Rocky Mount Is Becoming “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”

Main Street Rocky Mount and the surrounding streets (Tarboro, Washington, Thomas, Church to name a few) is the place to go for delicious food or a glass of wine, a cup of coffee, great Southern cooking. You can even have the ‘Best Sandwiches Ever’ on the Douglas Block. They all have their unique atmosphere and are welcoming. The restaurant choices continue to grow from the Rocky Mount Mill to the old standbys…Chew & Chat, The Central Cafe, The Shiny Diner, the area around Harris Tetter on Sunset Avenue. Covid knocked these businesses upside the head, but they survive to tell that story. Beyond ‘pick-up’ you can safely, park your car, and come on in.

With eyes to see and a heart for change, I hope you will acknowledge, that in spite of other things, SO MANY good things are happening each day. The preservation, restoration, and repurposing of the commercial buildings in the historic downtown area are becoming supercalafractiousexpalodous; a word we all learned from Mary Poppins.

Come downtown and enjoy the evolving scene. My dream has come true! Saturday, March 20, first come, first served at The Prime Smokehouse or Tap 1918 at the Mill. I can’t wait to have trouble finding a parking place during the week so I can say to the naysayers…..”See I told you so.”

Below: Lou Reda’s on Sunset, Blanches Bistro on Tarboro, Larema Coffee on Tarboro, Moe & D’s on Church, Traxs at Station Square and MORE.

Saying NO to Tarboro Street Housing For At Least 3 Reasons


Affordable housing in historic districts and Wards should be looked at as a sustainable method of housing development. Buildings are durable commodities that can be used for decades. The addition of historic districts, which Rocky Mount has seven, into the housing equation is a win-win for the community. We already have in place guidelines that require close attention to the built environment as a whole, which helps to protect people’s investment in our housing assets. Rather than building affordable housing over on Tarboro St., plopped down in a transient setting, we want singles, renters, 1st-time homeowner, retired folks living in neighborhoods. There is affordable housing of different sizes that may not be at its best but is savable, and once restored, house by house you have a neighborhood feeling good about itself again. You have diversity, woven into the fabric of neighborhoods that have been home to our Rocky Mount story and are home again to our next chapter.


The PARKING that will be needed for a flourishing and successful Event Center, and a revitalized downtown, cannot be highjacked. Definitely not for the wrong answers to affordable housing. Evidently, there are members on the City Council and their insiders who no longer care about the needed parking, as if the success of the Event Center and Main Street no longer matter to them. This suggests to me that they have moved on to the next idea of taking what they can and leave the taxpayers with the bill. I suspect that this information meeting is a rouse to cover what they believe is a predetermined outcome. A large attendance saying no is necessary for these reasons and yours. Make the best case you can.


Taxpayers have no reason to believe the city forces will change their trend line in this latest proposal;  lining someone’s pockets, letting the taxpayers subsidize this housing.  In summary: We have a vote of no confidence in leadership, we must safeguard our parking, and pursue the right solution for affordable housing by investing in what we already have, which will restore our existing Ward neighborhoods and historic districts.

PLEASE NOTE: The location of a Tuesday information session on a planned multi-family workforce housing development on Tarboro Street has been changed.
The public meeting will now be held in McBryde Auditorium on the Rocky Mount campus of Edgecombe Community College. The time of the meeting hasn’t changed and is still set for 5 to 7 p.m.
The Development Finance Initiative at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Government will facilitate the session with an hourlong open house followed by a presentation and question-and-answer segment. The City Council has committed to conveying property between 218-242 Tarboro Street via sale or lease to a development partner.


Historic Preservation Commission – A Door is a Door is a Door Or Not! – Part 2


“Why are you insisting on these rules and regulations, when I’m the good guy here. I’m fixing an otherwise over-looked house that is spiraling downward. I am willing to put money into the project to improve the neighborhood. There’s a boarded up house, for heaven’s sake, next door.”    -An objection from Stepheny’s writing world

My first reaction to an objection like this is, “Lordy, give them anything they want! Who can deny the great need of the houses in the historic districts for rescue efforts that will breathe new life back into them? I mean, will the tides reverse themselves if an unpainted fence stays up? BUT, if we lose sight of the large picture –the presence of neighborhoods that are defined by their historical significance, which is a strong feature of Rocky Mount, we ignore the role our historic districts play in the success of any revitalization efforts.

When it comes to the guidelines for our historic districts, you might say, it’s a crazy distinction. “A door is a door is a door.” but remember, preservation assumes that all historic features, materials, etc. will be kept where it’s humanly possible. Therefore, these historic features must be restored or repaired and maintained into the future. Preservation values the origin of a building and its occupants over time and assumes that all evidence of them will be preserved, as well as the original character of the structure.

The HPC was conceived not only to help protect the integrity of the historic districts but to HELP  those who are investing in these districts. They’ll grant an extension of time for planning. They have economical alternatives to suggest and resources to pass along that are acceptable places to purchase building materials. (Putting in a plug for Preservation Rocky Mount’s Salvage Store at 910 Falls Road that is open on Friday & Saturdays 10-12. or by appointment (252-985-1804 and filled with materials from deconstructed houses. It’s better than a candy store.)

There are reasons why guidelines for historic districts pay off.  We have a spill-over from Raleigh that is making its way East, arriving in Rocky Mount along with other newcomers from an amazing myriad of places, (ask the people at the dog park where they came from). Today, people want their homes and workplaces to be unique and distinctive—exactly the kind of distinctiveness, character, and sense of place that historic preservation districts provide. When you ask what buyers are looking for, you’ll hear walkable communities, authenticity, and charm. Investors recognize that Rocky Mount has exactly what people want today. There must be a margin of profit for them. The other side of the preservation coin is rehabilitation; fixing up a deteriorated historic property. Like preservation, it puts a premium on retaining and repairing historic features but allows more leeway for repair and replacement of elements that have been severely damaged by time.

I’ll write more about this two-sided coin soon. I hope I haven’t bored the socks off you with this topic. I ask that you keep it  on your radar screen, to think about and problem solve. Thanks!




The ‘Badass” Historic Preservation Commission or Not! – Part 1

Buying property in a Historic District comes with certain responsibilities. “We are only the caretakers of these houses, which were here before we owned them and which will be here after we are gone. They contain the wood from the old-growth forests, they are monuments to the skill of those who labored to build them, they represent our cultural heritage.” – Jane Powell


You may not think of yourself as a preservationist, but at heart, most people are. In simple terms, historic preservation means safeguarding the existence and appearance of historic elements of the community. It’s not only a ‘bricks and mortar thing’  but a safeguard that preserves the context of our stories. We’ve all heard someone say, “It broke my heart when that building came down.” Charles Dunn’s Facebook page, Rocky Mount Way Back When fills an insatiable need we have to remain connected to our past.

In our hands, we hold a two-sided coin.  There is often real tension between those who favor preservation and those who see rehabilitation as an acceptable way of dealing with historic properties. The increase in investor and homeowner sales in our Historic Districts is exciting, a cause for celebration as we welcome all our new neighbors. My concern is that we find a shared language that communicates Rocky Mounts Historic District guidelines as a worthy and advantageous endeavor to a burgeoning group of young, hardworking investors, flippers, and contractors. We’re all addicted to HGTV and when Chip & Johanna Gaines find a problem that is going to cost them money, we groan. We want Rocky Mounts version of HGTV investors to be wildly successful and save money where they can, BUT, when you invest in a Historical District property, you take on an additional responsibility. You have to know and accept this UP FRONT.  In embracing the long view, you will see that you have embarked on important and exciting work that leaves your thumbprint on the preservation of Rocky Mount’s past and future.

We trust our Historic Preservation Commission to hold the line in protecting the character of the neighborhoods where people already live and expect that protection. If you don’t embrace the preservation angle in your heart, the Commission becomes a group of ‘badass’ folks out to make life difficult.  (An unfair label to hang on a dedicated group doing the job we have given them to do – preserving the integrity of our historic neighborhoods.)

I have written a version of a compelling objection that illustrates how tough it is to find a response both sympathetic to a problem blocking a Certificate of Appropriateness while remaining steadfast to the task set before the Historic Preservation Commission.

“Why are you insisting on these rules and regulations, when I’m the good guy here. I’m fixing an otherwise over-looked house that is spiraling downward. I am willing to put money into the project to improve the neighborhood. There’s a boarded up house, for heaven’s sake, next door.”




Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House In Historic West Haven – Part 2


The war was still reverberating in 1946 when the former editor of Fortune magazine, Eric Hodgins, wrote the novel Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. There was a national housing shortage. The American dream of the returning G.I.’s included home ownership. The film correctly read the mood of those who wanted to move on to pursue the American dream. (See Part 1 for further information on the genesis of the Dream Houses.)

In 1988 Marianne Stanley Farris & David Farris bought Mr. Blandings Dream Home from Sam Arrington’s estate to become the second owners. Their daughter, Kate, was 8 years old at that time. (Above, The Dream House photograph as it appeared in 1988.) The Farris’ began to modernize the house while keeping in mind its architectural integrity. It took six months to redo the interior, lay a brick path to the front door, add a porch roof over the front door. (SEE PHOTOGRAPHS OF TODAY’S HOUSE IN PART ONE)  The photograph to the right is of young Kate, with her parents. She could not have imagined that one day her own darling daughters,  Mari Robin and Frances, would be playing in the back garden in their own playhouse.   

In 2004, James & Kate Tharin were expecting their 1st child when they bought the Dream Home from Kate’s parents. I have written before that I believe we find the memories of the caretakers of a home floating forever in the dust motes seen in the sunlight through the windows. In Mr. Blandings Dream Home the Arrington family, Marianne & David, James & Kate, will always be found.  Mr. Blandings Dream House represents all of our dreams of living a life of peace and prosperity, of those we love, family, and friends around us, our children playing safe and free.

There is a PS: to this story. Kate Tharin, who grew up in this house tells us that the kitchen knives remain in the same drawer and that she and James have no plans in upcoming improvements to remove the radiator covers from the walls in spite of the fact that they are no longer in use. Best of all, the piano that sat in the living room of Kate’s childhood is coming back home and will be placed in the same corner. James Tharin and his family are living their particular dreams in a special house with a unique history. The 8-year-old girl grew up and cast her own spell on the interior design of her childhood home which deserves a magazine spread. James Tharin, handsome and good humored, is a fine stand-in for Cary Grant as Mr. Blanding. The Dream House is yet another reason to appreciate the West Haven Historic District in Rocky Mount, NC.





Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House In Historic West Haven – Part 1

There is nothing better than watching an old Cary Grant movie, and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, a 1948 comedy, is no exception. The film is based on the novel Eric Hodgins published in 1946, a fictionalized account of a house Hodgins built in New Milford, Connecticut.

Movie mogul David O. Selznick and his publicity man, Paul Macnamara, a former editor of Cosmopolitan, came up with an idea to promote their new film. They would build replicas of the Dream Home and raffle them the night of the premiere in each city. They planned to build 100 houses. RKO’s publicity department sent blueprints of a four bedroom colonial to contractors across the country.  73 ‘dream houses’  were built, two in North Carolina; one in Greensboro and one in Rocky Mount. (I must add that one home was built in Evanston, IL. where I grew up, which I never knew about until researching this story.) If you’re interested, the original plans are still available on the internet.  Selznick involved General Electric in this promotion who showcased their appliances in the dream home kitchens. A fine advertising opportunity, local businesses contributed their products to the building of these houses. Upon completion, the houses were open to the public to tour, the price of admission given to local charities. The dream homes were sold by raffle or lottery.

As a party game, I know you’ve been asked what famous people you would like to sit next to at a dinner party or marooned with on an island. In connection with this Mr. Blandings Dream House story, I have invited a short, but meaningful list of wonderful people to spend time with.

We will begin with James and Kate Farris Tharin, along with their daughters, Mari Robin and Frances who are the current owners and caretakers of the Rocky Mount Dream House built in Historic West Haven on Lafayette Road. Here is a wonderful, talented couple that grew up in Rocky Mount, NC and after college returned to nourish the deep roots they have here. They are perfect stewards of the house, committed to preserving the architectural integrity of the original home while slowly making changes that suit their family’s dreams. Take a moment and CLICK HERE to watch a short PBS Video on The Dream Houses.

Here is Mr. Blandings Dream House as you will find it today. The front porch roof and pillars were added by Marianne & David Farris when they bought the house in 1988 from Sam Arrington’s estate. Sam and his wife were the 1st occupants.












Seeing the Beauty of Historic West Haven Through the Eyes of Its Architecture – Part 2

A Dry Stacked Stone Wall to Appreciate in Historic West Haven

 (The walls) endure in part because a rock is as near a definition of “forever” as exists. Do it right — square, plumb, and well-tied throughout — and the wall will be standing long after you and I and all our other accomplishments and failings are forgotten.”                               -John Vivian-How to Build a Dry Stone Wall

I’ve written about placing my hand on a brick when admiring the preservation of a building. Appreciating the stonework in West Haven is an opportunity, as deceased Irish Priest, author, poet, John O’Donohue says: “Draw alongside the silence of stone until its calmness can claim you.” I stood for a few moments before the stone wall pictured above. I’m not going to tell you where the wall is because you must go and find your own stone to find its calmness. The home on the right is fronted with a low stone wall and pictured is this stunning entrance pathway that speaks of lasting beauty. This is the 1930 Margaret Griffin House (1617 Rivera Drive) also referred to as Pine Hall.

The two-story brick Colonial Revival style house is laid in Flemish bond. The seven-bay symmetrical facade features decorative stone and brick work, including a stone frontispiece. This photo doesn’t do the house justice, I apologize, but it does show you the results of John Wells wisdom in specifying that only a minimum number of trees could be cleared during construction. An abundance of mature trees is part of the glory of West Haven. Haven’t we all driven through a neighborhood with beautiful homes and tried to imagine what our lives would be like if we walked through the front door of one of our favorites and called it home. Could you blame me when I stopped to take a closer look at 408 Wildwood? I’ll let it speak for itself, but the gardener in me said, “Oh, yes!”


 NEXT TIME: Part 3- Looking at Historic West Haven Through the Eyes of Its Architecture

Seeing the Beauty of Historic District West Haven Through Its Architecture – Part 1

“A place without meaning is no place to be.”
Wayne Gerard Trotman

I experienced a glorious early spring day on March 9, 2017, while driving through the Historic District of West Haven. I knew the weather was a gift to relish because it would not last. Entering into a quiet world, free of traffic, it allowed me to take photographs while standing in the road, yet I was only a mile west of downtown. I was accompanied by bird song celebrating the day. LISTEN.  The photo on the right is Wildwood Park that sits along Waverly and Rivera Drive where I stood to breathe in the warm sun and birdsong, definitely a Lenten blessing.

What one appreciates immediately about West Haven is its curvilinear streets, the first planned neighborhood in Rocky Mount to deviate from the usual grid system found in the other Historic Districts. Like the beads on a rosary, we touch each esteemed name associated with the creation of this idyllic twenty-five block area that reminds us how important beauty is to our lives. We remember John Wells, the local civic engineer who was the developer and realtor for the 211 acres of wooded property. (1928) The architects Thomas Herman of Wilson and Harry Harles of Rocky Mount and….drum roll please….local contractors D.J. Rose and Samuel Toler, who built homes in West Haven.

Come, educate your eye! Let’s look at two Colonial Revival style homes that will help you recognize this style when you see it.  Many of you are fortunate to know the stories and the people that call these lovely places home. I had to use my imagination. When writing about the homes pictured in this post, I thought of the 1950’s  and the clothes that were worn, the music listened to, and the cars people drove. One doesn’t need the personal details of these homes to fall in love with these architectural treasures in yet another historic district of Rocky Mount. Whether it is a shotgun house, a bungalow, or a Colonial Revival, our cup runneth over with architectural gems.

On the right is an example of a typical Colonial Revival style home found in West Haven. This is the 1951 Robert Walker House at 515 Piedmont Avenue.  This two-story, brick house has a symmetrical three-bay facade with a recessed entrance with sidelights and side panels and a segmental arched wood transom over the door. Note the house is balanced by exterior end chimneys on the side elevations along with one-story wings on each end.

Here is a frame version of the Colonial Revival Style, the 1950 Edgar Joyner House at 322 Piedmont Avenue. A two-story, side gable house with beaded weatherboard siding with typical Revival style details that include dentils at the cornice, a symmetrical three-bay facade, and a pedimented portico supported classical columns. A one-story addition includes a side sun porch.

TOMORROW: Seeing the Beauty of West Haven through its Architecture – Part 2

Celebrating The Rocky Mount Historic Districts – Why They Are Important

Central City Historic District

There is a reason why Rocky Mount’s seven historic districts matter. Neighborhoods preserve the historic, architectural, and aesthetic character and heritage of a community. They provide a sense of place and continuity that not only contributes to community pride but to a better understanding of how the future can be shaped. Thus the by-line of Main Street Rocky Mount …Honoring the past, building a future. I’ve changed a thought of author Walker Percy’s to suit my purposes – It means you’re a person living  Somewhere not just Anywhere.

Can you name the districts?

Central City Historic District Edgemont Historic District
Falls Road Historic District – Lincoln Park Historic District
Rocky Mount Mills Village Historic District
Villa Place Historic District
West Haven National Historic District                                                                                 Edgemont Historic District

The National Register of Historic Places is our country’s official list of buildings, structures, objects, sites, and districts worthy of preservation for their significance in American history, architecture, archaeology, and culture. For a private owner, the chief practical benefit of National Register listing is eligibility for a federal and state investment tax credits that can be claimed against the cost of a certified rehabilitation of a historic building. The National Register was created by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 to recognize and protect properties of historic and cultural significance.

NEXT TIME – The Historic District of Westhaven

You may want to read:

Edgemont- A Jewel in Rocky Mount’s Crown -Part 1

Villa Place Historic District-Taking a Chance on Love -Part 1

Historical Vila Place District

Historical Edgemont District

Historical Rocky Mount Mill Village District