As always, click the pic for full size…

Last Wednesday, I did a blog post about the Lemly/Jacobs business block at the corner of Main and Third Street, one of the most impressive buildings ever erected in downtown Winston-Salem. For reasons that I cannot explain, I included a bogus photo that had nothing to do with that location, even though I knew better. Fortunately, one reader caught the mistake and made several comments. Since the photo was irrelevant to the post I deleted it.


But at the same time, I began thinking about that photo, which no one has ever made much of an effort to investigate, so decided to dig into it a bit more. And as almost always happens, a pretty extraordinary story emerged. Here, from the 1885 Sanborn Insurance map, is the area in question:


When Forsyth County was created in 1849, it’s new seat, which would soon become known as Winston, had an instant population of four…Thomas, Julia, and Matilda Wilson and Andrew Lindsay…lawyer Thomas Johnston Wilson had moved his family from Waughtown to a spot that wound up being the northwest corner of Main and Second Streets in Winston two years before, in 1847. The north end of that block was the first sold at the commissioners auction and the purchaser, Robert Gray, wasted no time in developing the block of Third Street across from the new courthouse. It would take quite a while for the remainder of the block between Second and Third to fill in.

James A. Gray House


Robert Gray’s son James Alexander Gray was born in January, 1846. In 1870, he married Aurelia Bowman…he was 24, she was 22. He had mentioned building a house in the far suburbs on Cherry Street, but Aurelia was not thrilled with the idea, citing the danger of wolves in her garden. So they built their house on Main Street, right behind Robert Gray’s Third Street block. In May, 1874, they had their first son and named him Bowman after her family. In 1876, James, who had trained with the brilliant Israel Lash of the Salem National Bank, joined with his father-in-law Wyatt Bowman and others to found Wachovia National Bank. Their son James A. Gray, Jr. was born in 1889. By then, James and Aurelia had moved to the wilds of Cherry Street, the wolves having apparently departed to the future West End. A widow, Mrs. F.J. Hardy, had sold her Norwood House business on Fourth Street and acquired the Gray’s Main Street house, where she would operate, along with her successor Ida Riddle, a boarding establishment into the early 20th century.


The James A. Gray House...left to right, Wyatt Bowman, James A. Gray, Bess Gray, Mamie Gray, Aurelia Bowman Gray

The James A. Gray House…left to right, Wyatt Bowman, James A. Gray, Bess Gray, Mamie Gray, Aurelia Bowman Gray – Forsyth County Public Library Picture Collection


James A. Gray


In 1888, Robert Gray's 1854 store on the corner of Main and Third Streets was extensively renovated to become the second home of Wachovia National Bank...left to right, teller George Brooks, James A, Gray, R.J. Reynolds...

In 1888, Robert Gray’s 1854 store on the corner of Main and Third Streets was extensively renovated to become the second home of Wachovia National Bank…left to right, teller George Brooks, James A, Gray, R.J. Reynolds…

The early history of that corner and banking in Winston and Salem can be found here:

The Central / Fountain Hotel


The arrival of the Twin City’s first railroad line in the spring of 1873 was the most important event in the city’s history. It attracted such entrepreneurs as Thomas Jethro Brown, Pleasant Henderson Hanes and Richard Joshua Reynolds and transformed the local economy from fruits, berries and wheat to king tobacco. As the tobacco business mushroomed and money flowed into the city, many citizens looked for ways to cash in on the boom. Dr. R. D. Hay responded by purchasing a goodly chunk of land in the middle of the block on Main Street between Second and Third Streets and in the latter part of 1877, began construction of the Central Hotel. It was an instant success. Even before the building was finished, Dr. Hay hosted the most successful New Year’s Day party in Twin City history on January 1, 1878.


But barely a year later, Dr. Hay decided to move his medical practice and his family to Arkansas, so put the hotel up for auction. It was bought by the firm of Pfohl & Stockton for $8,300, a huge sum at the time. Pfohl & Stockton already operated their own store at the corner of Main and Third and the Merchant’s Hotel next door. They did a bit of sprucing up, introduced a very popular service in the basement and had considerable success for a number of years. In fact, the Central was so successful that they eventually shut down food service at the Merchant’s…if you were staying there you had to go across the street to Central for meals.

The famous De Justo operated in the basement of the Central Hotel

The famous De Justo operated in the basement of the Central Hotel…he offered the latest hair styles from France and Italy…and he made house calls…


Pfohl & Stockton flyer, 1880s

Pfohl & Stockton flyer, 1880s…Forsyth County Public Library Picture Collection…

But in 1886, having seen their prime income from dried fruits and berries decline due to the invention of the Ball jar and the more succulent canned fruits, they shut down all of their businesses. The Merchant’s Hotel would later be operated as the Hotel Quincy and the Hotel Jones. Meanwhile, Edward Belo, who had created the Belo house in Salem, had died. His son Robert bought the building from his siblings and opened it as the Belo Hotel. But the real action was in Winston, so he bought the Central Hotel, closed it, and did an extensive reworking and fancification before reopening as the Fountain Hotel in 1887. Soon it was the only truly “nice” hotel in town. Then, on Monday, August 11, 1890 the fire bells began ringing. The Winston and Salem fire departments raced to the scene, but too late. Within minutes, the Fountain was a smoldering ruin. It was never rebuilt. Later, the upper part of the lot would become the site of the offices of the Wachovia Loan & Trust Company, which in 1911 would merge with the Wachovia National Bank to become the Wachovia Bank & Trust Company.

Robert Belo's upgraded Fountain Hotel...Forsyth County Public Library Picture Collection...

Robert Belo’s upgraded Fountain Hotel…Forsyth County Public Library Picture Collection…


Robert Belo

Robert Belo


November 7, 1889...Lily Lantry's bangs were widely copied in the period...another popular look was called the "pompadour roach"...

November 7, 1889…sashes worn diagonally across the chest by men had become a fad in the late 1880s, thus the Mayor’s “decolette”…and Lily Langtry’s bangs were widely copied in the period by both men and women…another popular look was called the “pompadour roach”…

Thomas J. Wilson house and office


As mentioned above, Thomas J. Wilson’s home was on Main Street at the corner of Second Street. He was one of Winston’s early leaders, serving as an attorney, judge, state senator, town commissioner and mayor, and playing a major role in bringing the railroad to town. At some point early on he built a separate law office at the northeast corner of his lot, which was in use for a couple of decades. But in 1877, a local newspaper reported that a shipment of dressed lumber had been received in the railroad yard consigned to “Judge Wilson”, as he was always known. Next came the announcement that his old law office had been “torn away”. Soon, a new two story brick building began rising in its place. And in 1878, the building gained an occupant: Mrs N.S. Davis, a widow. Predictably, she opened a hat shop. In the late 19th century, widows had few choices. If their husbands or fathers had had a bit of success, they could live upon the proceeds. Or they could move into the households of their children. Or, if they were members of the Salem Moravian congregation, they could move into the slightly infamous “widow’s house”, where the US census would refer to them as “inmates”. Or they could start a hat shop, which Mrs. N.S. Davis did. The 1885 Sanborn insurance map identified her business as “millenery and notions”. But there was a bit more going on there than whatever that might mean. We know nothing about Mrs. N.S. Davis, or her late husband. We cannot even find out what her given name was. But we can find that she won cash awards at the North Carolina State Fair for several years running in the 1870s in the category “hair notions”, which means that she was designing and making fancy hair clips. In her business, she made partnerships with younger single women. And in 1879, in that same building, she opened a school, which ran for several years. In the late 19th century, women were generally not allowed to be so active in business, so she must have been something special. By 1890, she is merely listed as “saleslady”, living on Liberty Street, near Fifth, probably in the boarding house that preceded the Charles Store at Liberty and Fifth. In 1891 she is listed only under her name, living at 228 Main, roughly her old store location . In 1895, she is a teacher, living on Brookstown Avenue. She was a long-time member and officer of the Methodist Women’s Missionary Conference. She is mentioned in a 1929 Journal article as having been a highly respected member of the community. Judge Wilson’s house was demolished around 1910, Mrs. Davis’s store about 50 years later.




Thomas J. Wilson

Thomas J. Wilson