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Old Wilson Historic District

Wilson City, Wilson County, NC

The Old Wilson Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]

The Old Wilson Historic District, consisting of 361 properties, encompasses all or parts of five loosely-defined residential neighborhoods that date from the 1850s through the 1920s. These neighborhoods — Maplewood, Woodard Circle, Whitehead Place, College Place, and Rountree Place — were the places of residence for many of the business leaders in Wilson and for most of the middle tier of merchants, clerks, and salesmen. (The most prominent address during this period was West Nash Street. Although most of the stylish old houses have been razed, several survivors are included in this district. The early twentieth century houses along West Nash Street are included in the West Nash Street Historic District.) While the Old Wilson Historic District has lost several significant structures in recent years, it contains a representation of the major architectural styles from the mid and late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. Particularly notable is the large and varied collection of bungalows which were erected during the 1910s and 1920s when Wilson's agriculturally-based economy — primarily tobacco and cotton — was booming. Represented in the Old Wilson Historic District are works of Wilson's major builders and architects, primarily Oswald Lipscomb (1826-1891), Solon Balias Moore (1872-1930), Charles Collins Benton (1887-1960), and Tommy Herman. (1885-1956). Prominent builders represented include James E. Wilkins (1835-1904), his sons, Robert S. Wilkins (1878-1935) and James E. Wilkins (1877-1954) as the firm of Wilkins and Wilkins, and Claudius C. Rackley. Also located in the Old Wilson Historic District are the handsome churches of six leading congregations — Primitive Baptist, United Methodist, Christian, Episcopal, Catholic, and Evangelical Lutheran, Wilson's oldest surviving school buildings, the large complex of the Hackney Wagon Company, and peaceful Maplewood Cemetery.

Located in the broad upper coastal plain of eastern North Carolina, the City of Wilson grew from the trading settlement of Toisnot in the late eighteenth century; the name is said to be derived from Tosneac, the name of a Tuscarora Indian town located in the area in the early eighteenth century.[1] The first settlers of this area, which became part of Edgecombe County in 1741, came in the second quarter of the eighteenth century. The Toisnot Baptist Church was organized in 1759 and the nearby village of Hickory Grove soon became a center for the production and marketing of naval stores. The development of Hickory Grove as a trading center was dependent on the availability of transportation which was first supplied by Contentnea Creek. Hickory Grove also was a stop on the Raleigh to Greenville post road which supplied a measure of regular delivery of goods and services into the community.[2]

It was not until the construction of the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad began in 1836 that an impetus was given for the development of Hickory Grove. With the railroad's completion in April 1840,[3] the communities of Hickory Grove and Toisnot were connected to Petersburg, Virginia and the port at Wilmington,[4] providing the area's farmers and merchants for the first time with a dependable, rapid, and comparatively inexpensive means of transportation to both the northern and export markets. A permanent depot was built at the present Barnes Street crossing and on April 29, 1840 the Toisnot Depot post office was established.[5]

The railroad brought an immediate influx of new settlers to the community, joining members of the Dew and Farmer families who were original settlers of the area. Members of the Barnes, Daniels, Joyner, Rountree, and Tomlinson families, who would play leading roles in the development of the town throughout the nineteenth century, moved to the community and engaged in businesses to serve the area.[6] Moses Rountree (107 North Rountree Street) established a mercantile store in 1846 which soon became the leader. Growth was rapid enough for the town of Wilson to be chartered on January 29, 1849, incorporating the settlements of Toisnot Depot and Hickory Grove. It was named for General Louis D. Wilson, a native of Edgecombe County, who died of yellow fever in 1847 during the Mexican-American War.[7]

Wilson's first residential neighborhood was in the vicinity of the depot, along the railroad and also along Nash Street (now the main street of the central business district). These houses were all lost in the mid and late nineteenth century to commercial and industrial expansion and the main residential moved to the present Maplewood neighborhood (northeast of the central business district) and to the 100, 200, and 300 blocks of West Nash Street. With three exceptions, all of the antebellum houses in Wilson have been lost.

In 1847 a group of progressive citizens secured enactment by the state legislature of a measure to incorporate Toisnot Academy; it was later known as the Wilson Female and Wilson Male Academy.[8] An ad in the July 16, 1853 Southerner requested "sealed bids...for the erection of two buildings to be used as Academies in the town of Wilson." Both of these buildings survive today, although the Male Academy was completely remodeled at the turn of the century. The Wilson Female Academy, now known as the Dr. James E. Gorham House, was built on the corner of Goldsboro and Vance streets and was moved two blocks to its present location, 200 West Vance Street, in 1905 where it was converted into apartments. As it now stands in much of its original appearance, the former Wilson Female Academy is the oldest surviving house in Wilson. A rental house at 210 North Douglas Street is held by local tradition to have originally been a part of the Female Academy. The Male Academy, later known as Dr. Deem's Academy, stands on its original site and is now known as the Lucas-Barnes House (200 West Green Street).

Two other schools established in the 1850s helped secure Wilson's position as a leader in education in eastern North Carolina. In 1858, St. Austin's Institute, an impressive Victorian structure was built at a cost of $7,500 and in 1859 the handsome Italianate style Wilson Female Seminary, designed by Lind and Murdock of Baltimore, was built, both on sites outside of this district.[9] Quality educational facilities for the children of well-to-do planters were in constant demand, and Wilson during the 1850s succeeded in attracting many such families for this very reason. The influx of these cultured and wealthy planters benefited Wilson's commercial enterprises, its churches, its industry, and its social life.[10]

The 1850s was a prosperous decade for Wilson. The completion in 1853 of a plank road from Wilson to Greenville furthered Wilson's growing reputation as a market and transportation center. In 1854, Willis Napoleon Hackney (1823-1887), who had come to Wilson from Nash County in 1852, established a wagon manufacturing company later known as the Hackney Wagon Company which would grow after the Civil War to become "one of the few large manufacturers of carriages and wagons in the Southern States...(selling) its goods not only in this state, but throughout South Carolina and Virginia."[11] The original Hackney location was downtown on East Nash Street (in the Wilson Central Business-Tobacco Warehouse Historic District) and in the early 1900s a new plant (Hackney Wagon Company, 108 West Gold Street) was built on the northeast edge of Wilson in this district. The 1850s also witnessed the organization of two congregations that have always been located within the Old Wilson District. The First United Methodist Church (100 West Green Street) organized in 1853 and St. Timothy's Episcopal Church (202 North Goldsboro Street) organized three years later. (The Toisnot Baptist Church, the forerunner of the Wilson Primitive Baptist Church (301 West Green Street) had moved into Wilson in 1803 and built two buildings, in 1803 and in 1859, on what is now South Tarboro Street; they moved into the district in 1920.) During the early 1850s the goal of a separate county was undertaken with renewed vigor by Wilsonians and others a long distance from the Edgecombe County seat at Tarboro. Finally, in February 1855 the General Assembly passed an act creating Wilson County from Edgecombe, Johnston, Wayne, and Nash counties.[12] The first courthouse, an impressive Gothic Revival style building, was erected later that year on the site of the present courthouse (1924) (National Register).[13] The population of Wilson in 1854 was "probably 250."[14]

The 1850s also saw the erection of numerous stylish residences for the town's well-to-do. Oswald Lipscomb (1826-1891), a master builder and a native of Virginia, moved to Wilson in 1849. Through his numerous designs and co-ownership in a sash and blind factory and planning mill he operated with his brother-in-law, J.T. Barnes, between 1874 and the late 1880s on North Pine Street (now the site of the Dildy Rental Houses, 313 North Pine Street), Lipscomb exerted a considerable influence on the architectural character of Wilson. His forte was the Gothic Revival and Italianate styles and he erected many impressive residences, especially along West Nash Street. Although most of his houses have been razed for commercial expansion, his three surviving houses are included in the Old Wilson Historic District. They are the Davis-Whitehead-Harriss House (600 West Nash Street, ca.1858/ca.1872), an impressive two-story Italianate style house; the Moses Rountree House (107 North Rountree Street) (National Register), his only surviving Gothic Revival style residence; and his own Italianate cottage, the Oswald Lipscomb House (213 North Pine Street, ca.1871). A fourth house, the Rountree-Rackley House (301 North Tarboro Street, ca.1870s/ca.1918), can be attributed to Oswald on the basis of the same exceptionally wide moldings as found on the Davis-Whitehead-Harriss and Moses Rountree houses. It is possible that several other Italianate style dwellings — the Wiggins-Hadley House (206 N. Douglas Street, ca.1874) and the Dr. James E. Gorham House (former Wilson Female Academy) (200 West Vance Street, ca.1853) — may be attributed to him. Lipscomb no doubt built many other now lost buildings which can never be attributed to any builder. (St. Timothy's Episcopal Church (202 North Goldsboro Street)). Lipscomb was active in Wilson from ca.1849 until the late 1880s.[15]

The Civil War greatly slowed down the growth of Wilson and effected a virtual cessation of construction. But, except for the use of the Wilson Female Seminary as a Confederate military hospital, actual combat did not come near Wilson. Because of this protected location, Wilson attracted refugees from the coastal areas, including the Nadals and the family of Josephus Daniels (1862-1928), who would later assume the leadership of the Raleigh News and Observer, one of the state's most influential newspapers, and would serve as Secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1921 under Woodrow Wilson and as Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Ambassador to Mexico from 1933 until 1941.[16]

After the Civil War Wilsonians worked to regain economic stability amid a new political, social, and labor system. Within several years the area's farm economy had surpassed pre-war levels; according to the census records, the production of cotton, Wilson County's chief cash crop, increased from 3,012 bales in 1859 to 5,225 bales in 1869. Wilson began a period of prosperity which continued, with several brief slowdowns, uninterrupted until the Great Depression. This prosperity was based on the Wilson merchants meeting all the domestic and agricultural needs of the area farmers. The businesses of Wilson again prospered during the 1870s and the first banks were organized: Branch, Hadley and Company in 1872 and the First Wilson National Bank in 1874. Both continue today, the former as Branch Banking and Trust Company, the oldest bank in continuous operation in Wilson and the sixth largest in the state, and the latter was acquired and absorbed into First Union National Bank (in the Wilson Central Business-Tobacco Warehouse Historic District).

The 1870s saw the expansion of Wilson's residential neighborhood, primarily along Nash, Goldsboro, Tarboro, Green, Vance, and Lee streets. Bragg Street was opened and the establishment in 1876 of Maplewood Cemetery at the northeast boundary of the city further promoted growth in this direction and resulted in the opening of Maplewood Avenue. Impressive Italianate and Victorian style residences were erected, especially along Nash Street, but unfortunately, few of these survive.

While Lipscomb was the most prominent builder in Wilson during the 1870s, other builders included J.A. Duvall (Simms-Davis House, 211 Hill Street, ca.1874) and A.A. Lum.[17]

In 1871 one of Wilson's greatest church leaders moved to town. Pleasant Daniel Gold (1833-1920), was born in Rutherford County, became a clergyman in the Missionary Baptist Church as a young man and later became an elder in the Primitive Baptist Church. In 1867, he established, along with L.I. Bodenhamer, the influential Primitive Baptist publication, Zion's Landmark, and acted as publisher and editor from 1871 until his death in 1920. During this same period he also served Primitive Baptist congregations in Wilson, Tarboro, at the Fall of the Neuse River.[18] Gold built an impressive Queen Anne style house, now known as the Gold-Harrell House (304 West Vance Street), about 1884. He operated the P.D. Gold Publishing Company and in 1896 his oldest son, John D. Gold (1867-1954), founded the Wilson Times as a weekly newspaper and six years later started the Daily Times.[19] The two papers combined in 1936 to form The Wilson Daily Times which continues as Wilson's only newspaper, the sole survivor of the dozen or so newspapers which were published at one time or another in Wilson. Another Gold son, P.D. Gold, Jr. (1876-1965), left Wilson in the early 1900s and moved to Greensboro where in 1907 he founded the Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Company, one of North Carolina's major insurance companies.

The 1880s was a flourishing decade in Wilson. The first Sanborn Map of Wilson in 1884 lists the town's population as 2,500, ten times the estimate of 1854. Grays Map of 1882 shows the town boundaries extending northeast to present Woodard Circle and north to the middle of the 400 block of West Lee Street. Lee Street had not been opened beyond the 300 block and Bragg Street extended only for two blocks between Nash and Vance streets. In 1883 Vance Street was opened through the H.G. Whitehead lands to the limits of the corporation, an area now including the 500-600 blocks.[20] In 1890 the mayor was given authority to open new streets near Maplewood Cemetery[21] and in 1891 Bragg Street was extended.[22]

About 1882 James E. Wilkins (1835-1904) moved to Wilson from Kinston and succeeded Oswald Lipscomb as Wilson's leading builder. Unfortunately, few of his houses have been documented and even fewer survive. His known survivors include the impressive Gold-Harrell House (304 W. Vance Street, ca.1884) and his own house (310 Maplewood Avenue), built ca.1882. He no doubt is responsible for many of the modest Victorian and Queen Anne style cottages and the large Queen Anne style residences built in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century when Wilson was undergoing an unprecedented building boom. This period also witnessed the successful operation of two early brickyards, that of Calvin Barnes (____-1899) on South Goldsboro Street and that of Silas Lucas (1852-1916). The Lucas yard was begun in 1880 at the northeast edge of town along the railroad (near the present site of the Hackney Brothers Body Company) and continued into the early twentieth century by his son Wyatt G. Lucas (1876-1939).[24] Silas Lucas brick is much coveted today for terraces and walks.

Wilson furthered its reputation of excellent educational opportunities in the 1880s. The first Wilson Graded School emerged from public response following a session of the North Carolina State Normal School held at the Wilson Collegiate Institute in the summer of 1881. In September of that year the first graded school session began. The school, funded through subscription, became a model for the region as well as the largest graded school in the state in proportion to the town's population. When subscription funding proved to be less than efficient, Judge Henry G. Connor, a prominent Wilsonian who lived at 109 Gray Street, secured the passage of an act by the state legislature authorizing Wilson to collect a tax to finance the operation of the school. Wilson thus became the first city in the state to levy a sales tax for this purpose. However, in 1886 the state Supreme Court ruled the sales tax unconstitutional because it discriminated against the black children. In that year the school once again raised funds through subscription, but without the aid of the tax revenue the school closed in 1887.[25]

Profound changes that would prove a boon to Wilson occurred in the 1880s. The Wilson cotton market continued to expand, especially since the incorporation in 1880 and subsequent erection of the Wilson Cotton Mills provided local industrial consumption for the county's staple crop. In reporting that Wilson had handled 23,410 bales of cotton in the preceding years, The Wilson Mirror on September 13, 1887 claimed that Wilson "is one of the best cotton markets in the state." Yet, because of widely fluctuating prices, cotton began to lose favor with many farmers, who began to grow flue-cured tobacco instead. While the growth of tobacco was not unknown (312 pounds were grown in 1859, 1,898 pounds in 1869), it was not the important cash crop it was in the counties along the North Carolina-Virginia border. Experiments in the late 1870s in the heart of the cotton section had demonstrated that flue-cured tobacco was particularly suited to the dry, warm, gray, sandy, light soils with the yellow, sandy-clay subsoils which abounded in eastern North Carolina.[23] Led by such prominent planters as Howell Gray Whitehead (1839-1887) (600 West Nash Street), Calvin Barnes, James S. Rountree, and Frank W. Barnes, the culture of flue-cured tobacco expanded dramatically from 8,745 pounds in 1879 to 234,966 pounds in 1889.[24] With the spectacular growth in production, the need arose for a local market, which opened officially on September 10, 1890.[25] Within three years, three large auction warehouses had been built and by the turn of the century the Wilson market had grown to one of the largest in the state, annually marketing over fifteen million pounds[26] in five auction warehouses. In 1919, Wilson surpassed Danville, Virginia as the nation's largest market for flue-cured tobacco, a position which has been seriously threatened only once since.

The spread of tobacco cultivation required experienced men to promote, market, and educate the local farmers and businessmen. Wilson was thus a magnet for experienced tobacconists from the border counties, the "Old Belt" tobacco region. Included were men such as Edmund Martin Pace (1836-1906) (207 Hill Street), one of the legendary personalities within the post Civil War growth period of tobacco auction markets from Virginia to South Carolina. Hailed as "tobaccoland's traveling troubador," he wrote glowingly of the advantages of the Wilson market.[27] Other prominent tobacconists who came to Wilson included Ula H. Cozart, Charlie M. Fleming, Selby H. Anderson, T. McKenzie Anderson, James E. Crute (105 Gray Street), and Elbert A. Darden (315 West Green Street). Many of these men chose to build in the area known as the Old Wilson Historic District.

The prosperity brought by the tobacco market created unlimited opportunities for the citizens of Wilson, natives and newcomers alike. Farmers, physicians, merchants, livery dealers, tobaccomen, clerks, shopkeepers, and laborers were attracted to Wilson. Wilson's population expanded during the last two decades of the nineteenth century, although figures vary widely. Different sources list Wilson's population at the turn of the century as varying between 1,475 and 5,800.[28] Many of the more successful newcomers built stylish residences in the established neighborhoods and expanded into residential areas now known as Woodard Circle, Whitehead Place, and College Place. Especially prominent were the impressive turn of the century houses on Woodard Circle, of which the only surviving nineteenth century example is the David Woodard House (409 North Goldsboro Street).

Educational opportunities continued to expand and furthered Wilson's attractiveness to newcomers. In 1891 a campaign was successful to provide a special school tax to be divided without discrimination as to race and to provide for separate buildings for both races.[29] By 1896, the combined enrollment was 700.[30] Both schools have since been razed. In 1897, Joseph Kinsey, the proprietor of a female seminary in La Grange, moved his school to Wilson where he erected an impressive two-story structure in the Romanesque Victorian style at Gold and Whitehead streets. The Kinsey Institute closed in 1900 due to his failing health and in 1902[31] the campus became the basis of Atlantic Christian College, founded by the Disciples of Christ (now Christian) Church and opened in 1902. It was around this campus that the neighborhood now known as College Place, on Lee, Vance, Whitehead, Deans, and Rountree streets, developed in the early twentieth century. Atlantic Christian College now forms the north boundary of the Old Wilson Historic District. Kinsey Hall, as Kinsey Institute was later known, was demolished by the college in 1955 to make way for the present Hines Hall.[32]

In 1893 Wilson took further steps to becoming a modern city with the installation of electric lights and sewerage.[33]

The first twenty years of the twentieth century represented enormous advances in population, wealth, and services in the City of Wilson — the same period of time which saw the Wilson tobacco market grow to become the largest in the nation.[30] This tremendous growth brought forth unprecedented building activity. Numerous impressively finished houses in the Queen Anne, Neo-Classical Revival, and Colonial Revival styles, in addition to scores of modest workers' houses, were built not only in the neighborhoods comprising the Old Wilson Historic District, but throughout the city. All this activity proved attractive to architects and contractors. Several left a lasting impression on Wilson.

John Christie Stout was born in 1860 in Randolph County, moved to Wilson in the early 1890s and practiced in Wilson from ca.1904 until 1906 when he moved to Rocky Mount, although he is listed in the 1908 Wilson City Directory in partnership with C.C. Benton. Four buildings that can be documented to him survive, although only one, the Elbert A. Darden House (315 West Green Street), is located in this district.[34]

Solon Balias Moore (1872-1930) was born in Rutherford County and came to Wilson ca.1905 Family tradition states that he worked as a carpenter and studied architecture at night. He formed a partnership from ca.1910 to 1915 with Charles Collins Benton, after which he practiced on his own until his death. Moore was one of the most prolific architects in Wilson's history and over thirty buildings survive which can be attributed to him. A photograph collection of some of his works assist in documenting his designs. His designs are particularly prominent in the Wilson Central Business-Tobacco Warehouse Historic District and West Nash Street Historic District. Among his buildings in the Old Wilson Historic District are the Adrian N. Daniel House (209 N. Goldsboro Street, 1925), the J.E. Adkins House (510 West Lee Street, ca.1925), the Sharpe-Bell House (800 West Vance Street, ca.1921), the Flowers-Willis House (906 West Vance Street, ca.1926), the William G. Carr House (109 Whitehead Avenue, 1907), and the Maplewood Cemetery Gates (Woodard and Maplewood Streets, 1922).[35]

Charles Collins Benton (1887-1960) was a native of Wilson and received his architectural training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He returned to Wilson where he set up a practice ca.1904 and exerted an unmatched influence on Wilson's architecture until his death in 1960 and was one of the state's leading architects. Benton formed several partnerships during his career, with both Stout and Moore, with his brother Frank Whitaker Benton (1882-1960) from 1915 until 1935, and with his sons, Henry and Charles C. Benton, Jr., from 1935 until 1960. C.C. Benton and Son did a great deal of work in the western part of the state, especially around Statesville. Offices were maintained in South Carolina and Norfolk, Virginia as well as Wilson. Unfortunately, few Benton buildings are documented because after his death in 1960 most of the original plans and blueprints were stored at Stephenson Millworks in Wilson which in recent years had a fire in which all of the plans were lost. His taste for the colonial style in architecture gave him the nickname of "Charles Colonial Benton."[36] His numerous works represented in the Old Wilson Historic District include the following: St. Timothy's Episcopal Church (202 North Goldsboro Street) Parish Hall (1924) and Anderson Hall (1959), First United Methodist Church Educational Building (100 West Green Street, 1956), First Christian Church (207 North Tarboro Street, 1952-1954), Fire Station Number One (209 N. Douglas Street, 1926), Benton Apartments (106 West Green Street, 1939), where he lived from 1939 until his death, Wilson Primitive Baptist Church (301 West Green Street, 1920), Margaret Pappas House (302 North Tarboro Street, 1940), George Pappas House (101 East Vance Street, 1940), Switzer Apartments (308-310 W. Vance Street, ca.1955), and J.L. Lawshe House (515 West Vance Street, 1919).

Numerous other architects are represented in the Old Wilson Historic District but did not have nearly the impact as Moore and Benton. They include H.T. Crittenden, who practiced briefly in Wilson during the late 1910s — Colonial Apartments (300 N. Goldsboro Street, 1918); Charles Hartge of Raleigh — First United Methodist Church (100 West Green Street, 1900); Tommy Herman (1885-1956), a native of Pennsylvania who practiced in Wilson from ca.1922 until his death — Varita Court Apartments (205 North Goldsboro Street, 1923), John Nackos House (604 West Vance Street, 1935), remodeling of Woodard-Eagles House (113 Whitehead Avenue, 1933); James A. McGeady, who practiced in Wilson from ca.1925 until ca.1948 — J. Joseph Farris House (514 West Vance Street, 1934); Alfred Thomas House (513 West Vance Street, 1937); and Berewell Riddick of Suffolk, Virginia — Dr. Oscar Hooks House (115 Whitehead Avenue, ca.1915).

Numerous contractors were active in Wilson during the early twentieth century but unfortunately records are scarce. None were more active than Wilkins and Wilkins, the sons of James E. Wilkins, Sr. (1835-1905). The Wilkinses — Robert S. (1878-1935), James E., Jr. (1877-1954), and William B. (1875-1956) — were responsible for much of the construction in Wilson prior to the dissolution of the partnership in 1935 upon Robert's death, although William and James continued working until World War II. Robert and William formed the actual partnership while James superintended the business. Many of their projects have gone unrecorded but among those in the Old Wilson Historic District are: Wilkins Family House (106 Gray Street, ca.1923), Wilkins-Walston House (205 Gray Street, 1906-1907), Allie Fleming House (112 North Rountree Street, ca.1919), and the St. Timothy's Episcopal Church Parish House (202 North Goldsboro Street, 1925).

Other contractors who were active in Wilson during the early twentieth century and who are represented in the Old Wilson Historic District include: John B. Deans (1854-1917), who worked in Elm City from ca.1884 until ca.1895 when he moved to Wilson — John B. Deans House (304 West Green Street, ca.1895); Edwin F. Killette (1866-1923) (105 East Gold Street) — William Walls House (310 North Goldsboro Street, ca.1904); Claudius C. Rackley — Rountree-Rackley House (301 North Tarboro Street, remodeled ca.1918), Margaret Pappas House (302 North Tarboro Street, 1940), George Pappas House (101 East Vance Street, 1940); and Samuel L. Winstead (1881-1945) — Larry Barefoot House (605 West Lee Street, ca.1922) and Zelie Matzo House (607 West Lee Street, ca.1926).

Beginning about 1915 Wilson embraced a building type that, more than any other, was to give the city a distinctive character. The bungalow was derived from houses in India ("bangla" meaning "traveler's rest" in Hindu) and was popularized by designers such as Greene and Greene in California and arbiters of taste like Gustav Stickley in his publication, The Craftsman. The popularity of this modest, one or one-and-a-half story, low building was furthered greatly by plan books, and numerous modest bungalows, like the Alonzo C. Kemp House (208 North Deans Street, 1921), were the results of plans purchased from such catalogues. Wilson's bungalow forms are rich and varied and constitute one of the finest collections of this important house type in North Carolina. The early bungalows (built ca.1915 to ca.1919) represent the height of the bungalow form. While the West Nash Street Historic District and the neighborhoods along Anderson, Broad, and Kenan streets contain some of the most significant bungalows in Wilson, there are many important representative examples in the Old Wilson Historic District. Ranging in size from the modest Fretz-Barnes House (205 West Lee Street, 1922) and the Jones-Cannady-Morrill House (702 West Vance Street, 1917) to the more ambitious Allie Fleming House (112 North Rountree Street, 1919) and the Lawshe-Barkley House (114 North Rountree Street, 1917), the bungalow form dominates the streetscapes of the newer areas of the Old Wilson Historic District.

One of the most prominent residents of the Old Wilson Historic District in the early twentieth century was Charles L. Coon (1868-1927) (109 North Rountree Street. One of North Carolina's most outstanding early twentieth century educators, Charles Coon is credited with creating a county school system for Wilson that set a pattern for consolidation in the state. He was the superintendent of the Wilson Graded School from 1907 to 1927 and was also county school superintendent from 1913 until 1927. Once again, Wilson was in the forefront of public education in the state, being called "the educational leader in the state" by the Salisbury Evening Post in 1923.

The stock market crash of 1929 hit Wilson hard. The prosperity of the previous decade had attracted many Wilson County residents to the city, often resulting in the sale of the family farms. These residents were left both jobless and with no place to which to return. Wilson's economy was still centered around the cultivation and marketing of tobacco and Governor Ehringhaus closed the tobacco markets for three weeks in 1933 and led a committee representing tobacco interests to Washington, DC to ask for federal aid.[37] This marked the beginnings of the stabilization of Wilson's economy but the city did not begin to rally from the Depression until the late 1930s. Yet, the city's population continued to expand, from 12,613 in 1920 to 19,234 in 1930, which can be explained largely by the extension of the city limits to include nearby suburbs. Building activity, which was limited during the Depression had just begun to recover when World War II again ceased all major construction.

The late 1940s, with the return of many servicemen, again witnessed a construction boom but this primarily occurred in new suburbs away from the historic district. Since the 1950s the Old Wilson Historic District has undergone several changes. Several of the older and larger homes have been razed and many of those that remain have been divided into apartments. While rental property was common in the older sections of the district (i.e. Maplewood and College Place) since the 1920s, all of the neighborhoods are now heavily infused with both converted and modern rental properties. While the Old Wilson Historic District has so far been spared the widespread commercial encroachment that has resulted in the loss of most of the historic homes in the 200-600 blocks of West Nash Street (once Wilson's finest residential address), the Maplewood, Woodard Circle, and College Place neighborhoods are no longer the prime residential areas they once were. While a modest revival has occurred in some areas of the Old Wilson Historic District, other areas face critical questions of survival as historic neighborhoods in the next decade. The Old Wilson Historic District has a rich architectural and historical heritage, but concern must be expressed for the continued viability as a cohesive historic district.


  1. Robert C. Bainbridge and Kate Ohno, Wilson, North Carolina Historic Buildings Inventory (Wilson, North Carolina: City of Wilson, 1980), p.3.
  2. Ibid., p. 4.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Hugh Talmage Lefler and Albert Ray Newsome, The History of a Southern State — North Carolina (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1973), p.363.
  5. Hugh B. Johnston, Jr., "County Post Offices," February 15, 1951.
  6. Daily Hendley Gold, "A Town Named Wilson," 1949, p.12. Unpublished work available at the Wilson County Public Library.
  7. Bainbridge and Ohno, op.cit., The first commissioners were General Joshua Barnes, Jonathan D. Rountree, John W. Farmer, James D. Barnes, and Arthur Farmer.
  8. Gold, op.cit., p. 109.
  9. Bainbridge and Ohno, op.cit., pp.6 and 31. St. Austins closed ca.1887 and was known as the J.T. Wiggins residence until it was demolished in the mid 1930s to make way for the Wilson County Public Library, built in 1938. The Wilson Female Seminary closed during the Civil War and was used briefly in 1863 as a Confederate Military Hospital. It reopened after the war as the Wilson Collegiate Institute. The Institute closed in the 1890s and in 1898 it was sold and divided into six houses. Only one survives, the house at 403 Oak Avenue. (See Bainbridge and Ohno, op.cit., p.184.)
  10. Ibid., p. 31.
  11. J.M. Daniel, Jr., Hackney — The History of a Company (Wilson, North Carolina: Hackney Brothers Body Company, 1979), pp.23-24.
  12. Bainbridge and Ohno, p. 5.
  13. Ibid., p. 5.
  14. Gold, op.cit., p. 43.
  15. Lipscomb's only other known surviving house is the Dred Ruffin House on the Stantonsburg-Snow Hill Road in Greene County. His known Wilson houses (now all demolished) included the Billy Winstead House on North Goldsboro Street, the Blount-McLean House (built early 1850s, razed early 1970s), the Barnes-Bruton House at 301 West Nash Street (built ca.1874, razed 1953), the Branch-Clark House (built ca.1870s, razed 1950s), the Frank Barnes House at 701 West Nash Street (built ca.1874, razed 1979), and the George D. Green House.
  16. Crittenden, Powell, and Woody, eds., 100 Years — 100 Men (Raleigh, North Carolina: Edwards and Broughton Company, 1971), pp.103-104.
  17. Bainbridge and Ohno,. op.cit., pp. 251-238.
  18. R.D.W. Connor, North Carolina — Rebuilding an Ancient Commonwealth 1584-1925 (Chicago: The American Historical Company, Inc., 1929), Vol.IV, p.23.
  19. Ibid.
  20. "Minutes of City Council, Wilson, North Carolina," November 18, 1883. Unpublished work available at the Wilson County Public Library.
  21. Ibid., February 3, 1890.
  22. Ibid., August 3, 1891.
  23. 1880 Census — Report of the Products of Agriculture. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office 1883), pp.704-706.
  24. 1890 Census — Report of the Statistics of Agriculture (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1895), p.445.
  25. Bainbridge and Ohno, op.cit., For a more complete discussion of the growth, development, and significance of the Wilson Tobacco Market, refer to the nomination of the Wilson Central Business-Tobacco Warehouse Historic District.
  26. Records of the Wilson Tobacco Board of Trade, Inc., John Harriss, secretary, of the Wilson tobacco market.
  27. Dr. W.B. Clark, Jr., Unpublished manuscript of the history of the Wilson tobacco market, Vol.III, p.66. In his possession in Wilson, North Carolina. See also: E.M. Pace, Wilson has advantages over all competitors for high prices in selling Tobacco and Country Produce and the lowest to farmers when it comes to selling them their supplies (Raleigh, North Carolina: Edwards and Broughton, 1906).
  28. The Wilson City Directory (Richmond, Virginia: Hill Directory Company, 1916-1917), p.7, lists Wilson's population in 1900 as 1,475. The 1900 census lists a population of 3,525 for Wilson, and the 1897 Sanborn Insurance Map gives a population of 5,800 in 1897. In view of the wide discrepancy between the Sanborn estimate and the figure of the census, the former figures are not believed reliable. By 1910 the different population figures are more in agreement — 8,000 by Sanborn in 1908 and 6,717 by the census in 1910.
  29. Gold, op.cit., pp. 115-117.
  30. Ibid., p. 118.
  31. Bainbridge and Ohno, op.cit., p. 14.
  32. Ibid., p. 40.
  33. Gold, op.cit., p. 139.
  34. His other buildings are the Woodard-Peacock House and the Lane-Bardin House, both included in the West Nash Street Historic District, and the Wilson Sanitorium Annex, listed in the Wilson Central Business-Tobacco Warehouse Historic District. See: Bainbridge and Ohno, op.cit., p.236.
  35. Bainbridge and Ohno, op.cit., p. 236.
  36. Ibid., p. 234.
  37. Sue V. Dickinson, The First Sixty Years: A History of the Imperial Tobacco Company (Richmond, Virginia: Whitlet and Shepperson, 1965), p.80.


Bainbridge, Robert C. and Ohno, Kate. Wilson, North Carolina Historic Buildings Inventory. Wilson, North Carolina: City of Wilson, 1980.

Bass, Vidette. Branch: A Tradition with a Future. Wilson, North Carolina: Branch Banking and Trust Company, 1979.

Boykin, J. Robert, III. "Elected Official of Wilson, North Carolina, 1849-1976." 1977. Unpublished work to be found in the Wilson County Public Library.

Branson's North Carolina Business Directory. Raleigh, North Carolina: Levi Branson, 1869, 1884, 1889, 1896.

Cheney, John L., Jr., ed. North Carolina State Government, 1585-1974. Raleigh, North Carolina: Office of the North Carolina Secretary of State, 1975.

Clark, Dr. W.B., Jr. Unpublished research of history of the Wilson tobacco market, ca.1983, in his possession in Wilson, North Carolina.

Connor, R.D.W. North Carolina — Rebuilding an Ancient Commonwealth, 1584-1925. Chicago: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1929.

Crittenden, Powell, and Woody, eds. 100 Years — 100 Men. Raleigh, North Carolina: Edwards and Broughton Company, 1971.

Daniel, J.M., Jr. Hackney — The History of a Company. Wilson, North Carolina: Hackney Brothers Body Company, 1979.

Daniels, Josephus. Tar Heel Editor. Chapel Hill, North Carolina University of North Carolina, 1939.

Gold, Daisy Hendley. "A Town Named. Wilson," 1949. Unpublished work available at the Wilson County Public Library.

Gray's New Map of Wilson, North Carolina. Philadelphia: Jacob Chase 1882.

Industrial and Commercial Wilson, North Carolina. C.E. Weaver Series Progressive Cities, 1912.

Insurance Maps of Wilson, North Carolina. New York Sanborn Map Company, 1884, 1885, 1893, 1877, 1903, 1908, 1913, 1922, 1930, 1962.

Johnston, Hugh B., Jr. "Bits of Wilson History," 1979. Unpublished work available at the Wilson County Public Library.

Lefler, Hugh Talmage and Newsome, Albert Ray. The History of a Southern State — North Carolina. Chapel Hill; North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1973.

Mayo's Map of Wilson, 1872. Original drawing by E.B. Mayo, copied by F.R. Thompson in 1923.

"Minutes of City Council, Wilson, North Carolina." Nine volumes, 1850-May 27, 1907. Unpublished work available at the Wilson County Public Library.

North Carolina Division of Archives and History, Survey and Planning Branch. Raleigh, North Carolina. Survey files for Wilson City, 1979.

North Carolina Division of Archives and History, Survey and Planning Branch. Raleigh, North Carolina. Nominations to the National Register of Historic Places for Moses Rountree House, Davis-Whitehead-Harriss House.

Ohno, Kate. Wilson County's Architectural Heritage. Wilson, North Carolina: Wilson County, 1981.

Sketches of Wilson, North Carolina — Who's Who and What's What. Richmond, Virginia: C.E. Weaver, Central Publishing Company, 1928.

The Wilson Daily Times. Wilson Centennial Anniversary Edition, 1949.

The Wilson Daily Times. Bicentennial Edition, July 4, 1976.

The North Carolina Yearbook and Business Directory. Raleigh, North Carolina: News and Observer, 1907, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1915, 1916.

Tilley, Nannie May. The Bright-Tobacco Industry, 1860-1929. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina, 1948.

Wilson County Register of Deeds, Wilson County Courthouse, Wilson, North Carolina.

Wilson Historic Properties Commission, Municipal Building"' Designation reports for the following Wilson Historic Properties: Judge Henry G. Connor House, Wiggins-Hadley House, James W. Wilkins House, Moses Rountree House, James Rountree House, A.J. Simms House, Eugene L. Jordan House, A.P. Simpson House, St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, Wilson Primitive Baptist Church, William S. Anderson House, Davis-Whitehead-Harriss House, David Woodard House, Allie Fleming House, Weaver-Simms House, Dr. James E. Gorham House, Fire Station Number One, Farmer House, Boykin-Edmundson House, Methodist Episcopal Church South.

Wilson, North Carolina Directory. Richmond, Virginia Hill Directory Company; 1908-1909, 1912-1913, 1916-1917, 1920, 1922-1923, 1925, 1928, 1936, 1941.

‡ Tom Butchko, Preservation Consultanty, Old WIlson Historic District, Wilson County, North Carolina, nomination document, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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