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!

“The Most Beautiful ‘Main Street’ in the Entire World”

A Pollyanna image for ‘MAIN STREET’ in the New Year

This blog post and others I am writing will make more sense if you

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THIS CHARMING SHORT CLIP FROM THE MOVIE – POLLYANNA 

One of my favorite movies is Pollyanna (1960), starring Haley Mills with an outstanding supporting cast. Pollyanna offers us a new image in 2019 when thinking about the theme of this blog: honoring the past and building a future. A scene in the movie illustrates why glass prisms are applicable to Rocky Mount. The children are hanging in a window the crystals prisms they removed from chandeliers and lamps. The refracted light appears as rainbows on the walls. We have many people who have been like crystal prisms in the story of Rocky Mount.

In case you have forgotten – Pollyanna, is a 12-year-old, who arrives in the small town of Harrington. Google research reminds us she is a cheerful, talkative and radically optimistic youngster who focuses on the goodness of life. She finds something to be glad about, no matter the situation. In doing so, Pollyanna’s positive outlook on everything helps her make a wide variety of friends in the community, including the hypochondriac and grouchy Mrs. Snow and the acidic recluse Mr. Pendergast. Pollyanna is not easily discouraged in trying to win them over, a trait we must all cultivate while helping with the revitalization of Rocky Mount. I especially like the part in this video clip where Mr. Pendergast explains how the prism works. However, he does so with a long and tedious explanation (much like the excuses given when it comes to saving Main Street.) Saving Main Street isn’t complicated. I believe we will stand along Main Street one day soon and marvel at the restoration and repurposing of the architecture there. We’ll be saying, “This is the most beautiful ‘room’ in the entire world.”

We already have prisms of light strung in the window of Rocky Mount. I love writing about them and there are others to add. These lights will be forever linked and honored for their contribution to Rocky Mount. We must have leadership, however, that will help hang prisms of light in this New Year. If not, there should be a casting call for new actors to take their place. I hope you agree?

Read about another prism of light tomorrow. Can you guess who it is?

HIT THE FOLLOW BUTTON ABOVE AND MEET ME ON MAIN STREET THIS YEAR

Main Street Christmas Reflection with Love from Stepheny

The year is winding down and within all of us remain the children we once were who still anticipate Christmas. Based on comments you have left on this blog, Christmas memories are some of your favorite when remembering Main Street Rocky Mount;  a downtown where everyone enjoyed the decorations, the shopping, and greeted each other with a heartfelt Merry Christmas.

Christmas is surely one of the most nostalgic times of the year.  I can close my eyes and return to my room in the house on the corner of  Asbury Avenue and Lyons street in Evanston, IL.  There I sit on the radiator cover my father built looking out the large double-hung windows at the snow that flutters down, the streetlamps casting a magical glow.  One side of the elm trees that cascade over Asbury Ave is dark and wet, the other white with snow sticking to the bark. The snow that is slowly piling on a branch finally tumbles to the ground with one flake too many, leaving holes in the crusted snow. Whether it really snowed every Christmas Eve, I can’t be sure, but in remembering, why not?

When it comes time to think of the year ahead, having counted our blessings, and recognized anew our loved ones, let’s do something significant that influences the preservation and restoration of Main Street.  Breaking the task further down, if you live in one of our historic neighborhoods, here is what I suggest. Concentrate on your neighborhood organization.  You may have given up on the group, feel irritated because it became nothing more than a gripe session; please talk to your neighbors and take it on. Help reorganize it so it becomes a proactive voice for your neighborhood’s needs. Walk the neighborhood and take some notes. What’s sitting empty, what may be unsavable, what complaints need to be lodged with landlords that aren’t caring for their properties. Just taking this on for one another, is a huge step. We can no longer sit on our hands waiting for promises to come true that don’t. We all want the same thing – safe and sound places to live. These associations are in place and can be renewed and revitalized: a large voice for preservation, restoration, and pride.

As Advent continues, we recognize that we are the innkeepers who must make room in our hearts and minds for this Christ child who is born anew within us. The blessings of the Season to you and yours. I thank you for keeping me company on Main Street. Consider yourselves hugged and appreciated. Think of Stepheny as I sit on a bench downtown clapping my hands because I do believe in possibilities. I believe that we can have a beautiful Main Street anew and safe neighborhoods shining with Christmas lights.

Wishing you a heartfelt Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Partnering With Stepheny – Beginning February 2019

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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, I’m heading up a new Advocacy committee for Preservation Rocky Mount. I know many of you who read this blog have a great interest in the continuing revitalization efforts of Rocky Mount. You carry pictures in your mind’s eye of Main Street, which you think of as once upon a time.

Let’s do something important together. I have recently changed the gallery photographs on the sidebar of this blog. The gallery has featured our Shot Gun houses, our Sears Catalogue Houses, Villa Place Homes when the tour was taking place a year ago.  The photos this time are not pretty. Unfortunately, there are many more just like them. We all remember the children’s book, The Little Engine That CouldI think I can, I think I can. 

I definitely THINK WE CAN! when it comes to finding a new will to carry on the great efforts of the Peter Varney years of preservation efforts at the Train Station, Bus Station, Imperial Center, Douglas Block, StreetScape and more. We need to unite behind the enforcement of ordinances already on the books that would go a long way to jump-starting a new determination to Save Mainstreet and all that encompasses.

You don’t have to join Preservation Rocky Mount, though I wish you would. For now, make a mental note that in February, (date/time/location to be announced.) there will be a meeting I want you to come to. Instead of sitting on one of the benches along Main Street to talk as we often do, we will gather and do some thinking together. Preservation groups in other cities have worked hard and become an influential voice. I would love to be remembered as someone who helped ensure our architectural inventory, our sense of place, recognized and embraced preservation as an economic engine. Wouldn’t you like that too?

Click on each image in the photo gallery and you will get a full view rather than the little thumbnails pictures. Get your brain in gear and repeat after me — Yes, we can, yes we can.

Main Street Is In Need of a Jewish Grandmother

For years my daughter, Claire, and I have enjoyed a little in-house ‘Jewish Mother’ humor, a response when she tells me that she is headed off on an adventure lasting a few days, be it work or fun. I have been known to respond in my best ‘Jewish Mother’ voice…..”Go, I don’t want you should worry about me, here, all by myself.” When a conversation like this took place the other day, it got me thinking……

What Main Street Rocky Mount needs is a real Jewish Grandmother who can worry about six things at a time, and more than that, give us the benefit of her wisdom. If only grandmother, LaVerta, were still alive and available to us. I am coming to know this particular Jewish grandmother through the loving stories told by her grandson who is a dear friend of mine. I imagine her as a cross between Auntie Mame and a wisdom figure with ties to the Desert Fathers. LaVerta exposed her grandson to some of the finer things in life instilling in him an appreciation for couture clothes and a good martini and everything in-between. She encouraged this bright and articulate boy, who grew up with a passion for many things, to have the courage of his convictions.

Once she told her grandson when he was involved in a controversial political campaign, “Roddy sometimes you just have to put your stake in the ground.” Which brings me to the point of my musings today. I think we must embrace LaVerta’s admonition and be willing to put our stakes in the ground when it comes to saving Main Street.

It’s complicated when one is raised with southern sensibilities. The thought process goes like this – If I speak up, I could offend friends or business associates, all the interrelated connections like — my grandmother dated your grandfather back in college or our families who went to the beach together every summer; a myriad of concerns that give one pause before deciding whether to get involved or not. This is why I think Main Street needs a Jewish grandmother. Besides loving and worrying over us, she would admonish us to have the courage of our convictions; telling us, “Sometimes you just have to put your stake in the ground before it’s too late, and that time is now.”

Watercolor credits:

Picture #1 -Small Town Illinois by Timothy Arties, Picture #2 -Alex S. Kosich, Jr. AIA Architectural Renderings, Design Consultant,  Picture #3 Rosie Philips Fine Art

‘Main Street’ Belongs to All of Us -Another Program Idea For The Restoration of Main Street’s Facades – Part 3

I have sought out Amy Facca again who is a historic preservation planner, architectural historian, and grant writer with a strong interest in economic development. In Oct. 2013 she wrote an informative piece about various emerging facade improvement programs that benefit communities. These are incentive programs created to encourage the restoration of the exterior appearance of buildings and storefronts. Improvements like masonry repairs & pointing; facade painting, repair, reconstruction or replacement of historic features; awnings, signage and exterior lighting, gutters, and downspouts; window & door repair or replacement.

 

Her photos in this article are of Hamilton NY facades before and after to illustrate what can be done.

This pair of commercial buildings were updated with a new color, including a new cornice, siding, windows, doors, awning and detailing.

 

Improvements in the building below included replacing unsightly signage, a new paint scheme highlighting the building’s historic character, a new cornice for the roof gable. The dark paint was used to make non-historic building elements (the garage door) less obvious.

The brick masonry facade of the Nicois-Beal building was cleaned. They painted the turret cornice to minimize attention drawn to the modern window elements in the storefront and upper floors and used a new awning to help conceal the modern, non-historic aluminum windows in the storefront.  We all know the saying,

“Where there is a will there is a way!”

 San Diego named their program “Focus on Downtown. They go on to state, “The program is designed to assist property and business owners in rehabilitating the commercial facades of their properties for the purpose of creating a positive visual impact, stimulating private investment, and complementing other community development efforts.”

We would look to federal and state grants for community and economic development, housing, and downtown revitalization; and municipal revenue. The key question is– Is this possible with our current leadership? These programs are usually developed and managed by the municipality’s planning, community development, economic development office, a Main Street organization, those interested in civic improvements. Obviously, this calls for coordination and cooperation.

Please leave your constructive comments below for saving Main Street. Let’s collaborate here on Mainstreetrockymount, and I’ll put together our suggestions along with a message to the City Council that in part says, “With your leadership, we want to save Main Street. Champion this endeavor or step aside and let those who will lead in this matter…lead!”

Here is our Main Street Rocky Mount – Use your imagination and apply the ‘before and after’ treatment to our wonderful commercial buildings,  one building at a time.

Company is Coming! Thoughts About The City Council and Our Downtown

   “You cannot score a goal when you are sitting on the bench. To do so,                                  you have to dress up and enter the game.”

I would never want the positive attitude of this blog to change.  I am, after all, a Pollyanna at heart: everything is beautiful, in its own way. But this quotation has caught my attention and I have taken it seriously. Though this post may be viewed as controversial, I hope you agree that we can talk about problems from time to time. Let’s begin by acknowledging that everyone who grew up in and around Rocky Mount has a story to tell about their memories of going downtown with Grandma to pick up her prescriptions, or buying ‘back to school clothes’ at Belks or having a soda at the drugstore. That was then.

I have thought about Main Street and the Event Center like a brand new sparkling red barn sitting adjacent to a faded, neglected farmhouse. Something seems bass-ackward about this scene in spite of the barns usefulness and addition to the community. With the opening of the barn doors, we have company coming to town. Looking at Main Street through the eyes of these strangers, I say, “Lordy, Lordy, what are they going to think of us with so many of our downtown commercial buildings looking awful? We have SO MUCH to be proud of, but will our guests see the beautifully restored Train Station, Bus Station, Imperial Center, the Douglas Block, and Streetscape or understand the investment and creativity that is at work at The Mill, and in our new downtown businesses? Or, will they take home the picture of Main Street with many peeling facades, boarded up, with broken glass and vegetation growing out of cracks in the bricks?

We like to blame others for the neglected farmhouse, but the truth is, it’s all of our faults put together! We have allowed our leadership to remain in place year after year who won’t enforce codes or make policies, to keep our beautiful commercial buildings and historic neighborhoods from further deterioration.  We seem so hesitant to demand what as taxpayers we should expect. It reminds me of Harry Potter and The One Who Shall Not Be Named syndrome.

Often our efforts with the City Council, when criticized or questioned, get derailed by derogatory name-calling: telling someone they are a racist seems to work well. This appears to be the fallback accusation when the state of things are brought to the attention of the Council who can offer no justification for why Main Street languishes. I would say the word  ‘ticked’ comes to mind when we learned that the taxpayers have just paid thousands of dollars to send newly hired people off for training. We look at each other and ask, “Why are we not hiring people in the first place that come to us with the appropriate educational background and laudable credentials that make them ready to ‘have at it’ on day one?” What leadership, with our best interests in mind, keeps spending thousands of dollars on parades rather than using that money to start stabilizing facades along Main Street or fix a block of houses in terrible disrepair? We don’t need more low-income housing, we need to clean up and save what we have and turn neglected homes into neighborhoods to be proud of again.

We don’t expect or want city government to fix everything, but we need leadership to care more for the city than a tightly guarded power base, we the taxpayers, are continually having to quarrel with. It is not fair to suggest, and I’m not, that nothing good has been accomplished, but honestly, folks, since no one is irreplaceable, term limits should be put on the ballot. After all, if something like a 3 term limit of say 2 years each isn’t enough time to accomplish the job,  you get what we’ve got.

 

I would love to read your comments left below.

Celebrating the 1 Year Anniversary of the Launch of Main Street Rocky Mount 7-22-15-16

Stepheny Houghtlin Launches Main Street Rocky Mount Blog

I invite you to FOLLOW a blog with an attitude.

Republishing the opening post in celebration of the 1 year anniversary of this blog. THANK YOU everyone who is now following and leaving interesting comments. I’ve spent time with fabulous people, listened to wonderful stories and am having so much fun! I hope the blog has brought you pleasure and will continue to do so. Someone said to me who follows the blog, “Stepheny, I’m excited again because you are excited!” The following is the opening ‘Main Street’ introduction.

A doctor will tell you they don’t know why attitude is important in getting well, they only know that it is.  A positive attitude is paramount in the day to day efforts of building the future here in Rocky Mount, NC.  The on going creative process is taking time and patience, but we keep our eye on the prize.  We might not always agree on how to get to where we want to go, but no idea is dumb, no suggested wasted, as a vision unfolds and one piece at a time falls in place.  One thing is for certain, negativity, like repeating old crime statistics that are actually trending in the right direction, is tantamount to shooting ourselves in the foot and has to stop.

In launching this new blog, I hope to make an enthusiastic contribution to the new chapters that are being written about this place we call home.  The theme of this site is Honoring the Past, Building a Future. I will be writing about places and people, past and present, places like The Rocky Mount Mills and Historic District that are pearls of great price in our midst.  I invite you to come and stand with me on Carr Street and listen once again to the echo of children’s laughter, and to the sound of the katydids in the trees. Do you know what a ghost sign is? You soon will. Come downtown to Virginia’s to shop for a great looking women’s jacket, to The Bath Place for lavender soap, to The Smokehouse for the best scallops ever. We will visit places like The Farmers Market and The Artisan Center. In preparation for this launch, I’ve spent time with wonderful people: Polly Warner, Peggy Daughtridge, Evan Chavez and John Mebane, John Jesso and Russell Wooten and Sheila Martin are but a few of the amazing folks I will be writing about.

I was once told, “Stepheny, we all have a part in the chorus.”  I see my part in this Rocky Mount production as part story teller, part cheer leader. I know there is room on stage for everyone, no auditions necessary, but do speak the lines you have been given with an attitude that adds to the long run of the show.

Plan an Outing With Friends – Downtown Rocky Mount, NC

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Click on the Follow button and join me on Main Street 

We’re never too old to invite friends to come out to play on a fine summer day, which is what I did not long ago. Truth be told, my playmates hadn’t been downtown Rocky Mount for a while. They noticed right away how great Main Street looks; a streetscape that has settled in, is growing and attractive.

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Stepheny and Ginny

Our first stop was Virginia’s Dress Shop, 164 W. Main Street, owed by Ginny Davis. Perhaps some of you knew her mother, who ran the shop for years. The shop is a nostalgic mix of half slips and beautiful silky night gowns and WOW jackets with reversible linings. If you are looking for a special occasion dress, this is one of Virginia’s specialties. There are a lot of new women in town; go meet Ginny and her nice staff. Haven’t been to Virginia’s for a while? We had a wonderful time and left with some lovely things. You will too.

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Jan, Mary Ruth, Sarah Katherine and Stepheny with our purchases

Our next stop was The Bath Place, 205 NE Main Street.  Kimberly Thigpen left the banking world to open a business in the Douglas Block in Rocky Mount and sells handmade, all-natural soaps, lotions, scrubs and other beauty and health products. Like children in a candy shop, faced with so many choices, we had fun deciding on the right scent and the right product. Selecting only one fragrance proved impossible while buying for ourselves and selecting gifts for others. One of my personal mottos rings true at The Bath Place,  if one is good, two is better. These happy faces tell the tale.

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We headed to The Prime Smokehouse, 207 E. Thomas Street, for lunch. Always a friendly place, a comfortable atmosphere, the food is great. The Shrimp & Grits appetizer with a cup of tomato basil soup, and the crab cake sandwich with collards are all delicious. I ordered a perfect glass of SWEET tea to top off our summer play day.

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