Tar may have been an important product to the settlers who began building here around 1730. Or the newcomers may have taken the name for their river from the Tuscarora word “Tau,” meaning river of good health.” At any rate when the tiny assemblage of houses tucked into a bend of the Tar River was created in 1760 and designated the county seat of Edgecombe County it was established as Tarborough. Joseph Howell sold 150 acres off his plantation to establish the town. The land was divided into building lots of a half-acre, a small graveyard and a large chunk of fifty acres for public use. The town at the head of navigation on the Tar River prospered enough in the coming years to merit a stop on George Washington.s Southern Tour in 1791.
For much of its early history Tarboro was a small town populated with one-man trades and small businesses. The main line of the new North Carolina railroads ran elsewhere but when spur lines began reaching Tarboro in the latter half of the 1800s, industries were established. There was a cotton mill and a bright leaf tobacco market began in 1891. Tarboro factories manufactured wood products and corn meal and processed peanuts.
In 1977 the Tarboro Historic District was created - a 45-block area peppered with beautifully preserved colonial, antebellum and Victorian homes and original 19th century storefronts. Our walking tour will pass many of the 300 qualifying structures and we will begin with the 15 acres remaining of tat original Town Common...
between Park Avenue and Wilson Street
Town commons used to be just that in America - common. But today they are a rare sight. In the act establishing “Tarborough” in 1760 was a provision that 50 acres of land be designated as a town common. It was a place to graze cattle, for folks to gather and the militia to practice drills. Oak trees you see today were planted back then. Memorials around the common include the Wyatt Fountain, remembering Henry Lawson Wyatt, a young carpenter’s apprentice, who was the first North Carolina casualty of the Civil War.
EXIT TOWN COMMON ON MAIN STREET. TOWN COMMON DIVIDES THE TOWN BUSINESS DISTRICT TO THE SOUTH FROM THE RESIDENTIAL AREA TO THE NORTH. WALK SOUTH, TOWARDS THE CHURCH STEEPLE.
First Baptist Church
605 Main Street
This congregation traces its roots to February 6, 1803 on the banks of the Tar River. This is the fourth meetinghouse for the Baptists and the second at this location. The Colonial Revival church was dedicated in June 1928.
George H. White Post Office
525 Main Street
Tarboro got its first post office in 1914, a monumental Neoclassical structure fronted by a parade of fluted Doric columns. It is still handling mail almost 100 years later. In 2003 the United States House of Representatives voted to name the post office for George H. White, a lawyer, orator, who served as the sole African American United States Congressman from 1896-1901. After White left Congress, it was twenty-seven years until the next African American, Oscar DePriest, was elected from Illinois in 1928. In 1894, White moved to Tarboro, which was in the predominantly African American Second District, in order to run for a Congressional seat. Although he lost a contentious primary battle to his brother-in-law that year, he secured the nomination two years later and successfully captured the seat.
WALK OVER TO THE CORNER ON YOUR RIGHT, EDENTON AND WILMINGTON STREETS.
514 Main Street
The Colonial Theaterwas built in 1919 and by 1927 when talkies arrived from Hollywood it was operating exclusively as a movie house. Its business drained by suburban multi-plexes, it closed in 1982. After an extended period of disuse the historic theater is inching its way back to operation.
435 Main Street
The Bridgers family were railroad builders of the first magnitude in eastern North Carolina. Robert R. Bridgers was president of the following three lines: the Wilmington and Weldon, the Albemarle and Raleigh, and the Wilmington, Columbia and Augusta which became the foundation of the Atlantic Coast Line system. His nephew Henry Clark Bridgers organized the short line East Carolina Railroad in 1898 and was the first president and general manager of the railroad at age twenty-two. The railroad was acquired by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in 1935, but continued to be locally managed by Henry Clark Bridgers under the East Carolina Railway name until his death in 1951. The last run made on the railroad was on November 16, 1965. Operations were conducted from the Neoclassical red brick building beginning in 1907. Look up to see brick pilasters stretching to Corinthian capitals.
TURN RIGHT AND WALK DOWN EDENTON STREET.
George Howard, Jr. Building
404 Main Street
In the 1820s George Howard moved to Tarboro from Halifax and established a weekly newspaper, the Free Press. In 1829 his son George, Jr. was born. Howard the Younger became a lawyer, a Superior Court judge, publisher of the Tarboro Southerner, president of the Pamlico Banking & Insurance Company, president of the Tarboro Land & Trust Company, and a cotton mill director, among other things. He also commissioned this highly ornamental brick commercial building. This block contains many commercial buildings from the go-go 1880s that still stand but, save for a compromised street level, this one retains more of its original appearance than most. The Howard Building is typical of the downtown buildings of the era that featured shop space on the ground floor and living quarters above.
300 Main Street
This is considered the standard-bearer for the French Second Empire style in Tarboro, even though it has lost some of its elegant detailing since its construction in 1885. The house is constructed of brick but stuccoed over and scored to look like more expensive stone. Owner John F. Shackelford erected the River View Knitting Mills on the Tar River which prospered mightily until being destroyed by fire in the 1890s; he was also president of the Bank of Tarboro.
CROSS THE STREET AND WALK THROUGH COURTHOUSE PLAZA TO ST. ANDREW STREET.
Edgecombe County Courthouse
301 St. Andrews Street
The first Edgecombe County courthouse was constructed in 1758 in what is known today as Cokey Swamp. After a single court session a petition was sent to the Colonial Assembly requesting the Edgecombe County courthouse be moved to Tarboro, which was accomplished in 1764. The current courthouse was constructed 200 years later, an interpretation of a Colonial Williamsburg hospital. It replaced a courthouse that had stood since the 1830s.
TURN LEFT ON ST. ANDREW STREET.
St. James United Methodist Church
211 East St. James Street at St. Andrew Street
This dark red brick building with copious amounts of white stone trim was constructed in 1916 to replace the congregation’s 1855 church. It reflects Norman influences in its square corner tower, Gothic pointed arched doors and Romanesque-flavored broad round arches.
Carolina Telephone and Telegraph Company Building
122 East St. James Street at St. Andrew Street
Carolina Telephone and Telegraph Company (CT&T) got its start in the autumn of 1894 when a traveling salesman named G. A. Holderness united a group of businessmen to establish a telephone exchange in Tarboro. A year later the exchange was operational with a capacity of about 50 lines. Its switchboard was located on the second floor of a building on Tarboro’s main street. The new service quickly proved to be a success, and Holderness and his partners soon expanded operations to the nearby towns of Washington and Kinston and eventually CT&T made it all the way to the New York Stock Exchange in 1964. Four years later ground was broken on this six-story, International Style headquarters. Shortly thereafter CT&T became a wholly owned subsidiaryof United Telecommunications which became Sprint in the early 1970s. Sprint has since left the building which has spent time vacant in its search for new tenants.
TURN RIGHT ON ST. JAMES STREET.
Howard Memorial Presbyterian Church
303 East James Street at St. Patrick Street
This was the Tarboro Presbyterian Church when it was founded in 1874. In 1905 the Howard family announced their intentions to build the congregation a new church. The original building was disassembled and carted over to the corner of Wagner and Church streets. In its stead rose a symmetrical brick edifice with stone trim fashioned in the Greek Revival style. The new sanctuary was dedicated on May 23, 1909, newly renamed to reflect the church’s benefactor.
Old Town Cemetery
Saint James Street and St. David Street
Old Town Cemetery was established as a public burying ground in 1790. Confederate soldiers who died in hospitals set up on the Town Common are interred here, many in unmarked graves. The cemetery also served as a temporary resting place for Union soldiers who were killed at the Daniel’s School engagement in 1863 until their families claimed their remains after the Civil War.
TURN LEFT ON ST. DAVID STREET. ON YOUR RIGT, WALK INTO THE CHURCHYARD.
Calvary Episcopal Church
411 East Church Street
William Percival was a Richmond architect and engineer who came to Raleigh in 1857 to build the First Baptist Church. He would remain in North Carolina only until 1860, a brief time that produced a flurry of acclaimed buildings, including this church that he planned in the Gothic style with two unequal towers. Percival planned for the brick church to have a coating of scored stucco but the Civil War exploded and the building would not be consecrated until 1868 with the brick walls left exposed.
TURN LEFT ON CHURCH STREET. TURN RIGHT ON ST. ANDREW STREET.
511 St. Andrew Street
Like his father before him William Francis Dancy became an attorney and wealthy planter. In 1850, at the age of 32, Dancy married 20-year old Martha Caroline Moye in Mississippi. Within two years, unhappily, Martha was dead and Dancy was back in Tarboro. He set about building this fine Greek Revival home which was completed in 1855. He took a new wife in 1858 but once again the Dancy marriage would tragically be scuttled after two years, this time with William’s sudden death while on a trip to Philadelphia in 1860.
CONTINUE ON ST. ANDREW STREET AND WALK THROUGH THE COMMON. SOME OF THE TOWN’S FINEST HOMES WERE BUILT ALONG THE COMMON.
James Pender House
110 East Park Avenue at northwest corner of St. Andrew Street.
John Pender and Nancy White were Virginians who came down to Edgecombe County in the 1770s where they had at least eight children, four sons and four daughters. Penders have been influential around Tarboro ever since. James Pender was born in 1858 and became a lawyer and mayor of the town from 1901 until 1907. He had this house overlooking the Common constructed in 1900.
CONTINUE ON ST. ANDREW STREET ONE AND ONE-HALF BLOCK TO BRIDGERS STREET AND THE HOUSE ON THE HILL, OR AT LEAST RISE.
130 Bridgers Street
James Blount sailed down from Virginia around 1665 and became one of the North Carolina colony’s most successful planters with thousands of acres around the Albemarle Sound in cultivation. Thomas Blount was born in 1759 and became involved in running the family’s extensive mercantile operation, one of America’s largest. He was also active in politics, graduating from the North Carolina legislature into the United States Congress in 1793. Blount purchased the land for here in 1796, a year after he married Jackey Sullivan Sumner from another of the state’s wealthiest families. By 1808 he had built a manor house he called “The Grove” that was described as “a very good house, the best in the county.” John L. Bridgers occupied the property in the mid-1800s and added the Italianate porch and sold off the better part of The Grove’s 300 acres. Beyond that the Federal-style house maintains its form with minimal alteration after more than 200 years. It has been owned by the Town of Tarboro since 1932 and currently is open to the public as a house museum.
WALK AROUND THE BLOUNT-BRIDGERS HOUSE.
Silas Everett House
St. Andrews Street at Philips Street
This small frame house is thought to have been built in the early 1800s and perhaps maybe in the late 1700s. It began life on the farm of Silas Everett and was moved to the Blount-Bridgers historic complex in 1968. It stands as an example of the fine craftsmanship that was often found in even the simple farm buildings of the 19th century. Its generous porch harkens back to a day when such an amenity was not for rocking chairs but as an outdoor work room for preparing food or sewing clothes.
RETURN TO BRIDGERS STREET AND TURN RIGHT. AT MAIN STREET TURN LEFT, WALKING BACK TOWARDS THE COMMON.
Main Street Inn
912 Main Street
This rambling structure began as a three-story Italianate house for Henry Morris in 1885. English-born Morris was born in England and raised in New York before migrating south. He arrived in Tarboro in 1869 and opened a dry goods store. His brothers William and Joseph lived with him and worked in the store asH. Morris & Bros. became the biggest merchants in town. Henry Morris served several years as mayor of Tarboro in the 1880s. The house was purchased and expanded, including the classical Ionic-columned porch, by W. H. Powell, the first president of the Carolina Telephone and Telegraph Company. Since 2006 it has operated as a guest house.
David Pender House
807 Main Street
Edmund George Lind was an English born and trained architect who emigrated to the United States in 1855 at the age of 26. He settled in Baltimore and became one of America’s most admired architects working south of Philadelphia. Lind was lured to North Carolina by Joseph J.W. Powell, a wealthy physician and planter, in 1858 to design a manor house at his Coolmore Plantation outside Tarboro. That Italian villa would turn out to be a seminal work, one of 38 properties in North Carolina designated a National Historic Landmark. While in town Lind cranked out a schoolhouse, a pair of stores and this Greek Revival cottage embellished with a sawnwork decorated porch for David Pender, brother of Confederate General William Dorsey Pender. Pender was promoted to major general and division commander at the age of 29, one of the youngest commanders in the Confederate States of America. He was wounded in many battles and finally died in 1863 from wounds received at Gettysburg.
TURN RIGHT AND TAKE PORTER STREET ACROSS FROM THE PENDER HOUSE. PASS TRADE STREET ON THE RIGHT. WALK ONTO THE TOWN COMMON ON YOUR LEFT BEFORE REACHING ALBEMARLE STREET.
Edgecombe County Cotton Press
Town Common at Porter Street and Albemarle Avenue
This yellow pine press was constructed in the 1700s on Isaac Norfleet’s plantation southwest of town, originally to make wine and cider. As cotton became a popular cash crop in the mid-1800s it was used to compress cotton into bales with its large screw. Mules and oxen were hitched to the booms to rotate the screw. In 1938, the press was moved to Tarboro’s Town Common but its shed was demolished. A new pavilion has since been constructed to help shield the wooden press from the elements. You can see an old wooden cotton press in South Carolina and one in Louisiana but this is the only one you will see in North Carolina.
YOU ARE NOW BACK ON THE TOWN COMMON. WITH YOUR BACK TO THE PRESS WALK STRAIGHT AND FOLLOW THE COMMON AS IT BENDS LEFT TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.