Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Old Building Sleuths: The Henry D. Poindexter House

H. D. Poindexter House in 2012.
One day last spring (2012) I took a different route home from work and on a little out-of-the-way street near downtown I saw an old Queen Anne-style house I'd never noticed before hidden behind overgrown trees and shrubs.  Knowing his love of Queen Annes, I took N. to see it.  To my great surprise, he immediately recognized the house from a library book he'd been reading on the history of our city.  "Mom! That's the Poindexter House!  But Mom," he said, "that house used to be on 5th street!"

This was intriguing.  I didn't doubt for a minute that he was right; he knows his buildings!  When I suggested on a different day that we go to the public library to research the integration of the public libraries in our city, N. said he wanted to learn more about this house instead: who was Poindexter, when and why was the house moved?

H. D. Poindexter House in 1963.  Digital Forsyth.
So N. and I went to the North Carolina Room at the library and explained our quest to the archivist on duty.  She pointed us to hanging files of newspaper clippings!  N. and I paged through a file labeled "Winston-Salem: Biography" and found a long article from 1963 about H. D. Poindexter.  The librarian then thought to look for an application in the National Register of Historic Places, and sure enough, the house had been nominated for the registry.  In addition to recapping information from the 1963 newspaper article about Poindexter's career as one of the earliest merchants in the new town of Winston, and his life with his 8 children, the form included a detailed description of the house's interior and layout.  And we learned that the house was scheduled to be moved in late December 1977, just after the registry nomination was completed.  The lot on which the house sat had been purchased by the Integon Corporation; Integon donated the house to the new owners, who would move it a few blocks away so that Integon could build a new office tower.  (The National Register application states that the builder of the Poindexter House was unknown, but I found through subsequent googling that the North Carolina Architects & Builders Biographical Dictionary identifies the architect as Hill C. Linthicum).

The archivist recommended we return another day to speak to local historian Fam Brownlee, who heads the North Carolina Room.  After he got over his surprise that a seven-year-old boy wanted to know about the Poindexter House, Mr. Brownlee told us all about it.  It turns out Brownlee himself had written that application for the National Register of Historic Places and had been one of the primary forces in saving the house when Integon expanded.  Fresh out of college, he, with a couple other local people, convinced Integon to donate the house, found a new lot to move it to, wrote the application, etc.  In fact, his involvement with the Poindexter House was the beginning of his career as a local historian.  Our conversation with him was fascinating.

Having fun with the microfilm reader.
N. was interested in seeing pictures of the house being moved.  In the local history books he'd browsed, he'd seen pictures of the moving of another landmark structure, the Zevely House.  You can imagine the appeal to a person with N.'s interests in buildings and transportation of pictures of an old house traversing downtown on the flatbed of a truck!  There were no pictures in the online repository of old photos owned by the library, but we thought it was likely that the local newspaper reported on the moving of the Poindexter House.  We didn't know exactly when it was moved, but we knew it was after December 1977, so we started looking through the microfilm of the newspaper for January 1978.

N. absolutely loved browsing the microfilm, reading the ads, marveling at prices, checking out the comics.  It seemed like magic to him that you could read old newspapers this way.  Eventually we found the story we were looking for: January 5, 1978.  "Move of Poindexter House Runs Into Trouble.  Weight Breaks Tractor: Stretch of Mud Looms."  N. was fascinated!  We printed out copies of the newspaper stories, the National Register application, etc. and N. saved them in a folder.

a photo of a newspaper page (1/6/1978) on microfilm
The library closed for the day so we didn't have time to look for a follow-up story in the next day's paper.  We already knew the outcome, of course; somehow, the house did make it to its new lot.  I was curious about how the conclusion of the house's journey was reported, but N. was less so, and we didn't get around to going back to the North Carolina Room and the microfilm machines for a year.  This spring, however, we finally did return and found reports and photos in both the morning and afternoon newspapers showing the house in its new home.

The owner of the Poindexter House quoted in the news stories from 1978 is still listed in the phone book as living there, so I suggested to N. that he write to him.  N. wrote a sweet letter explaining his interest in and research on the house and asking the owner if he'd be willing to meet and tell him more about the house and the process of moving it.  He has not received a reply.

I suggested to N. that he might do some sort of project culminating all he's learned about our city's history, the gradual transformation of 5th Street from a "Millionaires' Row" of Victorian houses to the site of downtown office buildings which left the Poindexter House stranded among towers and parking lots, the mercantile history of this area, how to do research, etc.  Perhaps he could make a drawing, a story, or something else that would help cement his learning through the process of creating.  But N. declined, saying he preferred to keep this information in his head, that that was enough for him.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow--what a fascinating journey! I'm with N.--I love looking at old newspapers (and census records!) on microfilm. I hope the owner does answer his letter.