What’s in a Photo: Downtown Goldsboro, NC

You can discover so much from an old photo using online resources like city directories.

Downtown Goldsboro, NC about 1920.

This photo of Center St., downtown Goldsboro, was taken around, but not before, 1920. The cars are a good indicator of the time frame but they’re not always the best, or only, clues in dating a photograph.

Downtown Goldsboro movie posters, 1920If you zoom in on the large building on the right, the Messenger Opera House, several movie posters appear. The Apostle of Vengeance, a silent Western starring William S. Hart, was released in June 1916. But to the right is a poster for another Western, Ruth of the Rockies starring Ruth Holland, which did not premier until August 1920.

The Messenger Opera House contained a large theater but also housed several businesses on the first floor including a bakery that can be seen in the photo. Also present is Grady & Company, an automotive accessories business. The 1923 Goldsboro city directory lists its address as 150 S. Center St. and Walter Grady as the manager.

The Messenger sustained heavy damage from Hurricane Hazel in 1954 and the top floors were removed shortly after. The first floor still remains today at the corner of Center and Chestnut Streets.

Next to the Messenger is the Magill Brothers Garage. The 1923 Goldsboro city directory lists two auto mechanics with the last name Magill, Charles Jr. and Otis.

Further down the street, at the corner of Center and Walnut, is the Hotel Kennon (below left). It opened in the 19th century and was later torn down and replaced in 1926 by the Hotel Goldsboro (below right), which still stands today.

Hotel Kennon, downtown Goldsboro, 1890s                Hotel Goldsboro


Goldsboro City Hall, 1920Even further down the street, peeking above the roof line, is city hall. Behind that is a water tower that would have been located to the north of Ash Street. It might have been used by the railroad companies.

Running down Center Street in two rows are white planters with “B.P.O.E.” painted on the bases. The letters stand for the Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks. Today the lodge is on Chestnut just behind the Messenger, but when the photo was taken their headquarters was on James St. between Pine and Spruce.

Keaton-Fonvielle grocery, now home to Well Travveled BeerWhere was it taken?

Judging from the photo it was probably taken from the second floor of the Keaton-Fonvielle grocery on the corner of Center and Chestnut. Alexander Keaton purchased the lot in 1847 and built a wooden grocery store that was replaced with a brick building just after the Civil War. Keaton sold the business to his son-in-law, who continued the grocery business until his death in 1918. The building is still standing and is now home to Well Travelled Beer.

Online Resources

There are two fantastic resources that are on the internet and free. City directories contain a wealth of information on both businesses and people. They list addresses, phone numbers (if a business or residence had one), occupation, and sometimes even places of employment. There are over twenty Goldsboro directories, spanning 1906 to 1963. They can be found online through the North Carolina State Archives.

Sanborn maps are another great resource. Sanborn created detailed maps of cities across America primarily for insurance companies to easily assess total fire liabilities for a particular town. There are several maps of Goldsboro from the late 1800s to 1920 and they are available from the UNC archives. There are a few later maps available from ProQuest, via NC Live. It is free to access but you need a library card number to log in (you can access it from any computer, not just the library).


Section of 1885 Goldsboro Sanborn map
Section of the 1885 Goldsboro Sanborn map.

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