Part Two: The happy and sad story of ancient Washington County, North Carolina

by Angela Perez

When I got back to my dad’s house in Plymouth after driving around Washington County on Monday, I was agitated.  After taking all those photos of beautiful things mostly forgotten, now hidden under sinews of thick vines; of rotten shacks and crumbling mansions that people look past and just don’t notice much anymore, well, my heart felt heavy and my belly was bound up in tight achey knots.

“Dad,” I said, “I need to get back to Raleigh.”

He was sitting at the kitchen table.  He wrinkled his nose and looked down at his hands.

“I guess there’s not much for you to do when you come to visit, is there?”

“I came here to see you, dad,” I said.  “The rest doesn’t matter.”

(NOTE: my dad is almost 80 years old.  He looks good for his age, but, still, whenever my cell phone rings after 8 p.m. I immediately get stressed out that someone has called to tell me he’s died.  When you hit your 40s, late evening phone calls no longer come from eager lovers, they come from other family members telling you that some other family member is dead and gone, God rest his or her soul.)

I had told him the day before about how the state of things around the town I grew up in affected me in such a dark and pressing way.

“Guess you won’t want to come back here again,” he said.   “I don’t blame you.”

He got up and hugged me, and it made my bones sad.

“Oh, I’ll be back,” I said.  “There’s a lot of beauty along these rivers and streets.  An enormous story to tell.   History to be restored.   A community that cares, I think.  I don’t know who they are yet.  But I will.”  I really should have mentioned that the chili-cheeseburger special at Little Man had always been my biggest draw to come home, but he didn’t seem to be in a joking mood.

“When are you coming back?” he asked.

“Soon, pop, real soon.”

I’d already put my luggage in the car earlier so I called for my dog Tater and he hopped in.  As we backed out of the driveway, I saw my dad watching us from the back door as we drove off.  He was waving.

Since last weekend, I can’t get Washington County off of my mind.  There’s a calvary of ghosts in coveralls and homespun cotton dresses that’s been haunting me ever since.   The spirit of that place is not a dream.  But how will I fly this thing?

To read PART ONE, click here.

One more thing:  this conversation isn’t verbatim, but you get the gist.

One of the historic buildings on Water Street that has been left to fend for itself.  I like how the awnings are so different but the window is split between the buildings.

One of the historic buildings on Water Street that has been left to fend for itself. I like how the awnings are so different but the window is split between the buildings.

8 comments

  • Angela, you write beautifully about Washington County and your photos are phenomenal. I taught in Washington County for 2 years and have just been revisiting my experience as I think about helping people tell their stories. The people I interacted with while I lived there carried so much pride in their heritage and their home, it was a privilege to see it. Thanks for sharing their story.

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    • Thank you for your comments – I rarely go to visit “back home” any more. I only hope their economic development efforts to promote ecotourism succeed.

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  • hello, my mother’s family is from Creswell, NC then moved to Cherry. Love this area. Davenport.

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  • I came across this blog today as I looked into info on my family history. Thank you for writing about Washington County. I am descended from the slaves of Somerset Place and have family who still lives there.

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  • My husband and I just visited this area (researching his family history), and I have to say that even though the place looks a little run down, we ate in a restaurant (that did not look too good from the outside) in Plymouth, that had the best food I ever ate here in the USA, and I travelled quite a bit already. I’m researching school class pictures from 1900 to 1934, hoping to find my father in law or his dad in one of them.

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  • Good or bad Plymouth is where I was born. It was nice to grow up in a small town and enjoy a slower pace. I wouldn’t change that for anything. One of the great things about small towns is there are always people to lend a helping hand. There isn’t a time that I cant remember being able to make a phone call and get help if I needed it and I have had those friends from Raleigh, Greenville and Up North that have come back home and broke down and the locals helped in getting them back home. In my opinion all towns are the same, same problems same gossip and same advantages. The people of a community is what makes the difference. Whether its Creswell, Roper or Plymouth, home is still home. I was born in the old Washington County Hospital that is now the Board of Education building on a quiet Sunday in that small town. To this day I prefer small towns and being able to go to the local store and know half the people there. Washington County isn’t perfect but there sure are many worse places to live.

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  • I believe there are a lot of people who do care and work hard to make it better and they stayed!! Me and my husband came 16years ago and all of our family and children are making a life here!! Together it will happen!!

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  • Yes, Washington County haunts me for a while after every visit “home”…I gotta run back to Raleigh, too. Enjoyed this piece – well, “enjoyed” isn’t the right word. Appreciated, maybe. Resonated. I get it – and it helps somewhat to know I’m not alone in these feelings. Your pictures of Fourth Street Elementary really got me; I remember sitting on those “huge” steps waiting for my sister to pick me up on her way home from Plymouth High…sigh. Maybe this is just part of getting old, realizing that my good memories can’t happen in the same way for my children. Those things are gone, and in the case of Plymouth, most of the people who would have built new things just left, instead.

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