Who Was Robert Henry Ricks? (1839-1920)


I photographed this plaque on a recent tour of Rocky Mount Mills. Robert Henry Ricks’ name is mentioned in an earlier post I’ve written about T. H. Battle – A Family Leaves a Legacy. I want to tell you more about Mr. Ricks after writing about The Ricks Hotel -Part 1 & 2. I know more about Robert now, but that ‘knowing’ is limited, which I regret. It seems appropriate to recall the Bible verse from Matthew.  “You will know them by their fruits.”

Here is a partial list of Mr. Ricks’ legacy.

+ Director (1889) and then president (1899) of the Rocky Mount Mills.

+ 1894 named director and vice-president of the Bank of Rocky Mount.

+ 1902, vice-president of the Washington Cotton Mills in Virginia.

+ In Rocky Mount he established the Ricks Hotel firm and the Thorpe and Ricks Tobacco Company and was involved in many other smaller business enterprises.

+ A four years member of the Nash County Board of Commissioners.

+ State house of representatives in 1903 – State senate in 1905.

+ He was one of the first trustees of the North Carolina Agricultural and Mechanic College at Raleigh (now North Carolina State University), and Ricks Hall on the campus honors his memory.

th-1“Great men, even during their lifetime, are usually known to the public only through a fictitious personality.”― Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion

At his own expense Ricks erected a marble monument to the memory of the Bethel Heroes, the Nash and Edgecombe men who fought at Bethel Church, an episode in the Peninsular campaign in Virginia at the beginning of the Civil War. The monument is  placed in Battle Park on the north side of the falls of the Tar River, located a hundred yards from the first post office of the then village of Rocky Mount. The monument was unveiled on Confederate Memorial Day, 10 May 1917. th-2

Ricks married Miss Temple Thorne of Nash County in 1874; they had no children. The couple lived in a Victorian mansion that they built on the Thorne ancestral property near the village of Gold Rock, northwest of Rocky Mount. They are buried there.   At the time of his death, Ricks was one of the wealthiest men in eastern North Carolina. I wish I could tell you Mr. Ricks favorite color, what music he listened to, the books he read, what angered him or brought a tear to his eye, or that I could write about his political views. I wish we could read love letters I hope he wrote to Temple Thorne while courting. We will have to settle for knowing that this community-minded man made a difference in the life of Rocky Mount. He is not forgotten. This post is written to honor the past and…..R. H. Ricks.

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