History of Washington Park
Early history tells us that the town of Washington Park, Beaufort County, NC had its beginning as Cedar Grove – so called- for the avenue of lovely cedars leading to the Plantation House. This Plantation House was probably built in 1839 and was the summer home of John Humphrey Small Sr.
The style of the Smalls was typical prewar-south. There was no access to the Park from the city proper, other than the Brick kiln road. There was no bridge across Runyon Creek –so- the Smalls were frequently transported from their winter house on water Street by a barge, which was piled up and down the river by their slaves. Two previous ownerships of this property have been mentioned – The first was Reading Blount, for which the local D.A.R. was named; the second was William T. Bryan, an ancestor of Miss Fannie Bryan and Mrs. Dora Bonner Ward.
The summer home of the Smalls was one of many destroyed by fire during the War Between the States. The kitchen and the huge fire place were spared, however, as they were separated from the rest of the house. A home was later built around this old kitchen, using the fireplace as the main attraction. The brick oven still stands and is a curiosity to the younger generation. This house has for many years been the home of the Caleb Bells on Riverside Drive.
There is little told of the Park Property during the period of Reconstruction following the war and up to 1900; however typical of the hardships encountered, was the struggle of John and Whitwell Small, sons of Mr. Small Sr. John (later, the Honorable John Small) and his brother Whitt, worked long and hard trying to piece together what was left of the Plantation. With no money left, most of the slaves and all of the mules gone, the main house burned; the job of rebuilding the future seemed almost impossibility to these young men.
The real growth of Washington Park began in 1904 when the Honorable John Small bought the old Plantation from his brother and sister and began a developing and building project. Mrs. Bella, the Honorable John’s wife, named the new community, Washington Park. She later said that she was sorry she did not call it “Cedar Grove” after the old original plantation. Mr. Andrew Hathaway had come here from Norfolk, Virginia, so he helped lay out the lots and began the developing. Long rows of Poplar trees were planted along the intended streets, as temporary shade, later to be replaced by more permanent and beautiful trees.
While Honorable John’s building project was in its stage of infancy, his brother, Dr Whitmell Small, a practicing Physician in Massachusetts, decided to return home – a longing he had harbored for many years. So, he sold all that he owned, gave up his practice of medicine of 25 years, and returned to Washington permanently. It is strange that most of our sons always seem to come back home—it is still happening.
When Dr Small returned, he was given his choice of lots. He chose 300 feet on the riverfront, now called Riverside Drive, and 300 feet depth toward Isabella Avenue. In 1904, the same year that he returned, he built his home. ( This is the shingled house on Riverside Drive next to Mr Charlie Cowell) John selected lots west of Dr. Small, but as he had a lovely home in the city proper, he never built in the Park. This property is where the McCotters and Marshes now live.
By 1909, a few more homes had been added. Mr. Hathaway had built a house around the kitchen and fireplace of the old Small Home. In 1908, the Tanfields had built on Isabella Avenue –this is where Horace Cowells now live. Mrs. Worthy said “Mrs. Tan field sold Milk and I enjoyed watching the cows grazing in the fields” In 1909, the Wilson Russ house was built and is now the home of Mrs. S.H. Robbins. During the storm of 1913, Mrs. Robbins said that many residents took refuge at her home as it was the highest spot in the Park. Mr. and Mrs. Sam Pegram built near the Robbins. This house is now owned by the Frank Buckmans. The fields of green grass posed quite a problem, but Mrs. Tanfield’s cows got a little help on the side by a herd of goats that wandered freely grazing up and down the shore.
In 1912, the Charles Flynns built a lovely home next to Dr. Small. Elizabeth Flynn said, “ They lived in a house where Jean and Jimmy Hodges now live while their home was being built.” (She was not sure which house was her birthplace)
In 1913, just before the September storm – the McMullans built a very large and beautiful home at the end of the Park on the waterfront. (Park ended at Walnut Street) Just across the corner from the McMullens, the Norwood Simmons built what was considered the first modern house- to be built with the kitchen in the main part of the house. This house was bought by the Kim Saunders, the Petyon Hollomans and now is owned by Dr. Bunk Roberson.
To mention a few more houses built in the early 1900’s: there was the Lyndon Shaw house, now owned by Esther Ammons; a fine home on the corner of Isabella Avenue and Riverside Drive was built by Mr. Jim Eborn in 1923. This house was rented a few years to Robert Small and later sold to Mr. Whitley, father of Bill Whitley of Aurora. It was then occupied by Mr. Whitley, father of Bill Whitley of Aurora. It was then occupied by Mr. Whitley’s son-in-law, Frank Finlayson. It is now the home of Kay and Phil Moore and daughter, Kelly.
And now a house of much importance which I have not yet mentioned, was the house referred to by Park residents as the “Green House.” This house was really not in the Park proper – you might say it was in the country; but, it was built by the Mortons on the property where the Albin Galuskas now live. The Mortons did not live there many years, but before it was destroyed the Green House served as a dormitory, a country club and a kindergarten. To name some of the children who attended kindergarten there were: Whit Small; Mrs. Flynn’s little girl, Ada Martin; I believe Elizabeth Flynn also told me she attended kindergarten there. There were Kitty and Lyndon Shaw, Dale Tanfield and Sina Scott (Mrs Joe Marshburn.)
Elisabeth Flynn especially remembers an annual New Year’s celebration held there. Each New Years Day, several Mothers cooked huge pots of Brunswick Stew and after a picnic and social period, the men often went out and planted dogwood trees around the Park. There was also an annual spring picnic held each year for all residents of the Park. This picnic was begun in the very early years and continued until only a few years ago. In later years it was sponsored by the Garden Club. The Sandy Jennettes eventually bought the “Green House”; however, they completely destroyed the original house and built a new one in its place. Later the Graham Ramseys lived there for many years and it is now the most attractive home of Dr. Albin Galuska.
For the younger set, the Honorable John Small built quite a substantial pier and pavilion. It was near where the John Mayo home is and the pilings that held the pavilion can still be seen at low tide. When the summer nights were warm and beautiful, all the you fold of the area enjoyed dancing out over the water.
In 1918 the Frank Rubles came to the Park. Mr. Ruble came to teach at the Washington Collegiate Institute. This school was not a college, but a very fine school designed for the use of those young people of outlying areas who did not have access to a good high school. According to Mr. Ruble, the Washington Collegiate Institute was built in 1913- and opened its doors that year. Mr. Ruble did not remember who the first President was, but in 1914 Dr. M.O. Fletcher became the President and continued in that capacity until the school was closed. It was under his capable leadership that the school began to grow.
The school was built under the auspices of the Northern Episcopal Methodist Church. Across the street from the school, a large white wood frame house was built for the President. Dr. Fletcher lived there during his presidency and many years after. The Jacob Williams later bought this house and today the Morlock family lives there.
The boys attending the school stayed in the main building. For the girls, there were two dormitories set up in homes that were temporarily unoccupied. The Hathaways had left the Park, so their house was used as one of the dormitories. Here Mrs. Ruble was matron and the dorm was called the Pamlicoan. The other dorm was called the “Emma House” in honor of Mrs. Fletcher. This was where the Heber Windley’s now live. The Green House also served as a dorm for a short period of time.
W.C.I. had complete support of the community both socially and financially.
Through the combined efforts of the townspeople and the very capable leaders of the school there were many impressive and educational functions enjoyed. Noted speakers such as the Honorable John Small, the Honorable Josephus Daniels, and Bishop Thomas Darst were heard. Reverend Stephen Gardner often delighted the students with his songs. There were frequent debating and recitation contests held. Mr. Ruble (with a bit of pressure applied) admitted to coaching the debating team of 1926 to the state championship award. Mr. Ruble considered this quite an honor, as they were debating against the Asheville City Schools, which was much larger and expected to have a much better team. In 1921, W.C.I. built a nice large dormitory for the girls. This dormitory was built on school property east of the original building and closer to the river. When the corner stone was laid, it was quite a social event. Many interested people attended and the Methodist Bishop, Dr Bristol, officiated.
In 1931, the State took over the public school system and the country was in deep depression so W.C.I. was forced to close its doors. After the school closed, Dr Fletcher bought the President’s House that he had occupied and continued to live thee for many years. He also bought the main school building. This he made into an apartment house. He later sold his home and moved into an apartment in his building. (i.e. The Pamlicoan as it was known was torn down in July 1974)
The closing of W.C.I. marked the beginning of a new expansion program for the park. Mr. Charles Flynn and Mr. harry McMullan had played an important part in the Park development during the earlier years. They had bought property and continued development when the Honorable John Small became interested in politics. Now Mr. Flynn’s interest still ran high, so he bought all of the school property east of the main building, which included the girl’s dormitory. He began to develop the property by turning the girl’s dormitory into a lovely apartment house. Before this dorm was rebuilt however, it served many useful purposes. For a short time it was a hospital. As a country club it was the scene of many lovely social functions and before the municipal was constructed, the town meetings were held there in a large room on the first floor. It is interesting that this building began as a part of a school – and is now the Pamlico Community School.
Mr. Flynn died in 1939, just when his new development had begun – however, it was continued under the supervision of his daughter, Elizabeth. Friends of the Park teased her, saying “she watched every move that a bulldozer made as it pushed streets through what she considered a jungle.