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Historical Plaque Program Growing; Two More Unveiled
By Clara Cartrette
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Plaque2 burns image Plaque2 bank image
The Reuben Brown House Preservation Society’s plaque program seems to be taking root, with two historical buildings receiving plaques a few days ago.

Plaques were unveiled July 2 by Mayor Terry Mann at The R.H. Burns Law Office on Pinckney Street and The Bank of Whiteville Building on the southeast corner of Courthouse Square. A group of Reuben Brown House Preservation Society (RBHPS) members and guests were in attendance. Both properties are now owned by Bill and Susan Wood who hosted a social in the Bank of Whiteville Building after the unveilings.

Two other plaques applications have been approved and an unveiling will take place soon at the John E. Thompson House for plaque five.

The first plaque appropriately went to the Reuben Brown House at the corner of Franklin and Columbus streets. It was unveiled by County Commission Chairman Trent Burroughs last winter. The old courthouse plaque application has been approved as the second plaque but it will not be installed and unveiled until renovation of the historical building is complete.

"We’re excited to see people responding to the plaque program and look forward to seeing plaques all over the county,” said Janice Young, RBHPS president. "After all, our history and our buildings are unique to us. People talk about the economic value of saving or repurposing old buildings, but I believe it goes further than that. Maintaining our older homes, buildings and other sites shows our children and tourists that citizens of Columbus County have pride in our history. Our organization is proud to have a small part in that.”

Young noted that the recent unveilings kicked off the 4th of July celebration. These two plaques are number three for the Bank of Whiteville Building and number four for the Burns Law Office. "We’ll be announcing an unveiling soon for the John E. Thompson house and hope others will join us then,” Young said. "We’re also reviewing additional applications. We encourage Columbus County residents to submit their applications for their properties, too. We’re anxious to get plaques out all over the county.”

Bank of Whiteville Building History
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Plaque2 bank image2Land for the Bank of Whiteville was purchased for $500 June 22, 1903 and the bank began lending money that same year from a temporary location. This site was probably chosen for its prominence, across from the front door of the Columbus County Courthouse and at the crossroads of the Conway- Elizabethtown and Laurinburg- Wilmington roads, and for its address, 100 Courthouse Square. The primary bank owner, J.D. Maultsby and family must have felt that the 20th Century would be the beginning of prosperity for Columbus County. Reconstruction and its resultant poverty were over, several large sawmills were booming and a new tobacco warehouse in Whiteville spurred development of this new cash crop and the railroad was providing market access for farmers,

The building was completed in 1906, surely the finest, fanciest commercial building in Whiteville. The county soon decided to tear down its brick courthouse and used the proceeds of a 1911 bond issue to build a new, larger, more lavish courthouse that was completed in 1917. The two buildings shared new elegance — both had terrazzo floors, marble wainscoting, extremely high ceilings and ornate brass light fixtures. Prosperity had arrived!

Plaque2 bank image3Lawyers’ offices for Irvin B. Tucker and Edward Knox Proctor were on the second floor. The 1920s brought on a tightening of the economy and the Bank of Whiteville merged with the Bank of Columbus in the spring of 1929 and the building was sold to the second floor tenant lawyers.

The merged Bank of Columbus collapsed in late 1929, a real blow to investors, depositors and local economy. The lower floor of the bank building was used as Whiteville Post Office until 1932 and in 1933 the newly created Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation rented the space. The building changed hands several times. The upstairs continued to be law offices until the 1950s and the downstairs became an insurance office. In 1944 lawyer Walter B. Thompson bought half interest in the building and used the front downstairs as an office. The teller wall was removed and the large front room was divided into a lobby and three rooms.

The upstairs fell into disrepair and the downstairs was shared by a surveyor and framer’s shop. In 1984 current owners purchased the building, removed the partitions, added heat and air, upgraded plumbing and wiring and maintained the original appearance of all spaces.

Plaque2 bank image4The Bank of Whiteville Building is largely original and unchanged. The exterior is Italianate in style, stucco over brick and embellished with an original faux marble detail of plaster-like material. The stairway to the second floor is now through a door on the southwest corner but was originally an open doorless stairway to the upstairs offices, typical detail for lawyers’ offices in 1900.

The first floor was designed to be the main office and teller area for the Bank of Whiteville and is elaborate and spacious. The 14-foot ceiling of the main room is tin, with elaborate vaulting and a deep border. The floor was terrazzo, covered mostly now with carpet. The plaster walls have black marble baseboards and white marble up to a wooden chair rail. In the back corner of the main room is the original vault, containing the original safe and two cabinets used for storing ledger sheets.

The first floor currently houses the law office of William Wood and the second floor is the law office of Fred Meekins.

History of the Burns Law Office
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Plaque2 burns image2Dr. James Williamson owned 908 Pinckney Street (206 Pinckney back then) in the 1890s, selling it to his mother and father-in-law, Penelope and McQueen Coleman in January, 1897. Many years later, Dr. Williamson explained to R.H. Burns Jr. that the house was already in existence at the time of the transfer, hence the 1896 estimate for the date of construction.

Mr. and Mrs. Coleman sold the house to Lon Grady in 1914. Mr. Grady was a lawyer in the firm of Schulken, Toon and Grady. The Schulkens and Toons were already residents of Pinckney Street. The Grady family lived in the house until they sold it to R. H. Burns Sr. in 1926. Mr. Burns, also a lawyer, lived there with his family and used part of the first floor for his own law office.

Plaque2 burns image3Following R.H. Burns Sr.’s death in 1957, R.H. Burns Jr. (Bob to everyone) bought out the interest of his brother John in 1958 and moved his own law office to the first floor. Bob, Martha and their family lived in the house behind the law office on East Frink St. After the death of Bob and Martha, their children sold the house in 2014 to Susan and William Wood, who had lived across the street on the East Frink Street corner from 1975 to 1986. The Burns house has been rented as a succession of law, financial adviser and real estate offices and is still used as professional offices today.

The building itself has also seen a succession of additions. The original house was built in high Victorian or Queen Anne style, with a large front and smaller side porches, turned porch railing spindles, brackets under all the eaves, a turret, gables, decorated attic eave ends, second floor decorative- cut shingles, seven fireplaces, window shutters and two large bay windows. A large two-room, one-story addition was added to the back of the house not long after 1900 and was used as a dining room and kitchen. (The kitchen later became the law library for Bob Burns.)

Plaque2 burns image4An upstairs bathroom was built onto the stair landing, the north side porch was enclosed for another bathroom, and later another shed addition was added onto the north side for a small kitchen, making the house into a duplex for a time. The back addition was built with a large south-facing porch that was much later closed in for a storage room.

During Bob and Martha’s ownership, the large side yard became a clay tennis court, the site of many neighborhood gatherings. By 2014, when the Woods purchased the house, tree limbs had damaged the tennis court backstops and weeds were invading the clay surface. Even though the tennis court is gone now, most locals still refer to the corner as "Bob and Martha’s tennis court.” The office is often referred to as "the blue house,” but was in fact originally white, then pale green and a light greyish blue. It was in the early 1980s when it was painted two shades of blue and Martha lamented, "I didn’t think it would be so bright” to her then-neighbor, Susan Wood. The two-tone scheme remains intact today.

"We’ll certainly never change the color!” explained Susan Wood recently. "This house is a Whiteville landmark and we will never alter its appearance. We feel honored to be able to own it and preserve it just the way it is!”

By Clara Cartrette

Articles and Images Courtesy of and as Published July 13, 2015 in The News Reporter www.Whiteville.com

The Reuben Brown House Preservation Society is an IRS Code 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Contributions to the RBHPS are fully tax-deductible for federal income tax purposes.

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