Development Services

Historic Preservation

Historic Districts are established in order to help maintain and preserve areas of the City that have significant historic or architectural value. Regulations are applied through the use of an overlay zoning district, which sets forth rules that require review of all building activity affecting the exterior of buildings, structures, or site features.

The National Register of Historic Districts is our country’s official list of buildings, structures, objects, sites and districts worthy of preservation for their significance in American history, architecture, archaeology, and culture. The National Register was created by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 to recognize and protect properties of historic and cultural significance. For a private owner, the chief practical benefit of National Register listing is eligibility for federal and state investment tax credits that can be claimed against the cost of a certified rehabilitation of a historic building. Within Rocky Mount, there are a total of seven historic districts listed on the National Register. Below are brief descriptions of the significance of each district and access to a copy of the official National Register nomination:

The North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office

Local Historic Districts

The Local Historic District designation is a type of zoning that is generally applied to protect entire areas or groups of historic structures. Historic district zoning can help to improve property values by stabilizing and enhancing the neighborhood’s character, and it benefits property owners by protecting them from insensitive changes by other owners that might destroy the special qualities of the neighborhood.

Property owners within a locally designated district are required to obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness from the HPC before making significant exterior changes or additions to a property, before beginning new constructions, and before demolishing or relocating a building or structure. Unlike landmark designations, local historic district designation has no effect on local property taxes for property owners within the designated district. Since 2000, the Rocky Mount City Council has approved local designation for the Central City, Edgemont, Rocky Mount Mills Village, and Villa Place Historic Districts.

Local Historic Landmarks

The Local Historic Landmark designations apply to individual buildings, structures, sites, areas, or objects which are studies by the HC and judged to have historical, architectural, archaeological, or cultural value. Designation is an honor, meaning the community believes the property deserves recognition and protection. The local government designates landmarks through passage of an ordinance. Owners of landmarks are eligible to apply for an annual 50% property tax deferral as long as the property’s important historic features are maintained. Recapture penalties may apply if the owner destroys the property or damages its historic value.

The Rocky Mount City Council has approved local landmark designation for: Imperial Tobacco Company Building (Imperial Centre for the Arts & Science), the Power Plant, the former Thomas Hackney Braswell Memorial Library, Rocky Mount Mills, and the Walter “Buck” Leonard Home.

Central City Historic District

Rocky Mount’s central city encompasses a cohesive collection of commercial and industrial buildings reflecting the city’s rapid growth during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when tobacco processing and sales and the railroad brought the community unprecedented prosperity. The spine of the district is the broad, dramatic stretch of Main Street, with the railroad tracks and right-of-way down the middle of the street and consistent streetscapes of handsome brick commercial buildings extending for blocks. With the exception of a remodeled shop fronts, the city presents an appearance not far removed from its boom era. Paralleling it is Washington Street, where similar commercial buildings retain perhaps even more of their integrity at both upper and lower levels. The imposing red brick railroad depot at the south end and the collection of tobacco warehouses at the north define both the edges and the economic basis of the district.

Central City Historic District National Register of Historic Places Listing

Edgemont Historic District

Edgemont, a subdivision three blocks east of Main Street in Rocky Mount, was platted in 1914 by Rocky Mount civil engineer Luther D. Harper on farmland. The principal avenue of Tarboro Street, with flanking Sycamore and Hill Streets, compose the core of the subdivision, with four crossing streets and service alleys through the centers of the blocks. As the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, which had its repair shops in Rocky Mount, and the town’s tobacco market boomed in the early twentieth century, Edgemont developed as one of the most stylish of the town’s suburbs. For the next twenty-five years doctors, lawyers, tobacconists, salesmen, clerks, and employees of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad built bungalows, Foursquares, and Colonia and Tudor Revival style houses on the spacious, flat lots in the Edgemont subdivision. Along the alleys they erected matching garages, and occasionally maids’ quarters, that form stylish ensembles. The Edgemont Historic District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places because of its significance in the area of community development as one of the major subdivisions of the city’s pre-World War II boom period. The district is one of the most intact collections of historic residential design in Rocky Mount and the extremely well-preserved streetscapes of houses and garages of matching architectural design have strong architectural significance.

Edgemont Historic District National Register of Historic Places Listing

Edgemont Historic District Boundary Expansion National Register of Historic Places Listing

Falls Road Historic District

The Falls Road Historic District, an extremely well-preserved residential district containing one-hundred historic buildings, primarily houses, developed beginning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to 1950 grew northwestward from downtown Rocky Mount and is associated with many important tobacconists, businessmen, and physicians in Rocky Mount’s history. Rocky Mount experienced a burst of construction from the late 1890s into 1920s generated by the establishment of the Rocky Mount Tobacco Market and the Atlantic Coast Line’s repair shops. Like other main streets adjacent to downtown, stylish houses were built along Falls Road in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Falls Road, essentially an extension of Main Street, experienced resurgence in development during the 1920s as large brick homes were built for doctors associated with Park View Hospital, which opened on Falls Road in 1914.

The residences of the Falls Road neighborhood reflect building practices in Rocky Mount from 1900 to 1950, when local architects and builders supplied nationally popular house designs to their clients. Contractors such as D. J. Rose, Sam Toler and architects, John C. Stout and Thomas Herman, built solid stylish houses along Falls Road, often from architects’ plans. The district exemplifies popular architectural styles of the period, including the Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Neoclassical Revival, Georgian Revival and Craftsman styles. A small scattering of houses built in the early 1900s stand as a reminder of Rocky Mount’s early boom of residential development. Several brick Colonial and Georgian Revival style homes represent the 1920s expansion of the neighborhood.

Falls Road Historic District National Register of Historic Places Listing


Lincoln Park Historic District

The Lincoln Park Historic District is located in the northeast section of Rocky Mount, in west Edgecombe County, North Carolina. The residential district is an intact collection of single-family Minimal Traditional-style houses and one restaurant and motel. The neighborhood commenced in 1948, under the direction of local real estate firm, Wimberley and Gregory and the Tar River Housing Corporation, with the construction of the first homes in 1948, and continued through 1953 with the completion of the restaurant and motel. The new neighborhood was marketed exclusively to middle-class African American families seeking the opportunity to become homeowners and was the first modern suburban development of its size in Rocky Mount to do so. The neighborhood was able to successfully attract working families armed with the advantage of new policies enacted by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). The realtors quickly amassed commitments for every home in the development. The Minimal Traditional-style houses were designed by regionally-prominent architect Thomas B. Herman of Wilson, North Carolina. The development of this suburban neighborhood assisted in ushering in a new way of living for African Americans in Rocky Mount, as most families had previously lived in dense urban neighborhoods in and around the central city and mill village areas.

Lincoln Park Historic District National Register of Historic Places Listing


Rocky Mount Mills Village Historic District

The Rocky Mount Mills Village Historic District is a remarkably intact mill village straddling Falls Road (NC 43/48), south of the Tar River, in the northwest section of Rocky Mount in Nash County. Built between 1835 and 1948, the historic structures that make up the district comprise historic mill and mill village associated with the second oldest cotton mill in North Carolina. Encompassing six blocks, the district consists of industrial and residential resources, from the antebellum, post-bellum, and twentieth century development of Rocky Mount Mills. Located on approximately 98 acres and irregular in shape, the district is roughly bounded by the south side of the Tar River to the north, Spring Street to the south, and Columbia Avenue and Carr Street to the east and west, respectively.

The Rocky Mount Mills Village Historic District contains seventy-four contributing principal resources; made up of eight industrial buildings and two dwellings located in the 1100 block of Falls Road, and sixty-four mills houses located on River Drive, Falls Road, Carr Street, Elm Street, and Spring Street.

Rocky Mount Mills Village Historic District National Register of Historic Places Listing

Rocky Mount Mills National Register of Historic Places Listing


Villa Place Historic District

Villa Place, a roughly nine-block neighborhood located three blocks west of Main Street, is the most intact turn-of-the-century residential subdivision in the city of Rocky Mount. The densely developed neighborhood is filled with well-preserved Queen Anne, Foursquare, Craftsman, Colonial Revival and Neoclassical Revival style houses built between 1900 and the 1940s by employees of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and other businesses in the bustling railroad and tobacco town. The West End Land Development Company laid out the east half of the district in 1891 and sold lots until 1907 when the American Suburban Corporation took over the development. In 1913 this company platted the west half of the district as Villa Place. The entire area is now known by this name. West School, the first public graded school in Rocky Mount, was built in the district in 1901. Its successor, the James Craig Braswell School, a brick Moderne style building, was erected on the Pearl Street site in 1940 and is still in use. The principal district landmark is Machaven, a spectacular Neoclassical Revival style brick mansion built in the middle of the subdivision in 1908 from a design by Raleigh architect H. P. S. Keller. The strong local significance of Villa Place in the history of Rocky Mount’s community development and architectural development render it eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Villa Place is undergoing a renaissance as young families move back to the inner city and restore the delightful architectural features of its dwellings.

Villa Place Historic District National Register of Historic Places Listing


West Haven National Historic District

West Haven Historic District is a roughly twenty-five block neighborhood located approximately one mile wet of downtown Rocky Mount and adjacent to the Tar River. This largely intact neighborhood represents the high point of residential development in Nash County following World War I. The neighborhood is one of the first planned developments in Rocky Mount to move away from the grid system. West Haven’s broad curvilinear streets, spacious lawns and initial residences, built in popular variations of the traditional Colonial Revival style, reflected the desire for a sylvan retreat removed from the bustle of the center city. Developed by local civil engineer, John Wells, the 1928 plan incorporated two multi-acre sties reserved for small parks. Architects Thomas Herman of Wilson and Harry Harles of Rocky Mount, along with local contractors led by D. J. Rose and Samuel Toler built excellent Colonial Revival-style houses for prosperous clients. While the Colonial Revival prevailed in the West Haven Historic District, an assortment of Spanish Colonial, Dutch Colonial, and Tudor Revival styles appeared as well. Post World War II houses included more modest minimal traditional and ranch houses.

West Haven Historic District National Register of Historic Places Listing

Certificate of Appropriateness

Owners of historic landmarks or properties within local historic districts are required to obtain a certificate of appropriateness before beginning any type of exterior construction, alteration, or demolition. The local historic district overlay zoning is in addition to all other laws and codes and does not exempt a property from, or diminish, such requirements. The certificate of appropriateness is a preliminary step in obtaining a building permit if a permit is required for proposed work. A certificate of appropriateness certifies that the proposed changes are consistent with the design guidelines and are appropriate within the historic district context. Neither interior alterations nor most normal maintenance work requires a certificate of appropriateness.

Applications for certificates of appropriateness are processed through the Office of Planning and Development of the City of Rocky Mount. Information may also be obtained by calling the Planning and Development Department at 972-1172. Applications should be submitted at least three weeks before a regularly scheduled meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission in order to me mailed out with the agenda.

All applications must be complete before the Historic Preservation Commission may consider them. To be complete, an application must include all the facts necessary for a full understanding of the applicant’s intentions. The application must provide specific information regarding the work so that the commission can determine if there will be any damage or detrimental change to the historic character of the district or landmark.

Applications should include any relevant supplemental materials, such as accurate drawings, site or plot plans, samples of materials, and photographs. If a project, such as a new building, is large enough to require input at several stages, then a committee of the commission may be appointed to work with the owner in developing an acceptable proposal. Once it is issued, a Certificate of Appropriateness is valid for a year.

Design Guidelines

We are pleased to present to you the HPC Design Guidelines. This information should enable you to understand and apply more easily an application for a certificate of appropriateness. Within local historic districts and local landmarks, property owners are required to obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness before beginning any type of major exterior construction, alteration or demolition.

The Commission is eager to help each resident and believes this guideline manual will clarify as well as educate. We applaud every effort you make and every step you take to improve your neighborhood. Working together we can upgrade and beautify our neighborhoods and at the same time preserve their historic character.

Thank you for being a valuable part of the Rocky Mount community and please know that you are welcome at the monthly commission meetings (4th Tuesday, 6:00 pm, 3rd floor Committee Room, Frederick E. Turnage Municipal Building) either as an interested visitor or applicant.


What does local historic designation mean to me as a property owner?

Historic districts are not designed to prevent changes. Rather, they assist in shaping changes that enhance the historic assets that make a district unique. The City zoning code protects a local historic district’s assets by establishing a special design review process which assures the issuance of a Certificate of Appropriateness. This process ensures that proposed work is compatible with the nature of the historic property and contributes to the character of the historic district as a whole.

Plans for exterior alterations, new construction, demolitions, or moving of buildings are reviewed before any work may begin and the permit is issued. This includes plans for additions to existing buildings, removal or enclosure of porches, erection of signs, and the addition of retaining walls, decks and fences. Consult the HPC Design Guidelines for more information.

Local historic district designation is an overlay zoning district. It affects only the exterior appearance of buildings and landscape features. The use of the building is not addressed by this overlay but is subject to the citywide zoning ordinance.

How do I begin the process of applying for a Certificate of Appropriateness

Photographs and drawings depicting the proposed changes will be required for the review process. Applications are forwarded to the Historic Preservation Commission for review.

Certain minor changes that do not substantially affect properties can be approved by staff through the Minor Works process. This includes such things as replacement of in-kind roof coverings, removal of siding, and replacement of missing architectural elements when there is no change in design or materials from the original. If you have any questions, the City’s Department of Development Services can help you.

Am I recquired to restore my property or to get permission for general maintenance or interior work?

The local historic district designation does not require you to make any alterations or changes to your property. General maintenance work that does not change the exterior appearance is not reviewed, nor are interior alterations.


Are there benefits to me?

Yes. Owning property in a local historic district ensures that your neighborhood will be protected from unmanaged change. Because the review process requires public comment, neighboring property owners are given more involvement with the development and alterations in their area than if no district were in place.


What kind of technical help can I get in preserving my property?

The Department of Development Services provides professional staff support for the Historic Preservation Commission. Staff can make site consultations at your property and provide technical assistance in solving problems typically encountered by historic property owners, such as, persistently peeling paint and exterior cleaning methods. Also, the Commission maintains a library of preservation resource materials in the Department of Development Services which you may consult or copy.


If my neighborhood is proposed for local historic designation, do I have any say in whether it is established?

Yes. Public comment is an important part of the designation process. By law, property owners in a proposed local historic district must be notified of the proposal so they may testify for or against it during the public hearings. Neighborhood meetings are held to discuss the impact of the proposed designation. A contact person will be identified in each neighborhood to assist with any questions.


Will the value of my property increase if it becomes part of a local district? How about my taxes?

Neighborhood change is affected by forces that occur independently of historic district designation. Economic pressures of development and shifting population trends may affect property values. Many local historic districts have experienced improvement in the appearance of the area and an increase in home ownership. This is not guaranteed. However, studies show absolutely no evidence of decline in property values from historic district designation. Indeed, designation consistently encourages reinvestment and may result in higher property values. At this time, there is no special tax assessment for local historic districts; therefore, your taxes should not increase more than others in the community.

Why designate districts?

Districts can be designated for a variety of reasons relating to the social, architectural, historical, and/or cultural significance of the area. Local historic district designation is designed to protect and enhance the existing character of a community, not to change it.

For more information, contact the City of Rocky Mount Department of Development Services at 252-972-1108 or email