Mill Avenue Historic District
The Mill Avenue Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © The Gombach Group.
The Mill Avenue Historic District is the largest and least-altered concentration of historic buildings in the county seat and railroad and lumber town of Jacksonville, North Carolina. The Mill Avenue Historic District comprises eighteen acres on the south bank of the New River just west of Jacksonville's town center. The largely residential Mill Avenue neighborhood was laid out circa 1890 with the coming of the Wilmington, Onslow and East Carolina Railroad (which bounds the district on the south side) and the 1889 establishment of the Onslow Lumber Company. The District is associated with the formative lumber boom period of Jacksonville's history. It contains a collection of late-Victorian and Bungalow style frame houses, the large frame Queen Anne style Jarman Hotel, on the railroad tracks, and the brick Jacksonville Depot. Finally, the Mill Avenue Historic Dr. Richard Ward, a locally prominent physician, businessman, and developer who laid out the neighborhood on his own land, lived in the district in a significant late-Victorian style house.
Jacksonville was transformed by the establishment nearby of the United States Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in 1941. Major additions to the domestic and commercial infrastructure of the town were made beginning in that year and extending to the present. Although the Mill Avenue neighborhood was left largely untouched by this development, 1941 constitutes a logical end-date for the Mill Avenue Historic District's period of significance, considering the major changes occurring to the town as a whole after that date. No buildings in the district are known to date from 1934-1941.
The site of downtown Jacksonville was chosen as the location for Onslow County's courthouse in 1753. Attempts were made to establish a town at the site in 1785 and again in 1821, but none succeeded until 1842 when the town of Jacksonville was officially established by the North Carolina legislature (Clark, v.17: 320; New Bern Centinel: Watts: 8).
Mid-Nineteenth Century Development
The town established in 1842 (and reincorporated in 1849) functioned as a support community for the county seat and consisted of a cluster of houses, stores, a turpentine distillery, and a tavern during the mid-nineteeth century. The town was advantageously located at a point where the estuary of the New River narrowed and could be bridged. However, the bead of navigation on the New River was located three miles further upstream at Tar Landing. The community of Tar Landing vied with Jacksonville for inland freight during the 1870's (Hall: 41). By the 1880's Jacksonville appears to have edged ahead of Tar Landing in population and volume of business. Population estimates for Jacksonville during the early 1880's range from 94 to 159 (Chataigne, 1883; Branson, 1884). The population of the town in 1890 stood at 170 (U.S. Census).
Railroad and Lumber Boom Period
The leading figures in Jacksonville's railroad and lumber boom of the 1890's were New York financier Thomas McIntyre and Jacksonville doctor Richard Ward. McIntyre built the Wilmington, Onslow and East Carolina Railroad which was completed to Jacksonville by December 1890, and with Richard Ward established the Onslow Lumber Company in 1889, building a mill (now demolished) on the New River to the west of the Mill Avenue neighborhood shortly thereafter.
Richard Ward (1833-1925) was born into an established Jacksonville family. His grandfather, also named Richard Ward (d.1825), had operated a ferry across New River and may have been involved in the 1821 attempt to establish the town (Watts: 8, Hathaway Price, personal communication). Richard's father, George J. Ward (1810-1860), appears to have lived beside the New River during the 1840's and 1850's, either in the northern part of the Mill Avenue district or on the point to the west of the district (Session Laws, 1850: 707). Richard Ward attended the medical school at Jefferson College in Philadelphia and served as a physician in Onslow County from 1858 until the early twentieth century." (Hathaway Price, personal communication)
In November 1890 Ward sold the so-called "house tract" bounded by "Main Street" (New Bridge Street), the New River, and the right-of-way of the Wilmington, Onslow and East Carolina Railroad to the Onslow Land and Improvement Company, of which he was president (Onslow County Deed Book 56, page 186-7; Deed Book 57, 266-7). It was on this tract that the entire Mill Avenue neighborhood was laid out. In January 1891 it was reported that approximately fifty new buildings were being constructed in Jacksonville, probably many of them houses in the Mill Avenue neighborhood (Watts: 16). Jacksonville was incorporated for the third time in 1891, with A.C. Huggins as mayor Session Laws 1891: 1280).
Over the thirty-five year period between 1890 and 1925 a succession of lumber mills and other woods products industries operated along the Jacksonville waterfront within a mile of the Mill Avenue neighborhood. In 1896 the population of the town was estimated to he 450 (Branson, 1896). The 1900 United States census of population set the figure at 309. From 1910 until 1940 the town's population grew steadily. In 1910 the population was 505; in 1920: 656; in 1930: 788; and in 1940 on the eve of the establishment of Camp Lejeune, 873 (U.S. Census).
While Jacksonville's overall population grew, the number of dwellings in the Mill Avenue neighborhood stabilized by the 1920's. The 1925 Sanborn Map Company map of Jacksonville shows a total of thirty-six single- and multi-family dwellings within the confines of the district, slightly more than the thirty-two units in the district today. As the Mill Avenue neighborhood developed, the historic Jacksonville downtown, centered on the courthouse square to the northeast of the neighborhood, also grew. The frame commercial buildings built on Old Bridge and Court streets during the first years of the boom were replaced by brick buildings after 1900. Unfortunately, few of these buildings retain architectural integrity, and recent demolition has thinned their ranks. Two of Jacksonville's commercial buildings have considerable architectural and historical merit — the 1910s Bank of Onslow (ON 475) and the 1919 Masonic Temple (ON 519) — which together are eligible for the National Register.
Branson, Levi. Branson's North Carolina Business Director [ies]... (for 1884, 1889, 1896, and 1897). Raleigh: Levi Branson.
(New Bern) Centinel. May 8, 1821.
Chataigne, J.H. Chataigne's North Carolina Directory and Gazetteer 1883-84. Raleigh: J.H. Chataigne, 1883.
Clark, Walter, ed. The State Records of North Carolina. Goldsboro, NC: Nash Brothers, 1899.
Cross, Jerry L. "Onslow County, 1865-1920." Paper written for the Swansboro Bicentennial (1983) on file at the Onslow County Museum, Richlands, NC.
Hall, Benjamin F. Biographical account, 1924. Search Room, North Carolina State Library, Division of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC.
Interviews with Harvey Boney, Mrs. C.E. Gillette, Hathaway Price, and Bessie Stanley conducted by Dan Pezzoni in 1987 and 1988.
North Carolina Session Laws, 1777-1899. Microfiche. North Carolina State Library, Division of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC.
Onslow County Deed Records. Onslow County Courthouse, Jacksonville, NC.
Price, Hathaway. Collection.
Sanborn Map Company. "Jacksonville, Onslow County, North Carolina." New York: Sanborn Map Company, 1925. Located at the North Carolina Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill.
United States Census, population schedules, 1880-1940.
Watts, Gordon P., Jr. "An Historical Reconnaissance and Assessment of the Potential for Submerged Cultural Resources in New River adjacent to the Proposed Waterfront Park, U.S. 17 and Old Bridge Street, Jacksonville, Onslow County." Washington: 1985.
† Daniel Pezzoni, Preservation Consultant, Mill Avenue Historic District, Jacksonville, Onslow County, North Carolina, nomination document, 1989, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.