Another Prism of Light in Rocky Mount – Steve Felton

I spent time with Steve Felton this week. Among many things, he is a Financial Advisor and Franchise Owner of Carolina Capital Advisors, – Ameriprise Financial. He started his business at age 24 in 1985. I knew of him through his paintings of Rocky Mount architecture, although his artwork encompasses many subjects. See his website:

Steve began painting after his son was treated for a staph infection at Duke Children’s Hospital some years ago. With his deep respect and love for the heritage of the community, he has painted many of our best known architectural buildings. I was delighted to finally meet him in his office that reflects his abiding interest in his family history. There are wonderful glass cases that display some of his family memorabilia: old precious photographs, and the bits and pieces we all collect, making small altars where we place our stories. I found yet another Southern storyteller, who lovingly and proudly talks about family members who have contributed to the Rocky Mount area. Shade Felton, Steve’s great grandfather, from 1934-1956 was Deputy Sherriff of Edgecomb County. Jerry Fentress, his grandfather co-owned Carolina Awning and Tents. His other grandfather worked for the railroad but also built houses primarily in the Oakwood area from 1950 until he died in 1970. His Dad, Ron Felton was also a Financial Advisor from 1982-1998.

Steve’s notecards are an important aspect of his artwork. He carries on the tradition his grandmother started who always wrote notes to people. Steve refuses to abandon this habit as many of us have to the extent we once did. His cards and artwork are about giving back.  If he is asked to do custom work, he gives the fee to charities that are listed on the website. It is no wonder people who receive a special note from Steve save and collect his cards. Listening to how he approaches his life, his deep faith is apparent.

In the light of the state of affairs ‘downtown,’  Steve admits that he is a bit ‘down’ these days, eager for resolutions to put things right so Rocky Mount can continue to grow and prosper. He has a strong sense that it has taken many people, like those in his own family, to build Rocky Mount on a sure foundation, using a moral compass that safeguards right from wrong.

But listen! Staying ‘down’ is not allowed for long. We must believe together that things will be straightened out because of new leadership, and our insistence that all breaches are repaired. Steve Felton is one of the prisms of light in Rocky Mount that will help get us there.

“My hope and prayer are that we as a community will come together, put our personal differences aside. We owe it to our forefathers because they paved the way.”                           -Steve Felton

If you missed the post called Prisms of Light, I hope you will take a minute to read it.


Posted in Prisms of Light in Rocky Mount NC | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

‘Planting Your Flag in the Ground’ – Another City Council Meeting

“If you have eyes to see past the broken glass and boarded facades, if you look up as I do, you will see what I see. Commercial architecture holding the heartbeat and stories of Rocky Mount.” -Stepheny Houghtlin

This quote of mine is one approach to preservation. There are many avenues to pursue when considering what you are interested in.  PRM had a meeting this past Wednesday, Feb 13th, which I led. No preservation was done! It was more like giving a sales pitch (for Saving Main Street) to a group of enthusiastic salesmen hoping to ignite their excitement and have them want to sell my product. Wonderful people were there; the best and the brightest as a matter of fact.  We’ll talk more another time about connecting the dots from A– an interest to B – a plan to D- something gets done.

Wednesday night I was reminded of an AA story that says when someone gets up to give a talk at a meeting, they give three speeches…the one they prepared, the one they give, the one they revise on the way home. I was so busy with the sales pitch that there was no time to talk about the real matter at hand that not only effects Saving Main Street, but supports continued revitalization. This takes strong, honest city government that equates to good practices, a city government that does their job with competence and for the good of the taxpayers. There is no saving anything without that.

For the last three weeks, I have been involved with hundreds of others in what is called civic engagement. As hard as the Council has tried to deflect the issues at hand by bringing up extraneous topics, or pinning the public concerns on what was called a dark shadow, no one is having this kind of diversion anymore.  Whether at home or from a seat at City Hall, we are now focused on what is germane, expecting good governance and an end to the long list of what has gone wrong. The plan the Mayor spelled out last week is not good enough. It is more messing about with a myriad of issues that must be taken care of to the satisfaction of the community.

Two doors down from Davis furniture on Main Street we have this!

Why fire hasn’t struck or the facade come down on Main Street, is a mystery.

The flag that I have planted says we need leadership that will provide the will, enforce the ordinances we have on the books, stabilize the facades, put first things first before expecting me to celebrate a new motel that has obviously taken precedence over  Main Street – again. Why would we put another large project like this in the hands of the current Council and Management until complete order has been restored? Still, I believe we are closer to righting wrongs than before because of this groundswell of public engagement, and talk of new leadership running for seats on the Council. We need policies and procedures that safeguard us from any further graft and corruption and then Preservation will go forward. Plant your flag in the ground beside mine asking for a resolution so we can get on with getting on.

“You must learn how to extract things of value out of things that seem totally worthless.” Pastor Sunday

Posted in Preservation Rocky Mount | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

They Call Me – Machaven – Great News – I’m Back!


“The old house had a thousand doors in it.
All old houses do. You can see them if you know how to look: the noontime shadow of a windowpane crawling with intent across a floor; unmeasured angles of wall meeting wall; fireplaces grown chill with unused years. Archways with unseen contours you can trace with a finger in the cracks as brick grinds against brick in settling walls. Some nights and some houses are doorways entire, silhouettes against the evening’s last light black on black like an opening into a darker sky. You just have to look. An eye-corner glance will do if you don’t turn and stare and explain it away.”
Michael Montoure, Slices


I’m still smiling. First of all, I have never ridden in an electric car which felt like riding on a quiet cloud, and second, I was headed to Machaven. Jesse Gerstl was driving. He is an investor helping save Main Street and adjacent areas. Besides the Superman cloak I’ve glimpsed before, I think of him as one of our angels unaware that we now entertain. Jesse and his investment group are the new owners of this historical jewel in Villa Place’s crown. We were off to see the progress that in a few weeks Jesse’s small group of workman have made happen. I managed to stay out of the fresh paint except for a spot on my hand that I was proud to acquire.

The goal is to have Machaven ready this spring. The property is in splendid condition. I hoped to sense some of the family and past caretakers of this gracious home but was too distracted by views out the large double-hung windows, looking at the fireplaces and chandeliers, the stunning staircase, the spacious rooms. There are plastic drop cloths, ladders, and paint cans everywhere, but nonetheless, the resting heart rate of the house is once again elevated. I was smiling with the privilege of being there, Jesse is excited and smiling with this ambitious and important project, and Machaven, well, thrilled to be useful again and ready to begin the next chapter of life.

While waiting for the on-going work to finish, there are many interesting things about Machaven and the people associated with this historical property to honor. My intention is to write MORE.


If you need to book something wonderful after Machaven opens, Jesse is your man! 347-255-7257

Great news, isn’t it!?








Posted in Machaven Historic Hom | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Partnering with Stepheny – February 13th – 6:00PM – Station Square


Preservation of our architectural assets needs a critical mass of people who are interested in having a voice in the matter. As a board member of Preservation Rocky Mount,  I’m heading up a new Advocacy committee. I know many of you who read this blog have a great interest in the continuing revitalization efforts of Rocky Mount. PRM believes that together, we can do something important.

Make a note that on February, 13th, 6:00, Station Square, I’m leading a meeting. I want you to come! We are calling this meeting a  Conversation Cafe. The seats will be arranged in a circle as opposed to a lecture style. I’ll set the tone for the meeting with my usual cheerleading pom poms, state a few ground rules so that all of you can chime in with your thoughts.

The back of a building in the 163 block of NE Main Street


You don’t have to join Preservation Rocky Mount to come to the meeting, though I wish you would join because we need to strengthen our voice and demonstrate how important preservation and revitalization is to us.  Preservation groups in other cities have worked hard and become an influential presence. Wouldn’t you love to be remembered as someone who helped secure our architectural inventory, our sense of place, and embraced preservation as an economic engine that helps build a future? I know I would.

Let’s help find a new will to carry on the great efforts of the Peter Varney years of preservation that we see at the Train Station, Bus Station, Imperial Center, Douglas Block, Streetscape and the fantastic things going on at the Mill, and more. At the moment we are dancing to the political music on all the airwaves, but Conversation Cafe Night won’t be playing that music.

Such a beautiful commercial building on Main Street

Stepheny’s army is about hanging crystal prisms (Click Here) and looking at historic preservation as much more than preserving bricks and mortar. (Paul Miles – The Financial Times and Craig Potts – Kentucky Heritage Council have said much the same thing, but they say it exactly right.) Preservation recognizes that our built history connects us in tangible ways with our past and provides context for the places we occupy and the world we live in. It fuses art with craftsmanship. Reuse affords a sense of history and texture, taking advantage of buildings with atmosphere, history, and stories inscribed in their fabric. Sometimes sustainability isn’t just about energy and materials saved, but about the stories, craft and intelligence embodied in its walls. These words inform our advocacy. Come to the meeting and let us reason together. SFH

Posted in Preservation of Historic Commercial Buildings, Preservation Rocky Mount, Prisms of Light in Rocky Mount NC | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Where Are We Today? Grab Your Coat and Get Your Hat – Take My Hand

Paul Harvey -WGN Radio
The Rest of the Story

I grew up listening to Paul Harvey and the rest of the story on WGN radio. The program was followed by Orion Samuelson, who was the “Voice of American Agriculture.” Corn was up soybeans down. Iowa farmer  (somebody) lost his crop or a cow was struck by lightning.   I understood next to nothing about the soybean market, but listening to Samuelson made me feel like an American grounded in the mid-west. The voices of these two men could make everything seem certain in my expanding world.

Orion Samuelson -WGN
The Agriculture Program

It is important that I, after long city council meetings and waiting for the next revelation in the paper, direct my feet back across to the sunny side of the street. Click Here: I love Willie Nelson!  The first blog post of this new year was a movie clip from Pollyanna where the children are hanging glass prisms in the window. (Click Here: I hope you will take the time to read the post if you missed it.) This morning, once again, I have taken a soft cloth and am starting in on polishing our glass prisms. Like Harvey and Samuelson, I see this as my job; to use my voice to say with Julian of Norwich – – all manner of things shall be well.

I want to tell you that on Monday while waiting for the council to come back, I stood on the wall talking to Jesse Gersitl, not about the proceedings, but about MacHaven. His investment group now owns the property. I saw wonderful photographs on his phone of the work that is going on inside. After the council meeting, I needed to be in Whitakers by 7:00pm to speak to a new preservation group that has formed to try and save their Main Street. In a few days, several board members from Preservation Rocky Mount are headed to lunch and tour/meeting with Wilson’s preservation group. I can’t wait. Preservation of our architectural assets is my part in the chorus to sing. The way I see it, we all have our parts and this is the time to pull the choir together. We must have an independent conductor take the performance in hand.

300 Grace St. -Machaven

300 Grace St. Machaven


Concerned, frustrated, anxious about any delay in saving ‘Main Street’ is not a good default position for me. Stepheny is not Stepheny. (Click Here for a past post about MacHaven)   I can rally by thinking of MacHaven as one of our crystal prisms, and investors like Jesse Gersetl who have come to help us save our architecture and story. Get out your sheet music, be of good influence where you can, help with a political solution this fall with the election of city council members. Go downtown to eat, shop, attend events at the Community Center– Believe!

Posted in Prisms of Light in Rocky Mount NC | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

The Rocky Mount Telegram – The Unfolding Story – Leads Us To A New Beginning

Today’s blog post is dedicated to my tutorial professor who reminds me from time to time that my job as a writer is to set us on higher ground. This admonishment caused me to think beyond the current crisis of allegations, where we are all focused, to what comes next once the future of our city government is determined. This will be a new beginning.

The two quotations from the professor’s private papers, Naval Wisdom, have been selected because of their relevance to the Telegram’s well-written serial story  making news.

“If you can not explain it here and now, in the dark of the mid-watch,
how will you ever explain it later at the long, green table?”

The Rocky Mount Telegram has been writing a kind of mystery story that has people staying up late at night in order to read the next chapter as soon as it is available. I think of this story as a book found shelved in the business section with chapters devoted to management, in this case, mismanagement, incompetence, and cronyism. The ‘book’ has become an instant best seller in the genre of political intrigue. There is a lead detective, Lindell John Kay who has uncovered serious allegations of mismanagement. He is a methodical man who prides himself on building his case carefully, looking into records, acquiring evidence, and taking interviews with those who are or have been working in city government or are small businesses owners who can substantiate the allegations that are coming to light. 
As the plot unfolds, Detective Kay continues to apprise the citizens of Rocky Mount, where the story is set, of further revelations. Opinions are being formed as to who else may be responsible, either because of their complicity or because they have gained from the graft and corruption under suspicion. There is an attempt to turn the spotlight from obvious mismanagement to a knee jerk fall back position: this is merely a black and white issue, (racial) which explains away any responsibility to make this right. The flip side of the coin is that this story is about right and wrong. It is about actions, process and good governance that is under scrutiny.

Ever collision at sea and ship grounding is the result of multiple
failures by many individuals, and had its origins long before, in
failures of training and management, only coming to the sad current
result through process failure, including inept leadership, exhibited by
the failure to apply prior lessons learned by others through painful
experience, via a disciplined, continuous application, supported by
repeated, constant re-enforcement, in pursuit of excellence, all the
time, in every evolution.

The naval findings in this quotation are applicable to our collision, the result of multiple failures by many people that have had their origins before this unfolding story came to light. The Navy found inept leadership and a failure to pursue excellence in every situation. Those who will be attending the City Council meeting scheduled this afternoon will represent many others who ask for a simple outcome: a fair game played on a level playing field for all. We all expect the right thing to be done in order to let us get on with the game of revitalization, the saving of our Main Street, and further reason for economic investment. A new beginning starts with a political solution to the problems that reside in City Management. After a  financial audit as well as a management audit, we will have new procedures and a new resolve to say every day,  “Yes!” to Rocky Mount.”







Posted in From a Bench on Main Street | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Rocky Mount Telegram – Making a Mess at Rush Hour!

Having a day on my own in London, I spent part of it on Charing Cross Road in and out of the bookstores that were still open in those years. I was collecting Beverley Nichols on that jaunt and imagining that at any moment I would see Anthony Hopkins coming towards me straight from one of my favorite movies, 84 Charing Cross Road. Headed to the tube with a few wrapped books, I felt a restraining hand on my elbow. I had started to step off the curb forgetting which direction the traffic was moving.  It was a stranger holding my arm. He said, “Don’t do that luv, it makes such a mess at rush hour.” I have never forgotten his kindness or the wonderful humor of this moment.  I think it is safe to say that the Rocky Mount Telegram has made quite a mess at rush hour!

As part of this same trip, Princess Diana was tragically killed in a car chase by the paparazzi. I’d read enough English mysteries by then to have no doubt that the government was involved. Riding the tube later that same day not a word was spoken. Everyone had their heads buried in the newspapers. I was reminded of this experience when the Rocky Mount Telegram’s staff writer, Lindell John Kay began the expose on the City Manager and Landis Faulcon, Director of Community & Business Development — and anyone else that deserves this scrutiny.  Of course, here in Rocky Mount, everyone is talking! Phone calls, e-mails, clandestine meetings, Facebook posts,  conversations over lunch, dinner, or standing in the driveway. There are people worrying about how deep this investigation will go, some sorry they backed the wrong horse and those of us who are hopeful and ecstatic that at last the truth is being told. Later today many of us will be headed to City Hall to make our presence known while the Committee of the Whole meets behind closed doors.

I grew up reading The Chicago Tribune and thought I was headed to college to become a journalism major. I resent the state of journalism today. I canceled my Telegram subscription as a point of honor. But wait, a reporter actually investigating! Checking records, laying out a fact-based case step by step. Can you believe it? An investigation long overdue about things known, suspected,  rumored, but usually stifled one way or another. I need to subscribe again in thanksgiving for Lindell John Kay and the revelations that are being spelled out, no holds barred.

When the taillights of at least two cars head out of Rocky Mount,  let us hope and pray that the damage left behind continues to be investigated. Surely this must include the City Council who hired the City Manager in the first place. There is quite a mess to clean up. Now is our chance thanks to The Telegram who have dared to name those who must not be named and expose what I call the shenanigans of City Government.



Posted in From a Bench on Main Street | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments