Property Inventory of Historic Oakwood District
Descriptive Inventory of
By Matthew Brown, 2015
I [Matthew Brown, historian] have completed the draft of the inventory of histories and descriptions of buildings in the Oakwood National Register historic district. I have also entered the information into the National Register database, maintained by the State Historic Preservation Office.
As some of you know, I have been working on this project for the last several years, with the objective of creating a detailed and accurate inventory for the National Register of Historic Places. I estimate I have spent 3,000 hours on this effort.
Most historic districts on the National Register already have inventories with descriptions of each building. But Oakwood was established as a historic district before these inventories were required; so, we don’t have one. There have been three additions to the original Oakwood district, which do have inventories, but the house history/descriptions are rather bare-bones. We want Historic Oakwood to have the finest inventory of any district in the state! And indeed, Claudia Brown of the State Historic Preservation Office has stated Oakwood’s new inventory “has outdone all other district lists in the state.”
These histories and descriptions will be useful for Certificate of Appropriateness applications, plaque applications, tax credit applications (if tax credits are restored), and Historic Oakwood Candlelight Tour® descriptions. But most of all, it’s nice to know something about the houses we live in.
So I have done a deed search, directory search, map search, photograph search, etc., for each house, so we know who built it, when it was built, what it looked like originally, what changes were made and when, what interesting people lived there, who restored the house, etc. I have consulted census records, tax records, gravestone records, plaque applications, old newspapers, the SPHO and Garden Club archives, interviews with residents, and published histories. And also very important, I have been living here and talking to YOU folks for the past 29 years.
The entry for each house includes a detailed history and a detailed description of its architectural features, distinguishing when possible what was original and what was added later. The supporting information with each history/descriptions includes deed transfers -- not all of them, but the important ones -- those establishing who built the house, who made major changes, or restored the house, etc. (And sometimes other deed transfers I found to get back to the important ones). Also included are Raleigh City Directory entries, map entries, selected census entries, newspaper mentions, archived photographs, etc.
Of course each house must have a name. I have followed the rule adopted by the SPHO in September 1975, when we started the plaque program: “The house shall be named after the original builder and/or owner. A prominent resident’s name may be added to the plaque.” “Original builder or owner” is interpreted to mean not the contractor or carpenter, but the person who owned the lot and had the house built. I have taken this information from the deeds. Often a deed indicates a married couple as the owner. In keeping with tradition, I have generally used the name of the husband. However, if the deed indicates only the wife’s name, I have given her name to the house. For houses built after 1972, I have used both the husband's and wife’s names.
I have added a second name to the house whenever there is more than one house built by the same person, so each house has a unique name. I have chosen the name of a later person or family who either owned the house for a long time, or was a person or family of prominence or interest, or made notable improvements to the house, or whose name is already on a plaque. When a second name is added, I use only the two surnames, following current custom. In just a few cases, a house has a third name.
So the good news is each house will have its correct name and construction date. The bad news is it does not always match the name and date on an existing plaque, or that has been used in past Walking Tour brochures or Historic Oakwood Candlelight Tour® brochures, or even the National Register inventories for the three additions to the Oakwood district. I keep the old names if they are justifiable, but some of them are not. Of course there is no need to rush out and change your plaque, but I cannot put the wrong name or date in the National Register just because it is on a plaque! I have talked to Mort’s Trophies, the company on Davie Street who engraves our plaques, and am told they would charge about $20 to sand down an incorrect name or date and replace it with the correct name and date.
How do I figure out who built the house and when? There are many sources. Maps were made in 1847, 1872, 1881, 1882, 1896, 1903, 1909, 1914, and 1950 showing the footprint of each house. The last five maps were Sanborn fire insurance maps. Unfortunately, the 1896, 1903 and 1909 maps cover only parts of Oakwood. But I found all of these maps to be accurate and reliable, albeit not perfect. A house had to exist if it's on the map.
There are Raleigh City directories for 1875-76, 1880, 1883, 1886, 1887, 1888, 1891, 1896, 1899, 1901, 1903, alternate years until 1917, and almost every year from 1918 to the present. A house had to exist if somebody was listed as living there! Unfortunately, house numbers did change frequently. And sometimes a house was torn down and a new house built with the same house number.
Censuses were taken every 10 years. So a house had to exist if someone was listed there. Unfortunately some of the census takers were sloppy, so just because somebody was NOT listed does not mean they did not exist. And unfortunately, the 1890 census was lost in a fire.
Old newspaper articles have also been very helpful. In the 1890s especially, the newspapers often listed building permits granted, and often commented on new houses being built.
Also very important are the deed transfers, which are viewable at the Register of Deeds web site. If someone bought a lot in March 1900 for $500, and sold it in September 1901 for $2,000, we can conclude from the price difference that a house was built on the lot between the two transfers. Of course we must be aware of property values and construction costs at different times in history. And sometimes a lot was owned by the same person or family for decades, and there were no deed transfers. And many deeds do not indicate the actual price paid.
So generally, I used all of these sources together to arrive at the most likely year of construction. To many construction years I have added a “c.” (circa, or around) if I am not certain the house was completed that year.
I hope this inventory will be a “living document.” I plan to keep updating it as I receive new information.