The land can be bought – Garner has already banked on that and owners say they’re amenable. But in a way, the history of the land is priceless.
Four of the remaining eight plots of land sought by the town to become part of the town’s proposed $7.8 million recreation center have stayed in the same family for longer than the town has existed. As negotiations progress, it appears likely that Garnerites will someday play basketball on land long-owned by freed-slaves-turned-teachers and their descendants.
Property at 209 and 211 Main St. have no buildings. Modest houses stand at 104 Purvis St. and 207 Main. The one on Main, though revamped, has a foundation from the Gilded Age. The county values the four properties at roughly $175,000 combined. Neither house is owner-occupied.
Today, Bertron Haywood owns the three plots on Main Street, while two of his sisters own the house and land on Purvis, according to property records. They all share a common ancestor.
“The land has been in the family for over a century. It goes back to my great-great-grandparents,” said Carla Haywood Rogers, Bertron’s oldest daughter, who lives south of Garner.
Garner historian Kaye Whaley said Allen Haywood bought about an acre of land on Main and Purvis from Eli Dupree in May 1877. He and his wife, born Hollie Roundtree, had married earlier in the decade, and shortly after buying the land they built a house and had their first child.
The two were teachers and an important part of the black community in the area, Whaley said. At some point, Rogers said, Allen Haywood made it up north and got an education. They believe he taught at Shaw University at some point, which was founded in 1865.
A mural of historic images in the Wells Fargo Bank on Fifth Avenue includes the portraits of the Haywoods. A copy of that collage also hangs at Garner Performing Arts Center.
“I have searched and searched for information on them because they were an up-and-coming family on Main Street,” said the historian who helped Wells Fargo collect the historical images for the mural. “(Allen) was a good person to black people in Garner.”
As Whaley notes, the couple pre-dated Garner. “Garner Station” would not be first incorporated until 1883. That charter was repealed in 1891, and the “Town of Garner” would be chartered in 1905.
Rogers said the family doesn’t know exactly what spawned the move to the area.
Whaley believes Allen Haywood and his wife had been slaves, though she hasn’t found definitive proof. Allen was born in 1845 in North Carolina, and Whaley has not been able to find any evidence that he was a freeperson. The same is true for Hollie, born between 1854 and 1856.
Whaley also said a family member told her that Allen Haywood was a charter member of Wake Grove Baptist Grove Church. He has many descendants remaining in the town, she said. He died at some point before the 1900 census; Whaley can’t find a record of his death or a tombstone that might give the year.
Rogers, who works for the state Department of Revenue, said her great-grandfather James Haywood worked for the train system and lived at the house on Main. Rogers’ grandmother Elizabeth Rogers and her step-grandfather William Rogers lived at the house on Purvis, which Carla Rogers estimates was built in the 1930s or 1940s. Elizabeth worked in the cafeteria of a Garner school. William worked as a custodian and later ran a convenience store on Rand Road started by Carla’s great-uncle.
All five of Elizabeth’s children, including Bertron, attended Garner Consolidated School. It was the black school for elementary-through-high school students from its construction in 1935 until North Carolina schools desegregated in 1971. Garner High, the school for white students, now houses GPAC. Garner Consolidated has become East Garner Magnet Middle School.
Garner Revitalization Association executive director John Hodges said the town would not discuss progress on any specific negotiations.
Rogers, speaking for her father Bertron, classified negotiations as just “chit-chatting” and talking to various family members to make sure everyone was on the same page. She said the family has “finally come up with some numbers” to present to Hodges and the town.
Part of the discussion has included figuring out how to honor the history, she said. While declining to talk about specific cases, Hodges confirmed that the town was in discussions with property owners about honoring the past.
“The goal is going to be to preserve as much of our heritage as we can. Preservation comes in different forms. Sometimes it’s a structure, and sometimes it’s the memory and background of a place,” Hodges said. “There’s ways we can balance that preservation and memorialize that, and still move forward with progress.”