Saturday, September 24, 2011

Conetoe’s Little Train Depot

Years before Conetoe was more than a creek running through Edgecombe County, William Chase (a resident of the Lower Conetoe Township and railroad employee according to the 1870 US Federal Census) and many other nameless laborers ensured tracks were laid from Williamston to Tarboro. The railroad connected the two major industrial towns in 1882 and a stop was added in 1883 to a little cluster of homes that became known as Warren’s Station. Warren’s Station changed its name to Conetoe and was incorporated as a town in 1887.   
The railroad played a vital role in the growth and expansion of this little community, the trains became the most influential component to everyday life in the small community. Farms and mills depended on the train to provide their products to a broader span of customer. The general public would use it to call on distant friends and relations. And children would ride twice a day in order to attend school in Tarboro. An agreement was made in January 1894 which allowed the Albermarle and Raleigh Railroad Company unlimited use of the tracks belonging to the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad Company, including the tracks leading from Williamston to Tarboro. Within the next few months, the Conetoe train depot was under construction.

“Progress in Conetoe – The railroad company are putting there a neat depot. This has been needed, and when completed will be a great convenience to the people of Conetoe,” (Tarboro Southerner, 17 May 1894).

            The Conetoe train depot is a simple rectangular structure. It hosts a gabled roof and a singular dormer that shelters a pavilion jutting out to allow train agents a clear view of the railroad tracks, weather permitting. A bell mounted to the dormer signaled the arrival of incoming engines with a ring easily heard throughout the town. Large eaves are supported by simple arched braces that provided temporary shelter to passengers and railroad employees. Board and batten siding covered the exterior and a metal roof sheltered the interior.
            On the interior, the depot was split into three separate areas: an agent’s office, a cargo area, and two waiting rooms, segregated for white and colored passengers. The agent’s office and waiting areas were clad entirely with tongue and groove bead board sheathing which was placed horizontally to create wainscoting and capped with a simple chair rail. Ticket windows from each waiting room allowed passengers to purchase travel and doors allowed for baggage to be transferred into the cargo via the agent’s office. The cargo area, which covered approximately two-thirds of the train depot’s total length, remained unsheathed, leaving the framework of the walls and ceilings exposed but protected with a coat of lime-based whitewash.

            Many train agents spent only two years in Conetoe, choosing to rent lodging rather than bind themselves permanently to such a small, rural community. William J. Grimmer, 26 years old in 1900 boarded at Christopher Dawson’s residence. By 1903, William was replaced by
R. A. Lafrange, who was in turn replaced by G. S. Willard in 1905. Mr. Willard was replaced in 1907 with W. L. Bailey, who stayed in Conetoe until S. L. Gardner replaced him in 1911. R. E. Shynn took over agent responsibilities for Mr. Gardner in 1913 and is listed as “R. E. Shryver” in 1915 and 1916 documentation. This is more than likely a typographical error due to poor penmanship. The final agent located was R. Linwood Mone from the 1930 Federal Census, with no other discovered in Conetoe in the 1910 and 1920 records. Mone owned his residence in Conetoe, leading researchers to question how long he remained there.

            The passenger service to Conetoe ended after World War II and the train depot was consequently used very little, eventually forcing it to close entirely. The train station remained unused and empty until 1983, when it was purchased by Tom Glennon, who had it moved 6 miles west to the community of Old Sparta. Mr. Glennon converted the depot into a guest house by shortening the cargo bay considerably and using the reclaimed timber in the construction of a new residence. White washed beams and sheathing can be still be found under the newer residence reused as joists and subfloor. Spare eaves braces were adaptively reused on the porch adding a touch of rural flair.
Many other changes took place after the move to Old Sparta. The roof was replaced with slate only to be once again replaced in 2009 with asphalt shingles. The cargo bay was sheathed with tongue and groove bead board on three sides and the wall shared with the agent’s office was covered horizontally with wide planks butted together. Large bay windows were added to the cargo area emulating the grandness of the original usage and the sheathing on the ceiling allowed the rafters to be exposed, creating a cathedral effect. The agent’s office was remodeled into a kitchen and dining area with stained glass closing the ticket windows permanently. The waiting area was transformed into bedroom space and retaining the original walls and floors. A small bathroom fashioned to remind users of an outhouse was added below the gabled end on the outside of the passenger waiting areas.

The Conetoe train depot is now a full-time residency. It has the same problems common to old buildings everywhere; the summers are too hot, the winters are too cold, the exterior needs to be repainted, and the bathroom can never be big enough. Even so, it is a happy place. A state of euphoria transcends as you enter the building and reminisce of all the people that have traveled through this rural little train depot, the life line of a little town. So if you ever find yourself traveling on North Carolina Highway 42 and come across a crossing once known as Old Sparta, be sure to wave to the Conetoe train depot across the pasture. Perhaps the current owners will even ring the bell once again just for you.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A week OFF work = a week OF work

I had all intentions of sneaking back to work last week and surprising my co-workers when they returned with a brand new upper frame beam and some repaired vertical beams. “Had intentions,” that is until I was asked (which translates into “informed without room for argument”) that I should stay home and complete some of the tasks on my own to-do list around the house.
            The to-do list (or honey-do list as it is also known) is never full of glorious and wonderful jobs that want to get done. In fact, the majority of the to-do list is so boring that it remains on the to-do list for a very long time. My list is no different with tasks like: change the direction of the track lighting that is 12 foot high, take down these curtains, put up these other curtain with a different rod. I’m not being completely fair; however, most of my to-do list currently consists of enjoyable woodworking type projects constantly shuffled to the bottom of the priority list. I think that perhaps my week off won’t be that bad.
            Now fast forward to the end of the week. Some of the completed projects this week include: a cat tree for the hoard, a litter box made from a Tupperware container and an impromptu tray for the smallest cat. The tray project became a necessity when the youngest cat, who suffers from a medical issue that prevents him from walking, cut his way out of his mobile kennel and rolled himself around the floors. The tray neatly contains all his items and an accessible personal litter pan and prevents him from hurting himself.
            I also spent much needed time on non-cat projects: cleaned the workshop, installed a clamp hanger, hung a French-style hand plane shelf (which was originally made for the clamps), and threw up a dart board. Additionally, I spent the last two days fighting with a huge blanket chest that I have been semi-avoiding due to the size and my inexperience such a large piece. Oh, I have stories to share on the building of the chest, but I will save that for another post.

            It’s now the last night prior to returning to work and I feel quite accomplished. I even changed the curtains around (with some extra prodding)….but sadly, the track lighting will have to wait.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Saving for a Rainy day

Rotted beam
My parents always told me to save my money for a rainy day. On the Norfleet project, this cliché actually means to hold all the really fun work until we literally get a “rainy” day.  My current rainy day project is to replace a section of rotten horizontal beam that was discovered when we were getting one of the roofs ready for the cedar shakes that are coming this fall. This section is also tied into three ceiling joists, but is completely accessible with the roof intact, making it a perfect rainy day project.

            The 5-foot section is located on the rear side of the main house and spans from one of the window frames to the corner. Our first concern was to brace the ceiling joists to make certain the whole place wouldn’t come down when we cut it out. We installed dual braces: one uses a partially milled portico column some and some face-nailed 2x4s beneath the ceiling joists and the other uses a couple face-nailed 2x6s fastened to the top of the ceiling joists with large timber framing screws. These two systems combined with the perpendicular exterior wall and a beefy 1-inch kick plate on the rafters completely ensures the building will remain a building and not a demolition sight.
Rotted section removed!

View of the half dovetail joint the the corner tenon
            I made the initial cuts into the rotted section and began to remove pieces in order to get a more detailed picture of what the replacement would have to look like and discovered a half dovetail lapped joint where the beam met the corner post. This is a common technique for the time period but left me a bit puzzled as to how I would get a beam up there that would have to notch into three rafters, mortise into three tenons on the vertical beams and add a half dovetail. (Actually, the half dovetail was the least of my concerns at the moment.)

Rot from the inside, the other side is completely blown out

 As we continued to ponder the beam, we discovered a huge area of rot on the bottom of the corner post that would have to get replaced. This can be considered a stroke of luck as we can now remove the vertical beams, reinstall a new section of the horizontal beam and then reinstall the repaired vertical beams…but I guess we’ll have to save that for another “rainy” day. 
All posts removed for repairs

Friday, June 24, 2011

Proud to work like a Norfleet

Isaac and Christiana Norfleet were well respected members of the town of Tarboro, North Carolina in the early 1800s. Owning over 1700 acres of land, Isaac had a small house built around 1810 that would fill up with children quickly as he and Christiana expanded their family. An addition was added to the back of the house around 1830 by their son Robert, the fourth of ten children. The addition was most likely a dining room for the large family and was thought to be connected to the main house by a large covered breezeway.

After standing empty for many years, the structure was used in the 1950s to house the warden of a prison system built nearby on property formerly owned by the Norfleet family. In 1999, long after the prison was shut down, the house was moved north of Tarboro where it sat as a rental unit for eleven years. In 2009, Edgecombe Community College purchased the house and had it moved to its campus. Coincidentally, the campus is located on the remains of the old prison system that was once part of Isaac Norfleet’s land. The house is now located less than one quarter mile from its original location in the early 1800s.

The Norfleet house is the center piece for Edgecombe Community College’s Historic Preservation Program. The program is very “hands on” and many classes use the house as a classroom. The goal of the college is to have the house restored to its original state within the next 3 years.

I’m one of 3 people working on this house this summer and I feel really accomplished with the work we have done so far. I’ve also learned so much more than just a classroom experience could ever relay. Using the secrets found in the historic lumber; secrets revealed by tool marks, shadows, and joinery, we are quickly making progress on a project that will be the pride of the college and the community of Tarboro. I’m proud to be a part of that.

If you are interested on following my progress on this project on a daily basis, feel free to connect to my facebook ( or twitter (@kenderc) accounts where I post progress pictures frequently. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Welcome to the year of education!

Wow, what a finish to 2010, and a great start to 2011! The holiday season was full of wonderment and surprises, perfect for the lead into the new year which is beginning at a breakneck pace. Let me review... (insert Scooby Doo fade sequence here)

In November I answered an ad looking for some help milling lumber, which led to moving into a rehabilitated train depot built in 1880, resulting in a little extra income and an awesome place to move into. There is much more to this story but I'll wait a few months before releasing all of the details.

Forward to December where I met and talked to Roy Underhill about Roubo and train stations. He invited me to send him some more pictures of the depot, which I have not yet had the time to do. He and Bill Anderson were very supportive of the house and my plans to persue a  Historic Preservation degree.

Finally in January, school! I began my degree with full time classes in: Historic Carpentry, Historical Culture and Landscape, Architectual Drafting, Researching Historical Properties. These classes are so awesome and I spend everyday anxious to go back to school!

Daily routines have been once again uprooted and pressure is on to do well and still make enough money to survive, but I would truely have it no other way. Welcome 2011, year of education!