The Carlton House – A Second Chance To Get It Right

We spend a lot of time talking about Rockey Mount’s problems. We can name the people on the Council, and those with positions in City Government that are the problem. When another significant piece of the revitalization puzzle is sabotaged, it is of no consequence to the ‘My Will Be Done’ crowd. There is an enormous cost, however, to the community when this happens. With the Carlton House under contract again, we must get this right. 

 The Carlton House is a prime example that the only plan that matters is the ‘My Will Be Done’ agenda. It makes no difference that places like Elizabeth City, Goldsboro, New Bern, Tarboro, and Wilson have proven the point that following a program like Main Street, produces results that are tangible, evident, and impressive. The pace of Main Street is dictated by those who don’t care about proven research that states what works and doesn’t. The admonition in all I’ve read is to follow and stick to a plan that will require hard work, dedication, and vision. The downtown plan, commissioned and paid for, isn’t suitable for those who work the systerm for personal gain. 

I want to tell you a brief story about The Poinsett Hotel in Greenville. SC. Named after Joel R. Poinsett, the Secretary of War under President Fillmore, it was built-in 1925 at a cost of 1.5 million dollars. The Poinsett Hotel was designed by William L. Stoddard, a New York architect, and built by the J.E. Sirrine Company of Greenville. The hotel is a twelve-story skyscraper with a narrow rectangular plan and an L-shaped façade. As the hotel is to Greenville, a seemingly inconsequential place like the Carlton House, is essential to the success of Main Street for the same reasons.  From the opening of the neglected hotel, growth followed in the area. It became an economic driver, a place of importance in the life of downtown Greenville. 

Knox H. White is an attorney in his native Greenville, South Carolina, who has served as his city’s 34th and current mayor since December 11, 1995, a longer tenure than any other mayor of Greenville. Previously, he was an at-large member of the Greenville City Council from 1983 to 1993. He was elected on a platform of protecting neighborhoods, his legacy has become Greenville’s downtown revitalization.  

I hear people say, “Well, a mayor can’t do much. He cuts ribbons, is a recognizable public face that represents the City, and does what he is told by the City Council. Knox White didn’t get that memo. His strong voice and leadership should have been cloned and sent forth to other Main Streets. “Nothing said downtown Greenville was back more than the reopening of the Poinsett. It spoke to the older people in Greenville  who were the most skeptical about downtown redevelopment.”  The Carlton House is our answer to “Maybe they aren’t going to tear down all our memories, afterall.”

Because of the narrow focus on themselves, with no plan but their own, the value of the Carlton House has been ignored and derailed. Thinking about the money they could divert into their pockets, they sold the newest scheme on the fact that Edgecombe County deserved a hotel, never having had one before. We know now the kind of people the City Manager turned to in order to ensure this scheme paid off.  Never mind the significance of the Carlton House in drawing the local community downtown, and providing guests to the city a sense of place. When complete, this will be a major accomplishment.   

A number of you could write about growing up in Rocky Mount as Knox White writes, “Growing up in Greenville, I often took the bus downtown. Now when I see the Mast General, I think about the old Meyers-Arnold department store. I can see the old movie theaters in my mind. My brother and I climbed the stairs of the old Woodside Building  and did the same at the Daniel Building when it was under construction.”   The Carlton House can do for us what the Poinsett Hotel has done for Greenville.                                       

Leave a comment below about memories of chicken dinners on Sunday at the restaurant: The wedding parties, family celebrations, Mothers Day and graduation occasions. To have the Carlton House restored and vital will bear fruit. The area will be stabilized, it will offer hospitality to visitors, and welcome those who live here.

The so-called leadership that messed this project up with Jesse Gerstl, should keep hands off and let this be a win-win for the new owners and Rocky Mount.  Here on Main Street, I am ecstatic with the thought that the Carlton House will be making memories once again for all who cross their threshold.

A ‘before’ photo to build a dream on

8 thoughts on “The Carlton House – A Second Chance To Get It Right

  1. Knox Porter, Sr. was a successful landscape nurseryman in Nash & Edgecombe for decades. The Carleton House was one of the many businesses which were adorned by his creative, skilled design. RM was a better place for he was passionate about shrubbery becoming tools of an artist’s palate. Kay Kyser was as passionate about the appearance of his new motel. Not liking the installation of plants which he saw, Kyser spoke his mind to Porter who continued with his design. When the last mulch was applied, Kyser saw the genius of Porter’s creation, sought him out and apologized. The RM of 1961 was full of men like Mr. Boddie, Mr. Noell, Mr. Kyser, and Knox Porter. They cared about the institutions they served because they had concern for the people within them. They cared about building a strong community which contained architecturally significant structures complemented by treasures of nature. RM was a showcase due to their excellence. I remember eating in the Carleton House on its first evening, Good Friday, 1961 & again on Easter. As a member of the Boys’ Chorus of R.M. Wilson Jr. High, I loved when we sang at Optimist Club meetings there. Annually an Owen Mills photographer would take portraits at this inn. On a recent visit to my hometown, I was deeply saddened upon seeing the decayed condition of this property. I wonder what my father who said: “Leave it better than you found it,” would think.


  2. Just this past weekend, our son and daughter in law slipped away for a quick overnight to celebrate his birthday. He assumed they’d go to Raleigh. They ended up going to Durham simply because of this cool, refurbished motor lodge that they discovered during their online search around Raleigh. They thought Unscripted Durham ( was very cool. The Carleton House has some of the same features that could be converted into spaces like Unscripted. They also had a fabulous dinner in Durham. The ripple effect of ingenuity….

    They both came home with a great impression of a city that they had never given two cents for … and it all started with the old motel, turned new hotel. The Carleton House could be that place for Rocky Mount. We’ve been given a second chance, and, quite frankly, I can see how no one would think we deserved it. Thank you very much, new owners. The good people of our City are glad you’re here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your comment adds to the blog post on the Carlton House value. I should have asked you to write the piece on why this second chance is important. Thank you for keeping me company on Main Street and for adding this vaulable true story to make the point. We are all grateful. A hug in return. SFH

      Liked by 1 person

  3. While traveling one fall week we hit debri on the road and the result was a flat tire—unfortunately our SUV had special order tires and the local repair shop owner said “well boys we don’t stock fancy tires in these parts but I will be happy to help you”. Thus, on his recommendation we 3 crammed into the cab of the flatbed truck while our SUV was hoisted onto its bed (with our dogs inside); we were off. I kept looking back at the car to see the dogs and the driver said “you fuss too much the dogs are fine” then proceeded to tell us all about how busy he kept towing the various wrecks along the expressway that cut through the mountains. Nice guy. Exiting the expressway, he turned onto a fantastic Main Street and stopped at an incredible hotel—lowered the flatbed so that we could get our dogs and luggage out then said “boys have a nice time these folks will treat you right and my shop is just down the street I’ll find you when the tire comes in and we’ll settle up then. The people who worked in the hotel came in seconds with water for the dogs a cart for luggage and welcomed us like family—we spent 4 days there enjoying the lovely room, the pampering of us and the dogs and experiencing a wonderful historic town. Following is the link to the hotel:
    Rocky Mount could be such a town. It takes vision, commitment, and solid leadership.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Stepheny, I wrote both a blog and a column the other year about the robust downtown development in Greenville, SC, drawing comparisons between Rocky Mount and Greenville (similar size, a river, former mill towns). It can be done here!

    Since the company negotiating to buy the Carlton House has not yet been named, I’m guardedly optimistic. (Remember the China America Warehouse debacle.) Still, Sunday’s Telegram had this optimistic quote from David Farris: “I’m not at liberty to say who the company is, but we are really excited about it and excited about the prospects of it.” Maybe this time…. Fingers crossed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know what a success story it has become. There is no readon except for those that rig the system, for Rocky Mount to be right there. I remember but didn’t save, I would love to read it again. Could you send me the link. Miss seeing you and listening to your writing. A hug.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I also grew up in rocky mount. When going to the Carleton house it would give you a sense of pride. The food and atmosphere was remarkable. I hosted Nora lam that made the movie China Cry back in the 1980’s. She was very impressed with our downtown and loved the Carlton house.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Stepheny, I am hopeful to see RMT rise like a phoenix. I visit downtown with each visit to my Mom’s. Whishing Belk would return to the Belk Building. Loved working for them while in high school. Keep keeping on. In MA cheering for you and the Grand Ol’ City of Rocky Mount.

    Liked by 1 person

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