THE HOMES OF OLD WARRENTON-CONTINUED
THE RESIDENCE OF JACK NICHOLSON
Across the wheat field, from Mrs. Macon's on the west, is the home of Mrs. Thomas, built and occupied by Jack Nicholson, a druggist in Warrenton, for some years. Before the war he married Miss Bettie Williams, daughter of William C. Williams. A few years after the Civil War, he, with his family moved to Texas to live, where he became a successful man. They died in their far-away home, leaving several children. Rev. C. T. Bailey at one time occupied this home for several years. Dr. C. A. Thomas bought this house afterwards and spent the remainder of his life there. Mrs. Thomas still owns it.
Dr. Thomas was a successful druggist in Warrenton for many years, and a highly useful citizen of the town. He was a handsome man, very modest and retiring in his manners. He married Miss Mary McDowell of Edenton, North Carolina, who was as handsome as her husband. The three sisters, Mrs. Thomas, Mrs. Bond, and Mrs. Foot, had delightful voices, and with their brother, Captain John McDowell, gave much pleasure to the town people when they came to Warrenton as refugees. The children of Dr. and Mrs. Thomas were Kate, who became Mrs. Hal Macon; Willie, who died quite young; George, who died just as he reached manhood; Norfleet, who married Florrie Johnson; Lallah Rooker, who married Dr. Walters.
On the west of Mrs. Thomas' home, and on the corner, now the home of Mrs. Mattie Miles, was in the fifties a cottage owned and occupied by Ben R. Browning, for many years a merchant -associated in business with Mr. George Sledge. Mr. Browning was a first class business man, of good intelligence and habits. He went to Littleton and built up, with Jesse Shaw, an excellent mercantile business.
The next occupant of this house was John 0. Drake, who married a Miss Finlay, of Baltimore, the daughter of a Methodist minister, who came to Warren County to live. Mr. Drake was a good business man and most highly respected in the community. He was affectionately called "Uncle John" by all who knew him well. His mother and widowed sister, Mrs. Sallie Twitty, also made their home with him at this place. Mrs. Mattie Miles, the widow of George Miles, a former merchant of the town, now owns it and resides there. She was left a widow, without means, and had a large family to bring up, but through her industry and motherly devotion, she has reared them well, several of her sons taking a university education, and they reflect much credit on her.
THE JOHNSON COTTAGE
On the south of Mrs. Miles, Mr. Johnson built a cottage adjoining this residence, in early years one of the few houses that was for rent. When Leonidas Smith was rector of Emmanuel Church, his brother, John, rented this place, and conducted a limited school there. The pupils were mostly from the Episcopal families. This was the first school I attended, in 1857.
THE HOME OF J. R. JOHNSON
On the south of the cottage of Mr. Johnson was his residence where he lived for years, and reared all his children. This house was of peculiar architecture, arranged with no thought of the convenience for family living or comfort. It was built by Jacob Holt for his own family, where he resided until he built another place for himself on the corner of Bragg and Franklin streets, now the home of Mrs. John Tarwater. This house was two stories, with dormer windows in the attic; there was no inside stairway, all passing from the basement to the second story was by steps on the front and back of the house. This old place was really a home, overflowing with the large family of children and grandchildren, and they were not all, for Mr. Richardson, one of the workmen in the shoe shop boarded there, also Miss Emily Moore, a homeless woman, whom Mr. and Mrs. Johnson had taken into their home and greatly befriended. she also did the finishing work on the shoes. She became a devoted and consistent member of the Baptist Church. Later on they took Mrs. Rice there to board, when she became blind, helpless and difficult to live with.
A sketch of Mr. Johnson has been made in connection with his shop and down-town business.
Mrs. Johnson was Miss Lucy Wilson, daughter of Gilliam Wilson of the county, and sister of Mrs. Eades and John Wilson, later of Wilson's Mills. The children were Mary (Mrs. Ford), Lucy (Mrs. Loughlin), Sallie (Mrs. Miles), William, Edward and Robert. Robert died a young man, and not very many years before his father, the family having moved into the small cottage, where the son and the father died, Mr. Johnson in February, 1890. After his death Mrs. Johnson moved back into the old residence where she died the following year. She was a devoted wife and mother, and one of the kindest neighbors, and a splendid provider for her large family. She always kept several cows, and at the time I write of she was among the few persons that sold milk, nearly every family keeping its own cow. In connection with her cows a very funny incident occurred. After the cows were milked at nightfall they were turned out in the streets, and would often lie on the sidewalk, for their and her convenience early next morning. That was in the days before Warrenton had any means of lighting in the residential section. One night a young lady and a very gallant gentleman were making a call, and their way led by Mrs. Johnson's yard; one of the cows was lying across the sidewalk when the gentleman plunged over her, full length. Fortunately the lady was not drawn down in the landslide. She, afterwards, in telling of the absurd situation, said when her escort arose he was perfectly calm, and took up the thread of his conversation where it was broken off by the fall.
THE FORD PLACE
Across the garden of Mr. Johnson, on the south, was a two-story house one room deep. During the war it was occupied by a family of refugees, Mr. Johns, son of Bishop Johns, of Virginia. After the war Mr. Johnson bought the place for his oldest -daughter, Mrs. Ford, where Mr. and Mrs. Ford lived for some years, and reared a large family. Mr. Ford was a very intelligent man, and for many years served the town as a Justice of the Peace. Miss Mary Ford still lives in the town, and is devoted to the motherless daughter of her youngest sister, Mrs. Riggan. John has done well in New York City, and Byron is a contributor to newspapers in the State. Some twenty-five years ago it was the residence of Mr. and Mrs. William Brodie, and it was while they lived there that Mr. Brodie met with the horrible railroad accident that very nearly ended his life.
THE HOME OF MRS. SPRUILL
Across the grove south from Mr. Ford's residence is a very pretty square house, with a broad front porch. It was built by Mrs. Louisa Spruill, about 1850. She was the widow of George Spruill and prior to their move to Warrenton they owned a lovely country place, eight miles from town, quite near where the old Bute Courthouse stood. It was called Roseland, and was bought by Dr. George Field, where he and his family lived for many years. It was at this place that the Spruill family was visited by the awful scourge called "Black Tongue." Some twenty persons, white and colored, died. In our present day it would be easily accounted for. The well, from which they all drank, was on the lower side of a large manure accumulation, draining into the well, which poisoned the water. The terror caused by so many deaths was far spread in the town and county. Every one was afraid to go near to assist the afflicted family. At first the coffins needed were brought from Warrenton, and put in the grove some distance from the house. Later as the panic grew, they had to make the coffins on the place. Rev. Mr. McRae went out to minister to the suffering and the dead. Re did not take the disease, but two of his children died from a similar attack. They, however, did not go to the place.
Perhaps the greatest loss sustained by the poor mother was the death of her fine, promising son, Thomas Spruill, just graduated in law, who was to practice his profession in Oxford. This awful visitation caused the family to move to Warrenton. Mrs. Spruill was a Miss Hill of Scotland Neck. She had been a widow many years. This family was a very delightful addition to the cultivated social life of Warrenton. Mrs. Spruill was a woman extensively read in all standard works. Especially was she familiar with Scott's novels. She had such a fine memory that she could repeat long conversations from them. There were four sons, Thomas, George, Peter Evans, and Charles. George was a graduated physician, but never practiced, Peter was a highly educated man, having traveled, and resided in Europe several years. He returned in time to join the Confederate Army, and died in the service. Charles was a lawyer but did not practice; he edited the Warrenton paper, The Gazette. He married Miss Bettie Edwards, of Warrenton. They were a most congenial and devoted couple. He died a very few years after their marriage.
There were several daughters: Rebecca, Louisa, Julia, Ann and Nettie. The two youngest were very pretty. All were very charming ladies, with beautifully cultivated minds, and refined literary tastes. They were a very impractical family. Doctor Spruill was never a practicing physician, though learned in his profession. Like most of the doctors of his day, he had bought a skeleton of the human body. I perfectly recall the one that hung in my own father's office, behind a blue curtain, and my fear of going in there when a child. Dr. Spruill put his to an artistic purpose. I once saw violets growing and blooming in the halves of the skull, on the table in his room. The son, Charles, was full of good-natured fun, and greatly enjoyed telling of and laughing over his mother's carriage and horse. The coachman used the corn supplied for the horse to add to his own income, by selling most of it, only giving the poor animal enough to keep him going. The result was that the enemic condition made the hair stand up all over the back. Mrs. Spruill was very much mystified, and asked a gentleman to advise her what to have done. He advised her to have the horse's back well greased, that only made matters worse, and the rig made such an absurd appearance as it came down the street, that Mr. Spruill said when he saw it coming he always went into a store to avoid hearing the remarks by the group of men and boys.
Miss Rebecca was an invalid, most of the time lying on her couch, reading aloud to some one of her sisters. That was the period when Dickens' works were coming out in the weekly serials. Years after
I employed her maid as my nurse. One day she was in the room and heard my son read me aloud from Nicholas Nickleby, when much to our surprise she asked if "that was the book that told about the Kenwigs." She could neither read or write.
During the war this home was occupied by a most delightful family, Mr. Bond and his five daughters. They were musical, and added much to the social life of the town in those dark days. After the war they returned to their home in Eastern Carolina. When Charles Spruill kept house there, his sisters came up from the low country to pass the summer with him. My husband and I rented this home the first year of our married life, and our son, Walter, was born there.
Dr. Joel G. King purchased and moved to this place the next year, I think. The Doctor was a native of Louisburg, the son of one of the leading physicians of that town. He came to settle in Warrenton in the early part of the year 1869, and for more than forty years he had a large practice in the town and county. He had the confidence of the community both as a man and a physician. He and Mrs. King were most hospitable, and their home was most delightful to their many friends. She greatly loved this place, calling it "Myrtlewood," and had adorned it with a great variety of shrubs and flowers. It was shaded by handsome oaks. Mrs. King was Miss Bettie Massenburg, born and reared near Louisburg, and descended from distinguished old families of Franklin and Warren counties. She and her husband died at this place.
They had six children. Two of them died in infancy. Their oldest son, Willie, was drowned in a pond just back of "The Folly" when about twelve years of age, a fine manly boy, and neither one of the parents quite outlived the shadow this grief cast over them. Their next son, Marion, is an accomplished physician, now living in Norfolk, where he has established a fine practice. He married Miss Melissa Payne, daughter of Dr. Payne, a well known physician of Norfolk.
The oldest daughter, Laura June, married George W. Alston, son of P. G. Alston, of Warren County. At the time of their marriage he had been living in Texarkana for several years, and his success there was well assured. They had four children.
Mrs. Alston is a woman of the finest principles and the highest ideals; indeed, her strict sense of duty would place her back quite half a century by comparison with the present viewpoint. She is a devoted member of the Episcopal Church, and very consistent in her walk. Her younger sister, Nora, makes her home with her, where her lovely nature and affectionate disposition make her a joy to this household. Miss Nora's devotion to her parents, through long years of invalidism, drew forth the warm love and praise of her entire home town.
Montgomery, Lizzie Wilson; Sketches of old Warrenton, North Carolina; traditions and reminiscences of the town and people who made it, Raleigh, Edwards & Broughton printing company, 1924.