Fountain History

National Register narrative

Section 8: Statement of Significance

Narrative Statement of Significance

The Fountain Historic District meets National Register Criterion A for transportation and commerce. Formed along the East Carolina Railroad within twenty miles from the larger towns of Greenville, Tarboro, and Wilson, North Carolina, Fountain served as a commercial hub for the tobacco farmers and loggers in the area. The railroad’s arrival around 1900 would fuel the growth of the logging and agricultural industries in and around Fountain and offer a variety of services to the local residents, including a post office, stores, banks, schools, and churches.

The Fountain Historic District also meets National Register Criterion C for architecture. The small houses, warehouses, and commercial buildings in Fountain reflect its status as a working-class and farming town, and even the larger homes of the wealthiest residents were modest in style. The district includes representative examples of popular styles, including late Victorian-style and vernacular-form houses, early- to mid-twentieth century Craftsman-style bungalows, Period Cottages, mid-twentieth-century Minimal Traditional-style and Ranch houses, and standard commercial buildings and vernacular warehouses.

The Fountain Historic District encompasses portions of twenty-two city blocks centered on Main and Railroad streets and includes much of the early-twentieth-century town. There are 118 primary contributing buildings in the district, including houses, churches, commercial buildings, and warehouses, all erected during the period of significance, from c. 1900 to 1963. The period of significance corresponds to the years of the railroad’s construction and operation in Fountain, reflecting the railroad’s importance to the commercial and residential development of the town. The earliest extant buildings are homes constructed c. 1900, the year that work began on the railroad line in Fountain. The town grew at a relatively steady pace from the 1910s through the 1940s, with construction beginning to dwindle in the 1950s and 1960s. The railroad discontinued operation in 1963 and many remaining businesses closed and new residential and commercial construction in Fountain halted.

Historic Context

Fountain is located in eastern North Carolina in the far western corner of Pitt County. Carved out of the western portion of Beaufort County in 1761, the population of Pitt County grew steadily in the late eighteenth century. [1] The silty, sandy soil of the region provides fertile ground for dense pine forests, cotton, and tobacco, and the Tar River gave residents access to markets by providing access to ports along the inner coastal waterways.[2] The town of Greenville, located along the Tar in the center of the county, was named the county seat in 1774 and a free ferry was established there in 1787 to provide increased access to areas to its north and west.[3] In the eighteenth century, most farmers in the county engaged in subsistence agriculture, producing crops for home and farm use.[4] By the 1850s, however, Pitt County had become one of the fifteen leading cotton-producing counties in the state.[5] Tobacco also became an important cash crop in the nineteenth century and the city of Greenville had developed into one of the largest tobacco markets in North Carolina.[6]

In 1727, the Earl of Granville sold Robert Williams all the land south of the Tar River, between Otter Creek and Tyson Creek, and extending several miles west.[7] The land that would become the town of Fountain lies at the western end of this purchase. By the nineteenth century, a number of families, many of whom would later become the leaders of the town of Fountain, had established large, self-sufficient farms in the area, often with their own cotton gins and saw mills.[8] Like much of the region, early crops included corn, beans, cotton, peanuts, black-eyed peas, and field peas, but by the late nineteenth century, many of the farms were dedicated to growing cotton and tobacco and the region’s plethora of mature pine trees had attracted a strong logging industry.[9]

Incorporated in 1903, Fountain flourished in the first two decades of the twentieth century. In 1910, the population had moderately expanded to 167 and five years later had grown to 208.[10] Though the town had no large-scale industries, two mill operations were established within the town limits by the 1920s. In 1921, the Jefferson family sold their cotton gin and sawmill, located off of Smith Street to the northeast of the district (now demolished), to M. C. Owens, who would grow the business and build a section of housing nearby for his employees.[11] Also in the 1920s, the Dilda and Gardner families consolidated their business enterprises and operated a large cotton gin in Fountain at the corner of Lang and Lynch streets, just to the east of the Fountain Graded School (both demolished). By 1945, the enterprise was called the Fountain Oil and Fertilizer Co., the cotton gin continued to operate into the 1950s.[12]

To educate the children of the farmers and workers, a graded school and teacherage was built in the southwestern corner of town c. 1905, replacing the small, one-room schoolhouses that had been operating in the area since the 1880s.[13] By 1917, there were 150 students enrolled.[14] A larger facility was constructed at the same location in 1923, but by the 1940s, the enrollment at the Fountain School had so greatly diminished that the upper grades were transferred to Farmville. The school would close around 1960, though the building would later house a branch of Pitt Technical Institute (1964) and the Fountain Apparel Company (1969).[15] Fire destroyed the main school building in the 1980s, but a secondary building remains in tact.[16]

A number of churches were established on the east side of Fountain during the town’s boom. Both the Baptist and Presbyterian churches were organized in the first decade of the twentieth century. The original Fountain Baptist Church, a small, frame building located at the corner of Wilson and Church streets (6662 E. Wilson), was relocated in 1950 and replaced by the current brick structure. The original Fountain Presbyterian Church, established c. 1910 on the corner of E. Lang and S. Church streets (5851 E. Lang), was moved in the 1920s a few blocks south (3327 S. Church) to make room for a large, Gothic Revival-style structure completed in 1937.

Transportation Context

Before the arrival of the railroad, crops and lumber were taken down a dirt road to Pillsbury Landing, just east of the town of Falkland (ten miles west of Fountain), where they would be floated down the Tar River to port cities like Washington, North Carolina.[17] In 1898, Henry Clark Bridgers (1876-1951) of Edgecombe County proposed a new railroad that would connect the river city of Tarboro to farming communities to the south. He founded the East Carolina Railroad Company (ECRC) and began planning the railroad’s route. Initially he intended for the rails to run past H. C. Turnage’s store and post office (located east of the eventual town of Fountain). However, in 1900, a 22-year-old Edgecombe County native named R. A. Fountain convinced Bridgers to have the line run through land he owned, called Carr Farm.[18] By the spring of 1902, the rails had been laid in the area, and Fountain had constructed a store and livery stable at the northeast corner of what would later be called Railroad and Wilson streets.[19] Fountain himself served as Railroad agent and postmaster for the fledgling town.[20]

At first, the stop by Fountain’s store “was little more than a flag stop on the line.”[21] The name of the town changed intermittently. Initially it was called “Turnages,” named for H. C. Turnage, then “Slabtown,” for the row of log-slab houses built along the tracks, and then “Reba,” perhaps after Bridgers’ sister or in honor of the first baby to be born in the town.[22] By 1903, there were enough people living in the community that the town incorporated, finally settling on the name of Fountain in honor of the man responsible for its existence.[23] By 1905, the depot was completed across from Fountain’s store and the small town began to expand.

In 1935, Bridgers sold the ECRC to the Wilmington-based Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. Established in 1889, the Atlantic Coast Line actively acquired smaller railroad companies, and by 1950, it had consolidated the operations of more than 100 small railroad companies and possessed more than 5,500 miles of rail.[24] The ACLR shut down the railroad 1963, and within three years, the Fountain Milling Company was the only industry that remained in the town.[25] The railroad ties and tracks between Fountain and Farmville were torn up and sold in 1981.[26]

Commercial Context

Fountain was among many towns in northeast North Carolina that experienced growth in the early twentieth century, largely promoted by the arrival of the railroad.[27] Though it never grew as large as nearby Farmville (located six miles to the southeast), where the East Carolina and Norfolk Southern railways intersected, the town did experience moderate growth. As it grew, small-scale industries emerged to process and sell the tobacco, cotton, and lumber produced by the area’s farmers and loggers. While most farms had traditionally run individual cotton gins and sawmills, a few families expanded and moved their operations into town. In 1901, the Eureka Lumber Company, which owned large tracts of land between Beaufort and Pitt counties, established its headquarters in Fountain.[28] The railroad simplified the process of transporting the timber to Tarboro, where it was dumped into the Tar River and floated to the company’s mill in Washington.[29] A number of storeowners in Fountain—including R. A. Fountain, R. A. Gardner, and the Jeffersons—were also cotton and fertilizer brokers, constructing warehouses and storage sheds both along the railroad tracks and behind their businesses to hold goods until they could be loaded onto the railroad.

A number of businesses were established in the early twentieth century for the farmers and loggers who came to town to sell and transport their wares. Initially the buildings were one-and two-story frame structures along Wilson Street with shed-roof awnings over the sidewalk and false, decorative parapets that concealed gable roofs.[30] In addition to R. A. Fountain, the region’s most prominent families, including the Jeffersons, Gardners, Owenses, and Yelvertons, founded other commercial establishments, many offering credit for the small farmers and working-class residents of the town.[31]

In 1910, the railroad magnate Bridgers joined local leaders R. A. Fountain and G. W. Jefferson to establish the Bank of Fountain on the southwest corner of Wilson and Jefferson streets.[32] The town hall and courtroom were located on the second floor. Often described as “the town’s grandest building,” it was demolished in 1999. In 1915, Dr. E. B. Beasley, who had established a doctor’s office in town the year before, opened a drug store, which saw a steady increase in business in the next few years.[33]


In 1913, R. A. Fountain replaced his frame store at the corner of Wilson and Railroad streets with a new, modern brick building, which subsequently burned to the ground just two years later. By 1916, he had opened an even larger store, a fine, brick building constructed by R. J. Proctor, a contractor from Nashville, North Carolina.[34] Measuring more than 14,000 square feet, Fountain’s general merchandise operation would continue to serve as the anchor for the commercial district throughout the twentieth century.[35] In 1917, a massive fire engulfed the south side of Wilson Street between Railroad and Jefferson streets, destroying most of the frame structures on the block. The 1923 Sanborn Map indicated that many of these buildings were still “ruins,” though a 1917 article in The Farmville Enterprise indicates that the business owners seized on the opportunity to modernize, replacing the “wooden shacks” with “handsome and commodious brick structures … [that] go to make Fountain among the leading small towns of the state.”[36] According to the 1928 Sanborn Map, reconstruction of the block was mostly complete.

The annual reports of Fountain businesses reflect the town’s growth and relative prosperity throughout the 1910s. In 1917, Fountain & Company carried $25,000 worth of stock, including “everything for the farm, to eat and wear,” and conducted $100,000 in business a year.[37] Other merchants enjoyed similar success. R. L. Jefferson & Bros. store, the second store to be established in Fountain, reported that they did a $75,000 business annually.[38] And the R. A. Gardner & Company, established c. 1912, quickly outgrew its original building, which it replaced with a larger, modern brick building around 1917.[39]

By the 1930s and 1940s, development, commerce, and population growth slowed and the mechanization of agriculture in the 1950s and 1960s took a toll on Fountain’s small farmers. The tools required for farming grew larger and more expensive, with equipment like tractors, planters, harvesters, costing as much as $15,000 each and electrically powered tobacco curing barns replacing traditional flue-cured barns.[40] As the agricultural production slowed, so did the commercial enterprises in town. The Eureka Lumber Company, which was largely abandoned after fifteen years of heavy operation, experienced brief resurgences during World Wars I and II but closed permanently in 1956.[41]

Architectural Context

The Fountain Historic District contains a variety of architectural forms and styles illustrating more than sixty years of development in the town. Henry Clark Bridgers’ Macclesfield Company—which he organized in 1899 to acquire and sell town lots and farmland along the Eastern Carolina Railroad—granted many of the early deeds in Fountain.[42] Nationally, new technologies allowed for mass production of building materials, making them cheaper than ever before. Fountain’s location on the East Carolina Railroad provided residents with easy access to the national market, which along with the local lumber industry and saw mills ensured that building supplies could match the demand of the small town’s residents.


The earliest extant buildings are generally houses built in the first decade of the twentieth century. The early dwellings are vernacular in form and style. The c. 1905 Eagles House (3409 S. Jefferson) is a typical example of the one-story, two- to three-room, vernacular-style houses built for the working class in Fountain in the early twentieth century. Constructed in a cross-gable T-configuration, the myriad of rear wings illustrates numerous expansions to the house, all of which had taken place by 1923.

While the railroad would have made decorative details easily accessible, even the homes of prominent merchants are moderate in their decoration. R. A. Fountain built his home at 3196 S. Eason around 1909, and it is among the largest and most impressive houses in town. Its vernacular form is adorned with modest Victorian-, Colonial Revival-, and Craftsman-style details. There are multi-light windows in the pedimented gables at the center of each elevation, a hip-roofed porch supported by Tuscan columns, a projecting central gabled entry with partial cornice returns, a projecting five-sided pavilion at the southeastern corner of the porch that features a steeply pitched hip roof topped by a finial, and a hip-roofed porte-cochére with tapered posts on brick piers. Across the street, the c. 1905 R. A. Gardner House (3199 S. Eason) is similar in its style. The two-story, I-house, which features a two-story canted bay projecting from the center of the façade topped by a pedimented front gable, is one of the few houses in Fountain that retains its decorative gable shingles.

Photographs indicate that most of the early commercial buildings in town were one-story, frame structures with “simple shed-roof covers extending from the front elevation and tall, false parapet façades which concealed gable roofs.”[43] However, nearly all of these early stores and warehouses were either replaced by newer, more modern buildings or destroyed by fires that swept through the downtown in 1909, 1915, and 1917. [44] Among the remaining commercial buildings from this period is the Fountain Depot (6768 W. Wilson), one of the only extant brick depots in Pitt County. It would have been the most impressive building in the town at the time of its construction, and the building, with its hipped roof, overhanging eaves, and decorative rafters, remains an important landmark.

Located across Railroad Street from the depot is the c. 1917 R. A. Fountain Store (6754-6756 E. Wilson), the largest and most decorative extant commercial structure in town. Typical of early-twentieth-century commercial buildings, it features leaded and prism glass transoms, decorative brickwork, and a corbeled parapet that conceals a flat roof. Located at the northeast corner of Railroad and Wilson streets, where R. A. Fountain built his original store and post office in 1901, it has served as the anchor of the commercial district since the foundation of the town. The R. A. Gardner Building (6749-6753 E. Wilson), built c. 1917, is a more modest example of commercial architecture in the district. The one-story building features a corbeled brick parapet, pilasters with projecting bases, decorative brickwork panels above the storefront, and double-leaf, one-light wood doors with prism-glass transoms.


By the 1920s, residential construction in Fountain began to reflect the rising popularity of the Craftsman bungalow. The c. 1926 George W. Jefferson Rental House (6650 E. Jefferson) illustrates how working-class housing incorporated this influence. The house is much smaller than the prominent merchant’s own c. 1920 Craftsman-style bungalow across the street (6651 E. Wilson), and its hipped roof, projecting front-gabled porch, and multiple rear wings are typical of the vernacular bungalow form in the district. In addition to Jefferson’s personal home, the Floyd Turnage House (6850 W. Wilson) is a strong example of an academic interpretation of the Craftsman style in Fountain. The one-and-a-half-story, side-gabled bungalow features details common to the style, including deep eaves, knee brackets, ten-over-one and eight-over-one Craftsman-style windows, and battered porch posts.

Though other styles popular nationally in the 1920s and 1930s were not widely used in Fountain, including the Tudor and Colonial revivals, it is possible to see their influence on buildings constructed during those decades. The c. 1935 brick house at 3436 S. Jefferson is notable for its Tudor Revival- and Craftsman-style details. The one-and-a-half-story period cottage features sawn rafter tails, faux half-timbering in the pedimented gables, an arched front door, curved knee walls flanking the porch stairs, grouped truncated posts on brick piers, and deep eaves supported by knee brackets. Additionally, the Colonial Revival style was not widely used in Fountain, though a noteworthy example is the c. 1938 “Doc” Beasley House (3400 S. Jefferson), which features a denticulated cornice, partial cornice returns, paneled aprons below the windows, and classical door surround.

The Fountain Presbyterian Church (5851 E. Lang) is the sole Gothic Revival-style building in the district. The church was constructed in 1937 as a replacement for a smaller building that dated to c. 1911. It is notable for its Flemish gables, crenellated corner towers, decorative brickwork, and Gothic-arched windows.

Most of the commercial buildings in the district were constructed during this period. The one- and two-story structures are modest in scale and size. Most are one- and two-story, common-bond brick buildings with modest storefronts and limited ornamentation. The c. 1929 J. L. Peele Grocery & General Merchandise (6748 E. Wilson) is a typical example of the commercial style in Fountain, though its blonde-brick façade is unique. It features decorative brickwork, including a mouse-tooth cornice topped by two header courses of brick; an inset soldier course topped by a mouse-toothed course above the storefront; and an inset brick panel at the top of the façade with a mouse-toothed course at the center. It retains wood storefronts on brick bulkheads flanked by brick pilasters, and a recessed entrance bay features double-leaf, one-light, wood-framed doors with a painted transom.

The district also features a number of warehouses and storage buildings located behind commercial buildings as well as near the depot. The c. 1923 Grocery Storage Building behind the George W. Jefferson General Merchandise building (6740-6744 E. Wilson) is typical of brick warehouses in town. It features a six-to-one common bond, a corbeled parapet, and concrete-block loading docks. The warehouses at 5936 W. Lang and 6767 W. Wilson appear on the 1923 Sanborn Map as “general storage” facilities. Located across the street from the depot, they are oriented toward the former railroad right of way and feature 5V metal roofs and sheathing, exposed rafter tails, and both paired 5V and sliding batten doors.


From the 1940s through the 1950s, as the economy of Fountain declined, the Minimal Traditional style and Ranch form were prominent. Like the modest bungalows of the 1920s, the rectangular form and restrained use of decorative detail made these modern houses affordable options for working-class residents of the town. The heaviest concentration of Minimal Traditional-style houses in the district is just to the northwest of the commercial area, along N. Stamper and N. Lynch streets. Among the most decorative examples are 3525 and 3529 N. Stamper (built c. 1953), which feature front-gabled covered stoops supported by turned posts.

Ranch houses were particularly popular in the 1950s and 1960s in Fountain. The best examples were built on the large lots along E. Wilson Street on the edge of town, which suited the form’s emphasis on the width of the façade. The oldest and best example of a traditional Ranch house in the district is 6622 E. Wilson, constructed in 1953. In addition to its general horizontality, it features details typical of the mid-century style, including two-over-two, horizontal-pane, wood-sash windows, a projecting twelve-light picture window centered on the front-gabled bay, and an inset entrance bay sheathed in vertical siding that shelters a 1950s-style, three-light door. The c. 1958 Ranch house at 5821 E. Lang illustrates the persistence of the Colonial Revival-style into the mid-twentieth century. The style is most apparent in its recessed, paneled entry bay, which features a six-panel door flanked by four-light-over-one-panel sidelights and a classical surround with fluted pilasters and denticulated cornice.

The c. 1951 Fountain Baptist Church (6662 E. Wilson) also reflects the continuation of the Colonial Revival style, which was particularly popular in church design across the nation. The T-plan church features a front-gabled sanctuary with side-gabled wing at the rear. It has a wide, front-gabled portico supported by fluted, Ionic aluminum columns with a half-round, four-light window in the pediment; a classical door surround with a broken pediment; tall, arched stained-glass windows on the side elevations; and a three-part wood steeple on a brick bases rising from the gabled roof.

Construction after 1963 includes Ranch houses on the edges of the district, a c. 1977 convenience store (6789 W. Wilson), the c. 2003 Fountain Fire and Rescue Station (3643 S. Lynch), and the c. 2011 Hemby-Willoughby Funeral Home (5962 W. Smith)


[1] Power and Boat, Architecture of Pitt County, 5.
[2] Power and Boat, Architecture of Pitt County, 7.
[3] Power and Boat, Architecture of Pitt County, 7.
[4] Power and Boat, Architecture of Pitt County, 7.
[5] Power and Boat, Architecture of Pitt County, 9.
[6] Roger Kammerer, “Yours If You Come,” About Greenville, Greenville-Pitt County Convention and Visitors Bureau,
[7] Anthony Davis Holland and Mary Carolyn Carter Smith, “The History of Fountain,” Entry 107, Chronicles of Pitt County, North Carolina, 1982,” ed. Elizabeth H. Copeland (Winston-Salem, NC: Hunter Publishing Co., 1982).
[8] Holland and Smith, “History of Fountain,” Chronicles of Pitt County; Power and Boat, The Historic Architecture of Pitt County, North Carolina, ed. Scott Power (Pitt County, NC: The Pitt County Historical Society, Inc., 1991), 427-428.
[9] Holland and Smith, “History of Fountain,” Chronicles of Pitt County; Power and Boat, Architecture of Pitt County, 427-428.
[10] Power and Boat, Architecture of Pitt County, 429, 432.
[11] Some of the houses are extant, but are heavily altered and do not retain enough material integrity to be considered contributing structures in the district. The mill has been demolished. Eason, “R. L. Jefferson & Bros: General Merchandise. An Old and Well Established Mercantile Firm,” Farmville Enterprise, 8 June 1917, 6.
[12] Sanborn Map Company. Farmville, Pitt County, North Carolina, 1945s. ProQuest® Sanborn Maps Geo Edition (1867-1970). ; Power and Boat, Architecture of Pitt County, 429.
[13] Holland and Smith, “History of Fountain,” 8.
[14] Eason, “History.”
[15] Holland and Smith, “History of Fountain,” 8; Kammerer, “History.”
[16] Holland and Smith, “History of Fountain,” 8; Power and Boat, Architecture of Pitt County, 433.
[17] Holland and Smith, “History of Fountain,” Chronicles of Pitt County.
[18] Holland and Smith, “History of Fountain,” Chronicles of Pitt County; Power and Boat, Architecture of Pitt County, 428; W. R. Harris, “The Robert Almon Fountain Family,” Entry No. 593, Chronicles of Pitt County, North Carolina, 1982,” ed. Elizabeth H. Copeland (Winston-Salem, NC: Hunter Publishing Co., 1982).
[19] Power and Boat, Architecture of Pitt County, 428-429.
[20] Harris, “Fountain Family.”
[21] Power and Boat, Historic Architecture of Pitt County, 428.
[22] A. Frank Eason, “History of the Town of Fountain, N.C.,” Farmville Enterprise, 8 June 1917, 6; Holland and Smith, “History of Fountain,” 110; Power and Boat, Architecture of Pitt County, 428.
[23] Fountain would also serve on the town’s first Board of Commissioners. Holland and Smith, “History,” 9.
[24] “Historical Information,” Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company Records, 1900s-1950s, Collection No. 04572, The Southern Historical Collection, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
[25] Roger Kammerer, “History of Fountain,” Chronicles of Pitt County North Carolina, Volume II (Winston-Salem, N.C.: Jostens Publishing Co., 2005), 167.
[26] Holland and Smith, “History of Fountain,” 3; Kammerer, “History.”
[27] Heather M. Wagner, “Ahoskie Historic District” (Raleigh: North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, 2011). 
[28] Anthony Davis Holland and Mary Carolyn Smith, “History of Fountain, N.C.,” (Fountain, N.C.: Branch Banking & Trust Co., Fountain Branch, 1982), 4; Power and Boat, Architecture of Pitt County, 428.
[29] Power and Boat, Architecture of Pitt County, 428.
[30] Power and Boat, Architecture of Pitt County, 429-430.
[31] Power and Boat, Architecture of Pitt County, 429.
[32] Holland and Smith, “History of Fountain,” 3.
[33] Eason, “History.”
[34] Eason, “History;” “Big Fire at Fountain Thursday Morning,” Farmville Enterprise, 19 November 1915.
[35] A. Frank Eason, “Fountain & Company, General Merchandise, Cotton Buyers – Livestock Dealers,” Farmville Enterprise, 8 June 1917, 6.
[36] Eason, “History.”
[37] Eason, “Fountain & Company.”
[38] Eason, “History.”
[39] Eason, “R. A. Gardner & Company: General Merchandise – Cotton Buyers,” Farmville Enterprise, 8 June 1917, 6.
[40] Holland and Smith, “History of Fountain,” 4.
[41] Holland and Smith, “History of Fountain,” 4.
[42] Power and Boat, Architecture of Pitt County, 428. Among the houses in Fountain that can be traced to the Macclesfield Company is the c. 1905 Eagles House (3409 S. Jefferson).
[43] Power and Boat, Architecture of Pitt County, 429-430.
[44] Eason, “History of Fountain.”