Aileen Devlin/The Daily Reflector
By Michael Abramowitz
Thursday, July 4, 2013
While demolition workers were busy Wednesday leveling a piece Greenville’s architectural history, a lone bystander stood off to the side and watched them make way for progress.
“A worker said to me, ‘I understand this used to be a funeral home,’” Don Wilkerson Sr. said. “I told him, ‘Yeah, it did — once.”
The brick building at 701 Evans St. near Reade Circle that stood for generations — first as Wilkerson’s family-owned funeral home and most recently as a restaurant — was razed in preparation for construction of a mixed-use student housing complex for East Carolina University.
A Caterpillar 324 excavator operated by one crewman with the E.R. Lewis Co. was all that was required to bring down the one-story structure built in 1948. It swooped down with its massive shovel, caving in the walls, then scooped up the contents and deposited them in a hauler for disposal.
Wilkerson, meanwhile, hauled away the memories.
The building, with its familiar water tower standing beside it, housed the popular Ham’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, Greenville’s only beer brewing facility, from 1999 until July 2010, when it closed its doors without warning.
But the building was most well-known as the site of Wilkerson’s Funeral Home from August 1948 until March 1975, when the family moved its operations to East Fifth Street. When erected, it was one of North Carolina’s first buildings constructed specifically for use as a funeral home, Dean Wilkerson said.
“Before that building went up, Wilkerson’s operated out of a house on Dickinson Avenue,” he said. “Before we built the funeral home at 701 Evans Street it was a storefront location at what later became Taff’s Office Supply. When funeral homes became accustomed to providing memorial services in addition to viewing, the Evans Street building became too small to accommodate our business, and we moved to our current Fifth Street location.”
Rumors that the building became haunted when the funeral home moved remain unconfirmed, according to Wilkerson’s recollection.
“It never came up in serious conversation,” he said with a chuckle, “but I have heard people say that.”
Wilkerson said that many people who relied on his family’s services at that location have told him could they not bring themselves to eat at Ham’s when it occupied the building.
Don Wilkerson Sr. recalled being 8 years old when he watched the building go up at 701 Evans St.
“I remember my uncles and my father working there, and I drove an ambulance out of there when I was 17,” he said.
Seeing the building in a state of disrepair for the last few years made it easier for Wilkerson to see it go, he said
“I think it’s wonderful how the space is going to be used now, a wonderful addition to the ECU campus. I see nothing but positive things for its future there,” he said.
The site is being enfolded into a larger project that will be a multi-use complex of student housing, restaurants, offices and public parking. The development is part of the city’s plans to revitalize the Evans Street and Dickinson Avenue corridors as major gateways to the downtown and center city area.
The site across from 701 Evans at Reade Circle also is being developed, with construction for a U.S. Courthouse under way.
“Everything changes,” Don Wilkerson said. “That’s right.”
Contact Michael Abramowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-329-9571.
via The Daily Reflector.