Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
It is with great pride that we at Preservation of Wilson are able to recognize one of our own during this Black History Month.
Wilson is privileged to claim Oliver Nestus and Julius Freeman, two master masons. One of stone and one of brick. These men among others were trained at Tuskegee Institute now university under the esteemed tutelage of Dr. Booker T Washington.
Julius Freeman, 1888-1960, taught trowel trades at the local segregated high school for many years; thus preparing numerous young men to enter the building trades at a highly skilled level and become self- sufficient.
The legacy of Oliver Nestus Freeman, 1882-1955, is preserved at the Oliver Nestus Freeman Round House and African-American Museum located on East Nash Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard. He designed and built stone pillars, walls, residences, fish ponds and other structures in Wilson, throughout North Carolina and even as far as San Francisco, California.
Further evidence of his work is visible at the Oliver Nestus Round House, Our Redeemer Lutheran Church on Vance Street and the Nadal House on Nash Street, which Preservation of Wilson purchased as a Revolving Fund project and has been marketing. Nestus Freeman was responsible for the masonry elements, including porch and carport plinths, chimneys, and perimeter posts in the 1916 elegantly rustic Western Stick-style bungalow with its rough stonework and dark-stained stick work in the gables, porches and porte-cochere. There is an especially fine example of an elaborate fish pond at the rear of the property.
Preservation of Wilson then partnered with Barton College student Alysha Nutt during an independent study where she complied the first draft of an inventory of the known work of Oliver Nestus Freeman. Gloria Freeman, former Preservation of Wilson trustee and Visioning Committee chair, worked with committee member and architectural historian Ellen Fletcher Russell, who helped identify 21 Wilson structures that Freeman built entirely or in part.
Today we want to note how unique his work is and how you can easily spot his work around town.
First, look for stonework. The stones might be brown or gray, will usually be rough and irregularly shaped, but are never set in straight courses. Rarely did Freeman use rounded river stones. The stones might stand as posts supporting a porch and its roof. They might form a chimney, a low wall around the property or posts marking a front walk or driveway. Also, look for unusually shaped features, such as a semicircular porch or a low turret encasing the entrance door. Freeman also included unique materials in his structures, broken cement, scrap tin and shells. Once you have learned how to “see” it, you will always recognize Oliver (Nestus) Freeman’s work.
Preservation of Wilson suggests that a visit to the Oliver Nestus Freeman Round House and African-American Museum would be a fitting way to celebrate Black History Month and honor the legacy of one of Wilson County’s most consequential figures. The museum contains details about Freeman’s life and work.
Thank you for joining us at Preservation of Wilson in recognizing the signature contributions of one of our own.
Betsy Peters Rascoe
The writers are members of the Preservation of Wilson Board of Trustees.