A Rocky Mount Neighborhood – Happy Hill – Part 1


Pecan Trees Saved at the Neighbors Request

“The pale stars were sliding into their places. The whispering of the leaves was almost hushed. All about them it was still and shadowy and sweet. It was that wonderful moment … a moment when anything can happen, anything be believed in.”
― Olivia Howard Dunbar

It was my first time in the neighborhood when I joined neighbors and community leaders for the gIMG_3897round breaking of Beal Street Square. It was plain to see that everyone in attendance shared a history and a dream that was coming to fruition; the largest affordable housing project to date. People who championed the neighborhood and those providing untiring leadership came together in partnership – a key ingredient that Vann Joines, Principal of JOIN Development, and Richard Angino, President of Third Wave Housing, have put together. These two men are the wind beneath the wings of Beal Street Square. Those of you who regularly read Main Street Rocky Mount will not be surprised that while part of me was listening and marveling at what was going on, I was experiencing that wonderful moment when anything can happen, and I could hear the voices of children playing and parents at night fall calling them home. I could “see” neighbors sitting on their front steps, a close knit community, watching out for one another, irregardless of the constant movement in the early days of people of primarily young and seasonally employed factor workers. I’ll be writing further about the Beal Street Square project and neighbors like Gloria Lancaster Austin, but first, this as an opportunity to step back and appreciate anew this Rocky Mount neighborhood called Happy Hill, a place believed in.

Katherine Mansfield talks about how hard it is to escape from places. “However carefully one goes they hold you — you leave little bits of yourself fluttering on the fences — like rags and shreds of your very life.” I’m certain that what I heard at the ground breaking for Beal Street Square was the fluttering of the lives of Happy Hill people. Throughout this series, I want you to love and embrace this story because it is yet another chapter in a place called home. Happy Hill 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 shotgun, saddlebag, and hip-roofed houses next to the tobacco processing plants and warehouses. If you are taking 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 to be honored.

Join me for Part Two: Shotgun Architecture



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