Myrick Howard has helped save hundreds of buildings. These are 5 of his favorites
BY RICHARD STRADLING
In 45 years as president of Preservation North Carolina, Myrick Howard can point to thousands of buildings and places across the state that he and his organization had a hand in revitalizing and protecting.
From modest farm houses to massive mills, Howard has helped find new purpose and vitality for the state’s historic structures.
He’s The News & Observer’s Tar Heel of the Year.
As he stepped down to make way for a new leader, The N&O asked Howard to identify some of the organization’s accomplishments that make him happiest and most proud.
Here’s a short list:
AN ANTEBELLUM MANSION AND ITS SLAVE QUARTERS
The 10,000-square-foot, 22-room Bellamy Mansion was built just before the start of the Civil War on Wilmington’s Market Street, a few blocks from the riverfront. The home was built for physician and merchant John D. Bellamy primarily by skilled enslaved workers and free Black artisans. Behind the mansion was a two-story brick building that served as a privy and the quarters for slaves who worked in the house.
Following an arson fire in 1972, family members and community volunteers worked to restore the house in hopes of opening it as a museum. Still struggling with that effort, the family donated the property to Preservation NC, which finished restoring the home, slave quarters and gardens and opened the site as a museum in 1994.
“That’s a house that deserves to be a museum,” Howard said. “That’s a house where you’re in Wilmington, it screams at you as you’re going down the street. But from the get-go we pushed on telling the stories of the connections to slavery and the enslaved folks who lived there.”
PRESERVING RALEIGH’S ‘FIRST SKYSCRAPER’
The four-story brick Briggs Building was heralded as “Raleigh’s first skyscraper” when it was completed on Fayetteville Street in 1874. While it housed numerous tenants in its upper floors, it was primarily home to Briggs Hardware for 120 years before the family decided to leave downtown.
Preservation NC teamed up with the A.J. Fletcher Foundation to acquire and restore the building starting in 1997, and both organizations moved their offices there. It’s one of several buildings Preservation NC restored and then occupied for a time, before moving on to the next building in need of saving. The organization left the Briggs Building in 2019 to move into the restored Graves-Fields and Hall houses in Raleigh’s Oberlin Village neighborhood (see below).
“If you compared where the Briggs Building was in terms of what was going on around it in downtown Raleigh in 1997 and 2017, we had done all we needed to do,” Howard said. “It was going to be just fine without us.”
MILL BUILDINGS ACROSS THE STATE
Preservation NC has acquired historic mill buildings and worker housing in places such as Gastonia, Edenton and Glencoe, playing a direct role in preventing them from being torn down.
But Howard says he had a larger impact by helping lead an effort to persuade the General Assembly to create tax credits for rehabbing and revitalizing old mills. He says the so-called Mills Bill, passed in 2005, has helped bring about $2.5 billion in private renovation projects across the state, turning old brick factories and warehouses into new work places, homes and restaurants.
“We’re to the point where our developer friends are saying, ‘There aren’t any mills left in Greensboro. There aren’t any mills left in Durham,’” he said. “So they’re looking at places like Rocky Mount and Kinston.”
SAVING A RALEIGH NEIGHBORHOOD FROM STATE NEGLECT
At the end of the 19th century, North Blount Street was one of Raleigh’s most fashionable neighborhoods, anchored by the Executive Mansion and lined with grand houses.
By the 1960s, many of those homes had fallen into disrepair or been divided into apartments and rooming houses. In 1965, the State Capital Planning Commission adopted a plan for a sprawling campus of state office buildings that called for demolishing many of the homes along Blount.
The plan was only partially carried out, but many of the grand old houses became state office buildings, and their decline continued. Howard and other Preservation NC allies persuaded lawmakers to order the state to sell the homes to private owners who would fix them up and care for them.
The state moved some houses, making vacant lots available for new apartments and townhouses and a new church. Eventually the state sold most of the big old houses, with the last, the Andrews-Duncan House, being fully restored earlier this year.
‘HITTING THE HISTORY JACKPOT’ IN OBERLIN VILLAGE
Preservation NC is now headquartered in two 19th century homes built by prominent families in Oberlin Village, the community established by former slaves after the Civil War on what was then the outskirts of Raleigh. Restoring and occupying the Hall and Graves-Fields houses was a way of preserving pieces of a historic African American community that is disappearing under new houses, condos and businesses.
But as important to Howard were the stories of the Hall, Graves and Fields families that the organization was able to uncover as it researched the homes. The families not only helped build a thriving community in the face of discrimination and segregation, they provided foundations, through education, for future generations who made their mark beyond the community and the state.
Howard refers to the project as “hitting the history jackpot” in Oberlin Village.
“There was just so much more history there than met the eye,” he said.