The ‘Country Fair” Carousel of Rocky Mount Holds Childhood Memories- Old and New

I have always been a Merry-go-round child. I remember how important it was to pick the right horse and hearing the whirling sound of carousel music. Do you remember watching for your parents standing in the crowd as round and round you’d go?  Let’s be Merry-go-round children again while I remind you of some research information.

Start with some Carousel Music:

In the turn of the last century, carousels fascinated the public. While the ride was available to Europeans since the 1700s, it was the advent of the steam engine that helped carousels come into their own.

Gustav Dentzel pioneered the modern carousel in America around the time of the Civil War. By the 1900s, artisans and manufacturers were building large and grand carousels.  They favored animals and mythological creatures in a variety of poses. All were brightly painted and outfitted to prance in a continuous circle. Interest in the rides peaked in the 1930s. After that, many of the rides were dismantled or allowed to fall into disrepair. A resurgence of interest in the 1970s saved many of the old carousels. With new paint and gilding, the old motors were refurbished and all of the creatures came back to life for a new generation.

The International Museum of Carousel Art reported, “Of the more than 4,000 carousels built in America during the ‘golden age,’ fewer than 150 exist intact today.”
Several of them are here in North Carolina, including two from the master himself, Gustav Dentzel. I’ll write more about our other NC carousels, but NOW:

Herschell-Spillman Carousel
Sunset Park
1550 River Drive, Rocky Mount
(252) 972-1151
The circa 1920 Herschell-Spillman “County Fair” style carousel was bought for the City of Rocky Mount in 1952 by the Rocky Mount Civitan Club. The Carousel was severely damaged in the flood of 1999 and required extensive restoration by Carousel Magic of Mansfield, Ohio.

Renovated rounding boards were added to include paintings of images found on 1920′s postcards depicting Rocky Mount landmarks and activities of that time.
Open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, 1-7 p.m. A $5 admission fee allows day-long rides on the carousel, train, spray ground and other amenities.

Video about the Carousel:











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Rocky Mount Central Cafe Continues to Make Memories

Another initiation takes place at the Rocky Mount Central Cafe. It’s official, a true little citizen has now been baptized in the history, food, and people of a landmark destination downtown. Grammy was on duty today to pick up Annaclaire, 3-1/4-year-old great-granddaughter from VBS.  She wanted to go to Sonic, but I suggested this alternative. We called Mama for permission. “What a great idea!” So off we went. Annaclaire’s order… dog, French fries——and don’t mention this to Mama, I want Sweet Tea. Trying to walk a delicate line between, you can have anything you want, Love, and mindful of Mama’s rules, I asked for a SMALL cup. That seems right, don’t you think?

Three wonderful ladies that are the spirit of the Cafe each came separately to greet Annaclaire and say her name when she told them what it was. Folks came and went for lunch, many of them who knew one another. Guessing at their ages they had been eating at the Cafe for many years. Central Cafe is a small building but is bursting at the seams with memories.

Now another child will hopefully remember- I used to eat here with my Grammy. One last observation. Growing up in Evanston, IL. a famous Chicago hotdog was an occasion. It comes with ketchup and pickles. When I order mine that way at Central Cafe no one faints and falls out. Only dear Southern friends look at me askance as they order theirs with chili et. al. Next up: the carousel and train to further Annaclaire’s Rocky Mount memory making.  PS: The first thing AC told her mommy when we got home was, I had sweet tea!

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It’s a Lovely Day Today – A Morning With SFH on Main Street

A June 4th morning – I have taken myself off to NABS  (Never A Better Sandwich) for a fresh baked Cinnamon bun, and dare I admit, sweet (tea). I am sitting outside listening to soft jazz, the most divine breeze stirring the leaves on the trees and the American flags flapping gently on the lamp posts. The Century Link Man in his service truck waves at me as he goes by. Peace!

The Douglas Block now and then: I can imagine the folks from years ago as if they are all still here. They appear like a ghost who steps through a wall or perhaps walking out of the cornfield as in the movie, Field of Dreams. Here they continue to shop, meet and greet, visiting the drug store, going to the movies, families with children in tow who have come to town. Once segregated, could they possibly imagine me sitting at the sidewalk cafe table listening for them, watching them from afar. I think about Ed Riley and Yalem, owners of the now-famous Smokehouse and this new coffee sandwich shop. If you know Ed, he is a great big bear of a man who gives hugs that rub the fur-fabric right off the proverbial Velveteen Rabbit. The sidewalk concrete space at the end of the building is waiting to be transformed into more outdoor seating.  With Yalem’s eye and creativity, I know it is going to be a destination.

I hope for a train to come by and am not disappointed.   I think too late to count the cars as we did when kids. There is no caboose at the end coming around the track, track, track. The long mile of cars heads south. After some photographs, I returned to the little table to further enjoy this scene, to honor The Douglas Block Story. This pleasant morning seems important to celebrate, to hope for all good things to come.

Take a minute and listen to Ella Fitzgerald singing It’s A Lovely Day Today…                           she got the whole scene just right.


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Believing in Possibilities -A Rocky Mount Formula Guaranteed To Succeed

Louise Penny is a Canadian author that writes an award-winning mystery series. Recently I finished one of the latest, Glass Houses. Three Pines near Quebec is often the fictitious setting for this excellent series; a village someone finds when lost. In the Authors Note, Louise Penny writes – Some might argue that Three Pines itself isn’t real, and they’d be right, but limited in their view. The village does not exist, physically. But I think of it as existing in ways that are far more important and powerful. Three Pines is a state of mind. When we choose tolerance over hate, kindness over cruelty, goodness over bullying, when we choose to be hopeful, not cynical, then we live in Three Pines.

Here in Rocky Mount, we must embrace the state of mind that Louise Penny writes about: tolerance over hate, kindness over cruelty, goodness over bullying. These values were taught in the world I grew up in. I count it a blessing that I am able to see the good in people, recognize heroes and generous hearts. I was left with a collection of what I think of as sacred memories that inform how I see the world today. Simple things – I remember riding a bicycle home at twilight, the sound of a tennis ball on a clay court, a kiss goodnight on the front porch just short of curfew. People were honorable, they worked hard to give their children more than what they’d grown up with. Politics spawned statesmen. I know that a positive state of mind isn’t all that is needed when building a dream, but it is a must if the dream has any chance of coming true. Be sure you are sitting on the positive end of the teeter-totter.  With newly elected leadership, those with business acumen and a moral compass sitting on the other end, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

It doesn’t matter my age when June arrives, I have that ‘last day of school-feeling.’ Three months stretched out before us to reclaim the best of summertime. In addition to believing in Rocky Mount may I suggest a stack of books, tomatoes from the farmers market with Duke mayonnaise, salt, and white bread. Let’s look for fireflies in the shrubs, surely there are some left. Let’s make room on the garden bench to remember those who are gone, but never forgotten. Go downtown on a coffee crawl, get to the Mill for a cold glass of beer, dine at our restaurants, and shop. Enjoy the summer possibilities that life holds, especially the possibilities of Rocky Mount.



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The City Government Shifts Attention in Word and Deed – Downtown Incentives and Ordiances

Through concrete, a flower emerges with Persistence

“Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement.”
Marv Levy


Jean Arthur as Peter Pan

I’ve told you the story of being taken to the Shubert Theater in Chicago as a little girl to see the stage play, Peter Pan. In one scene Tinker Bell’s light is fading and Jean Arthur, who plays Peter, steps to the edge of the stage pleading with the audience to save Tinker.- If you believe, clap your hands. As only a little girl can when captured in the moment, I clapped as hard as I could. I have asked you to do the same when believing in the revitalization of Rocky Mount. I will admit there are times my own light dims when I face the obstacles to grace in saving Main Street! Living life as a Pollyanna does give me the energy to pick myself up and BELIEVE again.

When it comes to news about changes for downtown, it is difficult for people to shed their skepticism. They have been let down, disappointed, darn right mad, felt powerless and paying taxes on things they oppose. The state of our political insanity today has brought us to the fact that if President Donald Trump cured cancer there would be a human cry that he ignored Alzheimer’s. We must be careful not to have the same kind of unexamined response to the city’s announced shift in word and deed towards downtown. I attended the workshop where Kevin Harris, City Business Development Director, presented this material written up in the Telegram on May 26th. If you missed this fine reporting, here is the link – The City focuses on Downtown

I refuse to dismiss out of hand this declaration of renewed interest and help for Main Street because of past disappointments. It is exactly what I and others have been asking, cajoling, shaming, pleading and praying for. A return to enforcing ordinances evenly across the board, streamlining paperwork, turning in itemized bills before payment of grant money. The reinstatement of the ‘demolition by neglect ordinance’ is key here. The city has put some teeth behind this declaration of intent with three outstanding hires to steward this huge effort to pick up where the Varney years left off, support these wonderful investors and new businesses, dreamers and economic drivers that are the new Rocky Mount. Remember, the journey is an inch at a time, and we must support the inch that is being offered and BELIEVE.

Posted in Economic Development in Rocky Mount NC, Preservation of Historic Commercial Buildings, Preservation Rocky Mount | 2 Comments

If Historic Tax Credits Don’t Turn You On – What About Unbreathable Paint?

Booker T. Washington Theater

However, you spent this past Tuesday, it wasn’t as much fun as what I got up to. I attended a Historic Tax Credit and Main Street Seminar at the Booker T. Theater. If that doesn’t make you weak in the knees, I don’t know what else to suggest. I mean a discussion about breathable and unbreathable paint!  Looking at slides of historical old homes with moisture damage and termites?  Kevin Harris gave us information about types of available Downtown Rocky Mount Building Assistance Programs. Peter Varney talked and led a tour of the Douglas Block area that was filled with valuable Varney first-hand information and an incredible institutional memory. Naomi Riley presented the Main Street Program in the afternoon which we’ll talk about another time.”It was a Way Cool! day.”

David Wise and Stepheny -speakers for The Professional Women’s quarterly meeting

Good News: New city Business and Downtown Development Coordinator David Wise, one of three new hires for the City, devised this workshop as part of celebrating Preservation month. You are going to enjoy knowing and benefiting from David’s expertise. He is an idea man. You will have to catch hold of his shirttail to restrain him or else let him take you up into the atmosphere of exciting possibilities for Main Street’s future. Will Deaton, Director of Development Services and Stephanie Goodrich, Senior Planner, complete the trinity of accomplished, educated, focused professionals who have hit the track running. They are great additions to the Saving Main Street efforts. Hallelujah.

Reid Thomas, a restoration specialist

The seminar featured Reid Thomas, a restoration specialist with the State Historic Preservation Office. Besides paint and termites and moisture damage, he spoke about historic preservation incentives at the state and federal levels.  He is a valuable resource with endless advice in downtown preservation efforts.

The Important Stuff:  There is a 20 percent federal tax credit and a 15 percent state tax credit for rehabilitating commercial or income-producing properties. The state will offer a 5 percent bonus if the property is in a county that the state Commerce Department considers economically distressed. Nash and Edgecombe counties are on that list.  A 5 percent bonus if the property has industrial structures that have been at least 65 percent vacant for two years. You are looking at a 35 to 45 percent tax credit, a large saving.

People can spread out the federal and state credits over time. The property needs to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, either individually or in a historic district. The property also needs to meet standards set by the federal secretary of the interior. As for residences, homeowners may receive a 15 percent state tax credit for rehabilitating non-income-producing properties. This is a ‘once over lightly’ summation of the seminar, and there will be more opportunities like this in the future. It’s a good day when I learn something new. I intend to learn more about the world of historic tax credits, so important in preservation efforts. There is room for you in all of this. Join me.


Posted in Douglas Block Stories, Economic Development in Rocky Mount NC, Preservation of Historic Commercial Buildings, Preservation Rocky Mount | 2 Comments

We Celebrate a New Downtown Business – NABS – May 20th, 2019

On Friday I attended the soft opening of the new Deli and Coffee Shop, NABS – (Never A Better Sandwich). I walked into the dream of Yalem Kiros. I had a wonderful experience and so will you. Yalem is a native of Ethiopia, one of the world’s leading coffee producing countries. We know this lovely woman and cheerleader for Main Street because she and her husband, Ed Riley own The Prime Smokehouse, a destination with great food, wonderful service, and hospitality. Now NABS has been created from the dreams of Yalem, with her spirituality and love of people. NABS is a new gathering space for those living and working downtown, and everybody else looking for a great atmosphere, location, and a place to just ‘be.’

NABS will be offering fresh baked goods in the morning, as well as eggs. After breakfast, the deli menu plans to offer club sandwiches, combo sandwiches, jumbo sandwiches, meatball sub sandwiches, Reuben sandwiches, and chili dogs.
NABS also plans to offer Caesar salads, chef salads, grilled chicken salads, tuna salads and more than half a dozen kinds of soups.


On the coffee shop side, NABS plans to offer cappuccinos, frappes and lattes and a variety of teas as well as hot chocolate and spiced apple cider.



Officially open for business Monday, May 20
For now, NABS will be open from 7 a.m. to approximately 3-4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 8 a.m. to approximately 2-3 p.m. on Saturdays.


“There is nothing like a dream to create the future.”
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables


Every time a new business opens dreams manifest themselves.  Welcome to this newest dream on Main Street, and to the historic Douglas Block. Thank you, Yalem for helping to build Rocky Mount’s future. See everyone there!


Posted in Douglas Block Stories, Economic Development in Rocky Mount NC, People Making A Difference in Rocky Mount, Preservation of Historic Commercial Buildings | Tagged , , | 1 Comment