What Do Black Architects Have To Do With Old Buildings on Main Street? – Part 2

There is part of the Rocky Mount black/white story that I don’t understand because of how and where I was raised. It is hard for me to believe that people in 2019 could have the attitude, “Why should I care about old buildings on Main Street that a bunch of white people owned while black people stayed over in the Douglas Block area?” But that, of course, was how it was. I search for ways to write about these old buildings so they become valuable to everyone. I grew up listening to Paul Harvey and his radio program, The Rest of the Story. It taught me early on that offered a way to view things differently, we can change our viewpoint.

You’ve heard, maybe even said, “Anybody But Duke.” Julian Abele, black architect, played a significant role in the architecture of Duke’s campus, which you will enjoy knowing about regardless of your loyalties. Here is a short video, about Julian Abele.

Julian Abele (1881–1950)

Julian Abele was one of America’s most important architects. As the first black graduate of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in 1902, Abele spent his entire career at the Philadelphia firm of the Gilded Age architect Horace Trumbauer. Abele was working for Trumbauer when they received a commission to expand the campus of Duke University, a whites-only university in Durham, North Carolina. Although Abele’s original architectural drawings for Duke University have been described as works of art, it wasn’t until the 1980s that Abele’s efforts at Duke were celebrated, the North Quad named for him.

J. Max Bond, Jr. (1935–2009)

J. Max Bond, Jr. was born in 1935 in Louisville, Kentucky and educated at Harvard, with a bachelor’s degree in 1955 and a master’s degree in 1958. When Bond was a student at Harvard, racists burned a cross outside his dormitory. Concerned, a white professor at the university advised Bond to abandon his dream of becoming an architect. Years later, in an interview for the Washington Post, Bond recalled his professor saying “There have never been any famous, prominent black architects…You’d be wise to choose another profession.” Fortunately, Bond had spent a summer in Los Angeles working for black architect Paul Williams and he knew that he could overcome racial stereotypes.

In 1958, he received a Fulbright scholarship to study in Paris and went on to live in Ghana for four years. Newly independent from Britain, the African nation was welcoming to young, black talent—more so than the American architectural firms in the early 1960s.

Bond was responsible for the museum component at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center site at the time of his death. Bond remains an inspiration to generations of minority architects.

I write about these two men in particular as examples of those who stepped beyond the constraints of their time and place. The confines of the Douglas Block once exsisted, but like Abele and Bond, along Main Street and beyond, black men and women are no longer limited to that Douglas Block world. They are working to create new businesses, involved with saving Main Street and surrounds, running for office. Leading!  A new generation of young people have planted their flag on Main Street and are making good things happen. This is an important reason to care about a bunch of old buildings for their sake, their young families, their dreams. Mr. Abele and Mr. Bond represent ‘the rest of the story.’ We have lived to the other side of what once was. The future Abele and Bond paved is today’s reality. Those who insist black people are still standing on the curb on Thomas Street dishonor people like Abele and Bond, who accomplished so much, not only for themselves, but for those who have followed.

Tonight, New Year’s Eve, black and white, will be gathering at the Mill. That’s the new reality. The same men and women who regularly speechify at the City Council meetings, pontificate about the dark shadow among us and preach racism, have exceeded their expiration date. More and more they are ignored by those who reject the old rhetoric for the new language of possibilities. The new reality is that young black and white are building a future together on Main Street. These young people won’t be captured by the litany of old injustices, they’re too busy trying to make a positive difference, create something that benefits the community, make a meaning life for themselves and those they love.  Go downtown, you’ll see.

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Caring About Old Buildings on Main Street – Part 1

After playing with Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs, I decided to become an architect. That is until my sophomore year in high school when I had to go to summer school to pass Geometry. They gave me a C to put me out of my misery; my long struggle with math was at an end.  It was also the end of thinking I could become an architect. Now I write about architecture on Main Street and in my rear view mirror I see the Chicago Skyline. How lucky I was to be exposed to the extraordinary world of Chicago architecture while growing up.

We don’t know much about the architects of our commercial buildings downtown, but our buildings follow  the evolution of commercial architecture. I write about saving our commercial and residential architecture, the sense of place they mirror, about the Rocky Mount story that is a key element in the revitalization of the community. I have encountered a problem, however. I thought it was self-evident how important the preservation, restoration and repurposing of Main Street is. I thought everyone would raise a voice to make this a priority, but instead  ‘projects’ like a hotel and a parking garage and cluster low income housing deviate from the plan, bought and paid for, that focuses attention on Main Street. Our neighborhoods continue to get short shrift. Turns out there are people who ask, “Why should I care about these old buildings?” “What is in this for me?”

Frank Lloyd Wright said, “The mission of an architect is to help people understand how to make life more beautiful, the world a better one for living in, and to give reason, rhyme, and meaning to life.”  The quote is why I will write further about architects because our old buildings downtown, restored and repurposed can make life more beautiful in Rocky Mount.  I recommend a book called The Architects by Joseph J. Thorndike, Jr. featuring a chapter  each on 15 of America’s famous architects. You won’t be disappointed. It’s not a big read but enough information on these architects to enjoy. In Part 2, I will write about two black architects. Perhaps they  started building with Lincoln Logs.  Hit the FOLLOW button to keep me company on Main Street Rocky Mount. Check out the new Facebook page by the same name.

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The Blog Main Street Is On Hold Over The Holidays: Follow the New Facebook Page for Main Street That Will Be Posting In December – Here is an Example of What You’ll Find

Merry Christmas Main Street Readers

      Merry Merry, Everyone. Hugs All Around and Thanks for Meeting Me on Main Street This Year

Since Main Street readers are all busy celebrating Advent and preparing for Christmas, there will be little time for reading blogs. Main Street will return in January 2020. However, the new Facebook Page with the same name will continue to post short pieces. Here is a sample of what the Facebook page is about. Please like and follow. I think you will enjoy learning the language of Main Street.

  Main Street Rocky Mount Facebook Page 12/5/19

Learning the language of Main Street – Historic Storefront Types. A walk down Main Street will bring to life these sketches you will find below.  FYI: the ground level of many historic commercial buildings features a storefront area. In most cases, the storefront is an important defining feature in most historic commercial districts. Preserving significant historic storefronts and restoring altered or missing storefront features are important to preservation goals. These sketches assist with the interpretation of design guidelines for historic commercial buildings.    

Early 19th Century Storefronts: These storefronts are constructed with heavy timber and have divided display windows and simple detailing.

Mid and Late 19th century Storefronts: These storefronts include an elaborately detailed cornice, cast-iron columns, and undivided display windows.

SFH: I love learning things like this, I hope you do too. I guarantee it will make your appreciation for Main Street Rocky Mount soar. We can have the most beautiful Main Street and surrounds in North Carolina. We have so many commercial buildings with their great facades. With all the great things going on, Saving Main Street can still be a top priority. Fall in love again with the architecture of this place, both commercial and residential. Becoming aware of the architectural elements of these buildings will reawaken your appreciation for what we’ve got. Remember the line from the song??? We must make sure we don’t tear down paradise and put up a parking lot.

Late 19th Century Storefronts: These storefronts include simple detailing, transom windows, and a recessed entrance.

Early 20th Century Storefronts: These storefronts include metal framed display windows, a glass grid above the display windows and a recessed entrance

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Advocating for Rocky Mounts’ Shot Gun Houses – Gifts That Keep on Giving

Merry Christmas

I know the last thing on your mind as we enter this Holy Season is the shotgun houses of Rocky Mount. Under your tree, however, I am leaving this last blog post for 2019. (The Main Street Facebook page will continue to post in December) I ask that you consider these valuable assets as one of the important answers to our housing needs. How can we make a case for their protection? When it comes to the architectural appreciation of Shotguns you need eyes to see.

The answer lies in advocating the Shotgun’s historical significance. To get our feet wet, here is a short video filmed in New Orleans where after Katrina, their Preservation Group championed the saving of their Shotguns with great success.

FYI:  Shotgun houses generally consist of a gabled front porch and two or more rooms laid out in a straight line. Rooms are directly connected without hallways. Although shotgun houses are small, were inexpensively built, and generally lack amenities, they have been praised for their architectural virtues, which include the ingenious use of limited space and decoration such as gingerbread trim and brightly painted exteriors. They represent a uniquely African American contribution to architecture in the United States.

Here is a small collection of some Shotgun homes in Ward 2 that I photographed in 2018. I wrote to Councilman Blackwell about these homes without a reply. It doesn’t matter, let’s become a voice in the New Year and get active in the on-going life of these architectural assets. Protecting these houses will make our neighborhoods safer and even restored, affordable. It is a win-win for everyone.                                                                                                    SCROLL DOWN TO READ FURTHER COMMENTS

Shotgun House on Pine St. Rocky Mount, NC

Shotgun House on Pine St. Rocky Mount, NC

Double Shotgun on Star St. Rocky Mount NC

Double Shotgun on Star St. Rocky Mount NC

Shotgun House on Gay St. Rocky Mount NC

Shotgun House on Gay St. Rocky Mount

N. Vyne St Rocky Mount, NC

Star St. Rocky Mount, NC

Shotguns on Pine Street

Double Shotgun corner of Star & Harris St. Rocky Mount, NC


Double Shotgun on Star St. Rocky Mount, NC

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You Are Hereby Named: Thanksgiving Ambassadors For Main Street Rocky Mount

Happy Thanksgiving


You are hereby named Main Street Ambassadors during these Thanksgiving holidays. All of you who are spending time at home this year, expecting family or friends, young and old, have this opportunity to show off Main Street and surrounds. I will think of you Thursday with those you love and who love you too. A special day filled with good food and the joy of time together. Come Friday, I want you to put your camp director hat on and take charge of the itinerary. Go downtown and around!



The Mill has endless possibilities and so much to be proud of. I took these photos out the window of the new Books and Beans in the repurposed Mill Canteen. I felt I was looking at a dream come true. Be sure to include in your tour the Tiny Houses. The Event Center is a must if you have young folks to enjoy the play area, wall climbing, and ropes, the video section for the older kids and slides and tunnels and ball pits and more for the younger children. Go to NABS for lunch or coffee and a sweet. Your guests must stop in at Larema Coffee and see the good folks there and that preservation success. Don’t miss The Secret Garden a few steps from Larema on Tarboro St. all decked out with its beautiful floral creations and holiday gifts. I don’t know how long it has been since you visited the Train Station, but it is such an architectural prize. Of course, I am leaving out many other suggestions, but you get the idea. Be good ambassadors for Rocky Mount and show off all the new things that are going on including Station Square. Revisit the old favorites like Central Cafe and the other places that hold your memories, that tell your story and the story of this place.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from Stepheny on Main Street

The new Event Center of Rocky Mount NC is already an economic place holder. an athletic destination.



Posted in Stepheny's Rocky Mount Reflections | 2 Comments

Relaxing With “Seek” On A Sunday Morning – Vernon Franklin Sechriest – Journalist

Vernon Franklin Sechriest

Vernon Sechriest was associated with The Rocky Mount Telegram for 55 years. Back when journalists were a special bred, Mr. Sechriest’s influence on aspiring writers and newspaper associates was said to be inspirational. A long-time editor and as a weekly columnist, he captured my attention when writing his bio for the program at the recent Hall of Fame Induction Event. His column was first titled “Main Street” and then later called “Relax.” I wish I had known about this when I first created this blog, Main Street Rocky Mount. I would have paid tribute to him then and there. Believing that it is never too late for most things, I am paying that tribute now.

Born and raised in Davidson County, he was a Duke graduate with a degree in English and history. He joined the Rocky Mount Evening Telegram staff on June 6, 1930. Mr. Sechriest’s column appeared one day in The Telegram with no introduction. While reporters were busy writing big stories, he felt that the truly interesting stories were overlooked. Mr. Sechriest said, “It is sometimes highly interesting news even when a dog bites a man.”

Here is an excerpt from one of the earliest Main Street column to be found. Chief of Police Oliver P. Hedgepath, seeing as how he had heard tell of big-time gangsters’ invasion in smaller towns and cities, is reported to have made one of his most infrequent excursions to New York last week, first to see his son, Clayton, who is well established there, and second, to find out more about big-time methods…Unfortunately, Main Street is forced to depend a great deal upon hearsay and can’t pin its information upon any individual, but, well, what’s the use of worrying about details anyway?

Growing up an only child, I’m not always happy about having to follow rules. The Kornegay Room of Braswell Memorial Library offers a substantial genealogy and local history collection focusing on the history of Rocky Mount and Nash and Edgecombe Counties. I’m not allowed to take home a small volume of Mr. Sechriests’ columns called, Relax. I thought about making a run for it so I could read this charming collection at my leisure, but Tracy, who is in charge of this research heaven, always generous with her time and knowledge, must be obeyed. I will have to come back another day to read more.

There are good things about living long enough to be able to say, I remember! In another life, this kind of column was featured in the weekly, Cadiz Record, published in Western Kentucky where I lived. They wrote about who was visiting, and what lace adorned the brides’ dress, and what the high school football team ate for breakfast on game day. It was all endearing and wonderful. It was said of Mr. Sechriest at his induction into the Hall of Fame, Class of 2019, that he lived a satisfactory life. I was moved by that simple statement. Isn’t that what we all hope for? Not only is there a golden age of detective stories, but Mr. Sechriest worked in what I think of as the golden age of journalism; a proud and honorable endeavor. I’m sorry I missed his Main Street column each week.  I will now think of him fondly, pipe in his hand, as I continue to write about Main Street as he once did.

I hope you will FOLLOW this blog and the new Facebook Page by the same name. See the side column for the buttons to hit. You never know what you might miss. I don’t smoke a pipe like V.S., but I hope he would approve of the content and writing.

Posted in People Making A Difference in Rocky Mount, Twin Counties Hall of Fame | Tagged | 5 Comments

A Reluctant Fall in Rocky Mount, NC – A Reflection From My Main Street Bench

It has been a reluctant fall this year. At first, there was a yellow cast to things that never did reach fulfillment. Of late, the colors are far from flamboyant, as if they are uninterested in achieving any grandeur at all.  Each year I await the invitation to the fall gala that takes place along the roadside. Driving along Highway 64 from Nashville to Rocky Mount and beyond, it always reminds me of passing through a receiving line where lovely gowns in different hues are admired and commented upon. “How lovely you look!” This morning I saw through the mist of light rain a rather subdued receiving line trying not to disappoint. If you are one of the lucky ones, you have a red maple of some variety planted in your garden or along your street. The maples never fail to remind me of picking up leaves on the way to school.  I would throw one down to pick up a better one. The fall color is also better one year than another. They say it has to do with the amount of light or the amount of moisture, I always forget which excuse to give. Don’t worry, next year the fall color will be better. Now if I could write about my gorgeous camellias in bloom-ah!

This piece is written and published today thinking of my father’s birthday, November 13, 1904. Norman W. Forgue often teased me, asking, “How are you going to write if you don’t learn to spell better? I did learn to write but thank goodness for spellcheck.  SFH

Click the FOLLOW button on the sidebar and join me on Main Street and ‘Like and Follow’ the new Facebook page by the same name. How are you going to keep up with things if you don’t?

Posted in Stepheny's Rocky Mount Reflections | 2 Comments