Romancing the Brick – Osman Bennett Barnes – Part 3

I admit that the 1984 action-adventure, romantic-comedy entitled, Romancing the Stone, sounds better than the title for this post, Romancing the Brick, but I couldn’t help myself. I have had a long-standing romance with architecture that includes lots and lots of brick. img_3591I grew up in the beautiful Colonial Revival style brick home pictured here. It sits on the corner of Asbury Avenue and Lyons Street in Evanston, Illinois. You might say I grew up with bricks. When I find lovely brickwork, I often place my hand on the surface as if to commune with it. There is a lot of handsome brick on Main Street Rocky Mount and beyond. We must consider what to do about the brick that in some places has fallen to the ground and needs our attention.

Bus Station at Rocky Mount
Bus Station at Rocky Mount

When you are in need of a brick fix, go to the Bus Station. I hope you will read, A Bus Station That Is Good For the Soul. Peter Varney first took me there and didn’t seem to mind that I touched the brick along the way. Don’t forget the brick at the Imperial Center. Both restorations are an ‘amazing sight’ as Corduroy the Bear says in the children’s story. Peter Varney has done his share of romancing and preserving bricks in Rocky Mount with just these two projects for starters. Do you know about the bronze statues throughout revitalized downtown Greenville, SC? When it comes time to raise money for our own famous folks, I want to head up the campaign that raises money for Peter Varney’s bronze. Start putting your quarters in a jar marked (Varney Statue and others) that will one day appear on the Rocky Mount Art Walk.

If you want to know anything about brick, ask Osman Barnes’s grandson, William Kent Wheeless. He told me just enough to send me off researching again, but it wasn’t half as interesting as listening to him tell me that…..”St. James Brick is stamped on the bricks used in the wall at Wesleyan College and that most bricks you see around Rocky Mount are Nash Brick.Of course, you want to know something about this.

Nash Brick roots can be traced to 1902 when W.E. Jeffrey’s sold one-half interest in 59 acres of land to R.H. Rick’s, and they formed the Jeffreys-Ricks Clay Works. The original location was within the city limits of Rocky Mount. In 1914 it became the Tar River Brick Company with officers as follows: S.S.Toler, President; T.W.Coleman, Treasurer; and, W.C. Woodward, Secretary. On March 2, 1948,  T.W. Coleman’s sons, T.B., W.R. and E.W. Coleman formed a new corporation with three equal stockholders and called it NASH BRICK COMPANY. The company still exists today, relocated from Rocky Mount to its present site at Ita in 1957, where approximately 55 employees produce 28 million bricks per year, mostly for residential construction. The next time you meet a brick you like, be sure to put your hand on it and enjoy! Think of Mr. Barnes, a brick mason, his wonderful family, and the many projects he has left his mark on in the Rocky Mount area.

Below: The home Mr. Barnes built for his family in 1937 at 616 Ambler Ave, Rocky Mount. It stands today, the brick looking as handsome as it did 79 years ago.                           (Photos of the home provided by Mark Wheeless)

b-172 b-173 b-174

These three posts have been written in honor of Mr. Barnes and for those who have come after him…in thanksgiving for the work of his hands and the beauty he has left behind.

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