Historic houses on the move in Raleigh’s Oberlin Village
The little house at 814 Oberlin Road is just that, a little house. It is not unlike many more in the area, with wood siding, narrow windows, a steep, pitched roof and a perfect little porch on the front. But Myrick Howard believes the house is more than the sum of its parts. “It’s the tangible remains of something that happened here a century and a half ago,” he says.
Howard is the president of Preservation North Carolina, the organization saving this old home. The group has been planning and working on permits for more than two years. He’s watching as crews move the Reverend Plummer T. Hall House, built in 1877.
“When you have places like this, it continues to tell a story, and makes the story tangible,” he says.
Preservation North Carolina believes this house and others like it tell the story Oberlin Village, a “freedman’s community,” a place where former slaves lived and worked. In the late 1800s, the community thrived well outside the center of Raleigh.
“Most people don’t know that there was this African-American community here with 1,400 people,” Howard said.
He has spent quite a bit of time studying the community. “It was African-Americans building their homes, their businesses, their schools, all of that, taking place here,” he says.
Clarissa Goodlett also works for Preservation North Carolina. Along with a handful of others she watches as the Hall house is moved slowly to its new location.
“I grew up in Raleigh, and I didn’t know about Oberlin village,” Goodlett confesses. She went to school just a few blocks away at Broughton High School and is relatively new to the preservation group.
“It’s super-exciting,” she said of the Hall House move. “We’ve been talking about this forever.”
The Hall House is not moving far, just about 30 feet to a new foundation. It currently sits in the Oberlin Road right-of-way. In a few more weeks, the Graves House will be moved and join the Hall House. The pair of historic homes will share a new basement and form the office of Preservation North Carolina.
“So much of preservation is about the structures,” Goodlett says looking over the lot where the historic homes will stand. “But a lot of it is about the stories. When you lose houses and lose landmarks, you tend to lose the stories with them.”
Howard agrees with her, saying the stories should never be lost. “The stories are astonishing,” he adds.
Howard is passionate when he tells the story of the Graves family, who once owned the next house his organization will move.
“Willis and Eleanor Graves are born into slavery,” he begins, before telling of how the pair worked to make a better life.
He caps it with a happy ending. “They sent all six of their children college,” he says.
It’s stories like that which make Goodlett believe saving part of the past is the right thing to do.
“If we’re able to tell and share the story right, I’m hoping people will get it, get what these houses represent. It just makes a difference,” she says.