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

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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!

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The Rocky Mount Telegram – The Unfolding Story – Leads Us To A New Beginning

Today’s blog post is dedicated to my tutorial professor who reminds me from time to time that my job as a writer is to set us on higher ground. This admonishment caused me to think beyond the current crisis of allegations, where we are all focused, to what comes next once the future of our city government is determined. This will be a new beginning.

The two quotations from the professor’s private papers, Naval Wisdom, have been selected because of their relevance to the Telegram’s well-written serial story  making news.

“If you can not explain it here and now, in the dark of the mid-watch,
how will you ever explain it later at the long, green table?”

The Rocky Mount Telegram has been writing a kind of mystery story that has people staying up late at night in order to read the next chapter as soon as it is available. I think of this story as a book found shelved in the business section with chapters devoted to management, in this case, mismanagement, incompetence, and cronyism. The ‘book’ has become an instant best seller in the genre of political intrigue. There is a lead detective, Lindell John Kay who has uncovered serious allegations of mismanagement. He is a methodical man who prides himself on building his case carefully, looking into records, acquiring evidence, and taking interviews with those who are or have been working in city government or are small businesses owners who can substantiate the allegations that are coming to light. 
As the plot unfolds, Detective Kay continues to apprise the citizens of Rocky Mount, where the story is set, of further revelations. Opinions are being formed as to who else may be responsible, either because of their complicity or because they have gained from the graft and corruption under suspicion. There is an attempt to turn the spotlight from obvious mismanagement to a knee jerk fall back position: this is merely a black and white issue, (racial) which explains away any responsibility to make this right. The flip side of the coin is that this story is about right and wrong. It is about actions, process and good governance that is under scrutiny.

Ever collision at sea and ship grounding is the result of multiple
failures by many individuals, and had its origins long before, in
failures of training and management, only coming to the sad current
result through process failure, including inept leadership, exhibited by
the failure to apply prior lessons learned by others through painful
experience, via a disciplined, continuous application, supported by
repeated, constant re-enforcement, in pursuit of excellence, all the
time, in every evolution.

The naval findings in this quotation are applicable to our collision, the result of multiple failures by many people that have had their origins before this unfolding story came to light. The Navy found inept leadership and a failure to pursue excellence in every situation. Those who will be attending the City Council meeting scheduled this afternoon will represent many others who ask for a simple outcome: a fair game played on a level playing field for all. We all expect the right thing to be done in order to let us get on with the game of revitalization, the saving of our Main Street, and further reason for economic investment. A new beginning starts with a political solution to the problems that reside in City Management. After a  financial audit as well as a management audit, we will have new procedures and a new resolve to say every day,  “Yes!” to Rocky Mount.”







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The Rocky Mount Telegram – Making a Mess at Rush Hour!

Having a day on my own in London, I spent part of it on Charing Cross Road in and out of the bookstores that were still open in those years. I was collecting Beverley Nichols on that jaunt and imagining that at any moment I would see Anthony Hopkins coming towards me straight from one of my favorite movies, 84 Charing Cross Road. Headed to the tube with a few wrapped books, I felt a restraining hand on my elbow. I had started to step off the curb forgetting which direction the traffic was moving.  It was a stranger holding my arm. He said, “Don’t do that luv, it makes such a mess at rush hour.” I have never forgotten his kindness or the wonderful humor of this moment.  I think it is safe to say that the Rocky Mount Telegram has made quite a mess at rush hour!

As part of this same trip, Princess Diana was tragically killed in a car chase by the paparazzi. I’d read enough English mysteries by then to have no doubt that the government was involved. Riding the tube later that same day not a word was spoken. Everyone had their heads buried in the newspapers. I was reminded of this experience when the Rocky Mount Telegram’s staff writer, Lindell John Kay began the expose on the City Manager and Landis Faulcon, Director of Community & Business Development — and anyone else that deserves this scrutiny.  Of course, here in Rocky Mount, everyone is talking! Phone calls, e-mails, clandestine meetings, Facebook posts,  conversations over lunch, dinner, or standing in the driveway. There are people worrying about how deep this investigation will go, some sorry they backed the wrong horse and those of us who are hopeful and ecstatic that at last the truth is being told. Later today many of us will be headed to City Hall to make our presence known while the Committee of the Whole meets behind closed doors.

I grew up reading The Chicago Tribune and thought I was headed to college to become a journalism major. I resent the state of journalism today. I canceled my Telegram subscription as a point of honor. But wait, a reporter actually investigating! Checking records, laying out a fact-based case step by step. Can you believe it? An investigation long overdue about things known, suspected,  rumored, but usually stifled one way or another. I need to subscribe again in thanksgiving for Lindell John Kay and the revelations that are being spelled out, no holds barred.

When the taillights of at least two cars head out of Rocky Mount,  let us hope and pray that the damage left behind continues to be investigated. Surely this must include the City Council who hired the City Manager in the first place. There is quite a mess to clean up. Now is our chance thanks to The Telegram who have dared to name those who must not be named and expose what I call the shenanigans of City Government.



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Howard Street – A Street to Build a Dream On – Part 2

I want you to look at an example of an ordinary commercial building, not unlike some we have on Howard Steet. I encourage you to see the buildings I photographed with this example of a renovated commercial building in mind.

According to Moss: Architecture: Design: Green, whose architectural firm did the work, this former repair shop has been transformed into a photographic studio. New windows and cleaning of the Chicago Common Brick found inside helped upgrade the space’s look and feel, without scrapping its valuable assets of brick and foundation. The concrete floors and wooden rafters were attended to.

Here is the building Charles Killebrew used as his office.  At his death, the building was left to his daughter and is now for sale. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to further preserve and repurpose this building as one of the pieces of the puzzle along Howard Street?

The fabulous Almond’s ghost sign is a historic nod to the past. How wonderful to have it as part of the Howard Street dream. Think of  Adaptive Reuse when reimagining Howard Street. Zoning B4 allows mixed usage. The dream is about giving an existing building, home or venue a new purpose, or maintaining the same purpose while preserving, rebuilding, enhancing or maintaining elements of the building. When viewed one at a time the dream seems more manageable.  We could form a Howard Street Concerned Citizens group, and put some wind under the sails of this dream. Teams of two could select a  building, research the facts, and present them, and, and, and…..


Historic preservation clearly does much more than preserve bricks and mortar. It 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, capacity for modern utility with embodied energy, and progressive ideas for economic revitalization with traditional authenticity. Historic preservation is at the same time wonderfully egalitarian; all socioeconomic classes in every corner of the nation have successfully utilized its principles to protect their heritage and revitalize their communities.

-Craig Potts, Executive Director of the Kentucky Heritage Council and State Historic Preservation Officer

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Howard Street – A Street to Build a Dream On

“The current passion for reuse might be explained by sustainability or fashion but, most importantly, it affords a sense of history and texture, taking advantage of buildings already embedded in cities. They are buildings with atmosphere, history, and stories inscribed in their fabric. And sometimes sustainability isn’t just about the energy and materials saved but about the stories, craft and intelligence embodied in its walls.”                                        -Paul Miles – The Financial Times

You know me well enough by now to recognize how this quotation is the crux of how I think about saving Main Street; a metaphor I use to include the larger area of the residential and commercial property that is part of Rocky Mount’s signature. The song from My Fair Lady came to mind as I walked Howard Street (again) and took photographs of the buildings – I have often walked on this street before but the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before but here am I – – seeing the dream Howard street could be. It is essential to the reimagining of Main Street that people not only work but live downtown. I count imagination as a gift and I hope you have been given your fair share. At first, all you will see is buildings without purpose, but with imagination, ah, welcome to the dream of Howard Street.


Try to think of these upper floors as apartments, lofts, filled with ‘living above the shop’ residents who become a neighborhood: a cafe, an antique dealer, artists and writers, singles, older couples who are tired of owning a big house and want to be downtown to walk to a restaurant and shops and nightlife.  Picture this wonderful space where people live and work, are definitely willing to feed your cat while you are away and are now looking out for one another. Where there is music drifting from a window, people meeting in the street, where there is love again, purpose and creativity, the honoring of the past by saving this architecture and the stories embedded in the walls. (More about the Howard Street Dream soon.)

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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




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