323 West Main Street - The Johnson, Bolen, Moore House

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The house at 323 West Main Street (GPS Coordinates: N 36 degrees, 34.691 “, W 070 degrees, 24.672 “, Elevation 580’) has an interesting history, primarily due to the interesting people who owned it and/or lived there over a period of years. The lot is described as Lot No. 13, Section 1 fronting 50 feet on the southeastern margin of West Main Street and running back there from 171.66 feet on the northeast and 170 feet on the southwest to a rear line of 50 feet, as shown on the revised map of the Mount Vernon Villa Company, dated June 21, 1912, made by A.G. Pritchett, Surveyor, recorded in the Clerk’s Office of the Circuit Court of Danville, Virginia, in Deed Book 86, at page 200. Although the lot is currently defined by the 1912 survey the house existed before that time and is listed in the 1910 census when only two houses in the block were listed west of it, namely 339 and 349 West Main Street. Over the years the lot has been defined by a low concrete wall and fences which have been accepted as its boundaries. Current surveyors have a difficult time reproducing the original 1912 survey because reference points for the original survey are very difficult to find and verify.

An early owner of the house was Zebulon Vance Johnson (October 7, 1875=July 16, 1958), often known as Zeb, who was born in Scotland Neck, North Carolina, the third child and oldest son of William Nathaniel Johnson and Alice Munford. He was named for Zebulon Baird Vance, the 37th Governor of North Carolina from 1862 to 1865 during the Civil War and the 47th Governor from 1877 to 1879, and then served as a US Senator from 1879 until his death in 1894. Many young men were named for him in North Carolina during the latter half of the 19th century, and it is probable that Vance Street in North Danville was named for him. He had connections to Danville and to the Civil War, but that’s another story.

In the 1900 census Zeb Johnson was listed as a dry goods merchant living in Greenville in Pitt County, North Carolina with his uncle, Charles T. Munford, also a dry goods merchant. and his birth was listed as October 1871 which is at variance with the birth date reported in his obituary and funeral home record. In 1905 at age 30 Zeb Johnson came to Danville and opened a dry goods store under the name Z. V Johnson and Co. in partnership with his uncle, Charles T. Munford, at 426 Main Street which later became the location of Hodnett and Speer’s jewelry store. Although Munford remained a partner in the store for a number of years his residence remained in Greenville, NC. Johnson was living in the Westmoreland Hotel in 1904-05 and in the Morgan Hotel at 546 Main Street in 1906-07. He married Louise Jett (19 December 1899 – 28 June 1964), daughter of Joseph T. Jett and Elizabeth Pendleton and a native of Floyd Court House, in1906 and by the time of the 1908 City Directory they were living at 323 West Main Street. City Directories for 1921 and 1923-24 show them living at 232 West Main Street, but this apparently is a transposition of numbers because 1910 and 1920 census records and the 1925-26 and later City Directories clearly show them as living at 323 West Main Street. Zeb Johnson’s place of business classified as a dry goods store was initially located at 426 Main Street and was known as Z. V. Johnson and Co. and later as Johnson’s Department Store. The business prospered and by at least 1917 had moved across the street to 411-413 Main Street. It was in this building that the fire started which burned down almost the entire 400 block of Main Street including the Masonic Temple on the corner of Main and South Union Street on the night of January 3, 1920, a Saturday. During the night after the fire a mantle of snow fell covering the ruins. After the fire a new building to house Johnson’s Department Store was constructed at 415-417 Main Street for which J. Bryant Heard and a partner were the architects and which led them to become the architects for the Danville Municipal Building. Zeb Johnson remained active in the operation of the store even after his retirement and at the time of his death in 1958 it was considered one of the City’s largest stores. In 1931 Zeb Johnson and his family moved to a new house at 183 Hawthorne Drive in Forest Hills which was designed for him by architect Roger B. Davis. This house is currently owned and occupied by the family of State Delegate Danny Marshall and his wife Kaye.

At some point, a two bay wood frame garage with sliding doors was built on the property with a second story which contained servant’s quarters. The second story which is reached by stairs from an outside entrance consists of a large room with three large windows and a chimney for a stove for heating and cooking and two smaller rooms, one of which served as a bathroom. The second story had connections for water, sewer and electricity. It is not known how many servants actually lived in the servant’s quarters, but the 1910 census shows Minnie Leftwich, age 28, a single black woman described as a nurse for a private family, Iola Coleman, age 20, a single black woman described as a cook for a private family and Agnes Wiggins, age 54, a widowed black woman described as a nurse for a private family living at 323 West Main Street. The 1920 census lists Estelle Hall, age 35, a single black woman described as a cook for a private family living there. The building still stands although all services except electricity have been disconnected.

After the Johnsons moved from the property it was purchased by Charles C. Bolen (25 May 1877 – 2 October 1948), an assistant superintendent at Dan River Mills who had lived earlier in Schoolfield. Bolen was born in LaGrange, Georgia, a son of Charles Ellis Bolen and Lula Roberts Bolen. He was employed by Dan River Mills for 31 years prior to his retirement in 1936. He and his wife, Abbie Lois Bolen, who died in 1943, had three sons, Clyde R. Bolen, who served as secretary to George Robertson, a superintendent of Dan River Mills, William J. Bolen of San Francisco, California and Harry E. Bolen of New York City. Both he and his son, Clyde, were members of Roman Eagle Masonic Lodge. In about 1939 Bolen split the house into two apartments. He continued to live in 323 West Main Street (upstairs) and rented 323A West Main Street (downstairs). Some of the tenants for 323A were Harry W. Johnson, Russell D. Slayton and Sydney F. Gosney. Sometime after his wife’s death Bolen sold the house to Mrs. Gurdine Moore.

Gurdine Drewry Moore (14 August 1894 – 20 May 1979) was born in Apex, North Carolina, a daughter of Palatine Horton Drewry and Josephine Heflin Drewry. She was married to Clifford Alexander Moore, but they were divorced before his death in 1942. She spent most of her life in Danville where she operated Gurdine’s Dress Shop at 548 Main Street for many years until her retirement in 1958. The large woven black rubber mat with “Gurdine’s” in white which was at the store laid on the front walk of 323 West Main Street for many years. Mrs. Moore lived upstairs in 323 and rented out 323A. One of the long term tenants for 323A was Miss Eleanor Moore, a teacher at Averett College who continued to live there after her retirement with 14 years of service in 1969. After the death of Mrs. Moore the property was sold to Charles Garland Ellis, who was a conductor of the Danville Symphony Orchestra, and a partner who continued to rent the property.

On April 21, 1986, Esther Berkley Wayland, widow of Rosser Lee Wayland, purchased 323 West Main Street from Charles Garland Ellis, et al for possible use as a retirement home since it was adjacent to property owned by her son, but she never lived there, but continued to rent the property until her death in 1994 at which time the property was inherited by her son and grandson, Kevin Mark Janes. Since Janes was living in California and did not wish to retain ownership of the property his share was purchased by his uncle, Rosser Lee Wayland, Jr., who continued to rent the property. Since 1980 twenty tenants have occupied the apartments in 323 West Main Street, many of whom have been prominent citizens of Danville. The property continues to occupy a prominent place in the history of Danville.