Rocky Mount is a city with a beautiful downtown, but it is a ghost of its former self. When Stepheny Houghtlin moved to the area several years ago, she fell in love with the commercial architecture downtown, but she was sad to see that “it was silent.” She started a blog called “Main Street Rocky Mount” in 2015 with the mission of “honoring the past, building the future” in hopes of changing the narrative about downtown Rocky Mount. TC Media recently sat down with Houghtlin to discuss her work in the area.
Houghtlin believes Rocky Mount is “full of possibilities.” Revitalization has occurred throughout the city over the last several years, in the downtown and surrounding areas. Houghtlin celebrated some of the recent successful projects including the Davis Lofts, the Pearl Street Apartments, the Rocky Mount Mills, and the newly renovated Music City & Lights building. She also observed that the return to having living spaces above stores has been a key to the recent success in Rocky Mount and nearby areas like Wilson and Tarboro.
Houghtlin notes that young people especially are gravitating toward areas with a “sense of place,” and Rocky Mount “has a wonderful story between the Mills, and the furniture, and tobacco. There is a lot of diversity here, and people are seeking that kind of a life again, where they don’t have to get in their car to drive everywhere.”
Rocky Mount has several districts of historic housing, mostly in Wards 1-4. These include a variety of bungalows and Shotgun Style houses. Many of these buildings were constructed in the 1920s and 1930s and are located around Sunset Avenue and Howell Street. These houses are smaller and ideal for young professionals and newly married couples. The preservation and restoration of some of these historic homes has gained interest in the last few years.
Houghtlin also serves as a board member of Preservation Rocky Mount, a group that started to save some of the historic houses and buildings throughout the city and to generate awareness about the architectural treasures in the area. One of the goals of the organization is to attract more young people to get involved because young people have been instrumental in saving downtown by opening businesses and moving into the area. If you want to support the mission of Preservation Rocky Mount, they have several membership levels available.
In addition to her blog and work with Preservation Rocky Mount, she has also written several books and hosts a podcast called “Talking Main Street with Stepheny.” You can also find Main Street Rocky Mount on Facebook.
The ongoing work downtown will require cooperation and collaboration from members of the community and the city. Houghtlin is optimistic about the future of Rocky Mount because of the recent developments and the decision of the downtown development team to open their office downtown. She closed the interview with the following encouragement: “This is a wonderful place full of wonderful people, and they deserve to have a life that is rich and full.”