BUSINESS HOUSES OF OLD WARRENTON
As was to be expected from the unimportant situation of Warrenton, with its lack of any great natural advantages over other sections of the adjacent country, what is called business was slow to be organized, and, as with all small towns in their beginnings, consisted greatly of barter. For many years Warrenton could hardly be said to have a business street, though during all its history its trade had been con-fined entirely to Main Street.
I am not sure that I ever heard which was the oldest store house first built in Warrenton, or who was the first merchant. I do recollect to have heard these three stores and merchants spoken, of as very ancient ones : First, the story-and-half frame house on Front Street and North Courthouse Square, southwest of Mrs. Van William's home, and adjoining the Graham property, formerly the Somerville place; second, an old story-and-half wood building on the corner of Main and North Courthouse streets, across the street from Courthouse Square, and opposite and across the street from the Brownlow-Norwood Hotel site; and third, an old frame building on the corner of Franklin and Main streets; in later years known as Rowlett's Corner. The first named store was owned by Peter Davis and conducted by him in the early years of the nineteenth century. I have mentioned before that, as the town was laid out and surveyed, the road to Louisburg ran along Franklin Street, westward across Foundry Branch, and on to the long bridge across Fishing Creek. I have also mentioned that the first post office established in the town was on the lot now occupied by Mrs. Van Williams, upon which formerly stood the Coffee Exchange house, afterwards the Varell house. In leaving the post office for the south, the mail stage coach took a route due westward, passing the north window of the Davis store, and cutting a road through his store lot reentered the Louisburg stage road near the Foundry Branch. Convenience to the post office, and the advantage of being on the stage line, no doubt, induced Mr. Davis to put his store at that place. I have been told by my grandmother that on very busy days, the was burned in the great fire of 1881: Upon its site John M. Waddill built and occupied the brick store now standing there.
A few years after the war closed Mrs. Flannagan occupied the Volkes-Schloss store, living in the rear rooms and keeping stock of groceries in the front room. This old lady deserves more than a passing notice. She and her husband, known as "Judy" Flannagan, a professional gambler, came from Richmond to Warrenton to live about the year 1850. Warren County was then a wealthy community, and during the summer months Warrenton, together with Jones' and Shocco springs, some miles off, was a great resort for summer visitors. Large numbers of young men of fast habits and of large means were included. Mr. Flannagan no doubt saw his opportunity. All through that country the middle aged and older gentlemen, as well as the younger, were patrons of the faro table, and "short-card" games. The Flannagan's first residence, after their arrival in Warrenton, was in the upper story, over the drug store kept by "Drug" Perkinson; this building stood on Main Street, on the southern end of the lot on which afterwards John White's brick store was built. In the rear of the building was a large garden running through to Bragg Street; in a shed on the end of this garden Mrs. Flannagan kept a large Holstein cow that gave four gallons of milk a day. This animal was the wonder of the town. When the Confederate War broke out the Flannagans went back to Richmond to live, and occupied a large residence in the desirable part of the city. There Flanagan succeeded wonderfully in his profession in the demoralized conditions during the war.
He was a devoted Confederate, and was most liberal in his expenditures for the cause. The couple never had children, and the old lady was able to give her time to looking after the soldiers and charitable work generally. Their home was veritably a hospital for the Con-federate soldiers, especially those from Warren County. I have been told by those who shared their kindness, and partook of their hospitality, that for the four years of the war there were never less than a dozen soldiers, wounded or sick under their roof, and on some occasions like the terrible battles around Richmond, Chancellorsville, and the Wilderness there were as many as twenty-five.
After the war Mr. and Mrs. Flannagan returned to Warrenton, poor and broken in health. In a few years he died at the Bell Place, three miles north of Warrenton, on the railroad. After his death Mrs. Flannagan came to Warrenton, and occupied the Volkes store, as we have mentioned. About 1884 she died in poverty and loneliness, but for the companionship of her little white dogs, in a two-room office on the corner of the lot formerly the residence of
Thomas A. Montgomery, afterwards Mrs. Kate Williams, now Robert Watson's residence.
Mrs. Flannagan was very peculiar, and the boys and girls thought of her as a witch. She had strung wires in her window, immediately over the sidewalk, that sounded when the wind blew like an Aeolian harp, and it was terrorizing for children and negroes to pass that corner, alone, after dark.
The following incident of the devotion of her little dogs will interest the children that may read of old Warrenton.
When this poor, lonely old woman was carried to her burial some kind neighbor took the little dogs to her home, and cared for them. As soon as they were turned loose from their confinement she missed them, and after much searching they were found on their mistress' grave, some two miles away. They were vigorously scratching away the earth to get to her body.
The third store I mentioned above, was occupied by J. Nunnery, formerly of Petersburg, as a harness and saddle manufactory. Mr. Nunnery married a Miss Macon, of the county, and was the father of Mrs. Virginia Maxwell.
After the death of Mr. Nunnery, Thomas W. Rowlett, from Petersburg, Virginia, bought that store and built upon its site a handsome two-story house. He was a bachelor and had his rooms above the store. Mr. Rowlett died in these rooms in 1877. It was then remodeled for a drygoods store, and for some years Captain W. T. Alston and B. F. Powell, under the firm name of Alston & Powell, conducted a drygoods business there.
Just in the rear of the old Rowlett harness and saddlery store, stood a house in which Cyrus Green, a most respectable and trustworthy colored man, carried on the trade of blacksmith. He was an excellent citizen and a good workman. He was a slave of Thomas E. Green. He had a splendid physique and an attractive personality. Most respectful in his manners, he was not only popular, but highly es-teemed by everybody. He was in (1921) the oldest living citizen of the town, living in retirement at his home, half a mile out of town on the Louisburg road. He married Lavenia Henderson, a woman of fine intelligence and recognized worth in the community.
The next store to the north hasty burial was necessary. Old Tom Owen, a free negro, with a deep bass voice was digging the grave at night. Mr. Eades, the keeper of the saloon and restaurant, was passing by on his way to his home, at the race track, and not knowing of the grave digger being near, was spoken to by old Owen, who was standing in the grave when he said "Sarvant, Mars John." Upon which Mr. Eades believing fully in "hants," ran to his home in great fear, out of breath, and unable for some minutes to give an explanation to his wife.
This same store was afterwards occupied as a fancy dry goods establishment, especially silk and silk trimmings, by Philip T. Norwood and William T. Alston. The store next to this on the north was erected in 1850 upon the ground upon which had stood the old store house of Thomas A. Montgomery and Kemp Plummer Alston, 1843-48, under the firm name of Montgomery & Alston. Later this store was greatly enlarged and improved, and occupied as a dry goods establishment by Jacob Parker and William T. Alston, under the firm name of Alston & Parker. After the war it was occupied by James A. Higgs and his brother, Jacob Higgs; after this by Iredell Powell, son of John B. Powell, near Macon, and the son-in-law of Rev. Junius P. Moore, long a very distinguished Methodist minister of that part of the State. After the war was over Mr. Alston withdrew from the business, when John Watson joined Mr. Parker, and the firm became Parker, Watson & Company. In 1867, or '68, the southern half of the building was partitioned off and made a separate store. This was occupied as a dry goods store by J. C. McCraw, the firm consisting of himself, Mr. Parker and Mr. Watson.
It was in this store in 1835, then kept by Austin Plummer, brother of Mrs. Ann Falkener, that a shooting affair took place that was much talked of at the time it occurred and made such an impression on the citizens of the town as to live fresh in their memories many years afterwards.
It seems (from a letter in my possession, written the month it took place) that there was ill will between John Bragg and Plummer Green. They met in this store, Bragg unarmed save for a cane in his hand. Green had a dirk, also a pistol or gun. Bragg struck Green with the cane, and felled him to the floor, and but for a lamp nearby would have killed him with the repeated blows of the cane, Green then managed to struggle to his feet, and made for his assailant. Bragg in stepping back fell over a keg of nails, when Green rushed at him, and while down plunged his dirk in his throat, nearly severing the jugular vein. Then Green in a panic of excitement fired the gun, which flew wide of the mark, and wounded Robert Somerville, who happened to be in the store. Mr. Somerville died in a few days. Dr. John Plunkett told me that he sat by John Bragg all night holding the artery to prevent his bleeding to death. In some weeks he entirely recovered, He was in after years Judge John Bragg of Alabama.
Plummer Green must have been a brother of Thomas Green, who lived a mile west of the town, where Mr. Newell now lives.
When my husband and I lived near Memphis, Tennessee, in 1874,
we met Dr. John Plunkett at the home of his nephew, Major Richard J. Person. The
doctor was then a very old man, but had a very quick and active mind and a
strong memory. He still took a lively interest in Warrenton, where he had spent
many years, and loved to talk with us of those times and the people in the years
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.