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W.H.S. Burgwyn: Having an eye out for the community
TThe traveler on U.S. 258 crosses the Roanoke River on a bridge connecting Halifax and Northampton counties named for Eric W. Rodgers of Halifax and William Hyslop Sumner Burgwyn Sr., of Northampton.
It is a most fitting tribute to two men who were instrumental in the effort to dam the Roanoke River at Bugg’s Island and develop a flood control plan for its basin. Both men served on the Roanoke River Basin Authority, Burgwyn as vicechair and Rodgers as secretary-treasurer. Burgwyn was also chair of the Roanoke Valley Flood Control Committee.
The resolution to name the bridge cited the “many hours, many days, and great effort [of these men} to supporting the plan for development and control of the flood waters... [offering] the people... the benefits... of safety to life, to homes, to businesses and to land but also to
furnish electricity and recreation to the thousands of people living along the course of the river’s flow” (Department of Transportation Minutes, 3316).
The bridge was officially named on September 1, 1980.
W.H.S. Burgwyn, Sr. (Sumner) described by many as “larger than life” or “a local god” and by his son W.H.S., Jr., (Bill) as a “legend in his own time” (Musings), bore many titles in his ninety-one years (1886-1977): Democrat; Director (Farmers’ Bank in Woodland and Murfreesboro); Farmer; Judge (Superior Court Judge, 19371953; Special Judge, 1953–1977); Lawyer (1908–1977); Member of Organizations (Alpha Tau Omega, Masons, Shriners, Knights Templar); North Carolina State Representative (1923, 1924, representing Northampton County); North Carolina State Senator (1917, 1921, 1925,
representing Northampton, Bertie, and Hertford Counties); President (Farmers’ Bank in Woodland and Murfreesboro (later NCNB); President Pro-Tem N.C. State Senate (1925); Solicitor (1932-1927, Third Judicial District); Student (Graham School, Episcopal High School, Georgetown University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill); Trustee (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1915-1932); as well as Husband (married to Josephine Griffin from their elopement in 1911 until her death in 1967); Father of four; and Grandfather of fourteen.
A man of large stature, he easily filled a room, and his grandchildren recall the hush that would come over it when he entered, all recalling an intimidating figure of whom they were, if not just a little bit afraid, certainly in awe.
One of the grandchildren, Steve, remembers a time when several of the grandchildren were playing rather noisily at the home place on Main Street in Woodland, and Judge Burgwyn arrived at home. Steve says they then could have heard the proverbial pin drop; all stopped what they were doing and saying and just looked up at him.
Steve also recalls a time when he broke a bank window playing baseball. On asking his father, John, oldest child of WHS Sr., what he must do, Steve was informed to tell his grandfather, the bank president. Imagining no worse punishment than just having to face his grandfather, with fear and trembling, he went to him – and emerged with $1 for telling the truth.
A paradox, Sumner is remembered for his sternness, but also for his sweetness, his heart of gold, his sense of humor, his humility, his intelligence and his love… for family and for community.
The Rev’d Jim Littrell, a Woodland native now of Philadelphia, recalls the Judge’s
“having an eye out for the community,” noting especially persons who through no fault of their own found themselves in difficult circumstances. He could see the potential in others and expected/ encouraged them to live up to it.
Both Steve and Anna Burgwyn, another grandchild, recall the Judge’s belief in
work and manners. If the family were assembled for Sunday dinner, and it wasn’t quite ready, Judge Burgwyn would assign the children some task, such as picking up pecans which Anna recalls as being cold work for a little girl in her Sunday best dress, lace-trimmed socks and Mary Jane’s, not to mention the back-breaking aspect of the constant bending.
Henry remembers with some amusement now, but not at the time, the Judge’s reaction when Henry put too much sugar in his tea at one of those dinners. Jo Pratt recalls the fear when she and her brother, John, had to sit at the adult table rather than with the other children as well as the joy of the adult table when her grandparents were the first people she entertained in her own home (apartment) as a young bride.
The practical nature of never letting the children be idle was reflected in his giving Gwyn Pearce $5 for her birthday with
A man of large stature, he easily lled a room, and his grandchildren recall the hush that would come over it when he entered.
instructions to buy something practical, like socks. (Her memory is that she didn’t.)
Known in the courtroom for “his compassionate attitude toward criminal defendants and his willingness to hear all ideas with care in civil matters [which] won him the respect of public as well as bar,” (Footprints in Northampton, 51), he was a mingling of contradictions there as well as in the home.
Once on his way to court, he was stopped for a traffic violation. The officer didn’t know the Judge. When asked where he was going in such a hurry, the Judge replied that he was on his way to court. At that time, the officer said, “You don’t want to be late because they’ve got the meanest damn judge in the state holding court there this week” (Musings,18).
Grandson Tillman Cooley remembers his embarrassment at observing the Judge in Jackson, thinking he was asleep during the proceedings, but, at just the right moment, he would surprise everyone with a ruling. Grandson-in-law Dan Pratt told a similar story about observing court in Greensboro. One might think the Judge wasn’t observing, but he was absolutely observant.
In addition to the devotion to work and manners, education was of high
importance. Although, in an interview with Archie Davis, he shared the story of a letter sent his father, George Pollock Burgwyn, by the president of Georgetown after Sumner had spent a year there, in which he was described as “a bright boy [who] was welcome to return, but if [his] father wished to invest his money wisely he would not spend any more money on [Sumner’s] education,” he was a student throughout his life, reading Latin and Greek every day.
Only seven years out of the university himself, he was appointed to the Board of Trustees of UNC, a position he held until 1932; later his daughter-in-law, Mebane, would be one of the first women appointed to the board, and he took great pride in her work.
Of his everyday conversation, Henry says that, with an almost photographic memory, he was a walking encyclopedia who could bring so much more to any conversation than anyone else, noting especially his keen interest in history and all things North Carolina.
According to Henry, the Judge not only could cite the legal decisions from a particular courthouse, but he knew the names of those who obtained marriage licenses there and could tell what trees were planted on the grounds.
That interest in history figures into one of Tillman’s memories.
Once when traveling in Southampton County, Virginia, the Judge became extremely animated talking about the history of the region, noting places tied to Nat Turner. In fact, he became so excited that he sideswiped a bridge, passenger side where his wife was sitting, and with that, his wife ended the history lesson.
Steve also has a story of the Judge’s distracted driving in which he almost caused a serious accident. When it was obvious everyone was all right, his wife demanded he get out of the car and
apologize to the other driver.
Such incidents were among many the grandchildren remember that described his relationship to his wife.
With what they all call an attitude of worship toward her and the patience of Job as far as she was concerned, he listened to her, and heeded what she said. As Bill records in Musings, Sumner’s friend, Jim Adams, once said “I see that your jurisdiction ends at this threshold and Mrs. Burgwyn’s jurisdiction takes over.” (71)
A man of whom there are many descriptors, the Judge valued truth above all else. For her high school graduation, granddaughter Jo received a Bible with the following inscription: “To my dearest Josephine, value not who gave you this Bible but the truth that it holds.”
Judge W.H.S. Burgwyn Sr., was, and continues to be valued for all he was, for the truth he always sought whether in the courtroom or the living room.
(Thanks to grandchildren Anna, Gwyn Pearce, Henry, Jo Pratt, Steve, and Tillman Cooley for sharing their memories and to Lillie Pernell of the Northampton County Memorial Library and Dennis Babb of the Northampton County Museum for assistance with research.)
Sarah Davis is a retired librarian and educator and regular contributor to Eastern North Carolina Living.
A man of whom there are many descriptors, the Judge valued truth above all else.
Buck Leonard: A humble man’s story lives on
BBy many accounts, Buck Leonard was a humble man.
A man with traditional manners. The tip-your-hat-to-the-ladies, yes sir, no sir kind of manners. The kind of man who deflected praise from himself to his teammates, despite his MVP play through many storied years in baseball.
Leonard was born in Rocky Mount on Sept. 8, 1907, just seven months after Rocky Mount changed from town to city. He also died there, 90 years later in 1997. He had returned to his hometown to trade in an iconic career in baseball for a life in the business world and to serve his community.
In the past 25 years since his death, family, friends and fans have tried to keep his memory alive through various memorials in the city.
There’s Buck Leonard Park and Buck Leonard Boulevard. His home has been turned into a museum of sorts, available
for tours through the Buck Leonard Association. An historical marker shows the spot of his childhood home near where he was born. He has a baseball exhibit inside the Imperial Centre, where the First Baseman’s Hall of Fame recently was unveiled.
And if Rose Hunter has her way, there will be the Buck Leonard Community Resource and Learning Center, housed where Black dignitaries visiting the area would lodge for the night because they couldn’t stay in the segregated hotels and inns in Rocky Mount.
And with some donated material and labor, Hunter said, that could be completed by 2023.
Oh, and don’t forget that a half-century ago, in 1972, Leonard was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Wonder what the unassuming Leonard would say about all the monuments and
memorials for him?
“He would say, ‘Rose, you were right,’” said Hunter, president and founder of the Buck Leonard Association and Leonard’s step-daughter. “‘Because I never thought that my (National) Baseball Hall of Fame induction would be more than a flash in the pan.’”
Professional baseball in Rocky Mount got its start inauspiciously in 1909 when Jim Thorpe played parts of two seasons with the Rocky Mount Railroaders. The Railroaders finished last in the regional semi-pro league in their debut season, even with Thorpe in the lineup. The team folded the next year. Thorpe eventually lost his gold medals from the 1912 Olympics because of his play in Rocky Mount.
But baseball didn’t disappear from Rocky Mount with the Railroaders. As a young boy, Leonard would sneak over to the baseball field and watch as new teams
came in every year. By the time he was a teenager, he was playing and getting paid. He also was working full-time at Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.
“He was the oldest boy in the family –and after his father died, he was the man of the house,” Hunter said. “He shined shoes at the hosiery mill before he got a job at the railroad.
“And he only had an eighth-grade education because there was no black high school in Rocky Mount then, and he would have had to go out of town to finish school and pay for it.”
Lack of formal education didn’t hold Leonard back, though.
At 17, he was named manager of the Black Swans, and he pulled double duty as player and manager for the semi-pro Rocky Mount baseball team. In 1932, thanks to the Great Depression, he lost his job at the railroad and decided to take a chance on playing in the big leagues.
But back then, the only opportunity for a Black man who wanted to play professional baseball full time was playing in the Negro Leagues. At age 25, Leonard started out with the Portsmouth Firefighters, then signed the next season with the Baltimore Stars until the team folded later that year.
Leonard finished out the 1933 season with the Brooklyn Royal Giants.
In 1934, he found his way to the Homestead Grays, a team just outside of Pittsburgh. He spent the rest of his playing career there, until the team disbanded in 1950.
“When he played for the Grays, he wore a lot of hats – treasurer, manager, team captain,” said Jonathan Fox-Hunter, the association’s historian and filmmaker and Rose Hunter’s son. “He was extremely honest, and during his treasurer days, he was responsible for paying the players.
“He’d have $1,000 in cash in his pocket while he was on the field. He’d be playing ball, batting and fielding, while he had all that cash wrapped in a handkerchief,” he added.
Three years after Leonard signed with the Grays, catcher Josh Gibson returned to the Homestead team. The pair collectively were known as the Thunder Twins, thanks to their incredible hitting prowess. Leonard and Gibson were two of only a handful of players who won multiple batting titles in the Negro Leagues.
Leonard’s accomplishments on the diamond are legendary.
He helped lead the Grays to nine-
“(Leonard) wanted to be remembered as someone who was always trying to help people as much as he could.”
R OSE H UNTE R
straight National Negro League titles, from 1937-45. The team won another in 1948, when Leonard batted .400 and tied for most home runs that year in the league.
Because of poor record-keeping in Negro Leagues, an exact number might not ever be known, but some historians estimate that Leonard batted close to .600 during his 1936 and 1937 seasons.
Official records indicate that he batted .345 for his career with a .589 slugging percentage over 2,541 plate appearances.
Leonard was a 13-time All-Star selection and won three Negro World Series titles.
After the Grays folded, he spent five years in the Mexican League, batting over .300 and winning one MVP title. He was in his 40s at the time. In 1953, he also played one season with a Class B minor league team in Portsmouth, batting .333 in 10 games and 46 at bats.
In 1999, The Sporting News ranked Leonard No. 47 on the 100 Greatest Baseball Players of all time.
“But he was more than just a baseball player,” Fox-Hunter said. “Buck Leonard was a man of honor. He was a Christian man.
“He was an amazing individual, the way he carried himself. He also was an impeccable businessman,” added FoxHunter.
After his playing days, Leonard returned to Rocky Mount. He turned down a major league contract at age 45 because he said he was past his prime and didn’t want to embarrass himself.
So he worked for 10 years as a truant officer for the Rocky Mount School District. He built houses and he earned a real estate broker’s license. He also went back to school and earned his high school diploma.
But baseball came calling again, so he took the job as vice president of the Rocky Mount Leafs and then the Rocky
Mount Phillies, minor league teams with ties to the Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, Washington Senators and Philadelphia Phillies. He retired in 1975.
“Buck Leonard was not only a great baseball player, but also a great businessman and community organizer.” Hunter said, “Everything in his life was organized. He had a schedule for everything.”
Although he didn’t get rich playing baseball like today’s players, he lived comfortably in his golden years. Hunter said he was a frugal man, who started investing in the stock market in the 1940s.
“He lived an austere life, a life with purpose,” she added. “He believed in people being responsible for themselves and others.
“He thought you should take care of your family; he thought you should take care of your church; and he thought you
should take care of your community,” Hunter continued.
After Leonard died in 1997, Hunter wanted to continue her step-father’s legacy and helped found the Buck Leonard Association in 1999. Since its inception, the all-volunteer staff has spearheaded numerous historical preservation and restoration projects; participated in area youth-based sports and enrichment programs; and today serves 300 families in the area.
“(Leonard) wanted to be remembered as someone who was always trying to help people as much as he could,” FoxHunter said. “He was a very simple man. He thought that doing the right thing is just what you should do.
“Whatever you do, do the best you can and don’t quit.”
J. Eric Eckard is a freelance writer based in Rocky Mount.
CCoach Nolan Respess takes it to heart there is a field in Robersonville named for him.
As unofficial keeper of the Nolan Respess Stadium football field at South Creek Middle/High School, he does what he can to help maintain it - even going as far as painting the yard lines on the field.
“I’ve been known to paint a straight line,” he added with a laugh. “I’ve done it many times.”
“He’s very particular about it,” said his wife, Phyllis.
The field is a symbolic nod to his 30year coaching and teaching career. A career
Nolan Respess: Coach still loves Robersonville school
in which he won five state championships – three in baseball and two in football (not all at the same school).
When Respess was coaching on the (now) South Creek field, the school was Roanoke High School.
“I love that place, I gave a lot of my life there,” he said.
It was on this field he had the opportunity to sow into young men’s lives.
“I hope I was able to make a difference in the lives of those I coached,” he said.
At 81, he gets teary-eyed recalling his glory days back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. He retired in 1992.
He and Phyllis still attend home football games at South Creek when they can.
His career began in his hometown of Pantego in 1963 coaching girls’ basketball, JV boys’ and varsity boys’ basketball and baseball in the spring.
“I coached three games a night,” he said.
Three years later, when he moved to Robersonville High School in 1966, he added football to the lineup and still coached basketball, JV basketball and baseball. He also taught school.
“I stayed busy,” he said.
In 1975, when Robersonville and Oak City high school consolidated to form
Roanoke High, Respess was asked to be coach.
“We won a state championship that first year as a 2A school,” he said. “I’m very proud of that.”
At the time, enrollment at the school neared 800 students.
Years later, the school became South Creek High School when Bear Grass and Roanoke consolidated in 2010. Last year, as student enrollment dwindled, South Creek High School and Middle School combined at the former Roanoke High/ South Creek High building. Enrollment is now around 460.
Respess, no stranger to hard work, expected no less from his players during his coaching career.
“Coaching has changed a lot over the years,” he said. “I demanded a whole lot.”
He admits his style of coaching probably wouldn’t work now.
“A lot of times it was my way or the highway,” he continued. “I got ejected from multiple games.”
But he also won a multitude of conference championships and was named coach of the year several times.
Respess grew up on a farm where hard work was a way of life.
He married his first wife at 16, and less than a year later became a father and continued to attend school.
In 1959, he was given a partial scholarship to attend East Carolina University and play basketball and baseball.
But after two years, because of heavy responsibilities that go along with having a family (working at night and going to school during the day) he gave up playing ball, but not before he was on ECU’s 1961 NAIA championship baseball team.
“It’s the only national championship they ever won. I was a backup catcher - I
didn’t play much,” he admitted, but he enjoyed being a part of that team.
Respess graduated from ECU in 1963 and in Pantego, kicked off his 30-year coaching career.
He and Phyllis, who taught at Roanoke for 27 years, have been married 28 years, have between them, four children, six grandchildren, a great-grandchild and a great-grandchild on the way.
Interestingly, Phyllis’ son, (Nolan’s stepson) Wes Hughes is now the Athletic Director and baseball coach at South Creek.
Respess has come out of retirement a few times to help coach at the high school. He helped Coach Brian Pascal (current head football coach at Riverside High School) and later, he helped Hughes after a debilitating injury kept him from being able to coach.
Respess now leads a quiet life. He goes
to the Robersonville Country Club seven days a week, where he worked for 24 years after retiring from coaching. He still works there one day a week, plays golf two days a week, and the other days walks and searches for golf balls. In any given week he may have hundreds in the trunk of his car, sorted in boxes according to their brand.
“I find about 100-200 about every week,” he said. “It’s hard work, but I enjoy doing it.”
In the past month he has given 1,000 balls to Roanoke Country Club for their driving range.
He hopes to see one more thing happen concerning his former coaching career before he dies. He has been nominated into the NCHHA’s Hall of Fame, but hasn’t heard if he has been chosen.
He worries his tough-as-nails kind of coaching might hinder his induction.
“I’m not very patient. I didn’t get to where I am in life with patience. That is just the way I am,” he continued. “I was
a fire and brimstone kind of coach. I pushed hard – really hard.
“If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t… I’ve had a good life,” he concluded.
Phyliss added, “His players knew what he expected. They didn’t want to disappoint, so they did their best to live up to his expectations.”
Respess loves all his former players just like they were his sons, he said.
He still does what he can to help out at his old stomping ground, like edging the field.
“It’s my life. I am a permanent fixture out at that school. I love it,” he continued.
When he passes away, he wants to be cremated.
“I want a happy service. I want it held at the Nolan Respess Stadium and I want Jimmy Hagwood (a former player of his) to do the service for me,” he said. “If they sprinkle my ashes at the stadium, I’d be fine with it.”
is the News Editor of The Enterprise and a Staff Writer for Eastern North Carolina Living.- N OLA N R ESPESS Deborah Griffin
“Im not very patient. I didn’t get where I am in life with patience. That is just the way I am.”
Meet Zach Elder from Littleton, NC. He went from high school to high wires in Martin Community College s Apprentice Line Technician program! He started his training in August 2022 and already has job offers upon program completion in December! N.C. line technicians generally start between $17 to $20 per hour.
Penelope Barker: Edenton woman helped lead rebellion
AApproaching Edenton by water, the tallest structure rising up from the shores of the bay would be the elegant welcome center known simply as the Barker House.
Named for Penelope Barker, perhaps one of Edenton’s most famous (or infamous, in England) residents, the home blends designs from Federal, Greek Revival and Georgian woodwork styles.
Moved in 1952 to Edenton’s waterfront, the home is one of the most notable in town, alongside the Cupola House, Wessington, Pembroke Hall, Beverly Hall and the Lane House. It currently houses Edenton’s welcome center and also doubles as a museum and headquarters for the Edenton Historical Commission.
But who was Penelope Barker?
She is rather well-known and studied through academic and preservationist
circles in Edenton, but throughout the greater Albemarle and the rest of Eastern North Carolina – many only know her namesake home rather than her resumé of rebelling against the crown.
On Oct. 25, 1774 – some 248 years ago - Penelope Barker led fifty women in boycotting British tea at the home of Elizabeth King in Edenton – similar to their compatriots in Boston, several hundred miles to the north, a year prior. The move was made in response to the 1773 Tea Act, passed by the British Parliament, which gave the British East India Tea Company a monopoly in the 13 American Colonies and was the last in a series of taxes and policies that colonists had strongly resented.
The Boston Tea Party, which took place in December 1773, resulted in Parliament
passing the “Intolerable Acts.” It was proof of the Crown’s absolute authority. Following the example of their Boston patriots, Penelope led the women of Edenton to boldly protest Britain’s “unjust laws.”
The 51 women of Edenton all signed an agreement saying that they were “determined to give memorable proof of their patriotism” and could not be “indifferent on any occasion that appears nearly to affect the peace and happiness of our country… it is a duty that we owe, not only to our near and dear connections… but to ourselves.”
The “Edenton Tea Party” became the first recorded political demonstration by women in America. Word reached Britain quickly, where cartoons in London poked fun of the women as having loose morals,
some of whom had close connections to the crown themselves.
“Penelope Barker was an amazingly brave woman of the 18th century,” says Robert Leath, Executive Director of the Edenton Historical Commission.
The custom of tea drinking was a longtime social tradition rooted in England. Social events were often defined by the amount or quality of the tea that was provided. Boycotting something that was consumed on a daily basis, that was so highly regarded in society, demonstrated the colonists’ strong opposition to the Tea Act. During the 1770s, political resistance was quite common. But an organized political act orchestrated by women was not.
In January 1775, Arthur Iredell of England wrote to his brother, James Iredell of Edenton, describing the British reaction to the “Edenton Tea Party.”
According to Arthur, the incident was not taken very seriously because it was led entirely by women.
He told his brother: “The only security
on our side… is the probability that there are but few places in America which possess so much female artillery as Edenton.”
Nevertheless, Barker’s leadership and perseverance paved the way for many to follow after her.
Born in Edenton on June 17, 1728, she was one of three daughters of Samuel Padgett, a physician and farmer, and
Elizabeth Blount, daughter of wealthy politician and planter James Blount.
While Penelope was still a teenager, her father and her sister, Elizabeth, died in the same year, leaving Penelope to help raise Elizabeth’s children. Barely seventeen years old at the time of the two deaths, Penelope married her sister’s widowed husband, John Hodgson, in 1745. Two years later, Hodgson died, leaving her with two sons of her own to raise along with the three children from her husband’s last marriage.
In 1751, Penelope married again, this time to James Craven, a wealthy planter. She was widowed for a second time when Craven died in 1755. She then inherited his entire estate, which made her one of the richest women in North Carolina.
Two years after Craven’s passing, Penelope married a third time, this time to Thomas Barker, an Edenton attorney. Barker was 16 years her senior. Through him, she bore three more children; however, none lived past the infant stage.
In 1761, Thomas left for England as
“She was part of a large family network and lived and operated as the head of the household not just once, but three times...”
- ROBERT LEATH
an agent of the North Carolina colony and he would not be able to return for 17 years due to the American Revolution and British blockade.
“She was part of a large family network and lived and operated as the head of household not just once, but three times –when each of her first two husbands died and while Thomas Barker lived in London working as an agent for the Colony of North Carolina,” Leath says.
By 1761, seven of the nine children Penelope had either borne or for whom she was responsible had died. In 1772, her son Thomas Hodgson died at the young age of 25.
The only surviving child, Betsy Barker, left Penelope’s care through marriage to Colonel William Tunstall, a prominent planter of Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Betsy’s portraits now hang in the Barker House.
While Thomas was away for those 17 years, Penelope managed their estates and household and eventually led the
Tea Party. Throughout the 13 Colonies, leaders pushed for women, in their role as “consumers,” to support the rising rebellion by boycotting British imports such as cloth and tea, in keeping with the non-importation resolutions passed by the First Continental Congress in 1774.
When Penelope gathered the 50 women at Elizabeth King’s home, they drank tea made from mulberry leaves, lavender and other local herbs. Penelope later continued the boycott throughout the American Revolution.
After her husband returned home in 1778, her life became somewhat “simpler” and the couple built a new home. Penelope once again outlived her husband – who died in 1790 – by six years.
In 1796, Penelope passed away and was buried beside Thomas in the Johnston family graveyard at Hayes Plantation, near Edenton. The only known portrait of Penelope Barker hangs in the Cupola House, Edenton.
“When Revolutionary War activities began, the women of Edenton and its surrounding area looked to her very naturally for leadership,” Leath says. “She
had already been a prominent female leader for decades.”
It should also be carefully noted however, that despite Penelope’s many achievements, she and her family were also owners of enslaved people, as were many in the area during the time period.s
Besides the Barker House in Edenton being named for Penelope and the family she and Thomas shared, there was also a Barker Street in Edenton as well as a former restaurant called 51 House, named for the 51 women of the Edenton Tea Party, including Penelope. The restaurant closed during the COVID-19 pandemic and has not reopened.
Penelope Barker has left a profound impact on Edenton and along with Harriet Jacobs, remains one of the two most famous women to have come from the town. Annual lectures and events are now held in the honor of her and her 50 comrades who boycotted British tea, titled the “Edenton Tea Party, Women of Distinction” event.
Tyler Newman is a Staff Writer for the Chowan Herald and Eastern North Carolina Living.
Winnie Blount: First Black family of Ocracoke
OOcracoke has a number of streets named after locals - both men and women - and one of those is Winnie Blount Road.
This road, which is off Cedar Road (formerly Bank Road), tucks into the area around the Tideland electric station.
“We all used that road and called it Winnie Blount Road,” says islander Kenny Ballance about why it was so named. “That was the path long ago behind the Island Inn (to the beach). It was a bare, beach path over their property.”
And that property, about 70 acres worth, according to Ballance, stretched to the beach and to Cockle Creek, which was what islanders called the small, natural harbor for the island. The Creek was dredged in the 1930s and renamed Silver Lake.
Winnie was a former slave who, after the Civil War, migrated with her husband, Harkus, to Ocracoke.
Neither Winnie nor Harkus had a last name, according to Kenny, and they had adopted the name where they had come from – Blount’s Creek near Washington in Beaufort County.
According to Alton Ballance’s (Kenny’s
brother) book, “Ocracokers,” (1989, University of North Carolina Press.)
Winnie never told her daughters why the couple came to Ocracoke, though she had mentioned that her owner used to visit the island occasionally.
As told in the book by Winnie’s granddaughter, Mildred, the couple may have first been given a hunk of land on which to build a house.
Later, her grandfather Harkus managed to buy 25 acres as land was cheap then and those acres included a lot of marsh.
“It’s kind of remarkable that they chose to come here,” Alton says in an interview about the couple. “One reason is that Harkus was a boat builder.”
Alton notes that African Americans had more freedom in maritime employment along the coast because the Union forces had taken the coast early in the Civil War.
They became skilled pilots and also were employed in the life saving crews on Hatteras Island.
In Alton’s book, Mildred relates what it was like for African Americans on Ocracoke.
“My grandma used to have cattle, sheep and pigs herself and would walk clear
down toward the beach where people let their cattle and stuff go to check on ‘em,” Mildred says.
Soon after Winnie and Harkus got settled in their new house, Mildred’s mother, Elsie Jane, and her aunt, Anna Laura, were born.
After Harkus died when Jane was only 10, Winnie went to work at the Doxsee Clam Factory, located along the western shore of the harbor and which operated from the late 1800s to about 1917.
Jane also worked there and met Leonard Randollf Bryant, whom she married and with whom she had nine children, five boys and four girls, one of whom was Mildred.
Bryant Lane, parallel to Odd Fellows Lane, was part of the Blount/Bryant landholdings and is named in the family’s honor, Kenny said.
In addition to working at the Doxsee Clam Factory, Winnie also cured and sold yaupon leaves, used to make tea.
As a child, Mildred sometimes helped her grandmother pick and cure the yaupon leaves.
Mildred relates that Winnie would cure the leaves for about a month in the bottom
of an old flour barrel.
After that, she would dig out the molasses-like substance, dry it and then pack the dried leaves in burlap bags for shipping to (little) Washington.
One of Winnie’s last jobs was working at the Pamlico Inn, operated at the time by Bill Gaskill.
“The boarders were all crazy about her and everybody called her ‘Aunt Winnie’,” Mildred says in “Ocracokers.”
Winnie’s employment there lasted until she suffered a stroke one day while she was dressing chickens.
“One of these ole wild cats that used to hang around there jumped up on the table and took off with one of the chickens and ran underneath the house with it,” Mildred says.
Winnie took off after it and crawled all the way to the middle of the house and managed to reach the cat.
“She got the chicken back, but she had a stroke,” Mildred says. “She had to stop working after this and I reckon it wurn’t three years ‘fore she died.”
As Winnie languished from the stroke, some of the older women on the island would come over and help her.
“There was no doctor here then,” Mildred says.
After Winnie died, the island women prepared the body, and the men built a casket which the women lined in white fabric.
“They buried her the next day around two o’clock,” Mildred says. “One thing about Grandma was that nobody knew how old she was. She didn’t know herself, but it didn’t seem to matter to her too much one way or the other.”
Kenny knew Winnie’s grandchildren, Mildred, Muzel and Julius Bryant, and looked out for them because Mildred had looked after himself, Alton and their sister, Cathy, when they were kids.
While Ocracoke has had European settlers since the 1700s, the island only got official street names in 1999.
At that time, as the 911 emergency
response system was initiated here, street names with signs were needed so that EMS responders could find places.
So, Winnie, unbeknownst to her, got immortalized in a street name, along with her grandchildren, the Bryants for Bryant Lane.
“We named (streets) after something that shows some historical interest,” Kenny, who was on that committee, says.
The Blount/Bryant clan’s time on Ocracoke was over after Muzel died at the age of 103, less than one month shy of her 104th birthday. The last of her family to call Ocracoke home Musie, as she was known, had lived with Kenny for 14 years.
Connie Leinbach is the editor/copublisher of the Ocracoke Observer, www. ocracokeobserver.com.
“The boarders were all crazy about her and everybody called her ‘Aunt Winnie.’”
Alice Keene: Building a legacy for all of Pitt County
AAt the age of 71, Alice Keene has spent her life accomplishing many firsts. She was the first in her family to attend college, the first female parks and recreation director in Pitt County, a player of the first intercollegiate basketball team at East Carolina University and the first to organize the special olympics and senior games in Pitt County, to name a few.
“It’s a blessing and I feel very blessed to have had that experience,” Keene said.
“There is never a second first. The first time you do anything… There is exhilaration, gratefulness and so many emotions you feel for that first time. Those have been my greatest blessings. Those blessings have truly been given to me. We can’t do anything to deserve that.”
While she has loved every first, Keene is most proud of her namesake, Alice F. Keene Park, located on County Home Road Winterville.
It is with this park, Keene’s legacy lies, not just because it shares her name, but because it is a dream come to life and an accumulation of all her hard work.
A legacy in the making
It’s hard to believe, Keene is not a native of PItt County, because her passion for the county and its residents is apparent in almost everything she does. Keene hails from Four Oaks. It is there she discovered her love for recreation and sports and first experienced the joys of community spirit.
“It was a small town where pretty much everybody knew everybody. I lived in the country until fifth grade, then we moved to town. We lived a block from the school and our yard became the community playground. At that time, we didn’t have a playground in Four Oaks,” Keene said. “We had a lot of kids that lived within four or five blocks and in the afternoon, people would come to our house to play.”
Keene attended Johnston County schools until graduation, where she was
one of 99 students to graduate in her class.
She continued her education at East Carolina University becoming the first in her family to attend higher education.
“My mom and dad believed in education, but education for them was graduating after 12 grades of school. They didn’t have the chance to go to a community school or university,” Keene said. “I had a guidance counselor in my school that really encouraged students to look at college. She told us we can do it and that we can make a way.”
To attend school, Keene obtained a work study job and Pell grants.
“My parents didn’t have a lot of money, but I had Pell grants. My aunts and uncles would give me $5. 40 years ago, $5 went a lot further than it did today. I had a lot of
people help me along the way,” Keene said.
“Having help - that is so important to our success,” she added.
Keene graduated from ECU with a bachelor’s in Parks Recreation and Conservation and joined other students in her class as the second to graduate from ECU with this newly added major.
“When I first came to ECU, I was looking at physical education. I didn’t even know there was a recreation major. As I got into physical education, I thought about people in my physical education class in high school. There were probably three or four of us that wanted to be there. The rest were there because they had to take a health course. They didn’t want to be there. They didn’t want to learn the games,” Keene said.
“I thought ‘Do I really want to spend my life making students do what I love?’
I started looking around,” she added. “I got the catalog for programs at ECU and found parks and recreation. It really spoke to me. It was something I loved and with recreation I would be working with people who wanted to be there.”
Keene worked hard to obtain her degree and had a concentration in therapeutic recreation, which allows her to work with people with disabilities, both physical and mental, that requires special training.
It was also during her time at East Carolina that Keene experienced another first - one of the first female basketball players at ECU.
“I played the first year ECU had intercollegiate sports. They had basketball, field hockey, volleyball and track and field,” Keene said. “I played basketball for two years at ECU. This was still before Title Nine.”
Keene was also able to put her skills to the test while at ECU when she worked for the Boy’s Club, now called the Boy’s and Girl’s Club, in between her junior and senior year.
“That gave me a lot of hands-on and real life experience. Those kids had a lot of challenges, but they were so resilient. They taught me a lot in that year and a half. I was grateful for that experience,” Keene said.
After college, Keene was eager to join the workforce and took a job in Raleigh as a government intern for 12 weeks.
“I worked for the Parks and Recreation
“I played the rst year ECU had intercollegiate sports. They had basketball, eld hockey, volleyball and track and eld.”
- A LICE K EENE
Division for the state of North Carolina. It helped me in my whole career,” she said. “I also volunteered with Greenville Parks and Recreation. All those connections I made were so important”
With worries of employment after the internship pending, Keene received a phone call that would set her course in Pitt County history. The call came from Boyd Lee, the former director of Greenville Recreation and Parks.
“He knew I was looking for a job. He was trying to get a Bureau of Outdoor Education for people with disabilities started, but he was unsuccessful. He called me near the end of the summer and he was trying to figure out how to hire somebody. I was fortunate to be able to come work for (Greenville) in September,” Keene said.
Keene worked for Greeneville Parks and Recreation for four and a half years and was eventually named director.
It was during this time that Keene expanded Greenville Parks and Recreation’s programming for those with special needs and was able to experience many more firsts.
“They had a day camp for individuals with mental retardation when I started. I started the first year round program… We moved that into a full time program for persons with disabilities,” Keene said.
Keene also started the Pitt County chapter of Special Olympics and established Pitt County’s senior games.
“I love it. It’s been a blessing to do this work,” Keene said, adding the Senior games are celebrating 20 years. “My focus was always on service. When we started the Special Olympics in Greenville, I wanted it
to be the best. I wanted to have the best Special Olympics program in the state and certainly in the east.
“We were a leader in the east. We did training all over eastern North Carolina When the Senior Games program started in the state of North Carolina in 1983. I wanted ours to be the best. I was on the first State Board of Directors for the Senior Games. I am still on that board today. My vision and mission is the same. It’s been a blessing to do this work.”
Keene transitioned into the role she has today, Parks and Recreation Projects Coordinator under the Pitt County Planning Department.
“The Community Schools legislation was passed in North Carolina. I went to work with the Joint Community School and Recreation program that was funded by Pitt County Schools and the Pitt County commissioners. Its purpose was to build county recreation and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” Keene said.
It was during this role that Keene helped establish Alice. F. Keene Park.
Keene’s Crowning Glory- A People’s Park
The establishment of Alice F. Keene Park came from the hands of many and was a community effort, Keene said.
“The community has been involved in every aspect of the park. We have done comprehensive parks and recreation master plans in Pitt County since 1995. We did a park master plan prior to our first grant. Everything you see from trail to softball field to the soccer field those were the highest priorities,” Keene said.
“We plan and program with our community, not for our community. I think
it is so important that we ask our citizens and residents what they want to see. This is their district park. And I would put it up against any other. It is a people park. Everything you see here is the voice of a participant.”
The park houses the Pitt County Community Schools and Recreation and building, which is where Keene’s office is located. It also features two baseball/ softball fields, soccer field, basketball court, picnic shelter with tables, restroom, walking trails - both natural and paved - and a playground with ADA accessible features.
“The participation from the community is far beyond our greatest dreams or plans. People use these trails every day. When it’s raining people are here with their umbrellas. It’s a people’s park. That is the thing we are all so proud of. People feel ownership,” Keene said.
“I always believed that when people put their hand on something it's theirs. That makes all the difference in the world… There are so many things that acknowledge that it is theirs and we want that. That’s what will sustain this park for years to come.”
Having the park located on County Home Rd on county home property, and having it located centrally to Pitt County is especially heart warming to Keene.
A Leader For Pitt County Women
Keene has had to overcome many obstacles through her life and has worked hard to preserve so she could arrive at where she is today. After all, being a woman in a men’s dominated field or a woman interested in sports before Title
Nine, which was passed just 50 years ago.
“I was playing sports before there was Title Nine - not only was the administrative level male dominated, but so were sports. The only thing girls could play was basketball. I didn't have a chance to play a lot of things,” Keene said, adding she loved playing basketball in high school and desired to play baseball or softball.
“I don’t remember dwelling on the fact that you couldn’t get (a job in recreation) because it’s a man’s world. I just tried to do my best,” Keene said. “My momma always said you do your best in everything you get a chance to do. So I would do my best. In my mind, I thought if I’m the best person for the job then they will hire me. I’m sure at times that wasn’t true, but then you realize I really only had two jobs in my whole career.”
Her attitude towards community and service has been passed along to others and Keene’s spirit, work ethnic and commitment have made her a role model for others.
“Alice has taught me to see the overall picture and that communication is important. She has taught me that working with other departments and organizations helps not only build partnerships throughout the community, but also friendships. She has taught me to never give up and that no matter what, it’s a team effort,” said Diane White, Farmville Parks and Recreation Director and third female Parks and Recreation Director in Pitt County.
“Alice has opened the door for so many individuals. She fights for what she believes in and gives her whole heart in the process. She’s passionate in what she does and she sees everything through from start to finish,” White closed.
Donna Marie Williams is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Eastern North Carolina Living.
Benjamin Best: Preservation through Agro-Tourism
AAs one of the last remaining two-story Greek Revival dwellings built in Greene County, the Benjamin W. Best House remains standing for all in Greene County to see.
Today, it serves as the Benjamin W. Best Country Inn and Carriage House and pays homage to the county’s and Best family history. The Inn is operated by Mary Betty and Ossie Kearney and is located, along with Nooherooka Natural and The Barn, at 2029 Mewborn Church Road in Snow Hill.
While the original building remains, it did not always exist at this location.
Benjamin Best and Family
The Best family were well known in Greene County.
Henry Best, grandfather to Benjamin, received a charter from the King of England granting him a large amount of land. This land stretched across Greene and Wayne counties into Beston. Many in the Best family built homes on the land.
“The Best family is expansive on
this side of the creek in Greene County. Most everybody that lives over here, if they have some kind of Greene County ancestry, is kin to a Best of some kind,” Kearney said.
Robert, also known as Robin, and his wife Elizabeth Best were among Henry’s eleven children to establish homes on Best property. Robert built a home on Appletree Lane, which is located in the Bull Head area, and later moved into the Henry Best House.
Still standing today, the Henry Best House is located approximately one mile from the Benjamin W. Best Country Inn and Carriage House.
“The tale is – this is from the surveyor (and author of Greene Along Contentnea The Architectural History of Greene County, North Carolina) Penny Sandbeck. Robert and his wife eventually moved into the (White House). The White House, which is the oldest house in Greene County, was used as a hunt house for Henry Best. He never lived in it. He had
guests over from England that fox hunted who stayed there,” Kearney said.
“Robin Best moved into the White House. Benjamin Best’s birth is simultaneous with Robin’s living there. I thought it was most ironic that we found out those facts and things about it and here (the Benjamin Best) house is not a mile and a half away from there.”
Benjamin was the only son of Robert, who was also referred to as Robin, and Elizabeth Best. Benjamin and his wife Susan, also known as Smithy, Exum first built their home in the Bull Head area in 1850.
“When he and Susan met, they decided to build on the hill… It was quite miraculous how they got this house built when you think about the type of equipment they had,” Kearney said.
She continued, “This house was built with slave labor, but everything in this house had to be supervised by Robin as far as cutting timbers, drying timbers, cutting brick. It was done in stages. Nothing
happened instantly. It's documented he started the main part of this house in 1845 and it took until 1850 to complete. The starter house is on logs and was humbly built. It had two chimneys – one at each end. All of it was built by hand.”
Additions to the house were later added as the family grew, Kearney explained.
Benjamin’s homestead or plantation included 900 acres of land worth $5,400 with a livestock value of $1,195. In 1850, his farm produced 80 bushels of wheat, 1,500 bushels of Indian corn, 35 pounds of wool, 500 bushels of peas and beans, 800 bushels of sweet potatoes and 100 pounds of butter. The plantation included 18 slaves, which was an average number for a Greene County plantation at that time.
Benjamin and Susan had 10 children together and by 1860, their household included their 10 children, Benjamin’s brother-in-law W.P. Exum, who was a doctor, and three wards, two of whom were related to Susan.
Tragedy struck the family in July 1863, when Susan died shortly after the birth of their last child, Eddie.
Benjamin was fortunate; however, and was able to retain his land and property until after the Civil War, which could not
be said for most Antebellum farmers.
In 1870, his land included 400 improved acres and 687 acres of woodland and unimproved acres valued at $6,1000. He also owned farm implements and machinery worth $350, and $1,200 worth of livestock.
By 1880, Benjamin’s son, John Robert Best, had taken over the family farm. Some of the land had been sold leaving behind 800 acres. Farm production was diversified with the addition of barnyard fowl. The Best’s farming operation was successful enough to garner a merit in the Branson’s North Carolina Business Directory, which listed Benjamin, as one
of Bull Head’s nine successful farmers in 1884.
In 1890, Benjamin passed away. His estate was soon purchased by his sisterin-law Mary Exum. Mary rented the house to James Hiriam Best, the eldest of Benjamin’s children. Mary sold the house to P.M. Best in 1902 and the property continued to pass hands through the Best family until 1912.
An Almost Devastating End
In 1997, the Benjamin Best house was threatened with demolition when its former owner wanted to demolish the vacant building to allow for more farming area.
the family in July 1863 when Susan died, shortly after the birth of their last child, Eddie.
“After the Greene County Museum was established, which was 20 years ago, we wrote grants to the Department of Cultural Resources for an architectural study for the county. We wanted to try and save these types of properties. We found this house and they were going to burn it in a three-month span,” Kearney said.
“It either had to be moved or burned. My husband had always been interested with the Henry Best house, which at that time was not occupied, but now it is. He went up there and looked at it to see what it was like. We worked really hard to get the permits and see what we could do. We moved it 11 and a half miles… We let it sit here for a while. We had to get over the expense of the move. We did a lot of work to the interior as far as maintaining it.”
Saving the house was not enough and Kearney sought to have it protected by having it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This was accomplished with the help of Preservation North Carolina.
The Kearney’s worked hard to repair the home while following the strict guidelines set forth by the National Register. One of these rules included the home must be open to the public.
“That worked perfectly with our plans for a country inn,” Kearney said, adding they also had to host national tours due
to a rule under the Department of the Interior.
“We had several.”
The Kearney’s moved into the home on April 7, 1998 and opened the County Inn and Nooherooka Natural at the same time.
A Historic Property Worth Saving
The Benjamin W. Best House is one of the last remaining of its kind in Greene County and is one of the county’s most intact antebellum residences. It is also a rare example of the Greek Revival homes that were present in Greene County around this time period and remaining after the Civil War.
The house’s frieze board rests on wide beaded corner-boards without caps and its original two-story center portico was restored in 2004. The house has a low hip roof and it shares a decorative detail found in northwestern Greene County houses - small unmolded corner blocks that adorn the houses large nine-over-six double hung sash windows as well as the rear ell windows.
This corner block decoration is repeated at the front entrance as well as the interior doors and windows. This pattern is also seen in other homes in the area and shows that there may have been one school of carpenters working in Greene County at the time.
The interior of the home remains
intact and retains its original integrity.
The house’s entrance hall sets it apart from similar homes, Kearney said.
“It has one of the largest and widest entrance halls in the County. Most entrance halls are about seven feet wide. This one is 11,” Kearney said. “It tells you that Benjamin was interested in entertaining and having groups over. Over the years, we had people who lived in the house say ‘Grandpa used to live right here.’ It was a big space for that day and time.”
Because it is one of the few remaining structures of its kind, the Benjamin W. Best House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A Place of Warmth and History
The Benjamin W. Best Country Inn and Carriage House is now open as a bed and breakfast and is used for educational tours and weddings.
Only one room is available for rent in the actual house due to the small size of the house.
Though upgrades have been made, the Kearney’s have worked hard to keep its original integrity intact. The home's decor is composed of items passed down from Ossie’s and Mary Betty’s parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
“We are hung up on family and tradition here. That’s one of the ways we ended up with this house. (My husband and I) both like old structures and history.
My husband is a history major and dad always did a lot of genealogy work… I was always interested in the older people and what they had to tell me. I bore my family a lot with tales of how we used to do it. Somebody came and visited when we first opened and asked who was your decorator. I said our ancestors,” Kearney said.
It was the Kearney’s hope that the Country Inn would help foster agrotourism in the county.
“We’re not quite big enough to really have a cash flow, but we have really enjoyed the interpersonal relationships gained by having breakfast with people who are interested in the history of the house. Some of them are family members and heirs,” Kearney said.
A carriage house was added to the property and allowed the Kearney’s to offer another dwelling
For more information about the Benjamin W. Best Country Inn and Carriage House, Nooherooka Naturals or the Barn visit nooherooka.com or call 252747-5054.
Donna Marie Williams is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Eastern North Carolina Living.
John Archbell Wilkinson: Local history and politics mattered
JJohn A. Wilkinson was born to S.W. Wilkinson and Pattie Archbell Wilkinson on the family farm in Pantego on Oct. 22, 1909.
He attended school and then graduated from Pantego Academy in 1926 and – according to his interview in “Life on the Pamlico” published by Beaufort Community College in 1985 - “It was the best damn rural high school in North Carolina!”
Having no interest in carrying on the agricultural life of his parents, John was eager to attend college and fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer. However, feeling her son was too young for college life in 1927, Mrs. Wilkinson sent him to the Peddie School in Hightstown, New Jersey.
Returning home and working on his undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, he became a prominent member of their debate team. Upon graduation, John attended law school, but stated during an interview that he was “tossed out,” so he moved to Raleigh and studied law under Judge Bell, passing the bar exam in 1935 – one year earlier than his classmates in law school.
He then opened his own office in downtown Washington where he practiced law for the next 50-plus years (except for the three years he served in the United States Army achieving the rank of captain during World War II).
He met his future wife, Beulah Gaither, married in 1938, and had two daughters, Pattie and Margaret (Peggy).
John soon developed a strong interest in public speaking and began to excel at debating. So much so, he stated in 1985, in “Life on the Pamlico:” “I was chosen best speaker of the class of 1932, I was speaker of the Bar Assembly, I represented
the University in more inter-collegiate debates than anyone had previously and, as far as I know, since. I won every medal offered at the University for debates.”
John’s love of debating fostered a strong interest in politics. So much so that he was crucial in organizing the Young Republicans in Beaufort County in the 1940s.
His political aspirations continued to grow; he ran for both state representative (1936 and 1940) and state senator (1948) to no avail, running for the last time in the late 1970s.
Amid his legal and political life, John found time to win the prestigious firstplace award in the Scribner’s Commentator Contest, taking home a hearty $1,000 prize.
He continued to immerse himself in becoming a prominent figure in the Republican Party and eagerly shared his thoughts in his weekly column, “Let’s Look Again” published in the Washington Daily News during the 1960s.
He was inducted into the North Carolina Republican Party Hall of Fame in 1988 earning him the nickname “Mr. Republican” by his friends.
John’s political aspirations were not selfish, as he loved his community and the people who lived there and thought
bringing the Republican Party to this area would help it to thrive.
He was troubled by the poverty in the area and because he valued the importance of education, he set forth in making education more accessible.
He and two others were instrumental in funding the Pungo Christian Academy in Belhaven in 1968.
In memory of his uncle, Jehu Archbell, he established an endowment fund in 1990 to assist with programs at the Beaufort County Community College. Personally, John helped numerous people with free legal advice, personal loans and even buying houses for some, often getting paid back with only fresh fish or beautiful flowers.
John was also a member of the fraternal order of Freemasons, The American Legion, and held many other local titles, all for the improvement of the local areas.
Although John’s office was in the same building in Washington for more than 50 years, his heart always belonged in Pantego. In 1985, John had his own dream home built, modeled after Andrew Jackson’s home, The Hermitage, built on the original spot of his family homestead. To this day, this beautiful home is still owned by the family.
John retired from his law practice
“He had a heart of gold... Anybody who got to know John Wilkinson would do nothing but like him.”
- M ELVIN B. S M ITH
in 1995 and spent his last few years surrounded by his loving family and caretakers, many friends, and of course –his political opinions. Sadly, John passed away in his home on April 20, 2001, leaving behind a legacy of his philanthropy toward others.
“He had a heart of gold… Anybody who got to know John Wilkinson would do
nothing but like him,” said Melvin B. Smith, John’s long-time friend and caregiver.
With tears in her eyes remembering her father, Peggy shared, “I want people to know my dad loved us, he was a wonderful father. And he was a man who had a dream for Eastern North Carolina. He loved people and wanted to bring prosperity to our community; he wasn’t afraid to get into
the trenches to bring more opportunities and success to the people.”
In honor of his service and assistance, the George H. and Laura E. Brown Library named the John A. Wilkinson Local History Room in his honor.
Kelly Grady is a retired educator and regular contributor to Eastern North Carolina Living.
Lindsay C. Warren: Bridging More than the Alligator
TThe structure bearing his name, the Warren Bridge, connects the banks of the Alligator River in Tyrrell County and is 2.8 miles long, however, the political legacy of Lindsay C. Warren, spans decades.
Born in 1889, in Washington, Warren was a lawyer, legislator and congressman. A Democratic politician, he served in the U.S. Congress from North Carolina between 1925 and 1940. From 1940 to
1954 Warren served as only the third Comptroller General of the United States, a position that cemented his legacy as the “Best Watchdog in Show.”
His North Carolina political lineage can be traced back to his grandfather, Judge Edward Jenner Warren, and his father, Judge Charles Frederick Warren, both commemorated North Carolina politicians, who also received praise from
both sides of the political aisle.
Warren distinguished himself rather early politically and, according to the General Accounting Office (GAO), struggled at times to meet his financial obligations at the University of North Carolina.
Attempting to alleviate the lack of funds problem, Warren constructed a roulette wheel to promote campus
entertainment and to assist with his tuition needs. The dean of the school eventually was apprised of the enterprise and confiscated the apparatus.
As the story goes, according to the GAO, the Dean praised Warren for his mathematical acumen — the wheel he built made it impossible for the gambler to win, but urged to make ends meet through a more traditional manner. Warren worked at a bank and eventually earned a law degree from UNC.
After passing the bar in 1912, he became active in North Carolina Democratic state politics and cut his political teeth in Raleigh.
His public service career began with election to the N.C. State Senate in 1917. He was re-elected in 1919. Associated with O. Max Gardner politically, he succeeded Gardner as President Pro-Tem of the N.C. Senate when Gardner became Lieutenant Governor. Gardner, Warren and J. Melville Broughton were the force behind a group of Young Turks in the Democratic Party that opposed the then powerful conservative Simmons-Bailey faction.
In the 1920 North Carolina Special Session of the legislature on woman suffrage, Warren opposed its champion, outmaneuvering the proponents and defeated the proposed amendment in the senate. He served in the House in 1923–25.
After a term in the State House, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1924. The politician ran unopposed for eight terms in that position solidifying his popularity among voters and constituents.
During his tenure, he was chief
His public service career began with election to the N.C. Senate in 1917. He was re-elected in 1919.
sponsor for the Merchant Marine Act, Cape Hatteras National Seashore Act, Wright Brothers Memorial, Executive Reorganization Act of 1939 and Congressional Reappointment Act of 1940. He also served as chairman of the House Accounts Committee.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt nominated Warren to be Comptroller General three times before Warren ultimately accepted. He was officially appointed in the summer of 1940.
Warren was instrumental and a driving force in creating the independent agency that oversees government finances as we know it today. Warren’s time at GAO spanned U.S. involvement in World War II, the Cold War and the Korean War.
In the midst of the turmoil, Warren focused on improving the financial management of the federal government and significantly increased the scope and pace of the work at GAO to help address the federal government’s financial challenges.
Warren was passionate about his position and conveyed that message to President Roosevelt in a 1942 note sent to the President.
“I get up every morning at 6:30 a.m. eat no lunch, never leave the building unless called on official business and get home late… The work of the General Accounting Office has increased over 100 percent in the last two years, and we think we are playing a vital part in the war effort,” wrote Warren.
He also implemented a plan to transform the department from a voucher-checking agency to one that issued substantive, comprehensive audit reports.
The Comptroller is also credited with expanding and improving relationships with Congress. His experience in the
House of Representatives enabled him to work with those in Congress while protecting the agency from the Executive Branch’s efforts to alter the GAO’s role, function and authority. In short, Warren solidified the agency as a legislative body, free from Executive interference.
Health issues forced him to retire from his position 18 months before fulfilling the 15-year appointment, leaving his post in 1954.
Following his retirement, the Baltimore Evening Sun observed that Warren had an “old-fashioned conception of honesty and a rugged capacity to stand up to pressure from others without being offensive.”
Many believe that under his administration, GAO won much wider esteem, so much so that the Washington Star wrote that Warren rates “a blue ribbon: Best watchdog in show.”
As the official watchdog of federal expenditures, Warren is credited with returning over $900 million to the government during his term. Managing the GAO in World War II, during a time when war contractors sought to take advantage of government agencies took
strength and foresight.
In 1949 Warren out-maneuvered Herbert Hoover, who attempted to make the Comptroller General more accountable to the executive branch. Sam Rayburn recognized Warren in 1953 for his “fine sense of justice and his fine judgment,” and Life Magazine named him ‘On of the nation’s ten ablest Congressman’ in 1939.
By 1959 Warren’s health had recovered enough for him to return to the state senate and subsequently he was touted as “the most powerful man in the 1961 legislature.”
In 1962 he attended the dedication of the Lindsay Warren Bridge over the Alligator River, connecting the mainland to the Outer Banks. Failing health in 1966 kept him from the dedication of the Lindsay Warren Visitor Center at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.
Warren died in 1976 and is buried in Oakdale Cemetery in Washington, near his family home overlooking the Pamlico River.
John Foley is a Staff Writer for the Bertie Ledger-Advance, Perquimans Weekly and Eastern North Carolina Living.
Daniel Davenport: His home was a real farmhouse
SSometimes, a history book is not enough. Across the gulf of two centuries, an object, an original document or a building can often convey what life was really like in ways that words can’t.
A visit to the Davenport Homestead, located near Creswell in Washington County, challenges the faulty perceptions many people have about daily life for an 18th century planter.
One of the area’s few surviving farm houses that date back to the late 1700s, the Davenport house is a far cry from the splendor of more famous plantation homes like Hope Plantation in Bertie County or the nearby Somerset Manor House, also located near Creswell.
“We have all these fine houses in other parts of North Carolina… but most of those are (also known technically as) ‘fine’ homes. This is a yeoman farmer’s house,” said Chris Barber, a prominent local historian.
Barber said the Davenport farm was considered prosperous and its owner prominent.
“Daniel Davenport became Washington County’s first (state) senator,” she said.
Davenport was well-regarded, wellliked and, perhaps, even well-to-do by Washington County standards, Barber said. But he was not what most people think of as a “plantation owner.” He was a working farmer who lived a frugal lifestyle under austere, even primitive conditions on the edge of North Carolina’s frontier.
The author of The Tie That Binds: Rehoboth Methodist Church, 300 Years of Worship Along the South Shore of the Albemarle Sound, Barber’s writings on local history have appeared in area magazines and newspapers, including Eastern Living. She said the Davenport Homestead teaches its visitors that luxurious plantation living was the exception, not the norm in
North Carolina. Most settlers and farmers lived simple lives working to raise a crop with their own hands.
Census records indicate that Daniel Davenport lived with his wife, Sarah, five daughters and eight enslaved persons. He owned 1,200 acres of land, most of it probably forested. He would have worked alongside his slaves clearing and cultivating an ever-growing farm.
He also came from a prominent family. The Davenports worked farms in the area for three generations and a Davenport School educated Washington County’s children for a generous three months out of every year. He was elected to serve in Raleigh as the county’s first senator in 1800 under the new United States Constitution.
Washington County, located on the south shore of the Albemarle Sound, was settled later than surrounding communities like Chowan and Pasquotank
counties. Its farmland was low-lying and swampy compared to land on the south shore of the Albemarle Sound. Settlers in Washington County worked smaller farms with fewer numbers of enslaved people on each farm, and the land alongside both their enslaved and hired help.
Built about 1790, the Davenport Homestead is one of the few surviving examples of a yeoman farmer’s cabin that has survived from North Carolina’s federal period. The Davenport house represents the years between the end of the Revolutionary War and the founding of the new American republic.
Daniel Davenport’s home is smaller than many typical 21st century one bedroom apartments, not much bigger than 20 by 20 feet, and is made from local timbers. The home consists of one great room with a fireplace for both warmth and cooking. A lean-to structure behind the great room provides extra storage space and access to an attic.
A narrow “traveler’s room” on the front of the house allows guests a place to sleep without giving them direct access to the home’s interior.
Davenport died in 1808 at the age of 48, leaving the homestead and farmland to his five daughters. The sisters divided the land between them and family members occupied the homestead continuously until 1972.
The building’s isolated location meant the home did not have running water, sewage service or electricity well into the 20th century. A member of the family occupied the farmhouse continuously for the next two centuries.
Harriet and Jerd Davenport, the home’s last occupants, passed away in 1973 after living in the cabin under much the same conditions that Daniel and his family did.
The homestead and 1.2 acres of land was deeded to the Washington County Historical Society by Charlie Davenport
in 1975 for preservation and renovation. Today it has been restored as an example of how most farmers lived during the nation’s earliest years.
The site is maintained by the Washington County Historical Society and is available to visitors who are welcome to examine the structure’s exterior. Guided tours are available by appointment.
WANT TO VISIT?
The Davenport Homestead is located 17 miles from Plymouth on U.S. 64. Take Exit 554 to N.C. 94. The Davenport house is located a little more than two miles from
Daniel Davenport’s home is smaller than many typical 21st century one bedroom apartments...
the exit on Back Road near Creswell. Visitors are invited to walk the grounds and inspect the house and outbuilding. Guided tours and access to the interior can be arranged in advance by calling the Washington County Historical Society at (252) 753-1377.
Vernon Fueston is a retired journalist who worked with the Bertie Ledger-Advance and Chowan Herald among others. He has written for Eastern North Carolina Living for many years.
William “Bill” Cox: A legacy of service to Hertford
WWilliam “Bill” Cox is a legend in Perquimans County. As a respected citizen, Hertford town councilor, Hertford Mayor and, eventually, Hertford’s town manager, Cox left a mark on the town and its people.
Ask anyone on Church Street in downtown Hertford or in Woodard’s Pharmacy if they knew Bill Cox and most will not only attest to it, but they’ll tell you where the 20 mile stretch of U.S. 17, named after Cox is located.
The green-and-white signs highlighting the naming of the highway in Cox’s honor stand tall on the roadway immediately upon entering Perquimans County either from Pasquotank or Chowan County.
Jesse Byrum has been selling produce in downtown Hertford most days throughout
the week for decades. He knew Cox and considered him a good friend.
“To my notion, Bill was a really good guy. When you hit Perquimans County, coming out of Pasquotank, you’ll see Bill’s sign. Same thing coming from Chowan,” said Byrum.
Cox was quite the politician from all reports. He served four terms as the town of Hertford’s Mayor and eventually, at the persuading of then Councilman Erie Haste, took on the position as Hertford Town Manager.
In 1995 it was the headline “Now That Bill Cox Has a Job” in the Virginian Pilot that raised the most smiles in town when the recently re-elected councilman proposed to Hertford restaurant owner Shirley
Cox’s good friend, Virginia Pilot reporter Mason Peters wrote in 1996, days before the wedding, “News of the impending nuptials created even more happy talk in Perquimans County than the fact that Cox beat everybody in sight last Tuesday when he made a political comeback in a run for the Hertford Town Council. Like the towering courthouse trees and the old S-bridge across the Perquimans River, Cox is considered a roly-poly work of art deserving Hertford's historic preservation.”
Burner was the owner of a downtown cafe, popular with locals and especially Perquimans politicians who gathered there daily to discuss the issues of the town.
Preservation was one of Cox’s concerns
and he was a champion of restoring Hertford. In 1984 the Hertford Mayor was on hand to accept a scroll from North Carolina Governor James B. Hunt Jr., proclaiming the Newbold-White House a place in North Carolina’s History.
While Cox was a local Democrat, he was revered by members of both parties. Among elected officials, he usually led the field and for more than 20 years he was Hertford's mayor or town manager.
Former Hertford Mayor Sid Ely also knew Cox well.
“Bill was a good friend. He was a wonderful person who did a lot for Hertford. Bill used to speak with Speaker of the House Marc Basnight daily.”
Basnight is considered the “Dean” of Dare County politics.
When the road was christened the Bill Cox Highway during former Gov. James G. Martin's GOP administration, state Sen. Marc Basnight, a Dare County Democrat, came over to Perquimans to lend excitement to the ceremony.
Cox was always in good political company throughout his career. Aside from constituents like Eley and Haste, Cox was known to extend his reach further than the tiny town of Hertford.
The North Carolina political wars between moderates and conservatives
was hitting a fevered pitch and U.S. Senator Jesse Helms’s National Congressional Club was a fund-raising machine to be dealt with.
Cox was instrumental in forming a North Carolina Campaign fund to “help us remove this dangerous right-wing demagogue from the United States Senate,” and signed a letter stating as much.
The statewide advisory committee listed on the letter included Judge L. Richardson Preyer, Juanita Kreps, the Secretary of Commerce in the Carter Administration, former Governor Terry Sanford and Denny Shaffer of the Sierra Club.
Cox was concerned at the time about Helm’s weakening of the food stamp and school lunch programs for the poor, his
“If we could take all of the things Bill did and put them in place in Hertford today, we would be the most modern, cleanest, law-abiding town in the state.”
- E RI E H AST E
opposition to the Voting Rights Act and his sponsorship of the ‘proposed Family Protection Act that would prevent sex education.
“Bill Cox was one of my best friends and confidants. It is difficult to just come out and talk about Bill. I know everybody in the world says Bill Cox is the best, but not knowing that many people in the
world, I would have to say from the people I met he was in the top two,” said Hertford businessman Erie Haste.
“One of the things that I recall, I was on the town council, he was the mayor. We were having some troubles like the ones we were having not long ago. So we had a meeting and decided to address the problem. Hertford needed help pushing, not pulling back on them so I decided to nominate Bill for town manager,” Haste added.
Cox was the current mayor at the time and claimed he didn’t want to take the position, according to Haste, “because it may be too much work.”
“What, have you got something else to do?” was Haste’s reply.
Eventually, after some persuasion, the council voted unanimously to appoint Cox Town Manager.
“You are the right man for this job,”
added Haste. “And within 90 days it was a different town. You didn’t have to worry about the small things, because Bill Cox had already done it. Taken care of it. And if there was a problem, he would call the Chief of Police and say, “put that guy behind the courthouse.” The jail sits behind the Hertford Court House.
Haste went on, “If we could take all of the things that Bill did and put them in place in Hertford today, we would be the most modern, cleanest, law-abiding town in the state. If you did your job right, Bill would pat you on the back. If you didn’t, he’d kick you in the back. Yes, I miss Bill.”
Cox served Hertford for almost 78 years. He passed away in Tyner on Aug. 7, 2001.
John Foley is a Staff Writer for the Bertie Ledger-Advance, Perquimans Weekly and Eastern North Carolina Living.
Joseph Freeman: Furniture maker was renowned for his work
TThe Joseph Freeman Farm is one of ten Gates County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places as noted by the U.S. National Park Service.
Located in the northwestern portion of Gates County in the Reynoldson community, the Joseph Freeman Farm embodies the agricultural livelihood of Joseph Freeman [1772-1842] and his descendants since 1801.
A farmer, carpenter and cabinet-maker, the homestead reflects the architecture of the times, the early eighteenth century of America.
The farmhouse consists of a rare transitional Georgian/Federal two-story one-room dwelling typical of homes built
in the Albemarle region of North Carolina. This farm, with its main dwelling and several outbuildings constructed in the 1820’s, is associated with Joseph Freeman's productive life with the trades he practiced from the early 1790s to the early 1840s.
One of five children born and raised in nearby Bertie County, Freeman moved to Gates County by 1788 following the deaths of his parents.
Freeman married Carisse Rawles  in 1799 and over the next thirteen years, they had six children: Polly , John [1801-1855], Elizabeth (Betsy) [1803-1883J, Nancy [1806-1885], Martha (Patsy) [1808-1888] and Harriet .
He began acquiring land in 1801 in the Reynoldson community when he purchased 105 acres of land. With this purchase, Freeman began the development of the plantation on which he lived and worked until his death in 1842.
Serving first as a developing family farm, the Joseph Freeman Farm was the home-place for Freeman as well as, in later years, his daughters (from 1843 to 1890), which spanned a period of transition from slavery to tenant cultivation of the land.
Following the daughters’ deaths, the farm remained family-owned but became a tenant-occupied farm for the next twenty-five years.
In 1915, the farm became the home of
Joseph Freeman's grandson and namesake for twelve years before reverting to tenant occupancy once again.
A well-documented cabinetmaker, Freeman is regarded as representative of a substantial industry that had peaked by the time he came onto the scene. Freeman's journals reflect that he was making furniture from at least 1805 until 1842, using primarily black walnut, maple and yellow pine.
He built coffins, tables, chests, cupboards, beds, dressing tables, dining tables, desks, china press and other furniture. Freeman’s craftwork was renown not only in the Albemarle region of North Carolina, but also north to colonial Virginia.
In the publication, The Furniture of Coastal North Carolina 1700-1820, author John Bivins documents Freeman's career making the simple unsophisticated but refined furniture which can be found in the collections of the Freeman family and in Colonial Williamsburg.
This small farm is the only property remaining in North Carolina that is associated with Joseph Freeman's accomplishments as a carpenter/ cabinetmaker.
Primarily a farmer, Freeman began purchasing farmland in Gates County in 1801 and eventually acquired over three hundred acres. From this farm he not only derived his living but, in all probability, the timber utilized in the construction of his
home and much of his furniture.
In 1840, Freeman’s slave-holdings was among the largest in Gate County and totaled twenty-seven slaves.
Serving first as an established antebellum plantation, the farm became the family home-place surviving as a tenant farm and then family farm before the agricultural and woods land reverted back into a rental use.
Freeman's home is modest and follows a traditional two-story gable-roof form with front shed-roof porch and rear enclosed shed in a transitional GeorgianFederal style.
Its small scale is mirrored on the exterior by its two-bay fenestration pattern and on the interior by its basic one-room plan with rear shed containing a single room and small side hall. In addition, the farm's crosssection of outbuildings and its landscape also reflect farming transitions typical in northeastern North Carolina throughout the period of significance, nearly one and one-quarter centuries (1820-1949).
Remarkably, through each transition, continuous family ownership has preserved the historic integrity and context of the land's use, setting and structural relationships.
The Joseph Freeman Farm today includes 379.71 acres of principally open
A well-documented cabinetmaker, Freeman is regarded as representative of a substantial industry that had peaked by the time he came onto the scene.
agricultural fields and woodland. Two roads, Lee’s Mill Road (N.C. State Road 1213 and Reynoldson Road (N.C. SR 1214) divide the farm acreage into three separate tracts which are identified on a 1936 survey as “the Old Freeman Tract.”
When nominated for the National Registry, the nomination criteria includes the farm's central 124.20 acres, with representative fields and woodland, in addition to the main domestic and farm complex. Surrounded by broad, open agricultural fields to the east, south, and southwest, the now seldom-used farm complex includes the main house built in 1821 along with a variety of domestic and farm-related outbuildings to the rear.
A small unmarked cemetery is located southwest of the house site near a natural drainage ditch dividing two agricultural fields; however, it was plowed over in the late 1970s.
Nearby at the southeast corner of the central farm tract and also facing Lee’s Mill Road stands the farm's sole surviving slave/tenant house within an overgrown wooded area. One other such structure once stood on this nominated part of the farm to the west in a small field near a corner formed by the woods edge.
The timberland includes pine and hardwoods, such as sycamore, maple, oak and holly.
Framed to the north and west by mature pine forest and sycamore trees and to the
south by a lane, the farm complex contains domestic and then farm outbuildings behind the main house. A short dirt lane leads up to the house and then wraps around the site to the south connecting the complex with the agricultural fields beyond.
A traditional breezeway and porch connects the house to an early-twentiethcentury kitchen/dining room addition at the rear. The backyard centers around a household well and its nearby pump house. Just north of the kitchen is a smokehouse with an outhouse located directly behind it and to the south is a chicken house.
Beyond the pump house, a small frame structure, possibly a kitchen or work shop, now stands in ruins. The farm yard includes three primary structures: a barn, stable, and lot well, each of which dates from the occupancy of Joseph Freeman. A short distance down the farm lane, stands within the woods an overgrown and rapidly deteriorating tobacco barn.
Historically, forest and fields have always comprised the home farm developed by Freeman in support of his family. The same is true today. The nominated 124.2-acre core of the farm reflects approximately half forested, half cultivated, land. Timberland dominates the southern expanse of the farm. It includes pine, maple, oak, hickory and dogwood. A smaller stretch of pine forest extends along the farm's northern boundary.
A gently rolling agricultural landscape makes up the core of the farm, containing two fields, one with a little less than five acres and the other with a little over thirtyfour-and-a-half acres. Rented annually, this agricultural land produces either corn, soybeans, peanuts or cotton.
A skilled cabinetmaker, Joseph Freeman crafted his home in a transitional period style, as illustrated by the woodwork, both exterior and interior.
On the exterior, the porch, windows and doors typify this stylistic transition.
According to family tradition, the original porch railing was in a deteriorated condition and replaced around 1980 by the present one, a facsimile. The present molded handrail, which was removed from a contemporary house in Hertford County, replicates the original one in form but not in placement.
On the interior, the house features a rare enlarged version of a basic one-room plan consisting of one large formal room with a quarter-turn slightly winding stair in its southeast corner and in the rear shed two rooms, a small parlor and narrow side hall. Both primary first floor rooms contain fireplaces. Upstairs two unheated bedrooms open off a side hall which contains the stair.
Examples of Joseph Freeman’s unsophisticated furniture remain within the Freeman family and the furniture collection of Colonial Williamsburg. One documented Albemarle contemporary of Freeman’s in the trade was Lewis Bond [1770-1858] who began his career in Greenville as a cabinetmaker. Bond's work is considered more ornamental than Freeman's but both shared the same level of sophistication.
Gene Motley is a retired Sports Director and Sports Editor and regular contributor to Eastern North Carolina Living. Written with the assistance of the National Register of Historic Places, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service.
Eric W. Rodgers: Newspaper publisher in uenced a generation
AA newspaper with the long and distinguished history of The Commonwealth in Scotland Neck has a plethora of high spots.
None of those times were more prominent than the years it was edited and owned by Eric W. Rodgers, a man who impacted Scotland Neck, Enfield and all of Halifax County.
“Eric was an unassuming giant of a man whose legacy is still visible in the Roanoke Valley, even though some people don’t realize it,” said Joe Vaughan, a friend of Rodgers who also served as editor and general manager of the Scotland Neck Commonwealth and Enfield Progress. “He was one of the greatest influences on the Roanoke Valley in the 20th century.”
Rodgers, who lived to be 96, was a player in state politics, a major influence on bringing flood controls to the Roanoke River, and a man who was known for having impeccable morals.
He began working at newspapers at the young age of 9 and continued in the final years of his life.
He started as a newsboy and by 17 had joined the Charleston News & Courier as a cub reporter.
Rodgers spent time serving World War I in service to his country and then returned to the Charleston newspaper as a waterfront reporter.
From there, he joined the N.C. State Highway Commission as an engineer, based in Charlotte, and it was there he initiated newspaper coverage of Governor Cameron Morrison’s road program in the Charlotte Observer.
Except for serving as Assistant State Manager of the Home Owners Loan Corp, Rodgers spent the remainder of his career in journalism. That included working as night editor, state capital correspondent, and state manager for the Associated Press, city editor/feature writer and editor of the Greensboro Record, and editorial writer for the Chicago Times. He was also city editor of the Greensboro Daily News.
It was in 1937 he began what would be his
life’s work – serving as Publisher and Editor of the Scotland Neck Commonwealth.
“Eric told me he wanted to own a newspaper and had the opportunity to purchase the Scotland Neck Commonwealth,” Vaughan said. “His list of accomplishments is incredibly long. He was a mover and shaker in Eastern North Carolina.
“What was really impressive about Eric was that he was friends with politicians, but never taken in by anyone,” he continued. “He got along with people as long as they behaved ethically, but never crossed that line – never got close.”
Rodgers was a respected journalist whose opinions mattered to people not only in southern Halifax County, but in all of North Carolina. Vaughan said politicians in the 1940s and 50s particularly listened to him and cared about what he reported in the newspaper.
In addition to his work with the newspaper, Rodgers was instrumental –along with W.H.S. Burgwyn Sr. - in getting the dam system built to protect the homes and property around the Roanoke River.
“There was a flood that really caused damage to the people living around the Roanoke River and Eric was determined to do what he could to keep it from happening
again,” Vaughan said.
His work led to the bridge over the Roanoke River on U.S. 258 being named in his honor, as well as that of Burgwyn.
Rodgers was also a member of the executive committee of the N.C. Democratic Party and was chair of the publicity committee for the Democratic Party in general elections. In 1952, he served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.
Rodgers served the Scotland Neck community full-time for more than three decades before selling the newspapers. His service to the community didn’t stop there, however, as he continued writing editorials for the newspapers into his 90s.- J OE V AUGHAN
“When I went to Scotland Neck, they told me there was a retired editor who contributed editorials and that I was to be
mindful he was an institution in Scotland Neck,” Vaughan recalled. “I had been there for about a week when this short, kinda round guy came in looking a little lost.”
Vaughan learned it was Rodgers when the latter handed him two sheets of paper typed on a typewriter.
Despite his knowledge and skills, however, Rodgers never pressed his ideas on the new leader of the newspaper.
“It took a couple of months to warm up,” Vaughan said. “He showed me the ultimate respect. I was in my 30s and thought I knew almost everything. I didn’t, but he showed me so much respect.”
Rodgers met and married the former Lucy Watkins Morton of Meherrin, Va. And the two were a force together until her death.
“His wife was so important to him and
“He was an institution in and of himself.
There aren’t many men like Eric Rodgers in this world and his legacy should be remembered.”
helped a lot with his projects,” Vaughan said. “After she died, his health started to fail. You could tell he missed her and that she was still part of his life.”
During his senior years, Rodgers loved to go to the former Idle Hour Cafe in downtown Scotland Neck and sit and talk with his peers, Vaughan recalled.
“He loved to go sit in the Idle Hour with his peers – who for the most part were much younger than he was,” Vaughan said. “He didn’t challenge what they had to say, but when they went too far, he would correct them in his Eric Rodgers way.”
Vaughan said Rodgers also enjoyed coming to the newspaper and visiting as many of his peers his own age had passed away.
The two men eventually became close friends and spent many afternoons perched on Rodgers’ porch eating cookies and drinking a beverage.
“He invited me over to visit and I truly wasn’t sure about it, but I eventually went,” Vaughan remembered. “By the last few years of his life, I realized he had become one of my best friends. I looked forward to our time together.”
Rodgers’ other accomplishments included being appointed by Gov. Greg Cherry to the state board of conservation and development, serving as chairman of the commercial fisheries committee, a trustee of the University of North Carolina Institute of Fisheries, and director of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
He was also honored with the Patriotic Civilian Service Medal and the Outstanding Civilian Service Medal by the Army Corps of Engineers.
In addition to the bridge, the Eric W. Rodgers Amphitheater on the John H. Kerry Dam reservoir was named in his honor.
According to Vaughan, Rodgers had four daughters who he adored and who worked hard to continue to care for him in his later years.
“He didn’t want to leave Scotland Neck even though his health was failing and his daughters worked incredibly hard to make sure he didn’t have to,” Vaughan said. “They did all they could to let him stay in the home he loved.”
Eric Rodgers may have been best know for his work in Scotland Neck, but he helped shape a generation in the Roanoke Valley and beyond.
“He was an institution in and of himself,” Vaughan said. “There aren’t many men like Eric Rodgers in this world and his legacy should be remembered.”
Thadd White is Editor of five Adams Publishing Group publications in Eastern North Carolina, including Eastern North Carolina Living.
Louis Dicken Wilson: The name stands for Generosity
LLouis Dicken Wilson’s bequest of $40,000 upon his death in 1847 to Edgecombe County would equal one million dollars today.
It was that generosity, a life well-lived and numerous public services throughout his life that prompted the town of Wilson to be incorporated and named in his memory in 1849.
Following the naming of the town, the County of Wilson, formed in 1855 from portions of Edgecombe, Nash, Johnston and Wayne counties also adopted Wilson’s moniker, forever paying homage to the
A descendant of William and Elizabeth Dicken Wilson, he was born in 1789 on the family plantation in Edgecombe County. Educated at the local academy he moved to the town of Washington in 1807 after receiving a modest education.
According to public records, Wilson worked in a counting house - an accounting office of the day - while studying law. In 1812 he returned to Tarboro, becoming a notary public and eventually a justice in 1817, at 28 years old.
Wilson was focused on becoming a
public servant from the onset of his career. He represented Edgecombe County in the North Carolina General Assembly from 1814 through 1819 and collected taxes for Tarboro from 1819 to 1829.
He furthered his public service interests, becoming a state senator in 1820 and serving in that distinguished body until 1832.
However, one of his most noted accomplishments was his election to Brigadier General of the Fifth North Carolina Brigade, a position he held until 1846.
While Wilson represented Edgecombe County as one of two delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1835, he was also a delegate to the Democratic National Convention later that year.
Although he only received a modest education, and possibly because of it, Wilson was an advocate for early education throughout his career. He supported the earliest public school movement, promoting education for free blacks.
In furthering his commitment, he was among one of the founders of the Hickory Grove Academy.
His rise to positions of prominence began early in life and he cemented that position when he purchased the former residence of Congressman Thomas Blount, erected in 1810.
He was elected in 1838 as a member of the board of trustees of The University of North Carolina. In 1844 the state senate placed him on the education committee and the Literary Fund, making Wilson one of the most vocal proponents of early education in the state.
It wasn’t until his leave of absence request in 1846 to participate in the War with Mexico and fully support the state of North Carolina that he left the Senate in Raleigh for the last time.
On January 5, 1847 Wilson returned to Edgecombe County and was elected captain of Company A, First Volunteer Regiment. Wilson’s was the first company to offer its services to Governor William A.
Graham, according to historical reports.
“The volunteers met the next day at Toisnot Depot (now the city of Wilson) ‘to partake of a barbecue dinner and arrange plans prior to their departure,’
Captain Wilson's company arrived at Fort Johnston near Wilmington on 8 January for mustering into the U.S. Army and brief preparation before embarking from Smithville for Mexico in the schooner E. S. Powell on 22 February,” the report explained.
“Meanwhile he and several other officers had returned to Tarboro to attend a splendid dinner at Pender's Hotel on 9 January and the huge celebration on 18 January at which a beautiful silken banner provided by several patriotic ladies was received with an appropriate speech by Captain Wilson. It was not until 6 Mar. 1847 that the Edgecombe County companies A and E arrived at Brazos, from which they
proceeded the next day to San Francisco on the Río Grande,” the reports note.
It was President James K. Polk who promoted Wilson to Colonel of the Twelfth Infantry Regiment based in Washington City.
President Polk expected Wilson and 850 troops under his command to depart Vera Cruz and proceed towards Mexico City guarding a train of supplies headed for General Winfield Scott's army.
Plans were quickly squelched when Wilson came down with yellow fever - the COVID of the day - and died.
The military funeral and burial were held the next day, Aug. 13, 1847 and the casket was shipped back to Edgecombe County.
In 1904 Wilson’s casket was removed from a neglected rural graveyard and his monument erected on the old Court House lawn was placed on the Tarboro Town Common.
Although Wilson never married and left no known descendants, his name stands tall in Wilson County and town of Wilson.
Of the $40,000 gift to the county upon his death, reports show about $12,000 was properly utilized, $10,000 lost by bad investments and $18,000 enjoyed by Reconstructionperiod officials.
A gratifying act by both town and county officials way back then, today both Wilsons - the town and county are thriving.
The historic town offers an array of events and shopping experiences and as one of the area highlights, the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park attracts visitors the world over.
The county which boasts almost 10,000 acres of fluecured and burley tobacco is a large contributor to the state’s tobacco industry.
Although Wilson had no descendants, more people write, speak or read his name daily than one man would ever imagine.
John Foley is a Staff Writer for the Bertie Ledger-Advance, Perquimans Weekly and Eastern North Carolina Living.
Sen. J.J. “Monk” Harrington: A man of the people
WWhen out driving and one goes over a bridge he or she may notice the name of the waterway posted by sign or you may notice a county designating a county boundary.
How often does one notice a name attached to the bridge?
In Bertie County as one crosses to Martin County on U.S. 13/17 over the Roanoke River, one may notice that it was named for slain North Carolina Highway Patrolman Tom Davis, who was killed in the line of duty.
Further upstream another bridge connects Bertie and Martin counties on N.C. 11 and it is also named, this bridge is named for Senator J.J. “Monk” Harrington.
The bridge was built in 1968 and
provides access for vehicles to central Bertie County and Martin County. Approximately six thousand vehicles cross that bridge daily with many eighteen wheelers making up that number. The bridge was named by resolution the Senator J.J. “Monk” Harrington Bridge on the Nov. 18, 1988.
This bridge and N.C. 11 are fittingly named for Sen. Harrington as he had a great role in the development and improvement of the road, North Highway 11, which provides much needed commerce to Bertie, Hertford and Martin counties and the whole of northeast North Carolina region. Also this bridge travels the land and water that he treasured so much.
Sen. Harrington’s foray into politics
started locally with the local Board of Education and then as commissioner of the town of Lewiston. He worked on a statewide political campaign for friend and caught the political bug. That led to him seeking and winning state office and serving in Raleigh and home for almost thirty years.
“Monk” as he was affectionately called, grew up the son of Julian Picott Harrington and Ethel Barnes Harrington in Lewiston. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and after the war played minor league baseball in Virginia with some distinction.
When he returned home, he worked for his father’s company, Harrington Manufacturing Company.
Harrington Manufacturing was a major manufacturer of farm implements under the brand name “Roanoke” which were popular across the South and even nationally. Peanut and Tobacco harvesting were basically their most popular creations, but many of other farm devices were manufactured for a variety of crops. The jobs that were provided by Harrington Manufacturing were important to Lewiston and Bertie County.
Monk Harrington was elected to the North Carolina Senate in 1963 representing District One. He served for twenty-eight years. Rising up the political ranks until his highest position as the President Pro Tem of the State Senate in his final years of service. Senator Harrington was able to build consensus among fellow Senators, including both parties to get legislation passed and, more importantly, funded.
“Monk was a giant of a man in the Senate, he was a great big man physically. He was a big man in his influence and friendliness in the state Senate. He was always deeply devoted to his county and to his community and whole of Northeastern North Carolina” said former N.C. Governor James B. “Jim” Hunt.
One of the many ways that Senator Harrington connected with leaders was
his personality and his role as host of an annual political event held on his property in Bertie County at the Harrington Clubhouse. The event attracted political leaders locally, at the state level and even at the national level.
The event involved deer hunting, but if one did not actually hunt, they could still feast on the food, which included deer
meat, oysters and lots more. The quality of the food was legendary across the state of North Carolina and beyond. An invite to that event was considered a must-have during Harrington’s time.
The clubhouse was located off Weeping Mary Road outside of Lewiston Woodville on the Roanoke River Lowlands which are quite spectacular and filled with natural
He served for twentyeight years. Rising up the political ranks until his highest position as the President Pro Tem of the State Senate in his nal years of service.
beauty and wildlife. The pictures posted on the walls of the clubhouse reflected a who’s who of regional and national politics including Governors and even a former President. Unfortunately, the clubhouse was destroyed by fire, a senseless criminal act that had nothing to do with its history or its owners.
The work that Senator Harrington did for his district, state and, most importantly, for the residents of Bertie County cannot be quantified. He improved roads across the county from his position of power and influence. He was able to help individuals with small and large problems. He was able to help local businesses get contacts and contracts across the state and region. He knew the value of relationships in politics.
A building is also named in Bertie County for Senator Harrington at Historic
Hope outside of Windsor. The Roanoke Chowan Welcome Center was dedicated in 1991 as the J.J. Harrington building in honor of the works that Sen. Harrington did for the district and the state.
Monk remained living in his community until his death on September 10, 2008 in his home and enjoyed telling stories of his adventures and experiences locally and in Raleigh. Some of his relatives still live and work in the area and have had great success in their own endeavors.
“The thing I remember most about daddy and his politics was that he was a man of his word,” said his son, Julian P. “Pike” Harrington of Ahoskie. “He loved working with people, a true people person.
“Once he was elected that first time, he went to Raleigh and earned the respect of those in the state’s political arena. Back at
home, he still had that same respect and admiration because it’s like I said before, he was a people person,” Harrington added.
Bertie County has numerous famous politicians, including some attaining the position of Governor born and some raised here. A signatory of the United States Constitution and Governor of Tennessee, William Blount was born in Windsor. David Stone and Locke Craig were Governors from Bertie County.
The man has had arguably the greatest impact on this county as a politician may well have been Sen. J.J. “Monk” Harrington.
Lewis Hoggard is Executive Director of the Windsor/Bertie Chamber of Commerce and a regular contributor to Eastern North Carolina Living.
W.A. Pattillo: A man who cared for his students
IIf someone were to go to 501 East Avenue in Tarboro, they would discover an attractive, red brick school building with a green metal roof and yellow school buses parked in the drive in front.
Out by the street, a brick sign carries its name — W. A. Pattillo School.
But where did that name come from?
While the building that stands at that location today is not yet 25 years old, there has been a school building located there since 1923-1924 when it was originally built as Tarboro Colored High School.
Then, as now, it was a two-story brick building and it stood until 1974, when it was torn down to make way for a new building.
That building stood until it was flooded by Hurricane Floyd in September 1999, which necessitated the construction of the current facility — the third school to be located on the site.
In 1943, the school’s original name was changed to W.A. Pattillo in 1943 to honor the educator who had been appointed in 1924 and oversaw the first eighthgrade graduation for African Americans in Tarboro in 1924.
Under Pattillo’s leadership, the school started a football team in 1933 and the groundwork was put in place for the start of a marching band as well as both boys and girls basketball teams in 1947 — the year after he retired.
Pattillo had the reputation as an educator who truly cared about those students in his charge and wanted them to understand that they could make their own way, despite roadblocks that might be in their way.
Pattillo retired in 1945 and his son, W. H. Pattillo, was appointed as principal.
To this day, the legacy of Walter Alexander Pattillo Jr., lives on through the work of the W.A. Pattillo National Alumni Association.
Pattillo was born in Oxford, NC on May 18, 1876, and died on Nov. 11, 1951, in Tarboro at age 75. He is buried in the Blacknall Cemetery in Henderson.
(Material for this article was gathered from the W.A. Pattillo Middle School website, from the W.A. Patillo High School page on www.theclio.com, and from the W.A. Pattillo National Alumni Association YouTube video, “W A Pattillo Legacy Leaders Legends.”)
To this day, the legacy of Walter Alexander Pattillo Jr., lives on through the work of the W.A. Pattillo National Alumni Association.
W.W. “Billy” Hill: A man who loved Murfreesboro, family
TTo say Billy Hill was a beloved and successful mayor of Murfreesboro would be to only scratch the surface of a man who was a dedicated public servant for most of his life.
Hill, who served as mayor of Murfreesboro for nearly three decades, loved his town, his family and his God. He was dedicated to all of them and spent much of his waking time working hard for one of those three.
“My dad was a family man, such a happy person,” his daughter, Jayne Wolfskill recalled. “Family was everything to him.
Laughing, she added, “Murfreesboro may have been first, but his family was right there.”
Hill came to Murfreesboro with his family at age 2, having moved from Holland, Virginia. He quickly grew to love his adopted home and spent the rest of his life there working to make it a better place.
Wolfskill said she remembered her father always having a love for Murfreesboro and Hertford County.
He was a student at Chowan College when he went into World War II and served his country.
“I went to Glenn L. Martin in Baltimore where they were building airplanes,” she recalled. “Then Tommy and Harry couldn’t come home and my daddy's health was so bad so I came back home to run the business. (I) never did go back to college.”
He got involved in politics early – and for the right reason – as he wanted to be in a position to help the people of his town and county.
“He always wanted to help make Murfreesboro the best place it could be,” she said. “He loved people and he wanted the best for them.”
Hill was elected to the Murfreesboro Town Council at just 24 years old and then chosen by the voters to serve as a Hertford County Commissioner two years later. He spent a dozen years serving on the Hertford County Board of Commissioners, approximately half of which he served as the board’s chairman.
From there, he was elected to serve as mayor of Murfreesboro – usually running
unopposed as his popularity was such that, even when he was opposed, his victory was secured.
Wolfskill remembered her father as a man who loved Murfreesboro, believed in the historic district and was a staunch supporter of what was then Chowan College (now Chowan University).
“He said many times, as the college goes, so goes the town,” she recalled. “He was really supportive of the college and of education in general.”
One of the proudest moments for the late mayor – and indeed for Murfreesboro – was the celebration of the town’s Lafayette Ball which was attended by the French Ambassador. There was a parade downtown and the event was a huge success.
“My mother was proud of that day,” Wolfskill said. “She said she felt like she was the wife of the President of the United States. It was a big moment for him.”
She also recalled the celebration of the bicentennial when her father dressed up as George Washington and her mother as Martha Washington. She said it was another great day for her father and the town.
Hill also loved the town’s beautiful historic district and was proud of the work of the Murfreesboro Historic Association, and also of the Roberts Vaughan Village Center renovation.
While working for the town and county, Hill and his brothers, Tommy and Harry operated Hill Chevrolet.
“My dad worked hard and never took off but one week,” Wolfskill said. “But, during that week he would always take us on vacation. He would put us in a car and take us somewhere.”
Wolfskill remembered her parents taking the family to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. She said they saw people from Hertford County and just enjoyed the time there together.
She said he also took them to Hyde Park and many other places of historical presidential significance.
Family was always important to Billy Hill, particularly his beloved wife, Margaret Parker Hill. The two met at Riverside basket – she from Woodland and him from Murfreesboro. The two lived happily until his death and were known for their great love story.
“My parents used to get in his old truck and ride around – especially on Sundays,”
Wolfskill recalled. “People used to ask who the third person was in the vehicle, but it was a big black lab.
“My father was more social than my mother, but they did everything together and with us,” she added. “They did everything together. If you saw her, you saw him.”
While he was a great believer in the strong past of the town of Murfreesboro, he was also a believer in looking forward.
The couple went to Murfreesboro United Methodist Church together and raised their family there.
Ken Wolfskill, Billy’s son-in-law, remembered him playing an antique organ.
“He never had a lesson, but could make it sing,” he said.
As a father, Wolfskill said her dad was much like he was as a person. He was a negotiator.
“He also taught us to solve our own problems,” Wolfskill said. “He was there for us. He taught us.”
Billy Hill, the man, loved antiques. He
loved collecting them and searching for them.
His love for them led to him making a gate that still stands in the back of his home. It was so beautiful many believed it to be salvaged from an old home.
In a 1979 interview with The NewsHerald, Hill explained how it came to be at his home.
“I copied it from one here in town,” he said. “Helen Barnes let me take one off the hinges so I could have the hinges copied for mine.”
Wolfskill said he loved that gate throughout his life and that his family treasures it now that he has gone.
While he was a great believer in the strong past of the town of Murfreesboro, he was also a believer in looking forward.
Wolfskill remembers her dad as both conservative and progressive, a description he likely would have agreed with based on his comments to The News Herald in 1987.
“I think we should continue to be conservative, but at the same time, progressive,” he said.
When Billy Hill succumbed to a long illness in 1996, he was remembered as a great man from his beloved Murfreesboro to places throughout North Carolina.
“I deeply regret the death of Billy Hill,”
said then N.C. Gov. Jim Hunt. “During my years as governor, he was a close and trusted friend.
“I especially recall being with him when he dedicated the new town hall in Murfreesboro and staying in his home,” Gov. Hunt said. “He was an enthusiastic advocate for economic development for his community and constantly pushed for new roads and industry. He will be sorely missed.”
Such was the love and respect for Mayor Hill that, upon his passing, the bridge across the Meherrin River north of town and a street just off main were named in his honor.
“I think my dad would be surprised about the bridge and street being named in his honor – and probably by the crowd that attended his funeral as well,” Wolfskill said.
Despite the fact he may have been surprised by those honors, they were well-deserved. Billy Hill was a man of Murfreesboro, a man of the people and a man of family. His legacy endures – as it should – more than two decades after his death.
Thadd White is Editor of five Adams Publishing Group publications in Eastern North Carolina, including Eastern North Carolina Living.
FForty years ago, Sam Roebuck took some of the fruits he earned from a lifetime in the grocery business and invested them in the future.
The 3,500-seat Roebuck Stadium that bears his name has provided a muchneeded boost to Elizabeth City State University’s sports and band programs ever since its dedication in 1982.
In a statement about the Roebuck Stadium, the university said the structure has symbolized pride, tradition and excellence to students, the faculty and the Elizabeth City community.
“Since its opening, the stadium has
Sam Roebuck: Living the American Dream
[provided] a strong foundation and training ground for our student-athletes and band members, teaching teamwork and leadership. The stadium continues to be a place that builds and strengthens a community of alumni and friends,” the university said in a press release. The college said the stadium hosts an average of 10 events each year.
The stadium was built, in part, with gifts from Carrie Manning and James Samuel Roebuck and named for him in a dedication ceremony on May 10, 1981. The structure finished a much-needed facelift in 2020, preparing it for another
four decades of service through the “Reimagining Roebuck” project.
The field was laser graded, drainage systems repaired and topsoil laid down, providing an improved playing surface.
Sam Roebuck opened his first open-air produce market in Elizabeth City back in the 1950s. He took that initial success and grew it into a network of S&R Supermarkets and convenience stores over a 40-year career that opened stores from the Outer Banks to Hertford and Edenton.
Friends and family said Roebuck was an example of how the American dream makes success possible for anyone willing
to work for it. That success was all the more remarkable considering the fact that he built his grocery and convenience store chain without the benefit of the kind of college education he championed in his later life.
Roebuck’s formal education extended only through the eighth grade. Perhaps because of that, he made a point of giving substantial gifts to higher education institutions like ECSU’s Roebuck Stadium.
But he also established scholarships for needy and promising students at Elizabeth City State University, The College of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Sam Roebuck also dedicated himself to guiding higher education by serving on the boards of several colleges and universities. He served as a member of the North Carolina Board of Community Colleges and on the boards of the College of the Albemarle and Elizabeth City State University.
Civic and business community affairs were two other passions that interested him. He served as a member and Paul Harris Fellow of the Elizabeth City Rotary Club. He was a director of Wachovia Bank and Trust and a long-time member of the Eureka Lodge #317 AF & AM, as well as
a member of the Sudan Shrine Temple in New Bern, NC. He was also a lifelong member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post #6060.
During his later years, Roebuck continued to live an active life of service, providing his labor to the community. He painted the First United Methodist Church in Elizabeth City and many homes in the region that were devastated by floods and hurricanes well into his seventies.
Sam Roebuck passed away at the age
of 94 in 2018. He was survived by his wife of 37 years, Carole Symons Roebuck, his daughter, Kathryn Roebuck Holding, his son, David Light Ray, and three grandchildren.
The Roebuck Stadium is located at 1704 Weeksville Rd. in Elizabeth City.
Vernon Fueston is a retired journalist who worked with the Bertie Ledger-Advance and Chowan Herald among others. He has written for Eastern North Carolina Living for many years.
Friends and family said Roebuck was an example of how the American dream makes success possible for anyone willing to work for it.
ALL IN A
P lan your own day tri P to Henderson/Vance County & Kerr Lake, North Carolina
Story & Photosby Vance County Tourism Department
Build your day around the activities and suggestions we have offered below. Since operating days and hours are subject to change, we suggest that you call ahead to your points of interest for a current schedule before planning or making your trip. For the recreational, leisure and fitness minded:
Kerr Lake State Recreation Area/Parks Office and Visitors Center
A 50,000-acre lake straddling the North Carolina and Virginia border with over 800 miles of shoreline, Kerr Lake allows visitors to enjoy fishing, boating, skiing, swimming, camping, hiking/walking, picnicking, bird watching and nature study.
Satterwhite Point day use area, about nine miles from town, is the closest park to Henderson. It offers the following amenities: a tot lot with swing set and sliding board for the kids, a volleyball area, a designated swim area with accessible changing rooms and restrooms and a short walking trail. There is no lifeguard on duty.
Picnic tables with adjacent grills are scattered throughout the parks and will allow you to have an outdoor cookout while visiting the lake.
A visitors center, housed inside the parks office and located across from the entrance to Satterwhite Point Park, provides the history of Kerr Lake along with an exhibit hall identifying plants, birds, fish and wildlife native to the area.
Visitors must bring their own equipment needed for the activities they plan to participate in. Seven different camping areas offer over 600 sites on or near the shoreline. Bullocksville Park and Henderson Point each offer a handicap accessible fishing pier.
For more information:
6254 Satterwhite Point Rd. 252-438-7791 http://www.ncparks.gov
Aycock Recreation Complex
A full-size gymnasium, 25-yard indoor pool, 1/12th mile indoor walking track, weight room and outdoor walking tracks. Day use fee applies.
305 Careys Chapel Road, 252-492-9400 http://www.ci.henderson.nc.us
Indoor/outdoor recreation facility that offers miniature golf, laser tag, bumper boats, batting cages, indoor arcade, game room and a playmaze.
1211 Coble Blvd., 252-492-9888 http://www.adventureislandnc.com
Before The 1st Frame Bowling Center
12-lane bowling alley. 85 US 158 Bypass West, 252-598-1100
Steele Creek Marina & Campground
The marina provides the following amenities: Wet slips and campsite rentals, marina store, gas dock, pump out station, RV dump station, boat ramps and pontoon boat and kayak rentals.
1603 Townsville Landing Road 252-492-1426 http://www.steelecreekmarina.net
McGregor Hall Performing Arts Center
McGregor Hall is a new 1,000-seat, state of the art Performing Arts Center located in downtown Henderson. McGregor Hall presents a diverse schedule of performing arts, including all genres of music, dance, Broadway touring theatricals and national, regional and local touring artists. 201 Breckenridge Street 252-598-0662 http://www.mcgregorhall.org
For the treasure hunter and shopper:
Salvation Army Thrift Store
218 Raleigh Rd. - Monday - Saturday 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. (252) 492-9552
The Everything Store (Thrift Store)
303 South Garnett St. - Monday - Saturday 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. (252) 432-4117
Henderson Square Shopping Center
Located between Exit 212 and 213 off I-85. Retail merchants include Belk's, Dollar Tree, Bath & Body Works, Burkes Outlet, Wal-Mart and numerous shoe stores and specialty stores.
Supply Line Country Market
Locally owned fresh market with the atmosphere of a farmers market. Carries a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, a wide selection of North Carolina grown and produced products such as honey, jams and jellies, nuts and North Carolina wines. A good selection of imported beers and wines are also available. Custom made gift baskets, flowers and a gift shop for special occasions can be found here.
235 Raleigh Rd, 252-438-2836
The Carolina Nut Company
(Formerly The Peanut Roaster) High quality roasted, chocolate covered, and specialty seasoned nuts of all kinds. Utilizes North Carolina and Virginia grown peanuts to produce some of the best tasting snacks in the industry. The manufacturing facility along with an adjoining retail store/ gift shop is located here.
394 Zeb Robinson Rd, 800-445-1404
Vance County Regional Farmers Market
Locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers, plants, crafts, homemade jams and jellies. Open Wednesday and Saturday during season from 7:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. located off S. Beckford Drive behind Lula's Landing Apts. 2010 Southpark Drive, Henderson, NC http://www.go.ncsu.edu/vcrfm
For the history buff:
Heritage Trail Historical Walking/Driving Tour
a self guided walking tour of the Henderson downtown historic district, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Downtown starting point is the Fire Department/Clock Tower, circa 1908 located at 205 North Garnett Street.
See various styles of architecture and noteworthy examples of distinctive building styles associated with particular construction periods. A driving tour of county historic sites and points of interest is also included.
Maps and brochures are available at the Vance County Tourism Office located in the Crossroads Shopping Center at 946-T West Andrews Ave. in Henderson. (252) 438-2222. Some of the most visited county historic sites and points of interest are noted below:
Corbitt Truck Museum
Explore the history and evolution of the Corbitt Company from its early buggies to their mighty military trucks from the period of 1899 to 1954. In its early years the company produced horse drawn buggies and later manufactured automobiles, farm tractors, buses, and heavy-duty trucks used by the U.S. military. Call for an appointment to visit the museum. Groups are welcome. 180 Church Street, Henderson, NC 252-767-2247, http://www.corbitttrucks.com
Raleigh Road Drive-In Theater
One of only six remaining drive-in theaters still operating in North Carolina. Originally opened in 1949, the theater is the oldest of those remaining. In 2006, new ownership purchased the dated drive-in and made significant upgrades and brought new life to the theater. Today, it is well-known for its family and kid friendly environment. Operating days vary by season. Call or visit website for current schedule.
3336 Raleigh Road (U.S. 1 Business South) 252-438-6959 http://www.raleighroaddrivein.com
St. James Episcopal Church circa 1860
Erected a short time before the Civil War. The minister at that time, the Rev. M.M. Marshall, presided at the burials of the soldiers who died at the nearby Kittrell Springs Hotel Hospital. Corner of Main & Williams St. - Kittrell, NC.
St. Johns Episcopal Church circa 1746
The only remaining colonial Anglican church building in the Diocese of North Carolina. It is also the oldest frame church in the state and the third oldest church standing in North Carolina today. No active congregation. Junction of N.C. 39 North & Stagecoach Rd., Williamsboro, NC
Kittrell Confederate Cemetery
A North Carolina Civil War Trails Historic Site. Self-guided tour. The final resting place of 52 Confederate soldiers from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. All soldiers buried here died at the nearby Kittrell Springs Hotel which had been converted into a military hospital during the war. West Chavis LaneKittrell, NC.
Perry Memorial Library
Originally opened in 1924, the library moved into its present facility on July 5, 2006. With two floors, space for many books and materials, computers, and as an Internet hot-spot, the new Perry Library is ready to serve Vance County as never before. The local history room, located on the second floor, houses information relative to the history of the area and is also a good source for genealogical and family history research. Displays detailing the history of the county from its creation to present day are also located on the second floor.
205 Breckenridge St. 252-438-3316, http://www.perrylibrary.org
Henderson Institute Historical Museum
A museum of history, oral and written records, books, photographs, and printed materials regarding the education of African-Americans at Henderson Institute, and artifacts and other items of interest displayed. Located on the corner of Beckford Drive and West Rockspring Street. Open: Tuesday and Thursday 1 p.m. - 4 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. Other hours by appointment 252-430-0616 629 W. Rockspring Street http://www.henderson-institute.org
Nash County musician chases fame in Music City
NASHVILLE — It’s a Tuesday afternoon on the second floor of Honky Tonk Central, one of nearly three dozen bars on Lower Broadway. Chandler James is finishing up a Chris Stapleton soulful ballad, “Fire Away.”
Squinting through the sunlight beaming onto the second-floor stage, James is pla ying the 2-6 p.m. “training shift.” It’s a far cry from the bigger and more established venues like the Ryman Auditorium, Station Inn, Ascend Amphitheater and Grand Ole Opry.
But James is exactly where he wants to be, especially considering the Nash County native only started playing guitar about four years ago.
In fact, if not for a cowboy hat and a guitar, James might still be cutting grass at Rocky Mount Mills or partying at Auburn University.
Instead, he’s performing under the stage name Chandler James at daytime gigs at honky tonk bars in Nashville. That’s Nashville in Tennessee, also known as Music City. He’s playing the Tootsie’s rotation of bars, as well as picking up spots at other venues throughout the region.
Oh, and he just released a single, “Long Haul,” written by Steve Dorff, a hall-offame songwriter who has written songs for George Strait, Lee Greenwood, Eddie Rabbit and Kenny Rogers.
“I’m fortunate to be where I am,” James said. “Especially just about four years from when I first picked up a guitar. But I have a long way to go to be where I want to be.”
According to a 2013 study by Next Big Sound website, just 0.02 percent of artists make their way to mega-star status. Another 2.3 percent are mainstream or mid-sized talent and 6.8 percent are developing artists.
The remaining 90.7 percent, according to the study, are undiscovered.
“It’s unrealistic to say that I don’t have doubts,” James said. “But I’m a really lucky person. Nashville is a contact town — and fortunately, I moved here with contacts already.”
But moving to Nashville and playing music wasn’t a lifelong dream for James like it is for some artists. True, he said he’d always wanted to play the guitar, but making a living at it wasn’t his endgame when he first started playing.
Four years ago, when James was a 17-year-old senior at Rocky Mount Academy, he didn’t even know how to play the guitar. That all changed when he struggled to stay awake in an AP psychology class in school. Then a friend suggested he drop the class and enroll with him in music performance.
“I didn’t take him too seriously when he told me,” said his mother, Kelcey Gazaway. “But I told him if he can play “Wish You Were Here” (by Pink Floyd), he can drop the class. Four days later, he came home and played it. I looked at my husband and said, ‘We might have an expensive hobby here.’”
Every day after football practice, James practiced, learned songs — mostly country — and transitioned from an electric guitar to a D’Angelico acoustic guitar. As he got better, he upgraded to a Martin.
“His first public appearance was at a friend’s piano recital,” Gazaway said. “I watched the people in the audience, and they looked at each other like, ‘He’s good.’ That’s when I thought he might have
A few months later, a buddy’s brother came down from New York to play a show at Tarboro Brewing Company in Tarboro. He invited James on stage to play a few songs.
“I was extremely nervous, and you could tell I was still learning,” James said.
He started playing more bars, restaurants and private parties, and his parents invested in more and better equipment. His first big show was at his high school graduation in front of about 200 people. Although it was a good experience, he still didn’t have an inclination that he would continue as a performer.
It wasn’t until a graduation trip to St. Thomas that planted the seed that eventually led him to Nashville.
“I was sitting at the bar one night with my cowboy hat on, and a lady commented on it,” James said.
The woman struck up a conversation with James, asking him if he played music and if he had his guitar with him.
“When you’re learning guitar, you bring it with you everywhere,” James said. “So I went to my room and got it and played in the bar for her. She said she liked how it sounded, told me she owned a record label in Nashville and wanted me to come and visit.”
But he still hadn’t decided on music as a career. He applied to West Virginia University — because of its status as the No. 1 party school in the country — and Auburn University.
“He has a big heart, he makes good decisions and he looks after others. He had a real drive for the music.
But as the summer of 2019 was winding down, he began to have second thoughts about an out-of-state college experience.
“I think I was most proudest of him when he recognized that was not what he needed to do,” Gazaway said. “He was picking up a lot of weekend gigs. He said, ‘If I move, I’m going to have to start all over.’”
So he enrolled in Nash Community College and continued to play the music circuit in the Twin Counties — TBC in Tarboro, Rocky Mount Mills, Westridge Grill and others, as well as private parties throughout the area. And he started writing songs, too.
Then in 2020 when COVID hit, he decided to visit Nashville, and the record
label owner from the St. Thomas bar, Carla Williams, set him up in a studio to record an EP of five songs, including his first original, “Don’t Remind Me.”
“It was awesome,” James said.
Because of COVID, some of the best musicians weren’t touring, so they were playing as studio musicians. Chandler’s first recording sessions included Grammy winner and two-time CMA Musician of the Year Brent Mason, Supertramp’s Carl Verhoyen and Keith Carlock, who has played drums with Steely Dan, Toto, James Taylor and Sting.
Although he visited Nashville numerous times after high school, his mother told him that he couldn’t move there until he at
least earned a two-year degree and turned 21.
“I started playing a lot around home — once or twice every weekend and making decent money,” he said. “So I ended up staying and getting my degree.”
On May 3, James graduated from Nash Community College. On May 4, he turned 21. On May 15, he and his dog, Emmy, moved to Nashville.
Soon after, he auditioned for the Tootsie’s circuit, which includes daytime gigs at four bars along Lower Broadway. He also has played the PNC Plaza stage outside the Ryman Auditorium and the balcony bar at Jason Aldean’s bar.
Sometimes he plays with a band,
some of whom he just meets the day they play, and sometimes he plays solo. On that Tuesday afternoon in September, James was playing with a band that had one rehearsal under its belt, performing a mixture of country and classic rock songs to a crowd of about 50.
While most of the big-name acts are playing at night throughout Nashville, James and his fellow budding artists are paying their daytime dues, belting out tunes by Chris Stapleton, Kenny Chesney, Waylon Jennings and Bob Seger. But they’re playing.
“I played seven hours today,” James said earlier this month during a phone interview. “I play 20-25 hours a week on
average, but I’ve been getting more and more shows lately. I am making more money, but it’s not good for the voice.”
James’ parents, Kelcey and Eric Gazaway, both are proud of him, for multiple reasons, Kelcey said.
“He has a big heart; he makes good decisions; and he looks after others,” she said. “He has a real drive for the music. And as a parent, it makes you happy to see him happy in what he’s doing.”
Since James’ newest single, “Long Haul,” was released on Sept. 28, it has been downloaded almost 300 times on Spotify and Apple Music. The song was released on about a dozen music streaming services. In addition, James has recorded three more
Dorff songs that have yet to be released.
And when he talks about the many pitfalls in the music industry, the 21-yearold seems to have a realistic grasp of the difficulties of making it to mega-stardom.
“I would like to be the next Garth Brooks,” he said, laughing. “But really, I want to make enough money playing music that I can provide for a family of three or four — somewhere off Broadway in Nashville.”
Until then, he’s going to keep playing the honky tonks, which so far has been enough to provide for him and Emmy.
J. Eric Eckard is a free-lance writer based in Rocky Mount.
football at its finest
TARBORO BREWGRASS CELEBRATION
William Shakespeare wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”
I think he meant that the name was irrelevant because the content would be the same no matter what we named it. That may be true, but names are very important to us humans.
Our names are personal and give us our identity. We name everything. Even foods we are familiar with often have people’s names added to them for various reasons.
According to Taste of Home: “The name Caesar Salad may remind you of Ancient Rome, but in fact, the Caesar who gets the credit here is Mr. Caesar Cardini, who invented this crunchy romaine salad in Tijuana, Mexico.
Salisbury Steak was named for Dr. James Salisbury, who preferred to call it “muscle pulp of beef.” Doesn’t that sound delicious and tempting? He advocated for an all chopped meat diet with no fruits or vegetables.
Beef Wellington is named after the Duke of Wellington, who famously defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, ending his historic reign in Europe. The Duke celebrated with this delicious victory meal of “beef and mushrooms inside a savory pastry crust.”
Most of us have heard of Martha Washington Candy, made with coconut and pecans or Elvis Presley’s peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwiches.
Often we name our recipes after our mother or grandmother or friends. Written on many
of my recipes are the names of the one who gave me the recipe. When I use those recipes, it brings warm memories of good times spent together. Those names are important to me.
When the recipe is one I got from my mother or grandmother, it feels like something important being passed from generation to generation. Both of them were great cooks and I miss their meals.
My mother cooked country, Italian and American-style dishes. My grandmother cooked country, but also many German-style dishes because my grandfather liked German foods. It was the way his German grandmother cooked.
Homemade German sauerkraut was a big deal. My grandmother made it every year and my uncle made a hot version of it. I remember her putting it down in a large crock, putting a plate on top to hold it under the liquid, placing a cloth over the outside and another plate to cover the top of the crock.
She stored it in the hallway where it was dark and cool. My uncle stuffed green peppers with his sauerkraut and placed them in large glass jars with the liquid covering them.
I still love sauerkraut, but have never attempted to make my own. I buy the sauerkraut in glass jars. It tastes closest to homemade. It is good cooked in a small amount of bacon grease for a side dish, as a topping for hots dogs or cooked with dumplings.Sylvia Hughes with her grandmother, Bertie Dameron.
S auerkraut , H ot D og S , B rat S or P ork an D P otatoe S
My grandmother diced potatoes very small about 1 inch cut up her hot dogs, sausages or pork when using pork, she cut it into 1” pieces, the brats or hot dogs in small rings.
She fried the potatoes in bacon grease until golden brown then removed to a dish
Added the hot dogs, sausages
or pork to the frying pan and cooked until done
She added the potatoes and strained sauerkraut back into the pan and stirred until it was covered in the pan drippings. Cook about three minutes and serve.
r eu B en S an D wic H
½ pound deli corned beef sliced thin ¼ pound deli Swiss cheese sliced thin sauerkraut from glass jar strained
Swirl rye bread
Thousand Island, Russian or French dressing (I like mustard or mayo instead)
Put dressing on one side of bread for sandwiches
Add several slices of corned beef
Add layer of sauerkraut to your taste
Add Swiss cheese
Place top on sandwich, and butter
Place butter side down in warm frying pan and butter top layer
Brown both sides until golden and cheese melts
Remove from pan, cut in half
Serve with dill pickles
Sylvia Hughes is a retired newspaper editor and columnist residing in Windsor. In addition to three sons, she has a gaggle of grandchildren, many of whom love cooking with her just as she did with her mother and grandmother.
Grace & Truth Our Snow White…
During the most challenging days of the great depression, which in some respects our towns never recovered from, there was a dreamer.
Sarah Elizabeth changed Bertie County. She was a preacher who was passionate about finding the hopeless and hurting. Sarah planted three churches in Bertie County, which are still flourishing today. Her last name was Snow-White, and that’s how most remember her.
Snow-White planted churches in Windsor, Askewville and Colerain (Perrytown). She started all three congregations around 1930 and ministered to each every Sunday. She would preach at Windsor Assembly for the morning service, then to Perrytown for an afternoon service, and ended up at the crossroad of Buena Vista near Askewville for the PM service.
The crowds began filling these spaces with hungry disciples of Jesus that have fanned into flame a passion for missions, worship and reaching the next generation.
Our Snow-White preceded Disney’s
by several years. The Disney classic hit theaters in 1937, yet Bertie’s SnowWhite’s ministries had begun to function and flourish in communities desperate for hope.
She was willing to love in ways that were unfamiliar to most. She endured many heartaches but never relented in the mission and call of God on her life. And, because of faithfulness, she helped a lot more than seven dwarfs.
Our Snow-White built three assemblies that may be seen as smallP ASTOR W EBB H OGGARD
from the outside, but these bodies of believers have brought hope to hundreds. Today, these three churches are among the most active in evangelizing the world. Planting churches and sending missionaries is a hallmark of her passion for reaching the lost.
She was laid to rest in Edgewood cemetery at the age of 89. Snow-White was an ordained minister for 56 years and saw great things come of the work she started.
Her legacy testifies that if you give wholeheartedly the little you have, God can make much of it. One of the few miracles mentioned in all four gospels of the New Testament is the feeding of the five thousand men.
Jesus was handed two fish and five small loaves, and he fed perhaps ten thousand people until they were all satisfied. Little is much when God is in it, and God has richly blessed hundreds of folks from Bertie County because a lady took the mission of Christ seriously.
Emanuel Webb Hoggard is Pastor at Askewville Assembly of God and a resident of Edenton. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
testiﬁes that if you give wholeheartedly the little you have, God can make much of it.
County: Halifax Marker ID: E-53 Date Cast: 1954-P
Early channel of trade, its valley long an area of plantations. Frequent floods until 1952, since controlled by Kerr Dam. Old name was “Moratuck.”
Information courtesy of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
Beginning in Montgomery County, Virginia, at the junction of its North and South Forks, the Roanoke River enters North Carolina in Warren County and flows through Halifax, Northampton, Bertie, Martin, Washington Counties, before emptying into Batchelor’s Bay and Albemarle Sound. The Roanoke River is one of the five largest rivers in the Southeast that flows from the foothills of the Appalachian into the Atlantic. For North Carolina’s earliest settlers it was a channel of trade. Settlers were attracted to the Roanoke River Valley because of the fertile soil. Along the river in Halifax County, the Coastal Plain and the Piedmont Region meet in a fall line, creating rapids and waterfalls on the Roanoke River.
In August of 1940 a record flood devastated the Roanoke River Basin. Crops, homes, and industries were destroyed. Citizens organized to voice their concerns and express the need for flood control measures. The Roanoke River Basin Association was formed in 1945 by leading citizens of both Virginia and North Carolina to promote construction of Kerr Dam and other dams including the Gaston and the Smith Mountain Dams. Kerr Dam, completed in 1953, is the largest dam in the Roanoke Basin system.
PARTING SHOTSBy Thadd White
OOne of the advantages of getting older is when you write about history, you remember a good deal of it. Such is the case with this edition of Eastern North Carolina Living.
Maybe you remember our first go at “What’s in a Name?” several years ago. Those of you who do may remember the theme occurred to me as I drove across the J.J. “Monk” Harrington Bridge which connects Bertie and Martin counties on N.C. 11.
Last time we didn’t do that story due to the illness of our friend Bob Spivey. Instead, we did a story on him that we were happy to be able to include in our magazine.
This time, you get the story of Monk Harrington thanks to the work of Lewis Hoggard, who did a lot of research and talked with family members. Lewis, like myself, remembers Monk and his work in Lewiston Woodville, Bertie County and the state of North Carolina.
He was a towering figure who commanded respect and did so much for eastern North Carolina. His imposing presence fighting for us is missed to this day.
For myself, I remember him coming into the place I worked – Pittman’s Richfood – and spending weekend mornings talking to William Pittman, Joel
Skinner and Albert Vann. I remember them laughing and talking and having a good time. No one would have ever understood the importance those four men played in their community by watching them tell stories and laugh.
Also in this edition you’ll find a story dear to my heart. I was able to sit down with the daughter of the late W.W. “Billy” Hill – Jayne Wolfskill – and reminisce about her father. He was the mayor of Murfreesboro back when I was just learning the business.
In addition to being a great man, he was also a wonderful mayor. He was easy to work with and a hoot when you got him started. I miss him to this day and I’m grateful for the chance to share his story with you, our readers.
There are a great many other stories here of people whose names you may remember, but whose stories you don’t know.
You’ll learn the story of Lindsay Warren, whose name adorns the Alligator River Bridge, Nolan Respess whose name is on the South Creek High School football stadium and Eric Rodgers who has a bridge named in his honor.
Among our other stories are the Winnie Blount Road in Hyde County, the Penelope Barker House in Edenton and the Buck Leonard Park in Nash County.
In addition, you’ll meet a Nash County man trying to make a career in Nashville, Tennessee, read recipes from Grandma’s Kitchen, have a devotion with Pastor Webb Hoggard and figure out a day’s trip in Vance County.
There are just a few of the stories that await you in our final edition of Eastern North Carolina Living for 2022. We have enjoyed another year of bringing you the stories of our region and look forward to being back next year. We wish you the best over the holiday season and look forward to bringing you another six editions next year.
If you have ideas about themes for our editions, drop me a line at twhite@ apgenc.com. I’d love to hear from you.
Until next time, remember… all who wander are not lost. Continue joining us as we wander through Beaufort, Bertie, Chowan, Edgecombe, Gates, Greene, Halifax, Hertford, Hyde, Martin, Nash, Northampton, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Pitt, Tyrrell, Washington and Wilson counties.
Thadd White is a father, a fan of Chelsea Football Club and a the grateful editor of this publication. He serves as Group Editor of five Adams Publishing Group publications, including the N.C. Press Award-winning Eastern North Carolina Living.