West Main-North Chesnutt Streets Historic District
The West Main-North Chesnutt Streets Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2012, The Gombach Group.
The West Main-North Chesnutt Streets Historic District comprises the oldest residential sections in Clinton. The district's thirty-nine pivotal and contributing structures illustrate the lifestyle of the town's oldest and most prominent families from the 1830's until the early 1900's. The various structures, a pleasant mixture of 19th century frame and early 20th brick dwellings, are located along sections of five streets and are visually linked by the pivotal houses to the West Main-North Chesnutt Streets core. This section was the town's first fashionable residential section, and it was here that the earliest merchants and leaders built their residences. It was not until the 1850's when another section, along College Street [see College Street Historic District], could begin to compete with the West Main-North Chesnutt Streets District as the town's most fashionable neighborhood. In this district is the town's oldest house, the Richard Clinton Holmes House (302 West Main Street), built by 1826 and enlarged in the mid 1830's, and six large antebellum Greek Revival houses dating from the early 1830's until 1856. Two of these were remodeled in the 1910's into the Classical Revival style. The earliest and finest of the Greek Revival houses is the Alfred Johnson House (109 North Chestnut Street), built in the early 1830's by a merchant from Connecticut; the academic, temple form house apparently introduced the Greek Revival style, then so popular in the North, into Sampson County. Several charming post Civil War Greek Revival cottages, the county's only academic Victorian residence, a large ca.1885 house with a handsome lattice porch and two charming, frame Victorian cottages complete the West Main-North Chesnutt Streets Historic District's 19th century. Numerically, the majority of the district's structures are the many small dwellings, built from 1910 until the mid 1930's, which illustrate the varied and picturesque qualities of the Clinton's West Main-North Chesnutt-West Johnson Street district was the first important residential neighborhood in the town. The neighborhood developed along with the town in the period from 1830 until 1860 and was clearly established as the most important residential area in town by the end of the antebellum period. Many of the earliest homes were built by and for important members of the county's mercantile, farming and professional families.
Sampson County was formed from Duplin County in 1784. A courthouse was built shortly thereafter on land in the present limits of Clinton. For many years little more existed in the area than the courthouse and a nearby post office operated by Richard Clinton. In 1818, the General Assembly authorized the incorporation of "Clinton Courthouse" as a town. This incorporation did not actually occur until 1822, however, by which time "Courthouse" had been dropped from the name.
One of the first houses built in the newly incorporated county seat was the Richard Clinton Holmes house, the oldest house still standing in Clinton. Holmes (1802-1884) was the son of Owen Holmes, longtime Sampson County Register of Deeds and a prominent landowner, and Ann Clinton Holmes, a daughter of Richard Clinton, for whom the town was named. In 1824, Richard Holmes married Isabelle Hall. Shortly thereafter he built his Federal style home with the assistance of contractor Thomas Lee, a recent arrival from Connecticut. In the middle of the 1830s, Holmes expanded the house with a Greek Revival addition. Both Richard and Ann Holmes were active Episcopalians and their house hosted the first services of St. Paul's Parish prior to the erection of a permanent church. Holmes was a large landowner. The 1860 census credits him with real estate valued at $12,000 and a personal estate, including 53 slaves, valued at $38,000. He was one of the largest cotton growers in antebellum Sampson County, with an 1860 production of 5,600.
Contractor and farmer Thomas Lee was born in Connecticut in 1803. It is not certain when he arrived in Clinton but he apparently was in the city no later than the mid 1820s. This makes him perhaps the first of a modest but influential influx of New Englanders into Clinton in this period. In the early 1830s, a number of Connecticut cousins made Clinton their home. One of these was Alfred Johnson (1809-1873), a native of Middletown, Connecticut. Johnson first attempted to settle in Sampson County near Lisbon but ended up in Clinton where, sometime in the early to middle 1830s, he constructed the first Greek Revival house in the county. Johnson was a merchant. The 1860 census credits him with a personal estate valued at $26,000 in 1860. Arriving with Johnson was his cousin and his brother-in-law, L.G. Hubbard, also a merchant. Built slightly later is the Warren Johnson home (207 N. Chestnut Street). Johnson (1822-1895) was a native of Massachusetts who built his Greek Revival home in 1847. Johnson was also a Clinton businessman. These fine houses built by recent arrivals from New England caused the neighborhood to be widely known as "Yankee Row."
Technically not a "Yankee" but still a newcomer to Clinton was Dr. William Micks, whose house was built in 1851. A native of Virginia, Dr. Micks was a Norfolk physician who moved to Clinton due to the ill health of his wife. When his wife died in 1857, she was the first burial in the Clinton town cemetery. His personal estate, including 27 slaves, was valued at $28,000 in 1860.
A number of other prominent houses were built during the antebellum period. The McGill-Johnson-Crumpler House (204 West Johnson Street) was built in the early 1840s for Neil McGill, a Clinton merchant. The Amma Chesnutt House (201 N. Chestnut Street) was built around 1847 for Chesnutt (1806-1887). Chesnutt was sheriff of Sampson County in 1850 and was a business partner of Alfred Johnson's for a time. In 1860, he owned real estate valued at $13,000 and a personal estate valued at $24,980. Chesnutt owned almost 600 acres of farmland in the county. The Allmond Holmes House (311 West Main Street) was built in the middle 1850s. Holmes (born 1831) was the son of Richard Clinton Holmes. A physician, he studied medicine under the tutelage of his neighbor, Dr. Micks. Like his father, Allmond Holmes was a large landowner. The 1860 census shows him with over 500 acres producing 1,500 bushels of corn, 800 bushels of rice, 800 pounds of cotton, and 71 tons of hay. Holmes owned 57 slaves in 1860.
These houses dating from the mid 1820s to the mid 1850s are indicative of the slow but steady growth of Clinton, which had a population of 204 in 1870. The town had little industry to speak of but, in addition to its importance as county seat, it had become the trade center for much of the area. The town limits were expanded in 1834 and again in 1852, the latter expansion extending the town limits to one half mile from the courthouse in all directions.
The Civil War and the post war reconstruction devastated Sampson County and Clinton. Surprisingly, however, three important houses were built in the area during the immediate post war period: the William G. Hubbard House (317 W. Main Street) in 1865, the Amma Johnson House (320 W. Main Street) in 1868, and the R.H. Hubbard House (508 Fayetteville Street) in 1870. The most important of these was the Johnson House, the county's only academic Victorian house. Amma Ferdinand Johnson (1845-1921) was the oldest child of Alfred Johnson. Like his father, he was a Clinton merchant who also built a crate and veneer factory in the town. His son, Ferdinand Johnson (1876-1970), was in business with his father's mercantile firm, A.F. Johnson and Son, and later inherited the house. The William G. Hubbard House was built for Hubbard and his wife, Bessie Holmes Hubbard, by her father, Dr. Allmond Holmes. The R.H. Hubbard House was built for Hubbard, a Clinton merchant who served as the town's mayor in the 1880s. Also constructed in the 1870s was the Rackley House (103 N. Chestnut Street), built in 1875 for William G. Rackley (born 1851), a Clinton merchant.
In addition to the economic problems caused by the Civil War, Clinton had other problems in the 1870s. On the night of March 27, 1877, a major fire destroyed most of the business section of the town. The fire did not spread to the major residential sections of town, but a number of the leading citizens of the Main Street neighborhood suffered major business losses. Most notably, the A.F. Johnson store, valued at $3,000 and insured for only half that, was completely demolished.
Clinton survived this fire and subsequent fires in 1892 and 1894 and continued its slow growth. The population of the town more than tripled in the decade from 1870 until 1880, up to 620. By 1900, Clinton had a population of 958. A number of prominent houses were constructed in the area during the 1880s. The Johnson-Alderman House (204 W. Main Street) was built in 1880 for William H. Johnson (born 1838), a Clinton carpenter. Three houses are constructed around 1885. The Jeremiah Pearsall (1844-1919) House (100 W. Johnson Street) was built for Pearsall, the brother-in-law of Amma Ferdinand Johnson. The Joe Royal House (500 Fayetteville Street) was built for Royal (born 1852), a local merchant, while the Johnson-Caison House (104 W. Johnson Street) was built for Carson Johnson. The 1840's McGill House (204 W. Johnson Street) was purchased in 1881 and expanded soon afterwards by William A. Johnson (born 1854), a merchant.
In 1889, Marian Butler, editor of The Caucasian and a future United States Senator, published a lengthy article in his newspaper on the recent growth in Clinton. Butler wrote: "Clinton with its remarkable improvements is...a revelation to the visitor.... Walk up any street...and your eye falls upon something new. For nearly a half century Main Street has witnessed no change but behold the changes during the last four years!...Note the improvements at the Dr. Micks old homestead, also at the homestead of the late Richard Holmes, which has been bought by Mr. T.J. Lee. Next the new neat cottage home of W.G. Hubbard.... At the end of this street is also the famous Carolina Veneer Works, built last spring by the large hearted and public spirited proprietor A.F. Johnson...College, Main and Chestnut are decidedly the three prettiest in town."
In the early decades of the twentieth century, Clinton, like most towns and cities in North Carolina, underwent a dramatic increase in population. The population almost doubled in the decade from 1910 until 1920, from 1,101 to 2,110. The 1930 population was 2,712. A major fire in 1902, the fourth in the town in a quarter century, again devastated much of the downtown business section. A fifth fire, in 1921, severely damaged the courthouse. Neither of these fires, however, reached the residential sections to any great extent and business losses were quickly recovered.
The West Main-North Chesnutt Streets Historic District's two churches date from the early part of the century. The St. Paul's Episcopal Church building was constructed in 1902 to replace an earlier church lost in the fire of that year. An Episcopal rectory was constructed in 1905. The L.C. Graves Presbyterian Church building dates from 1908. It also replaced an earlier structure lost in fire. The church was built by N.Z. Graves of Philadelphia as a memorial to his father, L.C. Graves, a former principal of the Clinton Female Institute. A Presbyterian manse was built in 1922.
Several important houses were built during the first two decades of the twentieth century. The A.W. Colwell House (113 Sycamore Street) was built for the Clinton businessman around 1907, while physician Hubbard Kerr built a house (403 Fayetteville Street) in 1910. The present John Parker law office (200 W. Main Street) was built around 1915 as a home for Albert Alderman. Also built in 1915 was a house (108 W. Johnson Street) for Clinton attorney Buck H. Crumpler.
Three important antebellum houses in the West Main-North Chesnutt Streets Historic District were greatly remodeled during this period. The 1841 house built for Neill McGill and expanded by William Johnson was purchased in 1899 by the Reverend A.B. Crumpler, a Methodist minister, and remodeled in the early part of the twentieth century. The Allmond Holmes House was remodeled in 1912 by his son, Frank Holmes (1870-1915), also a physician. The Amma Chesnutt House was remodeled around 1915 by descendants of the builders.
During the 1920s, Clinton continued its growth. Houses built in the West Main-North Chesnutt Streets Historic District during this decade include: the Clifford Barrus House (100 Barrus Avenue) built in 1923 for a railroad official; the John Hathcock House (312 W. Main Street) built in 1925 for Hathcock, a Clinton school official; the 1927 Johnny Crumpler House (206 Sycamore Street) built for a local businessman; the 1928 Isiah Vann House (200 W. Johnson Street); and a late 1920s house (309 Fayetteville Street) built for merchant Fred Caison.
Despite the nationwide depression that gripped the entire country for most of the 1930s, several fine houses were built in the district during this decade. James Morisey Atkins (1895-1954) built a house (316 W. Main Street) in 1931, "while civil engineer Gabriel Barbrey (born 1896) built a house (401 Williams Street) in 1932. James Henry Bradshaw (1894-1975), a Wake Forest graduate and Clinton lawyer, built a home (205 Sycamore Street) in 1935. Built during the 1937-1938 period were houses for J. Furman Honeycutt (1898-1979) at 110 N. Chestnut Street, co-founder of Crumpler-Honeycutt, a furniture and casket firm that gradually evolved into a funeral home; lumber dealer, F.L. Turlington (1890-1951) at 400 Fayetteville Street; and O.J. Petersen, Jr. at 325 W. Main Street.
From its development before the Civil War, the Main Street district has housed a disproportionate number of Clinton's leading citizens. Early builders in the neighborhood like Richard Clinton Holmes and Alfred Johnson were among the most prominent Sampsonians of their day. The West Main-North Chesnutt Streets Historic District has housed an assortment of merchants, business leaders, lawyers, doctors, and educators. Due to the importance of these residents, the development of the neighborhood has mirrored the growth and development of the town of Clinton.
Bizzell, Oscar M., ed. The Heritage of Sampson County, North Carolina. Winston-Salem, N.C.: Hunter Publishing Company for the Sampson County Historical Society, 1983.
† Thomas Butchko, North Carolina Department of Archives and History, Survey and Planning Branch, West Main-North Chesnutt Street Historic District, Clinton, Sampson County, NC, nomination document, 1985, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.