How Do We Look at Gentrification and Displacement in Rocky Mount, NC? – Part 2


Click On: It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?  -Fred Rogers

Please, don’t let your notion of Gentrification fall into the category of an unexamined idea. By that I mean, picking out the consequences of gentrification as it pertains to large urban areas and saying, “You see, this is what happens!” Gentrification coupled with smart urban policy is a powerful tool in reversing the direction of slowly dying areas. I hope we agree that here in Rocky Mount it is a good thing when neighborhoods are proactive for themselves and one home after another is cleaned up. It is a positive sign when investors, homeowners, and landlords, are involved with the restoration and preservation of their properties. We know rents go up, as they should when landlords keep up decent and safe places for their renters.  The aphorism “A rising tide lifts all boats” is associated with the idea that improvements in the general economy will benefit all participants in the economy. Take it up with John Kennedy, who is credited with the phrase, if you must.

Displacement is understood as the evil consequence of gentrification. Without the pluses of gentrification, however, a blighted neighborhood remains just that. Our historic districts already have neighbors with income and educational differences, and there is no reason to believe otherwise that revitalized neighborhoods can also retain their age, ethnic, and racial diversity. New arrivals are already blending in with longtime residents. One of the reasons we know the revitalization of Rocky Mount will be successful is because we offer exactly what researchers say is needed to draw transplants, investors, and new businesses. Villa Place and Edgemont, support the research:  historic! and architecturally interesting.  (Five homes have been recently bought in Edgemont, which is exciting.) We shouldn’t assume that longtime residents in areas that are attracting investment aren’t happy to have the services that spring up, a decent grocery store, adequate police patrols, and other upsides of gentrification….things that in our imperfect world they have been without. There is no reason why Rocky Mount should feel anything but enthusiasm and goodwill for gentrification, embracing the good that comes from it while at the same time staying sensitive to, and solving, any problem it creates. It is not an either-or decision. This is a win-win for everyone. This is a community filled with brilliant people who can solve gentrification and displacement issues because everyone wants to make HOME a better place.

Downtown Rocky Mount has iconic landmarks, distinctive features, and unique neighborhoods. Surely there is no other agenda in play. Everyone wants people living in safe and decent rental properties and sees the advantage investment in our neighborhoods brings. No one would put their own political gain before the good of the community. Dismissing that possibility, I say, let’s get on with preservation and restoration of our residential and commercial properties that represent the history, image, and character of Rocky Mount.


Posted in Gentrification and Displacement | Tagged , | 3 Comments

How Do We Look at GENTRIFICATION and DISPLACEMENT In Rocky Mount NC? -Part 1

“It’s not about you and your pocket alone; let it be for the collective joy of your entire neighborhood and beyond.” – Israelmore Ayivor

Gentrification is a word that means different things to different people. It is a term used to describe positive community development that includes increased home values, new businesses and job opportunities, safer streets and neighborhoods, increased tax revenues. That’s one side of this coin, the other is the word displacement where current residents of a neighborhood may be forced to move because they can’t afford to live in the changing neighborhoods. In researching the impact of Katrina for a novel I am writing, I ran across, Richard Campanella, a geographer with the Tulane School of Architecture, who writes about New Orleans. I have taken up with him and subsequent related writers in an attempt to educate myself on the topic of gentrification as it pertains to Rocky Mount’s revitalization. Let’s sit down on a bench along Main Street and talk about a few aspects of this topic. I promise, it is fascinating….well, I think it is!

How are we going to look at gentrification? How do we mitigate the negative aspect of gentrification while pursuing the benefits?

There has been a reversal of the abandonment by the middle class of inner cities as young professionals rediscover (downtown Rocky Mount and our Historic Districts) in urban areas across the country. People today are abandoning their cars and long commutes in favor of walkable communities where they can live near their jobs in an “ambiance of urban authenticity.”

When I treat myself to a drive through the Historic Districts,  Villa Place and Edgemont, two of our greatest assets in support of economic development, I fantasize flashing signs that say to investors, home buyers….. OPPORTUNITY. Here we have housing with architectural credentials, great locations, and wonderful people that are restoring and preserving these amazing structures. We’re not the size of Brooklyn or other large urban areas where this topic looms large, but in our own way, we have to address the problems and celebrate the benefits of Gentrification.

Next Time: Join Me On a Main Street Bench For Part 2



Posted in Gentrification and Displacement | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Economic Development in Downtown Rocky Mount -The Official Opening of Station Square – Ribbon Cutting Ceremony


There have been historical accounts of ribbon-cutting ceremonies since the end of the 19th century. City officials and neighboring business owners are invited to help celebrate a new venture. We have all seen a large ribbon ceremoniously cut by one or more important figure with speeches to follow. According to Union Parish, La. archives, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held around 1898 for the opening of a railroad line in northern Louisiana. These ceremonies became more common throughout the 1900s. Prominent ribbon cuttings include the opening of the Disneyland Monorail in 1959 and the opening of the World Trade Center in 1973. Rocky Mount is not to be outdone!

Ben Braddock, the new owner of Station Square, will be on hand to meet and greet all of us this afternoon at 5:30 for the ribbon cutting of this revitalized property. I hope you have admired the beautiful new paint on the exterior of the buildings retaining their historic colors. Inside the buildings, you will find a fresh, vibrant, busy, place that reflects the economic development going on in the community. This is a great opportunity to see for yourself what is going on so you can spread the word. You remember the song in the movie, Love Actually? Well, instead of singing the is all around us, you can feel it in the air.….we can sing….economic development is all around us, we can see it for ourselves.

56 properties have been sold downtown. For example, The Carlton House has been sold with an estimated 2.5 million dollars investment plan to bring it to new life and purpose.  The Five Points buildings along Washington Street ….sold.  There is much more to talk about in upcoming posts. Economic Development is all around us and it spreads out from our downtown areas. Did you know that our real estate inventory is the lowest since the recession? Five houses have been sold in the Edgemont Historic District.

STATION SQUARE’s ribbon cutting today has broad shoulders that reflect investment, it is about YOUNG PEOPLE who are relocating, about new businesses, and dear to our hearts…. this is a great example of restoration, preservation, and the reuse of commercial properties.            Congratulations to one and all

Please take a minute and read:

Telling the Station Square Story-Mr Lynell Bynum-

Station Square-Lynell Bynum: Are you Committed to Downtown Success

Posted in Preservation of Historic Commercial Buildings | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Gospel According to Preservation Rocky Mount’s Salvage Store – Preacher Today: Stepheny Houghtlin

Let me hear you say, AMEN, Brothers and Sisters!  I want to thank you for coming today as we gather at 910 Falls Road, a holy place where the past is preserved and the good news of restoration is preached. All of you know the story in your Bibles where the disciples gather up the leftover fish and loaves. I believe, my friends, that this story teaches us that nothing in our lives is to be wasted. (The congregation agrees) “Yes, Lord!” “That’s right!”  “Amen!”

The Gospel according to Preservation Rocky Mount’s Salvage Store is available to all who seek out Historic Salvage in order to restore, make new, and design projects that incorporate architectural elements. You may ask, who are these preservation disciples that save doors, mantels, wood flooring and windows, one step ahead of the demolition of lost properties?

Introducing Adrienne Copland: She is a PRM Board Member, putting her time, talent, and energy into the PRM Salvage Store Other new and energetic board members have been helping Margaret Sowerwine who has looked after the Store since its inception. New board member, Bill Johnson has been invaluable as the organization considers the future of the store to include a new business plan and location.  Two other important names in the Rocky Mount preservation family are City of Rocky Mount Community Code Supervisor, Kelly Cook, and Neil Watson, the Building Inspector who both work with Adrienne in locating homes that are scheduled for demolition allowing architectural treasures to be saved. A big hallelujah to both Kelly and Neil. If you have an interest in this important piece of preservation, why not become involved.  Contact Adrienne. (Her Phone # listed below)

Take a moment and read an earlier post about the ECC Preservation Program.

In the photo on the right are Felix Padilla, Kathryn McDowell Amber Perry, Jacob Gore, Megan Ecker, Paula Stiles, Chris Jones-Instructor, along with Adrienne, who are all students enrolled in the ECC Preservation Program. They recently helped with a salvage mission. Bill Johnson-Board Member was on hand too. These amazing people are being trained in various aspects of restoration and preservation, with a hands-on approach. Here they are in their work clothes a bit dusty and tired but smiling because they love what they do.

The salvage saved from 1233 Barnes Street, 505 and 801 Pender Streets can now be found among the other treasures at the PRM Salvage Store at 910 Falls Rd. Rocky Mount, NC. Here you can buy a piece of local history and help preserve Rocky Mount’s architectural legacy. Current hours are 10-12 Friday and Saturday or by appointment. Call Adrienne Copland – 704-778-5622 or Margaret Sowerwine – 252 -985-1804. All believers in the preservation of our architectural treasures are welcome.


Posted in ECC Historic Preservation Program | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

A Preservation Success – Bellemonte House – Restoration Sublime

You would have loved being with me the other day for a special brunch with the new innkeepers of Bellemonte House. It was a behind the scenes view of a major production just before the curtain rises. There were skilled workmen scurrying around taking care of last-minute details, an electrician with a few more chandeliers to hang.

I peeked into cardboard boxes that cluttered the stage waiting to have their treasures unpacked and placed. Several gorgeous pieces of antique furniture were still being appraised for best location. Flat screen TV’s were pulled from their wrappings and when a delivery of delicate smelling soap bars and lotion arrived, one more thing checked off the list. Bellemonte House is about to open, a reprisal of the original play, Historic Plantation House now known as a Bed and Breakfast.

Today this historic home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, is a testament to the glories of preservation, an example of what is possible when we look at our architectural inventory through the eyes of possibility, set aside local politics and the constituency of neighborhoods, and  think only of what is best for each project, residential and commercial, all worthy of protection while their fate is considered.

In this instance, we have Rick Lambeth, and his entire staff, who were the wind beneath the wings of this restoration project. When I think of their passion, their hearts for history, the incredible skills they acquire when entering the field of preservation and restoration, I click my heels and salute them. Let us not forget Monica Flemming and the program she heads at ECC that helps educate and train people for this profession. These are the skilled artisans that preserved the heart of pine floors throughout Bellemonte House, who repair and save original windows and duplicate a missing piece of crown molding. The ones who restore the fireplace mantels and painstakingly recover the exteriors of the architectural gems placed in their hands to save.


Enter stage right…. the stars of the show. I am on my feet applauding. You will never meet two nicer Innkeepers than Denise and Rick Wilkie. They deserve to take a bow. Welcome them to Rocky Mount. We are now their friends and family. They are committed to the run of this production and are working twenty-four-seven to open their new home in February to all who are waiting in the wings to come on stage.

(Call now for reservations – 252-955-2054)

The Wilkie’s welcome Wesleyan College parents, community leaders, the boards and directors of our business community, everyone looking for a tasteful, authentic setting to meet, entertain and conduct business. I look forward to having tea with my book club while sitting around the handsome dining room table or gathering with the board of Preservation Rocky Mount to celebrate this great success.  There will be many reasons to enjoy this beautiful new house. Though filled with beautiful antiques, many from the collections of generous local families, this restoration is not intended as a museum to showcase antiques but to be enjoyed as a living, comfortable and welcoming outreach to the current needs of the community. Overnight guests will be given star treatment with bedrooms and baths that have been created with comfort and rest in mind. A coffee station close at hand, space in each bedroom to work quietly, it’s all there. I know brunch, provided for those who stay, will be lovingly prepared and beautifully presented. …mine was. You know me well enough by now, this preservation success story offered up in the midst of ALL that is happening, brings a tear to my eye. On your feet, folks, this is another reason to applaud the hard work of so many. Congratulations to Bellemonte one and all.


Posted in Preservation Success | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Winston Churchill Comes to Rocky Mount, NC – Happy New Year 2018

Let’s not think of New Year’s Eve as merely a passing occasion we celebrate on December 31st, but as a boundary that we cross that leads to new thinking.  In these early January days, let us reflect on what revitalization means when we refer to the revitalization of Rocky Mount.

Let me explain Winston Churchill’s presence. Since I began writing the Main Street blog, I find I am like a computer that has the ability to run multiple programs at the same time. The Main Street blog is always running in the background no matter what else I am doing. That’s how Winston Churchill has joined us.

I’m reading a novel called Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante, set in the period of our history when in 1941 Winston Churchill addressed the U.S. Congress. His aim was to convince the American public that the wisest plan was to create an effective alliance that could win the war and preserve the peace afterward. When I read the following quote from the speech, my mind switched programs and I saw how this excerpt pertains to Rocky Mount.

“I will say that he must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some great purpose and design is being worked out here below, of which we have the honor to be the faithful servants. It is not given to us to peer into the mysteries of the future. Still, I avow my hope and faith, sure and inviolate, that in the days to come, The British and American people will, for their own safety and for the good of all, walk together in majesty, in justice and in peace.”

These words,,,, for our own safety and for the good of all, suggest to me that here in Rocky Mount, it would be a wise plan to renew our efforts in creating an effective alliance across the board, regardless of politics or race, in order to walk together in majesty into the future.  Churchill’s words inspired a standing, cheering ovation in Congress. We need a united alliance in this new year which will serve as inspiration in our revitalization efforts.

Aren’t we sick to death of hearing the phrase…Rocky Mount has a race problem. Isn’t it the height of embarrassment in 2018 to have this problem in the first place? I want to stand in the middle of Main Street and holler, “Get over yourselves and let’s get on with it” to anyone who gets mileage from this problem or throws gasoline on that fire.

People say its all about power. I believe that. Power to give our community and its citizens a safe place to live, a fine education, great health care, reasonable taxes, neighborhoods where good people look out for one another, all the while fostering pride in our story. With Churchill’s words under our wings, let us go forth into this new year rejoicing in the power of an effective alliance that could accomplish great things in the coming year.

Posted in Stepheny's Rocky Mount Reflections | Tagged | 4 Comments

Celebrating a Merry Christmas on Main Street Rocky Mount



Wishing all of you that meet me on Main Street a blessed Christmas and a New Year filled with your heart’s desires. I look forward to seeing you in January when together there is so much to remember, a future to help build. As one of the Christmas trains slows down while passing through Rocky Mount, let’s all get on board. Lot’s to do, friends, lots to do!



A Christmas note from Stepheny:                                                                                                     This nativity icon means the most to me and I am blessed to have one like it written by an iconographer friend of mine. Isn’t it so that each of us must come and kneel alone as Mary kneels here without all the holy clutter to distract us. We are each asked, “Who do you say that I am?” If only in our hearts and imaginations, let us come and adore him this holy night. Christmas love to all.

Posted in Stepheny's Rocky Mount Reflections | 4 Comments