124 West End Boulevard is the smaller half of a two-house entry on the National Register of Historic Places. Winston-Salem’s H.D. Poindexter Houses date back to the 19th century and consist of two adjacent homes, the Poindexter House and the smaller Poindexter Cottage. The cottage was put up for sale last week at $299,900 and almost immediately went under contract.
The houses now stand side-by-side in the West End Historic District, but they started out a few blocks away in a neighborhood that was wiped out by the expansion of Winston-Salem business district in the mid-20th century. Their rescue was an early victory for preservation in the city. By the time the historic district was created, the Poindexter houses already had escaped into its friendly surroundings.
The cottage is the older of the two houses, built in 1874 on Spruce Street. It has two bedrooms and two bathrooms in 1,420 square feet. At $299,900, that comes to a prestigious $211 per square foot. The house retains its original windows, hardwood floors and a clawfoot tub. The property includes a two-story outbuilding with a workshop and an upstairs room “with angled ceiling & nook for a double & single bed,” the listing says. The front and back yards have professionally designed gardens.
The interior is beautifully restored but not elaborate.”The original three rooms are plain in woodwork,” the National Register nomination says. “The front porch, which [originally faced] Spruce Street, is embellished with a fan-like design adjacent to the turned support posts. Two rooms were added to the cottage prior to the l890s, and the woodwork in these rooms is also very plain.”
H.D. Poindexter and His Houses
Henry Dalton Poindexter was born in either Yadkin or Surry County in 1849. In 1871, he moved to Winston-Salem, where he “became one of Winston’s earliest and most successful merchants,” the houses’ National Register nomination says.
The story of his two homes is the stuff of local legend, which is to say there’s no dispute about what happened but there’s not much documentation, either (the National Register nomination has some conspicuously soft attributions). Poindexter moved into the cottage in 1874, the year he married Augusta Zenobia Miller. It was then about a quarter-mile from its site today. “It is unclear whether Poindexter himself built the cottage, but he obtained the property from E. A. de Schweinitz, a Moravian brother,” the National Register document says. “The original cottage was small, only three rooms, and local tradition maintains that Mr. Gaston Miller, a local builder, helped expand the cottage to five rooms.”
Miller was Poindexter’s next-door neighbor, and his help consisted of moving out of his two-room house and offering it to the free-wheeling Poindexter. “When Miller moved to Fourth Street, legend maintains that he offered the two rooms to Poindexter if he would move them to his own lot. According to Ruth Poindexter, her father ‘went to the top and sawed the house in two.’ He then rolled the sections on logs to their new site adjoining his cottage. Eight of the nine Poindexter children were born in the five-room cottage.” The family grew and grew, but they stayed in the cottage for about 20 years. Poindexter eventually acquired the lot next door, at the corner of Spruce and Fifth streets. Between 1892 and 1894, he built a bigger Queen Anne house for the family, now known as the Poindexter House. (“The lot had belonged to T. L. Vaughn, and according to Ruth Poindexter, Mr. Vaughn had offered to ‘swap’ her father the lot on Fifth and Spruce in return for Poindexter’s garden plot.”)
For 29 years, Poindexter ran the general-merchandise store bearing his name at 411 North Trade. He retired around 1910 and died in 1922, “leaving his wife and his children, Maggie Eula, Catherine Lillian, Eva Miller, Claude Zenobia, Martha, Ruth, Herbert Dalton, and Polly Annie May.” Some of the children lived in the larger house for another 50 years or so until life-insurance company Integon bought both houses, perhaps after Ruth and Polly Annie May, the last of the children, died within a month of each other in 1977. (Curiously, although at least eight of the children survived to adulthood, it appears none of them ever married.)
Integon Comes Calling
By the 1970s, the Poindexter houses were all that was left of their neighborhood, wiped out by Winston-Salem’s expanding business district.
“In their original location at 506 West Fifth Street, the H. D. Poindexter Houses were the last surviving remnants of what was once one of Winston-Salem’s most prestigious neighborhoods,” the NRHP nomination says. “In recent decades the houses had become completely overpowered by surrounding incompatible commercial and institutional development. The smaller house was actually located only a few feet from the multi-story headquarters of the Integon Corporation. Future commercial expansion made the demolition of the houses inevitable unless they could be moved.”
Happily, there were two adjoining vacant lots nearby in what was then called the Crystal Towers neighborhood, now known as the West End. Integon donated the houses for relocation. They were moved in January 1978, and the company turned their former location into a parking lot.
“The Crystal Towers neighborhood is a late nineteenth and early 20th-century residential area currently undergoing revitalization in cooperation with the city’s Community Development program, the HUD neighborhood conservation program and the Crystal Towers Neighborhood Association, the organization responsible for organizing the move of the Poindexter Houses,” the nomination says (it was submitted in 1977 with a post script from early 1978).
“In their new location, the houses complement the neighborhood, occupying a gap in the streetscape created some years ago, and in turn are complemented by the company of houses of compatible period, material, scale and character.”
A happy ending, though, ironically, not so much for Integon, which has had a harder time than the Poindexter houses in finding a lasting place in modern times. It was one of the city’s major corporations, but as the cutthroat, get-bigger-or-get-eaten financial industry evolved, it was too small to survive as an independent company. And so it has become just another interchangeable corporate part, kicked around from one owner to the next every few years. First bought by GMAC in 1997, it’s now part of a company called National General Insurance. It will get its fourth owner in 23 years when Allstate completes its acquisition of that company, now under way. Integon’s current owner moved its offices out of downtown in 2014.