Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District
The Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. 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 Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District in Wilson, North Carolina is significant for its role as one of Wilson's principal middle-class neighborhoods that developed during the city's most vigorous period of commercial and industrial growth: 1890 to the Depression. The Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District is also significant because of the neighborhood's outstanding assortment of domestic architecture, reflecting the popular national styles of this period. Although the vast majority of contributing properties were built before 1930, some two dozen houses were built in the 1930s, therefore justifying 1938, or the 50-year cut-off, as the end of the period of significance. With its tree-lined streets and frequently lush landscaping, the Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District epitomizes a prosperous, white, middle-class urban neighborhood of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in eastern North Carolina.
The Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District is one in a series of designated historic districts in Wilson that are now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. They include: "West Nash Street Historic District" (1984); "Old Wilson Historic District" (1984); "Wilson Central Business-Tobacco Warehouse Historic District" (1983); and "East Wilson Historic District" (1988).
The development of the Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District coincided with Wilson's emergence as a major manufacturing and commercial center in eastern North Carolina. A rural crossroads in the late 1700s, the town grew rapidly after 1840, when the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad (later the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad) was completed through Wilson. By mid-century, Wilson, the county seat, had attracted settlers from the surrounding area, and included small neighborhoods of prosperous planters and merchants. Nash Street, linking the business district and railroad depot with farmland to the west, was the most exclusive residential corridor.
Due to Wilson's advantageous location on North Carolina's first rail line, the city recovered quite rapidly from the Civil War. The 1880s and 1890s were flourishing decades. Wilson prospered as a manufacturing center and chief inland exporter of cotton, the region's main cash crop. In addition, Wilson was emerging as an important regional tobacco market. Because of falling prices for cotton and the prices brought by flue-cured tobacco at markets in Henderson and Durham, North Carolina, area farmers in the late 1800s turned increasingly to tobacco production. In 1889, county farmers grew 232,966 pounds, compared to 8,745 pounds in 1879, and Wilson's first tobacco market the following year sold 1,508,109 pounds. By the turn of the century, the city's Sanborn Map recorded 13 prizeries (warehouses) and several redrying plants along the railroad tracks, joining a large cotton mill and gins erected there a decade earlier. To the west were six full blocks of brick retail establishments centered around the county courthouse. Growing neighborhoods of white homeowners expanded to the north and west of this commercial core, while blacks settled to the east across the tracks. Wilson's population at the turn of the century was 3,525, compared to 1,500 in 1880.
Situated northwest of the business district and south of the stately homes along prestigious Nash Street, the area now known as the Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District began to develop in the 1890s. According to local tradition, the City of Wilson purchased farmland in the portion of the district that is now east of Daniel Street in order to develop a town park. It is said that Park Avenue was named for the proposed park, and that Broad Street, at the time the widest in Wilson, was planned to be the major thoroughfare. However, the high demand for residential expansion in areas convenient to downtown businesses and public offices led the city to sell house lots in this section. Throughout the 1890s, the City Council further encouraged residential growth by acquiring right-of-ways from individual property owners and platting a grid of streets that extended to what is now West Raleigh Road Parkway. Although this western end of the Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District would not be developed until the 1910s and 1920s, the eastern end in the 1890s was one of Wilson's fastest growing neighborhoods. By the end of the 19th century, exclusive Nash Street had become filled with the houses of the city's burgeoning upper and middle classes. As a result, newly platted adjacent streets, including those in the West Nash Street Historic District (National Register of Historic Places, 1984) along Nash Street and separated from the district by new commercial structures, and Park Avenue and Broad Street to the south, also began to attract leading merchants, professionals, and county officials. On Broad Street, handsome Queen Anne dwellings were built for such influential citizens as merchant-developer David S. Boykin (301 Broad Street), insurance broker Robert E. Townsend (303 Broad Street), and planter Jesse Williams (501 Broad Street). By the end of the decade, Park Avenue was lined with the flamboyant one-and-a-half story cottages and two-story residences of bankers, planters, lawyers, and Wilson County's Registrar of Deeds (e.g., John A. Green House, 310 Park Avenue; Howard Watson House, 314 Park Avenue; J.D. Bardin House, 311 Park Avenue). Although the architectural evidence of the area's late 19th century expansion has been erased along the 100 blocks of Park Avenue and Daniel Street — notably the monumental Queen Anne house of merchant-banker Alpheus Paul Branch at 112 Park Avenue (razed in the 1980s) — the adjoining blocks of intact Victorian-era homes that survive vividly express the affluent character of the district during Wilson's commercial boom on the eve of the 20th century.
The early 1900s witnessed continued economic prosperity and population expansion in Wilson, and concomitant growth within the Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District. Primarily a result of tobacco wealth, reflected in sales that soared to a national record 42,330,509 pounds in 1919, Wilson's business district expanded to over eight blocks by World War I, the tobacco warehouse district spread rapidly along the railroad corridor, and the population boomed. Between 1900 and 1920, the city's population tripled to 10,606. Development southwest of downtown, in turn, became more and more intensified along streets east of West Bruton Street. Here, such leading Wilson residents as tobacconist Roscoe Briggs (111 Park Avenue), merchant Charles B. Ruffin (300 Park Avenue), and railroad executive T.B. Sugg (206 Park Avenue) occupied new houses in the fashionable Colonial Revival style. Their two-story cubic residences, capped by hip roofs and surrounded by deep verandas with classical porch columns, today dominate corner lots along Park Avenue and Kenan Street.
Two individuals most directly responsible for the area's residential growth during this period and into the 1920s were Jacob Tomlinson and Kirby Woodard, successful wholesale grocers who occupied handsome, pillared dwellings on Broad Street (Jacob Tomlinson House, 407 Broad Street; Kirby Woodard House, 404 Broad Street). Tomlinson and Woodard teamed to develop real estate along Broad, Kenan, Warren, and West Bruton streets. Soon after World War I, they built some of the district's earliest Bungalows (e.g., Robert Fulghum House, 600 Broad Street; Tomlinson-Woodard Rental Houses, 400, 404, 706 and 710 Kenan Street; John Askew House, 708 Kenan Street), as well as two-story, hip-roofed and gable-front dwellings (603, 605, 607 and 609 Broad Street). For example, the 700 block of Kenan Street, which is lined with examples of these houses, was developed by Tomlinson and Woodard between about 1918 and 1925. Like other houses that these men built for speculation, the closely packed residences on Kenan Street included rental property as well as dwellings sold to homeowners.
Tomlinson and Woodard also contributed to the westward residential expansion that occurred throughout the 1920s. This growth was most directly influenced by the erection of Kenan Street School at the southeast corner of Kenan and Deans streets in 1914, and by the development of the Residence Park subdivision west of Raleigh Road Parkway. Kenan Street School was one of two white, graded schools active in the early 20th century, and was a focus of settlement during the late 1920s and 1930s. Along streets near the schoolhouse, new dwellings, including a number built by Tomlinson and Woodard, were occupied by shopkeepers and clerks. Today, the blocks of brick and weatherboarded Bungalows and one- and two-story Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival houses in the area neatly represent this period.
Comprising about 15 acres at the west end of the Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District, Residence Park was Wilson's first platted subdivision. It was purchased primarily from landowner Benjamin Jasper Forbes in 1906, by developers from Norfolk, Virginia. The tract was laid out in a simple, six-block grid of streets, with lots measuring 50 by 150 feet. Largely undeveloped before World War I, Residence Park attracted scores of middle-class residents during the 1920s. For example, by the middle of the decade, home buyers such as druggist Needham B. Herring (204 West Raleigh Road Parkway), businessmen Arthur Ruffin (909 Branch Street), Sidney B. Denny (905 Anderson Street), and Albert L. Lancaster (206 Raleigh Road), and tobacconist James G. Houston (104 Connor Street) were occupying Bungalows and Colonial Revival cottages in Residence Park. These people and other residents in the subdivision were commissioning some of Wilson's leading architects, including S.B. Moore and Thomas Herman, as well as such major local contractors as Jones Brothers and Company and the firm of Wilkins and Wilkins.
Residential expansion in this area coincided with the growth of other neighborhoods in the city, including East Wilson, where the majority of Wilson's blacks lived, and white, middle-class enclaves, such as West End Park, College Park, Circle Park, and Young Springs.
East Wilson Historic District [National Register, 1987] is east of the business district and Seaboard Railroad tracks, while the white neighborhoods are all on the north side of Nash Street, separated from the Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District by the late 19th- and early 20th-century houses along Nash Street, as well as by commercial intrusions which have begun to appear along this historic thoroughfare.
Although the rate of house construction fell sharply throughout Wilson in the Depression, a small number of 1930s dwellings in the Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival styles were constructed in the historic district. Built for homeowners as well as for renters, they are concentrated along Raleigh Road Parkway and Atlantic Christian College Drive (Hugh Flowers House, 204 Atlantic Christian College Drive; Howell Moss House, 302 Atlantic Christian College Drive; Bushrod Gurkin House, 304 Atlantic Christian College Drive; Walter Batts House, 308 Atlantic Christian College Drive; W.C. Thompson House, 203 Atlantic Christian College Drive; Robert Lovel House, 205 Atlantic Christian College Drive). Their simplified details and smaller size (the majority of them one-story) reflect the economic constraints of the 1930s.
The domestic architecture in the Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District comprises a variety of styles popular both in the region and across the country between 1890 and the Depression. These houses came from noted local architects, as well as popular house pattern books. Together, they represent a host of architectural expressions of the major period styles, from the ornate Queen Anne to the rustic Bungalow. Bungalows, in particular, are visible throughout the Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District, and both individually and in small groups exemplify this domestic style as it was built nationwide.
Concentrated at the east end of the Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District is an outstanding collection of intact Queen Anne houses in a variety of one-story, story-and-a-half, and two-story forms. They have such hallmarks of the style as consciously irregular forms, decorative sawn and turned millwork, and prominent porches, usually with slender turned posts or classical columns. The most popular designs are story-and-a-half and two-story versions of the double-pile, hip-roofed house with projecting cross-gables (e.g., Robert E. Townsend House, 303 Broad Street; Townsend-Lucas House, 305 Park Avenue). Built primarily by local contractors, they are examples of early 20th century Queen Anne dwellings popular throughout Wilson and eastern North Carolina, and may represent the most abundant version of the style nationwide.
Colonial Revival houses in the Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District express the popular national versions of the style between the 1890s and 1930s. The Roscoe G. Briggs House (111 Park Avenue) is an outstanding example of the style's early manifestation, exhibiting a mix of Queen Anne and classical influences. The symmetry of this massive, hip-roofed, cubic structure is fractured by gabled side projections, and the facade is dominated by a wraparound porch with Ionic columns. The design has been attributed to John C. Stout of Wilson. Stout was one of eastern North Carolina's major architect-contractors of the early 1900s, and was responsible for a number of early Colonial Revival dwellings in Wilson as well as Rocky Mount. Within a block of the Briggs House stand two intact Colonial Revival cottages sharing similar hip roofs and porches with classical columns (Joelda Terrace, 219 Broad Street; Kirby Woodard House, 404 Broad Street). During the 1910s and 1920s, simpler two-story, two-bay, hip-roofed and gable-front models spread across the district. Examples of both versions are arranged in small groups along the 600, 700, and 800 blocks of Kenan Street. Also in the 1920s, several distinguished representations of both the side-gable Colonial Revival style and the gambrel-roofed Dutch Colonial Revival were constructed at the west end, and especially around Residence Park. Local architects S.B. Moore and Thomas Herman have been credited with a number of examples in the area (Thomas Dillon House, 911 Broad Street; Claude V. Garner, 707 Broad Street; Needham B. Herring House, 204 West Raleigh Road Parkway; John W. Dillard House, 303 West Raleigh Road Parkway).
Herman is also credited with designing Tudor Revival dwellings in the Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District. In the late 1920s, when one-story Tudor Revival cottages started to appear in greater and greater numbers, druggist Needham B. Herring commissioned Herman to design one of the area's most accomplished examples (204 West Raleigh Road Parkway). Situated in Residence Park, the Herring House features such trademarks of the style as stuccoed front-facing gable, arched entry porch, and a picturesque silhouette. Residence Park is also the site of one of Wilson's rare Mission style houses (911 Branch Street). The Arthur A. Ruffin House was inspired by a house in Coral Gables, Florida. Ruffin purchased the plan from the owner of the house, and Jones Brothers of Wilson acted as contractors. Distinguished by a tiled roof and tile-capped chimney stacks, this two-story, boxy house contrasts with the low-slung bungalows that surround it.
The Bungalow represents the most prolific and noteworthy house style in the Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District. In their number, style, and execution, they rival or surpass their counterparts in other North Carolina cities. Handsome examples began appearing soon after World War I, and continued to be erected throughout the 1920s. The majority display those traits promoted in the pattern books of the period as epitomizing the "bungalow spirit;" low-slung roof; abundant windows; large porches; and the use of rustic materials, such as coarse stucco; stained wood shingles and weatherboarding; and rough-cut stone. Excellent bungalows include ones designed by S.B. Moore (C.W. Stokes House, 209 Broad Street; J.A. Clark House, 907 Broad Street), as well as others adapted from pattern books by contracting firms. By far, the most popular bungalow type is also one that may be the most popular nationwide: a story-and-a-half form with side-gable roof, engaged porch, and heavy, tapered porch posts set on brick piers. Perhaps a dozen were built in the district for speculators Tomlinson and Woodard. These Bungalows are marked by prominent gabled dormers and projecting shed-roofed living room bays.
Although side-gable bungalows revealing essential elements of the style abound, it is the variety of forms and stylistic motifs that make the district's bungalows especially notable. The Robert C. Jones House (1002 Branch Street), for example, features a broad gable-end porch decorated with elaborately latticed gable ties. This treatment is reminiscent of the 19th century Stick style, but also reflects the Bungalow ethic, which emphasized the beauty in functional framing techniques. Many Bungalows in the Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District blend the simple, clean lines and exposed rafters and purlins of the style with classical traits. These houses are significant because they reveal how eclectic the basic Bungalow style could be, as well as the enormous popularity of the Colonial Revival style, motifs of which were freely applied to a variety of house types throughout the area. Side-gable Bungalows with bold classical porch columns are in evidence in Residence Park, Kenan Street, and along the west end of Broad Street. One of the most striking is the James G. Houston House (104 Connor Street), which also features large Palladian windows in the shingled gables, and pedimented dormers.
Part of the bungalow's widespread popularity was its adaptability. Speculators could build a row of Bungalows with the same basic plan on small, economical lots, but avoid architectural monotony by selecting a variety of roof and porch configurations. In the Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District, the 700 block of Kenan Street clearly illustrates what promoters of the style called the "bungalow row." Here, on close-fitting parcels, are a block of bungalows displaying a range of side-gable, gable-end, and cross-gable roof and porch types. The effect is an appealing combination of individuality and overall harmony.
The Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District embodies Wilson's decades of expansion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, featuring an outstanding assemblage of domestic architecture from this period. The vast majority of houses remain owner-occupied, though rental property now dominates the area east of Daniel Street. As a canopy for the fine domestic architecture, mature oak trees line many streets in the district. In recent years oaks damaged by sidewalks and driveways have been cut down by the city's Department of Park's and Recreation. However, as official policy, trees along right-of-ways are protected unless determined to be hazardous. Burt Gillette, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, urges people to walk along tree-shaded Park Avenue, in the heart of the district, to experience truly the turn-of-the-century ambiance of the city. Indeed, Park Avenue and numerous other streets in the Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District reveal a remarkably intact physical and cultural landscape that took shape between 1890 and the Depression.
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† Richard Mattson, Preservation Consultant, Broad-Kenan Streets Historic District, nomination document, 1987, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washngton, D.C.