The Ayden Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
With the construction of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad in 1890 and incorporation in 1891, Ayden exemplifies the market towns of the railroad era in Pitt County. The establishment and growth of Ayden was spurred by the coming of the railroad, but the selection of Ayden for the route of the rail line was the direct result of local entrepreneurial actions. In particular, William Henry Harris (1846-1918), who owned much of the land which now comprises the Ayden town center, successfully convinced the directors of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad in 1890 to purchase a parcel of his farmland for their new line and railroad station. With the rail line secured, Harris and the East Carolina Land and Improvement Company began the initial platting and development of the town.
The rail connections allowed Ayden to develop a diverse commercial and manufacturing base which included lumber, milling, finishing plants, financial services, and mercantile enterprises. These endeavors are exhibited in one of the largest central business districts in Pitt County and one which retains one of the best collections of early twentieth century commercial buildings in the county. Built ca.1919, the McLawhorn Whole Grocery Building (105 West Avenue) typifies the restrained, brick commercial construction which replaced earlier wooden mercantile buildings. The ca.1914 (Former) Turnage Brothers Building (235-239 Lee Street), with Mission Revival decorative elements, and the classically-inspired (Former) Farmers and Merchants Bank Building (105-107 East Second Street), constructed in 1915, both give fuller expression to nationally popular revival styles. The distinctive Venetian Gothic (Former) Ayden Town Hall (109 West Avenue), also built in 1915, forms an institutional landmark within the commercial district of Ayden.
The rapid growth and prosperity of Ayden during the early twentieth century resulted not only from improved transportation, but was also tied to increased production of bright leaf tobacco, which replaced cotton as the cash crop of Pitt County during this period. By the 1930s, Ayden was the second largest municipality in Pitt County, outranked only by the county seat, Greenville. The prosperity of Ayden is reflected in the tree-lined neighborhoods which contain examples of both traditional vernacular house forms and sophisticated nationally popular styles, dating from the incorporation of the town to World War II. One of the oldest houses remaining in Ayden is the ca.1890 John Stanley Hart House (303 West Avenue), with its traditional I-house form and picturesque sawnwork elements. The George Worthington House (208 Blount Street), built between 1903 and 1905, displays the irregular massing of Victorian-era house forms but with restrained detailing. By World War I, much of the residential architecture reflected national trends. Built ca.1917, the Leslie Turnage House (714 West Third Street) exemplified popular Colonial Revival domestic architecture, while the Barwick House (814 West Third Street) and the Robert Luther Johnson House (903 West Third Street) are eclectic combinations of the pervasive revival styles. Snow Hill Street contains numerous examples of simple bungalows designed for the middle class. In addition, Ayden retains a cohesive African-American neighborhood of early to mid-twentieth century houses that illustrates the movement of tenant farmers to town during the period. Located at the south end of Ayden, this area retains a variety of residential forms including the two story, frame Robert Blount House (703 West Avenue) and the row of simple, shotgun houses and bungalows along Planters Street.
Historical Background/Community Development, Commerce, and Ethnic Heritage/Black Contexts
Located in southern Pitt County, the most populated region of the county, Ayden emerged as one of the new towns of the railroad era. Unlike the older towns of Pitt County, which were located along the Tar River, Ayden developed only after the Scotland Neck-to-Kinston segment of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad was completed in 1891 (Power 1991: 111). The railroad made the new town a market center and distribution point for the surrounding tobacco and lumber regions. Rapid growth in the 1890s followed the construction of the railroad, which, in turn, encouraged commercial growth, the establishment of tobacco facilities, lumber milling plants, and the formation of religious educational institutions in the town (Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps, 1916, 1925, 1939).
Railroad construction at the end of the nineteenth century transformed a number of Pitt County crossroad communities into sizable market towns. Prior to the era of railroad building, the Tar River, which traverses the northern section of the county, served as the principal mode of transportation, and several small communities grew along the river (Power 1991: 103). However, until the mid-1870s, the county seat of Greenville was the only incorporated town in Pitt County. The railroad spurred the development of market towns along its route as distribution points for cotton but particularly for the bright leaf tobacco cultivated throughout the county. The rise of tobacco cultivation and marketing coincided with long delayed rail construction, and good transportation fostered the widespread cultivation of this cash crop at a time when cotton was waning in importance. In the early 1890s, the closest tobacco market towns were Oxford, Henderson, and Durham, and the need for distribution and processing centers within Pitt County spurred the growth of Ayden and other towns served by the railroad (Copeland 1982: 4). By 1903, there were ten incorporated municipalities in the county (in addition to Greenville and Bethel), and only two were located on the Tar River (Power 1991: 113). By the 1920s, Pitt County had become the leading tobacco-producing county in North Carolina. Rail service also enabled a diversification of the economic base to include tobacco processing, cotton ginning, lumber, saw milling, and brick manufacturing. Railroad towns, such as Ayden, served not only as commercial market towns, but also as minor manufacturing centers. Incorporated in 1891, Ayden became one of the larger and more important towns in Pitt County by the 1930s.
The construction of a new rail line through settled areas often inspired intense competition among neighboring communities, which either formally or informally, provided incentives to the railroad for selecting a certain route. The development of Ayden typifies what were often ambitious schemes to influence railroad location. The route of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad line through the small community of Ayden resulted, in part, from the actions of local farmer, cum entrepreneur, William Henry Harris. Harris, who owned most of the land on which the Ayden town center was constructed, donated roughly 40 acres to the railroad for the extension of the Scotland Neck to Greenville line on to Kinston. In addition, Harris sold the company a second parcel. The coming of the railroad created great development excitement, and Harris, in conjunction with the newly formed East Carolina Land and Improvement Company, was instrumental in the platting and development of the town.
The land donated by Harris to the rail company was bounded by Hart Street to the north, Blount Street to the east, Pitt Street to the west, and the alleys south of West Third Street formed the southern border. The area was platted into individual lots by the East Carolina Land and Improvement Company, but the ownership of the land was retained by Harris. The present town also encompassed the farms of other landowners. The farm of John Stanley Hart (1852-1918) abutted Harris's property to the north, and Sebron Cox (1852-1939) owned the parcels now located in the southern end of Ayden (Power 1991: 291; Pitt County Deed Book E5, p.436, Agreement between W. Harris and the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad Company, 21 June 1890).
In 1893, two years after the town was platted, local citizens also actively encouraged establishment of religious schools in Ayden. The first of these educational institutions was Carolina Christian College, formed by the Disciples of Christ, after a denominational conference in New Bern in 1891. In the competition to attract the school, Ayden offered $100.00 and five acres for a site (land donated again by W.H. Harris and J.J. Hines). Located on the north side of Cannon Street between East College and West College streets, the school enrolled 160 students in 1902. Despite their success, the Disciples of Christ decided in 1902 to consolidate several of their schools as Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College) located in Wilson, North Carolina. The Ayden property was sold in 1903 to the county school board which used the building as a graded school until World War I, and the classroom building was demolished in the 1920s (Copeland 1982: 99-100).
In 1896, Ayden was also able to entice the Free Will Baptists to build a new theological seminary in the town. Many of the prominent citizens of Ayden were members of the company organized to raise funding for the school, including J.M. Barfield, T.F. Harrison, W.F. Hart, E.E. Dail, E.H. Craft, A.L. Harrington, and W.H. Harris. The school opened in 1898 on the Lee Street site of the former Ayden High School. The seminary grew, and in 1926, the campus was moved to Boulevard Street at the junction with East College Street. Renamed Eureka Bible College, the school foundered in 1929 despite increased enrollment and a broader curriculum. The campus which included a two-story, brick classroom and dormitory building, athletic fields, and tennis courts was destroyed in a 1931 fire.
By the turn of the century, ten years after incorporation, Ayden had grown from a small crossroads community to a commercial, milling, and manufacturing center with more than 12 businesses and a 1900 population of 557 (Power 1991: 293). Commercial development in the town was initially determined by the lots platted by the East Carolina Land and Improvement Company in 1890 and by proximity to the Ayden rail depot (now demolished but formerly located at Third Street and West Avenue). As in many railroad towns in North Carolina, the first commercial streets flanked the rail line. In Ayden, commercial buildings were first built on East and West avenues, which paralleled the rail tracks, between First and Third streets. Early businesses included general supply stores, liveries, and offices, and many were owned by pioneering families such as the Taylors, Johnsons, Smiths, Turnages, Worthingtons, Harrises, Cannons, Harts, Spears, Tripps, and Dennises. The commercial buildings built in the 1890s were generally simple, wood frame structures, but none survives. As frequently occurred, most of the early commercial buildings were destroyed in a 1902 fire or were replaced with brick structures during the prosperous years of the pre-World War I era (Power 1991: 304).
The earliest extant commercial buildings in Ayden date to the period between 1900 and World War I, the peak period of business development in the town. The oldest extant commercial building in Ayden is the brick commercial block housing the M.M. Sauls Drugstore (133 East Second Street), located at the southwest corner of Second Street and West Avenue. Most of the other structures in this city block were also built before 1915. During this period of growth and expansion, commercial construction in Ayden became somewhat more elaborate than the simple two story, brick storefronts of the turn of the century. Institutional buildings also began to display nationally popular styles and greater ornamentation. Perhaps the best example is the unique Venetian Gothic (Former) Ayden Town Hall, built in 1915 at 109 West Avenue.
By 1910, the population of Ayden had almost tripled to 1500 (Power 1991: 293). Although most of the railroad towns of Pitt County experienced growth after the turn of the century, Ayden experienced greater expansion because of its location in the most populated region of the county. Southern Pitt County in the nineteenth century was comprised of numerous small and large farms, and in the early twentieth century, Ayden became a convenient destination for farm families moving to town.
Little remains of the early rail, manufacturing, and tobacco warehousing concerns which fostered this economic growth. A veneer mill, established by the National Veneer Company, was located on the south side of town. Sited outside the boundaries of the Ayden Historic District, all the buildings once associated with this large veneer mill complex appear to have been demolished by 1939. Also now demolished was the planing mill operated by Ayden settler, J.S. Hart. The planing mill was situated at the corner of Hart and Lee streets. The Planters Warehouse and Milling Company was located at the junction of East Avenue and Hart Street; this operation has been replaced by a modern fertilizer company (Sanborn Maps 1916-1939; Stan Little Interview 1994).
The most notable absences are warehouses for the bright leaf tobacco which dominated the county economy during the early twentieth century. Tobacco warehouses and a prizery were once located on West First and West Second streets in the block west of Venters Street. These facilities had evidently been demolished by the 1930s when an ice plant, cotton gin, and municipal swimming pool occupied the north and south sides of West First Street, west of Venters Street (Sanborn Map 1925-1939).
Two bank buildings, the Second First National Bank of Ayden (203 Lee Street), chartered in 1910, and the Farmers and Merchants National Bank of Ayden (105-107 East Second Street), established in 1916, remain to illustrate the boom years of the 1910s. Another measure of the prosperity of the period was the construction of a 40-room hotel (now demolished) in 1916 for salesmen and visitors.
The advent of the automobile altered development patterns. As passenger transportation shifted away from the rail line and train station, commercial development expanded to parallel and side streets of the downtown area rather than stretching along the rail corridor, as occurred more commonly in Southern railroad towns. By the 1920s, the commercial district of Ayden was focused on the west side of the railroad corridor between First and Third streets, encompassing portions of Second, Third, and Lee streets, in addition to the earlier business construction along West and East avenues. The Lee Street commercial district, in particular, contains many substantial two-story, brick storefronts built between 1910 and 1915, illustrating this expansion of the business district away from the rail corridor. One of the most eclectic of the Lee Street commercial buildings is the Turnage Brothers Building (235-239 Lee Street) built circa 1914 (Power 1991: 298). The increased need for space caused the relocation of some noncommercial buildings. For example, the Ayden Methodist Church (309 West Third Street), once located at the corner of Third and Lee streets was moved in 1926 to accommodate a gas station.
With growth and economic well-being, urban amenities and services, especially those related to automobile travel, were added to Ayden. In 1919, the Municipal Light Plant was expanded to provide electricity, and the streets and sidewalks were paved in 1922. New structures, such as gas stations and car repair shops, were built to provide automobile services. Established by N.C. Tripp circa 1916, M.B. Tripp and Brothers, an auto repair business, survives today as Tripp's Garage (222 East Avenue) and Tripp's Tire Service (220 East Avenue), one of the oldest family-owned enterprises in Ayden (Copeland 1982: 99). Automobile showrooms were also constructed by the mid-1920s, exemplified in Ayden by the former Turnage Sales Corporation (114 West Third Street), a Chevrolet dealership, built at 114 West Third Street in 1929.
Although the rapid growth of Ayden began in the 1890s, only a few surviving houses predate the early twentieth century. The Moore House (103 Lee Street), constructed circa 1890 at 103 Lee Street for a carpenter, named Moore, is one of the earliest extant residences in Ayden. Moore, possibly an English emigrant, built many of the early houses in Ayden (Boat 1989). The John S. Hart House at 303 West Avenue was the home to one of the original land donors to the town of Ayden and an owner of a sawmill cutting and dressing operation. Built between 1891 and 1893, the two-story, frame Hart House is one of the least altered vernacular Victorian houses in Ayden with a double tier porch and elaborate jigsaw millwork (Boat 1989). Constructed in 1898, the I-house owned by Joe Dixon at 112-114 East First Street is another nineteenth century survivor.
With the establishment of Carolina Christian College in 1893, residential development shifted to the east side of town, and by 1910, houses became larger and began to reflect the current national popular revival styles. Documentary photographs depict both modest and stylish dwellings set along streets lined with tall shade trees. The George Worthington House, located at 208 Blount Street, was an early addition to the east side of Ayden. Worthington owned a sheet metal business, which was necessary not only to general construction but also in the production of tobacco flues. Sited at 311 Blount Street, the Richard Henry Garris House, circa 1906, and the R.C. Cannon House, built circa 1895 at 411 East Second Street, illustrate the movement of prominent citizens to the east side of Ayden following construction of the college (Boat 1989). William Franklin Hart also constructed houses (Cora Hart Smith House, 309-311 East Second Street; Celia Hart Garris House, 307 East Second Street; William Franklin Hart House, 303 East Second Street) between 1905 and 1910 for members of his family.
After the completion of a grade school in 1914, now the site of the Third Street Park, a residential neighborhood for the wealthy was developed on the west side of town, along West Third Street (Sanborn Map 1916). Called Westhaven, this neighborhood contains a good collection of early twentieth century houses and reflects the growing popularity of revival styles during the period. Several houses are documented Sears, Roebuck Mail Order houses, including a Craftsman bungalow, belonging to Robert Johnson at 903 West Third Street. Built in 1923, the Tyndall House at 709 West Third Street, illustrates a typical small scale Craftsman Bungalow, while the Lloyd and Lillian Turnage House (809 West Third Street), sited at Juanita Avenue and West Third Street and designed by the Wilson architectural firm, Benton and Benton, is one of the most distinctive Bungalows in Ayden. The Jesse Raymond Turnage House at 802 West Third Street is stylistically eclectic with elements of Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival (Power 1991: 300; Boat 1989).
The economic segregation that is often reflected in residential neighborhoods is muted in Ayden. While the larger, more elaborate houses of the post World War I era were built along the spines of Second and Third streets, these streets retained earlier more modest houses and cottages. In addition, numerous Bungalows were constructed during the 1920s on infill lots and along side streets. The uniform collection of Bungalows along Snow Hill Street and Park Avenue demonstrate a rare homogeneity for Ayden while streets such as Lee and Venters are more typical in the mix of modest and impressive houses.
As wealthy residential development hovered on the east side and directly west of the central business district, many tenant and sharecropper families moved from surrounding farms to the southwest side of town. Some of these families continued agricultural occupations. Local tradition indicates that Planters Street was so named because farm owners housed their tenant farmers on this street. Most of this neighborhood dates from the early 1900s to the 1930s.
By 1920, the U.S. Census recorded 255 African-Americans in Ayden, and more resided just beyond the town's borders (U.S. Census, Population Schedule, 1920; 1916 Sanborn Map). While many black families lived throughout the town — residing, for example, with whites who employed them as domestics — by and large, most resided in segregated districts at the outskirts of Ayden and near major employers. One such area was concentrated east of the railroad tracks at the north end of town, along East First and Blount streets (Lucy Mae Barnhill Interview 1993). Although little architectural evidence survives of this early black neighborhood, the 1916 and 1925 Sanborn maps reveal rows of primarily one-story, wooden dwellings surrounding a small black church (Free Will Baptist Church) and adjacent lodge hall.
A larger African-American neighborhood subsequently emerged at the south side of Ayden, near the National Veneer Company (Travis Dixon Interview 1993; Gratz Norcott, Jr. Interview 1993). Between the world wars, the southern sections of East and West avenues, Lee Street, and Venters Street, as well as such intersecting streets as Planters, McKinley, Mill, and Seminary (later Sixth Street), were developed into solidly African-American residential blocks. Some of the houses, particularly those on West Avenue, were apparently moved to their present locations. The Blount House, located at 703 West Avenue, and the house at 411 West Avenue were both moved to their sites at some point during the early twentieth century. In addition, Robert Blount, who relocated to Ayden from the rural community of Rountree, operated a house moving business, in addition to farming (Blount Interview 1993). Today, a significant portion of this historically black community remains basically intact. Development occurred here in small units, as many local whites invested in rental housing, ranging from one dwelling to entire blocks of modest, uniform cottages sited cheek-by-jowl. For example, during the 1920s, Dr. Mark T. Frizzelle, a prominent Ayden physician, had a row of shotgun houses erected along the 300 block of Sixth Street for black tenants. In the early 1940s, businessman John Bill Dennis invested in a group of cast-stone rental cottages near the railroad tracks, along the 100 block of Sixth Street (Dixon, Norcott Interviews 1993; Sanborn Map 1939). In addition to rental units, this district also included dwellings that black families owned and occupied. The row of gable-front bungalows along Planters Street, for instance, represent early black home ownership, as do several I-houses and story-and-a-half bungalows in south Ayden (Dixon, Norcott, and Barnhill Interviews 1993).
By the eve of World War II, the local African-American community also contained a variety of services to meet the needs of its inhabitants. The 1939 Sanborn Map shows five small churches distributed throughout the district, including the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church that still stands on Venters Street, and the Missionary Baptist Church that remains on West Avenue. The district also included a two-story, brick-veneered graded school, which replaced a small frame schoolhouse on the southern periphery, a lodge hall on West Avenue, and several corner groceries. However, none of these properties survive.
As throughout the South, while the African-American district developed as an entity set apart, it was economically linked to the white community. Blacks worked as domestics for white families along Second and Third streets, and as laborers in the veneer factory, and the assortment of tobacco warehouses, brickyards, sawmills, and ginneries that constituted Ayden's industrial base. When the veneer plant closed in the 1930s, many blacks later found employment in the Lutz and Schramm pickle processing plant that was established after World War II at the veneer mill site on the south end of town (Dixon Interview 1993). Many others, of course, worked as tenants and laborers at nearby white-owned farms. But the black community also included a small middle class composed of teachers, clergymen, entrepreneurs, and others holding skilled jobs. For example, Miles Cannon, who lived on First Street, was employed as a porter for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, John Lewis Williams and John Thrower both owned barber shops downtown (Barnhill Interview 1993; U.S. Census, Population Schedule 1920).
The economic growth of the first quarter of the twentieth century slowed by the latter 1920s, and the Great Depression hit the town hard. Several businesses closed, and the Eureka Bible College ceased operation. Salaries of town employees were cut by 25%, and the surrounding farm regions experienced low crop yields. Perhaps most devastating of all was the closing of the Ayden Veneer Plant in 1929, which left hundreds unemployed. The plant closing was coupled with the failure of the Farmers and Merchants National Bank in 1929 (Power 1991: 294). Nonetheless, in 1928, bonds had been passed to finance the construction of a new high school, located at the northwest corner of Lee and Sixth streets, the site of the former Free Will Baptist Seminary. Despite these projects, the economic depression of the 1930s stymied growth until the outbreak of World War II. One of the few public construction projects during the 1930s was the Ayden Community Building (201 East Second Street), built in 1935 as the only W.P.A. project in the town. The Ayden Community Building housed the public library from 1935 to 1970 (Copeland 1982: 100).
Commercial development never fully recovered from the effects of the Depression. Many of the downtown storefronts were modernized in the post-World War II era in an attempt to recapture the business lost to nearby Greenville and Kinston. In general, population growth and residential development were slow in the postwar period until 1953 when DuPont Corporation opened a plant in Lenoir County, a few miles south of Ayden. The construction of this plant had a great effect on the towns of southern Pitt County, bringing new people to the area and stimulating commercial and residential construction. However, by the 1960s and 1970s, much of the development in the county was centered on suburban development in Greenville (north of Ayden), particularly after the closing of the Lutz and Schramm pickle plant in the 1970s (Stan Little Interview 1994). Consequently, new construction in Ayden has concentrated on the north and west sides, in proximity to Greenville (Power 1991: 302). Some of the historic buildings in the town center have been converted to new uses. The (Former) Ayden High School now serves as a community center, while the (Former) Ayden Town Hall provides studio space for artists. Although some commercial activity has been drained away from the central business district by Greenville and strip development along U.S.11, Ayden retains the largest collection of early twentieth century commercial construction in Pitt County, outside Greenville and well-defined neighborhoods of early twentieth century residential architecture.
The contributing architectural resources in the Ayden Historic District clearly represent the variety of traditional forms as well as nationally popular architectural styles that marked small-town development in eastern North Carolina during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Power 1991 171-178, 289-339; Bishir 1990, 287-295, 310-332, 375-376, 400-405, 416-443).
The earliest surviving dwellings in Ayden illustrate a variety of traditional regional house types, particularly the one-story, two-room, single-pile house, with rear ell, and the I-house. These frame, symmetrical forms were typically embellished with conservative late-Victorian elements, such as turned or chamfered porch posts and some decorative millwork focused on the front porch and the gables. A number were also constructed with a "triple-A" roof shape, that is, a standard side-gable roof with a third, decorative gable centered over the main facade. Representative examples of the one-story, two-room house include the ca.1890 Mumford House (116 East First Street), the ca.1900 J.R. Tingle House (417 East Second Street), the ca.1900 Allie Harrington House (403 East Second Street), and the ca.1894 Gaskins-Spear House (307 West Second Street). An exceptionally decorative version is the ca.1906 Richard Henry Garris House (311 Blount Street), which has a cross-gable roof adorned with sawn brackets, and a front porch trimmed with brackets and a sawnwork balustrade.
I-houses remain along streets near the center of town, designating Ayden's wealthier merchants, professionals, and landowners. Basically intact versions of this vernacular house type include the ca.1898 Joe M. Dixon House (112-114 East First Street), the ca.1895 C.V. Cannon House (411 East Second Street), the 1905 Celia Hart Garris House (307 East Second Street), and the ca.1890 John Stanley Hart House (303 West Avenue). Sited facing the railroad tracks, the well-preserved Hart House is distinguished by a striking two-tiered front porch trimmed with sawn brackets and balustrade, exemplary of the influence of Victorian tastes on Ayden's finest early residences.
While the traditional domestic forms remained popular into the early 1900s, as Ayden developed around the turn of the century, the upper and middle classes were drawn to new forms often reflecting nationally popular architectural designs. Many of these new homeowners opted for more up-to-date picturesque fashions, including sophisticated Queen Anne architecture, derived from pattern books or designed by professional architects. These residences were distinguished from traditional regional types by their consciously asymmetrical massings with multiple projecting gables, and included both two-story as well as story-and-a-half and one-story expressions.
Of frame construction, they were treated with such exterior elements as decorative wood shingles in the gable ends, exotic window forms with stained glass, turned and sawn brackets, and wraparound verandahs.
The more conservative interpretations of picturesque domestic architecture tended to display basically L- or T-shaped configurations, with center halls. Today, handsome examples continue to occupy lots along tree-lined streets around the central business district. They include the ca.1900, two-story Andersen-Cannon House (611 East Second Street), embellished with sawn shingles in the gables and decorative sawnwork around the windows, the 1903-1905, two-story George Worthington House (208 Blount Street) with canted corners and diamond-shaped attic vents, the ca.1900, one-story Cora Hart Smith House (309-311 East Second Street), featuring a sawnwork balustrade and windows with pointed-arched lintels, and the ca.1905, one-story J.R. Smith House (410 East Second Street), with a gabled bay projecting fashionably from the east elevation.
However, Ayden also boasts more exuberant picturesque houses and cottages, characterizing a prosperous eastern North Carolina railroad town in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The ca.1913, two-story Johnson-Smith House (710 East Second Street) exemplifies the Queen Anne style in its high hip roof broken by projecting gables, deep wraparound porch with sturdy turned posts, and a spired corner gazebo. The interior has an irregular plan finished with paneled woodwork and mantels with colonettes and mirrored overmantels. The most notable Queen Anne cottage may be the 1909 Turnage-Cannon House (414 East Third Street), a double-pile dwelling with a gable-on-hip roof and sweeping wraparound porch. The interior of this cottage features an ornate, lacework hall screen, and beaded wainscoting in the broad hall and principal rooms.
A host of substantial residences mixed Queen Anne features with classical motifs, reflecting the emerging nationwide popularity of the Colonial Revival style. These dwellings include the ca.1905 Barwick-Ross House (402 East Third Street), which blends spindlework detailing and cutaway bays with Tuscan porch columns, the 1914 Ernest Hardee House (806 West Third Street), and the ca.1918 Dixon House (902 West Third Street), whose asymmetrical massing includes a modillioned cornice on the main block and denticulated cornice on the wraparound porch.
Through the 1910s, the Colonial Revival was the style of choice among wealthier residents in the Ayden Historic District. Dwellings like the ca.1910 C.V. Cannon House (312 East Second Street) and the ca.1917 Leslie Turnage House (714 West Third Street) neatly illustrate this style in their boxy, hip-roofed massings and symmetrical three-bay facades. However, during the decade, the Colonial Revival theme was frequently combined with an eclectic mix of styles. The Turnage House, for example, includes Craftsman-style twenty-four-over-one sash windows, while the ca.1918 Barwick House (814 West Third Street) features Craftsman-style exposed rafter ends and a gable-roofed dormer window with triangular braces. The ca.1915 Robert Luther Johnson House (903 West Third Street) blends the square, hip-roofed configuration of the Colonial Revival with exposed rafters and a wraparound porch treated with Craftsman-style paired, square posts on brick pedestals. Located in the Westhaven section of West Third Street, the Johnson House is one of a group of middle-class residences in Ayden known to have been purchased from Sears, Roebuck mail-order catalogs.
The eclecticism of the finest pre-World War I residences in the Ayden Historic District is epitomized by the 1917 Jesse Raymond Turnage House (802 West Third Street), which also stands in the Westhaven subdivision. This large two-story, hip-roofed dwelling combines Colonial Revival features with a striking full-facade front porch with five broad-pointed arches supported by brick piers. The symmetrical three-bay facade includes a recessed central bay and unusual multi-paned casement windows. Exposed rafter ends mark the roof on the main block.
The popularity of revival styles, including the Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, and even one exceptional example of the Spanish Mission Revival (J.B. Pierce House, 415 East Third Street) persisted in the historic district from the 1910s to mid-century. In contrast to pre-World War I Colonial Revival dwellings, later examples adhered more closely to eighteenth century Georgian prototypes. A handsome representation is the ca.1930 Thelbert Worthington House (215 East Third Street), which was erected from plans drawn by Leila Ross Wilburn of Atlanta, Georgia, one of the preeminent women architects in the South. The two-story, brick-veneered facade has robust Colonial Revival details, including a modillioned cornice and Doric columns on the front portico and side porch.
Beginning in the late 1910s, and particularly in the 1920s, the Bungalow style rose in popularity throughout the historic district. Its influence was visible not only in white Ayden but also in the African-American community, which was expanding on the south side of town. Here, bungalow elements shaped domestic architecture into the early 1940s. The traditional triple-pile, gable-front shotgun house, which had been erected as low-cost rental housing since the inception of Ayden's African-American district, persisted during the 1920s and 1930s with such simple bungalow-style traits as exposed rafters, knee braces, engaged porches, and porch posts on brick piers. Larger gable-front cottages with similar bungalow elements represented owner-occupied dwellings in the black community. While the great majority of black residences had weatherboard exteriors, a distinctive row of low hip-roofed, double-pile rental cottages appeared in the early 1940s with cast-stone veneers.
In white sections of town, generally larger and fuller interpretations of the bungalow style appeared on previously undeveloped lots on Second and Third streets as well as along adjacent streets, where rows of bungalows marked residential expansion. An outstanding example is the ca.1923 Lloyd and Lillian Turnage House (809 West Third Street), designed by Benton & Benton Architects of Wilson and constructed by local contractor Grover McLawhorn. This spacious Westhaven residence exemplifies the bungalow style in its broad, side-gable roof with front-gable porch, exaggerated knee braces, and grouped square posts on brick piers. Other especially notable representations of the style include the 1923 C.R. Tyndall House (709 West Third Street) and the ca.1920 Dixie Cannon House (520 East Second Street), a unique version with a buff-colored brick exterior and wraparound porch consisting of paired brick posts that join to form arches just beneath the deep eaves. Simpler side-gable, hip-roofed, and gable-front bungalows, which characterize the style as it was built across the country in the 1920s, are evident along such residential streets as Snow Hill Street, Park Avenue, and Venters Street.
Residential development included not just houses, but scores of smaller outbuildings. Simple, frame gable-front and hip-roofed auto garages, many erected during the 1920s, are the most common contributing outbuilding type and represent vernacular garages built across the country in this period. A host of good examples survive in the Westhaven section, where the white middle and upper classes were constructing dwellings as well as investing in motorcars. The Ayden Historic District also has a small number of more stylish, brick-veneered garages, such as the one on the Roy Turnage House lot (157 West Third Street), in which the red-tiled roof and bungalow traits reflect the design of the residence. Among the other contributing outbuildings are a small collection of playhouses, hot houses, a well house, and a guest house behind some of the more substantial dwellings, and an assortment of representative vernacular corncribs and sheds distributed throughout the historic district.
Within and adjacent to the residential areas of the Ayden Historic District are a number of intact early churches, including the ca.1915 Mount Olive Baptist Church (715 West Avenue) and the 1924 Zion Chapel Free Will Baptist Church (301 West Sixth Street) in the African-American community, and the 1933 Ayden Free Will Baptist Church (611 East Third Street), the 1941 Ayden Baptist Church (corner of East Third and Blount Streets), and the 1926 Ayden Methodist Church (309 West Third Street) serving the white community. The Mount Olive Church and Ayden Baptist Church reflect the Colonial Revival style in their red-brick exteriors, rectangular plans, and classical motifs. Mount Olive, for example, features an engaged portico with a fanlight, while Ayden Baptist is accented by a pedimented facade supported by four fluted Ionic columns. Zion Chapel, by contrast, reveals the Gothic Revival influence in its pointed-arched windows, roof parapets, and corner brick buttresses. Ayden Methodist is a rare small-town example of a Tudor Revival church. The style remains evident in the corner bell tower, which is enhanced by decorative half-timbering, and in the arcade of pointed arches along the front facade. This handsome brick church was designed by the firm of Benton & Benton.
Ayden's business district comprises buildings exemplary of early twentieth century small-town commercial and civic architecture in Pitt County. The oldest surviving commercial buildings are located along West Avenue. Built in the early 1900s, they form a one-story row of brick facades consisting of modest rectangular-shaped shops, with typical narrow, two- or three-bay storefronts and recessed entries, and flat-parapet roofs with dentil molding. On East Second Street, the compact 1906 Spear Jewelers (127 East Second Street) also represents the earlier storefronts in its one-bay brick facade, recessed entry, and prism-glass transom. As the business district expanded, larger, more decorative, two-story brick store buildings were erected, including M.M. Saul's Drugstore (133 East Second Street). This building features segmental-arched upper-story windows defined by pilasters, and a well-executed corbeled brick cornice.
After 1910, the district's most stylish commercial and civic architecture was increasingly inspired by the numerous revival styles popular nationwide. In 1915, two buildings were erected downtown that clearly illustrate this trend. The outstanding (Former) Ayden Town Hall at 109 West Avenue is a highly unusual Venetian Gothic building with a center tower embellished with sandstone brackets, and a main entry signified by a bold rounded archway. Commanding the corner of East Second and Lee street, the three-story (Former) Farmers and Merchants Bank (105-107 East Second Street) is Ayden's most imposing Colonial Revival commercial building. The brick facade is highlighted by horizontal bands of applied sandstone molding distinguishing the first floor from upper stories. In 1929, the construction of the (Former) Ayden High School (corner of Lee and Sixth streets) also reflected the adherence to nationally popular designs which was also shaping new commercial and domestic architecture in Ayden. This two-story, brick school includes restrained Beaux Arts detailing in its projecting central pavilion, paneled concrete belt course, and symmetrically arranged facade windows with flat arches and keystones.
Several garages and auto showrooms were erected in downtown Ayden during the 1910s and 1920s, as automobile ownership rapidly increased. Of note is the ca.1916 Tripp's Garage (222 East Avenue) and ca.1930 Tripp's Tire Service (220 East Avenue). The brick-veneered garage is simply treated with a molded tin cornice above segmental-arched windows. The adjacent tire service establishment has two garage bays and a storefront capped by a corbeled brick cornice. The 1929 Turnage Sales Corporation Building (114 West Third Street), originally a Chevrolet dealership, typifies small-town auto showrooms and other standard commercial architecture of the 1920s. The one-story brick facade is capped by a stepped parapet roof with concrete coping, pilasters divide the bays, and the recessed name panels are trimmed with raised brick headers.
While construction in the Ayden Historic District slowed during the 1930s, one important civic building was completed during the middle of the decade. Probably constructed with the aid of Works Progress Administration funding, the 1935 Community Building (201 East Second Street) is a one-story brick-veneered facility with a parapet roof marked by distinctive pedimented centerpiece. Its three-bay facade has an arcaded and recessed front entry with restrained decorative patterned brickwork.
Although Ayden retains few early industrial buildings, a row of 1920s Fertilizer Warehouses line the railroad corridor along West Avenue. Typical of such warehouses of this period, these functional, one-story, frame buildings have long, rectangular, gable-roofed forms, loading bays and docks, and metal sheathing.
Agreement between W. Harris and the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad Company, Pitt County Deed Book E5, p.436, 21 June 1890.
Ayden, A Progressive Community in Pitt County, North Carolina. Pamphlet. Pitt County Development Commission, 28 May 1965, Records of the Eastern Office, North Carolina Division of Archives and History-
Bishir, Catherine. North Carolina Architecture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.
Copeland, Elizabeth H., editor. Chronicles of Pitt County, North Carolina. Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Hunter Publishing Company, 1982.
Interview with Lucy Mae Barnhill, 15 December 1993.
Interview with the Blount family, 8 December 1993.
Interview with Travis Dixon, 15 December 1993.
Interview with Gratz Norcott, Jr., 15 December 1993.
Interview with Stan Little, Eastern Office, North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 18, 19 January 1994.
Notes from Interviews Conducted by Stan Little, Eastern Office, North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 24-26 April 1991.
Pitt County, North Carolina: Pitt's Towns — How They Grew. Pamphlet. Pitt County Development Commission, 5 October 1957. Records of the Eastern Office, North Carolina Division of Archives and History.
Power, Scott, editor. The Historic Architecture of Pitt County, North Carolina. n.p.: Pitt County Historical Society, Inc., 1991.
Sanborn Insurance Map of Ayden, North Carolina, 1916, 1925, and 1925-1939. New York: Sanborn Map Company, 1916, 1925, and 1925-1939.
Survey and Planning Branch. North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History. Survey Files for the Town of Ayden created by Sarah Boat, 1989.
U.S. Department of Commerce. Bureau of the Census. U.S. census, population schedule, Pitt County, North Carolina, 1920.
‡Richard L. Mattson and Frances P. Alexander, Architectural Historians, Mattson, Alexander and Associates, Ayden Historic District, Pitt County, North Carolina, nomination document, 1994, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
1st Street East • 1st Street West • 2nd Street East • 2nd Street West • 3rd Street East • 3rd Street West • 4th Street West • 5th Street • 6th Street East • 6th Street West • Blount Street • Boulevard Street • Cannon Street • College Street West • East Avenue • Lee Street • McCary Street • McKinley Street • Park Avenue • Pitt Street • Planters Street • Route 102 • Snow Hill Street • Venters Street • West Avenue