Two pieces of North Carolina’s Reconstruction-era history will remain standing for years to come.
Preservation NC, a nonprofit that works to protect important pieces of the state’s history, is taking over the Rev. Plummer T. Hall and Willis Graves houses in Oberlin Village, a neighborhood west of downtown Raleigh that was established by freed slaves after the Civil War.
The houses are among five buildings in Oberlin Village that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. After they are renovated, they will serve as the headquarters of Preservation NC, which is currently based in the Briggs Hardware Building on Fayetteville Street downtown.
“Having PNC’s headquarters office in two of the most important landmarks remaining in Oberlin will underscore our commitment to the mission of saving landmarks important to the diverse people of North Carolina,” group president Myrick Howard said in a statement.
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The organization will buy the Hall House from the City of Raleigh for $245,750. The house, at 814 Oberlin Road, sits in the city’s right-of-way, so crews will move it further back on the lot. The entire project, including renovations, will cost an estimated $1.25 million, Howard said.
The Graves House at 802 Oberlin Road sits on land that was recently purchased by developer Jim Anthony and three other investors. They are donating the house to Preservation NC and giving $40,000 to help cover the costs of relocating and renovating it, Anthony said.
The Graves House will be moved next to the new Hall House location.
It’s unclear when the houses will be relocated. The city and Preservation NC are in the process of coordinating the moves, which they hope to execute on the same day.
The announcement of the homes’ preservation comes as advocates for Oberlin Village are pushing to add legal protections amid a surge of development in the area. Located between Hillsborough Street and Wade Avenue, the neighborhood has become coveted because of its proximity to N.C. State University and Cameron Village.
The Raleigh City Council recently asked the state for permission to move forward with efforts to designate Oberlin Village as a historic district. The label would protect structures in the corridor and enable the city to impose strict guidelines on growth and changes.
Councilman Russ Stephenson praised the effort to save the Graves and Hall houses.
“For any city that wants to say it’s an authentic city, that authenticity depends on its ability to preserve and celebrate its heritage,” Stephenson said. “Raleigh’s history is in these structures.”
The 1,100-square-foot Hall house belonged to the Rev. Hall, a former slave who founded Oberlin Baptist Church, which still exists today. It was likely built between 1878 and 1890 before official property lines were drawn, said Tania Tully, a historic preservation planner for the city.
Raleigh plans to spend $45,000 to move the house, which is in need of major repairs, she said.
“It’s sat vacant for at least 15 years,” Tully said. “When there’s no power or water, houses deteriorate.”
The 1,800-square-foot Graves House belonged first to Willis Graves, who is believed to have been born into slavery around 1856. Graves’ son, Willis Jr., went to law school at Howard University and worked on a landmark civil rights case with Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first African-American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Graves’ other son, Lemuel, attended Cornell University and was the first to initiate in Alpha Phi Alpha, the nation’s largest African-American fraternity.
Anthony said the house is in poor shape, and it adds no value to the land underneath.
“It didn’t make sense to try to do something with that house,” he said. “You can take every single bit of that house and build it from scratch by hand and do it for less money than it’s going to cost to restore it.”