“Don’t it always seem to go -That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone: They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” – from “Big Yellow Taxi.”- Part 3

“It has been said that, at its best, preservation engages the past in a conversation with the present over a mutual concern for the future.”
William Murtagh

(Dr. Murtagh is a singular figure in US historic preservation due to his immense influence on how we recognize, evaluate and preserve historic properties.)

I don’t want to over-burden you with my preservation interests, and hear you say, Stepheny, really? but my favorite novels are about good writing, and story, and when I learn something new. Hopefully, this series of posts is meeting you somewhere along the learning curve. An up to date inventory is not ‘busy work,’ but is ‘significant work’ to protect and preserve our historic properties for future generations while identifying the significant physical elements of our past.

Rocky Mount’s historic buildings tell a story of the homes and businesses of the city’s earliest residents and of the communities growth. We value our historic resources because of their beauty, because of the people who lived and worked there, and because of their relationship to the development of our culture.  They help us understand who we are in a tangible way. Preservation protects that history and contributes to a sense of place. It stabilizes neighborhoods, increases property values and addresses livability concerns.

Taking a page out of Durham, NC Playbook

Over the next few years, the Durham City/County Planning Department and Preservation Durham will be working together to update the Durham Architectural and Historic Inventory (last completed in 1982). The inventory was initially conducted in 1980 and 1981 to comprehensively look at the history, architecture and development patterns of Durham. Over 900 structures built prior to 1940 were inventoried (over 600 of which are described or pictured in the final inventory book) and brief histories are provided of approximately 30 Durham neighborhoods and their patterns of development, organized chronologically. This document does excellent work describing the social and physical historical context of the community through 1940. They are now looking to bring this work up-to-date with additional documentation of structures and neighborhoods developed after 1940. We need to do this too!

In order to aid in the collection of data for the inventory update effort, Durham Planning and Preservation Durham are putting on a series of community meetings where residents can learn how to input information into the Open Durham database to assist in collecting robust data for the inventory. This is one way to approach an updated inventory. I will suggest other ideas in upcoming posts.



4 thoughts on ““Don’t it always seem to go -That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone: They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” – from “Big Yellow Taxi.”- Part 3

  1. The home at 326 Howell Street was moved from Church Street when that street became more commercial and less residential. Only one of the original homes is still on Church Street, next to to the Fire Station.

    Dr. Whitehurst, DDS and his wife lived there with their only child, Peggy. After Dr. Whitehurst passed away, Mrs. Whitehurst married my cousin, Deuteronomy S. Johnson, Superintendent of RMt. schools.

    My friends and I would climb on the porch railings which were high off the ground. Their maid would come out and tell us to get down before we fell off.


    1. I have used some pictures I took of this house on the blog and also we used one of my favorites with the American Flag on our promotion for the Villa Place Tour last October. I drive by and admire it often. Your story about the dentist and climbing the railings is about the house still left on Church street or this 326 Howell house? Which one? Thanks for leaving comments, Polly. My sidekick, right?


  2. As you aptly state an inventory is essential and the first step in securing the future of so many fantastic examples of architecture in RM. I am astounded that city officials show so little interest in this subject. I am also astounded that we as tax payers put up with city officials that spend freely on festivals that are under attended due to lack of interest, spend enormous amounts on superfluous positions and pay large sums to consultants who tell them things these PAID officials should have learned in graduate school. It appears that these officials think that endangered structures are the norm–a sad reality of days long gone. Do we really need more unattractive retail development on 301? Or do we need a thriving, attractive and developed downtown? And don’t you think we need wonderful historic neighborhoods filled with restored homes and families–sitting on porches and out walking enjoying what they have helped preserve? I do. So how about we nix a few festivals and do not hire needless city employees and use this savings as seed for the start of city matching funds to spur responsible restoration of our neighborhoods and business growth in downtown.


    1. I can’t thank you enough for leaving this insightful comment. You have hit the nail on the head and this badly needed inventory is a big blip on my radar screen. I love your suggestions for seed money to put towards are preservation efforts of our architectural inventory. I have shared this comment with others. Thank you for taking the time and effort to add to this post with your thoughts. Right on!


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