Goodnight Raleigh - a look at the art, architecture, history, and people of the city at night

A Nail That Could Not Be Removed

Raleigh’s Richard B. Haywood House

About a month ago we published an article on this blog about Raleigh’s “nail buildings”. It cited two adjoining downtown businesses, Poole’s Diner and Doug Van de Zande’s photography studio, as examples. The term ‘nail house’ or ‘nail building’ is used to describe businesses or residences whose owners refuse to allow their buildings to be demolished, even in the face of development all around them. (The phrase refers to a nail in wood that is difficult to remove.) That description made me think of the historic Richard B. Haywood house, located at the corner of Edenton and Blount Streets.

However, the encroaching development in this case was not a high-rise building or construction site, but a four-acre expanse of state government parking lots.

Completed in 1854, the modestly styled Greek Revival Haywood house is among only a handful of ante bellum buildings still standing in Raleigh. It is further distinguished by the fact that it is the only ante bellum home remaining in the original owner’s family.

The solidly built brick house of well-balanced proportions features a finely-detailed front porch extending along the full length of its façade. The porch is supported by four fluted Doric columns and is topped by a classically styled entablature with dentil molding. As such, the Haywood house is a gem of 19th century urban residential design.

Following Raleigh’s surrender to federal troops after the Civil War, the house became the headquarters of Major Gen. Francis P. Blair. Dr. Haywood and Gen. Blair had been friends and classmates at UNC twenty years earlier. Haywood family legend holds that the general advised his friend to remove the family silver from its hiding place in the well, as that was always the first place Sherman’s “bummers” would look for valuables.

Family tradition also says that Dr. Haywood and Gen. Blair, in the company of Gen. Tecumseh Sherman himself, drank a toast to the end of the war while standing in an alcove of one of the home’s prominent bay windows.

In the hundred years hence, the state of North Carolina began buying up all the property in the Blount St. area and systematically demolished scores of architecturally significant structures to accommodate office buildings and parking lots needed for the expansion of state government. By the mid 1980s, the Haywood house was the sole survivor on its block.

And the state wanted it too.

This house stood next to the Haywood House on Edenton Street. It was built ca 1875 and demolished by the state about 100 years later. The photo was taken in 1968.

This is the present-day view of the site of the house seen above.

Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Haywood, third generation descendants of Dr. Haywood, occupied the house at that time. They adamantly refused to give in to the state’s plan to remove the house from its lot and build in its place a sprawling visitors center. As Mrs. Haywood was quoted in a Raleigh Times article, “That’s my house… Haywoods have been in [here] since [it was] built! There’s no way on earth it can be moved…I don’t even want to hear about it.” (“Owner won’t budge on plan to relocate historic home.” The Raleigh Times, May 21, 1986)

Ultimately, the state relented on its grandiose plan to transform this part of downtown into a mega state building complex. Today the Haywood house remains steadfast on its original site, standing guard at the corner of Edenton and Blount, and surrounded by a vast sea of state government blacktop.