All posts by ChrisHerndon

Jim and Sonnya Quinn

Jim and Sonnya Quinn’s cozy gray and white home on Gardner Street is perfectly in tune with its leafy setting—but is unlike any other on the street. Jim and Sonnya intended it that way; they cherish the diversity of a neighborhood in which, they say every house is unique.

The Quinns built their present home in 1987, but their history in the University Park area goes much farther back. Jim Quinn, a retired architect, first lived in a series of student digs when he was an NCSU student in the early 50.’s Sonnya, a Meredith College student in the same era, remembers horseback riding on a dirt trail that is now busy Dixie Trail.

After renting in the area, Jim and Sonnya bought a house in 1969. They sold it and built a larger home on the lot next door to accommodate their family of three children.

Jim, a former city councilor, and Sonnya, a retired realtor, are keenly interested in the area and its history.

Jim remembers when the UPHA area was part of the outer suburbs of Raleigh, almost at the limits of the city. Of the gracious mansions that spread out from downtown toward the west, most are gone now. One has become a fraternity house.

“In the early 1900s this area was still mostly farmland. The State Fairground used to be located around here, but they moved it and started building houses for the university staff in the 20’s. Many of the houses date from that era. People called it the Faculty Ghetto,” Sonnya recalls. “There was a racetrack where the Rose Garden is now. The Works Progress Administration, a Roosevelt era project which provided employment, built the Little Theatre during the Depression, did you know?”

“Hillsborough Street was the center of campus life then,” Jim adds. “For years there was a veteran’s village set up along the area between where the library is now, and the textile school; two or three acres of white wooden one-story buildings for the veterans and their families.”

Sonnya recounts past battles fought by the community against encroachment by NSCU. Former mayor Isabella Cannon, who lived in the area, was a leader in the fight, and a park named for her stands near the Quinn home.

“Everybody wants to live here now,” Sonnya says. “It’s become a hot neighborhood. There is a sense of community here that you don’t get out in the suburbs, where people work for companies that transfer them every few years. There is a lot of cohesiveness.”

December 2013 Home of the Month

The UPHA December Home of the Month is Edmonson House at 2508 Stafford Avenue

Sue and Root Edmondson’s home on Stafford Avenue is decorated for Christmas 2013. Because they have lived there for thirty-eight years, their holiday decorations have gradually evolved, so that this year the décor has reached perfection.  In the late 1970s, recalls Sue, the other residents of Stafford Avenue put up modest traditional decorations, usually just a wreath on the front door, sometimes enhanced with white electric candles in the windows. Sue laughs when she recalls her own revolutionary décor. She was the first homeowner on the block to drape lights on her shrubbery—colored lights at that! Not until she switched to white shrubbery lights did she receive any compliments from her neighbors.  Colored lights were simply not “traditional.” About ten years ago, when they added a big front porch, their decorations became more elaborate. Now white lights outline the porch railings and the central porch entrance, accented by a red bow. The porch, furnished like an outdoor living room, has many chairs decorated with “Holiday” pillows and textiles. Crystal angels sit on the living room window sills. Because Sue’s birthday is December 26, Christmas is an even bigger holiday for her than for most of us. As a child, her grandmother and mother made a Christmas tree cake for her birthday by baking four or five layers tapering from large to small, decorated with white icing and red hots.

The Edmondsons have been involved in University Park for many years. Root, an attorney, wrote the first set of bylaws for the University Park Homeowners Association. Sue tended the rose garden for six years in the 1980s. Their children Ashley and Justin, now grown, often played in the Rose Garden as children. As the children grew, so did the house, a small one built in the late 1940s. The Edmonsons added a large rear addition, and placed the kitchen in the center of the house, illuminated by skylights, because it was the space where everyone always gathered. Since 2011 Sue has been one of the artists in the Roundabout Art Collective at 305 Oberlin Road. Her painting of an old garden trowel won first prize in a show at the Visual Art Exchange in downtown Raleigh this year.  We salute the Edmonson family and their beautiful Christmas décor for their longtime contribution to the character and vitality of University Park.

Edmonson House Christmas Decorations

Memory Keepers: The Fields Sisters

Voices from the Neighborhood…
By Ann Sides

When Letitia and Jeannette Fields were little girls, they skipped through meadows of trees and wildflowers where the Cameron Village shopping center now stands. Letitia remembers Bedford Avenue surfaced with hard clay and stones. Jeannette recalls a sawmill east of Oberlin road, and a stand of Christmas trees where apartments and shops exist now. Most of all, however, the octogenarian sisters remember the vibrant community spirit of Oberlin Village, a historic African-American settlement where children were brought up to value hard work, education, and family relationships.

The home in which Letitia Fields Nedab and Jeannette Fields Harris grew up still stands, at 802 Oberlin Road. From the wide, shady veranda of this attractive, 19th Century house, Letitia and Jeannette went on to careers as teachers and administrators in the Washington D.C., public schools, but never forgot their roots in Raleigh.

“Oberlin Village was founded by freed slaves just after the Civil War,” Jeannette explains. “Our forefathers had a great concern for education, and we had a school here in Oberlin Village in 1869, seven years before the first public school opened in Raleigh.”

The residents, Letitia adds, opted to name their community and its main street “Oberlin,” because the Ohio college welcomed former slaves, and one of the village founders, James E. Harris, was a graduate. On a large tract of land on Parker Street, Rev. M.L. Latta established an orphanage and vocational school called “Latta University” in 1892. Dr. James E. Shepard, an Oberlin Village native and relative of the Fields sisters’ mother, founded North Carolina Central University in 1909.

In the 30’s and 40’s when the Fields sisters were growing up, Oberlin Village was a thickly-settled, self-contained, African-American community. The 12 block area comprised approximately 1,000 people in 175 homes, plus stores, workshops, churches, and a cemetery. However, westward growth of Raleigh and its commerce, particularly the Cameron Village shopping center, began to eat into the boundaries of the Oberlin community in the 1950’s. Desegregation brought more housing choices for blacks. Young people went off to college, and didn’t return to Oberlin Village, Letitia says, “not realizing its value.”

Oberlin Village is now a subdivision at the northeast corner of the
University Park Homeowner’s Association boundaries, and has a diverse population of students, renters, and homeowners. Descendants of the freedmen who settled the area still remain in the neighborhood, but their numbers are dwindling.

The Fields sisters, after successful careers as educators, returned
to Raleigh and joined community efforts to preserve Oberlin Village’s history and character. The neighborhood’s fight against a megadevelopment derisively called “Coker Towers” at Oberlin and Wade succeeded, but Letitia frets that the current building, Oberlin Court, encroaches the cemetery where her ancestors are buried. The sisters also point to efforts to preserve the cemetery and the Latta school property as examples of community activism; an alliance between the original families and newer arrivals.

“The newcomers, fortunately, have gotten into the nostalgia
mode,” Jeannette says, “and want to keep it as a walking neighborhood. I’d like them to experience the same warm feeling we experienced, growing up here.”

Pictured above: Sisters Letitia Nedab, Jeannette Harris, and Mary Haywood