Seeing the Beauty of Historic West Haven Through the Eyes of Its Architecture – Part 2

A Dry Stacked Stone Wall to Appreciate in Historic West Haven

 (The walls) endure in part because a rock is as near a definition of “forever” as exists. Do it right — square, plumb, and well-tied throughout — and the wall will be standing long after you and I and all our other accomplishments and failings are forgotten.”                               -John Vivian-How to Build a Dry Stone Wall

I’ve written about placing my hand on a brick when admiring the preservation of a building. Appreciating the stonework in West Haven is an opportunity, as deceased Irish Priest, author, poet, John O’Donohue says: “Draw alongside the silence of stone until its calmness can claim you.” I stood for a few moments before the stone wall pictured above. I’m not going to tell you where the wall is because you must go and find your own stone to find its calmness. The home on the right is fronted with a low stone wall and pictured is this stunning entrance pathway that speaks of lasting beauty. This is the 1930 Margaret Griffin House (1617 Rivera Drive) also referred to as Pine Hall.

The two-story brick Colonial Revival style house is laid in Flemish bond. The seven-bay symmetrical facade features decorative stone and brick work, including a stone frontispiece. This photo doesn’t do the house justice, I apologize, but it does show you the results of John Wells wisdom in specifying that only a minimum number of trees could be cleared during construction. An abundance of mature trees is part of the glory of West Haven. Haven’t we all driven through a neighborhood with beautiful homes and tried to imagine what our lives would be like if we walked through the front door of one of our favorites and called it home. Could you blame me when I stopped to take a closer look at 408 Wildwood? I’ll let it speak for itself, but the gardener in me said, “Oh, yes!”


 NEXT TIME: Part 3- Looking at Historic West Haven Through the Eyes of Its Architecture

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Seeing the Beauty of Historic District West Haven Through Its Architecture – Part 1

“A place without meaning is no place to be.”
Wayne Gerard Trotman

I experienced a glorious early spring day on March 9, 2017, while driving through the Historic District of West Haven. I knew the weather was a gift to relish because it would not last. Entering into a quiet world, free of traffic, it allowed me to take photographs while standing in the road, yet I was only a mile west of downtown. I was accompanied by bird song celebrating the day. LISTEN.  The photo on the right is Wildwood Park that sits along Waverly and Rivera Drive where I stood to breathe in the warm sun and birdsong, definitely a Lenten blessing.

What one appreciates immediately about West Haven is its curvilinear streets, the first planned neighborhood in Rocky Mount to deviate from the usual grid system found in the other Historic Districts. Like the beads on a rosary, we touch each esteemed name associated with the creation of this idyllic twenty-five block area that reminds us how important beauty is to our lives. We remember John Wells, the local civic engineer who was the developer and realtor for the 211 acres of wooded property. (1928) The architects Thomas Herman of Wilson and Harry Harles of Rocky Mount and….drum roll please….local contractors D.J. Rose and Samuel Toler, who built homes in West Haven.

Come, educate your eye! Let’s look at two Colonial Revival style homes that will help you recognize this style when you see it.  Many of you are fortunate to know the stories and the people that call these lovely places home. I had to use my imagination. When writing about the homes pictured in this post, I thought of the 1950’s  and the clothes that were worn, the music listened to, and the cars people drove. One doesn’t need the personal details of these homes to fall in love with these architectural treasures in yet another historic district of Rocky Mount. Whether it is a shotgun house, a bungalow, or a Colonial Revival, our cup runneth over with architectural gems.

On the right is an example of a typical Colonial Revival style home found in West Haven. This is the 1951 Robert Walker House at 515 Piedmont Avenue.  This two-story, brick house has a symmetrical three-bay facade with a recessed entrance with sidelights and side panels and a segmental arched wood transom over the door. Note the house is balanced by exterior end chimneys on the side elevations along with one-story wings on each end.

Here is a frame version of the Colonial Revival Style, the 1950 Edgar Joyner House at 322 Piedmont Avenue. A two-story, side gable house with beaded weatherboard siding with typical Revival style details that include dentils at the cornice, a symmetrical three-bay facade, and a pedimented portico supported classical columns. A one-story addition includes a side sun porch.

TOMORROW: Seeing the Beauty of West Haven through its Architecture – Part 2

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Celebrating The Rocky Mount Historic Districts – Why They Are Important

Central City Historic District

There is a reason why Rocky Mount’s seven historic districts matter. Neighborhoods preserve the historic, architectural, and aesthetic character and heritage of a community. They provide a sense of place and continuity that not only contributes to community pride but to a better understanding of how the future can be shaped. Thus the by-line of Main Street Rocky Mount …Honoring the past, building a future. I’ve changed a thought of author Walker Percy’s to suit my purposes – It means you’re a person living  Somewhere not just Anywhere.

Can you name the districts?

Central City Historic District Edgemont Historic District
Falls Road Historic District – Lincoln Park Historic District
Rocky Mount Mills Village Historic District
Villa Place Historic District
West Haven National Historic District                                                                                 Edgemont Historic District

The National Register of Historic Places is our country’s official list of buildings, structures, objects, sites, and districts worthy of preservation for their significance in American history, architecture, archaeology, and culture. For a private owner, the chief practical benefit of National Register listing is eligibility for a federal and state investment tax credits that can be claimed against the cost of a certified rehabilitation of a historic building. The National Register was created by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 to recognize and protect properties of historic and cultural significance.

NEXT TIME – The Historic District of Westhaven

You may want to read:

Edgemont- A Jewel in Rocky Mount’s Crown -Part 1

Villa Place Historic District-Taking a Chance on Love -Part 1

Historical Vila Place District

Historical Edgemont District

Historical Rocky Mount Mill Village District

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The Community of Saints – Part of the Rocky Mount Mills History Sweep

Women always wore housedresses in the morning and ‘nice’ day dresses in the afternoon.

Women dressed as you would have found them in the 1940’s – A Pinterest Image

Episcopalians, which I am one of, set great store by the community of saints. It may startle you that I would reference them when writing about the Mill history sweep on February 25th at the Braswell Library. It makes perfect sense to me, but then I sat and watched several times a digitalized black and white movie where Mill families and friends, toddler children, and pals with an arm slung around a shoulder, stood for the camera, with a wave, a grin. The mill women on the film were wearing their better afternoon dresses and clunky shoes. One of them could have been my mother, or yours, dressed as they were. You know me well enough by now to guess that I wiped a tear away while no one was paying any attention because I was moved by this gathering of saints that were being remembered.

img_5247I looked over the shoulder of a woman who brought a cardboard box filled with photographs, clippings, even love letters. Wandering around, I meet new people and greeted friends. It was one of the moments in life when I felt surrounded by this particular Community of Saints that are the Rocky Mount Mills family.  There were the Mill parents and grandparents, childhood friends, co-workers, all gathered together, remembered by their names, their stories told. If that wasn’t enough, this amazing thing happened to convince me that this special opportunity, hosted by The UNC Community Histories Workshop and Braswell Library, was something special.

“Stepheny, aren’t you making too much of things?” I suppose I am, BUT…  did you see the movie, Field of Dreams?  Do you remember the scene when out of the cornfield Shoeless Joe Jackson and the seven players banned as a result of the 1919 White Sox baseball scandal, return to the field to play ball? I want you to imagine those attending the history sweep scattered around the room, heads down, busy looking at film, digitized photographs and talking with each other, when out of the blue, Milton Bullock from The Platters, is introduced. Everyone stops what they’re doing and begin to listen as Milton sings acapella not one, but two love songs the Mill Grandparents were singing when they fell in love. At the last line of Only You, Mr.Bullock invited everyone to sing along; you can hear my voice and others because those of a certain age all knew the words. For a few minutes from off stage somewhere, out of the corn field, if you will, the community of saints showed up. You could hear them singing too, these love songs about them and to them. There is no doubt in my mind that it was a wonderful afternoon for ‘a game of baseball’ or more to the point, a history sweep.

Take a moment: Listen to Milton Bullock Sing  – To Each His Own and Only You

A typical gather of children during the 1940's - A Pinterest Image

A typical gathering of children during the 1940’s – A Pinterest Image





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REMINDER: History Project Targets Mill This Saturday, Feb. 25 – Noon – 4:00 – Braswell Library

1620825_276177569210822_1039811236661551242_nTHIS ARTICLE FROM THE TELEGRAPH IS YOUR REMINDER

By Corey Davis
Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Local people are being encouraged to attend an event hosted by a group of University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill faculty members this weekend at Braswell Memorial Library to share recordings, memorabilia, and stories relating to the history of the Rocky Mount Mills. The UNC Community Histories Workshop, which brings together faculty, students and staff with local partners to preserve and share community histories will be hosting a “History Harvest” from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at the library.

UNC American Studies Professor Robert Allen, who is one of the faculty leaders of the Community Histories Workshop, said the History Harvest is a collaborative, community-based digital project and learning initiative that aims to emulate history. He added the Rocky Mount Mills History Harvest is a collaboration between the UNC Community Histories Workshop, Braswell Library, the Department of American Studies at UNC and A/V Geeks, a Raleigh-based collector and digitization company.
Allen said people are urged to come to the History Harvest to help the UNC Community Histories Workshop identify places and people in historical photos of the Rocky Mount Mills, share memories in oral history booths and have experts digitize 10 to 15 photographs, 10 to 15 documents, and home movie films or videos from such things as VHS tapes or DVDs. 

img_4526Traci Thompson, local history librarian at Braswell Memorial Library, also will help collect materials reflecting the history of Rocky Mount and the surrounding areas. Documents, photos and moving images harvested from the event will be used in future digital exhibits created by UNC Community Histories Workshop. “What we want to do is use new technologies or digital technologies to help people select their favorite photographs that reflect the history of the Rocky Mount Mills and the Mill Village,” Allen said. “Each participant will go home with digital copies of their own photographs, film or documents.”
Elijah Gaddis, who also is a co-founder of the UNC Community Histories Workshop, is leading the history harvest. Allen said it’s important the UNC Community Histories Workshop reaches out to the black community because of the many ancestors who worked at the mill and the first use of slaves in a North Carolina cotton mill was at the Rocky Mount Mills. Allen said there hasn’t been much written in the past about the period of slavery at the Rocky Mount Mills, which is something the UNC Community Histories Workshop plans to dig further into. “People think historians are only interested in the lives of famous people, but public historians want to preserve and share stories and recollections of everyday life, whether it was hard times as well as good times.”

“The rehabilitation of Rocky Mount Mills by Capitol Broadcasting Co. is a perfect opportunity for us,” he said. “We have the archives of the mill and of the Battle family of Rocky Mount, who owned the mill for 200 years in our Southern Historical Collection. Through activities such as the history harvest, we can create a community archive of shared images, memories and stories.”

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The Masonic Temple – Honoring A Rocky Mount Architectural Gem


If you meet me on Main Street often, then you know I have picked out the Masonic Temple building on Church Street in Rocky Mount as the site of a Boutique Hotel. I see flags over the front door as if it were the Plaza in New York and when I found Mehmet Ildan’s quote, it suited my fantasies of the hotel to a tee. Alas, my idea may not be meant to be considering I have lost the name of the man who owns the building at least four times, (unlike me) and people who have contact information can’t find it when they go to give it to me. It is hard to overwhelm the owner with my great idea if I don’t have a chance to work my charms. If this is a sign, I’m not immune to them. So for now, hold the thought of some bright young woman or man at the registration desk saying, “Welcome to the Masonic Hotel.” Enjoy some information about our very own architectural delight that we can be proud of.

“An old small hotel is much more valuable than a seven-star hotel                                        because the former has a spirit and a literary posture!”

The Masonic Temple building is significant and is the only example we have of  The Egyptian Revival Period that flourished during the period 1820-1850. It made a comeback during the 1920s with the Art Deco style and the fascination with the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922. The Egyptian Revival was popular in American decorative arts throughout the nineteenth century, continuing into the 1920s. The major motifs of Egyptian art, such as obelisks, hieroglyphs, the sphinx, and pyramids, were used in various artistic media, including architecture, furniture, ceramics, silver and fashion. The style was used in public and educational buildings; churches; cemetery entrances, memorials; but in very few homes. th-2th





Our building was erected in 1927 to replace the city’s Masonic Temple and Opera House. It was designed by architect H. Robert Diehl and built by  S.S. Toler and Son. The limestone veneer features lotus columns and a wing motif. Drive past with a new eye and show it off to your guests when they are in town. Show it all off! Start at the Bus Station, walk across the lovely hardscape to the Train Station. Take your family, drive around. It isn’t all pretty. There are buildings that are waiting for a new life, some discombobulated, for sure, but think preservation, find one and adopt it in your heart to wish good things for it as I do for the Masonic Building and beyond. Get in touch with me so I can write about your memories of these wonderful places. Let’s continue to honor the past while building a future. 6050730231_2d6db0122b_z 6051286346_3c23a4604b_z6051287432_211ccbee6f_z6050729703_dd03ee971b_z

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Rocky Mount Revitalization – Seeing Beyond The Ordinary With Kenton Nelson


I discovered the California artist, Kenton Nelson after I began writing Main Street. Though he paints figures and landscape, it is his architecture bathed in light that calls to me.  Often when I wander around downtown Rocky Mount, I think of his beautiful work and know he would see what I see. Nelson traces his interest in painting back to his great uncle, Roberto Montenegro, renowned Mexican muralist and Modernist. The style of Nelson’s paintings has their origins in American Scene painting, Regionalism, and the work of the WPA artists of the 1930′s.

e6eef393d274efd04d645dbd7a056b62The moment I read…..the objective in his paintings is to idealize the ordinary,  I knew he was for me.  I understand that my romantic notions about the buildings along Main Street, the historic districts filled with significant architecture,  my dream of a boutique hotel in the Masonic Building on Church Street, Machaven with its doors open to the community again, Stonewall Manor with a new roof and a full-time Director…..I know I’m missing lots and lots of money and the practicalities of preservation, but like Kenton Nelson, it can’t hurt to idealize the ordinary. Those of you who keep me company on Main Street are believers too. You love driving through the Mill Village checking on the progress of things. Love the American flags, the rocking chairs, having a great meal at The Prime Smokehouse, you even love arguing about the Community Center and the politics of it all, because that’s what people do when they care about a place and want what’s best. Let the paintings of Kenton Nelson ignite your imagination about what seems ordinary, but in fact, here in Rocky Mount, is extraordinary.





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