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History on Evans Street: Jones-Lee House among the last of its kind

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The Jones-Lee House is a picturesque two-story Victorian across from the Greenville Museum of Art, has stood on Evans Street for nearly 124 years.

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By Roger Kammerer
For The Daily Reflector

Sunday, February 10, 2019

This story is part of an occasional series of features provided by the Greenville Historic Preservation Commission that will focus on city’s history and historic structures.

This picturesque two-story Victorian house, which stands across from the Greenville Museum of Art, has somehow remained standing on Evans Street for nearly 124 years. But now it is in trouble.

The Jones-Lee House is the last beautiful vestige and only reminder of similar late 19th century houses which once lined Evans Street south of Greenville's central business district. The future of the house hangs in the balance between developers, the City of Greenville, Historic Preservation Commission and preservationists. The Jones-Lee House takes on additional importance since Greenville has lost most of its early architectural heritage.

This house was one of twin houses built next to each other in 1895 by C.T. Munford (1862-1947) a leading merchant and developer of Greenville. The house was built in a part of town then called “Forbestown,” a neighborhood developed on the land of Alfred Forbes (1829-1905), another leading merchant in Greenville.

The unique architecture of the house is what is called “Victorian Stick Style.” Stick Style is less an architectural style than a type of decorative treatment applied to the outside walls of the building. Decorative wood trim, called “stick work,” was applied to the exterior to emphasize the basic wood frame structure underneath. Research has revealed that the architectural plan of the Jones-Lee House was taken from Design Pattern No. 11 from The Cottage Souvenir No. 2 (1891), a popular house design book by George Franklin Barber, an architect from Illinois.

Barber may have become known in North Carolina through his design for R.J. Reynolds’ home in Winston-Salem. There are currently about 44 documented Barber designed houses still standing in North Carolina; the James Fleming House, now home to the Pitt-Greenville Chamber of Commerce, built in 1902, being one of them.

Munford built the Jones-Lee house as a rental property; being rented first to J.A. Stokes. The house was initially numbered 218. Between 1911 and 1916, the street numbering changed and the house became 805 Evans. Munford sold the Jones-Lee House in 1915 to J.A. Andrews, a grocer. Mary Andrews, daughter of J.A. Andrews, inherited the property and with her husband, John D. McKeithan, sold the house in 1926 to Minnie Tunstall Jones, for whom the house is named. Minnie Jones’ husband, John Jones, was a bookkeeper for a Greenville tobacco firm.

The Jones’ daughter, Louise, married Walter Lee, giving the house its second name. Louise Jones Lee inherited the house after the deaths of her parents. Burdened by the increasing maintenance and utility costs, Louise Jones Lee felt compelled to accept the city’s offer to purchase the lot in 1979. The Greenville Redevelopment Commission had plans to demolish the house to allow for commercial development on the property, but due to public opinion and the influence of the Greenville Area Preservation Association the house was advertised for bids to rehab. It was sold to Lily Richardson in 1981 for use as a business.

In 1980 the Jones-Lee House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the City of Greenville for its architectural integrity and largely unaltered state. The house also was designated a local landmark on Oct. 20, 1988, by the city’s Community Development Department Historic Preservation Commission. The ordinance cited four reasons for the designation: the property is one of the last remaining late-nineteenth century houses that once lined Evans Street, the property is one of the last remaining examples of the Stick design style of architecture, the grounds provide an appropriate residential setting for the house, and it is likely that artifacts relative of the turn of the century still exist in the upper strata of the property.

The North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources supported the designation, stating, “Its architectural significance is heightened by the fact that it is one of a very few remaining architectural resources from its era in a city which has lost most of its earlier buildings.”

The house was used for a number of years as a family center, office space for the Center for Family Violence Prevention and as the office of Candace Pearce Design. The house was inherited by Jack Richardson Jr., and he sold the house to Taft-Ward Investments. According to its first application submitted to the city, Taft-Ward Investments checked both “demolition” and “other” as proposed actions requested for approval. There was such an uproar among preservationists that an amended application was later submitted to revise the project description as “relocate to another site” and remove the demolition option.

The Taft-Ward Investments operates “The Boundary” student housing. They stated they had no concrete plans for the Jones-Lee House site at this time, but wanted to anticipate future uses of the property. Taft-Ward Investments in connection with Don Edwards, who has long been involved in saving and renovating downtown buildings, were involved in a deal where Taft-Ward Investments was giving the house to Edwards, along with $10,000 to help with the move. Because they could not find property to move the house to, Taft-Ward Investments came back to the Historic Preservation Commission again in 2018 and made application to “relocate to another site” or demolish the Jones Lee House, because they could not find a suitable place to move the house to. The Historic Preservation Commission used its legal right to postpone demolition for one year and has been trying to find some piece of property that it can be moved to. It was hoped that the Jones-Lee House could be moved beside its larger sister, the James Fleming House, on Greene Street; but the city announced that it has plans for that property.

So, now the year of postponement of demolition is upon us in April. Members of the Historic Preservation Commission and the city are still talking, hoping something can be done before time runs out. The Jones-Lee House is an example of irreplaceable craftsmanship. Its real intrinsic value is cultural and with its destruction, everybody will lose. It is one of the few visual treasures left from Greenville’s noble past. It must be saved. Please contact your city representatives, City Council and or write the newspaper stating that the Jones-Lee House needs to be saved from the bulldozer.

Poignantly, the closing sentence of the National Register nomination still resonates, “Whether or not the Jones-Lee House joins the ranks of the vanquished remains to be seen.”

Roger Kammerer is an artist and historian who has documented Pitt County’s history. He works at Joyner Library at East Carolina University and is a member of the Greenville Historic Preservation Commission.

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