Photo: Home in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District, Greenville, SC. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Photographed by User:Tradewinds (own work), 2014, [cc-by-3.0 (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed September, 2016.
The Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
The Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District is located just west of downtown Greenville and north of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive (formerly Fifth Street), the locally-significant district contains a mix of nationally popular architectural styles and vernacular house forms common to suburbs that developed in North Carolina in the first half of the twentieth century. Although the period of significance begins with the earliest marker in Cherry Hill Cemetery, the circa 1882 Glenn-Pender-Moore House (510 West Fourth Street), a weatherboard I-house with vernacular references to Italianate design, is the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District's oldest dwelling. More than three quarters of the resources date from around 1900 through 1940 with some post-World War II houses interspersed. Dwellings executed in the Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Craftsman, Period Cottage, and Minimal Traditional styles is the predominant property type.
The Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District also meets criterion in the area of community planning and development. The district encompasses Skinnerville, platted in 1882 as Greenville's first suburban development and Greenville Heights, a subdivision laid out in 1907. While development of Skinnerville started in the 1880s, both suburbs were built-out gradually. By the mid-1940s, only infill lots and lots on the district's far northwest streets were left open for Minimal Traditional dwellings, apartment buildings, and a few Ranch houses which illustrate the neighborhood's continued viability. Skinnerville was developed by local attorney, politician, and businessman Harry Skinner within an easy walk of Greenville's central business district. Greenville Heights is considerably farther away from downtown, making the suburb's development nearly dependent on car ownership, and as a result, the development did not see many new homes until the 1920s. The Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District owes much of its growth to Greenville's tobacco market which generated economic prosperity from the early 1890s into the mid-twentieth century and to East Carolina University, which was established in 1907 as the East Carolina Teachers Training School. In fact, Greenville Heights' developers waited to advertise their plans until after the city had secured the college. The Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District encompasses 272 primary buildings, structures, sites, and objects, of which eighty-three percent are contributing resources. The E.B. Ficklen House (508 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive; NR, 1980) and the Jesse Moye House (408 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive; NR, 1997) are already listed in the National Register.
Historical Background: A Brief History of Greenville
In 1761, North Carolina's legislators created Pitt County from Beaufort County and named the new county in honor of William Pitt, the British secretary of state. In 1774, a courthouse, jail, and stocks were built on land granted to the county by the widow of local landowner Richard Evans who was a member of the General Assembly from 1768 to 1769 and again in 1771. County leaders established a town called Martinsborough in honor of the colony's royal governor, Josiah Martin. After the Revolution, the town adopted the more patriotic name of Greenesville, honoring the American war hero General Nathaniel Greene. Eventually, Greenville became the preferred spelling.
Initially, the county's governmental operations did not have a great impact on Greenville's development. Attorneys and judges rarely established homes and offices in the town and businesses catering to visitors were few. By the 1850s, however, during North Carolina's agricultural boom years, Greenville's commercial importance expanded as area farmers prospered. On the eve of the Civil War, doctors, lawyers, merchants, builders, a silversmith, and even two architects called Greenville home.
Following a post-Civil War decline, Greenville's population rebounded to almost two thousand by 1890 and continued climbing in the early twentieth century, reaching 5,772 by 1920. As in other North Carolina locales, industrialization and the railroad fueled much of this expansion. Greenville's first train crossed the Tar River in 1890, and, according to one observer, "Greenville awoke to a new era of progress, thirst, and energy." The line, a branch of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, linked Halifax and Kinston. Meanwhile, nationwide demand for tobacco and farmers' increasing desires to diversify prompted Pitt County farmers to trade their cotton seeds for tobacco plants, and Greenville became a tobacco trading center with warehouses and prizeries or prizehouses where tobacco was packed, or "prized," into hogsheads for transport. In 1891, the city's first tobacco market opened and sold 225,000 pounds of tobacco. The following year, the market sold one million additional pounds. By the early twentieth century, Greenville was the third largest tobacco market in the world.
During the first decade of the twentieth century, Greenville evolved rapidly. Entrepreneurs opened a bank, an opera house, and a horse racing track. Subscription to the telephone company, established in 1897, expanded, and in 1905, the city created public utilities to supply residents with water, electricity, and sewage disposal. Citizens formed a graded school system and built schools for white children (at the present site of Sheppard Memorial Library) and African American pupils (on Fleming Street). In 1907, Greenville won a bid to become the home of the new East Carolina Teachers Training School by earmarking tax dollars to supplement the state's appropriation for the institution's construction. By that same year, the city could boast of graded streets, "unusually good sewerage equipment," electrical service for both commercial and residential use, and a modern water-works.
Greenville's economy continued expanding in the 1910s. The Cabinet Veneer Company opened between 1905 and 1911 on land flanked by the Atlantic Coastline Railroad tracts and Cherry Hill Cemetery, while several other industries opened their doors before 1920. Those included the Export Leaf Tobacco Company, Farmville Oil and Fertilizer Company, Pitt Lumber Company, W.H. Dail Jr. Brick Yard, Greenville Cooperage and Lumber Company, Greenville Oil and Fertilizer Factory, Greenville Cotton Mills, several machine shops, and an ever-increasing number of tobacco factories and warehouses.
At the beginning of the 1920s, the East Carolina Teachers Training School became East Carolina Teachers College, and during the 1920s, one third of the dwellings in Skinnerville-Greenville Heights were constructed. But most of the 1920s were not pleasant years for Greenville. By 1923, the four railroads serving the town put an end to the local river-based shipping industry, and the last freight shipment steamed out of Greenville bound for Tarboro. In addition, falling agricultural prices plagued Pitt County farmers and Greenville merchants throughout the 1920s. The Great Depression worsened conditions.
Because the financial solvency of many residents of Pitt County and Greenville already stood on shaky ground before the market's crash in 1929, economic development nearly halted in Greenville during the Depression. Destitute families could come to the courthouse once a week for food distribution and the Carolina Shippers Association, an organization founded in Wilson in 1925, moved its headquarters to Greenville in 1933 with an aim to reinvigorate trade on the Tar River. The group dredged the river and built a new landing called Port Terminal near Hardee's Creek, and although their efforts created short-term jobs, shipping did not return to the Tar.
Meanwhile, building in Skinnerville-Greenville Heights nearly ceased. Only three houses went up in Skinnerville-Greenville Heights between 1930 and 1935. Nineteen more were constructed as recovery began in the late 1930s, but when compared with the 1920s when about seventy new buildings went up in the district and the fifteen years between 1940 and 1955 when nearly one hundred houses and outbuildings were built, construction was almost negligible.
After World War II, Greenville, like other municipalities, enjoyed renewed prosperity as the post-war economy sparked industrial expansion and a nationwide economic upturn. Construction on a new hospital, Pitt Memorial Hospital, to replace Pitt Community, started in 1947. As car ownership became more common and roads improved, passenger trains stopped in Greenville less frequently and service ended completely in 1958. Commerce, stymied by wartime conservation, grew once again and manufacturers established industries in Greenville that made or packed pharmaceuticals, eggs, meat, boats, fertilizer, and batteries. Business leaders also recognized the need to diversify the city's tobacco-based economy and as early as the late 1950s took steps to recruit replacement industries. The state created the Pitt County Industrial Development Commission which created three thousand new jobs and landed Union Carbide and Fieldcrest plants in the county.
In 1965, passage of the Voting Rights Act brought racial hostility in Greenville to the forefront of local events and politics. Greenville and Pitt County schools began the process of integration in the 1960s, but protests, boycotts, and underlying tension plagued Greenville through the late 1960s and into the early 1970s. In 1972, a plain-clothes police officer shot an African American man who resisted arrest on West Fifth Street, now called Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The incident nearly sparked a riot, but it also marked the end of the turmoil of the previous seven years.
Also during the 1960s, businesses began moving out of downtown Greenville as did whites living in central Greenville's older neighborhoods, including Skinnerville-Greenville Heights. Suburbs spread new residential and commercial buildings into previously undeveloped countryside while urban renewal projects removed many historic buildings from the city's center. Urban renewal in Greenville began in 1961 with the Shore Drive Area Project which cleared substandard houses and other buildings from almost fifty-eight acres between the city's downtown and the Tar River. Other urban renewal and demolition activities removed the first Pitt Community Hospital, several large homes on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, the late 1920s First Presbyterian Church, and the State Bank and Trust Building, a flatiron building constructed at the city's five points intersection in 1914.
Meanwhile, the teacher's college, renamed East Carolina College in 1951, emerged as North Carolina's third largest institute of higher education by 1960. As a result, the school's physical plant expanded with the construction of ten new buildings and the renovation of eight older buildings between 1940 and 1960. The college became East Carolina University in 1967 and merged into the University of North Carolina system in 1971. By 1991, over 16,500 students, faculty, and staff populated the campus.
Today, 60,476 people live in Greenville. The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University graduated its first class in 1981. It is Pitt County's largest employer and operates one of the best hospitals in the state, which, in addition to providing better health care for the state's eastern region, fosters continued economic growth in the city. Education and health care, rather than tobacco sales and manufacturing dominate the city's economy and many current downtown development projects are focused on preserving historic buildings rather than clearing land.
The History and Growth of Skinnerville and Greenville Heights
In 1833, Greenville's Methodists purchased half an acre of land from Tillman R. Cherry for the construction of a church and cemetery on the south side of West Second Street, just west of Pitt Street. Five years later, the Episcopalians built a church with a cemetery on Pitt Street near the Methodists. Both stood on land that now constitutes Cherry Hill Cemetery which is one of the city's oldest extant burial grounds and the oldest historic resource in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District. The earliest marked burial in the cemetery dates from 1845.
Throughout the antebellum period and into Reconstruction, land in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District, aside from that occupied by the churches, was improved and unimproved farmland, much of which belonged to Tillman R. Cherry. In 1872, Cherry donated a tract of land west and north of the Episcopal and Methodist churches on Pitt and Second Streets to the city of Greenville for use as a cemetery for whites and African Americans.
Also during this period, Harry Skinner, a Perquimans County native, completed law school at the University of Kentucky. After graduating in 1875, Skinner moved to Greenville and established himself as a business and law partner with L.C. Latham. In 1878, Skinner won a seat on the town council and married Lottie Monteiro from Roanoke, Virginia. Before Mrs. Skinner's death in 1888, the couple had four children: Winifred, Harry Jr., Ella, and Lottie.
In 1879, a year after Harry and Lottie wed, Skinner and Latham purchased a fifteen-acre tract on the western edge of Greenville's city limit, south of Cherry Hill Cemetery, from Tillman R. and Sallie Ann Cherry. On January 26, 1882, the Eastern Reflector reported that Captain H.F. Price was surveying and laying off lots on Skinner's land and that some lots had been sold. The newly platted subdivision, called Skinnerville, occupied ten city blocks bounded by Third, Fifth, Vance, and Pitt Streets. Skinner's brother, Charles, purchased one of the lots and completed a house in 1883.
It is not clear if Harry Skinner lived in the neighborhood from its earliest stages or not. The Eastern Reflector reported the destruction of Skinner's home by fire in February 1884, but it does not say where the dwelling stood. The next year, the Reflector noted that Skinner was rebuilding, but again it does not indicate the house's location. However, city directories, Sanborn maps, and a 1907 photograph of the house reveal that Skinner's rambling picturesque cottage with steep gables with decorative vergeboards and a square three-story tower stood in Skinnerville on West Fourth Street. Several other homes went up while Harry Skinner practiced law, served on the staff of Governor Thomas J. Jarvis, and began considering runs for state and federal political offices. In 1891, following in his father's and grandfather's footsteps, Skinner ran for and won a seat in the state house of representatives. As a Populist, he represented the first legislative district from 1894 to 1898.
Meanwhile, north of Skinnerville, Cherry Hill Cemetery underwent a few changes. During the 1880s, both churches on the property sold their buildings to other congregations that moved the sanctuaries to new sites. In 1898, the churches transferred their cemeteries to the city, which incorporated that property into the municipal cemetery created from Cherry's 1872 donation.
Since it was platted in 1882, lots in Skinnerville had been selling slowly, but in 1899, a court order forced Skinner to auction the remaining lots. The legal notice announcing the sale described the lots as being in "West Greenville or Skinnerville" and went on to describe them as the "most desirable and practically the only residence lots on the market within the corporate limits of Greenville." The auction and Greenville's growing professional and executive classes spurred further development in west Greenville and fostered a building boom in the neighborhood that lasted until the Great Depression.
Skinnerville contained a long rectangular block east of the railroad tracks and square blocks, each divided into four square lots, west of the tracks between Elizabeth, Vance, Third, and Fifth Streets. Skinner continued the city's east-west numbered streets into his subdivision and added Ward Street between Fifth and Fourth Streets. Ward Street may take its name from the division of the city into wards, but it is likely a reference to Skinner's mother, Elmira, whose maiden name was Ward. Contentnea Street was originally named Jarvis, presumably in honor of Thomas Jordan Jarvis for whom Skinner had worked while Jarvis served as Lieutenant Governor under Z.B. Vance. Vance Street is likely named for Governor Vance.
In June 1907, J.L. Bunting of Norfolk, Virginia, and his partners in the United Development Corporation, also based in Norfolk, purchased property to the west of Skinnerville and started preparing the tract for sale as Greenville Heights. In "Greater Greenville," a July 1907 supplement to Greenville's local newspaper, the Eastern Reflector, the United Development Corporation ran a full-page ad that introduced the Norfolk real estate dealers and presented a plat of the subdivision that included a park along the Tar River. Davis Street, one block west of Skinnerville's western edge, served as the subdivision's eastern boundary. The Tar River to the north, Tyson Street to the west, and Ward Street to the south formed the other edges. Greenville Heights contained rectangular blocks with narrow rectangular lots addressing the east-west streets. While spectacular dwellings such as the Ficklen House on Fifth Street, were not built in Greenville Heights, several imposing Queen Anne houses along with many Craftsman Bungalows and substantial transitional Craftsman-Colonial Revival dwellings line its thoroughfares.
The success of Greenville Heights and Skinnerville directly reflected the city's growth as a tobacco market and regional educational center and illustrated a national increase in urban population and a trend towards suburban development that began in the mid-1800s when Frederick Law Olmsted emerged as the country's preeminent landscape architect. His designs for Central Park in Manhattan (1857), Prospect Park in Brooklyn (1866), and a suburban town plan near Chicago called Riverside (1869) promoted the use of curvilinear streets, naturalistic landscapes, and the use of land that was too hilly or rugged to be considered desirable previously. Additionally, in 1893, the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition (for which Olmsted was the landscape architect) showcased classically inspired architecture and Beaux Arts design that precipitated the City Beautiful Movement. Together, City Beautiful and Olmsted's landscape ideals advanced urban planning as a method of creating cleaner, well-organized cities with parks, grand boulevards, and suburbs. Although Skinnerville-Greenville Heights is laid out on a relatively flat grid, its primary design principles of large lots in a formally subdivided tract set apart from downtown are local interpretations of national suburban design trends.
This new interest in planning and beautification coincided with population growth particularly in industrializing New South towns and cities. In Greenville, the 1880 population stood at just over 900, but by 1900, it reached 2,565, an increase of about 180%, prompting the Eastern Reflector to cite the city in 1907 as "a striking example of the rapid development of small cities in North Carolina during the past fifteen years." Over the next two decades the population more than doubled to 5,772 in 1920.
Greenville, however, was not the only North Carolina town experiencing such expeditious growth. The majority of North Carolina's cities saw their populations expand rapidly during the late nineteenth century and double or triple between 1900 and 1930. As people moved to Charlotte and Greensboro to work in the textile mills, to Winston-Salem and Durham for textile and tobacco manufacturing jobs, and to Wilmington for shipping and railroad work, many newcomers made their homes in freshly platted suburbs and mill villages in or adjacent to these municipalities. In Greenville, the major employers were tobacco warehouses and tobacco factories, and after its opening in 1907, the East Carolina Teachers Training School, which eventually became East Carolina University. Banks, construction firms, restaurants, county government, and retail outlets also created even more opportunities for a regular paycheck.
Most people inundating towns and cities during this time were from rural areas: farmers and farm laborers tired of scratching a living from poor land. Newcomers had to adjust to the noise, pollution, and rigid working hours that accompanied urbanity. Furthermore, the ancient notion of the city as a "den of iniquity" and the countryside as healthy became more firmly entrenched every time a technological advance increased the pace of city life. In reaction, urban planning that idealized separation of commercial and residential uses — as well as the separation of classes and races — took on an unprecedented importance, particularly once it was facilitated by transportation improvements. Industry, commerce, and homemaking were each given their own sector of town, with homes preferably built along tree-lined streets. Suburban lawns and shade were meant to create a sanctuary for the urbanite and bring a bit of the country to those with memories of a farm or crossroads town. Planners based "rural" residential retreats that were within or close to a city in large part on nineteenth century cemeteries and parks: their curving drives, trees, flowers, planned vistas, and sculpture were meant to provide relief from the city's gray stone, steel, and concrete. Towards the end of the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth century, the advent of streetcars and better transportation made it possible for developers to build houses in similar park-like settings carved from outlying open land previously inconveniently distant from downtown.
In Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District, trees and commodious lawns contribute to the developments' suburban character despite the area's straight streets. The park laid out along the Tar River as part of the Greenville Heights plan has been lost through flooding and neglect, but its presence in the original design descends directly from the ideals driving garden suburbs and the City Beautiful Movement. Although Cherry Hill Cemetery incorporated a grid-plan rather than curving Olmstedian drives, its open space creates a parklike buffer between the district's northeast corner and downtown. Additionally, the cemetery's close proximity and the park in Greenville Heights provided residents with green oases.
During the first two decades of the twentieth century, Skinnerville and Greenville Heights saw their most rapid development. By 1910, commodious and rambling Queen Anne and Colonial Revival homes for some of Greenville's most prominent business leaders lined Fifth Street (now Martin Luther King Jr. Drive) between Pitt and Elizabeth Streets. Sanborn maps for the Skinnerville area and city directories for the entire city were not produced before 1916, but the Sanborn map from that year shows a few shotguns and smaller rental houses on Third Street between Pitt Street and the railroad; four larger houses on Third Street to the west of the railroad; a small number of substantial dwellings on Fourth Street; and the four blocks bounded by Fifth Street, Jarvis (Contentnea Street), Fourth Street, and Elizabeth Street as being nearly built-out. A small number of houses had been constructed to the west of Jarvis (Contentnea Street).
By 1923, new houses had been constructed on Fourth and Ward Streets to the west of Vance Street in the area platted as Greenville Heights, and a few additional small rental houses had been built on Third Street. The 1929 Sanborn map shows construction occurring between older homes on the east-west streets in Skinnerville and Greenville Heights with a few houses going up on the north-south streets.
By the time the 1929 Sanborn map was updated in 1946, the original lots of Skinnerville and the smaller lots subdivided from those initial four-lot blocks were nearly full. In Greenville Heights, more dwellings stood along the streets south of Colonial Avenue, which had been extended one block east to meet a one-block extension of Contentnea Street. These street extensions occurred on former farm land, much of which became part of the Third Street School property. Development in Greenville Heights had not yet reached Fairfax Avenue, the subdivision's northernmost street, but as the post-war era progressed, more homes were built along that street as well. By the mid-1950s, most of the lots in Skinnerville-Greenville Heights were occupied with older houses standing closer to downtown and Fifth Street (Martin Luther King Jr. Drive), new houses clustered on the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District's western edge, and new houses standing as infill among earlier dwellings.
Skinnerville-Greenville Heights residents who lived in the neighborhood throughout the district's period of significance came from a variety of backgrounds. In addition to Skinnerville's developer, Harry Skinner, prominent homeowners included Edwin B. Ficklen, Charles Laughinghouse, and Albion Dunn. Ficklen, a native of Danville, Virginia, where he had been involved in the tobacco business, came to Greenville in the 1890s. He emerged as one of the town's principal tobacconists and established E.B. Ficklen Tobacco Company, which survived into the 1960s. The residence of physician Charles Laughinghouse, who was instrumental in organizing and building Pitt Community Hospital, stood at the corner of Pitt Street and Fourth Street until fire destroyed it in 1996. Laughinghouse's ownership of a 1916 Haynes roadster reflected the association of car-ownership with suburban living. In 1915, attorney Albion Dunn and his wife built the house at 707 West Fourth Street. Dunn was an attorney and served two terms as Greenville's mayor in 1915 and 1917.
Most Skinnerville residents, however, were not elected officials, prominent business owners, doctors, or lawyers. In the 1910s, a mother and daughter, both named Fannie More, lived at 210 Pitt Street where Miss More was a dressmaker. Around 1920, John F. Stokes, an insurance agent, and his wife, Jessie, lived at 507 West Fourth Street while their next door neighbors, Frank and Eunice Diener at 509 West Fourth Street, owned People's Bakery. Robert Hill of 205 Davis Street worked at W and L Department store in the late 1920s. Also during the 1920s, African Americans lived in rental property along West Third Street, between Pitt Street and the railroad corridor. This African American enclave included a Primitive Baptist Church, but in the late 1940s and early 1950s, landlords replaced these dwellings with new rental housing occupied mostly by whites, although a few African Americans remained on the block. By around 1960, however, African American tobacco workers, laborers, cooks, and domestics reoccupied the entire block.
Most home buyers in the district after World War II were blue- and white-collar white employees; occasionally, the woman of the house also worked outside the home. Just after the war concluded, Nimon and Dorothy Hatem moved into their Minimal Traditional house at 100 Davis Street. Mrs. Hatem was a sales clerk at Blount-Harvey Department Store while her husband was an agent at the Union Bus Station. Farther south on Davis Street, machine operators, a beautician, and a mechanic occupied rental property built in the early 1950s. Vernon Grove, a superintendent with National Carbon Company, and his wife Doris lived next door to fellow National Carbon Company employee, Kenneth Whiteley, and his wife Jessie. The Whiteley and Grove houses, nearly identical Minimal Traditional cottages, were built about 1946 in the 700 block of West Third Street.
As early as the 1950s, however, the socioeconomic and racial composition of Skinnerville-Greenville Heights began shifting as home ownership decreased, white residents moved to newer suburbs, and African Americans moved into previously white-owned dwellings. Historically, rental properties and African American residents were not foreign to Skinnerville-Greenville Heights. A small number of rental properties stood in the neighborhood from as early as the 1910s, including a two-story Craftsman duplex built around 1927 at 408 West Fourth Street. New duplexes replaced earlier rental property in the 1950s on West Third Street between Pitt Street and the railroad corridor, but throughout the district, larger apartments sprang up and previously white-owned, single-family dwellings were subdivided and usually rented by African American tenants. The John W. and Emily Turnage House, a one-story cottage built around 1910 at 903 West Third Street, was split into two apartments in the early 1950s. During the 1960s and 1970s, developers erected apartment buildings and duplexes, usually on vacant lots, throughout the district. On Martin Luther King Jr. Drive the rambling Queen Anne and Colonial Revival houses had become derelict. In 1960, the Latham-Skinner House at 418 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive was demolished for a two-story, brick apartment building. Two doors down, a one-story brick apartment building replaced another sizeable early twentieth century dwelling.
East Carolina University's growth also affected Skinnerville-Greenville Heights. In 1971, the Blount family sold the 1933 Judson H. Blount House at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Elizabeth Street to the Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity. By the early 1980s, the Sigma Tau Gamma Fraternity had leased the E.B. Ficklen House, and the Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity now occupies the James and Lucy Ficklen house at 409 Elizabeth Street.
Meanwhile, the neighborhood's upper income white residents continued leaving so that the neighborhood was predominantly African American by the mid-1960s. A 1966 Neighborhood Analysis Report penned by the State Department of Conservation and Development for the city's planning and zoning commission found that the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights area, as well as numerous other African American neighborhoods, was blighted. In the report, Skinnerville-Greenville Heights was included in an area called Biltmore-Greenville Heights that encompassed nearly 400 housing units of which over 300 were found to be in a state of major deterioration or dilapidation. Rental property made up sixty-two percent of Biltmore-Greenville Heights' housing units and incidents of crime and major fires in Biltmore-Greenville Heights were among the highest in Greenville. The neighborhood also had one of the highest numbers of residents on welfare or other public assistance.
In the last few years, the city of Greenville has taken a greater interest in the West Greenville area, including Skinnerville-Greenville Heights. The city created a Redevelopment Commission in 2002 "to promote redevelopment of the blighted areas within the territorial limits of the City of Greenville in the interest of the public health, safety, morals or welfare of the residents of the City of Greenville." In November 2004, Greenville's electorate voted in favor of $20.8 million in bonds to improve the city's streets and storm water drainage and revitalize the City Center and Skinnerville-Greenville Heights. Revitalization plans include acquiring and demolishing or renovating deteriorated buildings while planned street improvements will widen and, in some places, realign West Third Street.
The Architecture of Skinnerville and Greenville Heights
The dwellings, small outbuildings, cemetery, and school in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District represent the artistic and architectural styles and building forms that occurred in Greenville and throughout North Carolina from the late nineteenth century to the post-World War II period. During this period, architecture reflected the social and economic changes occurring as Greenville transformed from a quiet courthouse town, to a tobacco trading and manufacturing hub, and then to a regional educational center.
In the late-nineteenth century neighborhood of South Greenville, some of the city's most prominent professionals and capitalists built fashionable Victorian-era, Italianate, and Classical Revival houses befitting their status. In the city's other turn-of-the-twentieth-century neighborhoods, however, homes were modest in scale and decoration. In Cherry Hill and Perkins Town, African American neighborhoods immediately south of Fifth Street, homeowners and landlords built modest one-story houses and duplexes, some with almost no stylistic references and some with one or two decorative elements such as restrained gingerbread or simple knee braces. South of Cherry Hill and Perkins Town, the white neighborhood of Higgs developed primarily during the early twentieth century with Bungalows and some Queen Anne cottages with limited ornamentation. College View opened in 1910 adjacent to the campus of the East Carolina Teachers Training School, and contains both humble and urbane Colonial Revival and Craftsman Bungalow designs.
While a few exceptional transitional Queen Anne-Colonial Revival houses in Skinnerville-Greenville Heights, the proportion of high-style houses, modest dwellings, and houses with little or no stylistic references in the historic district is similar to that in Higgs and College View: a few sophisticated and fashionable examples of nationally-popular styles are mixed with a great number of ordinary, simple, and nearly style-less dwellings. Generally, such houses were constructed in the twentieth century as car ownership became more common and even homeowners who could not afford a high-style house had a car and could live farther from the city's commercial and industrial core.
The earliest homes in Skinnerville-Greenville Heights incorporate modest Italianate references. The Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District's oldest dwelling is the circa 1882 Glenn-Pender-Moore House located at 510 West Fourth Street. This two-story I-house features a two-story rear ell, a wide flat frieze, corner boards, and heavily molded peaked window hoods. To the south is the Foley House at 703 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. This two-story, gable-front dwelling has bracketed eaves and half-round attic vents, and although it does not appear at this location until the late 1920s, it is likely a turn-of-the-twentieth century house moved to this site.
In Skinnerville-Greenville Heights, as in South Greenville, Higgs, and College View, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and transitional designs incorporating both Queen Anne and Colonial Revival characteristics dominated taste in Greenville from the late 1800s into the 1910s and influenced designs for mansions and cottages alike. In 1903, Jesse R. and Novella Moye built a house designed for them by New Bern architect H.W. Simpson. The two-story building located at 408 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive features the projecting gables and dormers typical of Queen Anne designs combined with Palladian windows and classically inspired columns on the front porch. An imposing, but less intact example is the home George W. and Lina Baker completed in 1907 (422 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive). As originally executed, the design combined decorative Queen Anne shingles in the gable ends and turned balustrades (no longer extent) with Ionic columns (no longer extant) and a grand, imposing Colonial Revival portico with a Palladian attic window.
Queen Anne and the transitional combination of Queen Anne and Colonial Revival also made its mark on less elaborate dwellings. One-story cottages, often with side-gable roofs sometimes punctuated by a gable on the front roof slope, are found throughout the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District. The simplest examples include only a decorative gable on the front roof slope, like the circa 1910 house at 412 Latham Street, while others incorporate shingled gable ends, classically-inspired columns on the front porch, or turned porch posts and small brackets. The Fannie More House at 210 South Pitt Street was built around 1900. The one-story, transitional Queen Anne-Colonial Revival cottage features a hipped standing seam metal roof with front-facing and side-facing gable projections, two-over-two sash, and a partial-width front porch with a hipped roof, Doric columns, and pediment over central entry bay.
As Queen Anne fell out of favor, Colonial Revival emerged as the style of choice nationally during the early 1900s. New methods of mass printing developed in the early part of the century allowed for the distribution of magazines that featured photographs of Colonial Revival dwellings and helped to popularize the style. Massing and details often harkened back to the Georgian and Adam styles of early America, particularly by the 1920s and 1930s as reproduction of historic prototypes became more academic and accurate. The style became popular in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights neighborhood during the 1910s and lingered well into the post-World War II period.
Just as Colonial Revival elements blended with Queen Anne designs earlier, builders and architects also mixed Craftsman components into Colonial Revival plans. The Colonial Revival Moore-Hodges House (801 West Fourth Street) uses some Craftsman elements, such as six-over-one sash and paired porch posts, in its design. Constructed around 1919, the one-story frame house has a sunroom with wooden casement windows. Sidelights flank the front door, which is capped by an arched panel, and the shed porch features a gable with an arched ceiling over the entry bay.
About six years later, William and Zula Cowell built their house at 112 South Pitt Street. The two-story, brick, Colonial Revival dwelling has a side-gabled roof with pedimented gable ends. A one-story, gabled portico with Tuscan columns shelters the entrance while six-over-six sash illuminate the interior spaces. Its use of more classical elements such as columns and pediments shows the move towards more accurate interpretations of earlier architecture.
One of the largest examples of Colonial Revival in the neighborhood is the 1933 Judson H. Blount House at 500 Elizabeth Street. The symmetrical two-story brick house displays lower two-story wings flanking the house's main block. Three gabled dormers punctuate the side-gabled slate roof. Fluted Corinthian pilasters and a scrolled broken pediment enrich the front entrance while side porches feature Doric columns.
Just a half-block north of the Blount House is the James and Lucy Ficklen House at 409 Elizabeth Street. Built around 1935, the substantial two-and-a-half-story, Colonial Revival house has six-over-six sash with flat arches with keystones, three gable-front dormers, and a classical front-gabled portico supported by slender Tuscan columns. The entrance consists of a semi-elliptical fanlight transom and half-glazed sidelights. Original one-story side wings, with the southern wing functioning as a sun porch, complete the composition.
Other revival styles also acquired favor in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District during the 1920s and 1930s. Aspects of the Italian Renaissance Revival and Mediterranean Revival achieved fame in Greenville when former governor Thomas J. Jarvis urged architects to install red tile roofs on the Spanish-influenced buildings at the new East Carolina Teachers Training School in 1907. In the 1920s, six buildings added to the campus continued the Italian Renaissance theme with George R. Berryman as one of the architects.
The style proved particularly popular in the College View neighborhood, and in Skinnerville-Greenville Heights, the school board chose a Spanish Colonial Revival design by George R. Berryman for the new Third Street School (700 West Third Street) completed in 1929. The one-story building's exterior is yellow brick while red clay tiles finish the low-pitched gabled and hipped roofs. Tile pilasters and lintels with low-relief ornament frame the recessed entrance, and a semi-hexagonal bay projects at the west end of the facade. Additions made in 1949 and 1953 and designed by James Griffith continue the stylistic theme of the 1929 plan by incorporating low-relief ornament and decorative tiles.
The Dutch Colonial Revival style with its characteristic gambrel roof proved popular nationally in the late 1920s through the 1940s, but only two stand in Skinnerville-Greenville Heights today. Tobacconist Earle Hellen and his wife Christine purchased the lot at 302 Elizabeth Street in 1922 and likely built their Dutch Colonial Revival dwelling shortly thereafter. The two-story, frame house features a gambrel roof with a large shed dormer on the front slope, a south gable-end brick chimney, and a one-story south gable-end wing. The James and Mamie Perkins House at 1001 West Fourth Street is a later incarnation built around 1946. The two-story Perkins House is brick with a gambrel roof and large shed dormer and has a gabled portico with an arched ceiling.
During the 1920s, Tudor Revival also emerged as a nationally-popular style, but it did not have the appeal in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights neighborhood that it did in other Greenville neighborhoods such as College View [see College View Historic District] where a significant number stand. No examples exist in Skinnerville-Greenville Heights, but Period Cottages, scaled-down versions of Tudor Revival houses, appealed somewhat, although they were not built in great profusion as they were in many early twentieth century neighborhoods in North Carolina and the extant representatives generally lack architectural enrichment. The rental house at 907 West Third Street, built around 1939, is a one-and-a-half-story dwelling with a tapered chimney on the facade. The side-gable roof incorporates a gable front projection and a gable over the entry bay, which contains an arched paneled front door. The circa 1948 Willie H. and Blanche F. Tripp House at 1016 Colonial Avenue features typical architectural elements including a steeply pitched gable roof and dormers, a brick exterior, and a fanlight over the front entrance.
During the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s, middle-class families built Bungalows throughout the district, while residents of greater means erected substantial Craftsman houses. The Bungalow enjoyed national popularity in the late 1910s and 1920s and architects designed fine examples for clients from coast to coast. The style, both in high-style form and in scaled down versions, proved immensely popular in towns and suburbs across North Carolina into the early 1930s. Building plans for these houses, with their wide overhanging eaves, open arrangement of rooms, and inviting porches, appeared in national magazines and catalogs. The Bungalow was inexpensive and easy to build and appealed to families' desires for a modern house.
The Alfred M. and Nell Moseley House at 402 West Fourth Street stands as the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District's most fully realized and most well-executed Craftsman dwelling. Built around 1915, the two-story house is brick with a shingle-clad second floor exterior. Low hip dormers punctuate the low-pitched slate hip roof. Sixteen-over-one sash and wooden casement windows light the interior. The Craftsman entry includes a segmental arch transom and sidelights.
The Albion and Irma Dunn House, also built around 1915, combines Colonial Revival massing and scale with Craftsman styling. The dwelling stands at 707 West Fourth Street and like the Moseley House, features shingles on the second level above a brick lower level. Windows contain twelve-over-one sash and the eaves feature exposed rafter tails. Small, separate porches on the north and west elevations were originally connected into a larger wraparound porch, but they retain original paired posts on brick piers. Benton and Benton of Wilson designed the house for the Dunn family.
Other Craftsman dwellings in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District were smaller with less elaborate detailing. Two blocks west of the Dunn House is the Jarvis Harding House (901 West Fourth Street), probably built around 1919. The one-story, frame Craftsman Bungalow retains weatherboard siding, three-over-one sash, and sidelights and a transom at the front entry. Windows on the facade contain leaded glass in their upper sash while large shed dormers dominate the front roof slope. Battered posts on brick piers support the shed-roof, wrap-around porch.
Bungalows with varying degrees of Craftsman influence were built throughout the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District from the 1910s through the early 1950s. Some have almost no architectural detailing and are called bungalows as a reference to their size, forms, and the era of their construction. The Robert and Grace Hill House typifies such dwellings. The Hills built their house at 205 Davis Street around 1928, and aside from four-over-one sash, the one-story, gable-front dwelling features no other architectural expression. Similarly, the two 1950s duplexes at 204 and 206 New Street, clad in weatherboard siding, only display exposed rafter tails. Other modest bungalows, such as the circa 1920 Frank J. and Eunice Diener House at 509 West Third Street and the circa 1925 Roy C. Jr. and Beatrice Flanagan House at 406 Davis Street, feature more Craftsman elements such as knee braces, exposed rafter tails, porch posts on brick piers, and Craftsman windows with various light configurations in the upper sash.
During the 1930s, despite the Great Depression, some construction occurred in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District. Twenty-two extant resources were built during the decade, although all but three of those occurred during the recovery era of the late 1930s. The three built in the thick of the Depression (the ca.1933 Judson H. Blount House (500 Elizabeth Street), the circa 1935 James and Lucy Ficklen House (409 Elizabeth Street), and the circa 1932 Kinchen and Dorothy Cobb House (300 South Pitt Street)) continued classically-based Colonial Revival idioms popular in the 1920s. These families may have selected Colonial Revival designs because fewer new styles emerged during the economic crisis or because the stimuli behind the Colonial Revival's initial development in the late nineteenth century — namely an interest in and respect for American history fostered by the 1876 Centennial, the 1893 Columbian Exposition, and the circulation of photographs of colonial and early American dwellings via magazines and newspapers — continued influencing architecture.
Houses built in the recovery era were considerably simpler than earlier manifestations and usually featured modest Colonial Revival or Craftsman treatments. Mason and Annie Yates built their bungalow around 1937 at 307 Vance Street. The one-story, frame, gable-front dwelling has weatherboard siding, knee braces, and a recessed front-gable porch with original tapered posts topped by simple caps. Dewitt and Kate Phillips built a one-story, L-plan residence at 407 Contentnea Street around 1939. The house's partial-width front porch has square posts while Colonial Revival-style six-over-six sash punctuate the walls. The W. Chester and Eva B. Harris House stands at 708 West Third Street and is a more sophisticated Colonial Revival dwelling than most built during the recovery era. Constructed in 1941, this one-and-a-half-story, gable-roofed house features projecting front-gabled wings at its east and west ends with a pair of gabled dormers on the front roof slope and a cupola centered on the roof ridgeline.
When World War II ended, construction revived as wartime rationing was lifted and veterans flooded home. Many families in North Carolina and Greenville sought the comfort and reassurance of building in styles of the past such as the Colonial Revival. This held true in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights neighborhood. The modest houses built after World War II were similar to those built during the recovery period of the late 1930s: compact dwellings usually absent of architectural embellishment but occasionally displaying restrained detailing derived from Colonial Revival patterns. Most were constructed as infill among older homes, but some concentrations of post-war housing occurred in the northwest corner of the district and along Fairfax and Colonial Avenues where open lots were still available. Representing the staying power of Colonial Revival design is the C. Stuart and Elizabeth Carr House at 421 West Fourth Street. Constructed around 1945, the two-story frame dwelling is three bays wide with a centered front door and exhibits pilasters and an open pediment at the front entry, and weatherboard siding with mitered corners.
While Colonial Revival remained popular, most new houses struck a balance between modern and traditional by incorporating Colonial Revival elements in more up-to-date designs resulting in a simple, one-story dwellings with stripped-down classical elements that could be constructed quickly. The style has been termed Minimal Traditional because it uses a minimal amount of decorative elements to communicate traditional design values. The style began appearing just before the war, but proved more popular in the last half of the 1940s and into the 1950s. The circa 1949 Vance and Mary Overton House at 902 Colonial Avenue is a one-story, Minimal Traditional house with a side-gabled roof and projecting gabled bay at the east end of the facade. Six-over-six sash and a multi-light picture window illuminate the interior.
Even simpler versions of Colonial Revival-inspired Minimal Traditional dwellings were the "small houses" constructed under the influence of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Emphasis on well-designed small and affordable housing began in the 1920s and gained government support in the 1930s as the FHA sought to foster new home construction as an economic stimulus while promoting houses that people could afford during the Depression. With post-World War II demands for new houses, the same principles that made these small houses popular in the 1930s provided quickly-constructed affordable dwellings in the 1940s and 1950s. The A.G. and Pattie W. Witherington House at 1012 Colonial Avenue was constructed around 1948 and typifies the basic one-story, side-gable small house.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, the Ranch house, with its low-pitched roof and open floor plan, enjoyed popularity in the city, but with limited open lots in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights area by the mid-1950s, only a handful stand within the district. The Ranch style originated in California in the 1930s and by the middle of the century it had been adapted to meet the needs of families who desired a low-cost dwelling with a living area on one level and enough space for all its members to enjoy their privacy. Ranch houses in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District are generally side-gable dwellings with large picture windows lighting family spaces and ribbon windows, placed high on the exterior walls, punctuating the private spaces such as bedrooms and bathrooms. Most of the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District's Ranches were built along Colonial and Fairfax Avenues and on Vance Street north of Colonial Avenue where the greatest concentration of post-World War II building occurred or on infill lots among older buildings. Mack and Hortence Proctor built their Ranch around 1948 at 1016 Fairfax Avenue. The one-story house is clad with asbestos siding and sheltered with a side-gable roof. The circa 1960 dwelling at 802 Colonial Avenue features a side-gable roof and inset stoop entry.
In addition to single-family homes, developers added duplexes to Skinnerville-Greenville Heights's architectural composition during its period of significance. The circa 1927 duplex at 408 West Fourth Street is a two-story, Craftsman dwelling with two front doors and a hip-roof porch with battered posts on brick piers. On the next block to the north, duplexes lined both sides of Third Street in the early 1900s. New duplexes replaced these in the early 1950s and those on the north side of the street were torn down in the late twentieth century. The extant buildings (411, 413 and 415 West Third Street; 423, 425 and 427 West Third Street) are simple one-story, gable-front houses with full-width front porches, exposed rafter tails, and six-over-six sash.
Garages constitute the majority of the district's outbuildings. Most are one-story, gable-front, weatherboard buildings. Older garages house one narrow bay for a single car, while later examples dating from the 1940s and 1950s contain wider bays, often with space for two vehicles. Some of the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District's finest residences, particularly those built during the 1920s, came complete with matching garages to complement the dwelling. At the circa 1928 Lawrence A. Stroud House at 410 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, the two-story, hipped roof, Colonial Revival-Craftsman brick house features a one-story, brick, hipped-roof garage with one narrow bay. When Alfred and Nell Moseley built their commodious Craftsman home at 402 West Fourth Street around 1915, they also built a one-story frame garage with a gable-on-hip roof, shingled exterior, and wooden casement windows to match the main dwelling.
The Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District also contains Greenville's nineteenth century municipal cemetery, Cherry Hill Cemetery, located on the west side of Pitt Street at First and Second Streets. Cherry Hill is the city's oldest extant burying ground and its largest and most elaborate nineteenth-century cemetery. The earliest markers are in the southeast corner near the location of two antebellum churches. A section reserved for African American burials is located in the cemetery's northwest corner and is loosely divided from the white section by sparse shrubs. Cherry Hill Cemetery is significant for its funerary art, which is Greenville's best and largest collection of nineteenth and twentieth century grave markers. Elegant obelisks, delicate angels, some weeping and some with more hopeful expressions, and fabric-draped urns, all executed in marble, mark the final resting places for many prominent members of Greenville society. Granite tablets raised up on low pillars, flat granite tablets on the ground, marble and stone standing tablets, and fanciful concrete tree trunks also memorialize people from various walks of life in the section reserved for Caucasians. In the African American section, marbles, seashells, and glass enrich a collection of less elaborated but equally artistic concrete tablets.
The Spanish Colonial Revival Third Street School represents the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District's only other property type. Third Street School is significant as one of only two remaining early-twentieth century school buildings in Greenville. As such it is a representative of educational trends and theory of the 1920s and of Greenville's prosperity during that era. Additionally, its Spanish Colonial Revival architecture is unique in Greenville and is directly related to the Renaissance Revival buildings constructed on the East Carolina University campus in the early twentieth century. Greenville's only other early twentieth century school building, the former West Greenville Grammar School, now known as the Agnes Fullilove School, is used as a community center. The 1924 Colonial Revival school stands at the corner of Chestnut Street and Manhattan Avenue in the Higgs neighborhood.
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‡ Cynthia de Miranda, Jennifer Martin and Sarah Woodard, Edwards-Pitman Environmental, Inc., Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District, nomination document, 2005, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
3rd Street West • 4th Street West • 5th Street West • Colonial Avenue • Contentnea Street • Davis Street • Elizabeth Street • Fairfax Avenue • Latham Street • Martin Luther King Jr Drive • New Street • Pitt Street South • Vance Street • Ward Street • White Street