Saturday, March 24, 2018

Yanceyville East Main Street (South Side/"Bottom")

East Main Street, Yanceyville, Caswell County, North Carolina

The purpose of this article is to explore the buildings that once stood on the south side of East Main Street in Yanceyville, North Carolina, between Little's Service Station and Yanceyville Motor Company on the Square. This primarily was an African-American area of businesses and private residences. It ran from the corner of what now is Dillard School Drive and East Main Street to the Square.

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Little's Esso Service Station anchors the east end of the buildings being discussed here. This is an undated photograph provided by Helen Haith Little.

Martha Louise Lea Little (1904-1983) and her husband Roy Charles Little (c.1893-1938) owned Little Service Station in Yanceyville, one of the early successful local black businesses. It began operation in the 1920s as a Standard agency, purchasing its gasoline from Standard Oil of New Jersey. When the photograph was taken the building was fairly new. Note the gravity-feed gasoline pumps.

Around 1928 the brand had become Esso. The father of Martha Louise Lea Little, Thomas Sidney Lea (1873-1963), provided financial support for local black educational efforts, including participating in the purchase of a building in 1906 that was used as the first black school in Yanceyville.

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Proceeding westerly, the next building was the one that housed Joe's Cafe and Irvin's Barber Shop. Here, Irvin Williamson is seen standing in the shop's doorway. Presumably, the other door is the cafe entrance. And, other businesses may have operated from this fairly large building. Photograph courtesy Glenna W. Graves.

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The Joe of Joe's Cafe is Joseph Rascoe Williamson (1911-1953). There were two cafe's on the street [East Main Street in Yanceyville]. The smaller one with Joe behind the counter is shown in this photograph. He was in the process of building the larger cafe shown below. When he finished building the larger cafe, he rented out the smaller building. Joe Williamson and his brother Walter Williamson built both cafe buildings and Walter's garage that stood across the street. Photograph courtesy Grace Turner.

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The next building as you head toward the Square in Yanceyville was the home of Ms. Gennie Bett Bigelow, then the larger Joe's Cafe that eventually became Claude's Cafe.

Mary Ellen Paschal in her Yanceyville front yard. Photograph courtesy Carl Paschal. Note Joe's Cafe in the background. Date: Early 1950s.

So, right-to-left, this photo shows: Joe's Cafe (became Claude's Cafe), home of Ms. Gennie Bett Bigelow, and building that housed the original Joe's Cafe and Irvin's Barber Shop.

Courtesy Carl Paschal
West of the larger Joe's Cafe building (shown above with two cars parked in front) were two houses. Mr. Vern and Fannie Hill Penn lived in the first (proceeding westerly); and Thomas Sidney Lea (1873-1963) and Julia Long Hill Lea (1880-1978) lived in the other. It was their daughter, Martha Louise Lea (1904-1983) who, along with her husband Roy Charles Little (1893-1938), owned and operated the Little Service Station discussed above.

These two houses are seen in this photograph of Carl Paschal standing in the front yard of his Yanceyville home. From left-to-right: Penn House; Lea House; Gunn Tractor dealership. Click the photograph to see a larger image.

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Next, just east of the Square was the Gunn Tractor Dealership, one of the buildings that stands today (2018).

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Finally, came Yanceyville Motor Company.

Standing in front of Yanceyville Motor Company is owner John Abner Massey (1881-1956). Massey is believed to have owned the first automobile in Caswell County. The building later became a general store and then the Willys-Knight Auto Agency. (Courtesy Ann McGuire Harvey.) House at right is one he built for his family; prior to that he boarded at the Poteat House.

While the angle may be deceptive, query whether the the house Massey built as his home became the residence of Thomas Sidney Lea (1873-1963) and Julia Long Hill Lea (1880-1978).

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This 1979 aerial view of Yanceyville shows the site on which once stood Yanceyville Motor Company, the Gunn Tractor Dealership building, and the two houses discussed above: Lea residence; and Penn residence.


1. The old Massey store on the corner of the Square was owned by John Abner Massey (1881-1956). Once he had an auto dealership at that location. And, he built a substantial house behind his commercial structure.

2. Gunn tractor dealership.

3. "Aunt" Julia is Julia Long Hill Lea (1880-1978), married to Thomas Sidney Lea (1873-1963). They lived in what was called the "Tom Lea" house. In 1906, Thomas Sidney Lea and several other prominent Yanceyville black citizens purchased the old John Walter Stephens house for use as the first "public" Yanceyville black school. Their daughter, Martha Lea, married Roy Charles Little and operated the service station for many years after the death of her husband in 1938.

4. Then there was another substantial house that no longer stands. Part of the concrete steps to the sidewalk could be seen a few years back. Home of Vern and Fannie Hill Penn. Note that Vern may be incorrect. This is William Henry Penn (1889-1965).

5. The "new" barbershop (small building remains).

6. Then Joe's/Claude's Cafe (at approximately the very bottom of the hill). This is the one remembered by most. The CCHA has a 1951 photograph showing it as Joe's. It subsequently was owned and operated by Claude and Leaky Stroude.

7. Residential structure that no longer stands (home of Ms. Gennie Bett Bigelow).

8. Building that housed the older Joe's Cafe and Irvin's Barber Shop. They are Joseph Rascoe Williamson (1911-1953) and Irvin Williamson. This original Joe's Cafe was a small shop in a larger building. It was directly beside Irvin's Barber Shop (in the same building).

9. Little's Esso Service Station.

10. Across East Main Street from the Little service station, but not actually part of the "Bottom" was Williamson's Garage (building still standing). This was owned and operated by Walter Williamson (brother of Joseph Rascoe Williamson).

In connection with the posts concerning the "Bottom" on East Main Street in Yanceyville, Caswell County, North Carolina, we discussed Joe's/Claude's Cafe. The Claude in the name is Claude Frank Stroud (1914-1987), who operated the cafe with his wife Mary Leak (Leaky) Williamson Stroud (1912-2014). They had purchased the business from Joseph Rascoe Williamson (1911-1953) or from his widow, Annie Theora Bigelow Williamson (1916-1982). Mary Leak (Leaky) Williamson and Joseph Rascoe Williamson are first cousins. All four people rest at Pearson Chapel AME Church in Yanceyville, North Carolina. Photograph courtesy Carl Paschal.

Source: Rick Frederick November 18, 2019 Post to the Caswell County Historical Association's Facebook Page.

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