Wynntown to Winton
Published 2:18 pm Sunday, September 13, 2015
WINTON – Its history is as deep as the Chowan River, and there are those who strongly believe it’s worth the effort to preserve for current and future generations.
Currently, there is a movement within Winton to maintain and further develop its historic legacy.
According to Libby Jones, a member of the Winton Historical Association Committee, two public meetings are scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 16 where discussion will be formally launched concerning the formation of a historic district. The first meeting is set for 4 p.m. in the WintonTown Hall (405 North Main St.). There is a second meeting at 6 p.m. at the C.S. Brown cafeteria, 101 C.S. Brown Drive (located to the left as you face the auditorium).
The guest speaker will be Scott Power of the NC Department of Cultural Resources.
Jones said that early indications show that almost 100 properties are included the proposed historic district.
“We will have an opportunity to share information and ideas about the advantages of a historic district for our town,” Jones said of the scheduled meetings. “Historic districts benefit owners who want to remodel or restore their property. Financial incentives can include federal tax savings, grants and loans, and potential state tax benefits. The district would stimulate investment and maintenance for homes and businesses. We are all interested in improving our town to attract new families and residents.”
Other members of the Winton Historical Association Committee are Michele Felton, Steve Kelly, Tiffany Lewis, Jane Newsome, Gayle Pipkin, Emily Winstead, Town Susan Felton Woodward, Paul Buescher and Barbara Boone Buescher.
Inhabited by the Chowanoke, Tuscarora and Meherrin Indian tribes long before it was chartered in 1766 as Hertford County’s oldest town, Winton is situated on the banks of the Chowan River.
Its name is now a shortened version of Wynntown, which it was known at its founding after a local man, General Assembly Representative Benjamin Wynn, donated 50 acres for use as the town common.
Due to its location along the banks of the Chowan River – which runs deep (up to 30 feet) and wide (750 feet) as it passes by the town – Winton was a busy port-of-call in its heyday. It was also popular for fishermen.
However, that same waterway proved disastrous. On February 20, 1862 the town was invaded by Union troops, arriving on the river in three gunboats, and burned to the ground. This was the first burning of a town anywhere during the Civil War, occurring nearly two years before Sherman’s march through the South. With the exception of a church and two homes identified as belonging to northern sympathizers, the Yankees torched everything in Winton.
Today, the only standing building to have survived the fire of 1862 is a detached kitchen which was a part of one of the spared houses. It is restored as a colonial kitchen museum.
A new town arose from the ruins of the fire and produced some outstanding examples of the architecture of the nineteenth century. Located in Winton is Gray Gables, a massive three-story Queen Anne structure which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Century Post Office & Museum in Winton is also the site of Hertford County’s oldest post office having been commissioned by President George Washington in 1792. The Winton post office has an unbroken history of over 200 years.
Winton was also the home of Chowan Academy, opened in 1886 for the education of black students. Over the years the institution grew into a multi-building campus and its name was changed to Waters Normal Institute. It ultimately became the Calvin S. Brown High School. The graves of Dr. and Mrs. Brown are on the campus.
Also on the campus is the C.S. Brown Regional Cultural Arts Center and Museum housed in the C.S. Brown National Registry Auditorium Building.