The Beauty of Brick In The Restoration of Rocky Mount – Main Street and Beyond

“Architecture has its own realm. It has a special physical relationship with life… a sensitive container for the rhythm of footsteps on the floor, for the concentration of work, for the silence of sleep.”
Peter Zumthor, Thinking Architecture

The beautifully restored building on Washington Street. This photo was taken when it was the Washington Street Grill

I think of the rustic charm of exposed brickwork in buildings as art. The colors and textures of exposed masonry add a unique character to any structure. If you have not had the pleasure of placing your hand on a brick wall, next time one calls to you, do it!  A quick story about touching: My youngest son by misdeed was asked to stay home from school a day. It was an opportunity to take him downtown to the Chicago Art Institute where the famous lion sculptures stand guard. He wanted to touch whatever he looked at. (He comes by that rightly, I’m a toucher.) More than once the museum guide in a gallery cleared his throat as a warning, don’t touch. What was to be a day of punishment was far better spent on Michigan Avenue in the midst of glorious architecture. All these years later, I touch brick walls, and that grown son has a son of his own who both touch my heart.

 I can never resist telling a story, but some information too. A brick is building material used to make walls, pavements, and other elements in masonry construction. Traditionally, the term brick referred to a unit composed of clay, but it is now used to denote rectangular units made of clay-bearing soil, sand, and lime, or concrete materials. Bricks can be joined together using mortar, adhesives, or by interlocking them. Bricks are produced in numerous classes, types, materials, and sizes which vary with region and time period, and are produced in bulk quantities. Two basic categories of bricks are fired and non-fired bricks.


A lovely brick arch left intact in an ‘above the store’ flat in New Bern.

Bricks were made by hand until about 1885. Once the Industrial Revolution broke out, the brickmaking machinery was introduced. Consequently, the number of clays that could be made into brick was greatly increased which influenced the production capacity. Handmade brick production ranged up to 36,000 bricks per week but by 1925 a brickmaking machine made 12,000 bricks a day

The beautiful brick walls in the restored train station in Rocky Mount

A great example of leaving exposed brick in a restoration. Imperial Center.

Amazing interior brick at the Imperial Center restoration.

The interior brick at the Imperial Center restoration. Looking beyond to more beautiful brick walls.

The Imperial Center Restoration

The exterior brick at the restored Rocky Mount Bus Stations

Going up now: Approved brick for rebuilding the back of two Howard Street buildings.

The restoration of a Howard Street building using beautiful brick.


Exposed brick is a piece of art to behold.

Exposed brick with a crack running through is like a self-portrait on any given day.

We use our hands for a loving touch, a moment of comfort, in prayer. Why not touch a brick wall in honor of the workman, the results, the enduring quality of what still stands. A silly thing I know, until you remember when someone has taken your hand in comfort or in love. Let us place our hands on this old brick in appreciation for its past and  new future.

Posted in Preservation Rocky Mount | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Main Street Exhibit – Remembrance of Things Past

       “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.

(Images from my Pinterest boards on architecture)


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Stepheny Sings A Joe Cocker Song to Troy White – A New Face on Howard Street

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…….

Looking at the saved facade on Howard Street

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.

Approved brick for rebuilding the back of the buildings. I put my hand on it…wonderful!

The restoration of a Howard Street building


Look closely at the treatment of brick between the two buildings

The removal of the interior fallen to the ground

An Amazing Sight

These great guys are a hoot. When I asked to photograph them they said, “Okay guys, look busy!”

142 Howard St Facade Rendering


170/174 Howard is the grey bldg
Once was home to Kellibrew photography
164/168 is the red brick

Posted in People Making A Difference in Rocky Mount, Preservation of Historic Commercial Buildings | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

They Say, ‘A Good Man Is Hard To Find’ But I Found One

“We will make caring more contagious than this virus and we will come out on the other side a much stronger community.” -Charles Roberson

His name is Charles “Verb” Roberson, a small business owner and an investor in downtown Rocky Mount. Charles thinks of the entrepreneurs investing in downtown as pioneers who have been willing to risk their dreams to be a part of the new emerging scene on Main Street and the surrounding areas. I call these talented, creative people, “Repairers of the Breach.” With great economic recovery, high employment due to job growth, we were sailing along with a smile and a whistle until this virus closed the doors of what are called non-essential businesses.

After brainstorming ideas during a downtown stakeholder conference call, Charles “Verb” Roberson jumped into action, summoning the downtown business participants, creating the Downtown-Cares website, and producing a video to promote the Downtown Care Project. Charles explained he’s carrying on the tradition of his grandfather, James Nelson McNair who took him to rest homes as a youth to feed and care for our precious seniors. He explains, when times get hard, you show your heart. This is exactly what the stakeholders are doing with the Downtown Cares project.

Charles says he is happy to see people making the effort to go downtown to help patronize as many restaurants and other open businesses during this crisis. He likes to create win-win situations that Downtown Cares epitomizes. The project has created a care package supplied with products we buy from local small businesses, then allowing the public to buy these Downtown Care Packages to gift to our seniors and essential workers.  “I am propelled to live by the name that my friends call me, Verb, which is an action word. I had to Walk The Talk in honor of my late grandfather. Jame Nelson McNair taught Charles, “You have to do the work and that your work will talk louder than you ever could.” Right now, Charles is in a work mode. He and the stakeholders involved invites the community to join this Downtown Cares project and make it a success.

Kimberly Thigpen
The Bath Place

Kevin McLaughlin- Larema Coffee House









Watch This Great Video

How It Works:  DOWNTOWN CARES creates Downtown Care Packages stocked with items bought from local downtown small businesses. “Downtown Cares” packages will include a hot meal prepared by a downtown restaurant, hand sanitizer made by The Bath Place, and a locally made face mask. These care packages are then gifted to some of our most vulnerable citizens, seniors, and medical workers. Phase Two of this initiative will supply police, firefighters, and truckers with care packages and include more vendors.

We are asking our big businesses that have made Rocky Mount their home, to sponsor, donate, and buy our seniors and healthcare workers lunch thru We will grow this initiative to include more downtown businesses and to feed even more of our frontline heroes.

Current participating businesses are NABS, Larema Coffee House, D Chill Spot, Moe n D’s, The Bath Place, and Blanche’s Bistro. Melanie Griffin Wallace from Celebrate Living Local has stepped up lending her expertise in organizing the distribution of packages and sales. Sarah Mesh has donated locally made face masks to the Care Packages. Our mission is to include even more merchants in our Phase Two rollout. We will deliver “Downtown Cares” packages free of charge to the heroes at Nash UNC Health Care and other frontline healthcare workers.
Downtown-Cares has created a GoFundMewhere you can donate to keep the hot meals and care packages going to seniors and frontline workers. You can also go to the website and easily buy a “Downtown Cares” package and donate to the cause.

Go to select the meal you want to order or make a donation. You can specify if you are ordering for a senior or essential worker.

Process your order or donation

Orders for care package registers every Tuesday at 5pm. These orders are then sent to our participating local small businesses. On Wednesday all those orders will be delivered to seniors and frontline workers. Go to for more information.

Main Street Thanks Charles and all the Stakeholders for Believing in Rocky Mount and coming up with this win-win plan.





Posted in People Making A Difference in Rocky Mount | Tagged , | 5 Comments

a-lt-men-taire – The French Bakery on Main Street – IMAGINE!

In the Chicago area, you will find bakeries throughout this city of neighborhoods…Greek Town, Little Italy…In Evanston where I grew up, there was a bakery on Davis Street where my mother took me. Inside the door of the bakery, delectable smells filled the shop. The glass front display cases were filled with trays of impossible choices. I usually asked for a chocolate eclair, which I would then eat on the walk home. Two blocks west to Asbury Avene, turn right, and two blocks North home. We would pass the bowling alley, the drug store, the amazing Federal Post office with its memorable architecture. All of us can still walk blindfolded these walks of our childhoods.  Main Street Rocky Mount is going to have the fragrances of a bakery escaping onto the street each time the door opens to Altmentaire. (AH-LEE-MON-TAIR) A French word for food and nourishment that describes their traditional bread and bake goods made of 100% real ingredients, many locally sourced. Perhaps you already know of this bakery at 600 Trade Street in Tarboro, NC  owned by Steve and Franca Gilbert. They are coming to Main Street Rocky Mount.

 Here we are looking at 132 SW Main. This commercial building is 6000 square feet. 3000 feet for the bakery…kitchen sales area, etc. AND a 3000 loft apartment above where the Gilberts are going to live. Having just seen two lofts this size in New Bern at the Main Street Conference, I was beside myself because I wasn’t in Elizabeth City or Wilson or New Bern but on MAIN STREET ROCKY MOUNT. (CLICK HERE TO SEE THE NEW BERN LOFTS.)

There is much more to this space with bedrooms, bathrooms, closet space. 3000!!! feet. This is but a glimpse of what is happening in the downtown historic district. The restoration and repurposing of this building is part of the new scene emerging around the businesses that have held down the fort waiting for support, vision, a will of the leadership. Welcome Steve & Franca Gilbert, we can’t wait for you to get here.

The living room space that looks out on Main Street and raised kitchen

Climbing the steps past the beautiful brick wall to the 2nd level

The three windows looking out on Main Street


The View from the second level


Posted in Economic Development in Rocky Mount NC, Preservation of Historic Commercial Buildings | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Having A Little Fun With Main Street Readers


I had this really cool dream. A fleet of black SUVs were headed out of Raleigh to Rocky Mount. I think they were US Marshalls because it looked like Tommy Lee Jones in the lead car. Everybody was dead serious and silent. They were on the road forever but finally, they pulled up in front of City Hall. They rushed the stairs, flinging open doors, crying, “You’re under arrest.” You know how dreams go…suddenly I was in the building at the top of the steps as if I’d been waiting. I said, “What took you so long?” It was Tommy Lee Jones! He said, “Step aside ma’am, we’re here on matters of skullduggery.”

The eternal optimist here                                                                                                                              waiting not only for results                                                                                                                       but to be set free again to have LUNCH OUT.  SFH

Posted in Stepheny's Rocky Mount Reflections | 8 Comments

Checking On Main Street – It’s a New Dawn, It’s a New Day, A New Life For Us

“A city is not an accident but the result of coherent visions and aims.”
Leon Krier, The Architecture of Community

Like you, I have been at home practicing patience. I haven’t checked on things downtown for awhile. Since a grocery run was in order, while I was out, I drove downtown around 4:30. There was no traffic, which meant I could jump out of my car and leave it running to take photographs of the projects I’d come to see. Maybe it is the strange state of suspension I find myself in, but I was susceptible to the shadows, and the beauty in the architectural details I’d never seen before. Even the railroad tracks that carry a portion of Rocky Mount’s story were magnified in orderliness and significance.


The streetscape has given the old commercial buildings that line both sides of the tracks a setting, a grounding if you like, which was evident in the late afternoon light. Each facade along the street is unique. The architect, the builders, and crews didn’t throw up any old building but left a legacy of craftsmanship and style we are building a future upon. It will forever be on the heads of those who have been involved with the disgrace of neglect and shenanigans surrounding Main Street. But, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day it’s a new life for us.

If only my photos did these storefronts justice because each one is a little jewel box. You see the address of 114 on the lavender building. The details on these facades are worth a trip downtown to see. If you’re following Main Street on Facebook you have seen the drawings on the various types of window/entries in order to recognize and identify what our Main Street facades have. We are fortunate to have this incredible architectural inventory and the emerging new Main Street symphony of pounding hammers, the crash of deterioration coming down, the chatter of men putting in new windows: I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Don’t you either. SFH



I have many favorite buildings along Main, but this one is ‘way special.’

Rendering of Restored Facade 

Coming Soon: I left out one building in this original post that belongs in this series. Here is the commercial building as it appears today (on the right) and a rendering of how it is going to look  (on the left). Cause for celebration with another Main Street architectural commercial building being saved.



Posted in Preservation of Historic Commercial Buildings | Tagged , | 4 Comments