I can’t imagine my life without reading, nor can I imagine life without the music that follows us through the years. To this day a song can take us back to the high school dances when we first danced cheek to cheek. Ella Fitzgerald remains one of my favorites. A song of hers came to mind when I started to write this post. The song is called Imagination…..Imagination is funny, it makes a cloudy day sunny. This is the kind of relationship I have with Main Street. I go around willy-nilly seeing pieces of the revitalization puzzle fall into place. Last time I mentioned the Railroad shed, I filled it with fresh flowers to buy. This new idea is ‘more better.’
Never a realist but a Pollyanna at your service, I offer this vision, but someone else will have to figure out the important stuff: how are you going to get water and electricity to this shed that sits along the railroad tracks? My answer, “Please, would you figure that part out for me?”
This is a cropped New York Magazine cover that is a perfect visual for reimagining the Railroad Shed. The roof can be painted like this red and white striped awning. Beneath are tables and chairs where Spring through Fall weekends young and older can come free of charge. From time to time, there could be a service charge to listen to the Tar River Orchestra Jazz, or a comedy act, gospel singing, a storyteller festival, local singers. Let your imagination go and you will get the idea.
The landscaping can look like the above to create the feeling of enclosure. I love the trees and the hedging/rails that remind you of a Paris cafe. Fairy lights would twinkle on at dusk. The shed becomes a gathering spot of energy, not boisterous-loud, but fun. People living above the stores along Main Street will bring their drink of choice, maybe buy from a food truck and join friends. Parents and teenagers can enjoy an evening out together. I can picture one nice soul going a bit early to stake out a table. They will throw a table cloth down and light a candle as if picnicking or tailgating. When we finally get the Culinary School behind The Prime Smokehouse, perhaps they’ll train a group to offer a tasting or, or, or. Reasonably priced, there could be a corporate outing, a private gathering during the week. Smack-dab in the middle of historic downtown, this rusty shed becomes a charming, repurposed, area for the entire community to enjoy. May I even suggest that the Mission trips from the churches stay home next summer and converge on an organized effort waiting for them to make a difference at home. Making memories…let’s make some under the Railroad Shed.
Where responsible city leadership welcomes private development, the results have been fantastic. By working together for ‘a yes solution’ in their dealings with private investors, downtowns are saved and economic growth is stimulated. Elizabeth City and New Bern are examples of this kind of success; revitalization at its finest. Here in Rocky Mount, it cannot be denied that the Wizards behind the curtain can still foot-drag, dilly-dallying, and make things difficult in an attempt to retain control over the downtown outcomes. A larger story has happened in spite of this. Determined locals and an influx of creative, hard-working people will not be deterred. They are saving our commercial architecture one building at a time by repurposing them. Living Above The Store is under construction, a vital piece of the revitalization puzzle.
We’ve learned a great deal since the 1980 Urban Renewal period when terrible mistakes were made. Enough time has gone by to access what worked and didn’t. Tearing down paradise and putting up a parking lot was not the answer. A big piece of the answer is preserving a strong sense of place that is vital to the health and prosperity of a downtown. The Rocky Mount story creates a particular richness that is attracting new people while honoring the place others have always called home.
“Research has proven that a successful revitalization must include a pedestrian-friendly, connected location with a lively environment that encourages visitors to linger and support the local economy.” Living Above The Store broadens the success of a downtown community. “A downtown with a critical mass encourages a connection to the local community because they don’t leave the area at the end of the day. They shop local, eat local and drink local—inherently helping spur the economy and foster the hip-factor of the district.” Living downtown: a mix of people who can live nearer their jobs, are singles, married, retired people who are sizing down and want to walk to nearby amenities. The emerging scene on Main Street Rocky Mount will include Living Above The Store. Way Cool, friends, Way Cool!
“Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.”
– Christopher Reeve
In 2017, Scott Baldwin wrote an article called, Live-Work Units: Reasons to Include Them in Your Next Project. (Fisher, Ind.) I have quoted from his article in support of this post.
How long has it been since you’ve thought about Johnny Gruelle’s famous Raggedy Ann & Andy stories? Visiting the Twin County Hall of Fame Museum with Jane Gravely and Lanny Shuff, I wasn’t fooled for a minute. The framed smiling faces of the Inductees were quiet as I gazed at them, but at the end of the day, when the lights are turned off and the last person’s footsteps fade away, you will never convince me otherwise, the Museum Dance begins. Gathered in one place are the most interesting, highly respected, gifted and civic-minded citizens of Nash & Edgecombe Counties. Wouldn’t you love to listen to the nightly reminiscences of the times in which they lived and greatly influenced? Here are the history makers, the businessmen, and woman, sports figures, the musicians — imagine the music! Think of the educators and the political debates. Think of the privileged living members of The Hall of Fame, allowed to draw from the wisdom and advice of those who have gone before. Can you think of any company you keep more prestigious than these wonderful people?
You MUST visit The Twin County Museum and Hall of Fame to mingle with these amazing people. The Museum is currently located on the first floor of the historic train station in downtown Rocky Mount. Its purpose is to preserve the history of the Twin Counties and recognize and honor the citizens of Edgecombe and Nash Counties. Those who have made broad and lasting contributions to the betterment of the community or who have brought recognition to the community through their accomplishments. When you visit, don’t expect to hear this august group talking, that only happens after the lights go out.
Raggedy Andy did not speak all day, but he smiled pleasantly to all the other dolls. There was Raggedy Ann, the French doll, the little Dutch doll, the tin soldier, Uncle Clem and a few others…Marcella had played in the nursery all day and of course, they did not speak in front of her…But as soon as she left the room all the dolls sat up in their beds. When their little mistress’ footsteps passed out of hearing, all the dollies jumped out of their beds and gathered around Raggedy Andy…The Dutch doll dragged the little square music box out into the center of the room and wound it up. Then all, holding hands, danced in a circle around it, laughing and shouting in their tiny doll voices.
I stood in silence, alone, with only bird song to welcome me to the Z.B. Bulluck home. The house stands empty of laughter and hospitality, though I am sure it remains filled with memories of the man responsible for this particular Renaissance Revival gem and his family. I imagined the day Z.B. ushered Foy Mae Williams Bullock through the door of her new home. Could she possibly have imagined that her young husband would prosper and flourish through his good works and one day provide a home of this magnitude that she would come to preside over? I wonder how much she even knew about the elements and style of the house. It is cause for weeping that this amazing home, on a piece of land with beautiful old trees only a few miles from Main Street, continues to wait for a new life. If only I could win the lottery, I would buy it and turn it into a retreat center, a sanctuary for people to come and catch up with themselves, to participate in silent or lead retreats for all denominations across the state. (But I digress.)
While I walked around the house taking photos, I imagined the four Bulluck children playing, free and safe to roam the considerable property. Growing up in Evanston, IL. the first suburb on the lake north of Chicago, the city provided many examples of Renaissance Revival buildings. You will recognize the style even if you couldn’t name what you are familiar with.
Picture 1: Includes rusticated (heavily outlined) stonework on the ground floor, large round-arched windows, triangular pediments over the side windows, oval windows, and quoins to emphasize the corners.
Picture 3: Chicago, IL. Includes arched, ground-floor windows, ornate window balconies.
For middle and upper-class suburban homes and townhouses, the style often displays a low-pitched, hipped, or flat roof, often with ceramic tiles to hint at its Mediterranean source region. Like the Italian Renaissance palazzo, the roofline includes wide, overhanging eaves with large, decorative brackets under the roofline. Doors and windows are often framed with round arches, primarily on the first floor, sometimes in the form of an Italian loggia or covered patio.
The magnificent home of Z.B. Bulluck – A Rocky Mount architectural treasure
Make New Friends, But Keep the Old, One is Silver, the Other Gold. Do you remember singing this song while growing up? Rocky Mount has a new talented friend in Caitlin Cary who has found her way to Rocky Mount. Her art tells me she understands the “Silver & Gold” nature of preservation and revitalization. She has created another way to preserve architecture through her Needle Print Art.
The Program Director at Art Space in Raleigh, NC suggested Caitlin take a look at The Imperial Center because of an up-coming juried exhibit she might consider entering. While in Rocky Mount, she drove downtown and found the amazing architectural assets along Main Street and in the historic areas beyond. Thus began what Caitlin calls, “A wired romance.” There are a lot of people in the business of encouraging these wired romances; reimagining new uses for old buildings.
It won’t surprise you that one of Caitlin’s Needle Print Art piece was accepted in the juried Exhibit which begins June 1 – September 5. There is an Artist Reception and Award presentation on June 19 from 2:00-4:00 pm. I fully expect her work to receive an award. Be sure to put this event on your schedule. Caitlin and her husband hope to one day move to Rocky Mount. We can’t wait. Keep an eye out for her wandering around with a camera looking for her next building to turn into another fabulous Needle Print.
Contact Information: Architectural Needle Prints – Freehand Machine-Sewn Fabric-on-Paper Collage on archival paper – Sold & Shipped Framed. Commissions welcomed. STUDIO 110 at ART SPACE – 201 E. Davie Street – Raleigh, NC – Phone: 919-389-9760 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org – web site: http://www.caitlincary.com
The Jewel Box – Main Street – Rocky Mount
Chapter One – Music
A good story, a page turner, presents itself on many levels. It starts with a character that engages us right away in a setting that comes alive on the page. I love a story that teaches me something new, provides an enriching, spiritual experience, and speaks to something I feel passionately about. I highly recommend you “read” Caitlin Cary, a woman of many talents and sensibilities. For us, her story opens in the middle of an action….something is happening! Meeting Caitlin on this blog, you find her accomplished life in full swing.
“I’m an artist, singer, songwriter, violinist, activist living in Raleigh, North Carolina. I moved here in 1993, and a year after that I joined Whiskeytown and began a pretty incredible hayride.” Whiskeytown, is an alt-country band from Raleigh, North Carolina founded in 1994 and fronted by Ryan Adams along with violinist Caitlin Cary. The band produced a number of albums before parting ways in 2000. Cary is married to the original drummer Eric “Skillet” Gilmore. She has released three solo albums and created a female folk trio named Tres Chicas.
This new friend to Rocky Mount, NC has a musical past that ultimately touches the community, but for a different reason. While out on the road performing, Caitlin kept her hands busy working on craft projects. Today she creates collages though fabric and embroidery, which she calls Needle Print Art.
Part 2 of the Caitlin Cary story will explain how she creates her Needle Print Art
Among many things, Fred is a writer. He is blessed with a sense of humor and a long memory. He has had several incarnations as a teacher, before and after he was a special agent for the railway. His interest in Civil War history has earned him the designation, “buff.” Long fascinated with weather, you will see him on WHIG-TV as the weatherman. He rises early to prepare his charts before arriving at the station. I can vouch for his driving skills after riding shotgun in his car for several hours over railroad crossings, through tunnels on Kingston Ave, past an overgrown parking lot that once served the yard. He pointed out the names of everything we passed and who once had a business on this corner or another. We looked at the Tobacco Platform, my favorite shed that I can imagine all kinds of uses for. I saw the Charlie Baker switch and from a distance, the tower and yard office, the Maintenance of Way Signal Department and the windows in the train station that once belonged to Captain Billy Hill and Lieutenant Doug Langston. Many of you will recognize the name Seth Currie, ‘Red,’ and Brent Edward, the special agent after ‘Red.” Fred is an encyclopedia of railroad history and the Rocky Mount connections. I can hardly wait to revisit the Edgemont historic district, once home to many, railroad families. Fred has lots of ‘special agent stories’ to write, and I am on the case to see that he does. Thank you, Fred, for sharing your expertise and memories allowing me to write further on Main Street Rocky Mount.
Once the Freight Agency – A Building Waiting To Be Born Again
PS: As our society has changed, so have the nations railroads, and so has the railroad police service. Railroad policing has developed into a highly specialized branch. The modern day railroad police officer/special agent is more than just the hired gun from a hundred years ago. Their experience, training, and tactics make them some of the most capable law enforcement officers in the country.
It was a cold February day in the early 1980’s when Special Agent Fred Holdsworth received a call that a woman riding the train had refused to pay her fare. Thinking he would have to take her off the train upon arrival in Rocky Mount, the Agent was glad when the lady, wearing a big green winter coat, disembarked. When he asked her name, she replied, “I’m the Queen of France.” Playing along, the agent asked, “Your majesty, who is going to pay for your ticket?” “My government will be sending the money in a few days,” she answered. Back then, local motels took turns taking in people off the train that needed assistance. After welcoming her, the motel clerk announced, “Your majesty, you are in room 113.” She had a request. “I’d like a bowl of fruit sent up.” “We haven’t any fruit just now, but you’ll have a clean and comfortable room with a TV.” Her Majesty’s next accommodations were over at Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro. Months later, in hot July, while having lunch, Agent Holdsworth looked up and saw the Queen, still in her green winter coat, come into the coffee shop in the midst of a group of women. (The church ladies occasionally took people at Cherry Hospital out for lunch.) We don’t know how this story turned out, but we can hope that in the words of the illustrator, Mary Englebreit, that if this lady wasn’t the queen of everything, that she turned out to be the princess of quite a lot.
When special agent, Holdsworth began his career in June, 1974, the railroad was called the Seaboard Coast Line. In September 1987 when he retired, it was known as the Chessie Seaboard X. A young boy with a mother who worked for the chief surgeon of the railroad in Jacksonville, he grew up loving trains, the art of investigation, and reading file cases in crime magazines. For three summers during college he got up early and drove from FL. to Waycross, GA. to do everything from dirty dog work to bull gang, and clerking. Eventually he was certified in Raleigh with a written test to join the police agency. His job description has quite a ring to it: the investigation of depredations against company property! Long hours, hard on ones personal life, his job went far beyond meeting the Queen of France.
Railroad police monitor and secure the facilities associated with railroads including stations, warehouses and fuel depots. They ensure that only authorized personnel are on trains. They investigate thefts, property destruction or vandalism. Ensure the security of tracks, patrol the cars and detect suspicious behavior or packages. They investigate any disruptions to rail service. Briefly, this gives you an idea of the scope of the job.
Special Agent Fred Holdsworth’s story will continue tomorrow. See you then.
The Charlie Baker Switch in Rocky Mount, NC
You are familiar with how a rosary looks; a string of beads made up of five sets of one large and ten smaller beads, called decades. A person prays their way around the rosary, holding each bead between their fingers. The image of a rosary struck me as a perfect metaphor for todays post. I want to repeat in order some illustrious names involved with the Rocky Mount Mills. Except for a two-year period in the 1880s, the Battle family owned or operated the Mills; a family that has left a splendid legacy. I have added a few significant names that are not Battle to this recitation. Another time I’ll tell you some stories about these important men. Today it will be enough to pause, mention their names, one bead at a time, as a way of honoring them.
How different a place Rocky Mount would be if not for the 17 names mentioned here. These men are remembered for their outstanding lives of service and leadership. Today, we are fortunate that there is a new list of names that will now be associated with the Brewmill. The Mills are indeed having a second half of life. It makes me think of Robert Brownings famous lines. “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!”
Joel Battle (1779-1829) Peter Evans & Henry Donaldson, who between 1816-17 constructed a cotton mill building and named it Great Falls Mill. William Horn Battle (1802-1879) oldest son of Joel succeeded after his father’s death. The property became known as “Battle & Bros.” John Parker, trained cotton mill superintendent, helps the mills to continue to prosper.
Benjamin Dossey Battle, 2nd oldest son of Joel along with William operate mill until 1847. James Smith Battle (1786-1854, cousin of William and Benjamin) and his son, William Smith Battle (1823-1915) take on the mill and the name is changed to Battle Mills in 1847. Superintendent Crowder persuaded Union troops who burned the mill to spare the 1835 Benjamin D. Battle house at 1151 Falls Rd. In 1885 trustees reorganize the mill under the name of Rocky Mount Mills. Thomas H. Battle (1860-1936), great grandson of Joel Battle elected secretary of the mills. James H. Ruffin in 1886 hired as superintendent and Paul Cameron, largest stock holder at that time take on leadership roles. When Ruffin retires, Thomas H. Battle is elected Treasurer and takes roll of mill manager. R.H. Ricks succeeded Thomas until his death in 1920. Hyman L. Battle, 5th generation Battle family succeeded his father as treasurer-manager in 1933. Kemp Davis Battle (1888-1973), son of Thomas H. Battle, served as Vice President during the war. He served 55 years in various capacities. Thomas B Battle, son of Hyman L. Battle took over the mills until 1993 when John M Mebane, Jr., grandson of Thomas H. Battle was elected president and chief executive officer until the closing of the mills. We take this moment to salute and thank these important men in the history of our community!
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