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Downtown buildings may not be eligible for historic register

By Allen Turner, The News Reporter

A survey of the downtown Whiteville business district by the N.C. Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources’ State Historic Preservation office has determined that about two-thirds of the buildings there are not considered suitable for renovating and restoration to their original configurations so they can be nominated to be listed on the National Register of Historic Properties as part of a historical district, but that could change.

Gene Merritt, executive director of Whiteville Downtown Development Commission (WDDC) said that his board of directors has recommended using available WDDC funds to help property owners peek at what’s behind certain facades in hopes of determining the buildings could be deemed eligible.

Placement on the National Register can be an economic advantage, because a property that is so designated qualifies for a federal income tax credit of 20 percent or rehabilitation expenditures for income-producing properties (commercial or residential rental), varying state income tax credits for such expenditures for income-producing properties and state tax credits of 15 percent (up to $22,500) for non-income-producing historic structures.

The State Historic Preservation Officer Dr. Kevin Cherry wrote to Mayor Terry Mann  earlier this month that they didn’t consider many of the properties surveyed to meet the criteria for nomination because of many extensively-altered historic buildings. However, the letter said state staff will work with city officials, WDDC and property owners to explore the possibility of reversing non-historic alternations to some buildings to eventually make them eligible, and Merritt is pinning his hopes on that.

The letter to Mann came as a result of a comprehensive 2017 survey in Whiteville by the Historic Preservation Office.

A list provided by Merritt shows that the survey found 42 downtown properties that could be considered “contributing,” or possibly meeting the criteria for nomination, while 28 were “non-contributing,” or not felt to currently be eligible. It’s the owners of those 28 buildings that Merritt hopes WDDC will be able to help determine whether their properties can possibly be brought up to the eligibility standards.
“The state doesn’t want to recommend a building to the U.S. Department of the Interior for inclusion in the Historic Register if they think it’s going to be turned down,” Merritt said.

Twenty-three other properties in Whiteville do meet the criteria according to letters sent to Mann.

Among the properties the state found eligible for nomination for the National Register were seven properties in the Principals Row Historic District (all but one in the 300 Block of West Columbus Street) and 16 other properties elsewhere. The seven Principals Row properties were not individually identified in the correspondence with Mann, but the 16 other properties were listed.

Owners of those 16 properties were sent letters saying that they have been approved for the study list for the National Register and are eligible for nomination, but placement on the list does not guarantee eligibility. Property owners were given a list of steps to take if they wish to have their properties nominated.

The owners of the following 16 properties received such letters:

Richardson Millpond Historic District (Richardson Millpond, Vinson Fish Camp and Bowers House);

Beth Israel Center, 269 Frink St.;

Dr. Isaac and Margaret Baldwin Jackson House, 101 N. Madison St.;

Tina and Mary Fay McMillan Williamson House, 315 Washington St.;

John Albert and Martha Cameron Guiton House, 1219 Pinckney St.;

Nancy Mercer Smith House, 407 Edgewood Cir.;

Belton Spear and Christine Wilson Thompson House, 103 N. Madison St.;

Dr. Samuel Howard and Betty Thompson Whitehead House, 503 Edgewood Cir.;

Floyd Johnson Health Center, 50 Legion Dr.;

St. Mark AME Zion Church, 114 W. Virgil St.;

Richard Clay and Ella Burwell Carson House, 1101 Pickney St.;

Grace Episcopal Church, 105 S. Madison St.;

St. James AME Zion Church, 225 W. Walter St.;

McKenzie Mortuary, 112 Jefferson St.;

Peacock Funeral Home, 1227 S. Madison St.;

Waccamaw Bank and Trust Headquarters, 306 S. Madison St.

In addition, the Columbus County government and Mann received a letter informing them that the original Floyd Johnson Health Center at 50 Legion Dr., was also eligible for nomination. Most recently the building had housed offices of the county board of elections and public housing agency, but it had to be vacated late last summer because of unacceptable levels of mold. It has yet to be reoccupied.

Stuart Rogers