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Lee Avenue Historic District

Sanford City, Lee County, NC

The Lee Avenue Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]

The Lee Avenue Historic District in Sanford (historically Jonesboro), Lee County, is an eight-block linear historic district, primarily residential, that contains the most historically significant sections of the town of Jonesboro, one of Lee County's oldest towns. The small town, founded in 1860 as a stop on the Western Railroad, peaked as an agricultural market and manufacturing center in the 1890s. Although eclipsed by the town of Sanford in the early twentieth century, Jonesboro retained its distinct identity until it was annexed to Sanford in 1947. Stretching along the four block-length of Lee Avenue, a residential street that connected the town of Jonesboro to the town of Sanford, three blocks of West Main Street, and one block of South Academy Street to the corner with West Raleigh Street, the L-shaped Lee Avenue Historic District consists of forty-three historic houses built from the early 1880s to 1952, as well as the historic 1950 Jonesboro Heights Baptist Church and two historic filling stations built in the 1930s-1940s. The period of significance begins with the ca.1882 construction of the Pierce-Seawell House, an I-House, and extends to 1952, the date of the prominent Leslie P. Cox House.

The Lee Avenue Historic District is a significant collection of houses, commercial, and institutional buildings in Jonesboro built during the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries that reflect distinct architectural styles and house types and the skill of Lee County's building artisans. A distinctive type of pyramidal cottage with flanking gabled wings, a favorite house type of the early twentieth century in Jonesboro, is a dominant house type in the Lee Avenue Historic District, where eight of them stand in the 2100 to 2400 blocks of Lee Avenue. A fine collection of frame and brick Craftsman Bungalows were built among the earlier houses in the 1920s and 1930s. Skilled local contractor Leslie P. Cox's two residences are located in the Lee Avenue Historic District. The first is a 1910s Foursquare, the second a brick Classical Revival house built about 1952. One of the most distinguished residences in the Lee Avenue Historic District is a large Colonial Revival style brick house built in 1941 for Lonnie Thomas by Cox.

Historical Background

Jonesboro was founded in 1860 when the Western Railroad from Fayetteville passed through the area on its way to the coal fields at Egypt, on the Deep River in Chatham County. Jonesboro was the highest point on the rail line between Fayetteville and the Deep River. In 1871 the Raleigh & Augusta Air Line Railroad attempted to run a line through Jonesboro to connect to the Western Railroad, but prominent landowner Newton Robinson Bryan found the idea of a second railroad objectionable and prevented the railroad's acquisition of the land. Two-and-one-half miles north, the Raleigh & Augusta Air Line acquired land and built their track. A new town — Sanford — developed at the junction.[1] In 1879 the Western Railroad was reorganized as the Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley Railway Company (CF & YV). A Sanford newspaper editor later commented that "The crossing of the Seaboard Air Line (i.e. Raleigh & Augusta Air Line] and the building of Sanford absorbed much of the energy and material that would have built up Jonesboro."[2]

In the late 1800s both Jonesboro and Sanford developed as manufacturing and market centers due to the lumbering and naval stores production created out of the long leaf pine forests that blanketed the county, as well as cotton that was being produced in Lee County's sandy soil. By the mid-1890s Jonesboro's turpentine distilleries had shut down due to the depletion of the county's forests, but cotton marketing and manufacturing became a significant activity at this time. Nine cotton gins operated in or near the town and several cotton mills were built in town during the late 1800s.[3]

A comparison of the town plans of Jonesboro and Sanford hint at Jonesboro's origins as an almost "accidental" railroad town and Sanford's deliberate orientation to the railroad. Jonesboro's earliest town map, drawn in 1902, shows a gridded town plan that was laid out at an unknown date.[4] Its large lots and lack of intersecting streets reflect its quasi-rural nature, in contrast to the more densely developed grid pattern of the adjacent town of Sanford. The plan of Jonesboro exhibits a lack of orientation to the railroad. The tracks of the earliest railroad, the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railroad, extended northwest-southeast through the town between the major streets. Sanford's earliest core, located around the 1871 depot (known as the Railroad House) of the Raleigh & Augusta Air Line, has blocks of commercial buildings facing the tracks. The plan of Jonesboro may reflect a more rural approach to development among the town's earliest landowners. A second railroad, the Atlantic & Western Railroad, was chartered in 1899 in Sanford and reached Jonesboro by about 1902, skirting the northeast edge of the commercial section, two blocks north of Main Street.[5]

Lee County was formed in 1907 out of adjacent Moore and Chatham counties, with the new courthouse located equidistant between the railroad depots of Jonesboro and Sanford, which still vied in importance as the two principal towns in the county. [The courthouse still stands in its rural (now suburban) location, one of the only rural courthouses in North Carolina.] By 1910 Jonesboro had a population of 800, and boasted sawmills, corn mills, a sash and blind company, a planing mill, a pottery company, and a plow and stove factory. In 1911 a disastrous fire destroyed almost the entire business district, leaving only one brick building standing. By this time Jonesboro's growth was being overshadowed by Sanford, and as that town grew from a population of 367 in 1890 to 2,282 by 1910, Jonesboro languished. Some of the businesses were never rebuilt. Jonesboro's population in the late 1930s held at 838, only slightly larger than in 1910.[6] Nonetheless, Jonesboro continued to have an independent existence until 1947, when its dwindling population caused it to be annexed by Sanford and to become known as Jonesboro Heights.[7]

Commercial activity in Jonesboro took place along Main Street on the two blocks between Lee Street and Dalrymple Street, and along Carthage Street, parallel to Main Street one block to the south. [By 1920 the northern end of Lee Street, where the courthouse was located, was known as Lee Avenue, and the southern section of the street, located within the historic district, became Lee Avenue as well in later years. In 1902 the CF & YV depot stood one block south of Main Street, and the Atlantic & Western depot stood one block north.[8] Civic and religious institutions were located along West Main Street. The junction of Main and Lee streets was one of the town's most important intersections, with the Presbyterian church on the northeast corner, the Barnes Hotel on the southwest corner, and the Pierce-Seawell House on the northwest corner. Only the Pierce-Seawell House still stands. Late twentieth century commercial buildings occupy the other corners of the intersection. The Jonesboro Baptist Church occupies its historic location at the northeast corner of West Main and Baptist streets (now Woodland Avenue), and the Jonesboro Methodist Church is still at its historic location at the southwest corner of West Main and Academy streets.[9] Beside the Methodist Church stood the Jonesboro Graded School (later the High School). The Presbyterian Church and the school have been demolished, the Baptist and Methodist churches have newer sanctuaries on the same sites.

Houses of the earliest and most prominent townspeople stood along Main Street. One of the oldest buildings in Jonesboro is the Pierce-Seawell House at 202 W. Main Street in the Lee Avenue Historic District. The frame I-House was built by Franklin Pierce, a railroad official, in the early 1880s. Prominent attorney A.A.F. Seawell, Jr., who became state attorney general and a state Supreme Court justice, made his home here during the 1920s. Hosea M. Jackson, an attorney who served as a state legislator, owned the house from 1930 until his death. Jackson converted the carriage house into his law office.[10]

Another prominent street was S. Academy Street, which connected W. Main and W. Raleigh streets. Three other late nineteenth century houses stand on these streets at the south end of the district. The Jonesboro Methodist Parsonage, 2511 S. Academy Street, was built about 1885 on the southeast corner of W. Main and S. Academy streets as the parsonage for the Jonesboro Methodist Church, located at the opposite corner. The stylish two-story gabled ell house with bay window and porch served as the parsonage until 1952, when it was moved a short distance south to its present location. Next door at 2517 S. Academy Street stands the John Barnes House, a two-story I-House built about 1886. According to local tradition, the house incorporated portions of the 1870s teacherage of the Jonesboro Academy which stood across the street. One of the largest and most stylish Queen Anne style houses in Jonesboro stands at 319 West Raleigh Street. The picturesque two-story hip-roofed Queen Anne-style house with cross-gables, a bay window, a recessed balcony, a wraparound porch, and ornate sawnwork bargeboard trim was built about 1895 for the George Avent family.

Lee Avenue, the major north-south street in Jonesboro, connected Jonesboro to Sanford, and became a distinguished residential street in the early twentieth century. The avenue extended north to the courthouse and county jail located four blocks north of the historic district. Most of the grid streets shown in the 1902 map intersecting Lee Avenue were never actually constructed.[11] Lots along Lee Avenue extend deeply to the rear, and only two streets immediately north of Main Street, Humber and Globe streets, bisect Lee Avenue.[12] The Seaboard Coast Line (CF & YV) Railroad tracks run at the rear of the lots along the east side of Lee Avenue, with an abandoned street, Fayetteville Street, along the tracks. The 1938 state highway map of Lee County shows Lee Avenue as US Highway 421 between Jonesboro and Sanford, thus providing business for the S & S Esso Station and the Denson Grocery and Filling Station, built in the 2300 block of the street in the 1930s and early 1940s.[13] House numbers along Lee Avenue are in numerical order from north to south, probably because the street numbers were assigned by the city of Sanford after Jonesboro was annexed. In the 1960s a new road, Homer Boulevard, was constructed from the courthouse to the southeast as the US 421 bypass around Jonesboro. By the late 1960s Lee Avenue was designated as State Highway 78.[14]

Residential Development along Lee Avenue

The 1900 census of Jonesboro lists six houses on Lee Avenue, and by 1910 twelve houses stood on the avenue.[15] The most significant building constructed on Lee Avenue was the Tenny Inn (also known as Tinney Inn, the Birches, San Jo Hotel), built in the 2000-2100 block ca.1901 by merchant and banker Sion Buchanan. The rambling two-and-one-half story frame inn, of ornate Queen Anne style, contained some twenty guest rooms, with polygonal turrets and two-story gingerbread porches on three sides. Its large lot contained a pond and several latticework gazebos. The resort, operated under several different names, dominated Lee Avenue until 1921 when it burned.[16]

Around the Tenny Inn a group of comfortable, middle-class dwellings were erected in the first two decades of the twentieth century. The 2100 block of Lee Avenue between the site of the Tenny Inn and West Globe Street (known as Vance Street in 1930) retains fourteen of the nineteen houses along the street that appear on the 1930 Sanborn Map.[17] Twelve of the houses — 2109, 2109a, 2113, 2115, 2117, 2120, 2121, 2125, 2200, 2204, 2404, and 307 W. Main Street — are pyramidal cottages, gable-and-wing type houses, or tri-gable type houses built from ca.1908 to ca.1920. None of these appear to predate 1900. The pre-1900 houses along Lee Avenue were probably workers' cottages that have disappeared.

An unusually high concentration of building artisans lived in these houses and probably built them.[18] Leslie P. Cox, a twenty-two-year-old building contractor, built himself and his young wife a Foursquare type house at 2006 Lee Avenue about 1917. S.H. Phillips, a glazier, apparently lived in the tri-gable type house at 2200 Lee Avenue in 1910. John Yarborough, a house carpenter, lived in the pyramidal cottage at 2117 Lee Avenue in 1920. Clifton Stephens, house painter, lived in the pyramidal cottage at 2121 Lee Avenue in 1920. George Hunt, owner of a lumber mill, lived at 2120 Lee Avenue, one of the largest pyramidal cottages, in 1920. In addition to these artisans' houses that still stand, houses of others associated with the building trade have been demolished. William L. Thomas owned a planing and sawmill on the railroad tracks in the 2200 block of Lee Avenue, at the rear of the houses. Thomas's large frame house stood in the next block of Lee Avenue, facing West Humber Street (formerly Buffaloe Street), but has been demolished. Alexander Hunt, lumberman, lived beside George Hunt in 1920, in a house that may have been demolished. Julius M. Gunter, Walker S. Brooks, and Herndon Dew, all house carpenters, also lived in unidentified houses in this section of Lee Avenue in 1920.[19] Although every sizeable town had building artisans, it is interesting that Jonesboro's were concentrated along Lee Avenue. This may be due to the presence of the Thomas lumber mill and the adjacent Jonesboro Sash & Blind Company. Owners and employees of these establishments, as well as builders who used their products, built houses in the vicinity of the mills. The Tenny Inn, the largest and most architecturally embellished building of the era in Lee County, was probably constructed by these artisans with materials from these mills, and was a catalyst for the construction of surrounding houses.[20]

In the 1920s and early 1930s, many of the remaining building sites along Lee Avenue were filled with eighteen brick and frame Craftsman-style bungalows. Located at 1916, 2010, 2012, 2016, 2020, 2001, 2009, 2015, 2021, 2114, 2116, 2122, 2206, 2203, and 2205, 2217, 2219, and 2402 Lee Avenue, these houses reflect the substantial, settled nature of their early owners. Among the early owners of these Craftsman houses were William M. Holt Sr., who founded Holt Supply Company, dealer in agricultural machinery; H.F. Ohler, a pharmacist; Gertrude Arnold, widow of merchant Daniel Arnold; Dr. Roy Sowers; and Dr. Blue.

Historic Architecture Context

The Lee Avenue Historic District contains residential housing forms that reflect the architectural evolution of Lee County from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. In the early twentieth century, Lee County builders broke out of the rigid symmetry of traditional construction and adopted more complex shapes with projecting wings, bay windows, turrets, and hip-and-gable roofs. Much of this activity took place in Jonesboro, where several lumber mills, a sash and blind factory, and a number of builders were located. The best remaining example of this creative Queen Anne vernacular in the Lee Avenue Historic District is the Avent House, 319 W. Raleigh Street. The juxtaposition of the high hipped roof, two-story center bay window, a one-story wraparound porch, upper recessed balcony, and multiple cross-gables with ornate sawnwork bargeboard create au exuberant Victorian era composition. The era of experimentation in Lee County peaked with Jonesboro merchant Sion Buchanan's Tenny Inn built about 1901 on Lee Avenue. The rambling resort hotel featured two-story verandas and octagonal turrets with conical roofs and large Queen Anne windows. Inverted heart-shaped gable vents provided eccentric decorative accents. The author of Lee County's comprehensive architectural history pronounced the Tenny Inn the most splendid of Lee County's turn-of-the-twentieth century buildings.[21]

In the early twentieth century the range of house types available to county home builders broadened. While most prosperous farmers and merchants continued to prefer the two-story, one-room-deep house type known as the I-House (represented in the Lee Avenue Historic District by the ca.1882 Pierce-Seawell House and the 1886 John Barnes House), a new one-story two-room-deep house began to appear throughout Lee County. A favorite version of this type in Jonesboro had a pyramidal hipped roof form with gabled front and side projections. The pyramidal cottage was an extremely popular house type in North Carolina in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Apparently the tall pyramidal roof provided relief from the summer heat. While the form remained constant, the size and architectural elaboration varied from small, plain tenant houses to large farm houses and town houses with grand wraparound porches and ornate decorative trim. Eight examples of this type stand in the 2100 and 2200 blocks of the Lee Avenue Historic District. These are comfortable middle-class houses with picturesque roof lines and spacious porches. The houses are perhaps the best collection of pyramidal cottages in Lee County, and reflect the inventive collaboration of a group of local contractors using lumber and ready-made windows, doors, and other trim produced in mills located in the 2200 and 2300 blocks of Lee Avenue along the railroad tracks.[22]

The most important builder who has been definitively documented in the Lee Avenue Historic District is Leslie P. Cox, active from the 1910s to the 1950s. The residence that he built for himself at the beginning of his career — a ca.1917 frame Foursquare, 2006 Lee Avenue, and the large and distinguished two-story brick ca.1952 Colonial Revival style house that he built for himself at the end of his career at 404 W. Main Street — stand at each end of the Lee Avenue Historic District. By the 1950s L.P. Cox Company General Contractors dominated the local construction trade and had extended its operations throughout the Carolinas and Virginia.[23] The prolific Jonesboro carpenter team of James A. and Napoleon McBryde and builder Duncan Buie may have built some of these houses.[24] James A. McBryde is believed to have built at least three of the substantial bungalows in the district: the ca. 1925 Nannie M. Williams House, 303 West Main Street; the 1927 Roy G. Sowers House, 2122 Lee Avenue; and the 1928 Gertrude M. Arnold House, 2116 Lee Avenue.[25]


  1. "Historical Sketch of Jonesboro," single page history, Railroad House Historical Association, Sanford.
  2. Pezzoni, The History and Architecture of Lee County, 48-49.
  3. Ibid., 46-47.
  4. Map of Jonesboro, 1902. Framed copy in the Jonesboro History Museum, Lee County Library, Jonesboro branch.
  5. The History and Architecture of Lee County, 104.
  6. Population listed on 1938 State Highway Map, Lee County, N.C. State Archives.
  7. The History and Architecture of Lee County, 137; Census abstracts, North Carolina State Library, Raleigh.
  8. Map of Jonesboro, 1902.
  9. Map of Jonesboro, 1902.
  10. The History and Architecture of Lee County, 226.
  11. Map of Jonesboro, 1902.
  12. Map of Jonesboro, 1902.
  13. 1938 State Highway Map, Lee County.
  14. 1938 State Highway Map, Lee County; 1967 State Highway Map, Lee County, N. C. State Archives.
  15. Comer, Jonesboro, Lee County, NC. V. II, 1908-1947, 32.
  16. The History and Architecture of Lee County, 74-75; Comer, Jonesboro, Lee County, Vol. II, 61. One of the gazebos was later moved to the rear yard at 2010 Lee Avenue, where it stood until the late 1990s. Interview with occupant Anne Mathis, October 2001.
  17. 1930 Sanborn Map, Sanford (including Jonesboro).
  18. Lee County Census, Population Schedule, 1910, 1920.
  19. Lee County Census, Population Schedule. Town of Jonesboro, 1920. N.C. State. Archives.
  20. Interview with Lee County historian James Van Comer, October 2001.
  21. The History and Architecture of Lee County. 74-75.
  22. See Thomas Lumber Mill and Jonesboro Sash & Blind Co. on the 1930 Sanford Sanborn Map, sheet 13.
  23. The History and Architecture of Lee County, 152-153.
  24. The History and Architecture of Lee County, 86.
  25. The History and Architecture of Lee County, 158.


Comer, James Vann. Jonesboro, Lee County: Volume I 1860-1907. Published by the author, 1990.

Comer, James Vann. Jonesboro, Lee County: Volume II 1908-1947. Published by the author, 1990.

Interviews conducted in October 2001 by M. Ruth Little with the following individuals: Comer, James Vann, Cox, Albert L., Holt, William M. Jr., Mathis, Anne, Mullis, Tommy, and Sloan, Ernest Jr.

Lee County Census, Population Schedule. 1900, 1920, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.

Lee County Maps, North Carolina State Archives.

Pezzoni, J. Daniel. The History and Architecture of Lee County, North Carolina. Sanford: Railroad House Historical Association, Inc., 1995.

Sanborn Maps, Sanford. 1930.

Sanford City Directories, 1950 to present. Lee County Public Library, Sanford.

‡ M. Ruth Little, Longleaf Historic Resources, Lee Avenue Historic District, Lee County, NC, nomination document, 2002, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
Academy Street South • Lee Avenue • Main Street West • Raleigh Street West • Route 78