Prominent African American family home to be restored.
By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — Six years ago a historian stumbled upon an old ramshackle house hidden among tall grasses and trees between Spring Street and the town cemetery.
After determining it was a historic site, likely the birthplace of the late Allen Young, the town’s most prominent black educator, the town had it boarded up, awaiting refurbishment and restoration.
With a just-announced $10,000 Stedman Incentive Grant from Preservation North Carolina, the town is kicking into high gear the work on that repair.
“The Historic Preservation Commission and the town have contracted with David St. John to restore the first floor and clean out fire debris from 1970s,” said Michelle Michael, the Wake Forest planner who applied for the grant.
Once that’s done, St. John construction will work its way up, repairing the second floor, the staircase, etc.
“The whole hope is to get the building rehabbed so we can use it for a heritage site or similar purpose,” she added. “It’s really important, not only the legacy of the Young family and that history, but also architecturally — there are no African-American, or even white, workers’ housing around, they just tore them down.”
Prominent black family
Built as a duplex, the house is a one-and-a-half story board-and-batten, saddle-bag form on high stone piers.
The house belonged to and is named for Ailey Young, Allen Young’s mother. His own daughter, also named Ailey Young, was Wake Forest’s first black town commissioner.
It is believed to have been built in the 1870s as farm laborer housing as part of Simmons Row, named for Wake Forest College Professor William G. Simmons.
In 1895, the entire house was sold to Ailey Young. Census records report the Young family in the house in 1880, as renters.
Ailey and Henry Young’s oldest son, Allen, believed to have been born in the house in 1875, grew up to be one of the most significant historical figures in Wake Forest.
In 1905, he began the first school for black children in Wake Forest. The school became the Wake Forest Normal and Industrial Institute and its largest enrollment was more than 300 students.
Simmons’ family and the family of Ailey Young were good friends, according to historic documents provided by the town. Simmons took a particular interest in Allen Young, seeing that he received a proper education.
After Simmons’ death, his wife sold the houses on Simmons Row and a large portion of property behind them in the area now called the East End.
It is the oldest African American house in Wake Forest and northern Wake County.
Path to recognition
Purchased by the town in the 1980s for cemetery expansion, the house was completely overgrown, damaged by fire, and largely forgotten when it was rediscovered in 2008 during research for a historic resource survey conducted by architectural historian Ruth Little.
The town and the Wake Forest Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) recognized its significance and worked to mothball the structure to prevent further damage. It was designated a local historic landmark in June 2012 and in August of 2014, the HPC adopted a preservation plan to rehabilitate the house in phases.
Stedman grants are awarded to recognize and assist non-profit organizations in their efforts to preserve the state’s architectural heritage.
The town had trouble getting grants for the Ailey Young House, according to Michaels, because it’s not on the National Historic Register. But to get it onto the register, they’d have to fix it up first, due to its extreme state of disrepair and degradation from years sitting abandoned, and being lived-in by transients.
Sifting through history
This week, David St. John, his son David and other workers have worked to clear out the ashes from the fire, sifting through each pile to look for anything of historical significance.
“What we’re doing right now is shoring up the floor and getting ashes and old mattress springs and couches out,” the senior St. John said.
Any items deemed worth saving — such as old hinges or door latches or whatnot — will be cleaned and kept in the room it was found, perhaps to be put on display when the residence is fully restored, he said.
St. John and his wife Renee have restored several homes, including on North Main Street and in the Mill Village, and his family-owned company has refurbished other old buildings.
They turned a barn into a residence in Youngsville, for instance, and restored buildings on the campus at both Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and at Louisburg College.
With assistance from Jeff Adolphsen of the state historic preservation office, and now retired town planner Agnes Wanman, St. John also did the early work to stabilize the Ailey Young House.
“We have an emphasis on remodeling, particularly older, historic homes, St. John said.
The Stedman grant will be awarded at Preservation North Carolina’s annual meeting next month.
Only one $10,000 grant recipient is named each year, said Lauren Werner, directer of communication for Preservation NC. “Its certainly very deserving and we’re glad the town of Wake Forest is behind it,” she said. “We got really lucky with this [grant],” Michael added. “I’m very excited about it.”