Main Street Lego Architecture – Way Cool!

At some point, while growing up, I wanted to be an architect. Faced with the fact that I’m terrible at math, it wasn’t a realistic dream. Writing was a better fit. Today there are career paths I think of as my unlived lives. With a Historic Preservation Degree, the lead character in my new novel could be me.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I started seeing the work of young people and adults alike having fun with Lego Architecture, which “celebrates the past, present, and future of architecture through the Lego Brick.” The brand includes a series of Lego sets designed by ‘Architectural Artist’ Adam Reed Tucker, and each contains the pieces and instructions to build a model of a famous architectural building in micro-scale.

Chicago architect, Adam Reed Tucker earned a degree in architecture at Kansas State University in 1996. While there, he sought a method to join his two passions of art and architecture and hit upon the idea of using Lego bricks. From this, he founded Brickstructures, Inc., and began to design and build models of famous landmarks. His work was noticed by the Lego Group, and together they formed a partnership in 2008 to release some of his models as commercially available Lego sets under the Lego Architecture brand. Today his idea has captured the imagination of Lego architects who have taken his idea and run with it. Ingenious architects of all ages are having fun designing and building their own creations while learning to appreciate the value of architecture. My favorites resemble the commercial buildings on Main Street USA.

These are PINTEREST Images: See More

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River and Twine – Tiny Home Hotel in Rocky Mount, NC

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Stepheny, who had a playhouse filled with children who came to play. They had so much fun together, and they all lived happily ever after. The end.”  This was my dream as a little girl…to have a playhouse.

Dreams are coming true in Rocky Mount. And so are Tiny Homes! When I think of the Rocky Mount Mills team, I picture them sitting together dreaming. What is possible?  How can we preserve the story yet move into the future? Can we add to a positive experience of the Mills and Rocky Mount by offering new tiny house accommodations?

River & Twine will feature 20 unique, brand new tiny homes adjacent to all of Rocky Mount Mills’ amenities, that include breweries, restaurants, and music. To develop this riverfront destination, Rocky Mount Mills contracted with two builders: Modern Tiny Living and Free Spirit Tiny Homes, nationally renowned for their work on small living spaces. Each home ranges in size from 188 to 244 sq ft, different in style, private, while being part of a cohesive family-friendly environment.

Each tiny home will feature modern amenities including full-size glass door showers, microwaves, fridges and coffee makers in all homes. Complimentary high-speed internet and smart TVs. Heating and air conditioning. The tiny home hotel community will share amenities by pod groupings of five homes, which will include fire pits, grilling stations, outdoor games and children’s play areas.

“River & Twine will offer a one-of-a-kind experience for all visitors to Rocky Mount,” says Tim Rogers, Rocky Mount Mills/Capitol Broadcasting Company. “Whether you’re here for work, sports, recreation or simply to chill, River & Twine will be your go-to spot for a unique get away.” As a little girl who always wanted a playhouse, the Tiny Home movement making its debut in Rocky Mount has my architectural heart fluttering.  If you read in the paper that a little girl was found sleeping in baby bears bed after trying out the chairs and eating the porridge,  you’ll know what it’s about…..Stepheny was playing in the Tiny Homes while the three bears were out having a beer and eating at one of the Mill Restaurants. And you know what, on this trajectory, we’re all living in a place happily ever after.

On Pinterest: Random Tiny Homes – Rocky Mount will soon have their own version THANKS to Rocky Mount Mills


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Rocky Mount Has A Unique Signature

Rocky Mount needs to clone an accomplished person like Amy Facca who is a historic preservation planner, architectural historian, and grant writer with a strong interested in cultural economic development. She holds a Master’s degree in Architectural History and Historic Preservation from the University of Virginia. I discovered Amy while researching how we can undertake an inventory of our architectural assets.   Preservation Rocky Mount and the Historic Preservation Commission NEED an Amy Facca to help us with our efforts to protect our unique story. Are you the Amy Facca we need?

Main Street Downtown-Station Square

Facca writes that  communities have unique “signatures” or “signature elements.” We know our signatures include: The Railroad, Tobacco, Textiles and now Micro Beer. A community’s signature is rooted in its unique history, people, arts, architecture, heritage, natural resources, culture, commerce, agriculture, industry, and institutions. Signature elements can be a continuous source of pride, inspiration, and creativity that can serve as building blocks which communities can use to tell their stories, stimulate revitalization and growth and promote themselves to potential residents, visitors, and investors.

Rocky Mount Mills Village – Textiles

All of this is important because community planners and economic development professionals are increasingly identifying communities’ signature elements, as key elements of what has become known as the creative economy. To tap into this segment of the economy, communities are turning increasingly to cultural economic development, which includes, among other things, historic preservation, main street revitalization, and heritage tourism. These efforts need an up to date, honest inventory, an analysis of existing conditions and the identification of opportunities and threats relating to the creative/cultural economy.

Preservation has evolved far beyond its early focus on the restoration of historic properties of famous Americans. Preservation today is engaged in questions of how to keep our downtowns and older neighborhoods vibrant by respecting the past while fostering development to fill in the gaps. We want to be sure that developers and local officials recognize the enormous economic benefits that strong local historic preservation programs yield. It’s a fascinating time in the life of Rocky Mount, a time not without its controversy, but there is a need for enthusiastic, creative thinking. Please think about joining Preservation Rocky Mount to help build our future while honoring our past. I thank Amy Fach for her valuable contribution to my education and her contribution to preservation with these ideas for Rocky Mount, NC.


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Rocky Mount’s Sears Catalog Homes – A Significant Architectural Asset – Part 3

It is my hope that Rocky Mount’s Sear’s homes will inspire us to consider our policies and programs that highlight and protect our treasured historic architecture.                       – Stepheny Houghtlin

I thank Rose Thornton for her tireless work in searching and finding the Sears Catalog Homes and for visiting Rocky Mount to find ours. Here is a fun fact:  Each “kit home” contained 30,000 pieces, including 750 pounds of nails and 27 gallons of paint and varnish. A 75-page instruction book showed how to assemble those 30,000 pieces. I’d love to talk to the workman that turned the ‘kits’ into the wonderful homes pictured in these posts. What do you know about the house you are living in? That knowledge would help with an inventory, which we NEED.

In reading Rose Thornton’s articles, it sounds like she made two visits to Rocky Mount, driving around without a Garmin, making discoveries of the Sears homes she recognized. It makes me think there are MORE, she just didn’t have time to keep looking. We’ll find them and invite her back for a Sears Home tribute/Preservation/shindig of some kind to share the stories of ours. Keep your camera at the ready and eyes open. I’ve ordered a book we’ll need to RECOGNIZE them. I’ll write more about having eyes to see ASAP. It makes me smile to think of us slowly driving the neighborhoods, stopping to check a possibility out. Looking for our Sears Homes is a new twist on the expression-“casing the joint.” Lovely things can happen….One of my favorite stories is the time I was standing in the middle of Beal Street taking photos of the shotgun houses. A car came round the corner, the window rolled down, and a lady said, “Honey, what you doin?” I’m taking photos because I want to write about the Shotgun houses. “Honey, you got to come and meet my Aunties. They’ve lived here a long time.” I spent a wonderful next few hours. CLICK HERE FOR THAT OCCASION.


The Plaza Model – RM’s version at the time of the photo was in wonderful condition


The Shelburne Design


The Detroit Design as seen in 1919 catalog and a nearly perfect Detroit in Rocky Mount

The Winthrop in 1919 Catalog – and Rocky Mount’s Beauty


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Rocky Mount’s Sears Catalog Homes – A Significant Architectural Asset – Part 2

“If we do not honor our past, we lose our future. If we destroy our roots, we cannot grow.”
— Friedensreich Hundertwasser
Austrian-born artist and architect

In doing research for the blog, I meet the most interesting people. Yesterday it was Rose Thornton who has provided the photographs of our Rocky Mount Sears homes. We must invite her here again for some preservation event. Today we’re in the company of Frank W. Kushel, a Sears manager, who in 1906 was given responsibility for the catalog company’s unwieldy, unprofitable building materials department. Sales were down, and there was excess inventory in warehouses. He is credited with suggesting to Richard Sears that the company assemble kits of all the parts needed and sell entire houses through mail order. In 1908, Sears issued its first specialty catalog for houses, Book of Modern Homes and Building Plans, featuring 44 house styles ranging in price from $360–$2,890. The first mail order for a Sears house was filled in 1908. Sears mail-order catalogs were in millions of homes, where large numbers of potential homeowners were able to see the different house designs and purchase them directly from Sears.

370 different models of these Catalog Homes kit houses were sold primarily through mail order by Sears; 70,000 of these homes were sold between 1908 and 1940. In the early years, the models were identified with numbers but after several years, Sears began assigning names to the various models, a convention that carried through to the end of the program. Some models were offered with variations, the most common of those being expanded floor plans and additional finished living spaces. Sears discontinued its Modern Homes catalog after 1940. A few years later, all sales records were destroyed during a corporate house cleaning. As only a small percentage of these homes were documented when built, finding them today often requires detailed research to properly identify them.

I know you are going to enjoy seeing the Sears home of Rocky Mount. Where they are is part of our scavenger hunt! CLICK HERE to read part 1   Let’s find them and note the address and add to the list any others we can find. These posts are about the need for an honest inventory: what is lived in, stands empty, is worth rescuing, can’t be saved, what is owned, rented, cared for or neglected. An inventory is in order.

The Pasadena Model and RM’s Pasadena with a few changes

The Aladdin Pomona and RM’s version with new siding-still retains original railings

The Aladdin Shadowlawn



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Rocky Mount’s Sears Catalog Homes – A Significant Historical Architectural Asset – Part 1

Rose Thornton has got to be one of the most interesting people I could possibly introduce you to. For the last 15 years, she has been traveling around the county seeking and finding Sears Catalog Homes. She writes newspaper and magazine articles, makes TV appearances, lectures. and is the author of The Houses That Sears Built (2002,) and Finding the Houses That Sears Built (2004), and The Sears Homes of Illinois (2010). She’s been to Rocky Mount several times and has done a lot of our homework for us. We are really in her debt!  We have her to thank for the photographs I found in her articles while on the research trail about our Sears homes. If you missed them, please be sure and read the last three posts about the necessity to have an updated and honest inventory of our architecture properties. Click Here for Part 1

I’m bringing the Sears Catalogue homes to your attention to illustrate another reason why we must value what we’ve got before it is gone! Once I asked you to look for Ghost Signs and take photos so we can find them all and someday have a Ghost Sign Walk or something???? NOW, like a scavenger hunt, we went on as kids, when you are driving around, look for our Sears Catalogue houses. Rose Thornton says most people don’t know they’re living in a catalog home. Here is a link to an article she wrote about how to identify a Sears Catalogue house.  Click Here

Drum Roll…This Aladdin Williamette was only offered in the 1920 Aladdin catalog and THE ONLY Williamette Rose Thorton has ever seen. A perfect match….Here….in Rocky Mount.


The Sears Elmhurst looks nothing like a typical ‘kit’ home. A neo-Tudor, it is spacious and has fine features that are not available in other average Sears homes. Our Rocky Mount Elmhurst has had an addition on either side. More of our Sears homes in Part 2. I hope this has peaked your interest in what we’ve got…as the song says…so we can get on to an inventory.

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“Don’t it always seem to go -That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone: They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” – from “Big Yellow Taxi.”- Part 3

“It has been said that, at its best, preservation engages the past in a conversation with the present over a mutual concern for the future.”
William Murtagh

(Dr. Murtagh is a singular figure in US historic preservation due to his immense influence on how we recognize, evaluate and preserve historic properties.)

I don’t want to over-burden you with my preservation interests, and hear you say, Stepheny, really? but my favorite novels are about good writing, and story, and when I learn something new. Hopefully, this series of posts is meeting you somewhere along the learning curve. An up to date inventory is not ‘busy work,’ but is ‘significant work’ to protect and preserve our historic properties for future generations while identifying the significant physical elements of our past.

Rocky Mount’s historic buildings tell a story of the homes and businesses of the city’s earliest residents and of the communities growth. We value our historic resources because of their beauty, because of the people who lived and worked there, and because of their relationship to the development of our culture.  They help us understand who we are in a tangible way. Preservation protects that history and contributes to a sense of place. It stabilizes neighborhoods, increases property values and addresses livability concerns.

Taking a page out of Durham, NC Playbook

Over the next few years, the Durham City/County Planning Department and Preservation Durham will be working together to update the Durham Architectural and Historic Inventory (last completed in 1982). The inventory was initially conducted in 1980 and 1981 to comprehensively look at the history, architecture and development patterns of Durham. Over 900 structures built prior to 1940 were inventoried (over 600 of which are described or pictured in the final inventory book) and brief histories are provided of approximately 30 Durham neighborhoods and their patterns of development, organized chronologically. This document does excellent work describing the social and physical historical context of the community through 1940. They are now looking to bring this work up-to-date with additional documentation of structures and neighborhoods developed after 1940. We need to do this too!

In order to aid in the collection of data for the inventory update effort, Durham Planning and Preservation Durham are putting on a series of community meetings where residents can learn how to input information into the Open Durham database to assist in collecting robust data for the inventory. This is one way to approach an updated inventory. I will suggest other ideas in upcoming posts.



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