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

Col. Heck’s Oakwood ‘Spec’ Houses

 

Above is the Heck-Lee House in 1972. Below is a view taken last night.

 

Back in 1971-72 or so, before Oakwood became “Historic” Oakwood, I would often ride my bicycle through the neighborhood (with my Kodak Instamatic, of course) and take snapshots of the faded Victorian houses lining the streets. I remember being intrigued by three near-identical, flamboyantly-towered structures that comprised a corner of E. Jones and N. East Streets. They appeared to me as miniature versions of the opulent Heck-Andrews mansion on N. Blount St. Hmm, I wondered, could there be a connection?

Col. Jonathan M. Heck and his wife Mattie moved to Raleigh from Warren County shortly after the end of the Civil War. A wealthy landowner and businessman, Col. Heck hired New Jersey architect G.S.H. Appleget to design his city residence. At the time of its completion in 1870, it was one of the grandest homes in Raleigh. Appleget designed the mansion in the then popular Second Empire style. It featured two full stories topped with a characteristic half-story mansard roof, and was accented by a dramatic three-story central tower, itself topped by a convex mansard roof. The house was the showcase of the neighborhood and set the tone for residential development along Blount St. for the next quarter century.

The Heck-Andrews House on Blount St. in 1966. Its architect, G.S.H. Appleget also designed the Andrews-Duncan House (1875) located across North St., and Estey Hall on the Shaw Campus (1874).

 

 

During the 1870s Col. Heck promoted the development of the neighborhood we now know as Oakwood. He acquired large tracts of land that stretched eastward from the vicinity of East St. out to the area near St. Augustine’s College that later became Idlewild. He subdivided his property into building lots, and between 1872 and 1875 built —on speculation— the triplet of houses at Jones and East Streets. Their distinctive design is attributed to his own architect, G.S.H. Appleget. A shrewd businessman, Heck probably figured he could get more “bang for his buck” if his spec houses were similar in style, size and material. In fact, they are nearly identical to each other. By 1880 the corner house had been sold to James W. Lee, Raleigh’s police chief, and its Jones St. neighbor to J.W. Wynne. Heck retained ownership of the East St. dwelling, probably using it as rental property.

The Heck-Wynne House at 511 E. Jones St. was once owned by an accountant for Briggs Hardware. During the Great Depression he sectioned it off into quandrants to rent out so he wouldn’t lose it; it has been divided up ever since.

This Heck House on N. East St. sits high up above the street and offers a commanding view.

Some sources, however, in citing the origin of the Jones/East St houses attribute their construction to James Lee himself. One source claims Lee built the houses between 1872 and 1882 for members of his own family, and that they were constructed of lumber shipped to Raleigh from a virgin pine forest in Virginia. Another source even attributes their design to William Percival, architect of Montfort Hall, First Baptist Church and the Tucker Mansion. This is highly unlikely, as Percival did not work in the Second Empire style, and, in fact had left Raleigh in 1861, more than 10 years before their construction. Despite conflicting theories on the provenance of the Heck Houses, I remain convinced that Col. Heck did build them, with G.S.H. Appleget as his architect. But I will say, though, as with many things in history: It is often all a matter of…speculation!

 

 

The Federal Building on New Bern Ave. can be seen in the distance from the tower of the Heck-Wynne House.

This is the circular staircase which leads to the tower.


Special note from the Editor: I’d like to give great thanks to Mike Rosado for graciously giving me a tour of his residence (part of the Heck-Wynne House), allowing me to photograph the inside, and providing a bit of the history of it.


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