Troy Davis Cuts the Ribbon on Opportunity- The Davis Lofts on Main Street

Troy Davis Cuts the Ribbon for Davis Lofts

A lovely evening: Friends, family, prospective renters and curious folks gathered last Friday night to celebrate the ribbon cutting for the Davis Lofts. The few photographs I took give away my interest in the brick walls that were left exposed, the paint and plaster that honor the past. 22 lofts are the outcome of Troy Davis’s vision, ingenuity and expertise.

I have written before about the concept of Living Above the Store. Here is a link to one of those posts: The accredited Main Street programs in New Bern, Goldsboro, Elizabeth City, Wilson and Tarboro are fine examples of the successful repurposing of historic commercial buildings that honor the past but are a part of successful downtown redevelopment. The fact that investors, preservation advocates and the Main Streets I mentioned, and have seen for myself, make the Davis Lofts and the other projects like this going on downtown a proven element of successful revitalization.

A vibrant, diverse community that live, work and play downtown bring energy and economic stability to those who have and are still planting their flags downtown. What continues to hold us back is the decision making that eminates from those on the City Council whose only interest in a project is one that includes a pay off for themselves and cronies. Research tells us that the development of the perimeter around the historic downtown area must guarantee the economic wherewithal for businesses downtown.

This blog: celebrates the opening of the Davis Lofts. It is a significant piece of the revitalization puzzle. As I say on the newest podcast….I want the answer to the question, “Where do you live?” to be, “I live on Main Street at Davis Lofts.” Take 5 minutes and listen to Episode 24:  RESPECT- Troy Davis Cuts the Ribbon of Opportunity: ‘Living Above the Store’

Wednesday – Podcast Day – Storytelling, Preservation, Restoration, Repurposing – City Council – Main Street and Beyond


If you live in Rocky Mount NC or care about preservation, want to stay caught up with Main Street success stories, you’ll want to listen to Stepheny’s take on things. This latest podcast links Charing Cross Road in London with the revitalization of Main Street and beyond. Listen, share with friends, become one of the Main Street cheerleaders. Believe!

Direct Your Feet to the Sunny Side of the Street


I grew up listening to my parents sing in the front seat of the car. (Stardust and Melancholy Baby were my father’s favorites.) I knew the words to The Sunny Side of the Street by the time I started school. The melodies and lyrics that have followed me through my life play quietly in the background as I go along the way. Taking photos on the East side of Washington Street between Thomas and Tarboro on a sunny, lovely day a few weeks ago, my mind’s Juke Box was playing Willie Nelson: CLICK ON https://youtu.bm6DJdiPQmGc

There is a new stretch of sidewalk that has been poured, and restored facades with the typical commercial windows and set-back door. Jesse Gerstl owns the May Gorham building where work is on-going. Jesse is one of the prisms of light I write about that is saving commercial architecture, an architectural gem like Machaven, and shotgun houses that make him a hero to me.

You must drive slowly by, or better still, walk the block and see for yourself an example of preservation, restoration and repurposing. The people involved are what I call, repairers of the breach, essential to the revitalization of Rocky Mount. My photographs don’t do justice to the results of these restorations, but you are with me as I check on things. I hope my excitement makes you excited. Do grab your coat and hat and direct your feet to the sunny side of the street…in this case, Washington St.

The image I use on my calling card has now been restored to look like this. Love it!

Let’s All Make Some Ripples

A Pebble Thrown in Water

I hope you are finding five minutes to listen to my Podcast, Talking Main Street With Stepheny. It has surprised me how much can be said in a short time. When I first started this blog, I asked a college granddaughter, to help me, and she downloaded WordPress, and gave me a few simple instructions. By guess and by golly, and help from younger friends, I carried on.

I am proud to say that I added to Facebook a Main Street page where photographs say more than words about the preservation, restoration and repurposing of our architectural inventory. The posts on my repetitive push to save the shot gun houses, the bungalows, the neighborhoods at risk, seem to be of interest to the readers. This page has 1004 followers so far. I learned how to use Instagram and finally added the Podcast. It is all a work in progress, but I’m smarter today than the day I started. I was determined not to be left behind in these matters.

If you don’t know about, it is a free download of templates you can work with to spiff up the looks of your social media. Below is one I created to announce today’s podcast. I think it is effective, I hope you do too. For someone who can’t draw a straight line, a program like Canva satisfies my creative urge which is fun.

Learning how to use social media helps me reach people about Main Street and beyond. Someone told me, “I’m enthusiastic now because you are.” One of my goals is for you to see the possibilities with a determined eye to be part of the solution, not the problem. I want you to join me in making ripples. Listen to the podcast for the meaning and the means to do so. CLICK ON :

Join Me For A New 5 Minute Podcast -July 14, 2021

I am having fun with another social media opportunity to talk about Main Street Rocky Mount, NC. It’s called Podcasting! The basketball expression…let the game come to you…has proved to be true when it comes to the subject of each episode. Something is happening downtown or the latest book I’m reading jump starts my imagination.

I must say that two weeks in the mountains with a five year old great-grandchild drained my imagination battery. “Grammy, tell me a story.” This request comes with directions. “I want a story about a queen who has scraped her knee and is in the forest.” I introduced a new story line about fairies. We each added our ideas to the telling. Annaclaire has learned to whistle, so the stories had parts when she whistled in the background while I spoke. The stories must start with Once Upon a Time, but soon have a life of their own. The questions are important. “Grammy, do you believe in fairies? Are they real?”

When I tell stories about Main Street it is because I do believe in repurposing the commercial architecture in historic downtown. I am fascinated with the world of preservation. And yes, the results are real.

When it came to this week’s episode, I reread a book my mother read to me called, A Tree for Peter. I’m not sure what became of the original copy of the book but I will explain further during the podcast. Whether it is writing the blog, or creating a new podcast, my reading life has come into play more than I could have imagined. How grateful I am that my interior life is cluttered with books. These books are there when I need them. When I began creating the podcasts, I hoped that storytelling would add to the perspective I bring. A favorite book from childhood was the backdrop for Episode #13.


Tell Me I’m Not Wrong About The ‘Band of Brothers’ on Main Street

I tend to romanticize things on Main Street…..I offer no apology. This tendency explains how I came to believe there is a Band of Brothers changing the scene in historic downtown. I love meeting and writing about individuals from various walks of life and backgrounds investing their time and resources. It is these people saving and repurposing Rocky Mount’s commercial architecture who provide a necessary economic driver.

When Troy White’s building came tumbling down in an 80 mile an hour wind, it felt like someone slapped me upside the head with some of the comments left on Concerned Citizens; a group of important voices who try to serve as watchmen on the tower. While reading, I thought, “Wait a minute, this isn’t right!” What happened to ’We few, we happy few, we band of brothers?’ -from a speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V.    

The King proclaims….But we in it shall be remember’d;

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother…

As fate would have it, Troy and the team arrived an hour before the storm hit. They were there to assess the next steps in bringing the building back to life. Engineers were involved with the necessary procedures to save the building. Then the wind took the structure into its own hands. Troy White, has already demonstrated how vested he is in the mission of saving downtown’s future. He could have used some support that at least said, “Your loss is our loss.” For the record, Mr. White paid for any and all clean up that was necessary. There are now design plans in the works for a new building, which will be sensitive to the continuity of the historic downtown setting. 

When we lost this building, I was certain of the downtown Band of Brothers. They would offer help. Maybe drop water bottles off because of the heat. They would bring encouragement with their ‘one for all’ attitude, perhaps bring a push broom or shovel? With little, if any, sign of these Brothers, coupled with the comments that followed, we are damn lucky Troy White didn’t give us the famous Duke basketball gesture when opponents foul out – – SEE YA 

This ‘all for one’ attitude is imperative. Everyone who is involved in creating the new emerging downtown scene deserves respect and shall have a turn leading the Main Street Parade. If you doubt the necessity of this investment money, think about the majority vote on the City Council who have served 20 years or more. Under their watch, statistics show a decline in homeownership, a loss of jobs, higher crime, and commercial and residential housing boarded up and deteriorating.  

The City Council Chambers

We need individuals who are vested in the historic collection of architecture on Main Street, and beyond. The real issue behind the smokescreen-cry of racism, is the “My Will Be Done” agenda. Anyone that does not support this agenda will have to endure intimidation, the threat of losing a job, actually losing that job, or threats concerning their businesses. People are hired and fired according to their willingness to serve this agenda. It is no longer a carefully held secret. The names of the usual suspects are spoken every day. Should you need further evidence of what this so-called leadership has accomplished, go, and look at the shameful decline in the neighborhoods. It is obvious that nothing comes from nothing. It is new investment that is saving Main Street.  

It may be a Chicago thing, but are you familiar with the expression, no tickey, no washey? There is an economic imperative at stake here. Vested individuals are essential. Those profiting from the “My Will” agenda have tried to sabotage the word investor. “These ‘carpetbaggers’ are taking away what belongs to us.” Don’t believe that for a moment. Instead, believe that all those vested in building a future for Rocky Mount deserve our thanks and prayers. 

The “My will Agenda” is the real issue. The plan we already have, bought and paid for, doesn’t support “The Agenda,” so we need a new one. The Main Street program is dismissed for the same reason. Think about The Carlton House that was sabotaged for the sake of a new hotel and parking garage. Does anyone doubt that the usual people will line their pockets with that deal?  The Band of Brothers faces this agenda every day. If these people would accept the notion that alone we can do so little, but together, accomplish so much. it is a reality that should be embraced. We need black and white-owned businesses scattered throughout the historic downtown. Together, the obstacles that the agenda mandates can be addressed.

Ben Braddock at Station Square- A Main Street Campion

Checking On Main Street – It’s a New Dawn, It’s a New Day, A New Life For Us

“A city is not an accident but the result of coherent visions and aims.”
Leon Krier, The Architecture of Community

Like you, I have been at home practicing patience. I haven’t checked on things downtown for awhile. Since a grocery run was in order, while I was out, I drove downtown around 4:30. There was no traffic, which meant I could jump out of my car and leave it running to take photographs of the projects I’d come to see. Maybe it is the strange state of suspension I find myself in, but I was susceptible to the shadows, and the beauty in the architectural details I’d never seen before. Even the railroad tracks that carry a portion of Rocky Mount’s story were magnified in orderliness and significance.


The streetscape has given the old commercial buildings that line both sides of the tracks a setting, a grounding if you like, which was evident in the late afternoon light. Each facade along the street is unique. The architect, the builders, and crews didn’t throw up any old building but left a legacy of craftsmanship and style we are building a future upon. It will forever be on the heads of those who have been involved with the disgrace of neglect and shenanigans surrounding Main Street. But, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day it’s a new life for us.

If only my photos did these storefronts justice because each one is a little jewel box. You see the address of 114 on the lavender building. The details on these facades are worth a trip downtown to see. If you’re following Main Street on Facebook you have seen the drawings on the various types of window/entries in order to recognize and identify what our Main Street facades have. We are fortunate to have this incredible architectural inventory and the emerging new Main Street symphony of pounding hammers, the crash of deterioration coming down, the chatter of men putting in new windows: I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Don’t you either. SFH



I have many favorite buildings along Main, but this one is ‘way special.’

Rendering of Restored Facade 

Coming Soon: I left out one building in this original post that belongs in this series. Here is the commercial building as it appears today (on the right) and a rendering of how it is going to look  (on the left). Cause for celebration with another Main Street architectural commercial building being saved.



It’s a Lovely Day Today – A Morning With SFH on Main Street

A June 4th morning – I have taken myself off to NABS  (Never A Better Sandwich) for a fresh baked Cinnamon bun, and dare I admit, sweet (tea). I am sitting outside listening to soft jazz, the most divine breeze stirring the leaves on the trees and the American flags flapping gently on the lamp posts. The Century Link Man in his service truck waves at me as he goes by. Peace!

The Douglas Block now and then: I can imagine the folks from years ago as if they are all still here. They appear like a ghost who steps through a wall or perhaps walking out of the cornfield as in the movie, Field of Dreams. Here they continue to shop, meet and greet, visiting the drug store, going to the movies, families with children in tow who have come to town. Once segregated, could they possibly imagine me sitting at the sidewalk cafe table listening for them, watching them from afar. I think about Ed Riley and Yalem, owners of the now-famous Smokehouse and this new coffee sandwich shop. If you know Ed, he is a great big bear of a man who gives hugs that rub the fur-fabric right off the proverbial Velveteen Rabbit. The sidewalk concrete space at the end of the building is waiting to be transformed into more outdoor seating.  With Yalem’s eye and creativity, I know it is going to be a destination.

I hope for a train to come by and am not disappointed.   I think too late to count the cars as we did when kids. There is no caboose at the end coming around the track, track, track. The long mile of cars heads south. After some photographs, I returned to the little table to further enjoy this scene, to honor The Douglas Block Story. This pleasant morning seems important to celebrate, to hope for all good things to come.

Take a minute and listen to Ella Fitzgerald singing It’s A Lovely Day Today…                           she got the whole scene just right.


Don’t Lose Sight Of The Issues At Hand With The Rocky Mount City Council

An Editorial on Main Street Rocky Mount – SFH

Who Stayed Up All Night and Thought of This?

That was my original reaction to the announcement of a new city manager. She came with a dark cloud over her head and plenty of past mismanagement stories to warrant concern. We have an essential question when it comes to all that is happening with our city government: who gains from hiring a flawed candidate, who gains from the further deterioration of our Main Street architecture, from ignoring the enforcement of ordinances already on the books,  from  running off our outstanding talent, councilmen meddling with city inspectors with their presence of intimidation? Who is profiting from this?

My answer to why this particular new manager was hired with such baggage was that she was now beholding to the Council for her job and like it or not, she would have no choice but to do their bidding. Her hiring had nothing to do with the long dark night of the soul, wrestling to find the best candidate for Rocky Mount, but finding a candidate with a scenario that fit their needs. Not knowing Mrs. Small-Toney at that time, I sailed on believing I had my answer to ‘why in the world?’  Things have unraveled, to say the least, and into the light of day has emerged complicit members of the  City Council, mismanagement, graft, and a word I like to use –  skulduggery!

A beautiful commercial building on Main Street

It is true that if you begin to know someone, take notice of their tasteful appearance and kindness and beautiful smile, and sing hymns together at church, kneel in prayer, begin the quick shake of the hand, the exchange of greetings, your perspective begins to shift about them.  This was certainly true in my case of a lovely woman I began to call Rochelle. I like her and was conflicted because of things I knew and my personal experience with her. The ‘worser’ things have become, the bigger my disappointment – ‘say it isn’t so.’

This conflict made me remember that life is filled with second chances, redemption, that people can be knocked off their donkey on the road to Damascus and have their lives turned around.  Here was my answer for Mrs. Toney-Small to redeem her reputation and leave here a hero when ready. The answer revolved around, SAVING MAINSTREET. If she would put her leadership and will behind this priority, she and the others involved in this saving business would forever be remembered for a great outcome. This past week Council’s retreat brought good news that some attention will now be paid to Main Street.

What I haven’t been able to reconcile in this concept of redemption is why the city council or the mayor, the city manager, where ever the wrongdoing falls, should escape the consequences of their actions. Without restored trust, resolution, wrongs being righted, a clean slate, talk of moving on as if nothing has happened isn’t realistic. I am sympathetic to the story of personal injustices Mr. Neheniah Smith talks about when using his 3 minutes at the council meeting but I fail to connect what he is saying to the City Managers and Councils problems.  To my knowledge, Mr.Smith isn’t under investigation or implicated in the list of concerns being looked into. I can only look at these kinds of charges of racism as an attempt to speechify: diverting the relevant matters at hand of mismanagement which are specific and particular to the manager, her staff, the mayor and council, their choices and decision making in the here and now. Nothing more, nothing less.

Trying to divert attention from wrongdoing clothed in a Harry Potter invisibility cloak of accusations of racism is extraneous to the matters at hand. The taxpayers deserve and expect good governance, a righting of the wrongs and new leadership. If redemption is possible for any or all involved after completing the investigations, I’ll welcome it. Especially in Mrs. Toney-Smalls case. Only when trust in our leadership is possible again can we turn our full attention to getting on with building a future for Rocky Mount.

‘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