The Zebulon Historic District [†] is significant as an important trading center for the eastern portion of Wake County, as well as nearby Franklin, Nash, Wilson, and Johnston counties. Zebulon's commercial core is centered on North Arendell Avenue, extending east and west along Vance and Horton streets, with the Raleigh and Pamlico Sound Railroad to its immediate south. Townspeople and local farmers came to Zebulon's commercial area for basic needs including general stores, groceries, the post office, and banks; professional services including physicians and lawyers; and civic activities including local organizations and entertainment venues. Hotels and restaurants served railroad travelers passing through Zebulon.
The Zebulon Historic District is also significant as an example of a town-wide gridiron development plan. The town was platted and developed in two primary sections, with developing during the early twentieth century, followed by the northern section in the mid-twentieth century. The Zebulon Land Company purchased about one hundred acres of land adjacent to the newly constructed Raleigh and Pamlico Sound Railroad in 1906, on which they established the new town of Zebulon. The town was incorporated in 1907 and laid out in the 1908 Zebulon Land Company's "Zebulon, Wake County, NC" plat. The town was arranged in a grid pattern, considered the most efficient and cost-effective method by which to subdivide and sell land at that time, and which guided later development as the town expanded. The railroad was situated in the center of the planned commercial core, emphasizing the importance of the railroad to the growth of the new town and the need for businesses to have easy access to railroad transportation. The commercial area was laid out with narrow lots suitable for storefronts and wide roads to accommodate heavier traffic, while the residential areas featured wider lots and narrower streets. The town was expanded eastward by the Raleigh Real Estate Company and George Gill in the 1908 "Zebulon Place" plat, which added several new streets also laid out in a grid pattern and offering similarly sized residential lots to the original plat. As Zebulon continued to grow through the early twentieth century, the residential area expanded north toward the Wakelon School, which was completed in 1909 and anchors the northern boundary of the town and the historic district. Unlike distinguishable middle- and upper- class suburban developments that often had curvilinear street plans that responded to variations in topography, this area, platted in 1954 as "Wakelon Heights," followed the same grid-patterned street layout with large residential lots like those in the earlier section of town.
The Zebulon Historic District is significant for Architecture. The Zebulon Historic District retains representative examples of commercial and residential architecture constructed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The architecture of the Zebulon Historic District includes vernacular and high-style buildings that demonstrate national stylistic trends during the period of significance, 1906 to 1971. Early architectural styles in the Zebulon Historic District are concentrated in the southern section of the district, which developed first, and include Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, transitional Queen Anne/Colonial Revival, Georgian Revival, Italian Renaissance Revival, Craftsman, Period Cottage and vernacular residential buildings, as well as primarily vernacular commercial buildings and one example of commercial Italianate architecture. The town expanded north in the mid-twentieth century, therefore this section of the historic district is dominated by archetypal, Colonial Revival, and contemporary Ranch-style houses, with a smaller number of Minimal Traditional, Modernist, and vernacular buildings also present.
The historic district includes the Wakelon School (NRHP 1976). Following the 1907 act of the North Carolina General Assembly to fund high schools across the state, the Wakelon School opened in 1909 to serve both elementary and high school students. The school was established just two years after the Town of Zebulon was established and exemplifies the state's commitment to improving educational opportunities in the early twentieth century. Wakelon School was also listed for its local significance as a remarkably intact eclectic building with elements of both the Italianate and Neoclassical styles. The school was designed by C.E. Hartge, a prominent Raleigh architect known for his school and church designs. The historic district also includes the George and Neva Barbee House (NRHP 2007), listed in the National Register for significance as an intact example of a Craftsman-style foursquare house. Built in 1914, it is one of a small number of brick examples found in Wake County and the only brick example found in Zebulon.
The period of significance for the Zebulon Historic District begins in 1906 with the construction of the earliest buildings following the establishment of the Zebulon Land Company and ends in 1971 to include the town's Modernist-style resources, specifically the 1971 Central Carolina Bank and Trust, and to reflect a sharp decline in the construction of mid-twentieth-century resources as most of the lots were built out.
Growth of a Railroad Town—1906 to 1914
Zebulon is located in Little River Township on the eastern edge of Wake County in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. The county was established in 1771 from parts of the adjacent Orange, Johnston, and Cumberland counties. It was named for Governor William Tryon's wife, Margaret Wake Tryon, and is the capital county of North Carolina with Raleigh at its relative center. The soils are good for the production of tobacco, cotton, corn, soybeans, and other vegetables, and the county is watered by the Neuse River, which runs northwest to southeast through the northern half of the county.
In 1906, the Raleigh and Pamlico Sound Railroad began construction on a line from Raleigh to Wilson, in Wilson County to the east, which would pass through Little River Township. The only town in the area at that time was Wakefield, which was a stagecoach stop on the Tarboro Road settled by the 1820s and incorporated in 1899. Some residents in Wakefield supported the proposed construction of the railroad through the town and offered substantial financial support to the railroad company for the endeavor. Others were opposed to the noise and pollution that came with frequent railroad traffic. Ultimately, Wakefield's leaders rejected the railroad.
Instead, the new railroad was sited about a mile south of Wakefield. At that time, the area was known as "Piney Forest." The only buildings at that time included the Horton farmhouse, which remains extant west of the historic district at 214 West Horton Street but was substantially altered after being sold out of the Horton family in 1946; the Whitley farmhouse, which was located at 204 North Whitley Street but was relocated to Middlesex, North Carolina, when the town of Zebulon was established; and two tenant houses for the G.M. Bell farm, which are no longer extant. There was also the Midway School, a one-room schoolhouse at the corner of what is now South Wakefield and West Barbee streets. Two crews constructed the railroad, one starting in Raleigh and building east, while the other started in Wilson and built toward the west. Prison laborers cleared the right-of-way for the railroad, and prison camps were constructed and dismantled as the crews progressed. The camp at Piney Forest included temporary, fenced-in barracks built on what is now the 200 block of East Vance Street, just east of the historic district. Local laborers helped build the railroad using rail ties supplied by local sawmills. Several hundred Italian immigrants from Philadelphia also helped build the railroad and lived in temporary housing on the railroad right-of-way.
In late 1906, the Raleigh and Pamlico Railroad was acquired by Norfolk and Southern Railway Company, and trains passed between Raleigh and Wilson along the newly laid track. Zebulon was chartered in 1907, while many of the commercial buildings downtown were still under construction. The post office was established that year inside Avon G. Kemp's store at the corner of North Arendell Avenue and West Vance Street, which is no longer extant. Milton S. Chamblee served as the first postmaster and pushed a cart to the train station to pick up the mail. A passenger and freight depot followed in 1909, and S.W. Gabriel served as the railroad agent. The depot was built in the southwest corner of the railroad tracks and South Arendell Avenue, south of the historic district, but it was relocated to a new site west of Zebulon in the 1970s.
The town was thoughtfully planned from the very beginning. Edgar Barbee and Falconer Arendell had the foresight to know a town would develop near the newly laid railroad tracks. They formed the Zebulon Land Company in 1906 and began development of the town. Barbee was a cotton broker from Raleigh and a stockholder in the Raleigh and Pamlico Railroad, and Arendell was a journalist and schoolbook salesman from Wakefield. They purchased forty-nine acres of land from the Whitley family and an adjacent forty-one acres from the Horton family adjacent to the railroad. They laid out the town in a grid aligned with the railroad tracks, named the new town in honor of Zebulon Baird Vance, North Carolina's Civil War-era governor. They named streets after themselves and the families who originally owned the land, while other streets were named for the town's first governing board: Nathan L. Horton, J. Michael Whitley, Thomas Powell, William S. Horton, and J. Henry Bunn. This group served until the first election was held in 1907.
The new Board of Commissioners first met in the Caviness Building at 120-122 North Arendell Avenue in the historic district. Around 1920, the Town Hall moved to the Perry Building at 106 West Horton Street, just west of the historic district, where they met until 1932. They imposed strict governance on the new town, prohibiting the sale of alcohol and the operation of pool halls. Although they did offer a license for "hop brew" in 1908 and allowed pool halls to operate from 7:30 to 11:30 pm starting in 1913, they also voted to outlaw public dancing in 1920 in an effort to preserve "good morals."
The population grew quickly in the new town, with 483 people by 1910. The commercial district was established first, providing services to laborers and travelers associated with the railroad, while many business owners lived above their storefronts. Joseph Fields, who served as Zebulon's first mayor, opened the first store, Field's Commissary, in 1906 on East Vance Street adjacent to the railroad and just east of the historic district. It offered ice cream, snacks, and tobacco products to railroad workers. Although the town was laid out in this way, with Vance Street as the primary commercial street, running parallel to the railroad, business owners preferred Arendell Avenue, which runs perpendicular to and away from the railroad, because it was further from the smoke and soot of the passing trains. John Bunn's general merchandise store was the next to open, located near the railroad tracks on South Arendell Avenue. After the building burned around 1910, Bunn relocated further from the railroad tracks to 126 North Arendell Avenue.
Many of the oldest commercial buildings in the historic district were built to house businesses established during Zebulon's first few years. At least ten general merchandise stores opened immediately following the town's incorporation, and by 1910 there were at least twice that number, as well as three blacksmith shops and at least three stables. The Whitley Hotel opened in 1907 at the northeast corner of North Arendell Avenue and East Horton Street, and by 1910 was joined by four additional hotels and boarding houses. The Bank of Zebulon opened in 1907 at 100 North Arendell Avenue and in 1916 was joined by Citizens Bank at 103 North Arendell Avenue. All three were originally located within the historic district, but only the Bank of Zebulon building remains extant.
African American businesses also thrived in Zebulon's early years. The town's first restaurant was operated on East Vance Street by Dillard Surratt, which he later sold to Bob Faison, who also operated a taxi service. Oscar Todd helped to build a hotel and also managed a hotel on West Vance Street that served African American travelers. There was also a concentration of African American businesses, including at least a barber shop, south of the railroad tracks on Barbee Street. These businesses are located outside the historic district because they are either no longer extant or are altered and no longer retain sufficient integrity to convey the district's significance.
Professional services also opened on North Arendell Avenue in the historic district. Dr. Z.M. Caviness and E.C. Daniel operated the Zebulon Drug Company in 1907 at 123 North Arendell Avenue, while Dr. Caviness's physician's practice was located on the second floor. In 1910, Joseph R. Hester was also practicing medicine in Zebulon, and in 1912, J.A. Strickland replaced Caviness, who had moved his offices to Raleigh earlier that year. The first dentist was Dr. Jesse F. Coltrane, who opened his office on the second floor of the Whitley Building at 130 North Arendelle Avenue in 1909. Other professionals by this time included a lawyer and three insurance agents.
This quickly developing commercial district served not only Zebulon's residents and railroad workers and travelers, but it also served as a trading hub for the surrounding farmers. Bright leaf tobacco had been a popular crop in Granville County in the late nineteenth century. However, around the turn of the twentieth century, the Granville wilt, a plant disease that causes tobacco leaves to wilt before they mature for harvesting, forced many of Granville's tobacco farmers to relocate. Many came to nearby Wake County where the sandy soils were ideal for the cultivation of bright leaf tobacco and the wilt had not yet spread. As a result, an important tobacco market formed in Zebulon. Zebulon Warehouse opened in 1907 on West Horton Street near North Church Street and was renamed McGuire's Warehouse in 1919. A second warehouse, owned by Martha Horton, opened on West Vance Street near North Church Street in 1907. The following year, over 765,000 pounds of tobacco moved through these two warehouses. In 1914, a group of local businessmen formed the Zebulon Tobacco Company. By the 1920s, the Farmers, Center Brick, and Wiggs warehouses had all opened as well, and together the five warehouses moved over 4,775,500 pounds of tobacco that season. Venable Tobacco Company of Durham had also opened a redrying plant. These tobacco-related buildings were concentrated south of the historic district adjacent to the railroad tracks.
Industry also came quickly to Zebulon once the railroad was established. The Zebulon Hosiery Mill opened south of the historic district in 1907 and employed nearly one hundred workers making 600 pairs of hose daily. Zebulon Cotton Seed Oil Company opened near South Wakefield and West Barbee streets, also south of the historic district, in 1908, ginning cotton and manufacturing cottonseed oil. The town's only cotton gin and the county's only cotton oil mill outside of Raleigh, about twenty-five employees processed thirty tons of seed daily by 1913. By 1910, at least four lumber companies and sawmills were operating in Zebulon, although they only lasted as long as their supply of trees. The town also had a gristmill that operated from 1913 to 1916. The town started to receive weekly deliveries of ice from Raleigh starting around 1915, which were stored in large boxes that worked reasonably well to preserve perishable foods. Zebulon later had two ice plants of its own.
With the town growing at such a rapid rate, town officials focused their efforts on providing public services for the new population. A telegraph service was established in 1908, with telegraph lines running from the north end of town to the railroad depot. This was replaced in 1911 when telephone service was installed by the Raleigh Telephone Company. Thirty-five telephones were installed in Zebulon that year, with the first one located at the Zebulon Drug Company at 123 North Arendell Avenue in the historic district. The telephone exchange was located on the second floor of that building, and later moved to the second floor of the Whitley Building at 130 North Arendell Avenue. Residents obtained water either from their own wells or from a town well at the southwest corner of North Arendell Avenue and West Vance Street.
In 1907, the North Carolina legislature authorized funding for new high schools across the state, including eastern Wake County. The Midway School district in Zebulon and the Wakefield district were consolidated. The new school, located on North Arendell Avenue in the historic district and designed by Raleigh architect C.E. Hartge, was constructed between the two towns and therefore named Wakelon School. It was completed in 1909 and served white elementary and high school students. It was heated with steam and included eleven classrooms, which comprised the front (eastern) half of the current building, as well as a three-acre farm plot planted with cotton and corn. During the 1910-1911 school year, it was the largest school in the county with 221 pupils and eight teachers. In addition to the students from Zebulon and Wakefield, children from the surround area came to the school and boarded in private homes. By 1913, enrollment had grown to over four hundred students with ten teachers. That year a new wing was added to the school, with twelve additional rooms and an auditorium comprising the rear (western) half of the current building. A farm-life department including agriculture and domestic sciences was also added, and a fifteen-acre farm plot was gifted to the school. The Midway School closed in 1910, once the Wakelon School opened, and the building was moved to a farm west of Zebulon for use as a tobacco packhouse. A one-room schoolhouse on East Barbee Street, south of the historic district and no longer extant, served African American children.
The first church in Zebulon was the Methodist Church, which formed in 1907. The congregation first met at the Midway School, then built their first building at the corner of North Church Street and West Gannon Avenue in the historic district. A parsonage was added in 1910 adjacent to the church on North Church Street. In the summer of 1908, Raleigh Presbyterians assigned Union Theological Seminary student William B. McIlwain, Jr., to travel the county preaching in the small towns and to make recommendations where new churches might be established. It appears he Presbyterians failed to gain a foothold in Zebulon at that time, as McIlwain advised against a church there. The Baptists, however, were more successful. Wakefield's Baptist congregation built a new church in 1905, and around 1910, relocated the building to the corner of North Church and West Sycamore streets. It was renamed Zebulon Baptist Church and remained in this location until the 1920s. The Free Will Baptist Church was established in 1913 by Reverend Benjamin Tippett, and the congregation built a small church on West Horton Street, although the church disbanded in 1922 after Reverend Tippett died. African Americans worshipped at the Zebulon First Baptist Church at 304 East Barbee Street, south of the historic district, starting in 1913. African Americans also formed the Mount Zion Holiness Church around 1912, and worshipped at 405 East Stronach Avenue, east of the historic district.
Early residential development was located adjacent to the town's commercial core. White neighborhoods formed north and west of the downtown businesses on East and West Vance streets, East and West Horton streets, East and West Sycamore streets, East and West Gannon avenues, Whitley Avenue, and Gill Avenue. Meanwhile, African American houses were built south of the railroad tracks, outside the historic district, on East and West Barbee avenues and Oak Street. As Zebulon grew quickly in the early years of the 1900s, Wakefield suffered from its disconnection from the new railroad line and experienced rapid decline as many of its residents relocated to Zebulon. The North Carolina General Assembly repealed Wakefield's town charter in 1913, and it remains a small rural community today.
World War I, Recession, and Recovery—1914 to 1929
World War I brought a small boost in prosperity to Zebulon. The railroad was used to transport troops preparing to go overseas, and soldiers sometimes stopped over in Zebulon, staying at the Whitley Hotel and spending money at the downtown businesses. Industry also grew in the immediate post-war years. The Zebulon Hosiery Mill expanded after World War I to produce cotton yarn in addition to women's hose. The M.C. Chamblee Company moved to Zebulon from Wakefield after World War I. Professional services also expanded during this time, and Dr. George Barbee came to practice medicine in Zebulon in 1916, soon followed by Dr. Charles E. Flowers.
This period of modest growth was short-lived however, and a recession followed the war. This resulted in decreased production at the Zebulon Hosiery Mill and many of the tobacco warehouses. Meanwhile, several of the lumber businesses, the M.C. Chamblee Company, the Whitley Hotel, the Zebulon Cotton Seed Oil Company Mill, and several other downtown businesses closed permanently. The Whitley Hotel, which was at North Arendell Avenue and East Horton Street in the historic district, was demolished in 1920, and the Zebulon Cotton Seed Oil Company Mill, which was located south of the historic district near South Wakefield and West Barbee streets, was demolished between 2005 and 2010. The Zebulon Hosiery Mill closed around 1920. The M.C. Chamblee Company also closed around 1920. In spite of these challenges, the population continued to grow during this time, increasing from 483 people in 1910 to 953 people in 1920.
As the 1920s progressed, Zebulon started to recover. The first gas station opened in 1921 at the southeast corner of North Arendell Avenue and East Sycamore Street, although it is no longer extant. J&M Chevrolet opened in 1928, first at 104 West Horton Street then moving to the corner of North Arendell Avenue and East Sycamore Street, just east of the historic district, the following year. The Vakoo Theater opened in the southern storefront of 123 North Arendell Avenue in the historic district by the early 1920s. The theater showed silent films accompanied by an automated piano that was not always accurately synchronized to the movies, and residents recall amusing disparities between the two. Once talkies became popular in the late 1920s, the theater closed. Dr. Luther Massey opened a second dental office in the historic district in 1919, above the Zebulon Drug Company at 123 North Arendell. The Zebulon News newspaper was operating by at least 1912, and had as many as one thousand subscribers by the early 1920s. The paper was sold in 1924, renamed the Zebulon Record, and opened a new office at 106 West Horton Street in the historic district. New businesses for African American patrons also opened during this time, including a drug store operated by Tank and Lizzie Richardson in the 1920s and 1930s.
Gas streetlights had been installed in 1910, but were replaced in 1916 when a power plant was constructed at 216 East Vance Street, east of the historic district, under the supervision of W.M. Piatt, an engineer from Durham. Electricity was limited to use from 4:00 to 10:00 pm in the winter months, 6:00 to 10:00 pm in the summer months, until 11:00 pm on Saturday nights, and one afternoon each week to allow the use of new electric appliances. The plant burned to the ground in 1919 and was quickly rebuilt. That same year, the town also began planning the installation of water and sewer systems, and the plant was expanded in 1920 to accommodate these new services. The following year, Sycamore, Barbee, Vance, Wakefield, Horton streets and Whitley Avenue had water and sewer lines. In 1924, Carolina Power and Light took over the plant, which operated until 1932. The dirt roads were so dusty that downtown business owners banded together to pay for the application of oil to control the dust fogs caused by passing traffic. A bond for road improvements was passed in 1916, and in 1925 street paving began, with Gannon Avenue, Vance Street, and Arendell Avenue the first to be paved. The town purchased land for a cemetery in 1916 and bought its first fire truck in 1923. 110
The Wakelon School continued to grow, and by 1916 was attracting seventy boarding students in addition to those students living in Zebulon and Wakefield. A thirty-room dormitory was added to the school's campus, and a ten-room former hotel at the corner of North Arendell Avenue and North Street served as a boys' dormitory. The Union Level and Pleasant Hill high schools were consolidated with Wakelon in 1926, and the enrollment far surpassed the building's capacity. A new high school building was constructed on the campus, and the original building served as an elementary school. The new high school was destroyed by fire in 1928, but was quickly rebuilt on the same site.
African American schools, on the other hand, had not kept pace with white schools, as was typical of the early twentieth century. African American students still attended a one-room school until 1918 when the Black schools were consolidated. A new four-room school, the Wakefield-Zebulon School, was built on Rocky Mount Road, now old US Highway 64, around 1920. In 1925, this frame building was replaced by a brick school with seven classrooms and an auditorium, as well as a two-room shop building. These buildings were funded in part through the Rosenwald school program, which provided grants to build African American school buildings throughout the South in the 1920s and 1930s.
The Zebulon Baptist Church was destroyed by fire after a lightning strike in 1920, in spite of efforts to save the building using the town's unfinished water system. Services were held temporarily in the auditorium at Wakelon School while the congregation built a new building at the corner of North Arendell and East Gannon avenues, east of the historic district, which was completed in 1924. The Zebulon First Baptist Church on East Barbee Street was severely damaged by a windstorm in 1919, but the church was quickly rebuilt.
Depression and War—1929 to 1945
Tobacco farmers in North Carolina, and many areas of the South, had begun to struggle by the 1930s. As more and more farmers produced tobacco, the markets became flooded and prices began to drop considerably. To combat this problem, and similar price drops with other crops, the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) was passed in 1933. The AAA was a voluntary crop reduction program that encouraged farmers to decrease the acreage dedicated to the target crops in exchange for benefit payments. The U.S. Department of Agriculture prioritized wheat and cotton, and intended to address tobacco in the Act's second year. However, when the 1933 markets opened in North Carolina, prices had fallen to an average of just ten cents per pound. Governor J.C.B. Ehringhaus declared a tobacco market holiday and went to Washington, D.C. to press for immediate inclusion of tobacco in AAA activities. As a result, the AAA offered a parity price for tobacco in 1933 if farmers agreed to reduce their acreage in 1934 and 1935. In spite of Governor Ehringhaus's success in getting immediate action for bright leaf tobacco farmers, the Zebulon tobacco market never reopened.
Farmers no longer had goods to trade or money to spend in Zebulon, and as a result, the businesses in Zebulon suffered as well. The Bank of Zebulon and Citizens Bank merged in 1925 to become Zebulon Banking and Trust Company, however, the new bank was unable to survive the Great Depression and closed in 1930. In an effort to save money, the town hall discontinued renting a room in the Perry Building at 106 West Horton Street and moved to the vacant, town-owned power plant on East Vance Street in 1932. It was renovated for use as town hall and contained offices, a court and assembly room, a jail, and storage space. Even after a new municipal building was constructed in 1951, the power plant remained in use for storage by Public Works. The Zebulon Record had about 600 subscribers when it was sold to Theodore B. Davis, who decreased the annual subscription price from $1.50 to $1.00 to try to keep subscribers during the Depression. Still concerned that people would be unable to afford the newspaper, he also started a barter system, accepting items such as "one fat hen or a bushel of sweet potatoes," and well into the 1960s, the paper accepted clean cotton rags for cleaning the printing equipment in exchange for an annual subscription.
As in all small towns, Zebulon's unemployment rates increased dramatically during the Depression. A variety of entertainment came to the historic district on North Arendell Avenue to occupy this newfound free time. Many residents played checkers at Kannon's Cafˇ, horseshoes at the City Barber Shop, or visited Runt's Pool Hall or the bowling alley. African Americans enjoyed visits to the Down Beat night club, just outside of downtown, and to Griffin Todd's Drive-In. Others simply left Zebulon to seek opportunities elsewhere, and the population dropped from 953 people in 1920 to 860 people in 1930.
Fortunately, the downtown commercial district began recovering from the Depression by the late 1930s. This was in part due to plans for the construction of North Carolina Highway 64, which would stretch east-west across the state. Initial plans took the highway south of Zebulon, but a group of community leaders advocated strongly for the new highway to come through Zebulon instead, and were ultimately successful. In 1935, the People's Bank and Trust Company opened in the former bank building at 100 North Arendell Avenue in the historic district. The following year, a new movie theater, the Wakelon Theater, opened at 114 North Arendell Avenue, also in the historic district. The theater was segregated, and African Americans could only be seated in the balcony. Funeral services were provided by Zebulon Supply Co.—Furniture and Funeral Directors, which by the 1940s was known as Whitley Furniture Co.—Furniture and Funeral Directors, and was located just outside the historic district. The population also reflected the town's recovery, increasing from 860 people in 1930 to 1,070 people by 1940. To accommodate this growing population, the telephone system was upgraded to a dial system in 1938,137 and the Chamber of Commerce formed in 1947 to support continued commercial growth in Zebulon.
Industry also recovered fairly quickly in the 1930s, in large part due to the arrival of the Dixie Fireworks Company in 1933. It was one of the largest wholesale distributors of fireworks in the southeast and became a primary employer in Zebulon. An explosion at the plant killed two workers in 1938, but the company recovered and continued to operate until the North Carolina General Assembly prohibited the sale and manufacture of fireworks in 1946. In 1944, Beck Brothers Veneer Company opened in the former Zebulon Hosiery Mill building. When the company struggled to find enough laborers to run the plant, it hired women to work in traditionally male positions for the first time.
By 1931, Wakelon School remained the largest rural school in Wake County with 971 students taught by twenty-eight teachers. Two tractor-trailer buses transported students, who came from not just Zebulon, but also Rolesville and rural eastern Wake County. Each bus transported approximately 150 students, some having to stand, and traveled nearly twenty miles one-way. Since the buses were tractor-trailers, a bus captain rode in the back and used a bell to signal the driver in the cab when students had finished getting on or off the bus. A gymnasium was added to the campus in 1936, followed by a vocational building in 1939. Twelfth grade was added at Wakelon School in 1946.
The Wakefield-Zebulon School added high school courses in 1930, and in 1943 the school was renamed the James E. Shephard High School in honor of the founder of North Carolina Central University. The principal in the 1930s, Charles A. Marriott, used personal funds to purchase a bus for the school, the first for African American students in Wake County. The bus transported students from Knightdale, Shotwell, Wilder's Grove, Riley Hill, Wendell, White Oak, and Pilot. The school was also renovated during that time to add classrooms, central heating, and indoor bathrooms.
A semi-pro baseball team was formed in Zebulon in the 1930s and played in the Tobacco State League. The Tobacco State League formed first in 1935 and operated intermittently until 1950. Zebulon's team, named Wakelon, participated in the league during the 1937, 1938, and 1939 seasons. The league was based in Eastern North Carolina, and other teams included Sanford, Erwin, Clayton, Angier, Fayetteville, and Laurinburg. Players were a combination of college athletes hoping to earn a paycheck, and local players hoping to supplement low-paying jobs. They played four games a week, and over fifty games each season. The team used the Wakelon School's baseball field, which was fenced-in and had wooden stands for spectators. The field was so close to the school building that it was common for home runs to break the school's windows. In 1942, the Zebulon Baptist Church added an education wing to its 1924 sanctuary building. The Zebulon First Baptist Church faced great adversity during the 1930s and 1940s. The church was destroyed by fire in 1938, but the congregation could not afford to rebuild. For several years, they met anywhere they could find space, including Wakefield-Zebulon High School, Mount Zion Holiness Church, the Whitley Building at 130 North Arendell Avenue, in the homes of congregants, and in the basement of the burned church. In 1941, a new pastor came to the church, Reverend Avery Horton. Horton was a carpenter, and he spent several years rebuilding the church.
When World War II began, Zebulon's residents made contributions to the war effort similar to many Americans at that time. They planted victory gardens, bought war bonds, had planned blackouts, and rationed supplies. Many also joined the military, serving in the Army or Air Force.
One of the most dramatic changes in Zebulon during the postwar period was the rapidly increasing popularity of personal automobiles. J&M Chevrolet had been operating since the 1920s, and in 1944, N.R. Gill left his position with the company to start Gill Motor Company, an automobile repair shop. He began selling Reo trucks in 1946, which helped spark the company's growth. In 1949, Gill added Buick sales to the business and relocated from downtown to West Gannon Avenue. In 1969, Carlyle's Paint and Body Shop opened on Horton Street. The use of rail for transportation of goods and people went into drastic decline. Both passenger and mail service to the Zebulon depot was discontinued in 1951, followed by telegraph service in 1952, although freight continued to move in and out of the Zebulon depot.
The population grew from 1,070 people in 1940 to 1,378 people by 1950 and 1,534 people by 1960, driven in part by expanding industry in Zebulon following the Great Depression and in part by veterans returning from World War II. To accommodate the growing population, the northern portion of the historic district was subdivided and platted as "Wakelon Heights," which included Glenn, Lee, Franklin, McIver, and Judd streets, as well as the northern sections of Wakefield, Church, and Poplar streets and Arendell Avenue. This area was platted in 1954, and development began first on the west side of Arendell Avenue through the 1960s, then continued to the east side of Arendell Avenue, east of the historic district, starting around 1970. During these decades, laborers from nearby farms and sawmills came to Zebulon on weekends to do their shopping and enjoy local entertainment. As a result, the downtown continued to grow and new businesses came to town. In 1959, Crafton Hudson and Norman and Helen Screws purchased the funeral business from the Whitley Furniture Company, establishing Screws and Hudson Funeral Home at 416 North Arendell Avenue, just west of the historic district and no longer extant. First Federal Savings and Loan Bank opened at 214 North Arendell Avenue in the historic district in 1960. New businesses for African Americans included Toney's Funeral Home, established in the 1940s, and a shoe shop that opened on East Barbee Street, south of the historic district, by the 1960s.
In 1945, the Zebulon Record moved to new offices on North Arendell Avenue, and in addition to printing the newspaper, the company offered general printing services. In the 1950s, the newspaper reduced its circulation from weekly issues to biweekly issues. By 1966, the demands of the general printing services had grown considerably, so the newspaper and general printing services were divided into separate businesses, Theo. Davis Sons Printing and the Zebulon Record. The newspaper moved to an office on West Horton Street, then to the southwest corner of North Arendell Avenue and West Vance Street the following year when it was acquired by Gold Leaf Publishers, Inc.
Although most of Zebulon's industries had shut down during the Great Depression, industry began to return by the 1950s. Wakelon Gin opened in 1948, and later became F.S. Royster Mercantile. The Wakelon Grain Company also formed in the 1940s, and in 1952 was sold and renamed Wakelon Agri-Products. Devil Dog Manufacturing Company opened a plant just outside Zebulon in 1954 that served as its headquarters in the region. The plant produced children's clothing and outerwear, and it was one of the few integrated employers in town. Zebulon Industrial Properties, Inc., formed in the late 1960s to encourage industrial growth. Thanks in part to the organization's efforts, Naomi Knitting Mills opened a plant east of downtown in 1967. In 1968, the Hi-Cone division of Illinois Tool Works opened a manufacturing plant producing plastic can carriers. That same year, Omark Industries, a timber harvesting company came to Zebulon, with its offices originally on the second floor of the former Zebulon Drug Company Building at 123 North Arendell Avenue. In 1969, Omark opened a hydraulic materials handling plant just outside of town on Highway 64, which produced hydraulic log loading equipment. By the 1980s, the plant employed 140 laborers.
Another notable change in Zebulon in the mid-twentieth-century was the construction of the Wendell-Zebulon Hospital southwest of Zebulon in 1961. The only hospital in the eastern portion of the county, it had twenty beds to serve Zebulon, Wendell, and the surrounding rural areas. Although some practitioners remained downtown, the area adjacent to the hospital became a center for medical services in Zebulon when several medical offices relocated in the early 1960s. Dr. Ben Thomas arrived in 1946 and opened an office above the Zebulon Drug Company at 123 North Arendell Avenue before moving his practice to a house at the corner of North Arendell Avenue and East Lee Street, just east of the historic district. In 1961, he relocated again, this time to offices adjacent to the new hospital. Dr. George Tucker built an office at 116 East Horton Street, in the historic district, where he practiced from around 1954 until 1989. Dr. Jesse F. Coltrane retired from his dental practice in the 1950s, and Dr. Luther Massey moved his practice from the second floor of 123 North Arendell to the corner of Church and Sycamore streets, where he was joined by his niece, Dr. Zyba K. Massey. Dr. Heber Windley opened a dental practice in 1965 near the new hospital. Dr. N. Perry Grogan opened an optometry office in 1962, also near the new hospital.
Public services were also updated to serve the growing population in the postwar years. The police department had been operating since before the town was incorporated, but through the 1940s, it had only two officers and no squad cars. In 1951, the department purchased its first police car, which had a one-way radio, and in 1964 a third officer was hired. The department grew to nine officers and three squad cars by the 1980s. The fire department had also been formed during Zebulon's earliest years, at least by 1908. By the 1940s, the fire department still had its Model A Ford truck, which had been purchased in 1928, customized by the local firemen, and stored in a metal building on Horton Street. The town bought a new Mack firetruck in 1947. Fire protection was expanded beyond the downtown into the surrounding rural area when the Zebulon Rural Fire Department was established in 1953.
Construction began on a new municipal building at 111 East Vance Street, east of the historic district, in 1951, and upon completion in 1953, it included the town offices, fire department, police department, jail, town court, and driver's license center. By the mid-1940s, the town's water system could not keep pace with the town's growing needs for water. The lines carrying water from Little River to the water plant had become clogged, making the plant no longer functional by 1947. The town tried a new well system to replace the water plant, but it too was insufficient. A new water plant with new water lines was built on Little River in 1964 to serve the needs of the growing population and industry.
Community amenities were expanded in the 1950s as well. Whitley Memorial Park is situated at the intersection of North Wakefield and West Glenn streets in the historic district. Colon Vaiden Whitley donated the funds to purchase 2.7 acres from Dr. Charles E. Flowers in 1952 for the establishment of a public park at 689 North Wakefield Street. An additional one-acre parcel at 511 North Wakefield Street was owned by Whitley's heirs but utilized as park open space, and in 2005 the town of Zebulon purchased the parcel. The park offers picnic shelters, playgrounds, a performance pavilion, restrooms, and tennis courts. In 1960, the Zebulon Swimming Pool Association opened a pool at 309 West Glenn Street, across the street from Whitley Park and also in the historic district. The Wakelon School continued to grow during this time as well. In 1953, a new Modernist-style elementary school building, known as the Primary Building, was added to the campus. The campus also included a cafeteria and a music building by this time.
A National Guard unit came to Zebulon in 1949 and occupied the former power plant until a new Armory was completed in 1954 at 301 South Arendell Avenue, south of the historic district. It was named for Lt. Eric F. Davis who was the first Zebulon soldier to be killed in action during World War II. The post office was moved to 109 East Horton Street in 1950, and it stayed in this location until a new post office was built at 139 East Vance Street, its current location in the historic district, in 1966. The community library moved from its location in the Women's Club building to the former post office building that year. It was segregated, allowing white patrons only. Two bookmobiles also served Zebulon, one for whites and one for African Americans. By 1965, the Phillip R. Bunn Airport, also known as the Field of Dreams Airport, had been built two miles northwest of Zebulon for small, private aircraft.
By the 1940s, the Methodist congregation was outgrowing its church building, which also needed substantial upgrades and repairs. A new sanctuary with an education wing was completed in 1949 and remains standing today in the same location as the original building at 121 West Gannon Street in the historic district. A new parsonage soon followed and was completed in 1960 at 204 West Glenn Street in the historic district. The original parsonage on North Church Street served as an annex with meeting rooms until it was demolished for a parking lot in the 1970s. The Zebulon Baptist Church purchased several adjacent lots on North Arendell Avenue west of the historic district in 1961, and the church built a new parsonage in 1966 at 801 North Wakefield Street in the historic district. In 1964, the Zebulon First Baptist Church on East Barbee Street, south of the historic district, renovated its sanctuary with the addition of central heat and air conditioning, as well as new windows. The first pews were added to the church in 1967. Mount Zion Holiness Church on East Stronach Avenue, east of the historic district, underwent many renovations in the 1950s, including new floors, roof, stained glass windows, pulpit, bathrooms, porch, and baptismal pool. A new church formed in the postwar years as well. The Zebulon Church of God was established in 1946 and met first in the homes of the congregants. The following year, they built a sanctuary at 210 West Horton Street, west of the historic district. In 1954, an education wing was added to the church building, and in 1964 it was remodeled with brick veneer.
Zebulon Today—1970 to the Present
The Civil Rights Movement came to Zebulon in the 1960s, although there was relatively little protest activity. In addition to segregated neighborhoods, schools, and businesses, employment opportunities were segregated as well. Most African American women worked as domestic laborers, while men found jobs on farms or in factories. In order to be permitted to vote, African Americans were forced to pass literacy tests during which they recited portions of the Constitution. There were no restrooms for African Americans in downtown Zebulon until 1953 when the new municipal building was completed. And some restaurants either refused to serve African American patrons or required them to order food from a side entrance.
When the integration of schools was required in 1970, racial tension reached its peak in Zebulon. Wakelon School became Zebulon Elementary School, and Shepard High School became the junior and senior high school, renamed Zebulon High School. Graduation ceremonies were originally planned to take place in the gymnasium at Zebulon High School, which, because African American schools did not receive the same funding as white schools, did not have an auditorium. The event was moved to the smaller Zebulon Elementary School auditorium because it was a nicer facility, however, as a result, attendance was limited to only the parents of the graduates. The African American community protested when the school board refused to reconsider, however the white and Black communities were able to come to an agreement and the ceremony was held in the elementary school auditorium without incident.
Zebulon's transportation network changed extensively in the late twentieth century. As trucking and air transport became increasingly common, railroads in many small towns, including Zebulon, fell out of use. Freight service to the Zebulon depot ended in 1975, and the depot was closed permanently. It was sold in 1978 and moved to a new site southwest of Zebulon for use as a child care center. Instead, highways took over as the primary means of transportation. Around 1970, Interstate 95 was completed, traveling north-south through the state approximately twenty miles east of Zebulon. The original Highway 64 route, which follows Gannon Avenue, became Business 64, while a new U.S. Highway 64 freeway was routed just north of the historic district in 1975. In the late 1990s, U.S. Highway 264, which had originally been built east of Zebulon in the 1930s, was extended west of Zebulon to Raleigh. U.S. 64 and U.S. 264 now run together from Raleigh to Zebulon, where U.S. 64 turns northeast toward Rocky Mount while U.S. 264 turns southeast toward Wilson, and both have interchanges with Interstate 95.
Since Zebulon remained well connected through its highway system, it continued to thrive in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. By 1970, the population had grown to 1,839 people, and after the town limits were expanded that year, there were just over two thousand people living in Zebulon. By 1975, that number grew to 2,320 people. To meet the needs of the still growing population, public services were expanded again during this time. The fire department was removed from the municipal building on East Vance Street in 1974, and a new fire department was built at 113 East Vance Street, east of the historic district. The municipal building was renovated that year, extending the front wing to create a new entrance and converting the former fire department garage into offices, but by 1976 the town offices had outgrown their renovated building. The town purchased the former People's Bank and Trust Company building at 100 North Arendell to provide additional space. The East Vance Street building retained the police, recreation, and community development departments, the magistrate, and the driver's license center, while the North Arendell building housed the mayor and town manager's offices, meeting rooms, and additional town employee offices. The water and sewer systems were also expanded in the 1970s.
Recreational opportunities were also expanding in the late twentieth-century to serve Zebulon's growing population. Residents enjoyed a country club and golf course, as well as the swimming pool at Whitley Park on North Wakefield Street. The Wak-Art Theater at 107 North Arendell Avenue in the historic district, which was known for showing adult films from 1968 until it closed in 1985, was also a popular entertainment venue, drawing patrons not only from Zebulon, but also from Raleigh and other nearby communities. Residents could also join local organizations including the Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, Rotary, Jaycees, Junior and Senior Women's Clubs, Masons, and Scouts. In the 1990s, Zebulon attracted a new baseball team. Five County Stadium was completed east of Zebulon in 1991 and became the home of the Carolina Mudcats. The team played as a Double-A team in the Southern League until 2011. In 2012, the Kinston Eagles relocated to Zebulon and became the Carolina Mudcats, the Carolina League Class-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Several new businesses and institutions opened in the late 1900s as well. In 1971, Central Carolina Bank opened its Zebulon branch at 208 North Arendell Avenue in the historic district. Guardian Care of Zebulon, a sixty-bed nursing home, opened adjacent to the Wendell-Zebulon Hospital in 1973. The hospital was renamed Eastern Wake Hospital by the 1980s, and today the two facilities are WakeMed Rehab and Zebulon Rehab Center. Screws and Hudson Funeral Home was acquired by Brown-Wynne Funeral Home of Raleigh in 1977. By 1992 the North Arendell Street location had been closed and sold to the Zebulon Baptist Church, and the funeral home was demolished by 1999 to make way for the new church sanctuary. In 1978, the Zebulon Record moved to 110 North Arendell Avenue in the historic district, and in 1982 it was acquired by the News and Observer (Raleigh). A new library was built on Dogwood Drive, north of the historic district in the 1990s, and the former library building at 109 East Horton Street was used for Town Council Chambers into the early 2000s. Glaxo, Inc., opened a plant just northwest of the historic district, adjacent to the former Wakelon School, and Monarch Foods, which became U.S. Foods, opened a distribution center east of Zebulon.
Although downtown was still attracting new businesses, other businesses were moving out of the downtown area. J&M Chevrolet Oldsmobile moved from North Arendell Ave and East Sycamore Street to a location west of downtown in 1971. Two major shopping centers opened in the late twentieth century, pulling shoppers away from the downtown. The Wedgwood Shopping Center opened on West Gannon Avenue in 1968,211 followed by Triangle East Center north of the historic district in the 1980s.
The community also nearly lost the historic Wakelon School building, a local landmark by the late 1900s. In 1980, Zebulon Elementary School had 830 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, while 625 students in seventh through twelfth grades attended Zebulon High School. In 1982, a new elementary school was built in Wakefield, and the 1909 Wakelon School was closed permanently. By 1988, only the original 1909 Wakelon School building and the 1953 Primary Building remained extant. In 1991, pharmaceutical company Glaxo, Inc., opened a training center in the original school building. In 2007, Glaxo, Inc., sold the Wakelon School property back to the Town of Zebulon. The 1909 building now houses municipal offices, and the 1950s school building houses the Police Department. The Zebulon High School campus saw changes during this time as well. When the original Rosenwald school building at Zebulon High School was severely damaged by a tornado in 1996, most of the building was demolished.
Meanwhile, the churches were also growing to keep pace with the growing population. The Zebulon Baptist Church removed its 1942 education wing and built a new education building in 1979. A new, larger sanctuary was completed in 1993, and the 1924 church building was demolished between 2005 and 2010. The Zebulon Methodist Church built a new education building and fellowship hall in 1984. In the 1990s, the Zebulon First Baptist Church also added a fellowship hall. The Zebulon Church of God added a fellowship hall in 1971, and in 1973 purchased a new parsonage at 213 West Sycamore Street in the historic district.
Community Planning and Development Context
The Zebulon Historic District is a tidy grid of commercial buildings and homes resulting from careful planning that began before the town was even established. The first town in the Zebulon area was Wakefield, a stagecoach stop on Tarboro Road settled by the 1820s and incorporated in 1899. When the Raleigh and Pamlico Sound Railroad began its expansion from Raleigh to Wilson in 1906, Wakefield rebuffed the railroad company's interest in running the line through the town and building a depot there. Instead, the railroad passed about one mile to the south, through present-day Zebulon. Several new towns, including Wendell and Knightdale, formed along the railroad lines as they expanded across Wake County in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Meanwhile, existing towns that were bypassed declined, along with the stagecoach roads that had previously sustained them.
Anticipating that the area's economy would shift away from the stagecoach road town of Wakefield and instead move toward the new railroad depot to its south, Edgar Barbee, a stockholder in the Raleigh and Pamlico Railroad and cotton broker from Raleigh, partnered with Falconer Arendell, a journalist and schoolbook salesman from Wakefield, to form the Zebulon Land Company in 1906. Prior to the formation of the town, the Horton farm, the Bell farm, the Midway School, and a large acreage owned by the Whitley family was all that occupied the area. Barbee and Arendell purchased forty-nine acres of land from the Whitley family and an adjacent fifty acres from the Horton family adjacent to the railroad. They platted portions of the town in 1906 and 1907, with a final plat in 1908 that extended west to Liberty Street (now Rotary Drive), east beyond Whitley Street, south to Oak Street, north to Gannon Avenue on the east side of Arendell Avenue, and north to Wakelon Street (now Glenn Street) on the west side of Arendell Avenue.
Barbee and Arendell laid out the town in a grid aligned with the railroad tracks, with each block and individual lot numbered. Historians Linda Flint McClelland and David L. Ames note that this grid-style plan of development was widely used through the mid-to-late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as an "efficient and inexpensive way to subdivide and sell land in small lots."227 Downtown commercial lots, concentrated on both sides of the railroad on Vance and Barbee streets, were twenty-three feet wide and 125-135 feet deep. These streets were 70-80 feet wide, designed to accommodate heavier traffic, as well as buggy or wagon parking. Although the commercial district was planned on the streets parallel to the railroad tracks, the smoke and noise of the trains pushed business owners north along Arendell Avenue instead, running perpendicular to the railroad tracks. These lots were initially laid out for residential use at 60-100 feet wide and 150-200 feet deep, but many were subdivided to accommodate narrower commercial buildings, with buyers purchasing only the northern or southern half of a particular lot. Meanwhile, the reverse occurred on Vance Street, where buyers often purchased multiple narrow lots for their homes. Much of the area south of the railroad tracks on Barbee and Oak streets, south of the historic district, was never developed, and only a small portion of the originally platted Oak Street remains today.
The remainder of the residential area extended north and included Horton Street, Sycamore Street, and Gannon Avenue. Like Arendell Avenue, these lots were designed to accommodate housing, typically 60-100 feet wide and 150-200 feet deep. These streets were also narrower, at just sixty feet wide. Zebulon's oldest houses are located on these streets, with most having been built between 1906 and the 1940s. Although the Zebulon Land Company surveyed, laid out, and filed a plat for these lots, the homes were built by the individual owners, as was typical to development during this era.
Another small neighborhood was also platted in 1908. The "Zebulon Place" neighborhood extended along Gill Street from Sycamore Street to Stronach Avenue. The southernmost block of this neighborhood is included in the historic district. Raleigh Real Estate & Trust Company and George E. Gill purchased fifteen acres from John M. Whitley and his wife. This neighborhood is laid out at an angle to the original town grid, with Gill Street in a nearly true north-south orientation. This neighborhood was designed similarly to the residential areas laid out by the Zebulon Land Company. The lots were 50-70 feet wide and 150-155 feet deep, and the street was fifty feet wide. The neighborhood illustrates the common practice of new neighborhoods expanding outward from existing ones as adjacent large parcels were subdivided for new construction, and like the residential areas laid out by the Zebulon Land Company, this area was laid out by a developer, but the homes were built by the individual lot owners.
As Zebulon continued to grow, especially during the post-World War II period as veterans returned home and industry expanded in Zebulon, the residential areas extended further north toward the Wakelon School campus. In 1954, the "Wakelon Heights" neighborhood in the northern section of the historic district was platted on land owned by Victor E. Bell, Jr., and R.P. Holding. Bell's portion of the property was acquired from his grandfather, Dr. George M. Bell, who had the area surveyed and subdivided in 1907. This earlier plat, which referred the area as "Wakelon," extended from North Street to Judd Street, adjacent to the Wakelon School campus, and from Poplar Street (east of the historic district) to Pine Street (now North Church Street). However, only a few lots on North and Glenn streets at the southernmost part of this neighborhood were developed at that time. The 1954 plat encompassed this earlier area and extended further west to North Wakefield Street, as well as subdividing many of the earlier larger lots into "A" and "B" sections. The neighborhood was laid out in similar fashion to the earlier Zebulon Land Company plat, following the same grid pattern with lots typically fifty feet wide and 150-200 feet deep, and sixty-foot-wide streets. Development in this part of Zebulon took place from 1955 until about 1970, and nearly all of these lots were purchased as full lots or as multiple lots. This resulted in more spacious residential lots than those closer to the downtown, which better accommodated the wider Ranch and Modernist architectural styles common to that time period.
The earliest buildings in the Zebulon Historic District were constructed immediately after the railroad was completed in 1906. Development of the town began adjacent to the railroad, with vernacular commercial buildings constructed on Arendell Avenue and the intersecting blocks of Vance and Horton streets. Residential construction extended east and west beyond the commercial district on Vance and Horton streets, as well as north of it on Gannon Avenue and North Street. These include late examples of the Queen Anne style and the transitional Queen Anne/Colonial Revival style; examples of popular early twentieth century styles, including primarily Colonial Revival and Craftsman styles; and one example each of the Italian Renaissance Revival and the Georgian Revival styles. However, most of these early houses are vernacular buildings that feature modest Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, or Craftsman details applied primarily to hip-roof forms, some with intersecting gables, although triple-A and side-gable forms are also common. As the town continued to grow, the residential district expanded northward to Glenn, Lee, Franklin, McIver, and Judd streets. Styles common to this area include Period Cottages with either Colonial Revival or Tudor Revival details, Minimal Traditional, and Modernist, with the vast majority of houses in the northern part of the district built in the Ranch style with archetypal, Colonial Revival, and contemporary variations.
Among the earliest commercial and institutional buildings in the Zebulon Historic District are brick Italianate-style buildings. The Italianate style, popular in the antebellum era in some parts of North Carolina, is characterized by multi-story forms, heavy brackets, tall, narrow windows, often arched with heavy molding, and sometimes square cupolas or towers. The c.1909 Citizens Drug Company (also known as the Whitley Building) at 130 North Arendell Avenue is the only example of the style in Zebulon, and one of the finest and best-preserved commercial buildings in the downtown area. This two-story, brick building retains its original storefront featuring an inset entrance with double-leaf doors flanked by large display windows and topped with an elaborate stained leaded glass transom added sometime after 1939. Italianate styling is reflected in the second-floor windows on the front and side elevations, which are set in segmental arch surrounds and topped with heavy keystone lintels. The side elevation also contains entry bays set in segmental arch openings. The facade is framed by projecting brick pilasters that narrow at the second floor and are topped with corbelled capitals matching the three-part parapet, which features decorative brickwork, corbelling, and a centered sign panel. The 1908-1909 Wakelon School at 1001 North Arendell Avenue also incorporates elements of the Italianate style. This two-story school features a central tower and is clad in red brick with tan brick quoins. The first floor entrances are accessed by recessed porches that feature open arches on the front and outer side faces, each of tan brick with keystones springing from tan brick imposts. The second-floor windows feature stilted segmental-arched lintels of tan brick with keystones, which are linked and spring at each corner from a molded band atop the quoining, creating a continuous segmental-arched arcade across the upper facade.
With the exception of the Italianate-styled Citizens Drug Company building, the remainder of commercial buildings in Zebulon, totaling thirty-seven buildings, can be classified as vernacular commercial architecture. Usually of brick construction, most are one- or two-story buildings with parapet roofs, minimal detailing, and storefronts with large, rectangular display windows flanking a centered, inset entrance. The c.1906 Caviness Building at 120-122 North Arendell Avenue is one of the most decorative and best preserved. The first floor contains two inset storefronts with large display windows topped with prism-glass transoms. The second-floor detailing includes a decorative geometric pattern of white terra cotta panels and brick rowlocks, a cast-stone belt course serving as the window sills, and a brick rowlock and cast-stone cornice. Most of Zebulon's commercial buildings were built in the early twentieth century but display mid-twentieth-century updates to the storefronts. The 1907 Zebulon Drug Company building at 123 North Arendell Avenue and the c.1910 Debnam's Hardware building at 117 North Arendell Avenue, both of which house Debnam's Hardware today, illustrate typical changes. The Zebulon Drug Company retains its 1907 detailing at the second floor with paired windows set in slightly recessed, corbelled brick panels and decorative brickwork in the parapet and at the cornice. The storefront at 117 North Arendell Avenue, a one-story commercial building, was updated in 1954 with aluminum-framed display windows and a pent roof, which were extended to 123 North Arendell Avenue in 1972 when Debnam's Hardware expanded.
The earliest residential style extant in Zebulon is the Queen Anne style. This style was popular in the late-1800s, reaching its peak in North Carolina from 1890 to 1910, but it remained popular in Zebulon into the 1920s. It is characterized by asymmetrical forms, large porches, variety of material textures, steeply pitched gables, and abundant ornamentation. There are six examples of the Queen Anne style in Zebulon, most of which are located on Sycamore Street. The c.1907 R.J. Whitley House at 116 East Sycamore Street is a one-story, pyramidal-roof house with the asymmetrical form and complex massing of the Queen Anne style. The facade is dominated by a hip-roof, wrap-around porch supported by turned posts with decorative sawn brackets with pendants, and there is an arched gable over the entrance. The porch wraps around polygonal bay with a projecting gable above, and the house has a stamped tin roof and finials at the roof peaks. The c.1921 G.B. and Katherine Brantley House at 118 West Sycamore Street also features the complex roofline and elaborate sawnwork of the Queen Anne style. The main block of this one-story house is a hip roof form with projecting front and side gables. The hip-roof porch, supported by turned posts with delicate sawn brackets, extends across the facade, wraps around the projecting front-gabled polygonal bay, and has a gable above the entrance. The c.1920 William and Delanie Wiggs House at 214 East Sycamore Street is a two-story example of the style, and features a complex hip-roof form with cross gables. The hip-roof, wrap-around porch is supported by square posts with sawn brackets and a matchstick balustrade. A small gable emphasizes the entrance, and to the right of the main entrance there is a large, oval multi-light window.
Many later examples of Queen Anne-style architecture, including five examples in Zebulon, also feature elements of the subsequent Colonial Revival style, and are often classified as transitional Queen Anne/Colonial Revival style houses. Most have irregular Queen Anne-style massing, but with Colonial Revival entrances and porch details. The c.1912 Chamblee-Dawson House at 201 West Gannon Avenue is a two-story house displaying the transition between styles with the irregular massing of the Queen Anne style combined with Colonial Revival details. The house features a gambrel roof, unusual in Zebulon, with projecting front and side gables. A wide, hip-roof, wrap-around porch features a pedimented gable over the entrance and is supported by round Classical columns. The main block features a multi-light elliptical window in the gambrel roof peak, a semi-circular lunette in the front gable, and a multi-light stained glass window left of the entrance. The 1915 Strickland-Temple House at 104 East Sycamore Street is a one-and-a-half-story, pyramidal-roof house that also exemplifies the transitional Queen Anne/Colonial Revival style. It has the complex roofline and massing of the Queen Anne style, with the front porch extending across the facade and wrapping around the east elevation. The porch is supported by round Classical wood columns, and a turned balustrade was added in 1996. The porch roof is hipped with a small gable over the entrance. The facade also features a large gable with a partially returned cornice and lunette window, and the east and west elevations also feature slightly projecting gables with lunette windows and shed-roof dormers.
The Colonial Revival style became popular nationally in the late nineteenth century and remained common into the mid-twentieth century. In Zebulon, there are thirteen examples of Colonial Revival architecture dating from 1915 to 1958. The style is characterized by a symmetrical facade, often with a central entrance; dormers; and paired, multi-paned, double-hung windows. Elaborate front entrances usually have pilasters and an entablature, sidelights, or fanlights. The finest example of the Colonial Revival style in Zebulon is the 1954 Thomas E. and Joyce H. Hales House at 805 North Church Street. This two-story house features a symmetrical facade, multi-light double-hung windows, and a one-story, flat-roof porch supported by grouped Tuscan columns. The entry door is centered on the facade and features sidelights, an arched six-light fanlight, and a fluted pilaster surround. The 1939 Long House at 311 West Horton Street is a more modest example of the style. The house is one-and-a-half-stories and asymmetrical, with a slightly off-center entrance in the four-bay facade. On either side of the entrance, there are paired, six-over-one wood-sash windows, and the facade also features three gabled dormers.
The Colonial Revival style was also utilized for religious buildings in Zebulon, including the 1949-1951 Zebulon United Methodist Church at 121 West Gannon Avenue. A square tower with an octagonal steeple is located off-center on the facade, facing West Gannon Street, and contains the entrance, which features double doors topped with a multi-light fanlight and an arched brick lintel with a cast-stone keystone. The sanctuary features tripartite stained glass windows with a double-hung sash in the center, multi-light fanlights, and arched brick lintels. The North Church Street elevation features a pedimented gable.
The Craftsman style, an extension of the Arts and Crafts movement of the early twentieth century, originated in California and was dominant nationally starting around 1905. It spread quickly through magazines and pattern books, becoming popular in North Carolina by the 1910s, with twenty-two examples of the style in Zebulon dating from 1914 into the 1930s. Craftsman-style bungalows offered modern living, unpretentious natural materials, and were inexpensively and easily built. Characteristic detailing includes widely overhanging eaves with knee braces, porches with heavy, tapered posts, usually on brick piers, exposed rafters and purlins, and the use of natural construction materials. Perhaps the finest example of this style is the 1914 George and Neva Barbee House at 216 West Gannon Avenue (National Register 2007). The house is two-and-a-half-stories with a hipped roof, a gabled dormer, and widely overhanging eaves. The facade is dominated by a wide, hip-roof porch that wraps around the front and side elevations, forming a porte-cochere on the west. The porch is supported by heavy square posts with grouped pilasters, which are set on brick piers topped with cast-stone, and shelters the entrance, which has leaded glass sidelights and transom. The windows are twenty-four-over-one and twelve-over-one Craftsman-style wood windows with cast-stone lintels and sills. The c.1928 Talton-Moser House at 223 West Gannon Avenue is a more modest example of the style, with a one-and-a-half-story, side-gabled form with two hip-roof dormers. A wide shed-roof porch extends along the facade and is supported by grouped square posts on brick piers with decorative exposed rafter tails under the widely overhanging eaves. The porch extends beyond the west elevation to form a porte-cochere. At least two houses in the historic district were constructed using Aladdin pattern books: the 1919 Dr. Charles E. and Carmen Flowers House at 500 North Wakefield Street and the 1921 S.G. and Marie Flowers House at 113 East Sycamore Street. The two houses are nearly identical and feature Craftsman style detailing, including a large, wrap-around porch supported by wood posts on brick piers and widely overhanging eaves with heavy, decorative brackets.
Vernacular residential forms were common in the Zebulon Historic District in the early twentieth century. Vernacular houses represent some of the earliest buildings in the historic district, with forty examples dating from 1907 to 1927, all generally located in the southern part of the district, nearest the railroad. Vernacular houses in Zebulon typically feature pared-down Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, or Craftsman detailing. Most are hip-roof forms, some with gables intersecting the hip roof, although triple-A and side gable forms are also common. There are also a small number of front or cross gable examples. The c.1911 Gay-Bunn House at 124 East Horton Street features a complex hip-roof form with intersecting front and side gables, partial gable returns, and diamond-shaped vents in the gables. The hip-roof porch, added c.1934, features elements of the Craftsman style with tapered wood posts on brick piers. The 1918 William and Ella Brantley House at 201 East Sycamore Street is a one-story house featuring a complex hipped-triple-A roofline with finials and semi-circular vents decorating the gables. The hip-roof porch extends across the facade and is supported by replacement Classical wood columns. The entrance is centered on the facade and flanked by paired one-over-one wood windows on each side. Two unusual, early-twentieth-century revival styles are also present in Zebulon. The 1928 C.V. and Nelle Whitley House at 324 West Gannon Avenue was built in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. Relatively uncommon in North Carolina, the style was popular from 1890 through the 1930s especially for high-style, landmark buildings in urban areas. Generally considered more true to its Italian precedents than the earlier Italianate style, the Italian Renaissance Revival style is characterized by low-pitched hip roofs, often with clay tiles; widely overhanging eaves with decorative brackets; round arches above doors, first-floor windows, or porches; and entrances accented with Classical columns or pilasters. The Whitley House illustrates the elements of this style with a low-pitched, hip roof covered with in ceramic tiles. The entrance is set in an arched bay with Corinthian colonnettes, and above the entrance is a pair of fixed windows in arched surrounds separated by a thin colonnette. The first-floor windows are also set in arched surrounds.
The 1942 J.K. and Lillian Barrow House at 310 West Gannon Avenue is an example of the Georgian Revival style. This style became popular after 1910 and is characterized by symmetrical facades with centered entrances ornamented with pilasters and entablature; pedimented gables; and dentil detailing at the cornice. The Barrow House illustrates the style with two-story, hip-roof form and a symmetrical five-bay facade. The entrance is centered on the facade and set in a slightly projecting bay with a pedimented front gable and dentil detailing. The door is sheltered by an arched gable porch and ornamented by a Classical surround with fluted pilasters supporting a heavy entablature.
Tudor Revival was a popular residential style in early twentieth century North Carolina, characterized by irregular forms, half-timbered walls, tall narrow windows or diamond-pane casement windows, steep gables, and arched entryways. Relatively uncommon in Zebulon, elements of this style are often seen in Period Cottages, which were built in the historic district from 1932 through 1950. These houses are pared down examples of revival styles with simplified details of the Tudor Revival or Colonial Revival styles applied to smaller one- or one-and-one-half-story forms of Depression and World War II era housing. There are twenty examples of Period Cottages with Tudor Revival and/or Colonial Revival details in the historic district, most with brick veneers, prominent gabled entrances, and brick or stone chimneys. The 1939 Clarence and Lillian Hocut House at 701 North Arendell Avenue is a one-and-a-half-story Period Cottage with Tudor Revival details. It features a projecting gabled entrance bay containing a paneled door and fixed window topped by a large, half-round stucco panel. Left of the entrance is a front gable with a flared extended eave over a screened porch with large arched bays. The 1939 Robert and Ruby Jenkins House at 301 North Wakefield Street is another example with Tudor Revival detailing. This one-and-one-half-story, brick-veneered house features a projecting front-gable bay with a flared eave on its north slope, which shelters a porch with wide arched bays. A tapered brick chimney on the facade features a decorative blond brick arch containing basketweave brick and a letter "J" on the stack. The c.1942 Wallace and Rachel Temple House at 501 North Arendell Avenue is a Period Cottage with both Tudor Revival and Colonial Revival detailing. This one-and-a-half story house is clad in brick veneer and features a steeply-pitched, side-gable roof with two hip-roof dormers. The entrance is located in a projecting front-gabled bay with an elaborate Classical surround featuring pilasters supporting an entablature and heavy broken scrolled pediment. South of the entrance, there is an engaged shed-roof enclosed porch with arched openings, and north of the entrance, there is a gabled bay containing a cantilevered bay window with a rounded arch window in the gable.
Zebulon experienced a period of slow growth caused by economic depression and World War II in the 1930s and early 1940s. When construction resumed in the 1950s, smaller houses with restrained ornamentation were constructed on vacant lots throughout the historic district. Characterized by a very simple rectangular, side- or front-gabled form, flush eaves, and a lack of architectural detail, Minimal Traditional-style houses were a response to the limited resources of the Depression and World War II, followed by rapid home building after the war. The small size and compact footprints of these houses were well-suited to existing urban lots. There are approximately twenty-eight examples of the style throughout the historic district, dating from the mid-1940s through the late-1950s. This style is common in the northern part of the historic district, most of which was developed after 1950, including the 1956 W. Ray and Annie Wheeler Goodwin House at 613 North Church Street. This one-story, side-gable house features flush eaves, a central projecting front-gable bay, a recessed porch supported by wrought iron columns, and no other ornamentation. Other examples of the Minimal Traditional style were constructed as infill in the older areas of Zebulon, including the 1957 James and Eleanor Richardson House at 216 East Sycamore Street. This one-and-a-half-story house is a side-gable form with a front gable that contains the entrance, which is sheltered by a small stoop with a gabled hood supported by brackets. The house features the small scale, flush eaves, and minimal ornamentation that characterize the Minimal Traditional style.
Through the mid-twentieth century, housing shifted from the traditional forms and with brick veneer and sometimes with accents of other materials, such as vertical wood siding or permastone. These low-maintenance alternatives to siding, which required regular painting, made the style attractive to working-class families. Additionally, the open floor plans with centrally located kitchens represented the family-centered focus of the 1950s house, a direct response to the fragmentation of rooms separated by hallways that earlier house forms provided.
Architectural historian Ruth Little has identified three subtypes of Ranch-style houses in Wake County, all of which are present in Zebulon. The archetypal Ranch sub-type features a side-gable roof, a combination of picture window with horizontal pane windows, a combination of brick veneer and other exterior cladding types, sometimes with an attached carport or garage. They are minimal in form, with a rectangular footprint and fewer than four bays in width. One example is the 1962 Winston and Ercelle Perry House at 513 North Church Street, which is a side-gable, four-bay-wide house with an asymmetrical facade. Like many other Ranch-style houses built during this period in Zebulon, this one is clad in multi-colored Roman-brick veneer, and there is vinyl siding in the side elevation gables. The entrance, a wood door with three narrow horizontal lights, is accessed by a brick and terra cotta tile stoop. Left (south) of the entrance there are two-over-two horizontal-pane wood windows, and right (north) of the entrance is a larger two-over-two horizontal-pane wood window with matching two-over-two sidelights. The north elevation features an attached carport. The 1961 Jimmy and Rebecca Spivey Duplex at 310 West North Street is another example of a minimal archetypal Ranch house. The side-gable duplex features widely overhanging eaves, boxed cornices, weatherboard in the gables, and apartments that mirror each other. Each apartment is three bays wide with a centered two-light slab door. In the central bays, between the entrances, each apartment has a picture window flanked by two-over-two wood windows, and on the outer bays, each apartment has a two-over-two horizontal-pane wood window. Each entrance is accessed by an uncovered brick stoop.
The Colonial Ranch sub-type is identified by double-hung windows, Classical door surrounds, brick veneer or weatherboard cladding, and sometimes a Colonial Revival-style porch. They may be a minimal form or a rambling form, with front or rear wings, carports, or garages. There are fewer Colonial Ranch houses in Zebulon than the other sub-types, but the 1964 Margaret Parker Bowling House at 808 North Wakefield is a nice example. This side-gable, brick-veneer Ranch house features a five-bay, symmetrical facade. The center three-bay section of the house is clad in vertical wood siding, and the widely overhanging eaves form an engaged porch supported by square posts, which shelters the entrance and two pairs of eight-over-eight wood windows with paneled wood aprons. The end bays of the house have a slightly lower side-gable wing, each containing a pair of eight-over-eight wood windows with paneled wood aprons. The 1967 Hendricks-Alford House at 202 West Glenn Street is another example, and features a similar side-gable form with a projecting five-bay central mass and slightly lower, single-bay wings on each end. A front-gable bay projects from the center mass of the front elevation forming a narrow porch supported by Classical columns with a metal railing. The porch sheltered the entrance, which is centered on the porch and features a Classical surround with fluted pilasters, and two nine-over-nine wood windows. The remaining four windows on the facade are also nine-over-nine wood sash. The house is clad in brick veneer with weatherboard in the gables. The contemporary Ranch sub-type incorporates stylistic elements of the mid-century Modern movement, including large grouped windows, narrow windows set under the eaves, wide eaves with exposed rafter tails, patios and porches that provided connection to the outdoors, and often a rambling form. The 1955 George and Gladys Jones House at 119 West Glenn Street, designed by Raleigh architect F. Carter Williams, is a fine example of a contemporary Ranch house in Zebulon. The L-shaped house has a series of hipped roofs of varying heights, and the house is clad in a combination of brick veneer and aluminum siding. The entrance, set within the L, consists of a three-light slab door sheltered by the widely overhanging eaves. The wing extending left of the entrance features paired windows set high on the wall under the eaves, while the wing extending right of the entrance features a bay of short one-over-one windows and an attached carport supported by a wide brick wall. The 1965 Nathaniel and Mary Grogan House at 204 West McIver Street is another example, with a large, projecting front-gable bay on the facade with widely overhanging eaves supported by decorative groupings of wood posts. This bay contains a recessed entrance that features white Roman brick and an accent wall of large wood slats, and a low brick planter extends along the bay. Left of the entrance, there is a bank of aluminum windows with large fixed panes above and smaller awning windows below. A carport extends from the left end of the facade.
A number of Ranch houses in the "Wakelon Heights" development in the northern portion of the historic district were designed and built by W. Floyd Edwards, although he was not a trained architect or engineer, including his own house at 209 West Lee Street. This side-gable Ranch house is five bays wide with an attached carport on the west elevation. The widely overhanging eaves form a small porch that extends from the entrance to the carport and is supported by decorative metal posts. The entrance features a two-light slab door. Left (east) of the entrance there are two two-over-two horizontal-pane wood windows and a built-in stone planter. Right (west) of the entrance there is a picture window flanked by two-over-two windows. A wide interior chimney separates the eastern portion of the house, which is clad in brick veneer, from the western portion, which is clad in vertical wood sheathing and contains a pair of two-over-two horizontal-pane wood windows. Edwards also built the 1962 Thomas and Pauline Arnold House at 708 North Wakefield Street. This side-gable Ranch house is four bays wide and clad in a combination of Roman brick veneer and permastone. The entrance is a two-light slab door accessed by an uncovered brick stoop, and left (north) of the entrance, there is a picture window flanked by two-over-two wood windows. On the south end of the house, there are two two-over-two horizontal-pane wood windows and an interior brick chimney. A slightly lower side-gable carport is attached to the north end of the house.
Modernism was introduced to North Carolinians in the late 1940s with the establishment of the School at Design at North Carolina State College, now North Carolina State University, but like most architectural styles, it was slow to reach small towns and rural areas. In spite of its proximity to Raleigh, modernism did not become popular in Zebulon. However, there are four examples of residential, commercial, and institutional buildings with distinctive Modernist detailing in the historic district, featuring flat and shed roofs with deep overhangs, exposed roof beams and purlins, large banks of windows, blind walls, recessed entries, and natural materials. The 1957 Zyba K. Massey House at 611 North Church Street is a residential example. This one-story, side-gable, brick-veneer house has a plain facade with awning windows set high under the eaves. A recessed entrance is located on the south end of the facade and accessed by a brick porch with a slightly lower side-gable roof supported by decorative wrought iron posts. A one-car garage with a slightly lower side-gable roof is attached to the north elevation. The side elevations have vertical wood siding in the gables. The 1953 Primary Building at the Wakelon School campus at 1001 North Arendell Avenue is an institutional example. This one-story, flat-roof, brick building is irregularly shaped. A portion of the center of the front (north) elevation is inset and contains an aluminum framed public entrance bay with glass doors and large fixed windows. The wings on either side of the entrance feature large banks of windows and monitor roofs with clerestory windows. A commercial example in the district is the c.1969 First Federal Saving and Loan at 214 North Arendell Avenue, an irregularly shaped, one-story, brick-veneered bank building with a flat roof. The west elevation has three tiers that step back from North Arendell Avenue. The right (south) tier is a blind brick wall, while the center and left (north) tiers have large, tinted fixed windows. The main entrance is located in the side (north) elevation. The building has widely overhanging eaves, and the I-beam roof supports jut out from each of the corners of the building beneath the eaves. The 1971 Central Carolina Bank and Trust at 208 North Arendell Avenue is a one-story building with blond brick veneer, a flat roof, and widely overhanging eaves. The main entrance faces south toward a small parking lot and has mirrored glass doors. The west elevation has three pairs of mirrored fixed windows with stone sills and lintels. Concrete steps landscaped with planters and a low brick wall lead to the building from North Arendell Avenue.
The architecture of the Zebulon Historic District includes nationally popular styles, as well as vernacular residential and commercial forms, during the period of significance, 1906 to 1971. The historic district is anchored at the southern end by the former Raleigh and Pamlico Sound Railroad and at the northern end by the former Wakelon School campus. Early-twentieth-century architectural styles are concentrated nearest the railroad in the southern section of the district, which developed first, and mid-twentieth-century styles dominate the northern section of the historic district as the population grew and neighborhoods expanded northward towards the school.
† Adapted from: Cheri Szcodronski and Heather Slane, Architectural Historians, Firefly Preservation Consulting, Zebulon Historic District, nomination document, 2019, Nationaal Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Arendell Avenue North • Arendell Avenue South • Church Street North • Flowers Avenue • Franklin Street West • Gannon Avenue West • Gill Street North • Glenn Street West • Horton Street East • Judd Street West • Lee Street West • McIver Street West • North Street West • Sycamore Street East • Sycamore Street West • Vance Street East • Vance Street West • Wakefield Street North • Whitley Street North