Native American villages, colonial homes, and segregated schools: 10 historic buildings in NC

(Photo courtesy of Cherokee Chamber of Commerce)

By Ryan Pitkin

January 9, 2024

There’s an incredible amount of history in North Carolina. We take you on a tour of the places where it happened, from Cherokee to the coast.

North Carolina is home to a lot of history. In fact, what would later become known as the “Tar Heel State” was home to the mythical Lost Colony, the first white settlement in the “New World” that would eventually be called the United States. The state’s sense of history only builds from there.

Of course, nothing is left of the Lost Colony (hence the name), but there are many buildings spread throughout the state that carry their own storied pasts.

Read More: UFO homes, clamshell gas stations, and giant domes: 6 NC destinations for bizarre architecture. Click here to read.

We’ve compiled a list of 10 such buildings ranging from the western NC mountains to the Atlantic shore, complete with tales of what makes them so historic and what they’re used for today if you were to visit, which we highly suggest you do.

Western North Carolina

Oconaluftee Indian Village, circa 1760s

288 Drama Road, Cherokee

We are kicking off our own list by bending its rules a bit — or let’s just call this entry an exception. See, while The Lost Colony was the first white settlement in what would become the United States, Indigenous people had settled these parts thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans.

There are not many examples of Indigenous living quarters or other facilities that have survived the nearly two centuries since the implementation of the Trail of Tears, during which American soldiers forced members of the “Five Civilized Tribes” to march west toward Oklahoma with plans to steal the land they left behind, but no historic tour of North Carolina is complete without learning about those who were here first.

The Oconaluftee Indian Village serves as a portal through time, transporting visitors to the 18th century, where they can learn about ancient crafting techniques from contemporary Cherokee artists, meet historic Cherokee figures in the Living History section, and watch performers put on shows that include battle scenes and traditional Cherokee dances.

Oconaluftee Indian Village is currently closed for the winter but will reopen for a new season of tours on April 16, so buy your tickets now.

The Biltmore Estate, circa 1895

1 Lodge St., Asheville

10 Historic Buildings in North Carolina and How They’re Used Today

Photo courtesy of ZakZeinert via Shutterstock

Then: Captivated by the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains upon his first visit to Asheville in 1888, George Vanderbilt, grandson of famed shipping entrepreneur and industrialist Cornelius “the Commodore” Vanderbilt, began buying up land for what would become Biltmore, hiring Richard Morris Hunt to design and build the home and famed Central Park planner Frederick Law Olmsted to design the gardens and grounds. The 250-room French Renaissance château would become (and still remains) America’s largest home, spanning 175,000 square feet — more than four acres of floor space.

On Christmas Eve 1895, the home was opened to Vanderbilt’s family and friends — with 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces, there was always room for guests. Writers Henry James, Edith Wharton, Paul Leicester Ford and Asheville’s own Thomas Wolfe were among the regular guests, plus ambassadors, entertainers, and other social figures like Alice Roosevelt. Following George’s death in 1914, the mansion remained in the family. His daughter Cornelia was married in Biltmore Village in 1924 and gave birth to her two sons in the Louis XV Room — one in 1925 and 1928.

And now: With a desire to bring more tourism dollars into the area as the Great Depression took its grip on America, Cornelia and her husband John Cecil opened Biltmore to the public in 1930. Today it remains one of the state’s most popular tourist attractions, hosting rotating exhibits throughout the year.

Having just wrapped its Italian Renaissance Alive exhibit after 10 months on display, Biltmore will open its new Chihuly at Biltmore display featuring Dale Chihuly’s pedestal works, drawings, and large-scale installations on March 25. As far as outdoor options, the Antler Hill Village Illumination remains open through Feb. 19 and the beautiful botanical gardens will begin to bloom again in March.

Flat Top Manor, circa 1900

6570 Blue Ridge Parkway, Blowing Rock

10 Historic Buildings in North Carolina and How They’re Used Today

Photo courtesy of William A Blake

Then: Born in Jonesboro, Tennessee to two German-Jewish immigrant parents, Moses H. Cone and his brother Caesar took what they had learned from their businessman father and started their own venture, Cone Export & Commission Company, in 1891, selling textile products from the myriad independent Southern mills to a wider market up north. In 1895, the two opened Proximity Manufacturing Company in Greensboro, quickly building themselves up to be the most successful denim, flannel and corduroy makers in the country.

Moses began buying lots in Blowing Rock the year after he launched his first business with Caesar, finding it to be the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of a businessman’s life. He would eventually acquire nearly 3,600 acres for his estate, and in 1899 began construction on a family home for him and his wife, Bertha. Built in the Beaux-Arts style, the house contained about 14,000 square feet of living space on three floors, with 23 rooms including 11 bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a billiard room, music room, and library.

And now: The Flat Top Manor still stands today, hosting a bookstore and the Parkway Craft Center, where the Southern Highland Craft Guild holds regular workshops from May to October. But the true legacy of the estate is in the land surrounding the Manor, which has become one of the most heavily used areas along the Blue Ridge Parkway thanks to its 25 miles of carriage roads, two man-made lakes, and apple orchards that make it a haven for hiking and horseback trail riding.

In the winter, Moses H. Cone Memorial Park invites visitors to bring their snowshoes or cross-country skis to explore the trails whenever the 3,500-acre estate inevitably becomes blanketed in snow.

Piedmont

Old Stone House, circa 1766

770 Old Stone House Road, Salisbury

10 Historic Buildings in North Carolina and How They’re Used Today

Photo courtesy of Maranda Maben via Facebook

Then: Built in 1766, the Old Stone House survived longer than most homes of the era because its owner, German immigrant Michael Braun, built it in the midst of what the Rowan Museum calls “the virtual wilderness” by carefully matching and stacking rocks rather than utilizing the logs that were so commonly used to build cabins in that time. The two-story Georgian-style house is considered one of the finest examples of German architecture in the South, but it’s not quite the oldest in the state — that designation will come later in the list.

It wasn’t just Braun who built the home, however. According to the Rowan Museum, documents indicate that he enslaved at least 15 people who did much of the work on his property, raising livestock, hunting game, and planting and caring for crops on Braun’s 3,000 acres of land, all while providing food for the Braun family and themselves, cooking and preserving food, raising Braun’s children, and catering to the family’s every need. “Michael Braun’s estate profited and thrived directly from the unpaid, forced labor of enslaved people,” the Rowan Museum’s website reads.

And now: Restored several times in the 20th century — most recently in 1966 following the home’s purchase by the Rowan Museum in 1959 — the Stone House remains owned by the museum today and serves as an exhibit hall honoring the Braun family and those who were enslaved on the property. The museum hosts Colonial-style events at the house during the spring and winter to showcase the history of the site, with tours available April through November on Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4 p.m.

Spring Hill House, circa 1815

705 Barbour Drive, Raleigh

Then: Built by the Hunter family and the folks enslaved by them on a sprawling plantation in 1840, the Spring Hill house began as an extension of the original residence at the site. Following the sale of the residence and surrounding land near the end of the Civil War, the property served as a camp for several thousand federal troops who occupied Raleigh in April 1865, likely either sleeping in the house or using it as an office.

In 1908, the State Hospital bought the Spring Hill House and the surrounding property, which belonged to Dorothea Dix Hospital (DDH), formerly the North Carolina Hospital for the Mentally Ill. The Spring Hill House, which stood alone after a fire destroyed the main residence sometime in the 20th century, was used by DDH for nearly a century until the hospital was shut down in 2000.

And now: In January 2001, the Spring Hill House and 128 surrounding acres were transferred to the Centennial Campus of North Carolina State University, which turned the house into the NC Japan Center. The center partners with government agencies and business organizations to foster increased exports to Japan and facilitate Japanese investment in our state. “We endeavor to make North Carolina a welcoming environment in which Japanese people can live and work, and Japanese companies can do business,” the center’s site reads.

St. Philips Moravian Church, circa 1861

911 South Church Street. Winston-Salem

Native American villages, colonial homes, and segregated schools: 10 historic buildings in NC

(Photo courtesy of St. Phillips Moravian Church)

Then: The African and African-American Moravian congregation, the only historic Moravian African-American congregation in the country, was started by enslaved people in Old Salem (at that time just called Salem before the town merged with Winston) in 1822. The congregation carried out worship services in a small log church for about 40 years until 1861, when they built a new brick building. The new church was consecrated on Dec. 15, 1861, and less than four years later, on May 21, 1865, that’s where congregants heard the news from a Union Army cavalry chaplain — they were free!

From the start of worship services there, the brick church was called the Slave Church, the Black Church, the Negro Church, the Colored Church, or the African-American Church. Finally, on December 20, 1914, Bishop Edward Rondthaler bestowed upon the congregation the name of St. Philips Moravian Church. The congregation held its last regular service at the church in spring 1952, skipping around to a few new locations over the decades until returning to the brick church on South Church Street in 2019, celebrating its 200th anniversary there in 2022.

And now: The church remains a source of education for hundreds of school children from all parts of North Carolina and visitors of the African-American Complex at the Old Salem Museum and Gardens. Set to re-open Feb. 15, the St. Philips Moravian Church will partner with Old Salem Inc. to provide an in-depth look at the history of North Carolina’s longest-running Black church while exploring the organization’s ongoing research into the lives of free and enslaved people of African descent who lived in the town of Salem.

Siloam School, circa 1920s

3500 Shamrock Drive, Charlotte

Then: The Siloam School was built amid a movement to educate freed Black people that began in the 1890s and continued into the 20th century. The Rosenwald Fund, a partnership between Booker T. Washington and Sears Roebuck tycoon Julius Rosenwald, helped fund construction of more than 5,000 schools for African-American children in the South. Though not funded by the Rosenwald Fund — it’s believed a nearby church funded and carried out its construction — Siloam School was built using the Rosenwald model.

Though it’s unclear exactly what year the Siloam School opened, attendance budget records exist for the 1922-23 school year. According to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, former students have said the school was built in the early ’20s to replace a log cabin schoolhouse built there earlier in the 20th century.

County records for the 1924-25 school year indicate there were 72 Black children living in the Siloam district, but only 63 registered at the tiny school, according to the Charlotte Museum of History. Average daily attendance was 39 students that year. In other years, between 40-60 students were registered at the school, with the average daily attendance falling somewhere between 20 and more than 30 each day.

And now: The school ceased operations at some point before 1947 and was left abandoned, eventually falling into disrepair. It had long sat forgotten, hidden on the border of a wooded area in the shadow of an apartment complex in Charlotte’s University City, until 2017, when Charlotte Museum of History trustee Fannie Flono chaired the Save Siloam Project, which aimed to move the historic school to the museum’s property in east Charlotte and restore it to be used for educational purposes.

Over six years, a team consisting of Flono, museum leaders and other trustees raised $1.2 million to move and restore the school. On Sept. 8, 2023, the 100-year-old building was successfully transported nearly 10 miles from its original location on Mallard Highlands Drive to the museum. Once restored, it will become a center for history education, including exhibits about the 20th-century Black experience and about the region’s history of racial discrimination and injustice.

Eastern North Carolina

The Lane House, circa 1719

302 E Queen St., Edenton

10 Historic Buildings in North Carolina and How They’re Used Today

Photo courtesy of Harvey Harrison via Wikipedia

Then: If you were to drive by the oldest house in North Carolina, you’d likely think nothing of it. In fact, the people who owned the house didn’t think much of it until just over 10 years ago. When Steve and Linda Lane bought the small one-and-a-half-story residence on Edenton’s Queen Street in 2009, they thought it had been built near the beginning of the 20th century — that’s how it was listed in the Edenton National Register Historic District, after all. However, while removing deteriorated wood paneling in order to do restoration work, the couple became aware of a number of construction elements that, as amateur preservationists, they recognized to be indicative of early 18th-century building practices.

The two turned to the real experts at the State Historic Preservation Office to take a closer look. On Jan. 11, 2013, Michael Worthington, dendrochronologist with the Oxford Tree-Ring Laboratory, made an astonishing announcement in a ceremony on the porch of the small house: “The felling date for the primary timbers used in this building is winter 1718-19,” he said. And that’s how attendees learned that they were standing in front of the oldest dated house in North Carolina.

And now: The Lanes still own North Carolina’s oldest house and they don’t open it up to the public, but visitors to the small town along the Albemarle Sound can still get a taste of history by taking a trolley tour. It lasts about an hour and takes visitors not only past the Lane House but through the Cotton Mill and Mill Village to learn Edenton’s rich history, including that of Harriet Jacobs, one of the heroes of the Underground Railroad, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the second oldest church in North Carolina.

The Wilmington Journal, circa 1900

412 S. 7th St., Wilmington

Then: Wilmington has a troubled history when it comes to race relations, and unchecked aggression against Black media outlets plays a big part in that history. In 1898, an editorial from Alex Manly, editor of Black newspaper The Daily Record, was used as justification for a race riot that would see white supremacists kill hundreds of Black residents. Countless others fled the town while white residents went on to violently overthrow the local Fusionist government that included Black elected leaders, officially bringing an end to Reconstruction in Wilmington. The Daily Record’s offices were targeted and burned in the chaos.

In 1927, Robert Jervay launched the Cape Fear Journal, a Black-centered publication that aimed to carry the baton that the Daily Record once proudly held. The paper served the Black community for decades, with Robert’s son Thomas taking over in 1945 and renaming it The Wilmington Journal. In the 1970s, as racial unrest boiled over yet again, the Wilmington Journal’s offices were targeted in a May 1973 bombing. Thankfully, no one was injured, though the offices were occupied at the time of the bombing. Staff, including Thomas’ daughter Mary Alice Jervay Thatch, continued to cover the white supremacy campaigns fearlessly. Thatch would take over the paper in 1996 and continue in the role until her death in December 2021.

And now: The Carolina Journal offices still stand on South 7th Street, but they lay vacant. The paper has struggled since Thatch’s death, and despite an inspirational fundraising effort from the community to save the paper and its offices in 2021, it now sits empty. “On a quiet, tree-lined block of South 7th Street in downtown Wilmington, a two-story house with white clapboard siding looks a little worse for wear. Though its facade is in good shape, the 123-year-old building’s roof has sagged and collapsed,” wrote The Assembly in November 2023.

Though the Wilmington Journal has not printed since Thatch’s death and hasn’t updated its website since summer 2023, Thatch’s cousin, Paul Jervay Jr., is working behind the scenes to drum up funding and support to bring the paper back. As The Assembly wrote in November, “Jervay is hopeful that it will fill its long-dormant newspaper boxes once again. It is, after all, far from the first tough times the Black press in Wilmington has seen.”

Booker T. Washington High School, circa 1927

727 Pennsylvania Ave., Rocky Mount

10 Historic Buildings in North Carolina and How They’re Used Today

Photo courtesy of Booker T. Washington Community Center via Facebook

Then: Serving as a renowned educational center for Black students from 1927-1969, Booker T. Washington High School in the small town of Rocky Mount was invited to participate in a national Secondary School Study carried out in 1940 by the Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. The Rockefeller Foundation selected and funded sixteen of the most distinguished Black high schools in the United States to participate in an experimental program to reexamine administrative, curricular, and instructional practices. Booker T. Washington was one of only three in the country to complete a full monograph report as part of the heralded study.

In 1962, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech in the school’s gymnasium. The 1,800 people in attendance on November 27, 1962, had no way of knowing the history they were witnessing. As he neared the end of his speech, King said, “I have a dream that one day right here in Rocky Mount, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will meet at the table of brotherhood, knowing that one God brought man to the face of the Earth. I have a dream tonight that one day my little daughter and my two sons will grow up in a world not conscious of the color of their skin, but only conscious of the fact that they are members of the human race…” Many argue that it was the first public iteration of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, made famous less than a year later during the March on Washington. It is certainly the first recorded instance of him working out the wording that he would later use in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

And now: In 1969, Booker T. Washington High School was shut down, its Black students sent to integrate the all-white Rocky Mount High School. Today, the building serves as the Booker T. Washington Community Center, hosting year-round community events. The school’s alumni remain proud of what they accomplished there in its 42 years. Exhibition panels from the school, including the famed Secondary School Study, remain on permanent display at the Booker T. Washington High School Alumni Association Resource Center.

Author

  • Ryan Pitkin

    Ryan Pitkin is a writer and editor based in Charlotte, where he runs an alternative weekly newspaper called Queen City Nerve. He is also editor of NoDa News, a community newsletter in the neighborhood where he has lived for 15 years.

Politics

Local News

Related Stories
Share This