Main Street Rocky Mount Returns September 3, 2019

This little girl in the birdbath is like me in spirit. How can it be time to give up this view of summer and accept that most of my plans never happened.

“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

 Sonnet 18, William Shakespeare


I’m short a few weeks of finishing my 3rd novel, A Garden of Sweet Disorder, the reason I took August off from writing the Main Street Rocky Mount blog. Even still, I have posts ready to publish starting September 3rd. I had a wonderful week in Florida with generous friends who took me on adventures to see various stages of mixed-use developments. I came home with new insights concerning Main Street and our surrounding downtown core. For the first time, we will have a guest blogger, Rodd Myers, posting on three upcoming dates. I have great respect for Rodd’s background in urban planning, and his heart for preservation. Rodd is a past resident of Rocky Mount and a keen observer of what works in revitalizing communities such as ours.  These posts will add new insights when discussing Rocky Mount’s future.

I don’t actually write on an old typewriter, but it suits my imagination to pretend that I do. They say you should write what you know. One of my unlived lives is a career in Historic Preservation. The research I love in preparing for the blog  has helped me write the new book. Sarah Collins, the main character, shares my love of architecture. She works for The National Trust. Her essays and photographs about architecture are important to the story. The aftermath of Katrina also plays a part in the story. (As I write this I am watching the new hurricane, Dorian,  approaching Florida.)  A secret is revealed  that takes Sarah to Burford in the Cotswolds, the setting for the second half of the book. Those who have read  my first novel – Greening of a Heart will recognize Burford,  a world and set of characters that have become a big part of my life.

On Tuesday, I will slip out of the birdbath, and begin anew taking up the theme of the  Main Street blog: building a future and honoring the past. Please join me!



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Stepheny Taking August Off to Finish A Novel – Leaving You With A Story to Think About -Keep the Faith!

Dear Readers:                                                                                                                                                 Posting a sign on the Main Street Rocky Mount door that says, Closed in August.  I have a third novel to finish so I’m taking a break from researching and writing the blog during the month of August. Even though my good buddy, Peggy Daughtridge, who I admire no end, tells me the novels are fine, but she prefers my blog writing, I can’t waste a good title that I have finally settled on – A Garden of Sweet Disorder.  (It is a phrase from a collection of English Gardens essays that I read. It refers to the design and planting of a cottage garden that appears random but is far from it.)

Here is a paragraph from the novel that doesn’t sound like my usual saving Main Street posts. In part, the story is about a young woman who goes to work for Historic Preservation in Washington, DC upon graduation. She is called home to New Orleans a few days before Katrina to discover that her father, a retired admiral in the Navy has led a double life.  Sarah was not offended but surprised that a prestigious law firm would hire a woman poured into a tight skirt, with a provocative unbuttoned blouse. Grinning, she lowered her voice and leaned towards Jackson. “I think your secretary may be an actress who has wandered onto the wrong movie set, one that is staged for a legal drama, rather than the private eye movie they are filming down the hall.” Jackson laughed. He enjoyed Sarah Collin’s sense of humor.  

In taking a break I want to tell you that a new friend introduced me to a story written by Richard Paul Evans, The Spyglass.  I  found a used, but a like-new copy on Amazon and ordered it because the story called to me…to us!

There once was a king who ruled over a darkened kingdom. Crops were planted and then failed, houses were built and then neglected, people were impoverished and dispirited. But when a traveler arrives at the crumbling palace, he shows the monarch his kingdom through the lens of an enchanted spyglass — a spyglass that shows him his kingdom, not as it is, but as it could be. The king’s imagination is ignited by the spark of faith, and with faith comes hope and change. By sharing his vision and inspiring his subjects to work alongside him, the king restores his land to glory…And though the old man and his spyglass were never again seen in the land, the kingdom continued to prosper and became again the great kingdom of old. Yet, despite their abundance of food, their beautiful buildings, their lush gardens, and majestic cathedrals, it was ever after said of that kingdom that their greatest treasure was their faith.

Think about this story while I try to finish my novel. I believe that newly elected leadership this fall will provide an enchanted spyglass for Rocky Mount that will allow us to see things as they can be and will be. It is by faith we shall be known. Keep that faith in my absence.                                         SCROLL DOWN FOR COMMENTS

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Celebrating Four Years of the Main Street Rocky Mount Blog – 2015 – 2019 with D.J. Rose

I want to celebrate this anniversary by honoring D.J. Rose once again because I never write about Main Street and the surrounding areas, the commercial and residential architecture of Rocky Mount, that I don’t think of him. His legacy can be found in the Ricks Hotel, the original Masonic Temple on Main Street, the May and Gorham building, Rocky Mount Municipal building on Main Street. the Peoples Bank building, the First Methodist and First Presbyterian Churches, Planters Cotton Seed Oil factory, Rocky Mount’s Railroad Passenger Station including the addition of the second and third floors, Rocky Mount’s first electric power plant and water plant, as well as portions of the building you know today as The Power Plant, the Sunset Avenue Water Plant and significant portions of Rocky Mount Mills buildings. Some of the schools he built are Abraham Lincoln, R. M. Wilson School, and Edgemont. The firm he founded, D. J. Rose and Son Inc., is the oldest continuously operating general contracting firm in North Carolina and to this day maintains the North Carolina General Contractors License number 27. The future that is being reimagined today is partially built upon the architectural assets Mr. Rose and his company contributed to Rocky Mount. We owe him our gratitude for his work and legacy.

Staircase in the D.J. Rose home on Sunset Ave

I’ve written more about our local politics this year than any of the first three years combined. The blog has always been about anything but that. I suppose I’ve been preaching to my own choir (constituency) that largely agree with me, rather than reach the people I would hope to change. I keep thinking maybe someone on the far side of the moon from where I stand will hear me. So I keep trying!

Affordable and workforce housing made available in our existing neighborhoods is the top of my list these days along with rescuing a negative connotation of the word gentrification. According to Wikipedia,  Gentrification is “a complex process involving physical improvement of the housing stock, housing tenure change from renting to owning, price rises and the displacement or replacement of the working-class population by the new middle class.”

D.J. Rose home on Tarboro St.


To my way of thinking, playing the gentrification card is an excuse. The party line is if we fix roofs and put a new porch on – -why rents will go up and people will have to move, so the answer is to do nothing. Yet I am certain that if we ask the average ‘Joe’ in our at-risk areas, which they would prefer, an 18-million dollar garage and a hotel or money invested in fixing properties, making them safe, and decent to live in, saving our neighborhoods, would win.



I wish I could persuade the ‘at risk’ neighborhoods to look honestly at their councilman who discourage reinvestment in their Ward’s housing/neighborhoods because that will ultimately change their councilman’s constituency and that means votes. If our housing statistics are suppressed, it helps when applying for grant money. In the end, only the voters in each Ward can decide if after many years if anything has improved?  We have a full slate of candidates, and an opportunity to select the ones that can put self-interest aside. People ask me, how can I help?  How about a campaign donation?  “White money” is being disparaged as a tool to discredit an opposing candidate, but never mind about that. Everyone gains with new leadership that believes  A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats.

Stepheny saying, “Thank you for joining me on Main Street.”


Thank you for reading and following Main Street. I hope you will continue to do so. The writing brings me joy and keeps my head in gear. I can’t imagine my life now without the many bright, and interesting people I meet. I’m grateful to wonderful friends who have taken me in and shared Rocky Mount as it once was and is becoming. I continue to believe and clap my hands. I hope you will too.

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Lindell Kay – Reporter for The Rocky Mount Telegram – Saying Adieu

I left for the University of Kentucky declaring I would major in journalism, that is until I came under the spell of my freshman advisor, head of the Sociology Department. I had grown up with the Chicago Tribune that loomed large over the city. I have had many a serious discussion about the state of journalism today or lack thereof. Not since the famous journalists of a bygone era populated the scene has there been a time like now–admit it, you have done it too– When Lindell Kay started his series of exposes on the City Council and Rocky Mounts leadership, night after night to this day, I look at the app on my phone in the middle of the night to see what Lindell has written.

I highly recommend Harold Evans autobiography, My Paper Chase-True Stories of Vanished Times for the most marvelous read about his career that led to the Editorship of the London Times and beyond. He knew everyone in the business when journalism was investigative versus today’s state of things; someone’s opinion! Here are a few lines for Lindell Kay’s move, much to his pleasure because now, “I can even meet my wife for lunch.” Harold Evans writes, So it was that in June 1961, Westminster chess master Fenby (the editor) designated me as the bishop to move diagonally north from Manchester to edit the Northern Echo…”

We owe a debt of gratitude that the Telegram saw fit to give Lindell his head, put his investigative skills to work, and let him have at it. Those under investigation were caught in the headlights of countless hours of work going through records, e-mails, making telephone calls, listening to numerous private conversations when people were emboldened to come forth.

Tom Rachman has written a delightful novel, The Imperfecionists. Set in Rome it is about the topsy-turvy private lives of the reporters, editors, and executives of an international English-language newspaper as they struggle to keep it and themselves afloat. I loved it. In saying adieu to reporter Lindel Kay, with our thanks for his contribution towards bringing the skullduggery of things to our attention, we hope he will remember his readers here as ‘a sort of fellowship’ who have wakened in the night just for him.

“For many, especially those in remote locales, the paper is their only link to the greater world, to the big cities they left, or the big cities they have never seen, only built in their minds. The readers constitute a sort of fellowship that never meets, united by love and loathed by bylines, by screwed-up photo captions, by the glorious corrections box.” Tom Rachman

Our Best, from your readers!

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Stepheny In A Rocky Mount State of Mind – Reguarding The City Council

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “How about a glass of sweet tea!”  (Edit by SFH)
― A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

I had a glass of sweet tea with a friend today who I deeply respect. It prompted this post. I always learn something new from our conversations.  I am at a disadvantage at times because we have a realist talking to a Pollyanna. When we discuss Rocky Mount politics, and we always do, our brilliant analysis turns out to be a simple reality – FOUR votes on the city council!  After all the work, investment and dreams poured into the revitalization of Rocky Mount, FOUR can trump anything.

The rationale behind this latest project of the hotel and the $18 million parking garage seems to be: we have been denied a hotel and garage for too long, so we shall have it now. This regardless of the concerns raised about costs and questionable projection figures. I hardly find this a persuasive argument against a less expensive means to an end. We better all agree about the urgency of  Richard Worsinger’s comments; that $62 million is needed for our water and sewer system infrastructure.  This should be sorted out ASAP or risk, “We could become another Flint Michigan!” A hotel and parking garage don’t seem important in light of this news.

It is a shame that when questions are raised by those with opposing views to the city council, there is a knee-jerk reaction. The only possible reasons for objection are racial. This accusation has worked beautifully to shut people down; a diversion from the real issues of transparency, accountability, and leadership.  But, as witnessed by groans and ‘enough already,’ one evening when one of the councilmen started in with that rhetoric, no one is intimidated anymore.  We all want the same things and that does not preclude a hotel and retail shops, but an 18 million dollar parking facility is out of the question.  The answers to all these decisions are found in the Main Street Program Approach and without the drama.

In another blog post, I mentioned I was reading Charles Krauthammer’s book, The Point of it All, which I have finished. Krauthammer’s view is a satifying end to this sweet tea and delightful conversation kind-of-day. It provides this Pollyanna the inspiration to keep the faith with the future that is being built today on Main Street and beyond in spite of  our realities.

Here is a nation founded on the edge of civilization –a tiny colony, living on the outskirts of the civilized world –that at a time when it needed it miraculously produced the greatest generation of political thinkers in the history of the world. Then a century later, when it needed a Lincoln to save the Republic, it found a Lincoln. In the first half of the 20th entury, when it needed an FDR to get through the Depression and defeat fascism, it found him. In the second half, when it needed a Reagan to revive the country, he was there.

There is something about the American spirit–about the bedrock decency and common sense of the American–that seems to help us find our way, something about American history that redeems itself in a way that inspires all. Otto von Bismark said, “God looks after children, drunkards, idiots and the United States of American.” I think he still does. I hope he still does.”                Sept. 18, 2011, from an address to Hillsdale College                                                                                                                            

PS: Lord, we add to Bismark’s list,  Rocky Mount and our future. Look after us too. – SFH

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The City Council Meeting From The Second Row-Aisle Seat-July 8, 2019

I have a take on tonight’s Council Meeting that you won’t get from anyone else. On the way home, I thought, Andre Knight and Ruben Blackwell could charm the bees out of a tree. Here are these two handsome men, right off the cover of Gentleman’s Quarterly Magazine. Both have a great sense of style and wear their clothes well. Both men have great speaking voices. They are articulate, bright, and sincere. Tonight, they each had their moment in the sun; moving and memorable. Mr. Knight reminded everyone about the great work OIC does in the community. He personalized this with a heartfelt story about how OIC  has influenced his life, beginning with help to go to college.  You know how Usher walks on stage to sing? He often says, “Let the whole church say, amen!”  As Mr. Knight talked, there was soft amen- like reactions from the audience.

Mr. Blackwell spoke some lines from a Martin Luther King address that were inspiring, with his delivery style. His smile alone could melt butter. This is the kind of thing that can happen at a City Council meeting.  I wouldn’t have missed these ‘bee charmers’ for the world tonight. During the public hearings, many who spoke were at their best and made reasoned justification why an 18 million dollar parking garage and attending issues are a bad idea. There were a few comments I couldn’t make heads or tails of, and one man made a poor attempt at subtlety about not liking ‘crackers.’  There was good humor, especially from an older gentleman, who delighted everyone. I think every seat was taken. (I got there at 6:00 to be sure I got mine.)

What I didn’t get about tonight’s meeting is this position, which Mr. Blackwell, articulated beautifully, even if I don’t agree, that somehow the Edgecomeb side of life has been waiting for a hotel and parking garage for too long and the time is now, and by gosh, regardless of the cost to the taxpayers, the closed bidding process, or that there is no overall plan, or check and balance on what things actually do cost, this project is meet and right, so to do.  (a phrase from my Episcopal prayer book)

Don’t forget that the projections of occupancy and usage are a shot in the dark. I don’t believe people are that bent out of shape over the idea of a hotel, as much as they have rightful concerns about the costs, decisions being made by people under investigation, and the priorities across the board.  It’s hard to wrap our minds around a hotel and parking garage if we need $62 million for our water and sewer system infrastructure.


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The Rocky Mount Bill of Rights Versus A $18 million Parking Garage

I have only a few pages left in Charles Krauthammer’s book, The Point Of It All. He has been gone a year now and is sorely missed. A syndicated columnist, political commentator, physician, he wrote columns in the Washington Post for 33 years. This book is a second collection about everything from baseball to chess, policy, the space program, the state of many things. A brilliant man whose writing, use of language, and clarity are as fine as any class you could possibly take on the subject of writing.

While reading my way along, I’ve been aware of many voices talking in the background as if a radio has been left on in another room. These voices are in deep conversation, some frustrated or discouraged, some saying nothing can be done, but many bent on hitting the pause button until the investigations into the wrongdoings of city government can be concluded. I know you have been hearing these voices too! The opening lines in the Lindell Kay Telegram article (Friday, July 5, 2019) sum up what these conversations are about.

“What started out as a simple non-binding letter of intent presented six months ago during a hectic Rocky Mount City Council meeting is poised to become an $18 million downtown parking deck.”                                                  Click here: READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE

Enter Charles Krauthammer – paraphrased – a few words from an address at  Hillsdale College celebrating Constitution Day. (page 268-269)

The essence of constitutional power — the separation of powers and the inherent rivalry among the branches would check the ambitions of any potential tyrants. The skeptics, however,  insisted on the Bill of Rights, not trusting that the enumeration of powers would be enough to actually prevent tyrannical rule. The Bill of Rights ensured that each citizen would explicitly be given a sphere of inviolability in the form of rights against the government–inside of which the citizen remains sovereign and free.  

My sense is that the crux of all these conversations taking place, regardless of how well stated they are, is that the proposal for a hotel leaves us feeling that we have no rights in the matter. City Council meetings are held, a sham of a public hearing takes place, but the vote has already happened. It is maddening.

Here is what Lige Daughtridge had to say the other day: “There are alternative uses for $18 million that could benefit downtown and the city far more,” said council candidate Lige Daughtridge, who has been a vocal critic of the hotel and parking deck proposal. “$10.5 million could solve the downtown drainage issue; we could speed up the installation of sidewalks and road repairs throughout the city. If the developer is serious in his belief of the success of the hotel, there are far less expensive ways for the city to incentivize the project, such as providing 140 surface spaces instead of a parking deck, or property tax rebates.”  So you see the conversation is not all nasty or thoughtless. There are those trying to protect the RIGHTS of Rocky Mount citizens when it comes to a project like this. A project we are told will happen, whether we like it or not, rather than what is prudent and a part of a master plan. No wonder we feel our Rocky Mount Bill of Rights are being treated as a no never mind!

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Come to the City Council meeting on Monday, July 8th at 7:00. Come early and if you are going to speak, try your best to be clear, reasoned, stating your objections and WHY. I’ll be there cheering you on.

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