The first time I went to Rocky Mount Mills I met Eddie Belk, a man with a gleam in his eye. I looked the word, gleam,up and found one of the definitions that suited Eddie to a tee: a facial expression that denotes happiness, amusement, or knowledge of a secret. This expression was about Rocky Mount Mills. Eddie is an Architect/Engineer: G. Edwin Belk Architects. (At that time David Cera was the project architect) Eddie is an architect with a passion for preservation, restoration, and repurposing as evidenced throughout the mill. I’m sorry my iPhone camera can’t do justice to the art and beauty that has been recreated.
Rocky Mount Mills began the process of redevelopment in 2014 when Capitol Broadcasting Company purchased roughly 300,000 square feet of mill factory buildings. The mill itself has been turned into lofts, office, and event space. The approximately 100 historical homes in the mills’ village have been updated and are available to rent. In 2019, the River and Twine hotel opened on the campus, a collection of 20 boutique tiny house hotels. The next phase of development is Goat Island on the Tar River, which will offer public access to hiking trails, sandy beaches, and paddling sports.
Eddie Belk did know a secret and now we are the beneficiaries of this happy place. “Architecture is a fine art, a social art, placing buildings in the context of the politics, the economics, and the cultural forces that shape them.” – Blair Kamin, Chicago Tribune Architecture Critic
You know me well enough to know that I expect to find good things and therefore, I do. Meet Ryan Boone, Commercial 1 Construction. Look at the plans on the floor for Prime Smokehouse. It’s underway and I got a peek in the door where the kitchen will be. Along with Ryan there was Dexter Park, Project Mgr. Just clone these two extroverted, happy, friendly guys and the world will be better for it. They love what they are doing, and the place where they are creating a new space. Seems to me Ryan and Dexter are cut out of the same architecture world as Eddie Belk; they show their happiness, amusement, and have knowledge of a secret that is coming true soon.
Commercial 1 Construction – 919-977-4570 – www,c1cnc.com
I tend to romanticize things on Main Street…..I offer no apology. This tendency explains how I came to believe there is a Band of Brothers changing the scene in historic downtown. I love meeting and writing about individuals from various walks of life and backgrounds investing their time and resources. It is these people saving and repurposing Rocky Mount’s commercial architecture who provide a necessary economic driver.
When Troy White’s building came tumbling down in an 80 mile an hour wind, it felt like someone slapped me upside the head with some of the comments left on Concerned Citizens; a group of important voices who try to serve as watchmen on the tower. While reading, I thought, “Wait a minute, this isn’t right!” What happened to ’We few, we happy few, we band of brothers?’ -from a speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V.
The King proclaims….But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother…
As fate would have it, Troy and the team arrived an hour before the storm hit. They were there to assess the next steps in bringing the building back to life. Engineers were involved with the necessary procedures to save the building. Then the wind took the structure into its own hands. Troy White, has already demonstrated how vested he is in the mission of saving downtown’s future. He could have used some support that at least said, “Your loss is our loss.” For the record, Mr. White paid for any and all clean up that was necessary. There are now design plans in the works for a new building, which will be sensitive to the continuity of the historic downtown setting.
When we lost this building, I was certain of the downtown Band of Brothers. They would offer help. Maybe drop water bottles off because of the heat. They would bring encouragement with their ‘one for all’ attitude, perhaps bring a push broom or shovel? With little, if any, sign of these Brothers, coupled with the comments that followed, we are damn lucky Troy White didn’t give us the famous Duke basketball gesture when opponents foul out – – SEE YA
This ‘all for one’ attitude is imperative. Everyone who is involved in creating the new emerging downtown scene deserves respect and shall have a turn leading the Main Street Parade. If you doubt the necessity of this investment money, think about the majority vote on the City Council who have served 20 years or more. Under their watch, statistics show a decline in homeownership, a loss of jobs, higher crime, and commercial and residential housing boarded up and deteriorating.
We need individuals who are vested in the historic collection of architecture on Main Street, and beyond. The real issue behind the smokescreen-cry of racism, is the “My Will Be Done” agenda. Anyone that does not support this agenda will have to endure intimidation, the threat of losing a job, actually losing that job, or threats concerning their businesses. People are hired and fired according to their willingness to serve this agenda. It is no longer a carefully held secret. The names of the usual suspects are spoken every day. Should you need further evidence of what this so-called leadership has accomplished, go, and look at the shameful decline in the neighborhoods. It is obvious that nothing comes from nothing. It is new investment that is saving Main Street.
It may be a Chicago thing, but are you familiar with the expression, no tickey, no washey? There is an economic imperative at stake here. Vested individuals are essential. Those profiting from the “My Will” agenda have tried to sabotage the word investor. “These ‘carpetbaggers’ are taking away what belongs to us.” Don’t believe that for a moment. Instead, believe that all those vested in building a future for Rocky Mount deserve our thanks and prayers.
The “My will Agenda” is the real issue. The plan we already have, bought and paid for, doesn’t support “The Agenda,” so we need a new one. The Main Street program is dismissed for the same reason. Think about The Carlton House that was sabotaged for the sake of a new hotel and parking garage. Does anyone doubt that the usual people will line their pockets with that deal? The Band of Brothers faces this agenda every day. If these people would accept the notion that alone we can do so little, but together, accomplish so much. it is a reality that should be embraced. We need black and white-owned businesses scattered throughout the historic downtown. Together, the obstacles that the agenda mandates can be addressed.
When I read the erroneous remarks from the City Council meeting that keep declaring there is no difference between Main Street Accreditation and Affiliate, I repeat, there is a difference, dagnabbit! An Affiliate status has resources that help new communities get started with this successful program, BUT, Accreditation comes along later when you submit the yearly paperwork proving that you are following and achieving the Programs guidelines. If that is accomplished and you are given accreditation status, you become eligible for grants that affiliation cannot participate in. No accreditation, no money. If you missed my recent blog about this subject, CLICK HERE
In March I attended the NC Main Street Program in New Bern, NC. Kevin Harris was the only one from our City Government. I met the whole planning and development staff of other counties. City Managers attended. CLICK HERE for the post I wrote -We’re On The Road to New Bern.
This isn’t the TV show, Kids Say The Darndest Things. It is the reality show on City Council where those who are committed to the MY WILL BE DONE agenda make no room for this valuable and proven program to assist cities in reinvigorating historic downtown. To insist that there is no difference between an affiliate designation and an accredited status hopes you aren’t that interested in the first place or likely to give much thought to what losing our accreditation may have cost us. It isn’t that the MY WILL BE DONE agenda doesn’t know better, they don’t want you to know better. Here is what you hear.
“But it seems to me there’s really not a big difference between being accredited and affiliate”, Knight said.“And plus all the work that we are currently doing downtown and what we are proposing to do downtown, I think would be more than an A-plus once these projects come into fruition.” The City Manager said, “I agree with you., the paper seemed to have been hung up on accreditation versus affiliation when, in fact, there’s really no difference at all.” This is wrong.
Here is the point of accreditation and what it means to have lost ours.
“Accredited communities are eligible for occasional funding opportunities through the National Main Street Center, that are only available to accredited communities, such as the National Park Service Main Street Façade Improvement Grant program that Lenoir, Elkin, and Elizabeth City received – $46,000 each for façade improvements in downtown; the Grills Fund for COVID recovery initiatives, that New Bern received; and from time to time, other opportunities that may arise. Accredited communities are eligible for awards, like the Great American Main Street award. Goldsboro was a runner up for this award a few years ago and it is a national recognition. Goldsboro received another grant for around $35,000. Again – only accredited communities are eligible.” —Elizabeth (Liz) H. Parham, Director, NC Main Street
To think that the City of Rocky Mount continues to be in the hands of but a few. What a power trip it must be to know that MY WILL BE DONE continues without a judgment day, allowing the MY WILL agenda to continue on. For this, we are facing immeasurable damage to our reputation, credit ratings; bullying, and deflection go on. If only our lost accreditation were a single problem before us. Alas, there is much more.
I often leave comments on the Concerned Citizens Facebook Page. Like all of us, the page has its good days and bad. Some comments have more clarity than others. I have no trouble making room for diverse opinions as long as they are well stated, no swearing or name-calling. I will admit that my reaction can vary if that line is crossed in this public forum. You could find me talking to myself, saying, “Give me a break!” or “What???” or in plain speak — “Man, you gotta get a life.”
I have an on-going struggle with what it means to be complicit. I’ll read something, weigh its merits, consider my past experience with the writer, and then decide if saying nothing makes me complicit in the matter. Sometimes it is easy, Stepheny,let it go. When I determine, this cannot stand, I write.
“What about the May Graham buildings or the Carlton House, or any other structures Jesse Gerstl and gang owns. It was great at first thinking he was going to fix something which turned into 2 years of the buildings getting “worser” as you call it. Jesse Gerstl was allowed to buy many of these properties knowing he had no money or intention to fix any of it up. The only thing we got out of the hoarding of money in our downtown was a coffee house; had it not been for the owner of the coffee house we wouldn’t have that.”
In this instance, I know, admire and applaud, Jesse Gerstl. This post is written in appreciation of him and is also my reply to the Concerned Citizen who was good enough to weigh in with the above comment. This blog post is neither written in anger nor denying others their opinions. I, however, have personal knowledge that Jesse wears a Superman’s cloak hidden under a tee shirt, part of his regular attire.
Larema Coffee Shop is located on the opposite corner in the Five Points area. A success story of what the revitalization of our historic downtown district will look like. A building Jesse bought and renovated with his heart for preservation and his ability to see things not as they are but could be. I can’t think of a greater place for the community to enjoy. A repurposed First National Bank Building that now welcomes everyone in a setting that only Main Street can provide. People love it, and why not with as fine a young man as you could hope for, Kevin McLaughlin presiding over his dream.
MACHAVEN, restored, and saved. In acquiring this property, Jesse stopped everything to save this grand architectural gem. Click Here to read an earlier post that includes photographs. The crown jewel, as they say, in the Villa Place Historic District, Machaven is surrounded by an outstanding inventory of residential homes, a walkable distance to downtown. This is a gift to the community that holds many memories of this historic home. I have lost count of how many shotguns and other small homes he has undertaken.
Saved for last, The Carlton House. I have never heard Jesse moan or groan over the obstacles placed before him by our City Government as it pertains to the Carlton House or any project. That’s because he is a good man. I fail the test in this category. I am appalled at the loss of this opportunity and deliberate dragging of feet to thwart him in these efforts. “Oh, ghee that $14,000 grant money must have gotten lost on my desk.” I am fortunate to have seen the plans for this significant asset while touring the property with Jesse.
What we have here is a haphazard, arbitrary, unprioritized approach to planning. The latest scheme rather than recognizing a pivotal piece in the Main Street puzzle. We now know why the Carleton House was sabotaged. Presented as a fait ac·com·pli., we have a single-source bid again as the results of a trip to Florida by the City Manager. The rationale, we’ve never had a hotel in Edgecombe County. Oh, and a zillion-dollar parking garage while we are at it. There are no substantial statistics to prove need, probable success, necessary occupancy to even hope to make a go of it. And, of course, how are the usual suspects going to make any money out of The Carlton House. You wonder how many investors have been run off because there is no attempt to work towards a win-win outcome for the city and the investor. Jesse and others like him, deserve our gratitude and support for the restoration and repurposing of Main Street. We have councilmen serving beyond their usefulness who have done little to protect Main Street except where it suits them and their cronies. It is shameful.
I want to tell you one of my many Main Street experiences. It happened this past Spring with a trip downtown to photograph some commercial buildings that Mr. Knight owns. (There is one in particular that I love and keep my eye on.) I first took these photos on July 17, 2018. Today, July 11, 2020, the building looks the same only ‘worser.’
I got out of my car that day in a state of mourning over the further deterioration of this structure. I took new photographs to prove that if Mr. Knight truly meant the things he waxes poetic about, he would have set an example, and at least stabilized this building to save it. He would act as a responsible property owner who cares about the historical significance of our facades that make a continuous blend of excellent commercial architecture.
I’ll get no satisfaction in this matter until more of the community gets proactive and sees Main Street for what it is: a valuable asset to be protected, an economic driver, a place people believe in, our investing in, and are the wind under the sails of the revitalization that is going on. It makes no sense to me that once segregated in the Douglas Block area, there is now this call for a black business area that segregates blacks all over again. If the point to this is to segregate white people, it is a miscalculation to think I, for one, would stop getting out of my car and talking to black people on the corner or in the middle of the street. Most whites are color blind as our most blacks. It’s only those who refuse to live their lives as free men and women and realize that today it is one’s heart that defines a person, not the color of their skin.
It must be true what they say, one who is abused can become an abuser. Those who were segregated, now want to be segregated again. A successful revitalization has no color attached to it but supports and encourages come one, come all, to honor the past, and help build a future. Mr. Knight, who owns buildings on Tarboro St. and Washington St. has my vote of no confidence because he protected his cronies, letting them ignore ordinances, and stood by while their buildings continue to rot and cave in. Those who could’a/should’a make a difference, didn’t.
The reason I tell this story: There were three men standing in front of a nearby building that same day. One of them, by himself, has renovated and repurposed a great looking barbershop on the 2nd floor of a Main Street building. I walked over to join them and we talked. Nice people who then led me to see the bar on the corner and further.
When I got ready to leave, the older of the three men said he would walk me back to my car. I took his arm. Upon reflection, I realize I do this as a sign of my affection and acknowledgment that I am in the company of a gentleman. I am grateful to these three men who included me, were willing to tour a bit with me, and showed no sign that because I am white, it made a difference to them. They being black certainly made no difference to me. We need to get a grip, as the younger folks say, and welcome any and all who believe in Main Street where ever they find a building in the downtown area. We better start looking through a better lens to size people up. I repeat, today it is people’s hearts, not the color of their skin that matters
William West wrote, “The City of Rocky Mount appears to be interested in having the words “Black Lives Matter” painted on the roof of an old railroad track-side loading dock on the northeastern side of downtown.” This is a perfect example of what Benjamin Franklin meant when he said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”
The existing Central City Revitalization Panel (CCRP) composed of City residents, leaders of community organizations, and members of the business community, served as a steering committee for the Ratio Plan. For that trouble, it remains in a drawer. Unless the Historic Preservation Committee and the Central Revitalization Committeehave lost their minds, I guarantee neither group has been consulted about this matter. They who are charged with protecting guidelines of the downtown historic district and the Central Revitalization Committee, who are in the trenches working for the downtown businesses…… must approve!
This is another mistake for which no one on the Council or City Management will pay for. Yet again, an arbitrary idea to take advantage of the current political unrest in the country. Seize the day, and the monument to our history is gone. Seize the day, and paint Black Lives Matter on a historic structure. The basis – a mob of haters of the United States who have been encouraged and left free to loot and destroy.
This old railroad structure is not an inconvenient obstacle! This message, seen by people who pass through Rocky Mount on the train, who now are able to see the new emerging scene downtown, is short-sighted. I thought ‘Come let us reason together’ was the mantra to achieve harmony and move forward together. The two groups cited above better get their heads in gear in order to use their influence to save us from ourselves. I leave you with an interview with Shelby Steele of The Hoover Institute on the matter of Black Lives Matter. Though a Fox News interview might give you pause, think of the interview happening where ever you like. Just give his insights a go. Click on Link:
FYI: In 2016, the City of Rocky Mount moved forward with the preparation of a Downtown Plan spurred on by the anticipation of development following the announcement of the Rocky Mount Event Center (RMEC) and the area’s high development potential. As the effort began, the City realized that the most effective tool to guide and incentivize future development would be specific implementation strategies. The strategies contained in the Plan have a primary focus on the vicinity of the RMEC in the Northeast Quadrant.
It suits my romantic inclinations to write this Sorsby’s Tale after spending time with Whit Barnes. This tale is my favorite kind of Main Street news.I love generational novels that cover family history. In this case we have the family that founded Bullocks Furniture in 1901 unto the 5th generation that rests in a tall, dark, handsome fellow…. that would be Whit…. the nicest of young man that will one day appear on the genealogy pages of this grand family.
Whit graduated from Rocky Mount Sr. High where his mother Martha Kincheloe Barnes and father, Russ Barnes, met and started dating after graduation. Whit went on to Wake Forest and graduated in 2013 in Business Management. His grandfather, Bill Kincheloe, who lived on Wildwood in West Haven, started making lamps in the warehouse behind his grandfathers retail furniture store, Bulluck Furniture Company in downtown Rocky Mount, the year 1969. Whit is now the Sales Manager for Wildwood. The company used to be called Wildwood Lamps and Accents, but now the name is “Wildwood” because they make all types of home decor such as furniture, mirrors, lighting, decorative accessories, and artwork.
Whit has come home though he still has his New York apartment. He tells me he knows of at least 25-30 others moving back to Rocky Mount. This return is HOPE personified. These sons and daughters of Rocky Mount will join those already here; the future leadership providing a moral compass, and integrity we badly need. If any of them are like Whit, who is a bright, enthusiastic, and a energized, young gentleman, then hurry and get here.
Robert and Whit Barnes have bought the fabulous building on Sunset – Sorsby’s Place. The entire building may be leased or the two floors leased separately. The second floor has its own entrance. You may remember the building when it was Rocky Mount Chamber Paint, (1910.) Or, Barnes Tin Shop (no relative), or Carols Dress Shop. The restoration of this building is another preservationist dream and much more. When I visited with Whit, the joy on his face is evident over owning Sorsby Place with his brother, Robert. This joy includes home and family, taking part in the revitalization of Main Street, and putting a stake in the ground for past and future generations of their family.
I think of these young men standing quietly outside their building making room for their memories growing up here; the voices that have gone before them that they now honor. It is spectacular when one reaches the September of their life as I have, to stand beside a young man who wants to make a difference. It is my prayer that ‘all will be well, all manner of things will be well,’ when I am gone because of people like Whit and Robert. They are putting their life experience, their education, creativity, and love of place and family towards a future for themselves and others. Thankfully, they are joined by young people who are doing the same thing along Main Street and beyond. The leasing of this building will become an economic driver in the Rocky Mount Downtown Historic District.
**Wildwood Lamps & Accents Inc is a small business with 20 to 49 employees. Categorized under importers & exporters, Wildwood Lamps & Accents Inc has an annual revenue of $10 to 50 million. Wildwood Lamps & Accents Inc is a public business located in Rocky Mount, NC.
CAN’T WAIT FOR THE NEW OCCUPANTS THAT WILL ADD TO THE SORSBY’S TALE FOR MORE PHOTOGRAPHS VISIT THE FACEBOOK PAGE OF MAIN STREET
I’m thinking of John Jesso today. I first met him when I went to his office to inquire about starting the blog, Main Street Rocky Mount. Would I be stepping on anyone’s toes? John listened to my ideas and without hesitation, said, “I would love your help in highlighting the beautiful story of Rocky Mount.” 316 published posts later, John remains my cheer leader. His friendship is precious to me. When I came across the idea of a Codega,I knew immediately that this concept applied to John; then the Downtown Development Manager of Rocky Mount.
“In Venice in the Middle Ages there was a profession for a man called a codega. – a fellow you hired to walk in front of you at night with a lit lantern, showing you the way, scaring off thieves and demons, bringing you confidence and protection throughout the dark streets.”
John remains Rocky Mount’s tireless codega. He continues to hold his lantern high, showing all who come our way the possibilities that Rocky Mount offers. He has always had great confidence in the future of Rocky Mount. In the next chapter of his life he brings his expertise to Chambliss Rabil Commercial Reality. John and his partner Lee Mears, have in recent months effected the sale, lease or have under management in downtown alone over 165,000 square feet of space. One of my Main Street heroes, is Troy White, with all the saving and repurposing of buildings on Main and Howard Street that he is working on. We have not met although I feel I know Troy through John Jesso.
I asked Troy for a quote I could use to illustrate John’s continual pursuit of investors who are central to the “repairing of the breach.” Here is the lovely answer I received. It proves my point that John remains the Codega of Main Street who brings a man like Troy White to the community. Thank You, John! Thank you Troy for this comment and sweet thoughts, which I did not include but appreciate!
John and I met through a mutual friend that I was doing a favor for. The friend asked me to assist him in looking over a building he was interested in purchasing in Rocky Mount. We were both living in Durham and he knew John and scheduled a meeting to view the building and brought me along for my professional opinion. We met John in front of 202 Main st. That was where and how I was introduced to and met John. He and I would hit it off and he would invite me back to Rockymount to take a look at some of the other buildings in the downtown area. I fell hard for the two sister buildings on Howard St. They were in horrible shape but I could see the potential. I would later talk to some clients of mine about 202 Howard St. and they purchased that building as well. Since that time I have periodically come to Rockymount and my relationship with John grew stronger every trip. Now I consider him a true friend and I am overwhelmed with all of the possibilities for the future of Rockymount. Since then, many other friends of mine have purchased property in Rockymount and plan to either develop or move to Rockymount as I do.
Well Stepheny, thats the short but complete version. I look forward to meeting you and I want to thank you for all of the support you have given me and my team. I look forward to meeting you soon. You are so beautiful to me as well. Smile.
“Look at the places where no one looks, so you can see the things no one sees!”
Mehmet Murat ildan
Those who follow Main Street know the words to its theme song about preservation, restoration, and repurposing the commercial buildings in historic downtown. One of the verses is about finding a heartbeat and pulse in each building and then setting about to save its life. In the world of preservation, there is great beauty in simple things of the past. I think of the stories behind all the doors we have passed through in our lives and hope there will always be someone to preserve the places where those stories took place.
FYI: Every house has doors, and every door has hardware that enables the user to open or secure it. The device seen on most new houses is the doorknob, but in old houses that date back to the 18th century, latches or lever hardware were more common. Understanding about types of hardware and where they come from historically can help explain what you might expect to find or use in a pre-1940s house in our historic districts.
I often sing a few lines from a Joe Cocker song when I think of those I am grateful for, love, and admire. I haven’t met Mr. White, so it is unusual to connect a song with a stranger. There are exceptions. Mr. White is another ‘angel unaware’ that has come to Main Street. You will understand when you see the evidence provided below that what we have hoped for and needed, Mr. White is providing. Listen to these lyrics:You are so beautiful to me…….
Two buildings on Howard Street needed Mr. White. He is exactly what we hoped for. Troy White is from Durham but is moving to Rocky Mount. He has eyes to see and bought two neglected and deteriorating buildings that were being ignored locally. He has saved the historic facades and is repurposing these buildings in this wonderful location.
When history is written about this chapter of the revitalization of Rocky Mount it will have a list of the ‘Repairers of the Breach’ who believed in the future of Rocky Mount. The list will have Troy White’s name as part of those ‘angels unaware’ that showed up and preserved, restored and repurposed Main Street. They join those born and raised here that have stepped to the sunny side of the street and will no longer be run off regardless of obstacles. Main Street, in the throes of revitalization, has a cast of characters who will be remembered for saving downtown. It is the larger story that takes us beyond those who contributed to the deterioration of our beautiful commercial architecture through a lack of leadership, by neglect, lack of enforcing the ordinance, and codes. For Mr. White and the growing list of new entrepreneurs, new businesses, and those who have been pioneers downtown: You Are So Beautiful to Me! You are everything I hoped for, and you’re everything Rocky Mount needs. You Are So Beautiful To Me.