Ann Elliott Returns To 509 Pollock
Thomas Wolfe said, "You can't go home again" but in the past two days I have proved to myself that he was wrong.
In July 1944 I arrived in New Bern with a new diploma from Chapel Hill, a job with the North Carolina State Board of Health and driving the 1940 Chevrolet I had been able to buy for $750 from a hometown boy who was leaving for overseas.
I was replacing a friend who was leaving her job with N.C. Health to go home to South Carolina for her wedding. Her name was Margaret McDaniel and while working in New Bern Margaret had lived in a tiny apartment at 509 Pollock St in the home of Miss Mary Ward – Miss Ward had found Margaret a considerate and congenial tenant – this was especially important as Margaret and Miss Ward shared the bathroom and refrigerator. Margaret had told Mary that when she left she would be replaced at the Health Department by someone she'd been in college with – Ann Elliot from Fayetteville. This must have been enough screening for Mary for my bosses in Raleigh told me that Margaret had told them that I would be able to move into the little apartment.
Now, here I am again, 51 years later spending time at 509. I am spending two nights here, but this time it is at the Aerie, an elegant bed and breakfast – a modern utilization of the Victorian Ward home.
Miss Ward was a caseworker in the Welfare Department – now Dept. of Social Services. During the early Roosevelt days she had been a social worker with regional responsibilities in one of the agencies that administration had devised to solve problems the country was experiencing due to the Great Depression.
Her parents dead, her brother William and sister Alice married with homes of their own Mary was living alone in a very large house – I don't know what year she remodeled it into a number of apartments or rental rooms with baths – neither do I know who planned the structural changes necessary. I do know that her friend Miss Jane Stewart, an interior decorator advised her on paint, wallpaper, draperies, furniture arrangement and in making the reduced space Mary had left for herself into a very attractive apartment.
Miss Jane Stewart and her sister Miss Sarah Stewart lived in the enormous Victorian house at the corner of Pollock and Craven Streets – there is a picture of it in the book on New Bern houses – it was torn down since I lived here and is now a parking lot.
In 1944 when I came to New Bern the downstairs of the house was as follows:
Mary's apartment at front of house – living room on the left, dining room on the right, a tiny kitchen to the right of the dining room to replace the house's original kitchen, Mary's bedroom behind the dining room, a bathroom beside her bedroom in a small hall space behind stairs and opening off the living room a tiny bedroom and kitchenette created when the outside stairs were placed on the front of the house to provide private entrance to the upstairs front rooms.
• A rental bedroom behind the dining room with outside entrance from driveway and with its own bathroom.
• An apartment at back of house – probably 3 rooms – living room, bedroom and kitchen (and bath). At the time I lived here it was occupied by a marine officer and his wife. They were a childless couple from the Los Angeles area – Gilman Rankin and his wife Orvetta – she was a dancer. I mention this because she gave fitness & exercise lessons several times a week in her living room and there was room enough for 4, 5, or 6 of us to lie on the floor and exercise – She also taught us several hula dances – very graceful ones – not the Samoan variety!
In the upstairs was a very large apartment entered only by the outside stairs. It had a living room, dining room, kitchen, bath and two bedrooms. (Since I was never in any rooms but the living and dining rooms, I may be wrong about two bedrooms – maybe it had one bedroom and a large kitchen). The living room was on the right and the dining room was behind it. Their windows looked down on the very old Roberts house on the corner of Pollock and Metcalf. The elderly members of the Roberts family who lived there had let the very large yard grow up and in late summer the entire yard was covered with masses of pink spider lilies – I seem to remember having been told that a Roberts brought some back from China many years ago and by 1944 they had multiplied till there were probably at least a thousand blooms in the yard.
In 1944-5 a Navy Doctor, Dr. Orville Wright from Dayton, and his wife lived there. He was quick to remind one that he was born before Orville & Wilbur flew in 1903 and that Orville was a family name. He was some kind of cousin to the inventors.
Before I married in 1946 and moved to Queen Ann Lane, another couple moved in when Dr. Wright was transferred. I can't remember their names. They were an older couple. The husband was a civilian employee of a "big" construction company that had contacts at Cherry Point. They were almost retirement age; I'd guess about sixty years old.
Behind the big upstairs apartment, reached by outdoor stairs was another rental bedroom and bath.
Before I end this lengthy account I'd like to say more about Mary's apartment. Miss Jane Stewart and Mary had excellent taste. Mary had kept very beautiful antique furniture for her three rooms. They had chosen handsome brass cornices to go over the windows, wallpaper with big floral designs, which were appropriate for the large rooms, high ceilings and beautiful woodwork. The colors were sort of like William Morris design but in a lighter manner with cream or white in the background. Everything was chosen to fit in with the many Chinese objects Mary had brought home from her stay in China (with friends of her family) during World War I after she finished college. I remember a fine screen – black with much inlaid colored stone carving, a large Chinese tray used on a folding base as a coffee table and (several) very large paintings of a Mandarin man (and another of his wife – I'm vague about this) There were also many small beautiful Chinese pieces.
Ann Elliott Dowdy
Thanksgiving Day, 1995