We got your History.
WHBC sits on the steep “Wharf Hill” section of Main St. in Smithfield’s Historic District. The Hill drops to Commerce St and the mighty Pagan River, where peanut factories, Ham Packing Houses, and the Steamboats once ruled. The 1760’s Todd House graces the opposite side of the Street, the first spot where hams were exported from Hamtown.
During Segregation, Wharf Hill was the “Black Business District” of Smithfield. From the Pagan River up to the Corner of main and Church St, the businesses and buildings were owned, operated, and patronized by African Americans. The Heart of this bustling district was The Elk’s Hall.
Known simply as the “Elks”, their proper name was the Improved Benevolent Protectorate of Elks of the World, and amid the many disadvantages of the Segregated South, the Improved Elks flourished and their Hall became the “Crown Jewel” of Wharf Hill.
The Elk’s Hall
The Elk’s Building was built in 1906, was divided into three shop-fronts down stairs, and a 3000 sq ft. “Hall” upstairs. The entire downstairs initially sold tractor implements (1913 Sanborn Map). The Elks bought the building in 1919, and proceeded to rent the three 1st floor businesses to black businesspersons. The Elk’s reserved the upstairs as their “Hall”, which featured 2000 sq ft of dance and dining space, a stage for live bands, and a fully-stocked bar. A separate room was partitioned for their ceremonial garb, files, and records. The Hall hosted private parties 90 years, and during it’s heyday, Friday and Saturday nights were “Standing Room Only” on the sidewalk outside the Hall.
The first floor of the Elk’s Building was divided into 21, 23, and 27 main Streets. The “Hall” on the 2nd floor was designated “25”. For simplicity and reference, 21 is now WHBC’s Bar, 23 is the Dining Room, and 27 is our Banquette Hall.
21 Main St. and Mr. Tynes (WHBC Bar Room)
From the 20’s until the mid-fiftes, 21 Main St. operated in the “fashion forward” color of black. The proprietor wore black suits. His carriage and horse wore black. His customers wore black. His name was Henry Tynes and he was an undertaker (1926 Sanborn Map). The dapper Mr. Tynes ran a brisk business and in 1953 he expanded into the vacant lot downhill of the Lodge (the Coal Yard), and 21 Main St changed tenants.
When Mr. Tynes transferred to 19 main St (now our Kitchen and Brewery), his parlor became far more vivacious as Claudette’s Beauty Palace. Ms. Claudette primped and pampered lovely ladies from the 50’s to the 80’s, and may have assisted Mr. Tynes, as everyone wants to look their best on their big day.
23 Main St.: Paradise, Pool, and Not-so-Paradise (WHBC Dining Room)
23 main St was home to the Paradise Inn Restaurant, and in the 60’s and 70’s a Pool Hall managed by Tunney Tynes. Early on, the Paradise must have tuned decidedly hellish, as a fire tore through the original wood ceiling and charred the joists above it. The Elk’s repaired the ceiling with pressed metal, and Paradise resumed (and so has the tin ceiling). Later, Tunney Tynes and the Pool Hall kept the joint jumping, and when we took out the rotten floor, we found bottles of every description, billiard balls, and marbles.
Like all good things, by the late 70’s Paradise and Pool were lost and the room was heavily remodeled with a dropped ceiling, sheetrock, and became a less joyful place: Dr. Booker’s Dentist Office. Dr. Booker was the last major shop in 23 Main St. under the Elks.
27 Main St.: A Man’s World (Banquette Hall)
While 21 and 23 changed business types, 27 was always barber shops, At least four consecutive barbers ran their businesses from the space, including Mr. Cuffey, Mr. Huggins, and finally, Mr. Alvin Wilson. The “Alvin and Son, Barber Shop Stylist” hand-painted sign is still on the window to 27, as is the chimney where the pot-bellied stove kept the winter out. Mr. Alvin moved out in late 2010, and still runs a barber shop near Westside Elementary School.
So ends the history of the Elks Era of the Lodge. In closing, let us return to a warm Friday night in 1955: “big box” stores, online shopping, and TV had not yet eclipsed the small stores and entertainment that defined life in Southern America. The Elks had 100-plus members and parties with live music and more quality hooch than you could drink in 20 years. The sidewalks were packed with people vibrating with relief that Friday night was in, and the long work week out. In 27 was a barbershop with lights burning and men calling out and laughing. 23 had a restaurant and poolhall to satisfy your hunger and skills. Claudette and her beauticians made merry in 21 with the women who relaxed under their care. Perhaps love was in the sultry air – certainly there was comradery. And, if the celebrations were more than a heart could contain, or the old steep steps too tricky to traverse, well, Mr. Tynes had your back to send you into forever in dapper.. slimming… black.
Now that’s full-service, baby.