Adrienne Copland, President of Preservation Rocky Mount, Calls The New Board To Order 2/9/21

When you read about the new agenda and the upgraded version of PRM, I hope you will pay a single membership of $20.00 and add your voice to the year’s agenda, announced this evening by the new president. The presence of PRM in the community, their leadership, and commitment to the Preservation of Rocky Mount’s story and architectural assets is essential. With renewed energy and purpose, it is the time to get involved with a significant piece of the revitalization of Rocky Mount. Below you will find the new talented board members and the five returning members. Main Street is delighted to highlight these creative, knowledgeable, professional, people with their hearts for Preservation.

Block One: Adrienne Copland, Whit Barnes, Lea Henry

Block Two: Tessa Wood-Woolard, John Jesso, Tierra Norwood

Block Three: Sarah Tripolli Johnson

Block Four: Jean Bailey, Whitney Shearin, Stepheny Houghtlin

Block Five: Wanda Alford, Renny Taylor

The Shop on the Corner – Virginia’s – THE KRESS BUILDING

“Playing dress-up begins at age five and never truly ends.” —Kate Spade

Virginia Dunn Dasher, the original owner of Virginia’s Dress Shop could not have imagined that all these years later her daughter, Ginny Dasher Dunn, would still be holding down the corner selling beautiful clothes. The shop moved to 164 SW Main Street in 1982 where mother and daughter sent you off with the right coat, hat, sweater, dress for casual wear, or fit for a wedding. With a nod to the past, you will still find beautiful negligees and nightgowns for a trousseau and beyond, and half slips.      

“Whoever said that money can’t buy happiness, simply didn’t know where to go shopping.” —Bo Derek

Life changes and moves on doesn’t it. Ginny is keeping a watchful eye on her dear husband who now needs some looking after. The fate of the shop is winding down. One of the steps is a storewide SALE that I have twice benefited from with several additions to my wardrobe that I love. Hurry in. Several things I debated over are now gone!  Ginny has long been a place marker on Main Street. She belongs to the Downtown Merchants Group, a constant voice cheerleading for the revitalization of property and attracting businesses.  A gem.     She is one of the prisms of light on Main Street.  

The Kress Building holds memories for native Rocky Mount folks. I was told about the fudge, Spanish nuts, and popcorn smells when entering. Today, there is metal signage covering up windows above the front door that would no longer be allowed and would be removed in restoration. Though my photographs are of a photograph, stand with me, and appreciate another Main Street jewel. 

Virginia’s -164 SW Main St. -252-446-4487

Another Prism of Light in Rocky Mount – Steve Felton

I spent time with Steve Felton this week. Among many things, he is a Financial Advisor and Franchise Owner of Carolina Capital Advisors, – Ameriprise Financial. He started his business at age 24 in 1985. I knew of him through his paintings of Rocky Mount architecture, although his artwork encompasses many subjects. See his website:

Steve began painting after his son was treated for a staph infection at Duke Children’s Hospital some years ago. With his deep respect and love for the heritage of the community, he has painted many of our best known architectural buildings. I was delighted to finally meet him in his office that reflects his abiding interest in his family history. There are wonderful glass cases that display some of his family memorabilia: old precious photographs, and the bits and pieces we all collect, making small altars where we place our stories. I found yet another Southern storyteller, who lovingly and proudly talks about family members who have contributed to the Rocky Mount area. Shade Felton, Steve’s great grandfather, from 1934-1956 was Deputy Sherriff of Edgecomb County. Jerry Fentress, his grandfather co-owned Carolina Awning and Tents. His other grandfather worked for the railroad but also built houses primarily in the Oakwood area from 1950 until he died in 1970. His Dad, Ron Felton was also a Financial Advisor from 1982-1998.

Steve’s notecards are an important aspect of his artwork. He carries on the tradition his grandmother started who always wrote notes to people. Steve refuses to abandon this habit as many of us have to the extent we once did. His cards and artwork are about giving back.  If he is asked to do custom work, he gives the fee to charities that are listed on the website. It is no wonder people who receive a special note from Steve save and collect his cards. Listening to how he approaches his life, his deep faith is apparent.

In the light of the state of affairs ‘downtown,’  Steve admits that he is a bit ‘down’ these days, eager for resolutions to put things right so Rocky Mount can continue to grow and prosper. He has a strong sense that it has taken many people, like those in his own family, to build Rocky Mount on a sure foundation, using a moral compass that safeguards right from wrong.

But listen! Staying ‘down’ is not allowed for long. We must believe together that things will be straightened out because of new leadership, and our insistence that all breaches are repaired. Steve Felton is one of the prisms of light in Rocky Mount that will help get us there.

“My hope and prayer are that we as a community will come together, put our personal differences aside. We owe it to our forefathers because they paved the way.”                           -Steve Felton

If you missed the post called Prisms of Light, I hope you will take a minute to read it.


Partnering with Stepheny – February 13th – 6:00PM – Station Square


Preservation of our architectural assets needs a critical mass of people who are interested in having a voice in the matter. As a board member of Preservation Rocky Mount,  I’m heading up a new Advocacy committee. I know many of you who read this blog have a great interest in the continuing revitalization efforts of Rocky Mount. PRM believes that together, we can do something important.

Make a note that on February, 13th, 6:00, Station Square, I’m leading a meeting. I want you to come! We are calling this meeting a  Conversation Cafe. The seats will be arranged in a circle as opposed to a lecture style. I’ll set the tone for the meeting with my usual cheerleading pom poms, state a few ground rules so that all of you can chime in with your thoughts.

The back of a building in the 163 block of NE Main Street


You don’t have to join Preservation Rocky Mount to come to the meeting, though I wish you would join because we need to strengthen our voice and demonstrate how important preservation and revitalization is to us.  Preservation groups in other cities have worked hard and become an influential presence. Wouldn’t you love to be remembered as someone who helped secure our architectural inventory, our sense of place, and embraced preservation as an economic engine that helps build a future? I know I would.

Let’s help find a new will to carry on the great efforts of the Peter Varney years of preservation that we see at the Train Station, Bus Station, Imperial Center, Douglas Block, Streetscape and the fantastic things going on at the Mill, and more. At the moment we are dancing to the political music on all the airwaves, but Conversation Cafe Night won’t be playing that music.

Such a beautiful commercial building on Main Street

Stepheny’s army is about hanging crystal prisms (Click Here) and looking at historic preservation as much more than preserving bricks and mortar. (Paul Miles – The Financial Times and Craig Potts – Kentucky Heritage Council have said much the same thing, but they say it exactly right.) Preservation recognizes that our built history connects us in tangible ways with our past and provides context for the places we occupy and the world we live in. It fuses art with craftsmanship. Reuse affords a sense of history and texture, taking advantage of buildings with atmosphere, history, and stories inscribed in their fabric. Sometimes sustainability isn’t just about energy and materials saved, but about the stories, craft and intelligence embodied in its walls. These words inform our advocacy. Come to the meeting and let us reason together. SFH

Where Are We Today? Grab Your Coat and Get Your Hat – Take My Hand

Paul Harvey -WGN Radio
The Rest of the Story

I grew up listening to Paul Harvey and the rest of the story on WGN radio. The program was followed by Orion Samuelson, who was the “Voice of American Agriculture.” Corn was up soybeans down. Iowa farmer  (somebody) lost his crop or a cow was struck by lightning.   I understood next to nothing about the soybean market, but listening to Samuelson made me feel like an American grounded in the mid-west. The voices of these two men could make everything seem certain in my expanding world.

Orion Samuelson -WGN
The Agriculture Program

It is important that I, after long city council meetings and waiting for the next revelation in the paper, direct my feet back across to the sunny side of the street. Click Here: I love Willie Nelson!  The first blog post of this new year was a movie clip from Pollyanna where the children are hanging glass prisms in the window. (Click Here: I hope you will take the time to read the post if you missed it.) This morning, once again, I have taken a soft cloth and am starting in on polishing our glass prisms. Like Harvey and Samuelson, I see this as my job; to use my voice to say with Julian of Norwich – – all manner of things shall be well.

I want to tell you that on Monday while waiting for the council to come back, I stood on the wall talking to Jesse Gersitl, not about the proceedings, but about MacHaven. His investment group now owns the property. I saw wonderful photographs on his phone of the work that is going on inside. After the council meeting, I needed to be in Whitakers by 7:00pm to speak to a new preservation group that has formed to try and save their Main Street. In a few days, several board members from Preservation Rocky Mount are headed to lunch and tour/meeting with Wilson’s preservation group. I can’t wait. Preservation of our architectural assets is my part in the chorus to sing. The way I see it, we all have our parts and this is the time to pull the choir together. We must have an independent conductor take the performance in hand.

300 Grace St. -Machaven

300 Grace St. Machaven


Concerned, frustrated, anxious about any delay in saving ‘Main Street’ is not a good default position for me. Stepheny is not Stepheny. (Click Here for a past post about MacHaven)   I can rally by thinking of MacHaven as one of our crystal prisms, and investors like Jesse Gersetl who have come to help us save our architecture and story. Get out your sheet music, be of good influence where you can, help with a political solution this fall with the election of city council members. Go downtown to eat, shop, attend events at the Community Center– Believe!

Samuel Sanders Toler – Contractor and Builder – The Setting of the Toler Years – Part 1

Men’s Fashion’s early 1900

Samuel Sanders Toler became one of Rocky Mount’s most substantial and highly esteemed citizens, a contractor and builder with a wide and well-established reputation. He moved to Rocky Mount in 1902 when he was 35 years old and began his construction career. He was employed by D. J Rose, the city’s most established contractor (and still so today, the oldest active construction firm in NC.) But before I get ahead of myself, let’s set the scene for life in those days – a time and place for Mr. Toler.


I love reading a well-written book where the descriptions of the characters easily form a picture in my mind’s eye. Pat Conroy is that kind of author where you can smell the fragrance in the air and picture the shining wet brick pavement as he writes the scene of the paperboy in South of Broad. I won’t be able to do that for you when it comes to Mr. Toler but I can add a few facts to help reveal the times. In 1902 when he came to Rocky Mount, Theodore Roosevelt was the  President. The Michigan Wolverines won 49-0 over the Stanford Indians to win the college national championship in the inaugural Rose Bowl game played in Pasadena CA. Bill Bailey (won’t you come home) was #2 on the music chart. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter was #1 on the best list of books. Most important to note is that during this period, Rocky Mount was experiencing a boom due to the growing tobacco market, and shortly the arrival of the ACL Emerson Shops would have a further economic impact.

Teddy Roosevelt Family

FDR at Groton early 1900’s – Men’s Fashion

While working for D.J.Rose, Mr. Toler was in charge of construction for a number of important local buildings, including:

The ACL Emerson Railway Shops

The Masonic Temple CLICK HERE for an earlier post

The Masonic Temple on Church Street

The Ricks Hotel (Earlier post) and The Bank of Rocky Mount (1921)

Toler was made a partner with DJR before he formed his own company, S. S. Toler & Son. SST for a time was Vice President of Dozier Supply, still a prominent local business.

DON’T MISS PART 2 – S.S. Toler & Sons




Peter Varney – One of Rocky Mount’s Crystal Prisms

When I first met Peter Varney, the retired assistant city manager, I recall a pleasant man, dressed as neat as a pin, self-contained, with vivid blue eyes. Looking back, I’ve come to appreciate the saying, “Great oaks from little acorns grow.” We meet people all the time but in this instance, I made a friend, which has been a blessing.

Knowing everyone’s respect and admiration for Peter, I hope there is still room in the Peter Varney Fan Club. How lucky am I that it was Peter who first showed me the restored Train and Bus Station undertaken on his watch. The preservation and restoration of these two architectural gems now serve as anchor projects in the Rocky Mount revitalization puzzle.

Click here to read more about my visit to the bus station.

It was in the train station that an older woman said hello to ‘Mr. Peter.’ It was obvious that everyone knew him as he greeted them by name. Nodding my head in ‘Mr. Peters’ direction, I said to this lady, “Tell me about him.” Her eyes lite up and she smiled, “Oh, he’s the best!” A wonderful tribute I can not improve upon.

Peter spearheaded a number of key projects in his 41 years with the city. Not in order, there was the completion of the Helen P. Gay Rocky Mount Historic Train Station, Denton Street Pool, and the Douglas Block, the Senior Center, Sunset Park, Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, the Warehouse and Field Operations Complex and the acquisition and development of Battle Park. Peter’s first project after arriving in the city in 1971 was the Rocky Mount Judicial Center. One of his most difficult but advantageous projects for the city was the completion of the Rocky Mount Sports Complex. After its use as a municipal airport, the area was a crop dusting operation for years which caused environmental issues. Varney, city staff and the previous property owners undertook a major cleanup of the contamination. The result was a state-of-the-art Sports Complex which currently brings in over $10 million to the area. Peter also led the completion of the Imperial Centre for the Arts and Sciences, a flood recovery project and one of the largest public investment projects the city has ever undertaken. This doesn’t include the countless things he gave his heart and time to that have no name in capital letters left behind.

Peter Varney, a role model whose leadership style and moral compass in dealing with people throughout his life and career are exactly what is needed today. We respect and honor the Peter Varney years knowing the stories of countless people he helped, the neighborhoods where he made things better. This quiet, unassuming man, with great intelligence, proves it is not the political power bullied from others that is the prize. What prevails is the good you have done in this world that will cause people to say, “Oh, he (or she) is the best!” 

Peter Varney has long been one of the crystal prisms that cast rainbows on Rocky Mount’s wall. He will continue to do so.  CLICK HERE: I don’t want you to miss the Pollyanna movie clip of hanging glass prisms I included in the last post. You will better understand why this imagery works for Peter and Rocky Mount.

“The Most Beautiful ‘Main Street’ in the Entire World”

A Pollyanna image for ‘MAIN STREET’ in the New Year

This blog post and others I am writing will make more sense if you


One of my favorite movies is Pollyanna (1960), starring Haley Mills with an outstanding supporting cast. Pollyanna offers us a new image in 2019 when thinking about the theme of this blog: honoring the past and building a future. A scene in the movie illustrates why glass prisms are applicable to Rocky Mount. The children are hanging in a window the crystals prisms they removed from chandeliers and lamps. The refracted light appears as rainbows on the walls. We have many people who have been like crystal prisms in the story of Rocky Mount.

In case you have forgotten – Pollyanna, is a 12-year-old, who arrives in the small town of Harrington. Google research reminds us she is a cheerful, talkative and radically optimistic youngster who focuses on the goodness of life. She finds something to be glad about, no matter the situation. In doing so, Pollyanna’s positive outlook on everything helps her make a wide variety of friends in the community, including the hypochondriac and grouchy Mrs. Snow and the acidic recluse Mr. Pendergast. Pollyanna is not easily discouraged in trying to win them over, a trait we must all cultivate while helping with the revitalization of Rocky Mount. I especially like the part in this video clip where Mr. Pendergast explains how the prism works. However, he does so with a long and tedious explanation (much like the excuses given when it comes to saving Main Street.) Saving Main Street isn’t complicated. I believe we will stand along Main Street one day soon and marvel at the restoration and repurposing of the architecture there. We’ll be saying, “This is the most beautiful ‘room’ in the entire world.”

We already have prisms of light strung in the window of Rocky Mount. I love writing about them and there are others to add. These lights will be forever linked and honored for their contribution to Rocky Mount. We must have leadership, however, that will help hang prisms of light in this New Year. If not, there should be a casting call for new actors to take their place. I hope you agree?

Read about another prism of light tomorrow. Can you guess who it is?