Greenville LIFE in the EAST
DR. WILLIAM N. STILL • GREENWREATH • 100 YEARS STRONG: GARRIS-EVANS • MICHAEL FORSTER
Publisher Robin L. Quillon Editor Bobby Burns
5 10 20 28
Dr. William N. Still
Contributing writers Bob Garner, Debroah Griffin, Kim Grizzard, Morgan Barnville Photographers Deborah Griffin, Molly Mathis Regional Advertising Director Craig Springer
Advertising representatives Tom Little, Christina Ruotolo, Genevia Hill, Ken Rhodes & Rubie Smith Creative services director Jessica Harris Creative services Brandi Callahan, Lora Jernigan, and Dawn Newton
FROM THE EDITOR
Layout design Jasmine Blount Greenville: Life in the East is a publication of The Daily Reflector and
Micheal Forster is a collector of many
Adams Publishing Group ENC. Contents
things, postcards and toy trains among
may not be reproduced without the
them. He also is a dispenser of kindness.
consent of the publisher.
Greenville LIFE in the EAST
Deborah Griffin Kim and Garreth Kenyon walking to the front of Greenwreath.
The history of Greenwreath goes back
With the help of friends, including the
even further. The 3,000-square-foot plantation house, thought to be the oldest
shared much of what he has collected with
surviving residence in Pitt County, has a
his neighbors and the world.
new lease on life thanks to a young couple
Bill Still is a collector, too, of sorts. Over
who purchased it in 2013, Kim and Garreth Kenyon.
and facts and stories that tell the history
The Kenyons are preserving a treasure
of our country. He is a renowned expert in
and adding their own story to the home’s
maritime history and the Civil War. At East
heritage as they go.
Carolina University, he was a guiding hand
Forster, Still, the Evans and Kenyons
in the formation of what would become a
have made Pitt County their home and as
marquee academic course, the Program in
a result their home and ours is richer.
Maritime Studies. DR. WILLIAM N. STILL • GREENWREATH • 100 YEARS STRONG: GARRIS-EVANS • MICHAEL FORSTER
history of Greenville itself.
late Congressman Walter Jones, he has
decades he has gathered names and dates
tale of how their business grew mirrors the
With the holiday season upon us, we
David and John Evans are living histo-
hope you are able to spend the best of
ry. The two are the third and fourth gen-
times with the people you love at your
erations, respectively, of the family that
homes, and we hope you enjoy reading
started Garris-Evans Lumber Company,
these stories of your neighbors at theirs.
now celebrating 100 years in business. The
— Bobby Burns
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AMERICAN HISTORIAN Dr. William N. Still .
By Bob Garner
Dr. William Still poses in front of the remains of the CSS Neuse at the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center in Kinston on Nov. 9, 2019.
s one of the world’s most highly respected historians in his dual specialties of the American Civil War and maritime history, Dr. William N. Still of Greenville is considered an exhaustive researcher and precise, detailed writer. But to his former East Carolina University students and fellow faculty members, Bill Still has a reputation not only as a buttoned-down scholar but also something of a swashbuckling adventurer. As the energetic co-founder Winter 2019
and past head of Program in Maritime Studies, the now-retired history professor spent a significant early chunk of his 36-year East Carolina teaching career navigating a time of budgetary uncertainty, devising enterprising solutions to the needs for facilities and equipment and, most importantly, building enthusiasm for combining the fields of maritime history and underwater archeology. “Those two fields had somehow Greenville: Life In The East
developed separately without absorbing very much from each other,” according to Still. “I guess you could say a lot of my niche at East Carolina revolved around working up an academic and experiential program that was a good match between the two.”
CHANCE ENCOUNTER Still, 87, received his bachelor’s degree at Mississippi College in 1953, served an enlistment in the Navy and earned both a masters and doctorate at the
University of Alabama, completing his Gordon Watts had gone on to become a bought the pump and paid for it with a state archeologist headquartered on the university credit card.” dissertation in 1964. He was teaching history at Mississippi University for coast and had developed a vital interest in Still laughs that he had to leave diving and exploring underwater wrecks. the field school and drive all the way Women in 1968 when he took a random trip detour through Greenville, He approached Still with the idea of back to ECU to talk himself out of hoping to fit in a tennis game with a devising annual joint field schools that trouble for that particular decision, friend from graduate school who was could provide East Carolina students with but that university academic leaders on the ECU faculty. practical experience to augment their were generally supportive of such “During my visit, I ran into another classroom training. explorations into new territory. “They East Carolina faculty member who had “He said, ‘I’ll provide the staff and tended to approve things after the fact attended Central High School with me equipment and you’ll provide students and soothe the opposition of lawyers and academic credit,’” Still recalls, “and and accountants who were inclined to in Jackson, Mississippi, and he offered to hire me here,” Still recounts. “I I persuaded the university to do it.” In disallow our funding requests,” he said. “When we really began to put honestly think it was because of 1979, Still and Watts collaborated on together an the high school inter-disciplinary connection, since approach to they already had maritime history several other “.... I HONESTLY THINK IT WAS BECAUSE OF THE HIGH SCHOOL and underwater people who could CONNECTION, SINCE THEY ALREADY HAD SEVERAL OTHER PEOPLE research, we teach Civil War WHO COULD TEACH CIVIL WAR HISTORY. AT ANY RATE, I NEVER history. At any rate, knew we had REGRETTED IT AND NEVER LEFT UNTIL I RETIRED.” I never regretted it to have boats, and never left until diving and survey I retired.” equipment, Of course the hiring decision was their first field school. administration — all of it expensive. But “We didn’t even have a maritime I remember a former dean of academic also no doubt based on the fact studies program or a budget, but we affairs saying, ‘That’s a sexy idea – let’s that Still had two manuscripts on surveyed Bath Harbor in Beaufort do it,’ and his attitude reflected the Civil War shipbuilding and ironclad vessels already completed and ready County,” Still chuckles. “We didn’t much overall accepting environment we found for publication. Since ECU had only know what we were doing at that point, within university leadership.” become a university four years earlier, it’s true, but that’s beside the point.” In 1983, the Program in Maritime in 1964, practically no one on the Studies got its first big publicity break MAKING ENDS MEET history faculty had yet been published when Still, Gordon Gordon Watts (by when Still was offered the ECU job. Still says the field schools and other then a maritime studies professor) and During the first decade of his tenure such projects had to survive on “soft ECU graduate students took part in the at ECU’s history department, there was money” — grants and other non-recurring recovery of several artifacts from the limited vision of Still’s developing or precarious funding sources — because wreckage of the USS Monitor, a federal the budgets were so small during the first Civil War ironclad that sank in stormy what turned out to be an innovative few years, but that the lure of boats, diving waters 14 miles off Cape Hatteras. program in maritime studies, at and hands-on experiences were a big shot The CBS Atlanta bureau sent a crew least not in its later form. His basic responsibility was to teach a full load in the arm to students’ overall interest in to Greenville to interview ECU’s noted of undergraduate and graduate Civil Civil War historian about the recovery — this part of the history program. He tells the story of a research vessel an interview that was edited to appear War and other history courses — as well as to continue to research, write on which a pump had broken down and as though anchorman Dan Rather was and publish. However, it was during needed replacing during a field school addressing questions directly to Still. this time that he formed an invaluable “At that time, maritime studies in Georgia — at a cost of more than a association with one of his graduate $1,000. “Anything at that level of expense and underwater research was still students that would markedly alter his was supposed to be pre-approved and be headquartered in a small, temporary professional and academic direction. put out for bids, he said sheepishly, “but trailer on campus,” Still remembers. “It After studying with Still at ECU, we didn’t have time for that — so we was a source of some embarrassment
Greenville: Life In The East
trailer.” Not too long afterward, ECU found the resources to set up maritime studies in its own, freestanding building, The Eller House, near downtown.
GUIDING HAND Still says he never would have become a maritime historian had it not been for his two-year Navy enlisted service following undergraduate school. Assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Lake Champlain, the history buff read every book on naval history in the ship’s library rather than attending free leisure-time movies on the hangar deck. During liberties in Mediterranean ports, he arranged to visit historic sites rather than heading for sailor’s bars. “Of course, I was married and was a little older,” he said. “But the way things worked out, I can definitely say the Navy gave me a career path as a naval and maritime historian. I knew that’s what I wanted to pursue when I went to graduate school after the Navy.” Still says his late wife of 56 years, who died in 2009, had a major impact on his career, largely because of her social skills and what he called a boundless self-confidence that rubbed off on him. “The other sailors’ wives and families would wait on the dock when the ship came into port, but Mildred would come bounding up the officers’ gangway, dressed to the nines and smiling and chatting like she knew everyone,” he laughs. “Then she’d prowl around the huge hangar deck of that aircraft carrier until she found me, then stay with me until we could leave the ship together.” The couple had four children. Most of the year Still lives near two sons who live in the Greenville area, but he also spends several winter months visiting two daughters in Hawaii. “When Mildred died during the writing of Victory Without Peace, I lost my desire to continue writing for a time, “Still muses, “but I knew she would expect me to finish that or whatever else I was working on, so in time I got back to it. And she’s the reason I’m still plugging away at another work on U.S. naval history.” “And when it came to the seat-of-the-pants, extemporaneous work of figuring out how to combine maritime history and underwater research into a strong program, it was a boost to my own selfconfidence just to watch hers in action.” for university officials for me to be seen being questioned by Dan Rather about a major historical find in that humble, little Winter 2019
Bob Garner is a veteran journalist and regular on UNC-TV. He’s written about North Carolina barbecue and is a barbecue pit master and the author of four cookbooks. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Greenville: Life In The East
Dr. William Still talks about the remains of the CSS Neuse at the CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center in Kinston on Nov. 9, 2019.
STILL’S WORKS HAVE DOCUMENTED HISTORY William N. Still’s career in maritime and naval history was inspired in part by his time in the U.S. Navy, but the Navy also opened invaluable doors near the end of his tenure at East Carolina University. During 1989 and 1990, he was selected to occupy the Secretary of the Navy’s Chair in Naval History at the Naval Historical Center in Washington. The Navy paid Still’s East Carolina salary, funded extensive overseas research travel and gave Still a context for adding several volumes to his already existing work on U.S. Navy history. In 1980, even with his hands full building a new history emphasis and a new department at ECU, Still had published American Sea Power in the Old World: The U.S. Navy in European and Near Eastern Waters 1865-1917. During his time in Washington in
1989-1990, Still conducted extensive further research on U.S. Navy activities in the Atlantic theater between 1917 and the beginning of World War II. Since his ECU retirement in 1994, he has published two further scholarly volumes based on this research. Crisis at Sea: The United States Navy in European Waters in World War I was published in 2006, while Victory Without Peace: The United States Navy in European Waters, 1919-1924, was published in 2018. At age 87, Still is now working on a fourth volume in this series. Other books Still has written or collaborated with others to produce include: Confederate Shipbuilding, 1969; Iron Afloat, 1971; Why The South Lost the Civil War, 1986; Elements of the Confederate Defeat, 1988; The Queenstown Patrol, 1917; The Diary of Commander Joseph Knefler Taussig, U.S. Navy, 1996; and Raiders and Blockaders, 1998. Greenville: Life In The East
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OWNERS BREATHE NEW LIFE INTO COUNTY’S OLDEST SURVIVING HOME By Kim Grizzard
he day Kim and Garreth Kenyon closed on the stately, 3,000-square-foot plantation home known as Greenwreath, just the sight of it was enough to leave a person speechless– but not in a good way. The yard was overgrown and littered with downed trees, and the air conditioning wasn’t working that hot Thursday in July 2013. There was mold growing inside the house, part of the ceiling had collapsed, part of the flooring was unstable and termites had eaten through the sill to the point that front wall had started to pull away. Garreth recalls that Kim’s father, who had flown in from Texas, surveyed the condition of the three-story yellow house without uttering a word. Then he walked out the back door.
“He stood out on the back porch; he just lit a cigarette,” Garreth recalled. “He was silent. He just stood there quiet. ” But, in a way that is hard for many people to understand, the house had spoken to Garreth and Kim. The message was that despite its condition or maybe because of it, Greenwreath had to be saved. After all, the antebellum plantation, located about 10 minutes west of Greenville, is Pitt County’s oldest surviving residence. It is listed on both the North Carolina Registry and the National Registry of Historic Places. “It really wasn’t until we looked at it and started doing some more research that we realized how historically significant it is,” Kim said. “It was really then that we said, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is something really unique.’ We just fell Greenville: Life In The East
in love with all of it, its story and the setting, everything.” Greenwreath was built in three major stages dating back to the 1780s or possibly even decades earlier. It is said to be the county’s only intact example of transitional architecture from the late Georgian and early Federal periods. “It’s certainly a very intriguing house,” Reid Thomas, a restoration specialist with the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, said in an earlier interview. “Most people were living in one-room houses in the first part of the 19th century.” The original structure was just oneand-a-half stories, with two rooms on the main floor. But as John Foreman’s family grew, so did the house, with an addition in 1791 and another in 1810. By 1830, Foreman’s son, Ivey, Winter 2019
Kim and Garreth Kenyon on the front porch of
When the Kenyon first saw the real estate
Greenwreath, which is home to the couple and
listing for Greenwreath, the only photo was an
their pets. The Kenyons purchased the historic
exterior shot. “You know it’s not going to be
home in 2013 and began working to restore
in the greatest shape if they don’t show the
it. “As soon as we came here you just know,”
inside,” Garreth said
Garreth said. “This feels like home.”
reportedly owned some 10,000 acres and 148 slaves. Ivey’s son, John, represented Pitt County in the House of Commons and was elected to the state Senate in 1844. The house remained in the Foreman family until 1919. Then it and the farm were leased to tenants until they were purchased by W.H. Wooten in 1948. But by the time Donald Morgan purchased the home in the 1980s, no one had lived in it for three decades. While Morgan poured years of effort into restoring the home, failing health prompted him to list it for sale through Winter 2019
the nonprofit historic preservation organization Preservation North Carolina in 2012. Dozens of people turned out for an open house, but there were no serious inquiries until the Kenyons came along about a year later. “It’s amazing that (with) a house like this, someone from the county didn’t jump on it, someone with deep local roots,” Kim said. “But not everyone is wanting to put this kind of time investment into a home. A lot of people now want to buy a new house, move in, not have to do anything for 20 years. “It takes a certain personality to want Greenville: Life In The East
to jump into this and to appreciate it for what it is.” The Kenyons wrote Morgan a letter explaining their interest in the home and pledging to preserve as much of the structure and the architecture as possible. The couple met with the former owner once before he died to reassure him that they would take care of his beloved Greenwreath. If Morgan had interviewed prospective buyers for the restoration job ahead of them, it is not likely that he could have found any better qualified than the Kenyons.
The front room of the house is painted the original color, a shade that Kim and Garreth Kenyon found to match a piece of plaster found in the wall. “This is when the family probably grew into its wealth,” Kim said of the room, which features its original, ornate chair rail.
Kim, who has undergraduate and graduate degrees in archaeology and anthropology, is the senior conservator for the Queen Anne’s Revenge conservation lab. Part of the Office of State Archaeology, the lab was created to investigate, document and conserve the remains of the pirate Blackbeard’s famous flagship. “I come home and there’s more to be conserved here,” Kim said. “I chose this career because I loved (history). I think the house is an extension of that.” Garreth is a history buff as well. He spent years restoring a 1930s home in his native England before moving to the United States for a job as a software development manager at Grover Gaming. “I work with computers, so I get home at night and it’s nice to get away from technology and put my hands into something,” he said. So when the inspector came back with a 10-page report listing problems he had uncovered, the Kenyons were undaunted. They knew they could not only take on simple tasks like painting, sanding and stripping but could also tackle skilled work including some electrical wiring, along with specialized projects designed
to preserve the original structure or at least replicate it. “We knew what we were getting into,” Kim said. “We knew what we were going to have to invest in the house … so nothing has yet been a surprise.” But what bewildered their friends and family was how quickly the Kenyons started living at Greenwreath, despite the long list of renovations that were needed to make it livable. After buying the property in July, they moved in by early September. “When we bought it, we just gave it a good scrubbing and cleaned it up and we moved in right away,” Kim said. “We’ve moved from room to room dealing with the projects as they’ve come up.” So when the ground was visible in the living room while termite-eaten joists were being replaced, “we just kind of shut the door,” Kim said, laughing. “There’s always somewhere to get away from the craziness of a gutted room.” But some challenges cannot simply be put out of sight. The first winter, neither the upstairs nor the downstairs heating system would function. Told to expect mild winters in eastern North Carolina, the Kenyons were surprised to awaken to Greenville: Life In The East
find ice inside the windows and a bottle of olive oil that had frozen overnight in the kitchen. Needed improvements, such as replacing centuries old windows in a way that is in keeping with the period in which the house was constructed, were no easy task. But the Kenyons managed to locate three dozen panes of 18thcentury glass, which contractor Jason Ecker used to rebuild the windows in the den. “We try to find those things that we can put back in that aren’t completely modern and new,” Kim said, adding that she and her husband made a three-hour drive to King, just outside of WinstonSalem, where they found the glass at a reclamation yard. Such adventures sound like episodes of “Old Home Love” and “Restoring Glory,” which would explain why HGTV contacted the Kenyons not long after they purchased Greenwreath. A representative for the channel told Kim that she and Garreth were an ideal couple for a series. “They were asking if we were doing the work ourselves,” she said. (They do some of their own renovations but rely Winter 2019
on Ecker for substantial projects.) “I explained to them our house needs a ton of structural work. It’s going to take us a decade to put this house together. It’s not going to be a nice, tidy one-hour show,” Kim said. “They were very polite, but they said, ‘Thanks but no thanks.’” Still, the renovations have attracted their fair share of attention. Folks driving by along N.C. 43 will stop in to see how things are progressing. Some will ask to look inside “that big, old yellow house,” which they have recognized as a landmark for years but have never entered. A descendant of the Foreman family contacted the Kenyons through their blog, greenwreathplantation. blogspot.com, where news of work is posted as it is completed. About a year ago, the Kenyons answered the door to find another descendant of former Greenwreath residents. “A local woman had been doing her genealogy had discovered that she was descended from a slave born on our property,” Kim said. “That was a fascinating story, getting to know her.” Some of the earliest visitors after the Kenyons took ownership of Greenwreath were members of what has been jokingly called “the old house mafia,” a group made up of owners of historic homes in the area. When they heard someone had bought Greenwreath, they wasted no time introducing themselves. “Everyone else who owns an old house in this area showed up on our doorstep immediately and just welcomed us into this kind of group,” Kim said. “It’s such a nice, wonderful group of people that know what we’ve been through.” Owning Greenwreath has given the Kenyons a shared interest with other groups as well. Kim has joined the board of the Pitt County Historical Society. The Kenyons hosted the Pitt County Historical Society’s annual fall dinner at Greenwreath last year and recently made a presentation on Greenwreath given as part of ECU’s Lifelong Learning Program.
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Greenville: Life In The East
Addtional rooms in the Greenwreach house.
“My husband and I actually visited this house back in 2012 when it was being offered for sale by Preservation North Carolina, and it did not look anything like it looks now,” said Deborah Higgins, Historical Society president. “When I heard a young couple had bought it I was thrilled.” Lifelong Learning Center participants showed a similar enthusiasm for the project, asking about everything from protective covenants (that prevent the Kenyons from making renovations that are irreversible) to yellow paint color (a rich, saturated hue in keeping with what was seen on late Georgian, Federal period houses). Kim said one of the most common questions she is asked is if she and her husband are crazy, rich, or both. “We may be a little bit insane but we certainly don’t have a lot of money,” she said, laughing, “which is why six years into this, we’re still going. We save up and we’ll do a project and we’ll save up and do the next one. We recognize it’s going to be a decades-long project, and it’s likely never going to be finished.” Never? “Honestly with an old house, you’re always going to have a project, so it’s never going to be finished,” she said. “Once you finish everything, something else will break.” But there is never a deadline to finish the house, either, Garreth said, which keeps the couple from feeling overwhelmed or disillusioned by what remains to be done. The truth is, they love Greenwreath as is, and they always have. “All of the craftsmanship that went into building this place and expanding it over the years, I have such an appreciation for that,” Kim said. “I don’t think I could live in a new house now. I like our crooked floors with the nails sticking out. I like that the rooms aren’t square. We have to shim our furniture so it doesn’t lean over. I like that. I like that this place is drafty. It feels like it’s always breathing and it’s almost kind of alive.” Of course, they joke about the house’s quirks, but Garreth said they understand that its many imperfections only serve to enhance its character. “It’s never a negative,” he said. “It’s just part of its charm. It’s part of the old house; it’s part of what it is. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.” Online: Visit this story on reflector.com for more photos and a story about items the Kenyons have found at Greenwreath.
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1265 CARSON EDWARDS RD • AYDEN, NC 317 E. ARliNgtON BlvD• gREENvillE, NC
Father-son duo, David Evans Jr., left and John Evans are at the helm of Garris-Evans, set to embark on its second century in January of 2020. They sit on lumber, the heart of their business.
100 YEARS STRONG
A Greenville family started Garris-Evans with a saw mill and built it into a diverse, thriving building supply enterprise By Deborah Griffin
n 1919, as World War I came to a close, Bud Garris and Guy Evans took a risk and mortgaged $3,000 against the family farm to start a lumber mill on what was then the outskirts of Greenville. Neither could have imagined, 100 years later, their investment would overcome family trials, survive the Great Depression and defy its competitors to grow into a multimillion dollar business and become one of Greenville’s longest surviving enterprises, spanning four generations. Garris and Evans, now deceased, were the fathers of Garris-Evans Lumber Company, still located on the property where it was birthed — necessarily by the railroad on 14th Street east of
Dickinson. Evans’ grandson, David Evans Jr., explained, “Until the 1950s, everything was delivered by rail.” He is past president, current vice president and chairman of the board. He and his son, John, are at the helm of the company, set to sail into its second century in 2020. At the time Garris-Evans was founded, railroads were the lifeline of companies. They still use the originally laid railroad track “siding,” a short portion of track which dead ends on a company’s property, allowing cargo to be loaded and unloaded. “There were probably 20 or 30 sidings in Greenville in the 1930s and 1940s,” David Evans said. Greenville: Life In The East
David Evans Jr., left and John Evans stand beneath the sign that announces a century in business.
Now, the majority of their supplies arrive by truck. “Only lumber from the West Coast is arrives by rail,” he said. “Cement, drywall and bricks used to come in on boxcars,” he added. “We would unload them onto a truck and put them on the yard. Then, if someone wanted brick, we would load them back on the truck by hand, take it to the job, and unload them by hand.” Modern machinery has replaced much of the manual labor, but he still remembers a time when mules and horses were used for pulling heavy loads of lumber. As the company grew, it fanned out in all directions from where the original mill stood and now encompasses acres. Winter 2019
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Three early city roads were absorbed, one at a time, as they sprawled. Short, Ridgeway and Factory Streets all disappeared, closed down to make way for the expanding business. Both the Bethel Fertilizer Plant and the J.B. Kittrel Sugar Plant Building were purchased as the business steadily increased its span. John Evans, the great grandson of founder Guy Evans, is a fourthgeneration president of the company. He said Garris-Evans started out as a true lumber mill. “The mill was operated until the 1970s. Then it became a true retail building supply yard, selling primarily to contractors,” he said. Catering to builders is what has allowed the company to survive and prosper, John said. “We do also welcome the public,” he added. He also credits good service and good people for the longevity of the business. The secret is “you have to enjoy what you do,” he explained.
ALL IN THE FAMILY Garris-Evans has a reputation for
treating employees and customers like family. Many employees have worked there 25 years or more, some staying with the company for decades. James Cobb started when he was only 24 years old, and 60 years later is still there. “You’ve got to enjoy your work,” he said. “I can’t think of any place I’d rather be. Every day is different.” Cobb was general manager of the company for about 30 years. He remembers when there were no forklifts to do the heavy lifting — the work was all done by hand. “You had to be young and strong,” Cobb said, laughing. Ke n n e t h Li l l ey, co n s t r u c t i o n superintendent, has worked with the company 49 years. “I enjoy what I do,” he said. “It is a good environment and it is more than a job — it is like a family.” He was raised on a farm and began his career working in furniture stores. On the farm, “you learn certain values,” Lilley said. “I worked in two places where the values were not what I was used to. When I came here, I saw the
values here were like the ones instilled in me.” For 80 years Garris-Evans had only one location. In 1998, they began to expand to other cities. John feels this expansion was a vital. To continue to be successful, he said, “you have to want to grow your business. Without the energy or excitement of growing your business, you end up shrinking.” After they opened a store in Wilson in 1998, other locations soon followed: New Bern (2007), Jacksonville (2010) and Shalotte (2012). All are retail building supply stores, but the Greenville and Wilson locations also invest in land, and establish neighborhoods as they sell lots to builders. John, who in his 50s, along with his father, David, in his 80s, hope to see the business through to the fifth generation. But John admits, it is a “wait-and-see game right now.” His two sons seem to have other plans — one is a senior at East Carolina University, majoring in Spanish, and the other teaches at West Craven High
A CENTURY OF BUSINESS 1919 Louis “Bud” Garris and Guy T. Evans form Garris-Evans Lumber Company on Ridgeway Street
1946 Bud Garris dies and Reynolds May, his son-in-law becomes president of the company until 1969
Guy Evans dies
The original mill is closed and rebuilt with newer, more modern equipment
Evans family buys out the Garris shares of the company
The timber mill portion David Sr. of the business closed becomes for good and Garrispresident of the Evans remains a dealer company in lumber and building materials
David Jr. Garris-Evans becomes builds a new president of facilities on 14th the company street
School in Vanceboro. John’s two brothers also have other interests. One is a company stockholder, but lives in California, and the other was bought out of the business 10 years ago. The company has been in the Evans family consistently all 100 years.
IN THE BEGINNING Guy Evans, who was born in 1875, was a hardworking man, David Evans said. “He got up at 4 a.m. each day to milk the cows,” he said Evans, who remembers drinking raw cow’s milk growing up. A savvy business man, Guy developed the family farm into several, buying adjoining land as it became available. A portion of his former farmland is the present-day location of J.H. Rose High School, which then, was considered out in the country. The Evans family still owns some of the farmland Guy purchased all those years ago. He also was a rural mail carrier and the area’s distributor for National Biscuit Company (present-day Nabisco), Evans said.
Guy and his wife took in her much younger brother, Lewis “Bud” Garris (born in 1887) when he was 12. He become more of a son to Guy than a brother-in-law. After high school, Bud left the farm to work at a sawmill in Kinston, where he gleaned his knowledge of milling lumber. When Bud returned to Greenville, he and Guy formed Garris-Evans Lumber Company. Bud owned two-thirds of the company and Guy owned one-third. To help grow the business, Guy gave up his mail route. When the economy took a downward turn in 1923, he went back to his route, and never returned to the mill. But he kept his share in the company. His sons, David Sr. and Guy, both worked within the company, as well. Guy didn’t stay, but David Sr. eventually became president. A twist came in 1944, when Bud Garris’ son-in-law, Reynolds May, formed a company in direct competition with his Garris-Evans business — which continues to be a competitor to this day. Reynolds had married Bud Garris’
only daughter, Doris. “Reynolds worked at Garris-Evans, but he and Bud didn’t get a long too well,” David Evans Jr. said. “So Reynolds started May Building Supply to compete.” The company was built on land just around the corner from Garris-Evans, on Dickinson Avenue. When Bud died suddenly in 1946, he left an empty spot at Garris-Evans. Reynolds decided to go back there — after all, his wife’s family still owned two-thirds of the company. “Reynolds came back as president of the company, succeeding Bud,” David Evans Jr. said. Two years later Reynolds sold May Building Supply to the Taft and Blount families. It became, and still is, Home Builders Supply, now celebrating 70 years of business. “Greenville is large enough for two companies like us,” John Evans said. “Both companies have prospered over the years.” His father agrees. “If they weren’t here, somebody else would be,” he added.
100 YEARS STRONG - 1919-2019 1984 A fire burns down the defunct mill, which was being used for storage
1988 A Wilson location is opened
1995 Greenville retail showroom was enlarged
John Evans, David Jr.’s son, becomes president
A New Bern location is added
Garris-Evans purchases New Bern Building Supply and consolidates
A store opens in Jacksonville
A location in Shallotte, 25 miles south of Wilmington, is added
Garris-Evans celebrates 100 years
“You can’t let the struggles of a family business dominate,” John added. “You have to overcome them.”
MODERN-DAY COMPETITOR In the early 1970s, David Evans Sr. bought out the Garris side of the family and the company became wholly owned by the Evans family, though the name remained the same. During those early milling days, they only used logs from area forests, which was mostly yellow pine. Now, John said, they receive lumber from multiple locations including Europe, South America, China and Canada. “The world’s economy is much more connected than it used to be,” he said. But the yellow pine of eastern North Carolina is still used on occasion. “It is the strongest of all the wood,” said David Jr. “But it has a tendency to warp. Some of these other species, like the West Coast Spruce, doesn’t warp as bad.” He said most truss manufactures use yellow pine, “because trusses need strength.” In 1975, the milling operations of the business were closed for good. Business was booming. In order to keep up with demand, they started purchasing already processed lumber. “We decided to put our resources where we could do a bit more with it. I’m glad we did, because history shows we made the right decision,” David Jr. said. “None of the mills that existed in 1920 are still around,” he said. “There were at least 10 mills in Pitt County and many more in the surrounding counties.” He said the mills that do exist today, “didn’t exist back in those days,” he added. Today there is one mill in Pitt
County, located in Ayden, and it is state-of-the-art, according to David jr. John became president of the company in 2006. He has seen many changes over the years. “Everything moves a whole lot faster [now]. You have to be much more aggressive in sales than in the 1970s,” he said. “Business doesn’t just come to you because you have a location — you have to go out and solicit the customer,” he added. In the old days, the builder usually came into the office and placed his order. “Most of our sales are made outside the store now. Salesmen call on customers at the job site or their office,” John said. “They are more than salespeople,” he said. “They are service people. They help the contractor look at his plans and get his windows ordered to meet the specifications of what is being built.” His father added, “When you are selling building materials, you have to be sure you get the right thing, in the right quantities. You don’t want your builder to run out of stuff when he is 99 percent finished — but you don’t want to have a lot of stuff left over either.” John estimates there are approximately 750 homes built in Greenville each year. “Before the market crash of 2007, that number was two to three times higher,” he added. On Dec. 5, Garris-Evans Lumber Company will commemorate its 100th birthday at an invitationonly party at Rock Springs Center with customers, employees, past employees, vendors and related companies, said John. As they celebrate the end of their first 100 years, they will usher in a new century.
Greenville: Life In The East
THE WORLD IN 1919 •
• • • • • • • • • • • •
• • • • • •
East Carolina Teacher’s College (ECTC), now East Carolina University, opened just 10 years prior. Greenville was the site chosen because of the junction of two railroads, according to David Jr. The farm Guy Evans mortgaged for $3,000 to start Garris-Evans was considered to be “out in the country.” It was located at the present-day location of Rose High School on Hooker Road. An Atlanta newspaper voted Greenville as one of the 10 most beautiful small towns in the South. Greenville is currently the 11th largest city in North Carolina. Garris-Evans’ original phone number was only three digits, 202. In 1919, goods were delivered to Greenville mostly by rail. The treaty of Versailles was signed in June officially ending WWI. Woodrow Wilson was the nation’s 28th president. The 18th amendment authorizing Prohibition became the law of the land. Jazz was born in Chicago. The Grand Canyon was established as a National Park. A wave of an influenza epidemic rocked the country, killing thousands A series of bombs mailed as letters led to the creation of the FBI. A series race riots in 26 U.S. cities known as the Red Summer, would result in multiple deaths Sales of automobiles doubled There were one million semitrucks on America’s highways. Currently there are over 15 and a half million trucks on the nation’s highways. The Boston Red Socks traded Babe Ruth to New York Yankees The 19th amendment was passed guaranteeing women the right to vote Dial telephones were introduced Pop-up toasters and shortwave radios are invented U.S. postage stamps rose from 2 cents to 3 cents Average Grocery Prices: A pound apples, 11 cents; 2 pounds roast beef, 38 cents; 3 pounds steak, 60 cents; 1 pound bread, 5 cents; 1 pound butter, 39 cents; 3 pounds chicken, 19 cents Winter 2019
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Need to Buy or Sell? Score Big With:
Michael Forster and his wife, Betty, at home with his collection of postcards, THE TITLE HERE trains and oil cans and SOMTHING other antiques.
A COLLECTION OF GIVING
A lifelong collector and tinkerer, Michael Forster finds joy in fixing and sharing what he gathers
By Morgan Banville
tepping into a wonderland of over 30,000 postcards, Pitt County resident Michael Forster may be referred to as a collector and a refurbisher. Beginning in the late 1940s, and early 1950s, Forster’s father traveled around the world at a time when postcards were free. His father would come home with postcards from each place he traveled to, many of the cards coming from the hotels that he stayed at. “I started collecting them from my father and when I got to high school, I had several boxes,” said Forster. “I divided them by states and then, when I was in the Army, one thing led to another as I began to collect more from where I traveled to.” Forster now has a collection of more than 30,000 postcards in his home — and that is after he gave away thousands of postcards to the U.S. government years ago. There is not only a plethora of postcards in his home but also an enormous amount of kindness and a
passion for collecting trains that radiates from Forster. He has already donated 14 train tables to youngsters this year and aims to donate a total of 100 as has been the case for the past 12 years, making over 1,000 trains donated. “When I was a kid, there were eight kids in the family, six boys. We had a train layout and I got the trains after I got out of the Army,” Forster said. “Every year for the past 10-12 years I give away trains during Christmastime to kids.” A retired crop geneticist, Forster gives the trains to kids as well as organizations and schools. He said that he and his wife, Betty, have no problem reaching the goal of 100 trains per year. “We go over to the parade that happens every year in Ayden and hand out trains. We have also given them to the Boys & Girls Club,” said Forster. “I usually just leave the trains and don’t say anything.” Since he has been giving out trains for the past decade, people have begun giving him trains, mostly broken, that need to be reconstructed. He sets aside Greenville: Life In The East
time to refurbish them to give to any child who wants or needs one. “Anyone that needs a train we give them one. It makes no difference the economic level,” said Forster. “You’ll notice the mural on the side of the barn. It’s of a train. People driving by will stop and take a picture.” Though people take pictures outside of Forster’s barn — he calls his home Liberty Lee Farm & Station — his collections are not on display for the public. “We use a friend’s social media account and have specific people that give them out,” Forster said. Betty said that the best part of the holiday season is to see the look of surprise on people’s faces when they tell them that the trains are free. “It really is fun to see their faces and all of the good spirit,” she said. “He really enjoys doing it, and it’s exciting to see the enjoyment the children get. Whatever we have to give, they can have it.” Though it is November, the magic of the holiday season is in full swing at the Forster residence. Look for Forster at a booth during the Christmas Town in Ayden festivities from 4-8 p.m. Thursday, Dec 5. Winter 2019
WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS Picture postcard collection tells story of America
ichael Forster doesn’t just share his trains, he also shares his postcards. A collector dating back to the 1940s, Forster had amassed hundreds of cards that featured the Statue of Liberty, which he said is the single most popular postcard subject in the United States. As folks in New York City and across the nation were gearing up to celebrate the statue’s 1986 centennial, Forster, at the suggestion of Walter B. Jones Jr., donated more than 2,000 Statue of Liberty postcards for what would become an exhibit at the statue. “Jones suggested that the collection should go to the United States Department of Interior,” Forster said. “From there, this donation became a part of the 100th anniversary exhibit in New York.” Jones, who at the time was a member of the N.C. House of Representatives, had a great interest in the statue’s history. Jones and Forster went to church together and had become friends. Jones, whose father was in Congress at the time, would later become a Winter 2019
congressman himself. He was able to see that the cards made their way to New York City, where they went into the hands of artist Eugenia Balcells. She used 834 of the postcards to create a huge image in the shape of the statue. The five-month process, titled “Liberty, A Symbolic Puzzle,” adorned a wall in the statue’s base during the centennial and for several years after and appeared in the July 1986 issue of Life Magazine. The postcards dated back as early as 1898, Forster said. The carnival of colors was mostly printed on cardstock, however, there were also cards made from tin, copper, plastic, and leather that the artist used. “Those postcards would have never gotten to the Statue of Liberty if it wasn’t for Walter B. Jones,” Forster said. “He was a special person for eastern North Carolina and that’s just one of many things he did.” Superstorm Sandy in 2012 damaged the statue and its base, and the collage and other items were moved out temporarily, he said. It was moved out for good during renovations in 2015. On the day that Jones died, Feb. 10, 2019 Forster received a letter stating that the postcard exhibit had suffered water damage and was being removed from public viewing. The collage, and his postcards, have now been stored somewhere by the Smithsonian. “I still don’t know where they are stored,” said Forster. “… If a picture is worth one thousand words, the cards spoke volumes. However, being glued, water damaged and stored, they have been silenced. Greenville: Life In The East
“The cards sent through the mail were decorated with stamps, messages and postmarks,” said Forster. “They spoke volumes.” He remains hopeful that the government will answer question about the cards, but that has not happened yet. Forster’s collection at home includes over 30,000 individual cards. They range from pictures of dogs, to flowers, to vacation spots and more. He has an entire room dedicated to the collection, organized by state. Some of the cards are made out of leather, silk, wood and metal. It’s likely that if you were to imagine a postcard of any style, Forster would have it. Forster believes there is a wonderful history stored in the cards and said that the public interest in them has grown throughout the years. A portion of his collection was featured at the 2012 Greene County Museum “Civil War Saga on Postcards” exhibit. The picture postcard collection illustrated Civil War events and highlighted the lives of several political and military leaders. The assembly of cards featured rare sets, as well as holograms, holdto-lights and metal and leather cards. Hold-to-light cards need to have a light source behind them to see the full, often color, image. “The cards reveal a shift in publishing techniques and postal laws,” said Forster. “It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words and picture postcards continue to leave their own unique imprint on history by freezing historical events.”
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Greenville: Life In The East
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