A Day in the Life of a Rocky Mount Cheer Leader

With a wonderful friend, the day really got started over lunch at the Prime Smokehouse. I LOVE the Smokehouse!  There is a Prime Rib sandwich on the menu just now that is delicious. I LOVE the food, the people who own and run it, the customers at all the tables who never mind if you ask them what they ordered. I noticed a young couple eyeing our plates so I held mine up so they could see.  Only smiles were exchanged, but this is the Smokehouse way. The restaurant resides on an important historical corner in downtown Rocky Mount. As the reputation keeps growing, not only the locals, people from someplace else are coming. As far as I’m concerned, the Smokehouse represents what the revitalization of Rocky Mount is about.

After lunch, there was time to spend in my friend’s beautiful garden before a downtown meeting I was attending.  In this garden, spring was having its way again. New ferns were pushing their way into new life and tiny soft green leaves were miraculously emerging. The West Haven Historic District is awash with stunning dogwoods and azaleas that make life feel brand new again. Before leaving I was allowed a peek at my friend’s ‘babies.’ She’s into seeds this year and there are trays sprouting promising things, which like any good parent she monitors on a daily basis.

It was time to head to the first of a series of meetings that The Rocky Mount Human Relations Commission was hosting.  A doctor friend once told me that the medical profession doesn’t know why attitude is so important when it comes to healing, they only know that it is. When it comes to improving race relations in Rocky Mount, attitude is equally important. I went with concern in my heart because the newspaper made it sound like the future of the Confederate monument was all this meeting about. I left the meeting two hours later with a sense of peace I haven’t had over “things” in a long time. I had spent this time in the company of an unassuming, but charming older women…I notice age more now and how active and focused a woman like this is. Dr. Bertha Boykin Todd, a retired educator, community advocate and a leader in reconciliation, among other leadership roles, stood in the council chambers and told a story that took place in Willmington, NC because one of her premises is you must know your history.

In my judgment, some of the very people who should have been at the meeting to hear Dr. Todd great message weren’t there. Those in attendance must have left as I did, encouraged, hopeful, inspired by Dr. Todd’s remarks. As the Human Relations Commission goes forward with their important work, Dr. Todd armed them with principles to guide them. Moving Forward Together Goals, remembering that this is an evolutionary process, and how important it is to respect one another’s life experiences. She talked about judging people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. She encouraged the people becoming involved in these conversations to know one another first. Without examining our own prejudices, the committee would not expect to get very far down the road of reconciliation. If someone comes with issues of retribution or retaliation in their hearts, they need not get involved.  In Willmington, Dr. Todd has been in the forefront of matching black accomplishments with signage etc. alongside the stories already represented with monuments.   With a quiet grace, built upon the experience of her life’s work, prayer is Dr. Todd’s answer to moving forward together. Her lecture was a great place to begin this new attempt at what I call……Come, let us reason together!

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“Historic and Worth the Trouble” – Tap @ 1918 – A Preservation Success Story

What is deemed historic, and worth saving, often depends on whose eyes you are looking through. I like the definition “old and worth the trouble,” when applied to structures that are under consideration: should they be preserved or torn down? With each individual decision, we need to ask ourselves what part the structure has played in Rocky Mount’s story. Those buildings with a tangible past, that are preserved and restored, create opportunities for the future.

Tap @ 1918 is a fine example of the intrinsic value that old buildings have in maintaining Rocky Mount’s heritage while building a future. Originally the house, now a new restaurant,  was used as a community center for Mill residents. The house became a residence for Mr. Frye, one of the Mill managers. Later the house was used as the Personnel and Purchasing offices. In the 1940’s a health clinic was added. Now the story of this Millhouse continues on.

Built 100 years ago, owners, Lou Reda and Justin Gaines, have named their new restaurant, Tap @ 1918.  There is something reassuring about old buildings that hold our memories while meeting the needs of today’s community. Old buildings with materials like brick (ahh!) and heart pine, speak to tourists and longtime residents alike. Successful community revivals attract people because of their preservation efforts. The entire Mill project embraces historic preservation and has acted accordingly.

I am grateful to Lou Reda who took time from a busy day to show my friend, Polly Warner, and myself the fabulous restoration for the restaurant. My photographs don’t do the interiors justice, but the results are fabulous. There are beautiful old floors, original windows, interesting lighting, lovely paint choices and the porches are spectacular. I have yet to have a meal but am in awe of how this project turned out.


In my imagination, they are all there….the mill workers of the past, and their families, and the executives who looked out for everyone and everything. They are now joined by Capital Broadcasting and a staff of talented, creative people who will be remembered for their part in the reimagining of Rocky Mount Mills. The Mill project has fostered further investment in the community, is providing jobs and at the other Mill venues, safe and welcoming places to gather.  The restored Mill Village houses offer needed up to code housing. The residents are returning to a village-way of life that foster close neighborhoods with people looking out for one another. We owe Capital Broadcasting our ‘forever-gratitude’ for believing in Rocky Mount’s revitalization efforts; I call it taking a chance on love!  Congratulations to Tap @ 1918 and Rocky Mount Mills for this fantastic repurposing of an old building with a great future.

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Saving The Shotgun Houses of Rocky Mount – Part 1

We’ve lost our minds, you do know that, right? For instance, I feel strongly about the removal of monuments…. the editing of our history….but I’ve mostly banged my head on the floor like a child getting a lot of mileage from a temper tantrum.

I’m trying a new strategy when it comes to the preservation of The Shotgun Houses of Rocky Mount hoping to garner support and love for these structures.  I won’t ask you to carry a placard or throw your body across the threshold as I am considering.  Not unlike the monuments that mirror the complexities of our history, I hope to remind you that “The significance of the shotgun house rests not only on its unique architectural form but as an artifact of cultural memory.”  These Shotgun houses carry our stories. The nature and design of these homes helped strengthen the African-American community. Shotgun houses in close proximity and with porches helped build tight-knit neighborhoods. First erected in New Orleans, Shotgun houses have made a major contribution to the American architectural landscape.

Identifying a Traditional Shotgun house: long and narrow, one story high with rooms in a single row, with no windows on their sides. Rooms in shotgun houses are usually 14 square feet. A modified version of the shotgun house, the double shotgun, was later developed for larger families. These homes are the same style as the traditional shotgun house, except that the double shotgun is essentially two single shotgun homes fused together side by side. They share a single roof and doors that connect the adjoining parallel rooms. With a little basic information, we can now think about OUR very own inventory of Shotguns.

WATCH FOR  – PART  TWO                                                                                                                                      SAVING ROCKY MOUNT SHOTGUN HOUSES


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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.


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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



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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 words...love 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

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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.


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