A Preservation Success – Bellemonte House – Restoration Sublime

You would have loved being with me the other day for a special brunch with the new innkeepers of Bellemonte House. It was a behind the scenes view of a major production just before the curtain rises. There were skilled workmen scurrying around taking care of last-minute details, an electrician with a few more chandeliers to hang.

I peeked into cardboard boxes that cluttered the stage waiting to have their treasures unpacked and placed. Several gorgeous pieces of antique furniture were still being appraised for best location. Flat screen TV’s were pulled from their wrappings and when a delivery of delicate smelling soap bars and lotion arrived, one more thing checked off the list. Bellemonte House is about to open, a reprisal of the original play, Historic Plantation House now known as a Bed and Breakfast.

Today this historic home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, is a testament to the glories of preservation, an example of what is possible when we look at our architectural inventory through the eyes of possibility, set aside local politics and the constituency of neighborhoods, and  think only of what is best for each project, residential and commercial, all worthy of protection while their fate is considered.

In this instance, we have Rick Lambeth, and his entire staff, who were the wind beneath the wings of this restoration project. When I think of their passion, their hearts for history, the incredible skills they acquire when entering the field of preservation and restoration, I click my heels and salute them. Let us not forget Monica Flemming and the program she heads at ECC that helps educate and train people for this profession. These are the skilled artisans that preserved the heart of pine floors throughout Bellemonte House, who repair and save original windows and duplicate a missing piece of crown molding. The ones who restore the fireplace mantels and painstakingly recover the exteriors of the architectural gems placed in their hands to save.


Enter stage right…. the stars of the show. I am on my feet applauding. You will never meet two nicer Innkeepers than Denise and Rick Wilkie. They deserve to take a bow. Welcome them to Rocky Mount. We are now their friends and family. They are committed to the run of this production and are working twenty-four-seven to open their new home in February to all who are waiting in the wings to come on stage.

(Call now for reservations – 252-955-2054)

The Wilkie’s welcome Wesleyan College parents, community leaders, the boards and directors of our business community, everyone looking for a tasteful, authentic setting to meet, entertain and conduct business. I look forward to having tea with my book club while sitting around the handsome dining room table or gathering with the board of Preservation Rocky Mount to celebrate this great success.  There will be many reasons to enjoy this beautiful new house. Though filled with beautiful antiques, many from the collections of generous local families, this restoration is not intended as a museum to showcase antiques but to be enjoyed as a living, comfortable and welcoming outreach to the current needs of the community. Overnight guests will be given star treatment with bedrooms and baths that have been created with comfort and rest in mind. A coffee station close at hand, space in each bedroom to work quietly, it’s all there. I know brunch, provided for those who stay, will be lovingly prepared and beautifully presented. …mine was. You know me well enough by now, this preservation success story offered up in the midst of ALL that is happening, brings a tear to my eye. On your feet, folks, this is another reason to applaud the hard work of so many. Congratulations to Bellemonte one and all.


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Winston Churchill Comes to Rocky Mount, NC – Happy New Year 2018

Let’s not think of New Year’s Eve as merely a passing occasion we celebrate on December 31st, but as a boundary that we cross that leads to new thinking.  In these early January days, let us reflect on what revitalization means when we refer to the revitalization of Rocky Mount.

Let me explain Winston Churchill’s presence. Since I began writing the Main Street blog, I find I am like a computer that has the ability to run multiple programs at the same time. The Main Street blog is always running in the background no matter what else I am doing. That’s how Winston Churchill has joined us.

I’m reading a novel called Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante, set in the period of our history when in 1941 Winston Churchill addressed the U.S. Congress. His aim was to convince the American public that the wisest plan was to create an effective alliance that could win the war and preserve the peace afterward. When I read the following quote from the speech, my mind switched programs and I saw how this excerpt pertains to Rocky Mount.

“I will say that he must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some great purpose and design is being worked out here below, of which we have the honor to be the faithful servants. It is not given to us to peer into the mysteries of the future. Still, I avow my hope and faith, sure and inviolate, that in the days to come, The British and American people will, for their own safety and for the good of all, walk together in majesty, in justice and in peace.”

These words,,,, for our own safety and for the good of all, suggest to me that here in Rocky Mount, it would be a wise plan to renew our efforts in creating an effective alliance across the board, regardless of politics or race, in order to walk together in majesty into the future.  Churchill’s words inspired a standing, cheering ovation in Congress. We need a united alliance in this new year which will serve as inspiration in our revitalization efforts.

Aren’t we sick to death of hearing the phrase…Rocky Mount has a race problem. Isn’t it the height of embarrassment in 2018 to have this problem in the first place? I want to stand in the middle of Main Street and holler, “Get over yourselves and let’s get on with it” to anyone who gets mileage from this problem or throws gasoline on that fire.

People say its all about power. I believe that. Power to give our community and its citizens a safe place to live, a fine education, great health care, reasonable taxes, neighborhoods where good people look out for one another, all the while fostering pride in our story. With Churchill’s words under our wings, let us go forth into this new year rejoicing in the power of an effective alliance that could accomplish great things in the coming year.

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Celebrating a Merry Christmas on Main Street Rocky Mount



Wishing all of you that meet me on Main Street a blessed Christmas and a New Year filled with your heart’s desires. I look forward to seeing you in January when together there is so much to remember, a future to help build. As one of the Christmas trains slows down while passing through Rocky Mount, let’s all get on board. Lot’s to do, friends, lots to do!



A Christmas note from Stepheny:                                                                                                     This nativity icon means the most to me and I am blessed to have one like it written by an iconographer friend of mine. Isn’t it so that each of us must come and kneel alone as Mary kneels here without all the holy clutter to distract us. We are each asked, “Who do you say that I am?” If only in our hearts and imaginations, let us come and adore him this holy night. Christmas love to all.

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Station Square – Lynell Bynum: Are You Committed to Downtown? – Part 2

“In my opinion, cities have got to be committed to downtown if they are going to save it.   If they aren’t committed, they can’t expect other people to be.”              -Lynell Bynum                                  

City of Rocky Mount NE Main St_1962

On the right, you find a photograph of the Municipal Offices in downtown Rocky Mount, NC. before the city made a commitment to build a new city hall in a part of downtown that needed revitalization. Enter Lynell Bynum along with Errol Warren, a local architect, and Sandy Bulman of Bulman-Frazier Design Studio in Raleigh, who together would redevelop an entire city block across from the city hall and turn it into a modern shopping center and office space.

Mr. Bynum proposed a partnership with the City of Rocky Mount offering the city a 3-1  proposition. I don’t know the exact figures but let’s just say Mr. Bynum put up three million dollars of his own money and asked the city to provide one million to acquire property which would provide parking for the retail area. I wrote in Part 1 why Mr. Bynum would be predisposed to do such a thing. Click Here to read the ‘greatest generation’ aspect of this story.

When it was all said and done, the Station Square project, named for the railroad station next door became the gold standard for how private and public partnership can develop projects together within the community. The significant renovation of the Douglas Block in 2010 is another prime example.

Let investment in the preservation of our commercial downtown buildings take inspiration from Mr. Bynum who took basic commercial structures, some in dreadful condition, and restored them with a sensitivity to their glory days. Other downtown buildings were then restored by following this great example of Mr. Bynum’s imagination and commitment.

In the light of today’s revitalization of historic downtown Rocky Mount and beyond, Ben Braddock, real estate investor and general contractor has stepped forward and is once again offering Station Square as a model of ‘how you do it.’ In my estimation, he has appropriated the same set of American values that underpinned Lynell Bynum’s risk. The next phase in the life of Station Square requires a strong work ethic, courage, and faith in this community. We honor Mr. Bynum, and we vigorously shake Ben Braddock’s hand for what he is doing on many fronts.











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Telling The Station Square Story – Mr. Lynell Bynum -Part 1

Why would Mr. Lynell Bynum, (1924-2002) decide in the early 1970’s to buy up an entire block of buildings in downtown Rocky Mount NC? How is this connected to real estate investor and general contractor, Ben Braddock, and his business partner, who have purchased from Chambliss and Rabil Commercial Reality, Station Square, a 65,000 square foot facility.

We have before us men whose names are now allied: Lynell Bynum, the creator of Station Square and Ben Braddock, who like a long-distance runner in a relay race has already taken off down the track, the baton firmly in his grasp. He has turned towards the new possibilities of Station Square. I hope you will help line the sidewalks to cheer him on in his endeavors. 

Go and see for yourself the new opportunities there are to shop, soon to eat, and where there is impressive space for your business. On the right: Station Square freshly painted. It’s fabulous. We will have the opportunity to talk further with Ben, but what about Mr. Bynum?

Knowing Mr. Bynum could have spent his considerable dollars on anything, why on a bunch of old buildings he restored and connected, giving them a new purpose in downtown Rocky Mount? I’m certain Mr. Bynum would be leading the charge for the revitalization of downtown Rocky Mount today. Ahead of his time, he believed in the preservation and the restoration of commercial architecture for new purposes.

To understand Mr. Bynum, we need a context in which to place him and we can find answers amongst The Greatest Generation at the end of WWII. Lynell belonged to the Army Air Corp and flew B24’s. He was 18 years old in 1942 having experienced the great depression. (1929-1941) This becomes significant to our story in remembering that there is a common theme for the great generation which was self-sacrifice.

They’d experienced the harsh economic realities of the depression, seen the worst there was to see during the war and came home having developed values of personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith. Tom Brokaw writes that these characteristics helped them to defeat Hitler, build the American economy, give succeeding generations the opportunity to accumulate great economic wealth, political power, and the freedom from foreign oppression to make whatever choices they liked.

When we speak of Lynell Bynum, there is a litany of American values that explain why he would invest in a place called home that subsequently benefited from his leadership, values and his determination to make a contribution in Rocky Mount. Mr. Bynum reminds us of what we must not forget, which seem under threat…..words to live by….. personal responsibility, accountability, a strong work ethic, the ability to be self-sufficient/reliant, the capacity for loyalty, courage, honor, a sense of duty and unabashed patriotism along with a strong sense of gratitude, pride in accomplishments, all with quiet humility. We thank Mr. Bynum for reminding us of the under-pinning of his life and for his contributions.

Next time: Mr. Bynum’s partners with the City of Rocky Mount.



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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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