Thomas Plummer Jones Jr. described the rural landscape surrounding the Crenshaw House in a letter he dated Jan. 21, 1924.
“It is a farm of five hundred acres. About four hundred acres is in timber,” wrote Jones, who lived on the 4-acre property in Wake Forest. “All the land is supplied with fresh running water and it will furnish three good pastures. The other one hundred acres is in cultivation.”
The letter, addressed to a Wake Forest man named John Wilson, is one of many items recently found in a trunk in the the attic of the Crenshaw House, which was built in the 1820s.
Andy Wheeler bought the historic house with two business partners and remodeled it last year, turning it into the Clancy Strickland Wheeler Funeral Home.
Inside the dusty wooden trunk that had blackened with nearly a century of age were tattered sports jerseys, yellowing photographs, postcards, school papers and train tickets to the Wake Forest station – memories of a simpler time in what is now a fast-growing town.
“We’ve got some really interesting letters,” said Laurie Wheeler, Andy’s wife.
The Crenshaw House was the main home on the Crenshaw Hall Plantation, which at one time had more than 40 slaves, Andy Wheeler said.
The 5,500-square-foot home later belonged to William Crenshaw, the first treasurer at Wake Forest University. The school was located nearby until it moved to Winston-Salem in 1956.
Jones, who was born in 1903, lived in the Crenshaw House most of his life, until his death in 1989.
One of four children, Jones went to western North Carolina in the 1920s to attend Mars Hill, which was a junior college at the time. After two years, he returned to attend Wake Forest University, said Jody Totten, whose mother was Jones’ first cousin.
“He was quite a sportsman,” said Totten, 70, who used to visit the Crenshaw House. “Evidently, he was on the basketball team up in Mars Hill.”
In one of Jones’ school papers, he wrote about trying out for the rugby team. He never married, Totten said.
Jones was a prolific gardener and grew much of the family’s food but never had a lifelong career. He stayed busy doing odd jobs.
He was known for delivering mail around the holidays. Some say he used the opportunity to distribute homemade moonshine, Totten said.
“We have a feeling he was delivering more than mail,” she said. “We don’t have proof, but there were stills found on the farm.”
Jones also helped out at his family-owned gas station that operated at the corner of Capital Boulevard and Durham Road.
“He leased it out but was there all the time,” Totten said.
After Totten’s mother died in 1992, the Crenshaw estate was divided among its heirs. The house was left to John Bennett III, who created the business Crenshaw Hall Properties. Bennett hoped to turn the home into a wedding venue but wasn’t successful. The business fell on hard times, filing for bankruptcy twice.
Wheeler and his partners bought the home in August and spent almost nine months renovating it. The funeral home opened in May.
Totten said she was overjoyed the Wheelers found Jones’ letters. Laurie Wheeler said she has learned a lot from Totten and other family members who drop by to see the home and cemetery, where Jones and other relatives are buried.
“It just fascinates me to know that some of these people are still alive that still have a connection to this house,” Laurie Wheeler said.
The Wheelers said they also feel connected to the property, and they hope to keep the home’s stories alive.
“To serve them on a piece of property that gives history and comfort in an old-fashioned way – it’s just an honor,” Laurie Wheeler said.
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi