Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

The Jonathan Worth House and Lot

July 9, 2018

Jonathan Worth (1802-1869) is usually cited as Asheboro’s most famous former resident, on the basis of his two terms as Governor of North Carolina from 1865-1868.  There is little in Asheboro to remind us of him, however, except a state historical marker, and that has been moved from the site of the original courthouse to a spot in front of the current courthouse.  (It still says ‘located one block south,’ which is now inaccurate).

This past winter and spring, one of the last living witnesses to Worth’s life and residency was lost.  The oak tree located in front of the Frank McCrary house on Worth Street was once located in the front yard of Governor Worth’s house.  After suffering storm and insect damage it was gradually removed over a couple of weeks, and now no trace of it remains. It was estimated to be more than 200 years old.

The Randolph Room in the public library has no photograph of the front, or North side of Worth’s house, but we do have a vintage view of the eastern side, that faced Main Street.

It belonged to Governor Worth’s grandson Hal Worth, and County Historian Laura Worth, Hal Worth’s widow, made notes all over the back of it.  “Home of Jonathan Worth in Asheboro, NC, 1824-1864. Located on site of C.W. and J.F. McCrary houses.  Picture made at a family gathering for the Silver Wedding anniversary of David G. and Julia S. Worth, who had moved from Asheboro to Wilmington.”  Julia Stickney, a native of New York, came to Asheboro to teach in the Female Academy. She and David Worth were married in June 1853, after his graduation from UNC-Chapel Hill, so the picture must date to the summer of 1878.  David Gaston Worth was the only son of Governor Worth and his wife, who also had seven daughters, and many of them can be assumed to have been present for the photograph.

Thirty persons have been caught by the photographer, and most of them are unknown.  Miss Laura notes that the lady seated in the center of the detail above, wearing a white bonnet and shawl, is Sarah Dicks Worth, wife of John Milton Worth, who must be the dark-bearded standing man two persons to her left- slightly out of focus since he must have moved during the exposure.  The standing group to the far right of the detail, who are to the left of the large tree in the original, are noted by Miss Laura as “Mrs. Elvira Worth, seen with the Walker children.”  The young man to her right must be Herbert Jackson, her son by Governor Worth’s law partner Samuel Jackson who died in 1875. Evelina then married Samuel Walker, who died just three months later, leaving her with three step-children. (She would later marry once more, in 1883, to Eli N. Moffitt.)

The couple to the right of the tree is not identified, but given the occasion the man and seated woman could be the anniversary couple David and Julia Worth.  They had eight children, of whom only sons Charles (b. 1861), George (b. 1867) and James (b. 1869) survived to adulthood. the 8 and 10-year-olds may be the boys seated on the grass in front of the couple, while the young man in uniform could be 17-year-old Charles. Another  young man in uniform standing behind Sarah Dicks is probably Hal M. Worth, grandson of John Milton Worth, the son of his only son Shubal, who died in the Civil War. The uniforms with U.S. Army-style kepi caps are almost certainly those of the Bingham School in Mebane, which had become a military school in 1873. The Bingham School was operated by Robert Bingham and his wife Delphine Worth, another daughter of Governor Worth. The Binghams and their two daughters and two sons are probably one of the other couples in the photo.

The odd structure in the left foreground is an ice house where pieces of ice cut from frozen ponds during the winter months could be stored below ground, packed in sawdust.  Here is a diagram of one from Fredericksburg, VA–



As interesting as this single photograph can be, it tells us very little about the Worth property.  Jonathan Worth was a successful lawyer in Asheboro for 40 years, and owned several other farms Randolph and a plantation in Moore in addition to his Asheboro home.  His home survived only a few years after this picture- Sidney Swaim Robins says in Sketches of My Asheboro that he saw it burn one winter night, around 1885.

For additional information we can turn to an advertisement posted in various North Carolina newspapers when Jonathan Worth began his move from Asheboro to Raleigh to take up his duties as State Treasurer in 1862.  It reveals, in great detail, that the house was only one part of a community of buildings and structures that encompassed an entire block of downtown Asheboro- from Worth to Academy Streets, and from Main to Cox Streets. Early Asheboro, as an antebellum southern courthouse town, was a village of clustered farmhouses rather than an urban collection of townhouses. The ad provides an insight to daily life in early Asheboro that no photograph can adequately coney.


THE undersigned baring recently undertaken public duties, incompatible with proper attention to the property hereinafter described, will sell at Auction, for Cash, (currency) at 12 o’clock M., on the 29th Jan’y next, (unless sooner disposed of at private sale,) his Tract of LAND in Moore County, on the Fayetteville and Western plank Road, about half way between Carthage and Asheboro’, containing about 507 Acres, of which some 50 or 60 acres is probably cleared, and well fenced. and some four acres good Meadow. It has on it a comfortable DWELLING, Kitchen, Smoke House, Barn, Store House, spacious Stables, &c.

The sale will be made at the premises, and immediate possession will be given to the purchaser. He will aIso sell, at private sale, his Lots and Residence in the town of Asheboro’, with, or without Two Farms near the village. One of the farms about a mile from the village, contains about 100 acres, 80 acres of which is in cultivation. It has on it some 8 or 10 acres of good meadow. About 40 acres is seeded, in good order, with a superior variety of wheat and with rye and winter oats. The remainder is in a good condition for a corn crop. Three-fourths of the outside fence of this place is built of stone. The other tract, about 3 miles from the village, contains about 305 acres;– about 60 acres in cultivation, some 16 acres of which is seeded in Winter oats– the rest intended for corn next year.

The property in Asheboro’ consists of several contiguous lots, containing about 10 acres, all of which is in excellent condition; has on it an orchard of more than 200 trees, in bearing condition contesting of choice varieties of apple, peach, pear, cherry and other fruit trees;– about 3 acres of highly fertilised and productive meadow.

The dwelling is 62 x 20 feet, with a wing 18 x 26 feet, both two stories high. The rooms of the main building are all plastered in plain hard finish style; four of them spacious and with good, fire places; one a dormitory, without fire place, and one a library room, fitted up with moveable shelves, &c. The wing has two rooms with fire places, a dining room and one room without a fire place, with fixed wardrobes, and a spacious and dry cellar under the building. The out-buildings consist of a kitchen, three negro houses with two rooms in each of them, four of the rooms having each a fire place, and one of them a stove; well house with pantry, a large smoke house, carriage house, wood house; two offices each with two rooms and one fire places; a framed barn 54 x 80 feet, with stable room for 8 horses, space for sheaf wheat enough to produce 600 bushels; two ceiled garners capable of holding each 600 bushels of grain, with a basement story to shelter cattle; and also separate cow houses; a stone milk house supplied with a constant stream of cool spring water. The buildings are all in excellent condition, and have been recently painted.

Persons desirous to make further inquiries, can apply to me at Raleigh, to my son or brother residing in Wilmington or to my brother in Fayetteville, or to my son in- law S.S. Jackson in Asheboro’, who is duly empowered empowered to make a sale.
As I am about to remove lo Raleigh l can give immediate possession.
Dec’r 27 1862



The Randolph County Confederate Monument

August 17, 2017

Confed Monument Ron Baker Photo CT

The Randolph County chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy was organized in 1906 at the suggestion of Mrs. E.E. Moffitt, the daughter of Governor Jonathan Worth.  “The paramount interest of the organization” was to erect a monument to Confederate veterans in Asheboro.  The ladies raised money for the statute through numerous public events: “Bazaar” sales, a “Biblical cantata,” an “Old Maids’ Convention,” a “Batchelor’s Congress,” a “Spinster’s Return,” a “home talent concert,” and through sales of post cards.

IMG_0421Their final appeal to the general public was published in The Courier of 26 Feb 1909: “We have set our hands to the sacred task of erecting in the town of Asheboro, near our beautiful new courthouse, a monument to commemorate the bravery and valor of the Confederate Soldiers of Randolph County who fell in the War between the States.”

IMG_0423“We would that all men in looking upon it might feel that it was a fit expression of the glory of the dead and of the love and reverence of the people for whom they died. It will speak to generations yet unborn of the simple loyalty and sublime constancy of the soldiers of Randolph county who fought without reward and who died for a cause that was to them the embodiment of liberty and sacred right.”

Mullins catalog1

More than a hundred individual and business donors contributed to the final cost of $1700.  The monument was ordered through the “Blue Pearl Granite Company” of Winston-Salem.  The base of Mt. Airy granite is 9’6” square and 22 feet tall.  The 6’ tall statue itself was purchased from the W.H. Mullins Company of Salem, Ohio. 

Mullins catalog2

It was Number 5608 in their catalog, “Confederate Infantryman/ Six Ft. high from top of base to top of head. One-eighth plate base 20x20x5 inches. Made in sheet copper, antique bronze finish; also in sheet bronze.” The company’s 1913 catalog featured a full-page photograph of the Asheboro statue atop its granite pillar.

Mullins catalog3

The Mullins Company sold statues of all varieties of soldier, both Union and Confederate, officer and enlisted man.  After World War I they sold many more modern tin soldiers to memorials around the country. One page of the 1913 catalog prints a poem, “The Blue and the Gray”:

By the flow of the inland river,

When the fleets of iron have fled,

Where the blades of the grave-grass quiver,

Asleep are the ranks of the dead;

Under the sod and the dew,

Waiting the judgment day;

Under the one, the Blue;

Under the other, the Gray.


No more shall the war cry sever,

Or the winding rivers be red,

They banish our anger forever,

When they laurel the graves of our dead.

Under the sod and the dew,

Waiting the judgment day,

Love and tears for the Blue,

Tears and love for the Gray.


The monument was unveiled Sept 2, 1911 at the two-year-old county courthouse, at a public event attended by an estimated 3,000 persons (about twice the population of Asheboro at the time).  The keynote speaker was North Carolina Chief Justice Walter M. Clark, a Confederate veteran and author of the Regimental History series N.C. Troops.  Congressman Robert N. Page delivered a “Eulogy to Old Soldiers,” and the President of the Randolph Chapter of the UDC, Miss May McAlister (the grand-daughter of Dr. John Milton Worth), unveiled the monument. It was “presented by” E.L. Moffitt, the President of Elon College; “accepted for the veterans” by the State Auditor, W.P. Wood; “for the county,” by county attorney H.M. Robins; and “for the town” by Mayor J.A. Spence.  Bands played, songs were sung, and the UDC hosted a dinner on the grounds of the Presbyterian Church across the street, at which 250 watermelons were cut and served to the crowd.

Walter Clark b1846Chief Justice Clark in the war

Chief Justice Clark’s speech was a lengthy and meticulous account of the regimental histories of each of Randolph County’s companies. “To some this recital of bare facts will seem tiresome, but to these veterans they recall memories that will never die. The ‘days of our youth are the days of our glory.’ Bear with me then as I recall the battles, marches and sieges of not long ago.”

IMG_0419He closed by saying “From what I have already said, it will be seen that from the very beginning of the war to its close, wherever there were hardships to be endured, sufferings to be borne, and hard fighting to be done, there the county of Randolph was represented, and represented with honor, in the persons of her gallant sons.”  Absent from Clark’s speech was any “waving of the bloody shirt,” or any reference to “the Anglo-Saxon race” (features of many other such dedicatory addresses). Clark’s only overt political remarks concerned the perceived unfairness that southern states were taxed to provide pensions to Union veterans, but not to Confederate veterans- a position that no doubt resonated with the hundred or more Confederate veterans in his audience.

One hundred years later, just before Veteran’s Day in 2011, an additional footstone marker was installed at the monument to correct the misidentification of Company M, the “Randolph Hornets,” as Company D.  The marker goes on to note eight additional companies which included large groups of Randolph County men.

Hugh falls CT

In mid-September 1989, the remnants of Hurricane Hugo swept up from Charlotte and nearly toppled the statue from its granite pedestal.  An iron armature inside the sculpture had corroded over the years, allowing the hollow statue (which weighs less than 100 pounds) to flip over.  Ad Van der Staak of Van der Staak Restorations of Seagrove, reconstructed the shattered shoe, rifle butt and arm crushed in the fall. The statute was also cleaned and coated with a preservative, under a bid of $4,880. Cablevision of Asheboro donated half the expense, with the county covering the remainder.  Alice Dawson, Clerk to the Board of Commissioners, told the newspaper that the statue would have to be known as “Hugo” thereafter, in recognition of his near ‘death’ in the hurricane.

Vander staak

Hugo and Van der Staak, 1989


The Randolph County Courthouse Bell

January 22, 2015


Bell being replaced in 1909 Courthouse

Bell being replaced in 1909 Courthouse

From the earliest days, the Randolph County Court House had a bell to announce the beginning of its sessions of court.   Preserved and moved from building to building as county government expanded, it is one of the oldest artifacts of county government.  In August, 1838, Jonathan Worth, Hugh McCain and John Balfour Troy were ordered by the county justices to buy and hang a bell in the courthouse.  Re-installed in a belfry when the 1838 courthouse was remodeled in 1876, it was moved into the attic belfry of the 1909 building on Worth Street, where it remained for 90 years.  In 2002 it was removed, restored, and installed in a glass case on the second floor of the 2003 courthouse, no longer able to ring, but more visible than ever before.  Enhanced security measures limited access to the courthouse in 2009, and only those citizens paying fines at the Clerk’s Office on the second floor could see the bell.  In December, 2015, upon the recommendation of the Landmarks Commission, the county ordered the bell moved back to the lobby of the 1909 courthouse, where it can be viewed without restriction.  That move was accomplished on January 22, 2015.

2014-11-25 09.51.16The Randolph County Courthouse Bell is marked “G.H. Holbrook/ Medford, Mass”.  That refers to George Handel Holbrook, whose family ran a bell foundry in that town from 1822 to 1880.  There are evidently more than 120 Holbrook bells known to still exist, cast from 1816 to 1879.

One of the earliest professional bell founders in Massachusetts was Aaron Hobart of Abington, who was casting bells as early as 1770. Hobart learned from a man named Gillimore, a deserter from the British Navy, who had learned about bell casting in England.

Paul Revere StatueIn 1792, Revolutionary patriot, silversmith, and coppersmith Paul Revere volunteered to cast a bell for a Boston church. Knowing a lot about metal, but little about bell casting, he turned to Hobart for advice. Hobart sent both his son and Mr. Gillimore to Boston to help Revere, who subsequently became a professional bell founder. He obtained a large quantity of Revolutionary War cannon from the government and, in a “swords to plowshares” fashion turned the cannon into church bells (brass cannons and bells are made from a similar mixture of copper and tin). He remained active in the business until his death in 1818.

Paul Revere Museum of Fine ArtsPaul Revere was the master bell founder who trained George Holbrook, father of the creator of the Randolph County bell.  Major George Holbrook was born in Wrentham, Massachusetts on April 28, 1767, and The Grove Dictionary of Music states unequivocally that Holbrook was apprenticed to Revere.  The History of Medway Mass, states that Holbrook was apprenticed to Revere “to learn the machinist and clock-maker’s trades” and that they “entertained a warm friendship until his death.”

George Holbrook did not cast his first bell until well after he was established in other trades in Brookfield, and he listed his occupation as “clock -maker” for several years there before changing it to “bell-founder.” The earliest indication of his entry into the bell business is from an advertisement of 1803; the first Holbrook bell now known was cast in 1804.

The advertisement mentioned above, dated September 19, 1803, states:

George Holbrook respectfully informs the public that he carries on the business of bell-founding upon a plan recently discovered and known to very few people in this country or in Europe. A bell made upon this plan, and rightly hung, weighing 800 pounds will give a sound as heavy, clear, agreeable to the ear, and shall be heard as far as one of 1000 pounds made in the usual way.13

2014-11-25 09.50.57Hearing that a bell was wanted for the church in East Medway, he volunteered his services and cast a successful bell there in 1816 in a primitive shanty. The casting is described in The History of Medway:

Through the assistance of many friends the shanty was built out of refuse lumber, and the melting furnace was built out of the condemned bricks of a neighbor’s brick kiln. The bell was cast in the presence of almost the whole population of the vicinity, in fact, so great was the number of people, and so eager were all to see such an unusual sight, that the sides of the building were taken down and the space for the workman roped around, in order that the people might see, and the bell makers might have room to work.16

Frederick Shelley notes that “In December 1821 and January, 1823 the Holbrooks acquired land on both sides of the turnpike, (now Main Street) running through East Medway. They build a factory, blacksmith shop, and furnace on the southwest corner of what is now Main and Spring Streets.”17

George Holbrook married in 1797 and his son George Handel Holbrook was born on July 21, 1798, named after George Frederich Handel the composer. According to Shelley, he learned the clock-making and founding trade from his father.  He ran the business until 1871, having cast over 11,000 bells, including several hundred church bells.  The firm continued to cast bells until 1880.

Both older and younger Holbrooks were talented musicians. George played and made bass violins; G.H. played the violin and pipe organ, and he became very active in the Handel and Hayden Society, a Boston-area institution.  The Holbrook tradition in bell-casting improved upon the Revere tradition by casting a more musical bell.14

2014-11-25 09.51.09
The History of Medway

Major George Holbrook, who established the foundry, was a man who had great ingenuity, and who could work his way out of any mechanical predicament, and could successfully plan and lay out the work for others, though he possessed no great faculty of doing the work himself. It is to his son, Colonel George H. Holbrook, who became an eminent musician, that is due the credit of improving the tone of the bells and changing them from noisy machines to musical instruments.18

January 22, 2015

January 22, 2015

It appears that the Holbrook firm was the first American founder to cast a tuned carillon of bells. Bells sound separate tones from different parts of the individual bell, and tuning a bell so these tones form a perfect chord is one of the most exacting tasks of bell making. One Holbrook catalogue said, ” … the different tones, which, sounding in unison, form one grand tone, each one of which shall be in perfect tune and harmoniously blended together, like several instruments in the hands of masters, sounding a chord at once—it is this quality which makes the bell pure and musical.”15

Four generations of the “Holbrook Dynasty” carried on the family business of casting bells until 1880, and manufactured pipe organs into the twentieth century.   There are at least 110 Holbrook bells known to survive according to one list

(which does not include the Randolph County bell).

New Market Inn

March 30, 2013
New Market Inn, from the southeast, circa 1950.

New Market Inn, from the southeast, circa 1950.

During the winter months I try to get out and investigate the parts of Randolph County that are not so accessible when the animal and vegetable elements of creation awake in the spring and summer. Saturday March 30th, 2013, was a beautiful warm and sunny day, and as I was driving down 311 I steered through that odd left-hand crook in the road in Sophia that I’ve wondered about a thousand times. Whether going north just past New Market Elementary School or south just past Marlboro Church Road, cars must jog left as 311 for some unexplained reason swerves in its path beside the railroad. As a historian I’ve long been aware that this is the site of the New Market Inn- the one colonial or federal inn that retained its identity into my generation. For some reason I’d decided or been told ages ago that the inn itself was on the lot where a garage and auto salvage yard now covered all the acreage, but this last Saturday B.U. (Before Undergrowth) seemed like a good reason to double back and check out what my friend Colon Farlow recently asserted to me: that the inn wasn’t on the garage lot, but on the adjacent lot just to the west, a wooded lot now for sale. Not only did I stop and hike that lot, I got the first tick of spring for my efforts, so here’s the story.

New Market Inn, circa 1940.

New Market Inn, circa 1940.

In my book Randolph County: Images of America, the New Market Inn is illustrated on page 70 (and shown above) in a photo taken in 1935. This and one other image of the building in the historic photo database at the county public library document the house after its demotion in status into use as a barn, and before it collapsed or was demolished circa-1960. They show a house that architectural historians would term “Georgian,” the style that takes its name from the 18th century kings of England and is usually reserved to structures built before 1810. Georgian style houses show a strong formal symmetry, often with a five-bay center-hall plan. Georgian proportions emphasize verticality, with tall, narrow windows and steep roofs and boxed cornices which are cut flush to the gable ends. In Piedmont NC such houses were always of heavy timber construction, as brick was too expensive to use for residential bearing walls until the 1830s. Interiors would have had simple finishes, with exposed floor joists, raised panels on doors, mantels and wainscots, and enclosed “dogleg” or “boxed” stairs.
Conversion of the house into a barn has removed most of the decorative information I usually use to date a structure, and there are no photos of the interior known, but exterior photos of the New Market inn definitely exhibit the Georgian vertical emphasis and the symmetrical five-bay plan. The entrance door has been expanded into a barn door, but on the second floor what appears to be an original door opening suggests that the house had a center-hall plan. Most of the windows have been removed and boarded up; the two remaining may have been reused from other locations, as they appear to be short 6×6 sash. Visible through the open center door is another window on the far side of the house; it is located where a door should be, but the shadow appears to indicated a repurposed 9×9 sash. At the lower southeast corner an assymmetrical door and window could be later changes to the original plan; they may also mark the location of a separate entrance to the inn’s tap room.

Sketch of the stone foundations

Sketch of the stone foundations

The second, slightly later photo is a valuable view of the eastern side, showing the steep roof pitch of 10 or 12 inches of rise to every foot of run. The attic floor has two narrow windows crowded into each side gable, leaving space for a large end chimney which, if it existed, has been removed. A shed-roofed one-story addition is visible to the north side; the large barn-like additions on the west which were visible in the previous photo are here hidden behind a large cedar tree. The later photo documents a catastrophic structural failure progressing in the west-central portion of the house, where the inward slump indicates that the floor joists have rotted or been removed.

Corn Crib

Corn Crib

On my exploratory hike, the only standing structure I found was this corn crib/ tractor shed combination, probably dating to the 1930s or 40s and of little interest. Much more unusual was the blooming carpet of purple “Grape” or “Roman” hyacinth, which covered at least an acre southwest of a stone foundation. The briars, brush and vines, even in their temporarily leafless state, did not allow close inspection, measurement or adequate photography of the foundation. By my analog paced measure, the fieldstone foundation is 10-12 inches above grade and measures approximately 30 feet wide by 45 feet long. A water-filled depression indicates a cellar under the western end of the structure, at least 15 by 30 feet. A flat 4 by 5-foot rectangular stone a foot thick lies near the center of the façade, and another one approximately 2 by 4 feet lies at the southeast corner. Both may have been step stones to the doors shown on the photos. Chimney bases are not discernible to the east or west, but a large pile of brick and stone inside the foundation could be the remains of a chimney positioned either at the west end or at the center of the house.

Foundation stones

Foundation stones

Like much 20th-century journalism, newspaper accounts of the house sell romance and nostalgia over actual history. “YE OLD TAVERN, LANDMARK OF PIONEER DAYS, STILL STANDING IN NEW MARKET,” spins an article dated April 24, 1938 from The Randolph Tribune:

A few miles above Randleman on the High Point Road in New Market Township stands one of the earliest landmarks of pioneer days in Randolph County. It is a symbol of the sturdy and cultured type of pioneers who set up well-built homes in a country hitherto uninhabited except by Indians. There is something about this old landmark that seems to shout, “Mine is an interesting story.”

Today the old tavern, known formerly as one of the best on the Plank Road, is a barn, sheltering the owner’s stock and housing the hay and fodder. The chimneys have crumbled to dust, the front door has been replaced by a big swinging barn door, and the steps are gone. An investigator will find that there were eight rooms downstairs besides the dining room and kitchen. On the second floor were a large hall and six bedrooms. At the top of the narrow stairway the third floor consisted of two big loft rooms. The remaining windows are very narrow, the ceilings are low, and the wood has been painted several different colors. There are several original handmade doors. The fireplace used eight-foot logs.   At one corner of the house is a huge, long rock which some say was an “upping block,” others a doorstep.

Hearthstone, Doorstep or Upping Block?

Hearthstone, Doorstep or Upping Block?

This is the only description of the interior, but the writer evidently included the additions and expansions of the house in his room count, as the original block could not have had ten rooms downstairs and six bedrooms on the second floor. It is also interesting that the writer notes only one fireplace.    The article goes on to state: “Just who built this huge house is uncertain, but the earliest known occupants were Sidney Porter and his wife, Ruth Worth Porter, who later removed to Greensboro.” Addison Blair’s 1890 history doesn’t discuss the house in particular, but of New Market itself he writes

This is an old settled place, and was the home of Capt. John Bryant, a Whig, who was shot in his old house by Colonel Fanning. The place afterwards came into the possession of Shubal Gardner, who had a store there and was regarded as a big man. He owned a number of lots in Johnsonville and at one time drove a heard of beeves to Philadelphia. Joseph Newlin bought the property in 1840 and called it New Market and for many years carried on an extensive store and tin shop.

(J.A. Blair, Reminiscences of Randolph County, Asheboro, 1890; p. 49)

In the 1960s, local historian Addison Wall (who lived only a half mile from the site) wrote The Randolph Story for the Randleman Rotary Club, and noted on page 106 that “The inn closed down some time after the Civil War and was converted into a barn.  The lower floor was used as a granary and storage by Mr. Snider who bought the farm seventy-five years ago.  The New Market elections were held for a number of years in the building…. The building was torn down about 1950.”

To fully examine all these personalities involved with the property will take additional posts!

Linbrook Hall

February 15, 2012

When I researched and wrote my Architectural History of Randolph County in 1978, the “historic” criteria I used purposefully excluded most of the 20th century.  I included a few “modern” houses, of 1950s Wrightian or 1970s passive solar designs, but most of the illustrated properties were at least 50 years of age, and the majority of those were more than 100 years old.

It seemed to me then that “modern” architecture, usually connected to the architectural office Randolph County native Hyatt Hammond, had a precarious foothold in a residential environment which was overwhelmingly the product of the 20th century Southerner’s infatuation with the “Williamsburg Style”.  The Williamsburg restoration began in the 1930s and almost immediately had an impact on local residences.  In the late 1920s the upscale homes of Frank and Charles McCrary on Worth Street in Asheboro were designed with textbook exactitude in the English Tudor and Classical Revival styles.  “Revivalist” architects such as W.C. Holleyman and Harry Barton had been trained in the old Ecole des Beaux Arts school, and were proud of their academic command of the rules and  vocabulary of each style.  Combining stylistic details just would not have been considered proper.

By the late 1930s floor plan was considered more important than the façade; functionality was the new goal of architecture instead of mere appearance.  In 1939 the Sulon Stedman House on Old Lexington Road won awards by mixing and matching the red-brick details of early Williamburg with the monumental portico of Mt. Vernon and the modern open floor plan popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright.   In the 1960s and 70s, almost every new “spec house” in Asheboro was grafting some kind of “neo-Colonial” detail to the “ranch house” plan that became the first choice of subdivision developers.   Few owners or builders went to the expense or trouble of actually duplicating the kind of archeological correctness that was the hallmark of the actual Williamsburg restoration—the major exception in Asheboro being the Tucker Yates/ William W. Ivey house on Old Lexington Road, which is a near-copy of the Carter’s Grove plantation house near Williamsburg.

A point I made in my book is that all this new construction harking back to the 18th century environment of Williamsburg, Virginia, was completely unknown to the actual built environment of 18th century Randolph County.  Randolph County was still the frontier for most of the 19th century, and while the expert local cabinetmakers made furniture which doesn’t look out-of-place in Williamsburg, they usually made it for use in one-story log or frame cabins.  The few high-style houses which survived aspired to the Federal style of coastal New York and New England rather than the Christopher Wren Baroque of Williamsburg.

Brick homes were not seen in Randolph until the 1830s, the Dempsey Brown House of Trinity (1836) or the Elisha Coffin House in Franklinville (c. 1835) being the first known examples.  A residence with 1200 square feet of heated area would have been considered a large house in the county from the 18th century through the 1950s.  When my architectural survey was published in 1985 I didn’t realize it would come to document the end of local traditions such as textile and apparel manufacturing and rural farm buildings.  At the very time I was researching the survey, American society was experiencing changes in communications, computerization and global connectivity that makes the Randolph County of 1980 seem quaint in comparison to the Randolph of 2011.  Nothing in the social and built environment of the county better exemplifies those changes than the county’s newest old house, Linbrook Hall in Tabernacle Township.

A house that is more than a home, Linbrook Hall was built between 2002 and 2004 by high-tech entrepreneur Jerry D. Neal and his wife Linda Stewart Neal.  Neal was one of the founders of RF Micro Devices, a 1991 Greensboro start-up company that became one of the world’s leading suppliers of the radio frequency semiconductor chips powering the cell phone revolution of the past 20 years.  In October, 1998 Neal purchased 160 acres adjoining his home on Snyder County Road south of Trinity (full disclosure: I was his closing attorney for the purchase) which had been the proposed site of a mobile home subdivision.  The deceased owners of the tract, Jack and Virginia Jackson, had built there a long low-slung rock Wrightian-style house they called “Stonehenge Farm” which the Neals restored.  But they went on to build on the highest point of the tract a house “dedicated to giving.”

Students of historic architecture, the Neals knew what they liked, and came armed to design their dream house with photographs and magazine articles of features and details that appealed to their particular tastes and sensibilities.  Fortunately, luck and the yellow pages directed them to Charleston architect Bill Huey [ ] who took their many details and desires and combined them all in a strong traditional design, grounded in Jeffersonian Classicism and high-style Greek Revivalism.

Sited high on top of a hill in an east-west orientation and approached by a mile-long driveway, the house is impressive in its command of its site.  Its size quickly becomes apparent- eight columns 32-feet high anchor a pediment and cupola on the main block which rise almost 60 feet high.  The portions of the exterior echo the principles of symmetry espoused by Andrea Palladio, Italian author of the 1570 “Four Books of Architecture” which first codified the principles of classical Roman design.

Linbrook at first look can be identified as a Palladian “villa,” or country house.    One of Palladio’s innovations was the adaptation of the temple portico to the villa, and at Linbrook the monumental portico is the signature statement of the entire composition.  In architectural shoptalk, Linbrook Hall displays a “monumental tetrastyle prostyle Palladian portico.”  Translated into regular English, that means the house has four free-standing columns across the front which project forward from the façade and create a two-story porch.  The most familiar four-columned portico in the United States is that of the North Portico of the White House, which is itself a product of late 18th-century America’s fascination with classical architecture, as transmitted through British architectural sources such as Vitruvius Brittannicus (1725).  That was one of the architectural works in the library of Thomas Jefferson, a particular aficionado of Palladian design principles.  Jefferson used them in his own constructions and promoted them all across the South, where they took fertile root and blossomed into the kind of Greek Revival mansions that have come to exemplify the antebellum period.  At Lynbrook, the most visible Jeffersonian design element is the floor-to-ceiling windows of the ground floor, which can be raised to provide ventilation (in the days before air conditioning) as well as easy access to the veranda or gallery.

Another hallmark of Palladian design is its emphasis on symmetry, which is most evident in the design of the main block, three stories high on a raised basement or “piano nobile”.  The eastern guest house wing connected to the main house by a glass conservatory hints at the traditional Palladian tripartite villa plan which was popular all across the South.  In that plan a central block was flanked on each side by service wings of “dependencies”, themselves connected to the main block with “hyphens” or enclosed corridors.  The most influential early example of this plan was the Duke of Buckingham’s house, built in London in 1710, which is now known as Buckingham Palace.  At Linbrook the Palladian symmetry is oddly missing- the eastern wing has no matching western wing, and is correspondingly unbalanced.  (Instead of the expected western pavilion there is only a very modern approach road to an underground garage.)

Everything else on the exterior is right out of the Southern plantation design vocabulary.  The Neals particularly admired the antebellum plantation houses of the Mississippi delta, and elements of Chretien Point Plantation (1831), Oak Alley (1839) and Nottoway (1859) in Louisiana are visible, especially in the monumental portico columns of the rear or southern façade.  In keeping with the Palladian organizing force, the columns are of the Colossal Roman fluted type (i.e., they extend two full stories in height, and the fluted shafts have a smooth edge instead of the Greek knife-edge).  The columns are four feet in diameter on a five-foot-square base, and have the proper classical “entasis” or taper (they are 8 inches smaller at the top than at the bottom).

The Colossal Order was not a true classical Roman order, but an invention of the Italian Renaissance, sometimes called the “Baroque” style, which makes it all the more appropriate that the capitals used are not of the standard classical orders.  The Scamozzi capital was invented by one of Palladio’s apprentices, Vincenzo Scamozzi, who took the classic Ionic capital (two volutes, or scrolls, with an egg-and-dart molding) and angled the volutes at a 45-degree angle so that the capital appeared symmetrical instead of bilateral (that is, an Ionic capital looks the same from the front and back, but a Scamozzi capital looks the same from all four sides). 

Under the north portico, the entrance doors (solid oak, with each leaf weighing 400 pounds) are topped by a fanlight and framed by limestone engaged columns in the Tuscan order which support a balcony accessible from the second floor.  Another fanlight lights the gable of the portico, and square cupolas (properly called “lanterns”) provide light to the center halls of both the main block and guest house. 

The entrance hall is the most impressive interior space, and again it has a Jeffersonian aspect, being reminiscent of the rotunda at his University of Virginia, with the proportions of the center hall of his Poplar Forest summer house in Lynchburg.  A very un-Jeffersonian element, however, is the sweeping double-flight or “Imperial” staircase- an exuberantly extravagant and romantic design which Jefferson would have considered a waste of space!

The first floor of the main block is organized in a modern version of the Greek Revival “double-pile” plan.  A Sitting Room (to the west) and Dining Room (to the east) flank the center hall.  In the rear, a more informal living area opens into a kitchen and passage into the rear garden.  The formal Sitting and Dining Rooms open into the hall through tripartite frames which would be called Palladian if the central space were arched, but here the flat arches flanked by Tuscan columns and pilasters hark back even further to Palladio’s architectural predecessors Serlio and Bramante. 

All of the interior trimwork comes from the familiar Charleston Greek Revival design vocabulary which was established in the 1830s by use of northern pattern books by the local craftsmen.  Particularly influential were the works of Minard Lafever of New York and Asher Benjamin of Boston.  Lafever, author of The Modern Builder’s Guide (1833), was known for his high-style townhouse designs and archeologically correct classical detailing.  Benjamin, whose 1830 book The Architect, or, Practical House Carpenter, first popularized the Greek Revival style for mass American tastes and profoundly influenced vernacular home builders.  Several Randolph County homes built in the 1830s used elements from Benjamin’s 1830 pattern book in designing interior woodwork, making this a very appropriate source for Linbrook to reference.

At 40,000 square feet of heated area, Linbrook is now one of the largest residences not just in Randolph County, but in the Piedmont.  This raises the question of another late-20th century phenomenon, the construction of “trophy houses,” also known as “McMansions.”  Such houses are not just public victory laps by the rich and successful; indeed every historical period has seen homes built by the wealthy which become expressions of the high styles of the era.  Trophy houses in North Carolina have over the last twenty years been a subject of controversy in established neighborhoods in Raleigh, Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Greensboro, as solid 1920s and 30s-vintage homes on large urban lots are purchased, demolished and replaced by bloated pastiches of historic styles.  So often has this occurred across the country that Wikipedia even defines “McMansions” as houses that “…mix multiple architectural styles and elements…multiple roof lines, unnecessarily complicated massing…producing a displeasingly jumbled appearance. The builder may have attempted to achieve expensive effects with cheap materials, skimped on details, or hidden defects with cladding…”  []

I would argue that Linbrook Hall is not an example of a McMansion; not just because no established homes or neighborhoods were harmed in its construction.   A discussion of the introduction of classicism to English domestic architecture, The National Trust Book of the English House, (Penguin Books, 1985, p.78)states that  “It is often said that Classical architecture is a game, and the benefit of the rules is to make the players concentrate on excellence.  Originality does not greatly matter, it is the creative use of precedent which is the standard of judgement.”   Linbrook Hall is one of the few residences built in Randolph County within the past 75 years to aspire to play the game of Classical Architecture.  All its elements fit and work together, and the house commands its setting as if it grew there, belongs there.  The combination of house and landscape gives us the same sense of satisfaction and exhilaration we experience when viewing some natural wonder.   That Linbrook triggers our sense of beauty, of proportion, harmony and balance, is demonstration enough that it is playing by the rules.  Whether in the design, or in the quality of execution and materials, the Neals and Bill Huey have created excellence and have given a gift to the built environment of Randolph County.

Lyndon Swaim

December 9, 2011

[This is my entry on Lyndon Swaim, as I wrote it for the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography in the early 1980s.  It can be found under the S’es in the next to last volume.]

SWAIN, LYNDON (1 Dee, 1812 26 March 1893), printer, newpaperman, and architect, was the oldest of eleven children.   His father Moses Swaim (31 Dec. 1788—25 April 1870) married Adah Swindell (17 April 1791 2 May 1866) of Hyde County on 13 Feb 1812. The family’s farm was on Deep River, in Randolph County’s Timber Ridge community. The nearby village at New Salem was incorporated by legislative act in 1816, and Moses Swaim had been appointed one of the five town commissioners.   The same year the elder Swaim had helped to found the North Carolina Manumission Society, and was elected its first President.  Whether Moses practiced law in addition to farming is unknown, although he was elected Clerk of the Superior Court in Randolph County from 1837 to 1840. In the 1850s Swaim emigrated to Indiana, where he settled on the St. Joseph River, north of South Bend.  His death occured during a subsequent visit to North Carolina.
Lyndon Swaim left home in 1834 at the age of 22 to work for his cousin WillIam Swaim, in the printing office of the Greensborough Patriot.  After William’s death in 1835, Lyndon returned to New Salem to work in the printing office of another cousin, Benjamin Swaim, editor of the Southern Citizen.   In 1839, a delegation of Greensboro citizens contacted Lyndon Swaim, urging him to take charge of the moribund Patriot.   “We need a paper amongst us that will be regularly issued, that will be fixed in its Whig principles and that will advocate with spirit and fearlessness the Whig cause,” they frankly admitted.  Swaim decided to return to Greensboro, and in partnership with yet another cousin, he bought the ailing newpaper.   Michael Swaim Sherwood (b.1816), son of Benjamin Sherwood (1783-186g) and Sally Swain (b. 1787), were to handle the mechanical and business affairs of the printing office, while Lyndon attended to the editorial duties of the paper, In accordance with the call far a strong Whig point of view, Swain promised in his first editorial to “advance all well-judged plans for the improvement of the internal commerce of the state and that system of school education which may reach every child in the land.”
Swain devoted the next fifteen years to the Patriot, selling out to Sherwood in 1854 only to devote full time to his official duties as clerk of the county court. He held that office continuously from his initial election in 1853 until it was abolished by the new state constitution of 1868. He additionally served as one of the commissioners of Greensboro in the years l846, 1850-1852, and 1859-1862, and was appointed one of the town commissioners under the provisional government of Governor Holden.  Swaim’s final public service occured in 1876-77, when he served as a Guilford County representative to the State Legislature.
Swaim temporarily took over the editorial helm of the Patriot once again in 1869, counselling moderation and reconciliation in the race of Reconstruction turmoil.  At the same time, he began the study of architecture and subsequently left the newspaper to begin professional practice.  Swaim was successful in his new career, becoming known as the town’s leading architect of the 1870’s and 1860’s. Although the facts of this stage of his life are as yet unclear, he is said to have designed residences as well as commercial buildings in Greensboro and surrounding communities.

On 3 Jan. 1842 Lyndon Swaim married Abiah Shirley Swaim, widow of his former employer William Swaim.  The only child born to this marriage died in infancy. Swaim’s step-daughter, Mary Jane Virginia, became the mother of William Sidney Porter (O. Henry).   Abiah Swain died in January, 1858; on 25 Oct 1859 Swaim married Isabella Logan (d. 9 Feb. 1900), daughter of General John N. Logan of Greensboro.  Four children, Isabell, Mary, Lyndon and Logan, were born to them; none married. In addition to his other activities, Lyndon Swain was one of the ruling elders of the First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro from 1872 until his death at the age of eighty, following several years of declining health.
SEE: Ethel Stephens Arnett, Greensboro, North Carolina: The County Seat of Guilford (1955);  Bettie O. Caldwell, ed., Founders and Builders of Greensboro, 1808-1908 (1925 [Portrait]); Deeds (Randolph County Courthouse, Asheboro, N.C); Swain family genealogical records (possession of Mrs. Francine Holt Swain, Liberty, N.C.).

L. McKay Whatley

[The biographical sketch of Lyndon Swaim, architect, which appears in North Carolina Architects and Builders, (see evidently appropriated much of my DNCB entry without attribution. Here is the only part that is new or different:   


“Around 1869, as postwar construction picked up, he made a serious study of architecture, and became Greensboro’s leading architect during the 1870s and 1880s. Although many men in this period moved from being artisans or contractors to taking on the title of architect, Swaim was unusual in entering the field from a background of journalism. In 1880, the 67-year-old Swaim identified his occupation to the census taker as “Architect.” William T. Comstock’s Architects’ Dictionary (an erratically updated publication) listed “L. Swain” (who died in 1893) along with Epps and Hackett (see Orlo Epps) as Greensboro’s only architects in 1894 and 1896.

“Details of Swaim’s architectural work are few, and none of the buildings documented or attributed to him still stands. He is said to have planned residences as well as public buildings. In Greensboro, his principal projects were designs for two civic edifices at the center of town: the Guilford County Courthouse (1872), an Italianate style building that copied much of the form of its 1858 antebellum predecessor, which had burned; and the United States Post Office (1883-1885), considered “a very fine and expensive building in its day.” Swaim also gained commissions for public buildings in nearby counties, including the eclectic Person County Courthouse (1883) in Roxboro and remodeling of the Rockingham County Courthouse in Wentworth. Farther afield, he provided drawings and specifications for the Pender County Courthouse and Jail (1882-1883) in Burgaw, an Italianate building with tower, similar to that in Greensboro.”

Carrara Glass

October 23, 2009

A lot has been happening lately that has gotten in the way of me writing here, so I’m posting this entry while I finish up some longer ones…

[Jones Dept. Store, 108 Sunset Ave; the building now houses Republican Headquarters. To its right is Baker’s Shoe Store.]

[The squares of black glass are striped with duct tape to prevent breaking.]

Late this summer as we moved back into my office at 19 S. Fayetteville Street, I found a workman removing the last pieces of broken tile from the entrance of the restaurant next door.

[Broken black Carrara glass, looking like a mirror.]

That wasn’t just any tile, however; it was a half-inch-thick reflective glass, technically called “pigmented structural glass” and called here locally “Carrara Glass”. Asheboro’s Sunset Avenue was once covered with the stuff. The photo at the head of this post shows Jones Department Store (probably taken in the early 1960s), and not only that store but the storefronts to both sides are covered in black Carrara Glass.

[The round dollops of glue visible on the back of the panel below kept the tile adhered to the brick wall.]

Pigmented structural glass seems to have been first produced in 1900 by the Marietta Manufacturing Company as a “substitute for marble.” Marietta’s product was called “Sani Onyx,” and was used as a hygienic lining for refrigerators. Penn-American Plate Glass Company rolled out a white and black product in 1906 they called “Carrara Glass,” named for the glass’s close resemblance to marble mined in the Carrara quarries of Italy. Before 1910 Libby-Owens-Ford Glass began production of their own version called “Vitrolite.” The first prominent interior use of pigmented structural glass was in New York’s 1913 Woolworth Building, where architect Cass Gilbert sheathed the restrooms with Carrara Glass.

Pigmented Structural Glass hit its popularity height during the 1920s and 30s, when it became synonymous with the streamlined Art Deco and Art Moderne architectural styles. From the sleek Hollywood musicals of the 1930s, to storefronts all across American Main Streets, Carrara Glass and its siblings fit the bill for slick, streamlined, shiny, materials suitable for interior and exterior use. Asheboro’s Belk Department Store, the largest commercial building built downtown in the 1930s, used Carrara glass exclusively on its façade (destroyed in a 1962 fire).

The many smaller Asheboro storefronts which exhibited Carrara Glass in various colors and shades (though Black and White were always the most popular) speak to the versatility of pigmented structural glass for updating older commercial buildings. By 1940 the commercial buildings in downtown Asheboro were all between 25 and 40 years old; as they were remodeled, each began to sport modernized street level facades using chrome, stainless steel, and Carrara Glass. This transformation was encouraged by New Deal programs from the Federal Housing Administration which granted low-interest insured business loans for remodeling, and structural glass veneers became synonymous with a desirable “modern look”. This uniform Art Deco “look” or design style grew out of a “Modernize Main Street” competition sponsored in 1935 by the Architectural Record magazine and Libby-Owens-Ford Glass, and judged in part by architect Albert Kahn.

Almost all of Asheboro Carrara glass has been lost in the last 20 years; those Art Deco/ New Deal remodeled facades have been been remodeled again and again. Though the original buildings have been preserved and reused, the “contemporary” style familiar to several generations of county residents has vanished.

For much more information, see the National Park Service Preservation Brief on “Preservation of Historic Pigmented Structural Glass” and “Our Vanishing Vitriolite”.

Peter Dicks House

April 14, 2009

Formerly in the village of New Salem, now destroyed.

Rom Ward moved to the village of New Salem in 1918, bought an old house and remodeled it into a stylish bungalow; bought a little old house and turned it into a workshop, and bought yet another old house and turned it into his barn. Both of these photos of the Rom Ward barn were taken by me during the 1978 architectural inventory of Randolph County. This was one of the earliest houses I found, probably dating to the 1780s or 1790s, and I still regret that it wasn’t subsequently preserved. The county is a poorer place for having lost almost its entire 18th-century built environment.

The structure once stood approximately behind the workshop building and further back in the field behind the Ward house; Mr. Ward had moved it closer to New Salem Road (SR 2115).

Only 20 by 25 in plan, it originally had two floors and a finished attic. When I made its acquaintance it was in a neglected state, but it had a number of special details which indicated that it had once been a house of rather high quality.

The exposed ceiling joists of the ground floor (being the floor joists of the second floor) were fully chamfered, and stopped with lamb’s tongues. The exposed ceiling joists of the second floor (the floor joists of the attic) were simply beaded. No mantels survived on the ground floor, but a three-panel board-and-batten door with iron strap hinges survived under the rear shed. The first floor had remnants of vertical wood paneling, a simple wooden molding ran around the ceiling and joists, and there were several areas where a wide-board floor remained, fastened down with wooden pegs, not nails.

The second floor window openings were about 18 inches wide, and were crowned with a simple wooden cornice. This would not be so remarkable today, but circa-1800, it would have been unusual to find cornices over the ground floor windows, let alone the upper stories.

The gable trim was flush with the siding, which on the eastern end apparently used very early “riven” clapboards, split instead of sawn. The framing of the house indicated a fireplace on the western end. The only remaining piece of exterior trim was a section of dentil molding under the box cornice- dentils produced by angled cuts in a wood strip almost identical to what furniture connoisseurs call “chip carving.”

An early issue of the defunct North Randolph Historical Society Quarterly, (vol. 2, #3, published in June 1968), printed the descriptions of early buildings from long-time New Salem residents. On page 40, it says

“The old Dicks home stood… to the right of the closed well that used to serve [Rom Ward’s] house. Mrs. Hayes [a neighbor] can remember an addition in the back that was four bedrooms and the kitchen joined the end near the well. It had a large fireplace and then stairs going up to the second floor and then a closed staircase from the second to the third floor, which was finished. The yard was very different from any around. It was completely covered with large white rocks, laid side by side, with no filling in between, no flowers or shrubbery. Where the rocks came from, no one ever knew. Mrs. Hayes has two in her front yard.”

New Salem was founded around the year 1815, when streets were laid off and lots were sold by Town Commissioners Benjamin Marmon, Jesse Hinshaw, Moses Swaim, William Dennis and Peter Dicks. Until Franklinsville was founded and became the county’s manufacturing metropolis, New Salem was for about a quarter century the largest municipality in the county. Two acres at the east end of the village was sold to the Society of Friends, who established a meeting house. After the Civil War the dwindling Quaker congregation merged with Providence monthly meeting a few miles away, and their meeting house was sold to the current Methodist congregation.

Across the street from the Dicks house was (and still stands) the home of Dr. C.W. Woolen, whose father in law was the Abolition preacher Daniel Worth. Further back behind the Woolen house is a water source known as Adams’ Spring, notorious since 1808 as the place where Naomi Wise met her lover Stephen Lewis just before her death.

The Dicks family were long-time Quakers, and can be traced with some difficulty through Hinshaw’s “Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy” (I say ‘difficulty’ because each generation had at least one “Peter Dicks,” and sometimes more than one). To confuse matters even further, the Dick family in north central Guilford County (remember Judge R.P. Dick, signer of the Dicks Mill petition a few days ago?) was not related to the Dicks family of south central Guilford and Randolph.

According to the records of Centre Friends meeting, once right on the border between Guilford and Randolph, and now firmly in Guilford), our Peter Dicks was born May 13, 1771 (or “13th day 5th month 1771” according to the Quaker terminology used in Hinshaw (Volume I, p. 652). He was the son of James Dicks (b. 1748, York Co, PA, died 16 Nov 1830, and buried at New Salem Meth. Ch.) and wife Rachel Beals. Father James was himself the son of another Peter Dicks (b. ca. 1720 in Chester Co., PA; died 2 Jan. 1796 in Guilford County) and his wife Elizabeth. That Peter Dicks and his family moved their membership in Warrington Monthly Meeting of Friends in York Co., PA, to New Garden Monthly Meeting in Guilford County on August 30, 1755. Grandpa Peter was evidently the immigrant to North Carolina I remember hearing Edgar “Josh” Murrow of Centre speak of as if they were old school buddies. That Peter Dicks, said Josh, moved to the wilds of Polecat Creek, kept at that time burned to a grassy savannah by the Indians; he built a lean-to under an enormous Chestnut tree, and fed himself by shooting the abundant wild turkeys. (Josh learned all this by reading the diary of Peter Dicks, subsequently destroyed in a house fire). The family business may have been milling, as the immigrant Peter Dicks is listed in court records as owning a mill as early as 1753.

Our Peter may have been a potter, as when neighbor William Dennis sold out and moved west in 1832 his pottery tools were purchased by Peter Dicks. Our Peter, however, earned his living in sales, and may have made pottery and built his grist and oil mill on Deep River to supply the needs of his store in New Salem.

On October 26, 1797, our Peter Dicks married another Friend, Nancy Ann Hodson at Centre meeting. Peter and Nancy Ann are buried in the cemetery at New Salem Methodist Church, which at the time of his death in November, 1843, was New Salem Friends Meeting (Nancy outlived him to August 4, 1850). Their tombstones are now so eroded by weather and abrasive lawn maintenance that they are virtually unreadable.

Their children did quite well. Son James continued to live in Randleman, run the family mill, and was a founder and stockholder in the Union Factory. Daughter Sallie Dicks married John Milton Worth, a physician and brother of Governor Jonathan Worth. Dr. Worth and wife Sallie built a substantial house where the Asheboro Public Library now stands. Daughter Annie Dicks married Jesse Walker, a merchant and investor in several other cotton mills.


April 12, 2009

Sandy Creek church from the Southwest

Sandy Creek church from the Southwest

Liberty Township; east side Ramseur-Julian Road.

[Sandy Creek Baptist Church was this month approved to be designated as a county Landmark; the description below was written years ago, but I updated it to take note of the recent loving improvements done by members of its congregation.  It is not yet listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but it is not only deserving of that designation, it should by all rights become Randolph County’s first National Historic Landmark.  For a a look at the complete Landmark application, check it out on the Landmark Commission page on the county website.]

Sandy Creek Baptist Church is both the oldest organized church and the oldest surviving religious structure in Randolph County. A recognized landmark in religious history, it is noted by the nearby state historic marker as the “Mother of Southern Baptist Churches.” The congregation at Sandy Creek was founded by the “Separate Baptist” minister Shubal Stearns (1706-1771), a Boston native who led a group of eight families into the area in 1755. Most colonial or “Particular” Baptists were members of the Philadelphia Association and advocated a strict Calvinist theology of “what will be, will be.” Separate or “New Light” Baptists broke with this practice and proposed active campaigns to win converts with Sunday Schools, revivals and missionary work. Stearns’ efforts to awaken the religious impulses of the back country were wildly successful, with his original congregation of eight families mushrooming into 606 members by 1770.

In June 1758 Stearns formed the Sandy Creek Association, an organization including not only the original church but three nearby offshoot congregations. The association soon grew to include members all over the South, and as far west as the Mississippi. Baptist historian Morgan Edwards noted in 1772 that “It, in 17 years, is become mother, grandmother and great grandmother to 42 churches, from which sprang 125 ministers, many of which are ordained and support the sacred character as well as any set of clergy in America.” In 1830 the Sandy Creek Association backed the creation of the new Southern Baptist Convention, and the two organizations soon combined. Sandy Creek Church itself, centered in the area of most active opposition to the colonial government, suffered greatly during the War of the Regulation. Edwards estimated that 1,500 families left the region after the battle of Alamance in 1771. This combined with the death of Rev. Stearns in November of the same year, soon caused the membership of the church to dwindle to a mere fourteen.

Nationally, the Separate Baptists combined with the Regular Baptists in the early 19th century, but the merger was not popular. In 1836 discontent was so profound at Sandy Creek that part of the congregation broke away and formed the nearby Shady Grove Baptist Church, leaving the old building to the ‘Primitive’ (or anti-missionary) Baptists who maintain it today.

The existing Sandy Creek Church is the third building to house the congregation. The first building burned about 1785, and the second, built across the road, was blown down by a storm. The third, according to strong local tradition, was built in 1826. The log building is approximately 20 by 25 feet in size.

Interior looking west toward Bible rail

Interior looking west toward Bible rail

The church is one of the best examples of antebellum meeting houses left in North Carolina.  It still features the original pulpit, or “Bible Rail,” and some original benches.

Interior looking northwest

Interior looking northwest

Raked “galleries” or balconies around three sides of the interior were removed in 1936, but have recently been expertly reconstructed.

Detail of Corner Notching

Detail of Corner Notching

The log church was weatherboarded in 1870 and covered with asphalt siding in 1953; both coverings were removed in 2007 when several rotten structural timbers were replaced.   It is good to see one of the county’s most important historic landmarks is being well maintained by its congregation.

Abram Brower House, Liberty

March 27, 2009

Southwest corner of Fayetteville and Raleigh Streets (destroyed)

Warren Dixon is working on a history of the Town of Liberty, and found this photo in the Town’s walk-in safe. It is captioned “the old house on the corner of Fayetteville and Raleigh St.”

Writes Warren: “Supposedly the Brower house, the first house built in Liberty, at the corner of Fayetteville and Raleigh Streets. I had seen the house in a 1939 clipping from a newspaper [article about] the 50th anniversary of Liberty’s incorporation. In the clipping, the house (a different photo, but faded) was described as “the first house built in the community 160 (sic) years ago by Abram Brower, who owned the land on which the town now stands. The house is still in use.” Well, this would date the house to 1779 [and] even I… don’t believe this. Anyway, this is the Brower house that stood on the lot Abram Brower first owned. It’s certain that James Washington Brower 1813-1875 lived in the house and many of his children. Swannanoa Brower, b. 1864 and her brother, Henry Lilly Brower, b. 1866 (and Liberty’s first mayor) grew up in the house.

Another clipping, dated June 1, 1960 (and with quite a few errors) says the house was torn down in November of 1957. Wachovia Bank now stands on the lot.

Across the street, where the Lutheran Church is now, stood [Brower’s] store, on Lot #1. The Brower house would be the southwest corner, Lot #1 the northwest. Then lots 2-6 run behind lot #1 to the west.”

Local historian Francine Swaim wrote portions of a history of Liberty called “Our Town” where she states that “James Patterson Montgomery who bought lot #1 in the “new town of Liberty”, was a cabinet maker. He was paid 4.00 for the casket he made for pioneer Christian Brower when he died in 1819. At his death in 1814, Col. John Brower owned lot #2 on the northwest corner of the public square in Liberty. Jacob Brower, guardian of John’s minor children, sold the lot to William Dicks in 1817.  Given the fact that William Dicks paid $58 for the lot, while Abram Brower paid only $20 for his two lots on the opposite corner of the square, would lead one to believe the building in which William Dicks had his store (said to have been the first store in Liberty) was on lot number two when he bought it. When William Dicks died in 1831, Abram Brower purchased the store and lot from the heirs of William Dicks, who lived in Guilford County.”

Warren continues that “Other than the photo, another interesting item in the safe was an account book dating 1834-35. Whoever had it had started a scrapbook in it, pasting…on the first few pages. Thus I was unable to see whose account book it was. I need to go back and copy the numerous names from it. Sandra [Warren’s wife, a former Town Clerk for Liberty] said that Judy Reitzel donated the collection to the town before she died. I knew Judy, she lived just down the street. Judy and her husband Armp had no children. A little research showed that Judy’s husband was the son of Guy Reitzel and Sallie Patterson. Sallie’s mother was Sarah Lavina Brower b. 1845, a dt. of James Washington Brower and granddaughter of Abraham Brower, b. 1785. Guy Reizel and his brother Roy (Liberty mayor who put in water and sewer and was immediately voted out of office) married sisters, Nellie and Sallie Patterson, daughters of Dr. A.J. Patterson and the aforementioned Sarah Levina Brower. There are account books from Dr. Patterson in the collection as well. Looking through Francine’s material again, I found this note: “Records of licenses issued in 1833 list a peddlar’s license to Abram Brower. A store account book in the possession of Delene Reitzel, a descendant of Abram Brower who grew up in the old Abram Brower home place, would indicate the store may have been operated by the Brower family for numbers of years.”  Delene Reitzel was an unmarried cousin of Armp and this would explain how the account book came to be in Armp’s wife’s hands and then later donated to the town. So it seems right now that this is Abram Brower’s account book.”

Warren asked me to examine the photo and tell him what I could tell about the house. I first look at it overall, to form a general impression; then I look at specifics. If I have the original photo, I’ll look at it with a magnifying glass, as early photographs have amazing definition and detail. Scans, not so much: though photo viewers allow really convenient magnification, to have a really high resolution scan takes a huge amount of memory.

The house stands at a crossroads of some sort (houses usually face toward the main road; this one has a road running by its side so the main road must be out of the photograph). That may be some kind of gravel sidewalk between the house and the road. The shade trees in the side yard are rather young- less than 10 years old, surely. I would date the photo itself to circa-1890; the enclosed garden is a clue; not the garden itself (it has some beautiful detailing, such as the arched flower arbor and the wooden palings, which probably date to the 1850s-70s at the latest), but the fact that it is enclosed by the fence at all. The “stock laws” passed in the 1890s required livestock to be fenced “in” by their owners; previously the law had allowed livestock to forage in “the common lands,” and homeowners were required to fence livestock “out;” so enclosed gardens became uncommon after the turn of the century.) The glass-ball lightning rods are also a late-19th/ early-20th-century feature.

It is a two-story, four-bay gable-roofed clapboard house, one room deep, with a hipped-roof porch and an attached one story rear wing. In the South, rear wings like this were almost always originally a separate kitchen, separate to isolate the house from the heat of the fire burning in the fireplace every day and night, all year. The real giveaway of the identity of the little one-story wing is the size of its chimney— 3 ½ bricks deep and 6 bricks wide, while the end chimney of the house is only 2 1/2 bricks deep and 5 bricks wide. A chimney that large in a wing that small can only be designed for cooking. The free-standing kitchen was often attached to the house by an open passage, which sooner or later became an enclosed dining room as fireplace cookery gradually turned into wood stove cookery (starting in the 1840s, and becoming nearly universal by 1900). Here we see what may be an open passage separating the house and the kitchen (or it may be a side door into the kitchen wing- hard to see exactly).

My read is that the house we see here is an 1850s-era expansion of a much earlier house. There are several clues.

The house is four bays wide; that is, it has four second-floor windows on the principal façade. However, the windows are only symmetrical on the side to the left of a vertical board dividing the clapboards of the third of the house to the right from the 2/3s to the left. There is a chimney marking this same division, and I read this as saying that the original house was expanded at some point. I’m saying the date of the expansion is the 1850s, because of the construction of the roof. It has a deep overhang, along the dripline and along the gable ends. Early roofs were almost flush at the gable and dripline- look at any house in Williamsburg. As the 19th-century advanced, roofs of southern houses especially began to widen, so as to shed water farther away from the house. This is exactly the kind of roof that was built on the 1850 Columbia Manufacturing Company mill, and exactly the same as that of the Franklinsville mill when it was rebuilt in 1852 after the fire.

Another big clue toward house dating is the design of the windows- early windows have smaller, more numerous panes of glass. Here the windows are concealed by the closed shutters (it’s obviously summer from the vegetation, so it makes sense that the shutters are closed: they are the functional equivalent of window screens, so when the windows are open, the shutters should be closed. The one visible window in the kitchen wing is a six-over-six sash, which was a common size before 1880.

Many people might read the expansion and assume that the 3-bay section is the original house because it is the symmetrical side (at least on the second floor level—the vegetation along the porch hides any look at the layout of entrances doors). The symmetry of this section of the house is even more emphasized by the fact that the center window is slightly longer than the two on either side. So it is visually natural to think that the original house was a two-story frame house with chimneys at each end. I think this is incorrect, mainly because of the chimneys. The end chimney facing the camera is smaller than the chimney which is now in the center of the house. The center chimney is 3 ½ bricks deep and 7 bricks wide- even larger than that of the kitchen wing. As a general rule, the earlier the house, the bigger its fireplaces, and bigger fireplaces require bigger chimneys. So my deduction is that the original house is the section with one window to the far right, and that it was originally a square, or almost-square, two-story house with one end chimney and fireplaces on both floors. That configuration would be what 18th-century people called a “mansion house” (two stories, two full rooms on each story with a fireplace on each floor). The fact that it was square, and had only a single window suggests to me that it may have been a log house, though that is just my assumption.

The hipped-roof of the porch is an 1850-ish feature; hip roofs were common in the Italianate style which became popular in that decade. The openwork porch posts are also from that period- I first saw them in a book of house plans written by A.J. Downing in the 1850s, They were easy for a carpenter to build, and didn’t require a large turning lathe as did the later porch posts we call “Victorian.” And as we see here, they provided a built-in trellis for the climbing roses and vines that gardeners loved so much in the 19th century.

That’s about all the story I can tell from this picture. Can you see any more?

Brower House in Snow

Brower House in Snow


Warren found another photo of the Brower house in a scrapbook.  It’s from a much later time- possible 40 or 50 years after the first picture.  The second window to the left has been blocked up, it seems.  The Victorian garden fence has been removed, and some new trees have been planted at the intersection.  And there appears to be a concrete well cap in the front yard, which I’d date no earlier than the 1930s or 40s.    As Warren said earlier, the house was torn down in 1957, so this is obviously what it looked like late in its life…