Photo: W. R. Davie House, ca. 1794, 18 Norman Street, Halifax Historic District, Halifax, NC. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. Photographed by M. Ruth Little/Heather Wagner, 2009, for Halifax Historic District, Halifax County, NC nomination document, 2010, NR #10001128, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, accessed January, 2015.
The Halifax Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
The sixteen-block Halifax Historic District, containing the courthouse square with an imposing Neoclassical Revival-style courthouse built in 1909, an adjacent dense commercial block, churches, a Masonic Lodge, and some sixty houses, makes up the core of one of the most compact, diverse, and well-preserved historic towns in northeast North Carolina. The Halifax Historic District meets National Register criterion for its local significance under the theme of commerce as a well-preserved river trading center, with a later railroad and highway goods transportation links, in the Albemarle Sound region of North Carolina. The Halifax Historic District meets criterion for its diversified nineteenth- and twentieth-century urban architecture typical of the Albemarle Sound region, including Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Neoclassical Revival, Craftsman, and Ranch style buildings. Its period of significance begins ca.1783 with the construction of the earliest building, and continues through the 1961 construction of the Halifax Post Office, which continues the earlier Colonial Revival architectural pattern in the historic district.
The Halifax Historic District's contributing resources span nearly two centuries, from ca.1783 to 1961, during which time the town served first as the center of the wealthy plantation culture of the Roanoke Valley, and continued as the county seat of Halifax County. The Halifax Historic District represents the western two quadrants of the original 1757 colonial town established as the county seat at the head of navigation of the Roanoke River, as well as the 1816 town expansion. Most of the original town, which abuts the district on the northeast, is within the Historic Halifax State Historic Site property, where the town's oldest buildings have been preserved and restored by the Historic Sites Division of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. The historic district contains eighty-two principal resources and thirty-two secondary resources constructed between ca.1783 and 1961 that contribute to its architectural and historical character. Ten primary resources and thirty-three secondary resources are noncontributing because they were built after 1961 or have been significantly altered. A total of seventy-three percent of the total resources are contributing. The architectural range of historic resources includes statesman William R. Davie's ca.1783 house (18 Norman Street), the ca.1820 Royal White Hart Masonic Lodge #2 (130 Saint David Street), the Carpenter Gothic-style St. Mark's Episcopal Church of ca.1855 (204 South King Street), Judge Walter Clark's Italianate-style brick law office of ca.1872 (14 West Pittsylvania Street), the Romanesque Revival-style Clerk's Office of the 1880s adjacent to the courthouse on North King Street (courthouse square), the 1880s Gothic Revival-style Church of the Immaculate Conception (145 S. King Street), and the 1909 Halifax County Courthouse (10 N. King Street).
In order to understand the geographic and political development of the Halifax Historic District, several fundamentals must be explained. The town of Halifax consists of two parts: the original 1757 town of 100 acres that extends from the Roanoke River west to Prussia Street, and the 1816 town extension created by the development of the town commons adjacent to Prussia Street. During the 1800s, the governmental and commercial buildings gradually shifted away from the river to the higher ground of the western blocks of the original town and the 1816 extension because the river often flooded. When the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad came through the west outskirts of town in the late 1830s, on its way to the nearby town of Weldon, development of the western extension accelerated. The Halifax Historic District consists of the two western quadrants of the original town, from St. David Street to Prussia Street, as well as the 1816 extension area.
The original town began in the mid-1700s at the upper navigable reach of the Roanoke River, just below the fall line. In 1757, when the new county of Halifax was created out of Edgecombe County, James Leslie sold 100 acres of land to the new county commissioners to create the county seat. Four acres in the center were reserved for government buildings, and streets and lots were laid out in a gridded block plan of three northeast-southwest streets oriented perpendicular to the river, intersected by seven cross streets. Each square created by the streets was laid out in six large lots. The streets were named for British leaders and patron saints. In 1758 the town trustees held a public sale; forty-nine buyers purchased nearly all of the lots. An undated plat map has survived that shows the numbered lots and the names of the original purchasers.
In the late 1750s the town grew quickly from a small group of houses near the river to a community with over sixty families. In 1760 Halifax incorporated into a borough town allowed to send a representative to the House of Commons. A courthouse, several taverns, and many houses were erected. Surveyor C.J. Sauthier surveyed and drew the community in 1769, noting the locations of the courthouse, jail, a tobacco store, a hemp store, a play house (apparently a theatre), and over sixty houses.
The town's most storied history occurred during the final quarter of the eighteenth century, when its position as the trading and governmental center for the Roanoke River Valley attracted educated, civic-minded citizens, including such men as Willie Jones, Henry and Joseph Montfort, Richard H. Long, John Baptista Ashe, and William Richardson Davie, who played leading roles in the American struggle for independence from Britain and in the establishment of a constitution for the new state of North Carolina, as well as a state university. Although its population probably never surpassed 1,000 people, its geographic location on the bustling Roanoke River in the heart of the Albemarle region, North Carolina's first cultural hearth, with close ties with Virginia, made Halifax a significant place. A traveler described Halifax in the early 1770s as a place with about fifty houses where "stores are kept to supply the country round with European and West India Commoditys for which Pork, Tobacco, Indian corn, Wheat and Lumber are taken in return." Another visitor in the same decade spoke of the place as "...a pretty town on the south side of the Roanoke. About eight miles below the first falls, and near fifty miles higher up than the tide flows, but sloops, schooners, and flats, or lighters, of great burden, come up to this town against the stream, which is deep and gentle. Halifax enjoys a tolerable share of commerce in tobacco, pork, butter, flour, and some tar, turpentine, skins, furs, and cotton. There are many handsome buildings in Halifax and vicinity, but they are almost all constructed of timber, and painted white."
During the year 1776, when the American colonies decided to break away from Britain, Halifax was at the epicenter of political action in North Carolina and played a major role in the colonies as a whole. In April, the Fourth Provincial Congress met at Halifax and wrote the Halifax Resolves, the first official declaration for independence to be published by any colony. On August 1, the first public reading in North Carolina of the Declaration of Independence took place at Halifax. In November, the Fifth Provincial Congress met there to draw up a state constitution and bill of rights. During the Revolutionary War, fought from 1776 to 1781, Halifax served as a military recruiting center and contained a public arms factory. British commander General Cornwallis occupied the town in May 1781, less than half a year prior to his surrender to the American army in Virginia.
In the town center, flanking King Street, the town green, known as Market Square, contained a small frame courthouse and jail. Annual three-day market fairs, militia drills, election rallies, playing, promenading, and livestock grazing took place in the space. An official state tobacco warehouse and inspection station stood nearby, along with several lawyers' offices. Business completed, planters and businessmen from the rich plantation district surrounding the town gathered to socialize at the Eagle Tavern and a smaller ordinary now called the "Tap Room."
In order to preserve the few remaining architectural resources of the original town, the state of North Carolina created a museum village in the section of the original town extending north of St. David Street in the mid-twentieth century. Known as the Historic Halifax State Historic Site, the outdoor museum contains eight scattered historic buildings, several cemeteries, and a spring house; these are all of the historic resources that survive above ground from the original town. The Owens House is a small gambrel-roofed weatherboarded side-hall plan house built about 1760. The Tap Room is a small gambrel-roofed frame house built about 1790. The Burgess Law Office, the so-called "Constitution House," is a small one-story, side-hall plan, side-gabled frame house built about 1808. The Eagle Tavern is an early nineteenth-century tripartite house whose wings were raised to two stories. The small brick Clerk of Court's Office was built in 1833; the two-story side-gabled brick Jail dates from 1838. The colonial Joseph Montfort House has disappeared, but a recent building on the site contains an exhibit of artifacts excavated from the site. The Sally-Billy Plantation House is a ca.1808 tripartite frame house moved from near Scotland Neck onto the State Historic Site property. The town cemetery occupies a part of Market Square. The two original town quadrants, including Courthouse Square and the commercial row, between St. David and Prussia streets are the heart of the current town.
The only eighteenth-century building in the Halifax Historic District, and the only one connected to the generation of men involved in Halifax's Revolutionary glory, is the William R. Davie House (18 Norman Street) at the corner of St. David and Norman streets, across the street from the museum village. William R. Davie (1756-1820), one of Halifax's preeminent statesmen — a Revolutionary war officer, one of the founders of the University of North Carolina, and governor from 1798 to 1799, built the house. The English-born Davie moved as a child with his family to South Carolina, finished college at Princeton University, served in the Revolutionary War, then moved to Halifax and practiced law. He married the niece of democratic aristocrat Willie Jones, who lived just outside Halifax at "The Grove," a tripartite plantation house that has been demolished. In 1783 Davie built an imposing two-story frame side-hall plan town house of Georgian-Federal transitional style that stands just outside the original town boundary. Davie helped to write the U.S. Constitution and helped convince North Carolina to join the new union. After serving as an envoy to France, Davie returned to Halifax in 1800 to find that his Federalist philosophy of government was out-of-favor. He was defeated in his 1803 campaign for U.S. Congress from Halifax County and retired in 1805 to his South Carolina plantation of Tivoli near Lancaster.
In the early nineteenth century, buildings in the old town, which occupied low-lying land near the river that was prone to flooding, were gradually abandoned in favor of newer ones built on higher ground to the southwest. In 1816 the town commissioners expanded Halifax beyond the boundary of Prussia Street into the town commons to the southwest, extending the existing streets through the land and laying out lots. The new town is bounded by Prussia Street on the northeast and on the west by the route of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad line and the U.S. 301 Highway. A large number of the lots were sold at a public sale in July 1819. Gradually built up during the nineteenth century, this area comprises most of the Halifax Historic District documented here. In 1846-47 the county replaced the old frame courthouse located on Market Square with a new one located in a new courthouse square, bounded by King, Dobbs, St. David and Pittsylvania streets. The handsome temple-form brick building, no longer standing, had an engaged tetrastyle Corinthian portico.
In 1839 North Carolina's first railroad, the Wilmington and Weldon, swung along the western edge of the expanded town of Halifax in order to connect to the village of Weldon, incorporated in 1843 at the falls of the Roanoke River eight miles to the north where a railroad line from Virginia was located. The railroad built a small train station beside the tracks at the end of Church Street. Although the town benefited from its train connection, the rail line usurped Halifax's role as a river port by making water transportation anachronistic. Halifax stabilized as a quiet market town, rarely exceeding a population of 500 during the remainder of the 1800s.
As the county seat and the cultural center of the wealthy plantation network of the Roanoke Valley during the antebellum period, Halifax remained vital. An important group of antebellum buildings — a Masonic Lodge, two churches, and a dozen houses — stand in the Halifax Historic District. One of the most significant landmarks, the Royal White Hart Masonic Lodge #2 at 130 St. David Street, is a two-story weatherboarded Federal-style lodge of the early 1820s, built by the Masonic chapter established in Halifax in 1764. Its site, believed to have been donated to the Masons in the early nineteenth century, stands only a few lots from the house of William R. Davie (18 Norman Street), who served as North Carolina's Grand Master of Masons from 1792 to 1798. The upper floor houses the meeting room; the first floor was used as a school for a number of years. The lodge may be the oldest building used continuously as a Masonic lodge in North Carolina, and, due to its age, is a rarity in the nation.
All religious denominations in Halifax originally used a frame church built about 1793 in the Market Square of the old town. It was opposite the original courthouse, but was demolished in the early 1900s. By the 1850s several Protestant denominations had grown large enough to construct their own church buildings. Both the Protestant Episcopals and the Missionary Baptists constructed sanctuaries about 1855. St. Mark's Episcopal Church at 204 S. King Street, a simple board-and-batten Carpenter Gothic Revival-style church, was designed by the pastor, Rev. Frederick Fitzgerald, and built by slave carpenters owned by Thomas Bragg, a skilled builder in Warrenton, N.C., and later in Jackson, N.C. The Halifax Baptist Church, a weatherboarded temple form Greek Revival-style building with a central steeple, was built at 131 West Prussia Street about 1855.
A small number of Irish Catholics settled in Halifax in the early 1800s and achieved prosperity, leaving several significant historic resources in the historic district. Irish-born Edward Conigland (1819-1877) studied law in New York and moved to Halifax to teach school and continue his law studies. In about 1852, he built a raised Greek Revival-style cottage with unusually large windows and a low hip roof on his plantation, Glen Ivey, a short distance south of town. Conigland practiced law in town until a train struck and killed him on the Wilmington and Weldon railroad line in 1877. The house was moved to 228 S. King Street in 1980 because its former site had been purchased to construct the new county courthouse.
Michael Ferrall, an Irish-born Catholic, moved to Halifax in the 1820s and prospered as a merchant. In 1841, Ferrall moved the old Eagle Hotel, of tripartite form, to S. King Street and converted it into his residence. A prominent Catholic layman, Ferrall convened a small congregation of Catholics in his house for many years. He contributed funds to the Catholic congregation of Raleigh to construct their church about 1849. Ferrall's daughters donated funds to construct the Church of the Immaculate Conception beside their father's house at 145 South Dobbs Street in 1889. In the 1960s, the old Eagle Hotel-Ferrall House was moved back onto the Historic Halifax State Historic Site property and restored to its appearance as a hotel.
The Civil War destroyed the institution of slavery, the foundation of the Roanoke Valley's plantation system, yet Halifax's economy remained stable during the following decade. Levi Branson's North Carolina Business Directory for 1867-68 portrays a bustling town of some 500 people, with two lawyers, five physicians, and seven merchants. Only one industrial establishment, the distillery of M. McMahon & Co., was listed. By 1872 population and business had contracted slightly, with a population of 429 people, two physicians, and six merchants. Halifax never attracted any significant industry, although by this time A. Stephenson's cart shop, a grist mill, and a corn mill operated.
Several Reconstruction-era buildings have survived in the Halifax Historic District. W.D. Faucette erected a dwelling at 233 S. King Street in about 1868 that continues the earlier Greek Revival form of a one-story hip-roofed center-hall plan with a full front porch. Attorney Walter M. Clark, a wealthy and well-educated Halifax County native, built a charming Italianate-style brick law office at 14 W. Pittsylvania Street facing courthouse square in about 1872. Clark's progressive economic and social reform ideas for the revival of the South after the war included the development of industry and the importation of free white labor. In 1873 he moved to Raleigh and practiced law, serving for thirty-five years on the state Supreme Court, including three terms as the chief justice, where he fought the abuses of power exercised by tobacco magnates, large railroad companies, and banks.
By the late 1870s Halifax's economy improved. The three-story brick Southern Hotel had been built across from Courthouse Square on S. King Street. It was demolished and the Roanoke Hotel at 2-10 S. King Street was built on the site in 1905-06. The number of lawyers increased to seven, the number of physicians to four, and there were sixteen merchants and five grist mills. Stephen's cart shop was also still in business. The John H. Brown House, of Federal-era construction, was moved to its current site at 23 E. Pittsylvania Street at this time and embellished with Italianate-style eave brackets, bracketed window hoods, and a new two-story porch with chamfered posts and robust vernacular sawnwork brackets. John Tillery Gregory raised his house at 127 S. Dobbs Street to two stories in 1879, using Italianate-style decorative trim. In about 1880 physician John O'Brien built a vernacular cottage with turned porch posts, sawn brackets, and a spindle frieze at 145 W. Prussia Street overlooking the railroad tracks.
During the 1880s and 1890s, Halifax resumed its slow contraction. Population dropped from 483 in 1884 to 306 in 1900. The number of merchants and tradesmen fell from a high of nineteen in 1890 to eleven in 1896. Physicians declined from a high of five in 1884 to one at the end of the century. Of the eleven lawyers practicing in 1884, only three remained in 1896. In the 1880s the county constructed a Romanesque Revival-style brick annex beside the 1849 courthouse. It was known as the Second Clerk's Office because of the presence of the 1838 brick Clerk's Office at the site of the original courthouse in the old town.
The congregations of two minority groups in town, the Catholics and the African Americans, built church sanctuaries during the 1880s. The county's oldest black congregation, established in 1865, built the First Baptist Church, in about 1881 at 145 St. David Street. At that time, the sizeable black community lived outside of the town boundaries to the northwest, north of St. David Street. Halifax's Catholics, who had met since the 1820s in the parlor of Irish Catholic immigrant Michael Ferrall's house on S. King Street, erected their own church in the side yard of the Ferrall property, at 145 S. King Street, in 1889. The diminutive Gothic Revival-style, weatherboarded church was designed by Philadelphia architect Edwin Forrest Durang (NR 1997).
Halifax remained relatively stable during the first quarter of the twentieth century, its population varying from 306 people in 1900 to a twentieth-century high of 374 people in 1940. At the beginning of the century eleven merchants, two lawyers, and one physician served the town; however, by 1910, only six merchants and one lawyer were left. The statewide spirit of progress and renewal affected Halifax, leading to the replacement of its courthouse and many of the frame stores in the 0-100 block of King Street just south of the courthouse. A grand, new brick Neoclassical Revival-style courthouse, designed by Wheeler and Stern, a Charlotte architectural firm, and completed in 1909, still dominates the town.
In the early 1900s, many of the nineteenth century frame commercial buildings were replaced with more substantial brick buildings, all located within a single block of King Street between Pittsylvania and Prussia streets. In about 1917, E.L. Vinson constructed a substantial two-story brick building at 13-15 S. King Street containing his drug store on the ground floor and his living quarters upstairs. Across the street, at 16 S. King Street, stands the two-story brick Halifax Hardware Company, built about 1915. The Roanoke Hotel, at 2-10 S. King Street, the other most distinctive commercial building, occupies the pivotal corner of King and Pittsylvania streets across from the courthouse.
Fletcher H. Gregory (1882-1970) and his brother Quentin Gregory, sons of businessman and county court clerk John Tillery Gregory, founded the town's first bank, the Bank of Halifax, in 1906. The bank prospered, and Fletcher constructed a beautiful Neoclassical Revival-style mansion for himself at 217 S. King Street in about 1910. In 1923 the Gregorys erected a stylish new bank building at 3 S. King Street. The brothers managed the bank so well that they were able to acquire other small banks during the Depression. In 1968 they merged with Branch Banking and Trust Company of Wilson, North Carolina, which continues to operate in the 1923 building, an important symbol of the town's economic stability.
Halifax retained its commercial vitality throughout the first half of the twentieth century. A ferry across the Roanoke River to Northampton County continued to operate until the 1930s, allowing farmers to conduct business in the county seat and to stock up on supplies from the grocery and hardware stores on S. King Street. By this time the old colonial town had become an African American neighborhood, with both owner-occupied and rental houses of twentieth-century vintage scattered among the unused colonial buildings.
Three public buildings were built in the Halifax Historic District from the 1920s to the beginning of World War II. The Halifax Elementary School, a one-story brick Neoclassical Revival-style building constructed by L. Wheeden & Co. contractors from Roanoke Rapids, was erected in 1928 at the east edge of the district, at 33 South Granville Street. The county library now occupies the building. New Deal funding allowed for the construction of two large county office buildings on the courthouse square. In the mid-1930s, a large one-story brick building was erected by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) on the southwest corner of the square. This served as the Agricultural Extension Office (15 W. Pittsylvania Street) for many years; Central Permitting and Inspections now occupies the building. In 1941, the WPA erected the large two-story stuccoed brick Social Services Building, filling up the northwest corner of courthouse square. Various county services have occupied the building, which now serves as the County Health Department (26 N. King Street).
One of the town's biggest twentieth-century developments was the resurgence of interest in its colonial past. In 1916 the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), the Elizabeth Montfort Ashe Chapter, purchased a dilapidated frame building known as the "Constitution House," believed at the time to have been the site of the drafting of the state's first constitution in 1776. Because it was subject to flooding on its original site, the chapter moved it to a new location at the south end of the town of Halifax and restored it in the early 1920s. Nannie Gary, a descendant of Irish Catholic merchant Michael Ferrall, who lived her entire life in the Eagle Tavern, which Ferrall had moved and converted to a residence, was actively involved in the effort to preserve old Halifax until her death in 1969. She willed the tavern to the Catholic Church, which donated it to the state so that it could be moved back into the museum village. "Miss Nannie," as she was known, and other local women formed the Historic Halifax Restoration Association in the 1940s and saved several more buildings. A large Army Corps of Engineer project, the construction of the Kerr Dam on the Roanoke River at the North Carolina-Virginia state line in the 1950s, corrected the problems caused by the periodic flooding of the low-lying blocks of the original town. In the early 1950s, Miss Nannie persuaded radio personality Ray Wilkinson of Rocky Mount to get involved in the effort to preserve Halifax's colonial heritage. Wilkinson later moved to Raleigh, where he handled agricultural news for WRAL Radio and lobbied state government for assistance with the preservation of Halifax's colonial buildings.
In 1965-66, the state, through its Division of Archives and History, purchased land and restored buildings in the old town to create the Historic Halifax State Historic Site. This large undertaking affected several dozen black families who lived on the property. George Young, an African American who was the Assistant Superintendent of Halifax County Schools at the time, was instrumental in convincing the residents to sell and relocate with his appeal that the restoration of historic Halifax was a "greater good" that justified their upheaval. In 1964 the DAR had deeded the "Constitution House" to the state, enabling it to be moved back to its original site and placed on its original foundations. Research and archaeology later revealed that the little house actually dated from the early 1800s and was used as a law office and town residence by lawyer Thomas Burgess in the 1820s and 1830s. The brick Visitor's Center for the complex was built in 1976 at the northeast corner of St. David and Dobbs streets.
Apart from the activity generated by visitors to the Historic Halifax State Historic Site and business at the county offices located in courthouse square, there is little traffic along King Street today. Neither the Roanoke River nor the railroad, which figured so prominently in the town's development through the end of the 1800s, has a role in the town's survival today. Since the 1980s, when the county built a new courthouse complex at the south end of town, on Ferrell Lane outside of the historic district, the governmental and economic life has been siphoned out of the town's core. The 1909 courthouse and its complex of buildings retain government offices, but the new Halifax County Courthouse, Agricultural Complex, and Jail attract most of the county government business. Commercial activity has likewise moved out of the old town center, whose buildings are now either antique or used furniture shops or else vacant. The estimated population in 2003 was 326.
In 2006 a new private nonprofit group, Preservation Halifax Inc., was formed "to protect and promote buildings and sites important to the historical and architectural heritage of the town and surrounding county of Halifax." In 2007 and 2008 the group organized Halifax Market Day festivals, Spirits of Independence Ghost Walks, and barbecue and bake sales. They are the sponsor of the Halifax National Register Historic District project.
The Halifax Historic District is closely related to the surrounding environment. Archaeological remains, such as trash pits, wells, and structural remains which may be present, can provide information valuable to the understanding and interpretation of the district. Information concerning land use patterns, community development, social and economic changes, as well as structural details, is often only evident in the archaeological record. Therefore, archaeological remains may well be an important component of the significance of the district. At this time no investigation has been done to document these remains, but it is likely that they exist, and this should be considered in any amendment to the documentation and future research.
The Halifax Historic District has local significance under the theme of commerce as a well-preserved river trading center with a later railroad and highway goods transportation links, in the Albemarle Sound region of North Carolina. The Halifax Historic District contains a dense collection of governmental, religious, commercial and residential buildings of diverse architectural styles and forms that represent a self-sufficient county seat that has changed little in the past half-century. Northeast North Carolina, the first region that flourished as growth moved south from tidewater Virginia in the 1700s, never developed a major Atlantic Ocean port for shipping because of the state's "inconvenient geography." The chain of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks blocked ocean access to the Albemarle Sound, the bay into which the Roanoke and the other rivers of the region drained. Rather than one large ocean port, small ports such as Bath and Edenton developed where the rivers opened into the bay. Other villages such as Halifax and Murfreesboro developed near the heads of river navigation.
Halifax, located about eight miles below the first waterfall at Weldon, known as the "fall line," became the major trading center for the Roanoke River valley, an area of some of the largest eighteenth-century and antebellum plantations in the state. During this period overland roads were very primitive and often impassable. Transportation in the valley was almost completely water-dependent. Farmers loaded their cash crops, including cotton, corn, and timber, onto wagons and delivered them to river wharves of the village of Halifax. There the products were loaded into small boats and barges and shipped down the Roanoke River to its mouth into the Albemarle Sound, on the south shore of the sound across from Edenton. There larger vessels carried the cargo north to Norfolk, Virginia, where connecting ships transported some of it to larger urban ports to the north. Working in reverse, much needed staples and luxuries were transported upriver to Halifax to be sold to area farmers and plantation owners.
When the railroad came by the edge of Halifax in 1839, the days of river commerce were numbered. Halifax's train station, located at the intersection of Church Street and the railroad tracks at the west end of the district, replaced the wharfs on the Roanoke River as the town's trading hub. Halifax settled into a role as the county seat and a quiet market town for the remainder of the 1800s and throughout the 1900s. U.S. Highway 301 was built parallel to the railroad tracks in the 1920s as part of the U.S. Highway system that extended from Delaware south through North Carolina. The highway gradually became the commercial lifeline of Halifax. Like many other eastern North Carolina railroad stops, its station was demolished in the mid-twentieth century after freight and passenger transportation was largely taken over by trucks and automobiles on the highways. Through 1961, the end of the Halifax Historic District's period of significance, Halifax continued to function as the center of general commerce for the local, mostly farming community.
A similar inland trading center, Murfreesboro, near the Virginia border on the Meherrin River near its opening into the Chowan River, was established in 1787 and prospered, with a population of some 500 by 1810. Other river ports in the state were Tarboro and Greenville along the Tar River, Kinston and Smithfield on the Neuse River, and Fayetteville on the Cape Fear River. Tarboro, established as a minor port and the county seat of Edgecombe County in 1760, retains its grid-patterned plan and town commons, but its antebellum cotton prosperity resulted in growth far beyond its original size, with a large variety of distinguished buildings. Greenville, Kinston, Smithfield and Fayetteville grew into medium-sized towns in the later 1800s and lost their original village character.
Of all these river towns, Murfreesboro most resembles Halifax since both of them largely ceased to grow beyond their late nineteenth-century sizes. Murfreesboro's oldest buildings along Broad and other nearby streets along the Meherrin River date from the town's days as a commercial river port. This group of two-story brick buildings, including the John Wheeler House, the Morgan-Myrick House, and the Rea Store, all of Federal design from the early 1800s, represent one of the few collections of brick architecture of this era outside of New Bern. Notable Greek Revival style frame houses also survive in this section of Murfreesboro. The present commercial district stands along Main Street, laid out parallel to the old river-front development when the town expanded in the nineteenth century.
Nineteenth & Twentieth Century Urban Architecture of the Albemarle Sound Region
The Halifax Historic District has local significance as one of the most diversified and intact ensembles of nineteenth- and early to mid-twentieth-century government, church, fraternal, mercantile, and residential buildings in the Albemarle Sound region. The Halifax Historic District also includes several cemeteries. Most of the buildings stand on their original sites, with high architectural integrity. Architectural historian Allison Black, who surveyed the town in the late 1980s, noted that Halifax has a tradition of moving, overbuilding, and extensively remodeling its buildings. Despite this and the fact that many of the eighteenth- and nineteenth century buildings have been demolished, a significant collection of historic buildings remains. The Halifax Historic District's antebellum, later nineteenth century, and twentieth century buildings constructed up to 1961, the end of the period of significance, include a number of highly significant architectural examples as well as streetscapes representing each architectural era within the period of significance. The Halifax Historic District's dominant early building type is vernacular frame houses that resemble those built throughout eastern North Carolina in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Houses are either one or two stories, generally with side-gable roofs, exterior or interior brick chimneys, double-hung sash windows, and one-story porches across the facade.
Halifax's small group of Federal-style houses includes several examples of the tripartite house type --a Palladian two-story central block flanked by one-story side wings. The expansive Palladian form, intended by the Renaissance architect Palladio to give maximum effect of grandeur to a country villa, was a popular high-style house in the Roanoke Valley during the Federal era. Although not suitable for Halifax's town lots, it was built on larger sites on the edges of the town. The ca.1810 Sally Billy House, within the Historic Halifax State Historic Site, is the only unaltered example of the type now standing in Halifax. However, it was moved from its original plantation site into the museum area in order to save it.
Four Federal style houses stand in the Halifax Historic District. The Daniel-Hervey House at 132 S. King Street is an 1826 tripartite house, but later additions obscure its form. Governor, French envoy, and "the father of the University of North Carolina," William R. Davie's transitional Georgian-Federal-style house at 18 Norman Street, built ca. 1783, is a large but compact two-story, side-hall plan house representative of the more urban form popular during the Federal period in this area. The Bond-Marshall House and the P.E. Hervey House exhibit transitional Federal-Greek Revival characteristics. The two-story Bond-Marshall House at 105 S. King Street was apparently originally a side-hall plan house dating from the early 1800s. The P.E. Hervey House at 136 S. Dobbs Street is a modest one-story hipped-roof house that features a center-hall plan and mantels of transitional Federal-Greek Revival style.
A group of seven Greek Revival-style houses of one- and two-story frame stand on S. King and Dobbs streets. Built by merchants, attorneys, and planters, the wooden houses reflect the prosperity of the 1840s and 1850s in Halifax through their size and stylishness. Their classical-style entrances with transoms and sidelights, large windows, and columned front porches convey the shared ideals of well-to-do antebellum Southerners. Three of the houses stand on S. Dobbs Street, a desirable location near the original path of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad that came through in 1839. The two-story, hip-roofed George W. Barnes House, built about 1845 at 122 S. Dobbs Street, has a center-hall plan, an entrance portico with a paneled frieze, and massive two-panel doors. The W.W. Daniel House, built ca.1847 at 157 S. Dobbs Street, is a hipped-roof two-story dwelling but contains a shallow entrance hall in front of the central chimney; its stair is enclosed in a corner of one of the two front rooms. At 14 S. Granville Street stands the mid-nineteenth century Fenner House that is of very different form. The two-story side-gabled house has a side-hall plan, a gabled portico, and mantels of vernacular design. The W.D. Faucette House at 233 S. King Street, built about 1868, can be considered the final mid-nineteenth century example in the Halifax Historic District. It continues the Greek Revival form but introduces a newly stylish classical Italianate influence in its peaked window lintels and interior mantels.
A lodge hall, two churches, and a lawyer's office dating from the 1820s to the 1870s convey the civic and religious life of the citizens of Halifax. The 1820s Royal White Hart Masonic Lodge #2, still in use, at 130 St. David Street, is one of the oldest lodge buildings in the state. St. Mark's Episcopal Church at 204 S. King Street is a Gothic Revival-style sanctuary constructed of inexpensive frame materials, with board-and-batten walls. Yet such Gothic-style architectural features as the steeply pitched gable-front roof, the bell cote steeple, diminutive transepts flanking the chancel, and tall and narrow Gothic-arched windows reflect English architect Richard Upjohn's influence on small Episcopal congregations in the United States in the mid-1800s. Around the corner at 131 W. Prussia Street, the sturdy 1850s Greek Revival-style frame design of the Halifax Baptist Church reflects the other popular model for church architecture — the post-and-beam forms of ancient Greek temples. The gable-front facade is pedimented, with corner posts that recall the posts of a Greek temple, large windows, and wood weatherboards emphasizing the building's horizontality. The ca.1872 Italianate style brick law office of Walter Clark, 14 W. Pittsylvania Street, is a rare survivor of the small attorneys' offices around courthouse squares in the Albemarle Sound region. The hip-roofed little building has peaked wooden lintels over the six-over-six sash windows, four-panel doors, and a front hip-roofed porch. The two-room interior has handsome cast-iron mantels with round-arched openings and heavy moldings, and two-part surrounds with beveled backbands.
The romantic revival of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, as well as the Queen Anne style, which was stylish across the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries appears in the Halifax Historic District in the design of a courthouse annex, two churches, and several houses. The 1880s Second Clerk's Office, N. King Street on the courthouse square, of fireproof brick design, expresses the Romanesque Revival style through its central entrance tower with arched entrance openings and round-arched windows and decorative brick belt courses in the upper story of the tower. The miniaturized, richly decorated Gothic Revival style 1889 Church of the Immaculate Conception, at 145 S. King Street, designed by Philadelphia architect Edwin Durang, commemorates the small devout Catholic congregation of Halifax. The front-gabled sanctuary is rich with Gothic forms, including a rose window in the facade gable and flanking asymmetrical towers, one with a hipped roof and brick chimney, the other terminating in an open bell tower with a tall belfry. The ca.1881 First Baptist Church, at 145 St. David Street, the simple Gothic Revival-style frame sanctuary for the county's first black congregation, is an important African American building. The weatherboarded church features peaked sash windows and a shallow front entrance tower. The John H. Brown House, 23 E. Pittsylvania Street, features a two-story front porch with exuberant Italianate-style detailing, including chamfered posts and vernacular sawnwork brackets, added to the antebellum house in the late 1870s. Dr. John O'Brien's small vernacular house at 145 W. Prussia Street, built about 1881, features Queen Anne style detailing, including an ornate front porch with turned posts, brackets and spindles, the product of the new machine-powered woodworking machinery of the era.
Three buildings of the Neoclassical Revival style, which dominated the first quarter of the twentieth century, stand in the district. Wheeler and Stern's 1909 Neoclassical-style courthouse at 10 N. King Street, with its Corinthian portico and domed cupola, is the most monumental building in Halifax. The 1923 Neoclassical-style Bank of Halifax, at 3 S. King Street sits diagonally across the intersection from the courthouse. The tan brick building features a recessed entrance with Ionic columns and a pilastered entrance. The upper facade contains a heavy cornice supported by pilasters and a decorative Greek-style plaque containing the construction date. The grandest house in town, banker Fletcher H. Gregory's frame Neoclassical-style mansion at 217 S. King Street, marks the zenith of residential architecture in Halifax. The hip-roofed, weatherboarded mansion is dominated by a monumental portico supported by four fluted Corinthian columns. The vine-like motif in the pediment creates a particularly rich effect similar to pediment detail on the Goodwin House in Raleigh, North Carolina, designed by William P. Rose, a North Carolina architect and builder of the era.
The late Queen Anne, Craftsman, Colonial Revival, Cape Cod, Minimal Traditional, and Ranch house styles that have dominated house design from the 1910s to the 1960s in North Carolina and nationally are amply represented in the Halifax Historic District. The W.G. Bass House, 13 N. King Street, built in 1913, a Queen Anne house, is the last example of this style in the district. Railroad agent C.F. Musselman erected a Foursquare type house of the Craftsman style in 1917, at 153 S. King Street. The house is a Sears Roebuck and Company kit house, probably delivered to Halifax on the railroad. The well-preserved house has a bracketed hip roof, a full one-story front porch with paneled brick pillars and a decorative brick railing, and a hipped front dormer window. The 1924 Methodist Parsonage at 107 W. Pittsylvania Street, and the D.M. Campbell House, 115 W. Prussia Street, are intact one-and-one-half-story bungalows with wide overhanging eaves, wide shed dormers above the porches, and pairs of sash windows. The parsonage has a full engaged front porch; the Campbell House's ample porch wraps around three sides, with sturdy brick post supports. The Campbell-Dickens House, a turn-of-the-century Queen Anne-style house at 105 W. Prussia Street, was transformed in the 1920s into a Craftsman Bungalow with a porch with oversized battered wooden posts. The one building in the Halifax Historic District known to have been built for an African American is the Edward Cheek House at 28 N. Dobbs Street, a two-story weatherboarded gable-and-wing house of vernacular Victorian design built around the turn of the twentieth century. Cheek served as the town's first African American postmaster in the late 1800s.
As interest grew in Halifax's colonial past in the 1940s and 1950s, residents who constructed new dwellings tended to favor the Colonial Revival style of red brick with gracefully-detailed white wooden trim that referenced earlier detailing. Local grocer Charles Boykin built a one-and-one-half-story brick house with Colonial Revival details such as gabled dormer windows and a weatherboarded wing about 1945 at 127 S. King Street. Most of the Colonial Revival-style houses stand along Pittsylvania Street west of King Street. Town physician Dr. White constructed at 111 W. Pittsylvania Street in about 1950 an imposing two-story brick house with a colossal Mt. Vernon-style front portico sheltering a pedimented entrance with swan's neck pediment. Swain Norman, an attorney and farmer, built a one-and-one-half-story brick house with a front, gabled Chippendale-influenced porch at 113 W. Pittsylvania Street in 1953-54. Chippendale was an English eighteenth century designer who popularized Chinese fretwork and lattice motifs for stair and porch railings. His designs were revived in mid-twentieth-century Colonial Revival-style architecture. The Wright family built a brick Cape Cod-style house in about 1953 at 301 W. Pittsylvania Street. A subset of the Colonial Revival style, the Cape Cod type is a one-and-one-half-story, side-gabled house with a central entrance and dormer windows.
The Halifax Historic District contains a few examples of the Minimal Traditional style. This simple mid-twentieth-century nationally-popular style for small houses reflects the eclectic form of Tudor- and Colonial Revival-style houses but lacks their decorative detail. The Johnson House at 105 W. Pittsylvania Street, built in 1953, is a small side-gabled brick one-story house with sash windows and a projecting entrance bay with a gabled entrance porch. At 15 Norman Street, the Vernon Bradley Rental House, built about 1950, is a very small side-gabled one-story frame house with a central entrance with gabled porch, flanked by a picture window and a double-hung sash window.
From about 1955 to the 1960s and beyond, the long, low, one-story house form called the Ranch house became the dwelling of choice for Halifax residents building on the remaining lots in the historic district. Winford Dickens built an early example, a four-bay-wide brick Ranch house with a front picture window and a weatherboarded wing about 1955 at 18 S. Dobbs Street. Ranch houses continued to be built in the historic district into the 1990s.
One building in the Halifax Historic District, the Halifax County Public Health Department at 26 N. King Street, built about 1960, expresses the slight influence of the modern movement that became nationally popular during the mid-twentieth century. The right half of the facade of the low red brick building features an entrance and a ribbon of high, fixed, single sash windows set under the deep overhang of the side-gabled roof. The remaining windows are double-hung sash typical of the Colonial Revival style. The last building constructed within the period of historic significance is the Halifax Post Office, at 28 S. King Street, built in 1961. The side-gabled one-story brick Colonial Revival-style building has an entrance with pilasters and transom and small-paned sash windows with wooden aprons and continues the earlier Colonial Revival architectural pattern in the district.
Commercial buildings in the Halifax Historic District, consisting primarily of stores and warehouses, were of frame construction with wood weatherboarded walls until the early 1900s. One such frame store has survived in the district at 21 S. King Street, dating from about 1920. The narrow front-gabled building, originally a grocery store, has a stepped facade parapet. One early twentieth-century warehouse, the Campbell Warehouse, stands on Post Street, behind the commercial district of S. King Street. The simple shed-roofed frame building has a large loading door on the front.
In the early 1900s brick construction became standard for commercial buildings in Halifax, which are one- and two-story buildings with flat roofs with one or two storefronts, each with a center recessed entrance and flanking, large display windows, transom windows across the top, and often a metal cornice. These buildings are typical of commercial architecture throughout the state in the early twentieth century. One of the most stylish commercial buildings is Vinson's Drug Store Building at 13-15 S. King Street, built about 1917. The Flemish bond brick facade is basically unaltered, with two storefronts with large display windows with transoms and recessed doorways. Upstairs are tall sash windows with a tan brick belt course wrapping across the facade above the windows. The Halifax Hardware Company, built about 1915 at 16 S. King Street, is a two-story brick building with segmental-arched windows across the upper facade and a nearly intact storefront with large plate glass display windows. The 1905-06 Roanoke Hotel at 2-10 S. King Street is a large two-story brick building whose main entrance is a large rounded brick arch with wide multi-pane sidelights and transom. The two original storefronts feature recessed double-leaf doors, tall transoms, and ornate metal cornices.
The 1928 Halifax Elementary School, the only school in the Halifax Historic District, exhibits the Neoclassical Revival style that became relatively standard for public schools in North Carolina during the early twentieth century. The handsome one-story brick building is distinguished by a shallow pedimented entrance bay with arched entrance and flanking windows, buff brick quoins, and polygonal wooden cupola on the roof.
The cemeteries in the Halifax Historic District consist of the Ferrall Family Cemetery on the Ferrall property just north of 145 S. King Street and the 1874 Methodist Episcopal Cemetery at the southeast corner of N. Granville and E. Pittsylvania streets. The Ferrall vault, erected in 1859 of stuccoed, arched, brick construction with stepped end parapets, is a type of family sepulcher preferred by the antebellum aristocracy of eastern North Carolina. The Ferrall vault's marble plaque contains a cross flanked by willow trees, signed by the stonecutter "Grier & Co., Raleigh." The Greek Revival-style granite gate with prominent cross and handsome cast-iron fence enclosing the small cemetery enhance this burial plot's significance. The church cemetery consists of some 150 monuments dating from the 1870s to the present. The late nineteenth-century monuments include marble headstones and obelisks; twentieth-century stones are granite family monuments. These types of gravestones are typical of cemeteries found throughout North Carolina from the late 1800s to the late 1900s.
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‡ M. Ruth Little and Heather Wagner, Longleaf Historic Resources, Halifax Historic District, Halifax County, North Carolina, nomination document, 2010, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Bradley Drive • Church Street • Dobbs Street North • Dobbs Street South • Granville Street South • King Street North • King Street South • Norman Street • Pittsylvania Street East • Pittsylvania Street West • Post Street • Prussia Street East • Prussia Street West • St David Street • Wilcox Street