West • Route 150 • Salisbury Street • Tanyard Lane