September 1, 1998
To All Woodville/St. Frances Methodist Church Friends and Family:
A year and a half after our beginning efforts, Woodville is finally an official
"Rural Historic District" on the National Register of Historic Places!
The historians we hired completed the study in February of this year, a very impressive document with maps, photos, and an exhaustive study of Woodville and its architectural, cultural, and historical significance in 19th century North Carolina. As expected, it passed with flying colors in the Eastern Division of Archives and History, and again on the State level in July. The presentation to the N.C. State Historic Preservation Office was impressive. I wish all of you could have been there when they dimmed the lights and presented the narrative slide show on "the big screen", showing all the houses, church, and landscapes and describing Woodville's unique importance and its need for preservation. After unanimous approval, the proposal was sent to the National Office for review - they have just notified us of the prestigious honor of the national listing. Because of legislation passed last September and effective January 1, 1998, state tax credits are now available for approved renovations on any contributing structure within the district! This project has kept us quite busy, many times frustrated, but in the end, our cultural and architectural history is on record, an important first step in preserving our history. In addition to the houses and church, St. Frances Cemetery is also within the district.
St. Frances Methodist Church is in excellent shape, only because of your donations. Bruce Lassiter has performed all the structural repairs to prepare its move to its original home - St. Frances Cemetery. The North Carolina Legislature awarded Historic Woodville $15,000 in March (thank you, Senator Basnight and Cultural Resources Secretary Betty McCain!) to help move the church. We have invested that money and hope to add to it with 1) another grant we'll write in December and 2) private donations. There is still quite a bit of work to be done on the church, but Bruce has advised us to repair the steeple and louvers after the move. For now, the church is secure and is no longer in danger of further deterioration.
In our last letter, we told you about the genealogy software program that documents all 'Historic Woodville' families and their ancestors. At the time, we had input 1200 names. It has now grown to 4000, and we're still entering data. The genealogies of the following families are now posted online (Internet): Clark, Williams, Alston,Pugh, Hill, Norfleet, Urquhart, Thompson, Griffin,Fenner, Whitmell, and Smallwood. It can be accessed through the Historic Woodville Web Site:
or I can print a copy to mail to you. The Web site has some other new additions: Charles Smallwood's 'Recollections of Woodville', with a map depicting the structures he references; excerpts from Moore Rawls' diary; pictures of all of the houses (plus Grace Episcopal Church and St. Frances Methodist Church) recently listed on the National Register, with a brief description of each. The area's church and family cemeteries, with the names of all buried there, are also listed on the Bertie County USGenWeb County page - a link (click) from the Woodville page. The Bertie County page also has the Gilmer Confederate maps of Bertie County, very clearly showing Woodville and Indian Woods, listing the names of many of the farms and property owners in 1860.
We have just completed the removal of the endangered Clark, Pugh, and Smallwood cemeteries in Indian Woods to Grace Episcopal Churchyard and to St. Frances Methodist Churchyard. These cemeteries were over grown, inaccessible, and the lovely monuments and ledgers cracked and broken - some fallen. After a lumber company came within 15 feet of bulldozing the Clark cemetery in May, we hired a licensed cemetery mover in Rocky Mount to move all the graves so they could be repaired, protected, and preserved. We are extremely grateful to the families' descendants who graciously funded this project.
In July, we submitted a grant to the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation to review and categorize the "Lewis Thompson" papers in order to 1) create an index of names and places and to 2) insert genealogy information. All of this is designed to make the papers more accessible and "user friendly" for descendants and researchers. If we are awarded funds for this, we will then pursue a similar grant, accessing the Pugh and Smallwood papers housed at UNC and the State Archives and History Library in Raleigh.
Though this is a general update letter to let you know Historic Woodville's progress, we cannot sign off without the proverbial "Please Help" plea. There are no elves on our staff. This is a full time job for both of us - in addition to our other full time jobs - with no monetary compensation. So whatever gratitude you may have for our work, please demonstrate it with a contribution to Historic Woodville (before December 31 for the 1998 tax deduction!). We still have much work to do - moving the church, creating a history center (we are rethinking our original idea of adapting the Methodist Church and are looking at other options that will be much less costly), and collecting archival materials for that center. These projects require funding, and while we will continue to write grants, the applications most always require us to state the amount the private sector (YOU) has contributed. This is an indication of the local interest and often dictates their awards. Quite rightly, they will not donate to a cause, no matter how worthy, if there is little local support. We cannot rely on public money to preserve OUR heritage. Please give what you can, knowing you are creating a legacy for your descendants and history lovers everywhere. They will appreciate it even more than we do. Keep in mind photographer Thomas Davies' words :
"In this age of disposable everything, we must be careful not to dispose of our past."
We send an enormous THANK YOU to all who have been so kind with praise and gifts. Your cheers keep us motivated.
With Sincere Appreciation,