I love writing this blog. WordPress is the platform I use. If I drank, and I don’t, whoever stays up all night figuring out how to make it harder and less sense, makes me say, “I’ll have a double sweet tea on the rocks!”
I was bummed because the number of followers WordPress showed remained the same for what felt like years. Not too long ago the person who keeps track of such things must have showed up for work because a new number appeared. 1331 – now that’s more like it. If you read the blog regularly you know that I write (and talk on the podcast: anchor,fm/stepheny-houghtlin) about saving the commercial and residential architecture of Rocky Mount, NC; the point being that the benefits of preservation, restoration and repurposing are economic drivers in the revitalization of Rocky Mount. If you are involved with the revitalization of other Main Streets, we are all facing the same obstacles. After a few years of writing this blog, Mainstreetrockymount.com, people began to introduce me by saying, “This is Stepheny Houghtlin, she is our biggest Cheerleader.” I love this designation.
I look at the platforms I use on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Podcasting and Blogging as a big game board. I asked a college granddaughter, who was taking a social media class, to help me download the free WordPress program. (Younger people are now hard-wired with all the technology involved in social media.) I took that first step into the unknown and trusted I could learn how to navigate, with plenty of help, the mysteries of this vast communication tool. It is great fun and I’m getting better at promoting the passion I have that Rocky Mount’s Main Street and beyond can be the light in the sky for Eastern North Carolina. This is not some place you pass through on the train, but a destination.
I grew up outside Chicago with its magnificent architecture created by some of the greatest architects in the world. I think of myself as your keen observer, your researcher, your tour guide looking at the shotgun and bungalow housing in need of a new life. I am enthusiastic so you will be too. I believe in the downtown stakeholders and write about them, so you come to know them and support their businesses. I know you get sick to death talking about the City Council and City Management mistakes, but political junkie that I am, I’m there for you. There are moments you might be proud of or embarrassed by what I want to say out loud, but don’t. Things like. “Give it a rest!”
I get hopping mad over the doggy business that goes on. I send my cheerleading uniform to the cleaners while I recharge, but I always believe. We need everyone, black, white, polkadot, purple, green, it matters not, believing together to have a truly successful revitalization. I admit to a point of view that is saying in the case of the city council elections, IT IS TIME FOR A CHANGE. You may hate politics but the reality in Rocky Mount is that if you are not involved in some way….join the organization Preservation Rocky Mount for $35 a single membership….. you get what you’ve got. We can all honor and respect the past, but it is TODAY that matters when building a future that is significant.
A lovely evening: Friends, family, prospective renters and curious folks gathered last Friday night to celebrate the ribbon cutting for the Davis Lofts. The few photographs I took give away my interest in the brick walls that were left exposed, the paint and plaster that honor the past. 22 lofts are the outcome of Troy Davis’s vision, ingenuity and expertise.
I have written before about the concept of Living Above the Store. Here is a link to one of those posts: https://mainstreetrockymount.com/tag/living-above-the-store/ The accredited Main Street programs in New Bern, Goldsboro, Elizabeth City, Wilson and Tarboro are fine examples of the successful repurposing of historic commercial buildings that honor the past but are a part of successful downtown redevelopment. The fact that investors, preservation advocates and the Main Streets I mentioned, and have seen for myself, make the Davis Lofts and the other projects like this going on downtown a proven element of successful revitalization.
A vibrant, diverse community that live, work and play downtown bring energy and economic stability to those who have and are still planting their flags downtown. What continues to hold us back is the decision making that eminates from those on the City Council whose only interest in a project is one that includes a pay off for themselves and cronies. Research tells us that the development of the perimeter around the historic downtown area must guarantee the economic wherewithal for businesses downtown.
This blog: Mainstreetrockymount.com celebrates the opening of the Davis Lofts. It is a significant piece of the revitalization puzzle. As I say on the newest podcast….I want the answer to the question, “Where do you live?” to be, “I live on Main Street at Davis Lofts.” Take 5 minutes and listen to anchor.fm/stepheny-houghtlin Episode 24: RESPECT- Troy Davis Cuts the Ribbon of Opportunity: ‘Living Above the Store’
If you live in Rocky Mount NC or care about preservation, want to stay caught up with Main Street success stories, you’ll want to listen to Stepheny’s take on things. This latest podcast links Charing Cross Road in London with the revitalization of Main Street and beyond. Listen, share with friends, become one of the Main Street cheerleaders. Believe!
I grew up listening to my parents sing in the front seat of the car. (Stardust and Melancholy Baby were my father’s favorites.) I knew the words to The Sunny Side of the Street by the time I started school. The melodies and lyrics that have followed me through my life play quietly in the background as I go along the way. Taking photos on the East side of Washington Street between Thomas and Tarboro on a sunny, lovely day a few weeks ago, my mind’s Juke Box was playing Willie Nelson: CLICK ON https://youtu.bm6DJdiPQmGc
There is a new stretch of sidewalk that has been poured, and restored facades with the typical commercial windows and set-back door. Jesse Gerstl owns the May Gorham building where work is on-going. Jesse is one of the prisms of light I write about that is saving commercial architecture, an architectural gem like Machaven, and shotgun houses that make him a hero to me.
You must drive slowly by, or better still, walk the block and see for yourself an example of preservation, restoration and repurposing. The people involved are what I call, repairers of the breach, essential to the revitalization of Rocky Mount. My photographs don’t do justice to the results of these restorations, but you are with me as I check on things. I hope my excitement makes you excited. Do grab your coat and hat and direct your feet to the sunny side of the street…in this case, Washington St.
The image I use on my calling card has now been restored to look like this. Love it!
I was out having what I call, ‘a Stepheny kind of day,’ headed to the new relocated restaurant, Lillie May’s Kitchen. It is in the beautiful, restored space that began as the Washington Street Grill. Besides a good Philly cheese steak wrap, a friendly and welcoming owner,Vincent Jamal Wiggins, the same brick walls that make my heart happy, I received an unexpected blessing when Moe DeLoach sat down beside me. This bar stool was a fun perch to talk to an authentic, thoughtful, articulate, man who obviously has a moral compass that he follows. Michael “Moe” Deloach, Jr., was born and raised in South Rocky Mount, North Carolina.
After playing European basketball, he returned to Rocky Mount to give back to his community. I hope you’ve eaten at his restaurant, Moe and D’s., given a backpack to his outreach or have had a child enrolled in his basketball camps. Moe is a role model and champion for the youth of Rocky Mount with more he hopes to do.
It struck me after the conversation with Moe, that we have been picking up the wrong end of the stick. There is the endless wringing of hands over the doggy business and racial rattling of the City Council. The impact of their ‘My Will Be Done’ agenda continues to make everything hard. The usual suspect’s names are repeated every day in frustration and incredulity.
Picking up the wrong end of the stick involves some of the members on the City Council and within City management who filter everything through the lens of black victimization. They think an all-black businesses downtown is the way to avenge the past. I’m calling the right end of the stick the ‘Moe Generation,’ who RESPECT the past but know a future cannot be built along racial lines.
I am proud of this Moe generation. People like Zack Poll, Whit and Robert Barns, Terrick Pittman, Cortney Pope, Troy Davis, are but a few of the stakeholders downtown. I think of T.J. Walker, and his work in Ward #4. Many other young people of this ‘Moe generation’ are the names we need to repeat, respect, and encourage. Not only do they know right from wrong but while respecting the past they are focused on life TODAY. The Moe Generation is wise beyond their years to realize that it is TODAY that matters.
The ‘Moe Generation’ recognizes that those who foster the racial divide in Rocky Mount effectively hurt everyone’s prosperity. Unsafe neighborhoods, deteriorating housing, low incomes, and joblessness is the price Rocky Mount pays when Councilmen and their cronies want to control, by the color of a person’s skin, who is welcome and who is not.
We should rejoice and be glad in this ‘Moe Generation.’ They are the best hope we have to change the ‘MY WILL BE DONE’ agenda, which extracts a high price from so many in order to maintain power and outcomes that fit their world view. Racism is their default button when questioned or challenged. The ‘Moe Generation’ respects the past but seems determined to build a future that is a circle large enough for everyone to enter. Picking up the wrong end of the stick is about reaping the consequences of that choice. It is time for a change.
Lillie Mae’s Kitchen offers fresh seafood & southern fried favorites with a unique twist! Delicious southern specialties such as Deep Fried Lobster Tails, Triple Dipper Loaded Cheese Fries or crab legs and more. 119 Washington Street, Rocky Mount, NC
Despite my new pacemaker, yesterday, as I watched video of the Robert E. Lee monument come down, my heart felt broken. Here is the scaffolding during construction in Richmond in 1890. On May 7 as many as 10,000 citizens put their hands on ropes and hauled three large crates a mile and a half to the empty tobacco field above the city now known as Monument Avenue. Inside the crates from the sculptor’s studio in France, the massive statue would soon appear over the skyline of Richmond and become part of the psyche of Virginia. The monument helped the growing perception of Lee as “the Commonwealth’s greatest son. People saved pieces of those ropes the rest of their lives. In Virginia, Lee tributes included the naming of 5 high schools, two elementary schools, an Army base and a university. The Lee mansion overlooking Arlington National Cemetery is a Park Service memorial that draws at least a million visitors a year. (Pictures and some text from an article I saved written by historian Edward Ayers, who teaches at the University of Richmond)
Like Rocky Mount’s monument, both statues are hidden away and still risk complete demolition in the dark of night. In the midst of a budget meeting of the city council, the fate of our monument was decided. This is another example of the devastating highjacking of America.
An Explanation: The reason you find the subject of removing monuments on Main Street is my way of circumventing my Facebook page where I was writing and wanted to use these photographs. I was kicked off before I finished. I would have said, “What the heck just happened?” But in commenting on the tragic Afghanistan withdrawal, at least three time, the same thing happened. It finally dawned on me that certain words trigger the take down. Miss Pollyanna here, was given a dose of reality. It makes things seem all the harder in this fight to save America from itself. Which leads to the next subject.
Why is everything in Rocky Mount so hard? The revitalization of Main Street and beyond continues to be hard! The decorum on the Council, the fostering of racial divide that reins over the Council meetings, make everything hard! The politicalizing of decisions continues to make things hard. The struggle over who will be allowed to buy the commercial buildings, invest in residential housing, who is welcomed and who is not, makes everything hard. The deliberate sabotaging of investment in order to retain control allowing doggy business practices to continue….this makes living in Rocky Mount all the harder. Because we have several people on the Council and in City Management who look through the lens of the past, this view is interjected into the matters at hand during a Council meeting. It should prompt the Mayor, who does have the power to take charge, ask, “What does this have to do with the issue under discussion? We are here representing the taxpayers of TODAY, who all want a good education, safe neighborhoods, decent housing, and to benefit by our deliberations TODAY.”
In the latest Podcast, Talking Main Street with Stepheny, CLICK ON: http://anchor.fm/stepheny-houghtlin (Episode 20) I ask the question, Qui Bono? In five minutes there wasn’t enough time to tell you about a conversation I had with my great granddaughter, who at the time was four years old. We were headed into the Event Center to have lunch and hopefully see some trains go by. As we got out of the car, we could hear a train coming. We waited. As car after car rolled by
Annaclaire said, “This is a long train.”
I responded, “You’re not kidding.”
Annaclaire answered matter of factly, “No, I’m not kidding.” Of course, I laughed.
As we stood and watched, this dear child looked up at me and said, “Lots of people going on vacation today.”
I hope you have children in your lives that love trains. I have a great grandchild that plays on the floor talking to himself as he lays down the track and pushes Thomas, the engine, and the wooden cars Thomas pulls, through the magic of magnets. Even without tracks, the driveway works too.
This little guy’s father loved trains too. He was playing on the floor in his room one day and was having trouble getting a bridge piece in place on the wooden track he was building. My daughter, Claire, stood in the doorway unnoticed when she heard this little boy say, “We got troubles!” “We got troubles!”To this day this utterance is repeated in the family. When I was still playing golf, I over shot the green and landed in a deep sand bunker with the green high above me. I remember looking up at Bob who was standing on the green looking down. Of course, said, “We got troubles.”
The railroad was one of the reasons Rocky Mount grew and prospered. Today’s family members still tell the stories of their parents that worked for the railroad. Part of those stories reside in Historic Villa Place and Historic Edgemont where many of the railroad families lived. I fell in love with the Villa Place area when I first saw it because of the homes that line the streets. In Edgemont, there is the beautiful D.J. Rose house on Tarborro Street that Jean Bailey and her husband lived in for years. Home after home in Edgemont are architectural gems. Many of these homes hold the railroad stories of Rocky Mount.
I talk about a phrase that was new to me when I came upon it while reading the series, The Railroad Detective, by Edmund Marston. I made note of it. The words, Qui Bono, asks the question, who stands to gain? I begin with Fred Holdsworth who is the weatherman on WHIG-TV. Among many things he was once a railroad detective. I don’t want to give the rest away, but as the City Council elections are upon us, we should ask, Qui Bono?
Once again, we are asking, “Where did the summer go?” I think of summer ending when the children go back to school, but then I often look at summertime through the nostalgia of my youth. I remember the last day of school when it seemed there were endless days ahead to play. I wonder if you haven’t had a similar experience where out of the blue a past summer memory shows up while buying strawberries from a roadside stand or walking back from the mailbox when you hear laughing children down the block?
This year, August 31, will not be forgotten. It is a somber time, a sad time, where dismay and anger co-mingle. Regardless of this disaster with its devastating consequences, we offer up our deepest respect and gratitude for our military. We offer prayers to guard them asleep or waking.
Though I believe Rocky Mount can be the campfire that lights up the Eastern North Carolina sky, after these past few weeks, it seems a hard hill to climb. Though it is Time for a Change on the City Council, no one has stepped forward in Ward #2 to challenge a seat that has been held for over 20 years. I heard Colonel McGregory say on TV the other day something that applies to our situation on the Council. “Where there is no accountability there is no performance.”
If you haven’t tried listening to the 5-minute podcast, Talking Main Street with Stepheny, Episode 18 published on August 31 would be a good one to try. I talk about our summer memories tethering us to the America we love. It is a simple step. Just click on this link…… anchor.fm/Stepheny-houghtlin and there you are.
I say on the podcast that I wish we could have split open a bunch of watermelons together. I would find your company comforting and love listening to your Main Street ideas, and where and how you spent your summers.
As we turn the calendar page to Sept. 1, I know we are all praying for the country, for the people of Afghanistan, and in thanksgiving for those who have served and kept us safe from another 9-11.
I’m on a Rocky Mount ‘high’ after spending time on ROSE STREET checking things out. Research consistantly points out that restoring one home leads to the next. People get inspired, they see that it can be done, and pride in the outcome spreads down the street.
One of the most beautiful architectural jewels in Rocky Mount is this Victorian owned by Susan Cole. I wrote on an earlier blog about this home. I even took a photograph to Sherwin Williams to get a guesstimate of how much it would cost to repaint it after seeing this beauty in a state of faded glory. If you are local, go and pay your respects by taking in the newly painted exterior. Several people have told me how beautiful the interior is, a grand staircase, an entry hall. I can easily imagine the graces of this architecture after seeing similar homes of this vintage.
This beauty sits next door to the Victorian. The owners came out to see if I was okay and told me they had restored their home. They talked with pride over their efforts and what was happening along Rose Street and in the area.
I’ve been talking and writing about Rocky Mount’s bungalows and the shotguns since I began the blog. Today’s Rose Street adventure began in the 300 block of Rose where I braked in front of a bungalow with a dempster dumpster sitting at the curb, signaling that work was at hand. Not only there but other bungalows on down the street have been or are being renovated. I talked with several of the owners over the fence who have straw-bossed these wonderful renovations. Rightfully proud of their accomplishment, their stories prove once again how important it is to save these gems and the stories they hold.
The two bungalows below are owned by sisters at 314-316 Rose. The colors and charm of each home say more for the preservation of Rocky Mount’s bungalows than words can ever say. In the heat, needing a glass of sweet tea, you can imagine my reaction to the flag hanging from the blue house.
From what I saw and from those I spoke to, I am filled with hope that preserving remarkable architecture on Rose Street is spreading rapidly. Determination is spreading in the area to make things beautiful again.
When you think of Rocky Mount, I want you to repeat this mantra with me. “There is more right with us in this moment, than there is wrong.” I don’t want to hear anyone using the word gentrification as if it were a disease to be avoided at all costs. Crying gentrification is an excuse for inaction. Rose Street has paid no attention to this gentrification label as one house at a time is worked on.
The Cole house is an inspiration and a bright star on Rose Street, as are the other homes in the area that are being restored. Regardless of the reality of our troubles, Think positive. Remember, “At this moment there is more right with us than wrong.”
When my middle son and new bride came to a small family gathering, Rob and his first cousin were having a political discussion, coming from two different points of view. Regardless of my ‘new’ daughter’s young years, she was already infinitely wise. Off stage she said to Rob, “You have to decided how important it is for you to be right.” This was her response to how he had pressed his opinions. Three grown daughters later, they are grandparents for the first time. They have grown up together and are an amazing team.
The price for having to be right is playing out before our eyes in the Afghanistan news. In spite of Joe Biden’s dimensioning capacities, he prevailed over a field of candidates that were dubious at best. Adding insult to injury, a candidate that had to drop out of the primaries because of her poor performance, became the Vice President running mate. Kamalla became the 1st woman of color elected to the office, checking off boxes, yet unsuited for the job.
At the time, I gave Biden six months before having to step down for health reasons. Remember the Democrats hadn’t governed in four years putting all their energy and focus into impeaching Trump. Seven months later we have a border crisis that was in check. Covid became politicized for Americans but not for those entering the country illegally. Inflation is not some vague notion but the price of gas when I last filled up was $2.99. Our oil independence has been sabotaged.
It was so important to be right, that Trump’s policies that were working were immediately dismantled. Listening to the news, I heard a Colonel McGregory say, “Where there is no accountability there is no performance.”
You would be wrong if you think this is another Republican rant. As wrong as thinking that criticism or questions are racist if directed at certain members of the City Council, or the City Manager and her hires. Black, white, or poke-a-dot, it does not matter. It is the mistakes and doggy business decisions that matter. The American withdrawal has underscored the necessity of accountability, and the cost of having to be right. America is paying the price on the world stage for terrible decisions. In Rocky Mount, NC, where the ‘My Will Be Done’ agenda emanates from the City Council, there has been no accountability and therefore continued skullduggery.
It is time for a change here in Rocky Mount. On March 8th four city council seats will be voted upon. Tom Harris is running for the vacancy in Ward #6 and Pete Armstrong for the vacancy in Ward #7. When you vote against something (Trump) rather than for something you get a Biden/Harris. Surely we can do better than that in this upcoming City Council Election.