MURRAY HOUSE COUNTRY INN
The Town of Kenansville is a full service municipality located slightly west of the center of Duplin County. The current population is 855.
The Town of Kenansville sponsors a variety of programs and activities which contribute to the relaxed, family- oriented lifestyle for which the community is becoming increasingly well known.
Kenansville Historic District
The Kenansville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. A Kenansville Historic District Boundary Decrease was listed in 2003.
The town plan of Kenansville, laid off in 1818, consisted of a central square containing the courthouse, two streets (Main Street and Cross Street) which intersected the square, and eight lots bordering the square. This grid plan has not survived. The present amorphous street plan of Kenansville, resembling a hub with spokes, is the result of building along the roads which radiate out from courthouse square to other county settlements; thus no distinct division exists between the town and country houses. The freestanding houses located on the radiating streets are surrounded by spacious wooded grounds, and resemble farm houses more than town houses in character. The Kenansville Historic District comprises approximately sixty per cent of the town area. The commercial fabric of the Kenansville Historic District, which consists predominantly of early twentieth century row buildings, is concentrated in the block immediately east of the courthouse. Only a few scattered commercial buildings intrude upon the semi-rural residential and institutional character of the remainder of the historic district, which is dominated by the Greek Revival style, reflecting the 1840-1861 boom era of the town.
Only one building predating the Greek Revival period has survived — the Brown-Jones House, a one-story frame house of Federal style (south side of Routledge Street, 124 Routledge Street, NC Route 24, behind the Baptist Church). Although remodeled during the Greek Revival period, most of the original exterior fabric and the original interior fabric of one room remains. The Brown-Jones House is covered with plain siding and pierced with nine-over-nine sash windows with molded architraves. Boxed cornices and beaded raking cornices ornament the eaves, a steep gable roof caps the structure, and at each gable end is an exterior end single-shoulder chimney of brick laid in irregular common bond. A delicate Federal mantel, flush-sheathed dado, molded chair rail, plaster walls, doors containing six flat panels, and interior transoms are remnants of the original interior finish.
Eleven scattered Greek Revival houses — the Kelly-Farrior House (now the Cowan Museum, 411 South Main Street), the Kenan House (Liberty Hall, 409 S. Main Street), the Pearsall House (northwest corner of Seminary and Stokes streets), the Isaac Kelly House (211 S. Main Street), the Dr. David Gillespie House (210 Seminary Street), the Dr. James Blount House, the old Methodist Parsonage (201 Routledge Street), the Hinson House (622 S. Main Street), the Stanford House (west side of Limestone Road, NC 50), the Abernathy-Wallace House (154 Limestone Road), and the Grimes House (117 Routledge Street) — and two Greek Revival churches — the Grove Presbyterian Church and the Kenansville Baptist Church (408 S. Main Street) — form the framework and set the dignified architectonic character of the historic district. The majority of the houses are two stories in height, with one- or two-story pedimented front porches, one-story pedimented side porches and pedimented gable ends. Some of the houses have interior brick chimneys and some have exterior ones. The two one-story Greek Revival houses are handled in the same dignified manner as the larger dwellings.
The Greek Revival idiom of Kenansville, characterized without exception by the Doric order and by frame construction, is a robust, very plain style saved from mediocrity by the harmony of proportion exemplified in each of the buildings. This harmony is displayed in the pleasing balance between the heavy corner pilasters which visually support the overhanging boxed eaves and the central pedimented porches. The strong sense of bulk is relieved by delicate porch railings, composed either of slender plain balusters or of sheaf-of-wheat patterns. The full-height main facade portico of the Abernathy-Wallace House (west side of Limestone Road, NC Route 50), is lightened by the use of latticework support posts. The typical entrance is a single door with four flat panels surrounded by a narrow-paned transom and sidelights, flanked by pilasters which support an entablature. The entrance of the Pearsall House (northwest corner of Seminary and Stokes streets), featuring an elegant fanlight and lozenge-patterned sidelights, is unique.
The Greek Revival houses follow a standard interior center hall plan, two rooms deep. The typical stair is delicate, rather Federal in scale, with slender plain balusters, a small rounded handrail and turned newel, and contrasts strongly with the otherwise robust trim. Surrounds are wide plain boards with plain corner blocks. Mantels are reduced to posts and lintels with Doric pilaster caps and curved shelves relieving the severity. The most ornate interior decoration is the elaborate plaster modillion cornice and acanthus medallion in the parlor of the Dr. Blount House (north side of Main Street between Stokes and Cooper streets), one of the two one-story Greek Revival houses in the Kenansville Historic District.
Deviations from the symmetrical Greek Revival floor plan in several of the houses in the Kenansville Historic District represent local adaptations to the humid climate of southeastern North Carolina. In one of the earliest of the Greek Revival group, the Kelly-Farrior House (south side of Main Street opposite courthouse square), the only original access to the second floor was an enclosed stair entered from the breezeway separating the main block from the kitchen and dining wing. This stair remains the only access to the second floor, but the breezeway has been enclosed. Several earlier examples of exterior stairs were recorded in Duplin County, but these are now destroyed. The Kelly-Farrior House also contains an early conservatory, apparently original to the house, which consists of a one-story west side room with continuous sash windows separated by Doric pilasters. Another interesting example of climatic adaptation is found in the Stanford House (west side of Limestone Road, NC 50), in which a quadruple-leaved door opens from the center hall into the right rear room. This door can be folded back to open the room completely, allowing breezes to be channeled through the double door at the rear of the hall. This room probably served as the summer sitting room. Another example of the Kenansville summer room was formerly found in the Isaac Kelly House (south side of Main Street near Duplin Street intersection). A double door originally led from the center hall into the right rear room here also. The Kenan House has an interesting rear lateral hall which leads into the dining room in the right rear wing, and the double door at the left end of the hall would have channeled refreshing air into the dining room, which opens to the hall through another double door.
The most impressive of the Greek Revival group, the recently restored Dr. Gillespie House (northwest corner of Seminary and Duplin streets), deserves a detailed description. The two-story rectangular frame house, three bays wide and three deep, is set on a brick foundation and capped by a gable roof. Two interior brick chimneys project from the roof. Fluted Doric pilasters grace the corners of the main (south) facade and the east facade, while the remaining corners have plain pilasters. The window and door surrounds of these two elevations are crossetted, while those of the remaining elevations are plain. A classical entablature ornaments the eaves, and the gable ends feature flush-sheathed pediments, each with a sash window in the center. A two-story pedimented entrance porch distinguishes the main facade. The heaviness of the Doric posts is balanced by the plain, delicate porch railing at both levels. The main entrance consists of a single flat-paneled door surrounded by full-length sidelights and a transom and set within a crossetted architrave. The second-story entrance is identical but lacks a transom. A one-story pedimented porch, very similar but smaller than the main facade porch, with latticed sides, projects from the center bay of the east elevation. The interior of the Dr. David Gillespie House follows the standard center-hall plan two-rooms deep, and the trim is typical of the Kenansville Historic District.
The two Greek Revival churches are extremely similar: both are one-story frame temple-form buildings with bell towers rising from the roof apex just behind the main facade. Both have simple, strong Doric detailing of identical character to the domestic Greek Revival style of the district. The main entrance of the Baptist Church has been altered, but that of the Presbyterian Church building consists of flat-paneled Doric pilasters flanking a transom and supporting a wide entablature with a dentil cornice. Greek Revival character survives in other aspects of the town fabric, including St. John’s Lodge (west side of Lodge Street), a two-story mid-nineteenth century Masonic meeting hall; the Beasley Law Office, a small frame early twentieth century building with a pedimented Doric porch, located behind the courthouse; and in the wooden lyre gate dating from Kenansville’s boom era which survives at the rear of the Isaac Kelly House.
The crossetted architraves of the Dr. Gillespie House and those dating from the mid-nineteenth century alteration of the Brown-Jones House presage the Italianate Revival style whose mature stage is represented by only one house in the Kenansville Historic District — the Dr. Graham House (northwest corner of Main and Cooper streets. The restored two-story frame house features a full-height porch with a balcony supported by brackets projecting from the porch posts, one-story bay windows, bracketed eaves and a low hip roof. The particularly inventive detailing features three types of panels: lozenge-shaped panels within polygonal panels ornament the doors and the panels beneath the entrance sidelights; polygonal panels adorn the base of the main facade bay window and the bases of the porch posts, and rectangular flat panels punctuate the balcony frieze. The lozenge motif is repeated in the lozenge pattern of the bay window panes and in the wealth of latticework which forms the balcony railing and encloses the east end bay of the porch. Further decorative richness is added by the crossetted architraves, the chamfered posts of the porch and of the bay window pilasters, and the bracketed eaves of the main roof and of the bay windows. The interior trim remains Greek Revival in character, although somewhat lighter in scale, but the stair railing, consisting of a solid flat-paneled railing and a chamfered newel, is very unusual.
Kenansville, established as the county seat of Duplin County in 1818, boomed in the two decades prior to the Civil War into a “flourishing and dashing” little town, supporting a number of schools and other cultural institutions. Growth of the village has been negligible since this boom period, and the present fabric represents one of the most homogenous groupings of Greek Revival buildings in the state. The dwellings and churches which compose the Kenansville Historic District not only correspond in style, but the similarity of detail is so marked that they may have had a common master builder. The frame buildings are designed in an unusually heavy, plain Greek Revival idiom with such distinctive local features as cantilevered front porch balconies, an abundance of secondary porches, often latticed, and accommodations in floor plan to the humid climate of southeastern North Carolina.
Duplin County was formed from New Hanover in 1749. The first settlements, at Saracte (now Sarecta), Goshen, and Golden Grove, near the present town of Kenansville, were established by Scotch-Irish who came as a result of a 1735 grant to London merchant Henry McCulloch. About the same time other settlers moved into the rich lands along the great Goshen Swamp and North East Cape Fear River. The Ulster Scots settlers, mostly Presbyterian, built log school houses and churches as well as homes. The congregation located in the Golden Grove is generally accepted to be the oldest Presbyterian organization in North Carolina, dating from about 1736. The Reverend Hugh McAden, a pioneer missionary, recorded visiting the congregation on March 18, 1756.
After Duplin County was established in 1749, the first court met at the Goshen settlement and a few years later was located on the plantation of Captain Joseph Williams, where it remained for about thirty years. In 1784 Duplin was divided, and the western portion was named Sampson. At the January, 1785, court, plans were made to establish a new county seat. A deed from James Pearsall transferred to the justices of the Duplin County Court “four acres of land for a Lott to Build a Court House and etc…for the use of the County.” This property was in the Grove settlement, and the four acres are the site of the present courthouse area. This same court issued Captain James Pearsall a permit to keep a tavern “at his own house.” The court then adjourned to meet again at “James Pearsall’s,” which they did on April 18, 1785. First called Duplin Court House, the town was renamed Kenansville in 1818 — evidently for the locally prominent Kenan family.
Already the Grove settlement had a number of dwellings spread over several hundred acres, and the new town was located in its midst. The home of Captain Pearsall stood nearest the courthouse that was completed by April, 1786. Some records exist of early activity in the young town: in that year Jacob Smith, orphan, was apprenticed to Nathaniel Waller to learn the trade of a “House Carpenter.” At the July, 1786, term of court James James came before the court asking permission to erect a “House or Barr for the Purpose of Selling Victuals and Drink in Publick times upon some convenient part of the Court House lott.”
Near the courthouse was a spring, often referred to as Pearsall’s “cool spring.” In the July, 1786, court minutes a description of the courthouse setting was given when it was ordered that prison bounds be laid off: “the said Bounds as follows to wit including the whole Bounds of the Courthouse lott and James Pearsalls House and Common Yard and Spring and upon Common way between the said lott and Pearsalls Spring and house.”
During the same session of court, Pearsall received a license to build a house “on the edge of the courthouse lot for the purpose of selling food and liquor during “Public times.”
The spring is still a prominent landmark today in Kenansville, and tradition credits a woman for its discovery. Most probably the Indians knew of it, but the story goes that one Barbara Gaster Beveritt, probably the wife of Benjamin Beveritt who settled in Duplin in 1740, discovered the spring. The spring is still called locally after Barbara Beveritt, and tradition says that the location of the courthouse was determined by the spring’s location.
Kenansville, founded in the eighteenth century, experienced in the 1840-1860 era marked economic growth, resulting in the construction of a group of buildings of remarkable chronological and stylistic unity which give the historic district its distinctive character. So thoroughly did this boom era construction pervade the town that only one building survives from an earlier era — the Brown-Jones House, a Federal era dwelling mentioned in an 1839 deed as the “John Brown Dwelling House.” The house was not within the original towns limits and does not appear to have been within the Kenansville boundaries until after post-Civil War expansion. It was later the home of Dr. Amos Jones, a prominent physician; he and his wife are buried in the garden.
The great economic growth of Kenansville paralleled improvement across the whole state after 1835, with the 1850s bringing unprecedented statewide economic growth. A chief reason for growth in Kenansville — as for the state — was the construction in the 1830s and after of the state’s first railroads. Chartered in 1834, the Wilmington and Raleigh (later the Wilmington and Weldon) Railroad passed near the town and, according to the Wilmington News, by August, 1838, the depot at Mrs. Teachey’s, forty-two miles north of Wilmington, was open with ten more miles to be complete within three weeks. This would have put the line within seven miles of Kenansville. The new availability of rapid, cheap transportation — particularly to the great port at Wilmington — boosted the economy of the agricultural county, and the county seat town grew apace. According to historian Hugh Lefler, “The railroads cut in half the old wagon freight rates. The freight rate on one hundred pounds from Raleigh to Petersburg was reduced from a dollar and a half to seventy cents. This encouraged the production of surplus crops for market, increased the farmer’s profit on what he sold, and reduced the price of goods which he purchased. Land values and farm productivity increased…”
The coming of the railroad complemented the region-wide increase in cotton production and aided the already flourishing forest industries.
Throughout the antebellum boom era, agriculture and forest-related industries remained North Carolina’s chief source of wealth — and this was the case in Duplin County, which produced primarily turpentine, lumber, and cotton. The population was overwhelmingly composed of farmers; even citizens of Kenansville were listed in the census as farmers. Agriculture was flourishing by 1850, and the following decade brought still more prosperity. Forest products included in 1850 18,183 barrels of turpentine; in 1860, 22,303 barrels. In 1850, 2, 627,500 plank feet of lumber were produced, of which more than two million feet were for railroad; this dropped to 2,001,000 in 1860, with most used for railroad. Duplin County was a relatively minor producer of cotton, with 445 400-pound bales in 1850, and 1,120 bales in 1860. Most of the rest of agricultural activity appears to have been subsistence-oriented, with most farmers producing large amounts of corn, sweet potatoes, and a variety of other goods. Recognizing the importance of agriculture, and the need for improved methods, the most prominent citizens of the county assembled at the courthouse on April 23, 1854, to organize the Duplin County Agricultural Society.
Another reason for the town’s success may have been its relatively high and dry location amid a notoriously swampy lowland area; in an era when planters fled the unhealthy miasmas of the lowlands, the healthful location of Kenansville was a strong drawing point, attracting planters and merchants to settle there, as well as a number of schools and academies Also important, of course, was the function of Kenansville as the county seat, the natural focus of county political and legal activity, attracting lawyers, doctors, and other professional people.
Based largely on the growing agricultural prosperity of the county, Kenansville gained a considerable degree of sophistication; later in the nineteenth century, a writer recalled that “In antebellum times Kenansville was one of the most flourishing and dashing little towns in North Carolina. She was especially noted for her fine schools.” Vital to the history of the town is the history of the social institutions — churches, schools, and a lodge — that functioned there. Some of these had their roots in the eighteenth century history of the area, but flourished as did Kenansville in the antebellum boom period; the boom era buildings of some have survived.
Of considerable importance was the Grove Academy, established by the General Assembly on December 29, 1785. William Dickson wrote on February 24, 1786, that a lot had been purchased “in the heart of the Presbyterian settlement where our family all live,” and a building was then being constructed, with occupancy expected in February, 1787. Dickson lived in the Grove settlement, near the present town of Kenansville. In 1787 he wrote that the academy, with a classical curriculum, had opened with twenty-five students. The Grove Academy remained in operation until 1907, with only short breaks, and had an impressive alumni of jurists, professional men, and educators. William Rufus Devane King, of Sampson County and Alabama, who was elected vice president of the United States under Franklin Pierce in 1852, attended Grove Academy. Another man closely associated with Grove Academy was the Reverend James M. Sprunt, D.D., a native of Perthshire, Scotland, who came to North Carolina in 1839, and moved to Kenansville in 1845 to head the Grove Academy. He became a Presbyterian minister and served the Grove Presbyterian Church in Kenansville from 1851 to 1886. In 1860 he also became principal of the Kenansville Female Seminary, which later was joined with the James Sprunt Institute. Sprunt’s leadership helped in the growth of the community as an educational center. Another school, the Kenansville Seminary was established in 1856. In 1861 this school was expanded and restyled as the Kenansville Female Seminary, and the most prominent men in Kenansville were trustees: Osborn Carr, James Dickson, Dickson Mallard, James E. Hall, Robert B. Carr, James B. Carr, Dr. James H. Sprunt, Owen R. Kenan, Isaac B. Lelly, Dr. Chauncey W. Graham, and Willie E. Hall.
Another early institution of importance was Grove Presbyterian Church — an outgrowth of the settlement of Presbyterian settlers in the Golden Grove in 1736. By April 8, 1761, there was a meeting house erected in the Grove settlement, where Hugh McAden was resident minister. The Grove Church grew and had a distinguished leadership. The Reverend Samuel Stanford, the third regular minister at Grove Church, was moderator of the Carolinas Synod in 1810, and appointed to serve as the first moderator of the Presbytery of Fayetteville in 1812. During his ministry, in 1811, the church was moved from its location at the Routledge Cemetery, to a site adjoining the Grove Academy, a mile west of the courthouse. During the ministry of Dr. Sprunt, the present church building was built in 1858, on land deeded the previous year. The church and its educational institutions no doubt had a great impact on the development of Kenansville. A later church was the Baptist Church, built on a site given in 1837 by Daniel C. Moore, an original member of the Kenansville Baptist Church; he confirmed it by deed on August 7, 1858, probably at the time they were remodeling the building into its present form. (Moore was principally a farmer; records show that he was the owner of a productive turpentine still and dealt in lumber around 1850.)
Another major early institution in Kenansville was the Masonic Lodge. St. John’s Lodge was instituted on June 25, 1791 and located at the old courthouse near the present Duplin-Sampson boundary line. The lodge became dormant in 1824. Warren Lodge #101 was established at Kenansville on December 21, 1831, with many members of the old lodge as members. It functioned until about 1840 when it too became dormant, but reorganized in 1852, when it subscribed $100 for the female seminary to be built in Kenansville. On July 10, 1858, subscriptions were solicited for the purpose of building a new lodge building. The present lodge building was erected in 1860, and dedicated December 27, 1860. On March 12, 1864, all the lodge monies were invested in Confederate bonds. The lodge functioned until 1872, when Warren Lodge became dormant. In January, 1932, the original name was returned to the lodge, and it is now known as Saint John’s Lodge #13. Though reorganized several times, it still functions, using the lodge hall erected in 1860.
Central to the county seat function of the town, and probably the most handsome building in the history of the town was the courthouse completed before 1852. The courthouse had finally grown too small and so the county court in 1848 contracted with one Dudley, to remodel and repair the old courthouse. His work resulted in a handsome structure in the Greek Revival style, achieved by adding a third story, and enclosing the open space at ground level. Sitting on the highest rise of land in the town, it commanded the village with appropriate authority, and no doubt influenced the building boom that followed. In 1911 it was razed to make way for a larger building.
Blending stylistically with the institutional buildings are the dwellings remaining from the boom era and associated with the town’s leading citizens of the period. About 1841 Isaac B. Kelly, a native of Cumberland County, justice of the peace, member of the General Assembly, postmaster, and prominent merchant of Kenansville, had built a two-story house in the Greek Revival style which still stands today on Main Street. Local tradition says that Thomas Sheppard, whose daughter married Kelly, was the master builder. Sheppard is also said to have built the house of John J. Kelly (Kelly-Farrior House) about 1848, and could possibly have built the Kenan House. Sheppard, also a cabinetmaker, died in 1851. (A native of Onslow County, he may have been related to Stephen Shepard, wheelwright  and Hosea Shepard, wheelwright and chairmaker  in that county.)
It appears from the deeds in the Duplin County records, that the land on which the Kenan House (Liberty Hall) stands, originally belonged to Dr. Stephen Graham, an early resident of the Kenansville area, physician, and extensive planter. Graham died in 1834, leaving his wife Ann and four children. His widow and one daughter, Mary, appear from the census records to have lived very near Kenansville. Another daughter, Sarah, married Owen R. Kenan whose family lands were on Turkey Branch, near the old courthouse site near the Sampson border, in 1836. A number of sources attribute Kenan, a major influence in the town until his death in 1887, as the first owner of Liberty Hall; the date of construction is not known, but stylistically it appears to have been built like most of the town fabric between 1840 and 1860. Of the Graham children, Dr. Chauncey W. Graham remained in Kenansville to practice medicine and farm. He built one of the most handsome houses in the town, about 1855. His brother, Stephen Graham, was a leading attorney before the Civil War, and resided in town.
Also built in the 1840s was the Abernathy-Wallace House (ca.1845), constructed for John D. Abernathy and later was the residence of Bland Wallace, a sheriff of Duplin County. His son, Joseph B. Wallace still resides in the house.
In the late 1850s several notable houses were constructed in Kenansville. John Dickson Stanford, grandson of the Presbyterian cleric, began the practice of law in Kenansville in 1858, and his house on the edge of the town is said to date from this time. His service in the General Assembly ran almost consecutively from 1858 to 1885. In his late years he became a Presbyterian minister. Also dating from this period is the Dr. David Gillespie House and the Dr. James W. Blount House. Both Gillespie and Blount were prominent local physicians whose families were long associated with the town and county.
William Dickson Pearsall — a son of Captain James Pearsall, whose plantation became Kenansville — had built what is probably the most elaborate house in the town about 1858. In 1906 his son sold this house and fourteen acres to the trustees of the James Sprunt Institute, which had been founded by Henry Farrior and Dr. James W. Blount in 1896, and had incorporated the old female seminary, and later would incorporate the Grove Academy.
Who built the Greek Revival buildings that compose the Kenansville Historic District is not definitely known, but a number of carpenters appear in the 1850 census. Those who resided in or near Kenansville were Joseph D. Carr, John Teachey, Major Tailor, William Chaise, Benjamin Ezzell, Isaac and Felix Merritt, John Pollock, William Groves, William T. Johnson, and Owen R. Floyd. All these men were natives of North Carolina, many from Duplin, with the exception of Chaise, who was a native of New York state. The Greek Revival houses are so similar and harmonious in design that one man could possibly have built them all.
In 1859 the Duplin Rifles were organized at Kenansville. In April, 1861, they entered active service with T.S. Kenan as their captain, and eventually became Company “A,” 43rd North Carolina Regiment. This company saw active service until it was surrendered on April 9, 1865, with the Army of Northern Virginia, at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. There was great support for the Confederate cause in Kenansville and Duplin County. For many years after the Civil War the Duplin Rifles met for an annual reunion, generally in the Masonic Hall.
After the Civil War — as is evident from the extant buildings — Kenansville grew very little. Agricultural production in 1870 regained nearly the 1860 level — 1,036 450-pound bales of cotton; 20,000 barrels of turpentine; but only 75,000 plank feet of lumber, down from over 2 million. The towns of Warsaw and Magnolia, depots on the Wilmington and Weldon railroad, were major shippers of these products. During the late 1860s and 1870s, judging from the North Carolina business directories, Kenansville held its own for merchants, schools, ministers, physicians, prominent farmers and of course lawyers, but other areas and towns grew faster, particularly in the numbers of merchants and manufacturers (notably turpentine distilleries — with fourteen listed by 1877, only one near Kenansville). The economic base had not changed radically; the directory noted that “Cotton is the great staple, and is cultivated with intelligence and marked success. Corn and sweet potatoes are profitable crops. Naval stores are still produced in considerable quantities, and some years bring in large amounts of money.”
In 1870, the county had 15,542 people, of whom the Kenansville township had 2,878, with the town itself much smaller. Kenansville remained much the same as it had been: a visitor wrote in 1884, “Upon entering this little town, the stranger is immediately struck with the quiet and antiquated appearance of things in general.”
The schools for which the town was noted continued for many years, but they were having a hard time. The female seminary had become part of the James Sprunt Institute, and Grove Academy, the earliest and most noted school in the area, had closed its doors. A community that had supported three private schools at one time, now had only one; it changed its name to Grove Institute in 1918, and closed in the mid-1920s.
The Wilmington and Weldon Railroad had by-passed Kenansville in 1837, but the economic boom that followed had helped the town to grow. On March 30, 1914, the Atlantic and Carolina Railroad was chartered; it ran from Warsaw to Kenansville (seven miles). A.R. Turnbull, a native of Minnesota, and president of the Rowland Lumber Company, furnished the capital to build the railroad owned most of the stock, and was elected president of the railroad. The little railroad shipped out agricultural products, but it was mainly an extension of the lumber interests.
The population of Kenansville was only a few hundred until the turn of the twentieth century. In 1940 the town had grown to 571, and in 1970 it was 762. In 1964 an extension program of the Wayne Technical Institute at Goldsboro, which had been operating in Duplin County, was renamed James Sprunt Institute, and located at Kenansville. In 1965 the Kenan family restored and gave Liberty Hall, their family home in Kenansville, to the Duplin County Board of Education. The Liberty Hall restoration has revived an interest in local history.
Kenansville Historic District Boundary Decrease
The Kenansville Historic District Boundary Decrease area is located on the north side of South Main Street (Highway NC-24) between Stokes Street on the west and Cooper Street on the east. Ten parcels of land are to be removed from the Kenansville National Register Historic District. Included on the parcels are the circa 1850, Greek Revival style Old Methodist Parsonage, a two-story, gable-end structure with a double-story, pedimented front portico; and the circa 1850 Blount House, a one-story, hip-roofed dwelling with an attached front porch and two rear wings attached to the north end of the main block. Both houses stood on South Main Street but were moved to the Dr. Needham Whitfield Herring property on Highway NC-24 just northwest of the Kenansville National Register Historic district in 2000 and in 2002 respectively. The old Methodist Parsonage parcel now contains a temporary bank structure. The Blount House site is currently  vacant, but a permanent bank building will occupy the site. Four noncontributing structures on South Main Street include Andy’s Restaurant at the northwest corner of South Main and Bostic streets, the Texas Tee gas station and adjacent Brown’s Building Supply at the northwest corner of South Main and Stokes streets, and a one-story residence located at 616 South Main Street. Three noncontributing one-story residences and garages, located at 119, 123, and 219 Stokes Street, are on the west side of the street between South Main Street and Seminary Road. The Pearsall House, at the northwest corner of Seminary Road and Stokes Street, burned in 1986 and only the chimney remains.
The amendment to the boundaries of the Kenansville Historic District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, documents a boundary decrease that removes approximately 11.3 acres, encompassing ten properties, in the southwestern section of the district. The reason for the reduction is that contributing historic properties have been lost by fire or relocation and only noncontributing structures occupy the adjacent sites.
Research by John Baxton Flowers, III, survey specialist; architectural description by Ruth Little-Stokes, survey specialist.
Beasley, Luther A. “One Hundred Years of Kenansville Baptist Church.” Duplin Times, June 24, 1937.
Carraway, Gertrude S., “Kenansville Spurred to New Effort By Historic Success of Noted Sons.” News and Observer, Raleigh. April 25, 1948.
Clark, Walter. State Records of North Carolina. Goldsboro. 1904.
Craig, James H. Arts and Crafts in North Carolina. Winston-Salem. 1965.
Dickson Letters, in the Division of Archives and History. Raleigh.
Duplin County Records, Duplin County Courthouse, Kenansville, North Carolina (Subgroups: Wills, Deeds, Court Minutes, Tax Records).
Duplin County Records, Division of Archives and History, Raleigh, North Carolina (Subgroups: Wills, Deeds, Court Minutes, Tax Records).
Foote, William Henry. Sketches of North Carolina. New York. 1846.
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Lefler, Hugh Talmage, Newsome, Albert Ray. North Carolina, the History of a Southern State. Chapel Hill. 1973.
McGowen, Faison Wells, and Pearl Canady. Flashes of Duplin’s History and Government. Kenansville. 1971.
North Carolina Manual. 1913 edition.
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