Tri-County garners 2 Preservation N.C. awards

HENDERSON — Warrenton’s and Oxford’s Orpheum Theater were among 12 recipients of Gertrude S. Carraway Awards of Merit that were announced on Oct. 22 at Preservation North Carolina’s virtual Annual Conference.

The group recognized Warrenton for the renovation of the Warrenton Town Hall.

And Stuart Paynter, an attorney from Hillsborough, won the award for his leadership in turning the former Orpheum Theater into an event destination in downtown Oxford.

Commissioned in 1907, the Warrenton Town Hall originally housed offices and the Plummer Hook and Ladder Company, an African American run fire company organized in 1868. The building’s second floor was designed as an event space and used as a theater and opera house.

Over the years, as the town government and the fire company grew, the space the building provides did not meet the town’s needs. Plummer Hook and Ladder moved out and merged with the Warrenton Rural Fire Department. The building fell into a state of disrepair and languished for a period of years.

In 2015, the town secured a U.S. Department of Agriculture public facilities grant, and selected Joe Fitzsimons of Belk Architecture in Durham to design a renovation that would meet current needs and retain elements that reflect Warren County’s rich history.

The first floor in the renovated building has offices for water-bill collection and spaces that highlight and display fire-fighting equipment and memorabilia once utilized by the Plummer Hook and Ladder Company.

The second floor houses a meeting chamber for the town board, as well as office space for the town administration, finance and support staff. The Police Department occupies a newly created third floor.

In a news release announcing the award, Preservation N.C. said it “proudly recognizes the town of Warrenton’s commitment to renovating and preserving this historic municipal building for continued public use.”

Oxford’s Orpheum Theater survived a near-death experience once before. Originally built in 1912, it was the victim of a devastating fire in 1941. But within two years, it had been rebuilt in Art Deco style.

Over the years, generations of Oxford residents enjoyed movies, stage shows and concerts in the Orpheum until it closed in the 1980s. It was sold to a local law firm, but was eventually vacated.

Paynter, recognizing the potential of the building, bought it in 2017. He joined forces with Britnye and Cody Shore, who had a burgeoning wedding planning business and saw the former theater as a perfect venue for the kinds of events they hosted.

Working with Reid Highley of CH Architects in Hillsborough, Paynter and the Shores developed a plan to return the Orpheum to its roots as a community gathering space.

Partitions and ceilings were peeled away to reveal the theater’s soaring volume and beautifully sculpted plaster surfaces. Designers and contractors took care that the new plumbing, mechanical, electrical and sprinkler systems did not disrupt the original structure and finishes. A bar, bridal suite, groom’s suite, public restrooms and catering kitchen were integrated into the building.

On the outside, the stucco was repaired and the roof was replaced. Most significantly, the marquee’s neon lights were restored.

Today, the Orpheum plays host to weddings, community events, yoga classes, happy hours and more.

Preservation N.C. press release said “Paynter’s commitment to the theater’s revitalization demonstrates his support for historic preservation as a vital tool for investment in the main streets and downtowns of North Carolina’s smaller communities.”

The Carraway Awards of Merit are named in honor of the late Dr. Gertrude S. Carraway, a New Bern historian and preservationist. Presented since 1974, a maximum of 12 awards are given each year, to recognize people or organizations that have demonstrated a genuine commitment to historic preservation through extraordinary leadership, research, philanthropy, promotion or significant participation in preservation.

Founded in 1939, Preservation N.C. is a private nonprofit historic preservation organization devoted to protecting and promoting buildings, landscapes and sites important to the people of North Carolina.

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By: David Irvine; 252-425-6472