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    Fayetteville Market House

     

    Charles Chesnutt piller at Market House in Fayetteville Fayetteville has a rich African American history. Fayetteville had documented the drama of post Civil War race relations well. Much revolves around the many churches; the first African American school plays a big part. However, every drama needs a hero and Charles Waddell Chesnutt fills the bill as one of the heroes of this one.

    He was born to Fayetteville natives who had migrated to Ohio before the Civil War but returned to Fayetteville when Charles was nine. He attended Howard School and began writing his first short stories very young then novels. Charles Chesnutt's first novel, The House Behind the Cedars, was published in 1900 making him the first Black American novelist to be widely acclaimed. The book tells the story of two-mixed race siblings who pass for white in the postwar South. It is partially set in a fictionalized version of Fayetteville named Patesville. When the sister, Rena, is engaged to a wealthy white friend of her brother's the future looks bright but fate reveals Rena and John's secret to the white suitor and he turns away from what to him is an "impossible" marriage. Tragedy overtakes Rena.

     
    The story is obviously drawn from Chesnutt's own experiences as a mixed-race light-complexioned African American who could easily have “passed” but chose not to and sealed that decision when he married his darker wife, a teacher at Howard School.

    To get an overview of Chesnutt's setting for the town, we met Heidi Bleazey at the Fayetteville Area Transportation and Local History Museum. Heidi started the story at the Transportation Museum. There are a several exhibits about the Howard School which was founded in 1857 in the basement of what is today Evans Metropolitan Church.  Some seven local African Americans purchased the land which the original school was built.

    Exhibit about Howard School at Transportation Museum in Fayetteville

    It grows into the second state supported school in North Carolina when it becomes the State Colored Normal School in 1877 and today is the Fayetteville State University. Robert Harris was the first principal who brought the graded school system to Howard. When he leaves, Charles Chesnutt who had become a teacher at Howard at the age of 14, then became the school's second principal at the age of 22.

    Historic information pillars at Market House in Fayetteville

    We next took off to visit the sites behind this story. First stop, Fayetteville's iconic Market House. This is one of the places that make the fictional town of Patesville easily identifiable. The Market House is described in his book when his character, John Warwick, visits a lawyer there. So much of Fayetteville's history happened in the Market House. It was built in 1832, on the site former state legislature which had been destroyed by a devastating 1831 fire. The downstairs was a market predominantly for farmers to sell their produce. The closed upper portion of the building was where city business was conducted. There is some dark history about the place as well. The bell in the tower warned African Americans of the curfew back in Antebellum days and some slave sales took place there. The Market House is filled with pillars commemorating all of Fayetteville history.

    E E Smith House in Fayetteville

    Dr. E. E. Smith, was the principal who followed Chesnutt. In 1883 when he took office as principal of the Fayetteville State Normal School, which Howard School had become five years earlier, the facility was a small four-room building in serious financial difficulties. Smith managed to clear the debts and enlarge the school. Smith's home is in the process of renovation. At least a portion of the home will be opened as a museum soon. Look for it when you visit Fayetteville.

    Orange street School in Fayetteville

    The Orange Street School was built in 1915 and built by Charles Waddell, an African American builder, using local Poe Bricks. It's the oldest educational building in Fayetteville still in existence. The school served as a elementary downstairs and high school upstairs until 1953. Edward Evans a graduate of Howard School, was first principal. The upstairs is now a museum. Artifacts such as top hat and Bible belonging to Bishop James Walker Hood from PA, founder and pastor of Evans Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion Church. Hood came to Fayetteville in 1867. He brought the AME Zion religion to Fayetteville. He also founded the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge in Fayetteville in 1867. He became the assistant state Superintendent of Education.

    Evans Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fayetteville

    The history of Evans Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church is interesting. It was the fourth church on the properly; built in 1893. However there has been a church there since 1801. It began in 1798 when a cobbler from Virginia traveling south to Charleston, Henry Evans, (no relation to Edward Evans) stopped in Fayetteville along the way and stayed to minister. At first whites were leery of Evans; so much so that they ran him across the Cape Fear River multiple times. However a few of the white women began coming to hear him preach and eventually he drew a white following also.  He was a Methodist Brush Arbor style minister.

    This was the hub of all the African American education, social and spiritual life of the 19th century in Fayetteville and the start of all the activity leading into Civil Rights. It all begins with Henry Evans. Evans started the African American Mother Church of the Methodist in Fayetteville. The first church on this site was a crude wood building circa 1801.  Henry Evans is the only person buried inside the present day church.  Just below the altar in the kitchen area there is a tablet on his grave. Howard school was originally operated in the basement of the second building here, a small brick church constructed in 1855 called Howard Chapel.

    Fayetteville Independent light Infantry Parade Field with Isaac Hammons's grave.

    Just down the street is Fayetteville Independent light Infantry Parade Field. It is the muster ground for a militia unit going back to George Washington's 1792 Militia Act, the oldest in the South. Free Black revolutionary soldier, Isaac Hammond became a fifer in 1797 for the infantry unit. There are six Revolutionary Black soldiers but Hammond is unusual. He is buried on field as he requested, "with his fief in hand so he could play for his unit for all eternity." He died in the 1820s. Every Aug 23 they reenact here.

    After the Civil War, African Americans began breaking away from white churches where they were forced to sit in the balcony. In these new churches they could worship in their way.

    St Joseph Episcopal Church in Fayettevill

    Mission, gothic and Queen Anne styles combine to make St Joseph Episcopal Church an unusual looking building. Ava Cochran, a wealthy Fayetteville socialite, donated the money to build it in 1896 It was modeled after her church in England. It has several Tiffany windows, one of last set of Resurrection windows Tiffany did. It has the oldest working pump organ in the state, an 1852 Urban Pump organ originally purchased from St John's Church.

    St. Joseph's parsonage served as NACPP headquarters at one time. W. E. B. Dubois visited it when he spoke at the college in the 1920s.

    St Ann Catholic Church began in 1940. When the earlier Catholic Church was built it had no balcony so they hung a sigh on the back pews saying "Colored Catholics sit here."

    The insult spurred Black Catholics to wish for their own church. They began to meet in private homes then in a barber shop. They petitioned the bishop for a church of their own. An Irish Oblate Priest, Father Ryan came from New England as their first pastor. There is a story about the building of the church. The masons building Saint Ann did some sloppy stonework. Father Ryan saw this and told the masons the stone work was not good enough. The masons knowing it was a Black church said "It's good enough."

    Father Ryan disagreed. He came back with a sledge hammer and knocked down the wall so the masons would have to redo it the right way.

    Visiting Fayetteville shows a lot of people over the years knocking down walls, literally and figuratively, to improve race relations.

     

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    Public Disclosure-- Please Read
    I recently learned of a FTC law requiring web sites to let their readers know if any of the stories are "sponsored" or compensated.  American Roads and Global Highways' feature writers are professional travel writers. As such we are frequently invited on press trips, also called fam trips. Most of the articles here are results of these trips. On these trips most of our lodging, dining, admissions fees and often plane fare are covered by the city or firm hosting the trip. It is an opportunity to visit places we might not otherwise be able to visit and bring you a great story. However, no one tells us what to write about those places. All opinions are 100% those of the author of that feature column.  

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