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Tiny houses have gained popularity in recent years, but two Wilson natives are working to restore several shotgun houses, which made the efficient use of a small floorplan cool more than a century ago.
“When the East Wilson Historic District was nominated in 1988, there were 301 shotgun houses in Wilson and now there are only 88 left,” said Monica T. Davis. “They were built when the tobacco industry was flourishing because shotgun houses could be built compactly with so many on a lot, which was good for the working-class people of the time.”
Davis, a 2005 graduate of Fike High School, is a graduate student in interior architecture and historic preservaton at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She recently teamed up with Antonio M. Jenkins, owner of Tee O’s Luxury Renovations, to purchase five properties and two undeveloped lots on Ash Street and Narrow Way.
The duo started working on plans to bring back the shotgun floorplans and restore some of the homes’ original features. However, when they talked to city officials about separating two of the parcels, they learned two of the houses on Narrow Way had outstanding permits for demolition.
Davis and Jenkins got to work, presenting staff with a scope of work and getting a grace period to make progress and save the homes from demolition. Since then, work has begun on the first of the houses at 132 Ash St., which was built in 1910 and has one bedroom.
“The lawn was very unkept and you couldn’t event see the shotgun house because of the overgrowth, so we cut that down,” Davis said. “We had some lead-based issues on the front of the house, so that was taken care of. The addition on the back of the home has been started and we have gutted the inside to restore features like the original tongue-and-groove flooring and a beadboard ceiling. All that was covered up by previous owners, so we’re working on revitalizing that.”
Jenkins, who graduated from Beddingfield in 2006, said he expects each house to take a few months to complete. Davis was awarded the Atlantic World Research Network Graduate Student Research Grant that will help with the effort and 10 students in a preservation class from UNC-G will pitch in this May.
“They are going to restore some original windows,” Davis said. “They’ll clean some brick pillars and put in some old salvaged wood doors. We’ll also have a demonstration for them on how to install plaster.”
The owner of Rinascita Designs said she’s worked with a restoration specialist who is confident the restoration work will qualify for tax credits.
“The renovations will cost between $25,000 and $30,000,” Jenkins said. “The first one appraised at $51,000 and after the repairs, I would say it’ll be valued around $150,000.”
The plan is to rent the houses for the first five years to comply with the tax credits, but ultimately Davis said she wants to sell them.
“We created a nonprofit organization called Rebirthing Our Cultural Kington Foundation with the goal to teach African Americans in this district and throughout Wilson about homeownership,” she said. “Many of these have been rental properties for over 40 years, but we want to encourage people to be financially literate and work toward owning a home.”
Davis also hopes her work helps educate people on the history of east Wilson and spurs others to invest in the area.
“If the people who are living in that neighborhood see we’re from here and have hope, maybe it’ll help change their mindset and improve the historic district,” she said.