Historic Villa Place District Has Its Own Realm……

“Architecture has its own realm…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

I’m feeling a bit nervous like when I was first taken home to meet the parents of the boy I was in love with. Would they like me? Would they appreciate my hidden talents? Would they see past my obvious flaws and embrace the possibilities of me?

What’s Stepheny going on about now?  You’re coming to the Historic Villa Place District home and walking tour on Saturday, at least I hope you are. I fell in love with the neighborhood the first time Charles Dunn (Rocky Mount Way Back When) drove me to see where his grandparents lived on the south side of Hammond St. (413), Two of his great-aunts lived at 206 Villa Street, one of whom, Miss Fannie Gorham, I have written about earlier.

The question I’m jittery about is….. will you see what I see in visiting Villa Place? Addicted to architecture as I have become over the years, I’ve come to believe that over time, the people who have occupied a home remain in the dust motts that are caught in the light from the sun-drenched window. Maybe Daphne du Maurier, an author I love, started me down this path of believing that if we use our imagination we will encounter the lives and stories that remain.

“Who can ever affirm, or deny that the houses which have sheltered us as children, or as adults, and our predecessors too, do not have embedded in their walls, one with the dust and cobwebs, one with the overlay of fresh wallpaper and paint, the imprint of what-has-been, the suffering, the joy?” ― Daphne du Maurier, Myself When Young

I’m trying to resist the notion that I must take each of you by the hand and steer you past the few properties that should come down while extolling the virtues of the homes that are waiting for a believer who will buy, restore, and bring new life and joy to Villa Place. I will resist sounding like the gardener who tells you when you visit, “You should have seen the garden yesterday.” I mustn’t make an excuse as the mother does when she tells you the reason her child is cranky is because they’re over-tired. I want everyone who takes the time on Saturday to tour the four interiors, one garden, and two walk-bys, plus any driving you do, to get excited as I am about the possibilities where wonderful homes have already been restored, a neighborhood and story to honor, an area to be proud of.


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Villa Place Tales – The Kids that Grew Up in Villa Place

She sat on the porch and watched the moon rise. Soon its amber fluid drenched the earth and quenched the thirst of the day.
Zora Neale Hurston (edited SFH)

Throughout the South you find front porches tucked beneath deep overhangs. These open-air rooms continue to beckon family and friends where they gather to enjoy a cool breeze and some peace and quiet after a long day.  You will discover porches throughout the historic Villa Place neighborhood. Preservation Rocky Mount and the City of Rocky Mount invite you to a two-day event to celebrate the history, architecture, and the wonderful people who live in Villa Place and preserve beautiful structures. You will find the Villa Place neighborhood is an investment opportunity and a place to call home. 

Join the “kids” that grew up in Villa Place on Friday – Oct. 20th  (7:00 -8:30)…at Braswell School for a free event. Rocking together on the ‘front porch,’ the following folks will be telling tales of Villa Place. There will be time to add a few of your stories as well.

Polly Reynolds Warner, Emma Lynn Bass Wheeler, Sarah Johnson Tripoili and her Mom, Pat Strange, Fred Tulloss and Johnny Brown will be remembering parents, neighbors, friends, the games they played, and more… plus their thoughts about Villa Place today.

Hopefully, the two-day event will help the community reconnect with our historic districts, beginning with Villa Place. PRM encourages the preservation, rehabilitation, or restoration of historic properties that are important to the revitalization of the area. Show your support for this interesting neighborhood by attending Villa Place Tales on Friday, Oct. 20th and the Home and Walking Tour on Oct. 21st. A community that takes pride in its history and an interest in the preservation of its architectural assets, not only reaps economic benefits but improves life for all its residents.

The Home & Walking Tour Begins at 320 S. Pearl St. on Saturday, Oct. 21st 1-4:00. Pick up your tour booklet and make a much appreciated $5.00 donation to help defray costs. I look forward to seeing you!  Hey, bring some friends with you.




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YOU ARE INVITED TO A FREE EVENT: Save the Date – Friday, October 20th – 7:00-8:30 PM – Braswell School

“We owe it to each other to tell stories.” – Neil Gaiman

It’s easy to imagine….Parents on the front porch, children playing under the street lights, the heat of the day lifting, cicadas chirping in the trees. Look, there is Polly Reynolds over on South Howell, and Nancy Reynolds living behind the Tulloss brothers, Robert Watson on Western Avenue and Fred Fuller that moved into the Watson house on the corner of Nash and Howell. Billy Easton, Pat Longwell and Jackie Brantley playing on Tillary. What was it like to grow up in Villa Place? A group of ‘kids’ are getting together to talk about who they played with, who their neighbors were, to remember places like the Stankus Soda Shop.  On Friday evening, October 20th at 7:00PM, please join us at Braswell School for TALES OF VILLA PLACE. There you will find rockers on a front porch where Polly Reynolds Warner, Emma Lynn Bass Wheeler, Sarah Johnson Tripoli and her Mom Pat, and others, will be telling stories of growing up in Villa Place. There will be time for the audience to add a tale.

This is going to be a special time for neighbors, friends, realtors, investors looking at a great location a few blocks walk from downtown, for everyone, to enjoy this special two-day event. This is a gathering to celebrate the architectural and historic roots of Villa Place while celebrating the 150th anniversary of the City of Rocky Mount. There will be folks to introduce and thank, but the night is about story-telling. If you prefer, on Friday evening, you can make your $5.00 donation, which will help defray costs, and pick up your lovely colored tour booklet featuring six homes and additional information. OR at the starting place for the house and walking tour on Saturday, Oct. 21 from 1-4. The tour begins at 320 S. Pearl St.

Please share this invitation on your social media 

Help Preservation Rocky Mount spread the word.













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Behind the Scenes: Historic Villa Place Walking Tour Events – Put These Dates on Your Calendar

The Historic Villa Place District is Getting Ready for Company  

Friday, Oct. 20 –  7-8:30 PM – Villa Tales -Growing Up in Villa Place                            

          @Braswell School – Corner Pearl & Nash Street  (Now the Tar River Academy)                                         

Saturday, October 21, 1-4 PM – Villa Place Walking Tour

The Villa Place Historic neighborhood located three blocks west of Main Street is the most intact early-twentieth-century residential area in the city of Rocky Mount. The densely developed neighborhood is filled with glorious architecture…Queen Anne, Foursquare, Craftsman, Bungalow, Colonial Revival and Neoclassical Revival style houses built between 1900 and the 1940s. I wish you could have been with me this summer preparing for the tour by meeting some of the ‘folks’ that keep the faith in this amazing area. I will admit that at times I have to put on my Pollyanna glasses when facing the disrepair and blight that some of the houses face, but we are not going to let these problems keep us from looking at the large picture; the glass filled with possibilities, assets, wonderful people and location, location, location.

For several hours one lovely Saturday afternoon, I sat for the first time with Shari & Jack Dunn, who own a Colonial Revival Style Cottage that will be featured on the Walking Tour. They have owned the house since 1991. They know many of their Villa Place neighbors and love the life they have created there. Sipping lemonade, it was amazing how peaceful and quiet Nash Street is – a slight breeze thrown in for good measure. Our voices could have been mistaken for any of those who over the years, have enjoyed this special space.

The Dunn’s home will be featured on the tour along with five others. Three of the home-owners will be inviting us inside to enjoy first floor rooms only. We will visit a private garden at one of the featured houses. There will be additional suggestions of what to see in a color printed Tour Brochure, which you will receive at the 1st house on S, Pearl Street.  A $5.00 Donation will help defray the costs of the Walking Tour and the Friday evening program, which is free. More details to follow.

Villa Place is filled with people that want what we all want. A safe place to live, fair taxes, decent health care, good schools. They look forward to showing you how important it is to preserve and restore these architectural treasures and what happens if you don’t. Villa Place is the perfect place for investment with its abundance of good people, architecture, and proximity to downtown Rocky Mount. It’s a place that has fascinating stories to tell.  Don’t miss this opportunity to enjoy the Historic District of Villa Place. Next time I will tell you about the event on Friday night. Follow Main Street Rocky Mount so you don’t miss anything. I look forward to seeing you Oct 20-21st.






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Douglas Block Stories: Honoring Earl Carnegie “Doc” Burnette (1907-1976)

 One of the important pieces of the puzzle from the ‘Revitalization Rocky Mount Puzzle Box’ is the historic Douglas Block named for Dr. Junious Douglas, an African-American pharmacist. The Douglas Block was home to shops, restaurants, entertainment centers, and medical services owned and operated by African-Americans. Today it is home to people who believe in the revitalization of the historic downtown district and are doing business where in spirit, the original black community will always be remembered

We have Di Riceratore to thank for research that helps us pay tribute to an important and distinguished family in the community. We honor Earl Carnegie “Doc” Burnette.  Come and stand with me on the sidewalk in front of The Prime Smokehouse, and look kiddie-corner across the street to the Burnette Building, part of the Douglas Block restoration. You have to let the scene come to you, the privilege of looking back at a time and place that is integral to the Rocky Mount story. With eyes to see, you are looking at the Burnette Drug Company established by Baker Burnette (1878-) who obtained a medical degree but worked as a pharmacist. His nephew, Earl Carnegie “Doc” Burnette, who we honor in this post, worked in the Burnette Drug store early in his life and later became the owner, and in the 1960s co-owned the business with Fred S. Biggs.

Earl Burnette was born and raised on the family farm near Hamilton and Oak City, in Martin County. Earl’s father sent him to live with an uncle in Rocky Mount to obtain the best available education. Earl was in the first graduating class at Booker T. Washington High School (established 1927.)Rocky Mount at that time was in a boom phase, driven by a profitable tobacco market and the Atlantic Coastline Railroad Emerson Shops.

Following in the footsteps of his two uncles, Earl attended college, earning a BA at Shaw University. Only 5’7″ and 168 pounds, nonetheless, he enjoyed a reputation as a powerful center on the football team. He then obtained a Masters degree from NYU. He pursued further education at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN. Though he apparently did not obtain a medical license, he acquired the nickname, “Doc.”

Mr. Burnette also pursued a teaching career. He was on the faculty at Patillo High School in Tarboro (1933-9), and in Rocky Mount at Parker Junior High and Booker T. Washington High School. He coached football at both Patillo and BTW, and won a championship while at Patillo.

Mr. Burnette married Juanita Exum (1920-2005.) also a teacher. Juanita met Earl when she began teaching at the former Lincoln Elementary School in Rocky Mount in the late 1940s In her later years, she taught at Baskerville Elementary in Rocky Mount. They had one child, Francine Elaine Burnett who continued the family tradition of education obtaining degrees from George Washington University (BA Speech-Language Pathology, 1979) and the University of North Carolina (MA, 1980.)

Earl Burnette died on March 15, 1976, after an illness. His service was at Metropolitan Baptist church, where he had been active in leadership roles for decades. Mr. Burnette is buried in Rocky Mount’s Northeastern Cemetery, next to his wife.

If you have further information about “Doc” Burnette, please add it in the comment section below for everyone’s enjoyment. Thank you.






Posted in People Making A Difference in Rocky Mount | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Introducing the Researcher – The Anonymous Source

This is to announce that Main Street Rocky Mount now has an ‘anonymous source’ who will be referred to as the ‘di ricercatore,’ the Italian word for a researcher. The reason for the secrecy surrounding this source is that an interesting and brilliant man prefers to remain in the background. I can tell you that he is a historian and a genealogist among many other things, and he engages in the art of conversation on a myriad of subjects. Imagine my pleasure in discovering this story-teller is willing to share what he knows about the history of Rocky Mount and its citizenry. ‘Di Ricercatore,’ with his vast knowledge, links the social fabric of the times with those who lived and worked in Rocky Mount and beyond. It is endlessly fascinating.

As a writer, I know it is true that to write well, you must read well. My ‘anonymous source’ has an enviable library and is a fine writer.  As a researcher, he has piles of books pulled and at the ready for his various research projects. We’re going to collaborate from time to time, which will spark future posts about this place we call home and about the people we honor. Though I can not reveal the name of my  ‘anonymous source,’ he will be given credit when appropriate.


Di Ricercatore brings to our attention,  Earl Carnegie Burnette (1907-76) Go to the Smokehouse for another great meal! and before leaving, stand outside and look kiddie-corner across the street. There in The Douglas Block once stood a drugstore. Earl Burnette initially worked in the Burnette Drug store as the employ of his uncle, B. J. Burnette. Tomorrow we will take up more of this story about this loved and respected man.

FYI: (and for fun) In the thirty years following the Watergate scandal, the identity of the most notorious ‘anonymous source’ in history remained a mystery. It was not until 2005 that the truth emerged in a Vanity Fair article in which William Mark Felt revealed himself to be the asset codenamed ‘Deep Throat.’ Perhaps in time, my source will reveal his name as well.



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Beal Street Square…that ‘wonderful thing’ has happened!

        Beal Street Square is FABULOUS!

Over 60% occupied, it’s a tremendous source of pride not only for Rocky Mount, but for the people who championed the neighborhood, provided untiring leadership, and who came together in partnership to share a dream that has come to fruition, the largest affordable housing project to date. Two men, Vann Joines, and Richard Angino, President of Third Wave Housing, have been the wind beneath the wings of Beal Street Square. At the ground breaking ceremonies, I experienced that wonderful moment when anything can happen. I could hear the voices from the past of children playing and their parents calling them home at night fall. I could “see” neighbors sitting on their front porches, a close knit Happy Hill community, who watched out for one another. That wonderful moment is happening again.

Richard Angino is an animated and happy man today, and rightly so. I took a tour with him to see the end results of thoughtful, endless planning, followed by more thoughtful corrections and tweaking. I know these are not elegant terms to explain the process, but, oh my, what a pay off for the determination to do this project right.

A reminder about Happy Hill, where Beal Street Square is located: Here is a large intact black district. By 1920 the neighborhood was densely populated along Beal, Tillery, and Thomas streets. By 1930 the 20-30 block area northwest of Main street was filled with houses, churches and small businesses for blacks. Investors built rows of the shotgun, saddlebag, and hip-roofed houses next to the tobacco processing plants and warehouses. If you take for granted the architecture in Rocky Mount, you are missing one of the greatest assets we have. It isn’t just about the grand homes throughout the community, but it is also the amazing pockets, like Happy Hill, that provide a sense of place and have a history we honor. If you have time, read the original posts about Welcome to Beal Street Square, Shotgun Houses, The Roses of Beal Street.

 Three of the new great children living at Beal Street Square. 

Photos of two of the individual court yards that will take on the unique character of the surrounding residents. One with the Gazebo and the one below with the picket fence. Trees have been saved. Beal Street Square is a cause for celebration. Congratulations to everyone involved.





Here is a look at a model of these energy efficient, shot gun-like floor plans.


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