As a result of a grant made by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington DC, Preservation Greensboro has obtained a specialist in historic preservation that will carefully review the circumstances surrounding the pending demolition of two important National Register properties, one of which is also a Guilford County Landmark, located on Washington Street in High Point.
The Washington Drive Mediation Project will include the First Baptist Church and the Kilby Hotel (image, right), two structures that are cornerstones of the Washington Street National Register Historic District. Both structures are in poor condition, but their loss may threaten the recent historic designation of the neighborhood to the National Register and the designation’s related tax credits.
The Washington Street Historic District contains the most cohesive, intact collection of early- to mid-twentieth century commercial, institutional, ecclesiastical, and residential buildings associated with High Point’s African American community and meets National Park Service criteria in the areas of commerce and ethnic heritage. The largely linear district encompasses forty-one primary resources situated on approximately twenty-nine acres. Given the politics of the Jim Crow South, which mandated racial separation, High Point’s African American citizens erected dwellings, offices, shops, restaurants, churches, and entertainment venues in the Washington Street vicinity beginning in the late nineteenth century, creating a thriving mixed-use community that prospered for much of the twentieth century.
Preservation Greensboro and the National Trust pooled their resources to facilitate this project that will leverage the expertise of Dr. Benjamin F. Speller, Jr of Durham and Edenton. Dr. Speller served as Dean of the NCCU School of Library and Information Sciences between 1983 and 2003 and he is a recognized authority on college and university planning, specializing in institutional research, strategic planning, assessment, and budgeting. In addition to his educational background, he is recognized regionally as an avid historic preservationist, having served as president of initiatives to transform the historic St. Joseph’s AME Church in Durham to the Hayti Heritage Center (image, right). He currently serves the Board of Directors of the Preservation North Carolina on its Executive Committee and is the charter chair of the North Carolina African Americana Network for Historic Preservation. In recognition of his many contributions to preservation across the state, he received the 1998 Ruth Coltrane Cannon Award, North Carolina’s most prestigious Preservation Award.
Over the next few weeks, Dr. Speller will examine challenges and opportunities related to the preservation of the First Baptist Church (image, top of page and left) and the Kilby Hotel, and outline one or more paths that would result in the preservation of both structures. Preservation is important to the east High Point neighborhood, as research has documented that preservation has a multiplier effect with construction jobs, infrastructure improvement, heritage tourism, and enriching the tax base. The alternative – demolition – will result in the creation of empty lots in a section of the city riddled with vacant lots.
Dr. Speller’s work will extend over the next two weeks. The case will be reviewed by the Guilford County Preservation Commission at its next scheduled meeting on November 19th.