Douglas Block Stories: Honoring Earl Carnegie “Doc” Burnette (1907-1976)

 One of the important pieces of the puzzle from the ‘Revitalization Rocky Mount Puzzle Box’ is the historic Douglas Block named for Dr. Junious Douglas, an African-American pharmacist. The Douglas Block was home to shops, restaurants, entertainment centers, and medical services owned and operated by African-Americans. Today it is home to people who believe in the revitalization of the historic downtown district and are doing business where in spirit, the original black community will always be remembered

We have Di Riceratore to thank for research that helps us pay tribute to an important and distinguished family in the community. We honor Earl Carnegie “Doc” Burnette.  Come and stand with me on the sidewalk in front of The Prime Smokehouse, and look kiddie-corner across the street to the Burnette Building, part of the Douglas Block restoration. You have to let the scene come to you, the privilege of looking back at a time and place that is integral to the Rocky Mount story. With eyes to see, you are looking at the Burnette Drug Company established by Baker Burnette (1878-) who obtained a medical degree but worked as a pharmacist. His nephew, Earl Carnegie “Doc” Burnette, who we honor in this post, worked in the Burnette Drug store early in his life and later became the owner, and in the 1960s co-owned the business with Fred S. Biggs.

Earl Burnette was born and raised on the family farm near Hamilton and Oak City, in Martin County. Earl’s father sent him to live with an uncle in Rocky Mount to obtain the best available education. Earl was in the first graduating class at Booker T. Washington High School (established 1927.)Rocky Mount at that time was in a boom phase, driven by a profitable tobacco market and the Atlantic Coastline Railroad Emerson Shops.

Following in the footsteps of his two uncles, Earl attended college, earning a BA at Shaw University. Only 5’7″ and 168 pounds, nonetheless, he enjoyed a reputation as a powerful center on the football team. He then obtained a Masters degree from NYU. He pursued further education at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN. Though he apparently did not obtain a medical license, he acquired the nickname, “Doc.”

Mr. Burnette also pursued a teaching career. He was on the faculty at Patillo High School in Tarboro (1933-9), and in Rocky Mount at Parker Junior High and Booker T. Washington High School. He coached football at both Patillo and BTW, and won a championship while at Patillo.

Mr. Burnette married Juanita Exum (1920-2005.) also a teacher. Juanita met Earl when she began teaching at the former Lincoln Elementary School in Rocky Mount in the late 1940s In her later years, she taught at Baskerville Elementary in Rocky Mount. They had one known child, Francine Elaine Burnett who continued the family tradition of education obtaining degrees from George Washington University (BA Speech-Language Pathology, 1979) and the University of North Carolina (MA, 1980.)

Earl Burnette died on March 15, 1976, after an illness. His service was at Metropolitan Baptist church, where he had been active in leadership roles for decades. Mr. Burnette is buried in Rocky Mount’s Northeastern Cemetery, next to his wife.

If you have further information about “Doc” Burnette, please add it in the comment section below for everyone’s enjoyment. Thank you.





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Introducing the Researcher – The Anonymous Source

This is to announce that Main Street Rocky Mount now has an ‘anonymous source’ who will be referred to as the ‘di ricercatore,’ the Italian word for a researcher. The reason for the secrecy surrounding this source is that an interesting and brilliant man prefers to remain in the background. I can tell you that he is a historian and a genealogist among many other things, and he engages in the art of conversation on a myriad of subjects. Imagine my pleasure in discovering this story-teller is willing to share what he knows about the history of Rocky Mount and its citizenry. ‘Di Ricercatore,’ with his vast knowledge, links the social fabric of the times with those who lived and worked in Rocky Mount and beyond. It is endlessly fascinating.

As a writer, I know it is true that to write well, you must read well. My ‘anonymous source’ has an enviable library and is a fine writer.  As a researcher, he has piles of books pulled and at the ready for his various research projects. We’re going to collaborate from time to time, which will spark future posts about this place we call home and about the people we honor. Though I can not reveal the name of my  ‘anonymous source,’ he will be given credit when appropriate.


Di Ricercatore brings to our attention,  Earl Carnegie Burnette (1907-76) Go to the Smokehouse for another great meal! and before leaving, stand outside and look kiddie-corner across the street. There in The Douglas Block once stood a drugstore. Earl Burnette initially worked in the Burnette Drug store as the employ of his uncle, B. J. Burnette. Tomorrow we will take up more of this story about this loved and respected man.

FYI: (and for fun) In the thirty years following the Watergate scandal, the identity of the most notorious ‘anonymous source’ in history remained a mystery. It was not until 2005 that the truth emerged in a Vanity Fair article in which William Mark Felt revealed himself to be the asset codenamed ‘Deep Throat.’ Perhaps in time, my source will reveal his name as well.



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Beal Street Square…that ‘wonderful thing’ has happened!

        Beal Street Square is FABULOUS!

Over 60% occupied, it’s a tremendous source of pride not only for Rocky Mount, but for the people who championed the neighborhood, provided untiring leadership, and who came together in partnership to share a dream that has come to fruition, the largest affordable housing project to date. Two men, Vann Joines, and Richard Angino, President of Third Wave Housing, have been the wind beneath the wings of Beal Street Square. At the ground breaking ceremonies, I experienced that wonderful moment when anything can happen. I could hear the voices from the past of children playing and their parents calling them home at night fall. I could “see” neighbors sitting on their front porches, a close knit Happy Hill community, who watched out for one another. That wonderful moment is happening again.

Richard Angino is an animated and happy man today, and rightly so. I took a tour with him to see the end results of thoughtful, endless planning, followed by more thoughtful corrections and tweaking. I know these are not elegant terms to explain the process, but, oh my, what a pay off for the determination to do this project right.

A reminder about Happy Hill, where Beal Street Square is located: Here is a large intact black district. By 1920 the neighborhood was densely populated along Beal, Tillery, and Thomas streets. By 1930 the 20-30 block area northwest of Main street was filled with houses, churches and small businesses for blacks. Investors built rows of the shotgun, saddlebag, and hip-roofed houses next to the tobacco processing plants and warehouses. If you take for granted the architecture in Rocky Mount, you are missing one of the greatest assets we have. It isn’t just about the grand homes throughout the community, but it is also the amazing pockets, like Happy Hill, that provide a sense of place and have a history we honor. If you have time, read the original posts about Welcome to Beal Street Square, Shotgun Houses, The Roses of Beal Street.

 Three of the new great children living at Beal Street Square. 

Photos of two of the individual court yards that will take on the unique character of the surrounding residents. One with the Gazebo and the one below with the picket fence. Trees have been saved. Beal Street Square is a cause for celebration. Congratulations to everyone involved.





Here is a look at a model of these energy efficient, shot gun-like floor plans.


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Who Lived at 202 Villa in the Villa Place Historic District? Getting Ready for the Villa Place Walking Tour Oct 21, 2017

You will find this recently renovated one-story brick veneer Minimal Traditional dwelling, with a pedimented stoop and paired classical posts, in Villa Place Historic District.  The house, now ready to ‘flip’  is feeling good about itself, like a lady showing off a brand new hat.  The preservation of this home is a gift to the neighborhood and to our Rocky Mount community because each time a renovation takes place that preserves the architectural integrity of a house, yet brings it new life, everyone wins.

 The house once belonged to Lonnie Embro Bass (1894-1976) and his wife Mamie Goodwin. (1905-1986.) Their daughter, Emma Lynn Wheeler grew up in this home. Lonnie was a World War I veteran, a  farmer, and opened Bass Brothers General Hardware at 130 Howard Street with his brother, Ollie Bass. After 30 years, the business closed in 1958. When one of the partners died at the Rocky Mount Shoe & Clothing, Lonnie bought into the business as a silent partner and was an owner until he died. (The business was next to Mebane Shoes.)  Mamie was a registered nurse before becoming a stay at home mom.  When we think of clothes drying in the sun, we feel nostalgic for simpler times,  but I feel quite sure Mamie’s generation of housewives would love to have had my washer and dryer. Since learning something of Mamie’s life I am remembering her while putting clothes in the dryer! Emma Lynn says of her mother, “When the doors at First Baptist Church were open, she was there!”  The Bass family lived in the house from 1939-1948 when it was sold. An obscure tidbit: the family rode out Hurricane Hazel in the basement of their Villa Street home.

During Preservation Rocky Mount’s Villa Place Walking Tour on October 21st. 1-4:00, you will pass by this unassuming residence. It won’t be featured in the Walking Tour Booklet as an outstanding example of one of the architecture styles found in Villa Place, but its value is priceless. Ask the little girl who lives on in Emma Lynn. While growing up, she can tell you about the people who surrounded her family home.  Neighbors like Mayor E.F. Duke and Police Chief J.I. Nichols on Howell Street.  J.K. Murrill who ran the cleaners on Western. Miss Mary Dodge or Tom Jenkins, whose Dad was a fireman; they both lived on Villa Street. Harvey & Jane Coley lived across from Emma Lynn and became like a second mother to her. Sam Parham also grew up on Villa Street. You begin to get it, right? A unique neighborhood with amazing people, a wonderful story to tell, a treasure trove of architecture. We will be tipping our hat when passing Miss Fannie Gorham’s home, CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT MISS FANNIE, so be sure to do the same for Lonnie & Mamie Bass.








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Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House In Historic West Haven – Part 2


The war was still reverberating in 1946 when the former editor of Fortune magazine, Eric Hodgins, wrote the novel Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. There was a national housing shortage. The American dream of the returning G.I.’s included home ownership. The film correctly read the mood of those who wanted to move on to pursue the American dream. (See Part 1 for further information on the genesis of the Dream Houses.)

In 1988 Marianne Stanley Farris & David Farris bought Mr. Blandings Dream Home from Sam Arrington’s estate to become the second owners. Their daughter, Kate, was 8 years old at that time. (Above, The Dream House photograph as it appeared in 1988.) The Farris’ began to modernize the house while keeping in mind its architectural integrity. It took six months to redo the interior, lay a brick path to the front door, add a porch roof over the front door. (SEE PHOTOGRAPHS OF TODAY’S HOUSE IN PART ONE)  The photograph to the right is of young Kate, with her parents. She could not have imagined that one day her own darling daughters,  Mari Robin and Frances, would be playing in the back garden in their own playhouse.   

In 2004, James & Kate Tharin were expecting their 1st child when they bought the Dream Home from Kate’s parents. I have written before that I believe we find the memories of the caretakers of a home floating forever in the dust motes seen in the sunlight through the windows. In Mr. Blandings Dream Home the Arrington family, Marianne & David, James & Kate, will always be found.  Mr. Blandings Dream House represents all of our dreams of living a life of peace and prosperity, of those we love, family, and friends around us, our children playing safe and free.

There is a PS: to this story. Kate Tharin, who grew up in this house tells us that the kitchen knives remain in the same drawer and that she and James have no plans in upcoming improvements to remove the radiator covers from the walls in spite of the fact that they are no longer in use. Best of all, the piano that sat in the living room of Kate’s childhood is coming back home and will be placed in the same corner. James Tharin and his family are living their particular dreams in a special house with a unique history. The 8-year-old girl grew up and cast her own spell on the interior design of her childhood home which deserves a magazine spread. James Tharin, handsome and good humored, is a fine stand-in for Cary Grant as Mr. Blanding. The Dream House is yet another reason to appreciate the West Haven Historic District in Rocky Mount, NC.





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Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House In Historic West Haven – Part 1

There is nothing better than watching an old Cary Grant movie, and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, a 1948 comedy, is no exception. The film is based on the novel Eric Hodgins published in 1946, a fictionalized account of a house Hodgins built in New Milford, Connecticut.

Movie mogul David O. Selznick and his publicity man, Paul Macnamara, a former editor of Cosmopolitan, came up with an idea to promote their new film. They would build replicas of the Dream Home and raffle them the night of the premiere in each city. They planned to build 100 houses. RKO’s publicity department sent blueprints of a four bedroom colonial to contractors across the country.  73 ‘dream houses’  were built, two in North Carolina; one in Greensboro and one in Rocky Mount. (I must add that one home was built in Evanston, IL. where I grew up, which I never knew about until researching this story.) If you’re interested, the original plans are still available on the internet.  Selznick involved General Electric in this promotion who showcased their appliances in the dream home kitchens. A fine advertising opportunity, local businesses contributed their products to the building of these houses. Upon completion, the houses were open to the public to tour, the price of admission given to local charities. The dream homes were sold by raffle or lottery.

As a party game, I know you’ve been asked what famous people you would like to sit next to at a dinner party or marooned with on an island. In connection with this Mr. Blandings Dream House story, I have invited a short, but meaningful list of wonderful people to spend time with.

We will begin with James and Kate Farris Tharin, along with their daughters, Mari Robin and Frances who are the current owners and caretakers of the Rocky Mount Dream House built in Historic West Haven on Lafayette Road. Here is a wonderful, talented couple that grew up in Rocky Mount, NC and after college returned to nourish the deep roots they have here. They are perfect stewards of the house, committed to preserving the architectural integrity of the original home while slowly making changes that suit their family’s dreams. Take a moment and CLICK HERE to watch a short PBS Video on The Dream Houses.

Here is Mr. Blandings Dream House as you will find it today. The front porch roof and pillars were added by Marianne & David Farris when they bought the house in 1988 from Sam Arrington’s estate. Sam and his wife were the 1st occupants.












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Who Lived at 206 Villa in the Villa Place Historic District? Getting Ready for the Villa Place Walking Tour Oct 21, 2017

Do you remember this wonderful song? Grab your coat and get your hat, leave your worries on the doorstep, just direct your feet to the sunny side of the street…I’ve been singing this lately thinking about the Villa Place Historic District Walking Tour on October 21, 1-4 pm. The organization, Preservation Rocky Mount, is hosting this event along with the residents of this charming neighborhood and the City of Rocky Mount while celebrating its 150th anniversary. The Tour will highlight Architecture and Preservation and give you a renewed appreciation for this neighborhood within walking distance of downtown. Be sure to mark your calendar!


In the photograph above you are looking at the Harper House. The frame, one-story, three-bay hipped roof bungalow features a tin roof, plain siding, exposed rafter tails, a hip dormer with three Union Jack paned casements, one-over-one sash windows, a glazed and paneled door, and an engaged porch with paired and triple battered posts on brick bases with cross braces. The house was built circa 1917 for John A. Harper, the assistant secretary of the YMCA in Rocky Mount who is the earliest known occupant of the house in 1930.

Fannie Gorman, a beloved and esteemed educator, lived in the house for many years. Here is young Patsy Gorham (great niece) and Charles Dunn (great nephew) unveiling “Miss Fannie’s” portrait upon her retirement in 1955. All these years later we are all indebted to Charles for his Facebook page, Rocky Mount Way Back When. In the spring of 1953, Edgemont School was renamed Fannie W. Gorham School to honor its beloved principal. Two years later, on the occasion of Miss Gorham’s retirement, the PTA presented two special gifts to the school; a lovely oil painting of “Miss Fannie,” which was placed on the front wall of the auditorium. The second gift was a bronze plaque, placed to the right of the front entrance, and inscribed with these words:

Named in Honor Of
Fannie Whitfield Gorham
Principal 1917-1955
“She openeth her mouth with wisdom and in her
tongue is the law of kindness.” Proverbs 31:26

Miss Fannie died in 1980 at age 93. In delivering her funeral eulogy, her pastor declared, “I think I am well within bounds when I say that there have been presidents and governors and mayors and congressmen who have exerted less influence on the present shape of our city and its quality of life than was exerted by Miss Fannie Gorham.” In 2005 she was inducted into the Twin County Hall of Fame. On the Walking Tour, be sure to tip your hat at Miss Fannie’s door, remembered with great affection, and think of her enjoying the home she occupied for many years.

“Old buildings whisper to us in the creaking of floorboards and rattling of windowpanes.”
 Fennel Hudson, A Meaningful Life – Fennel’s Journal – No. 1







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