Solid as Faith 

Solid as Faith 

The Fogle Brothers’ enduring architectural imprint on Winston-Salem

By Ross Howell Jr.     Photographs by Amy Freeman

Winston-Salem’s Washington Park historic district is leafy, lush with big oaks and green lawns behind iron or picket fences. I pull up to the curb on West Cascade Avenue in front of a stucco house with thick columns. The house is Craftsman design, with a hipped roof reminiscent of Prairie style. There’s a wide stucco chimney in front.

This is the home that Charles Rudolph Fogle (1891–1982) built for his wife and daughter in 1917. Charles R. was the son of Charles Alexander Fogle, one of the founders of Fogle Brothers, a construction company that — as Heather Fearnboach writes in her authoritative 2015 book, Winston-Salem’s Architectural Heritage — left “an indelible impact on Winston-Salem’s built environment.”

I walk through a trellis draped with hanging roses. To the left of the house is a big oak tree and to the right are tall boxwoods.

Michael Ryden, who owns the house with his partner, greets me at the front door. He’s a tall, genial man with a sprinkling of gray in his hair.

President of the Winston-Salem firm Leonard Ryden Burr Real Estate, a company that specializes in historically significant properties, Ryden’s also a member of Preservation North Carolina, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and serves as chairman of the Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission.

Oh. And he’s an enthusiastic supporter of the local arts scene, having served on the boards of various arts organizations. Currently he’s an active member of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts Foundation board.

But now Ryden’s eager to show me his pride and joy.

We step into the large foyer. It’s nearly square, wonderfully balanced and flooded with natural light.

“It’s so rare to find an old house with so many of its original features in place,” Ryden says.

He should know. Over the years Ryden has restored an 1880s Vernacular farmhouse (with an old neighborhood store on the property), an I-house (so named because its style was so common in Indiana, Illinois and Iowa) built in 1910, and a Craftsman bungalow that was his home for 15 years.

Before restoring this home at 29 West Cascade Avenue, Ryden restored another house with the Fogle name attached to it. Constructed in 1908, it’s a Vernacular cottage style home on South Poplar Street in West Salem. And just next door to where we’re standing, there’s another, built around 1920, at 17 West Cascade, which Ryden also owns — still a work in progress, though the exterior is fully restored.

“When I bought the Charles Fogle house in 2000, I applied to have it listed in the Historic Register right away, because I wanted it to be protected,” he says.

Ryden and I walk to the right, into the living room. He gestures toward the wide, wood-burning fireplace.

“Charles Fogle was very proud of this house,” he says. “And especially proud of how well the fireplace drew. He still had the craftsman in him.”

When I ask Ryden how he knows this, he explains that after he purchased the property and began renovation, Anna Wray Fogle Cotterill, Charles R.’s daughter, would sometimes visit.

“She told us so many interesting things,” Ryden says. For instance, according to Anna Wray, Charles R. liked to keep all sorts of creatures around the house. He had an aviary with a variety of birds, kept fish in the garden pond in back and a flock of chickens in the basement. Since he had a friend who was a taxidermist, Charles R. had wild animal heads and sometimes whole animals on display in various rooms.

“Anna Wray said that all the lumber in the house was timbered near Pilot Mountain,” Ryden says.

We move into a cozy room just beyond the living room. There are built-in bookcases and a small fireplace. Though I’ve never set foot here, there’s something about the room that makes me feel immediately at home. Ryden tells me the fireplace tiles are original, as are the big steam radiators and the windows.

“We replaced the window flashing, he says. “Double Hung in Greensboro did a lot of work in this house. What’s the point of replacing windows when the originals can be so efficient?”

We sit down to chat. I ask Ryden how he became so committed to historic preservation.

“I grew up in Morristown, New Jersey,” he answers. “The ‘Crossroads of the American Revolution.’ So I was always interested in history.”

Somehow, he goes on, he knew he wanted to live in the South. So he attended Roanoke College in Virginia and after college, knocked around in dinner theater.

“I never understood how it happened,” he says, smiling. “Even though I don’t look anything like him, I played Thomas Jefferson in the musical 1776.”

“Well, you’re tall,” I venture, and we have a good laugh.

He tells me that when he met his partner, who owns land in southwest Virginia, they decided to move to Winston-Salem.

“That’s where I started selling real estate,” Ryden says. “And I found I was good at it.”

His success, he explains, made it possible for him to pursue his passion for historic preservation.

Then we continue our tour. He shows me an adjacent bathroom. Remarkably, the floor tile, porcelain fixtures and gleaming, polished-nickel hardware are all original.

We head into the large kitchen, where the ceiling was opened up so it reaches all the way to the flat roof above. The kitchen cabinets are original. The hood for the range vents through the original chimney.

But being a guy, I find the most interesting feature to be the speaking tube that Ryden has preserved. He demonstrates how to blow into the tube so a whistle can be heard upstairs. Then he speaks through the tube.

We walk up the broad stairs in the hall. There’s a fireplace in the master bedroom, and an original tie and shoe rack on the closet door. The woodwork and doors are milled from hardwood without a blemish. Nothing creaks. Nothing moves. The house is solid as faith.

Not surprising, when you consider that Charles R. Fogle was descended from a long line of Moravian builders and craftsmen. I had to know more.

My curiosity led me a little farther east, to Old Salem’s Moravian Archives, the official repository for the Southern Province of the Moravian Church in America. On a big table in its research room, I’m looking at a leather-bound ledger that sits between Mary Audrey Apple and me.

My eyes wander from the ledger to the room’s windows. I can see the green expanse of God’s Acre, the Moravian cemetery, just outside. There the faithful — including Charles R. and his father and grandfather — lie buried under simple stones of equal size, regardless of the individual’s status in life.

Apple is doing for me something she’s done many times — guiding a search for information about Fogle Brothers, the most significant construction company in 19th-century Winston-Salem.

Apple’s research was an important contribution to Heather Fearnbach’s Winston-Salem’s Architectural Heritage. And though her travels have taken her far and wide, she’s a proud Winston-Salem native. These days she volunteers at the Moravian Archives as a family history docent. And under the direction of archivist Eric Elliott, she’s contributing to the development of a genealogical database of Wachovia Moravian African-Americans, drawing on her background in education, foreign languages, history, and library-and-information science.

After a career as a public, college and school librarian, with an emphasis on reference work, Apple returned to her hometown. She transferred her Master Gardener membership in Cobb County, Georgia, to Winston-Salem, which helps explain the work she does in Latino Community Services, mentoring students in the Healing and Teaching Gardens, and her selection as the 2018 honorary chair for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Garden Club Council’s spring garden tour.

She rises from her chair, sliding the big Fogle Brothers ledger closer, so we can look at it together. The red label on its spine reads “1888–90.”

“They were good Moravians,” Apple says, carefully opening the ledger. “They kept records of everything.”

On the first pages that fall open, inscribed in black ink with a flowing hand, is the client heading “R.J. Reynolds.” This is Richard Joshua Reynolds (1850–1918), the founder of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Entries for his building project include pounds of nails, board feet of lumber, quantities of windows, doors and moldings. They include notes about the type of structure, number of men working on it and costs of materials.

On another page is the heading “F.H. Fries.” This was “Colonel” Francis Henry Fries (1855–1931), builder of Arista Mills, the first textile mill in North Carolina to have electric lights, and president of Wachovia Loan and Trust, which — when it merged in 1911 with Wachovia National Bank to form Wachovia Bank and Trust — was one of the largest financial institutions in the South.

That Fogle Brothers should have been builders for the industrial titans of 19th-century Winston and Salem certainly was not accidental. Some might say it was providential.

Moravians are acknowledged as the first Protestants. The leader of the sect, a Bohemian (Czech) priest named Jan Hus, was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1415, more than a century before Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle Church. In 1457 Hus’ followers formed a church in Moravia (Czech Republic).

Suffering exile and persecution, the Moravians (Unitas Fratrum, or United Brethren) later established themselves in England. In 1741 they formed their first permanent community in the Colonies — Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. A decade later, they sent surveyors to map a 100,000-acre tract of land they had acquired in western North Carolina.

The tract’s first Moravian settlers — 15 individuals who had walked the Great Wagon Road from Bethlehem — arrived in November 1753. When the new settlers held their first lovefeast, the Rev. Bernhard Adam Grube (1715–1808) noted that outside “wolves howled loudly.”

As their settlements — Bethabara, Bethania, Salem, Friedberg and Friedlandia — grew, the Moravians remained a hard-working, frugal, diary-writing, record-keeping band of skilled artisans.

Their tight-knit community, along with their skills as craftsmen, would serve the Moravians handsomely in the Industrial Revolution.

In addition to the 1888–90 Fogle Brothers ledger — and there are many, comprising, with some gaps, the years 1878 to 1942 — Apple has assembled a number of other reference materials for my search.

From a section of Heather Fearnbach’s book I learn that into the third generation of Moravian settlers in Salem, Augustus Gottlieb Fogle (1820–1897) was born. Augustus attended the Salem Boys’ School for a short time and apprenticed with Philadelphia-trained cabinetmaker Jacob Friedrich Siewers. In 1838, Siewers took Augustus and other apprentices along with him to Milton, North Carolina, to work with the now-legendary African-American cabinetmaker, Thomas Day.

Augustus married Lucinda Elisabeth Schneider, worked as a cabinetmaker, tended to his farm and invested in real estate. It is said that he helped place the steeple on the Home Moravian Church in Salem. He served as steward of Salem Academy, town coroner and justice of the peace, and sheriff of Forsyth County. He even was elected mayor of Winston — serving three terms — but he continued to work as a cabinetmaker until his death in 1897.

Augustus Fogle’s legacy as an artisan continued with his two sons.

In 1870 Charles Alexander Fogle (1850–1892), on land given him by his parents, established a lumberyard and planing mill on Belews Creek Road with woodworker and friend J. Gottlieb Sides. In 1871 his brother Christian Henry Fogle (1846–1898) bought out Sides’ interest. Christian and Charles then formed a partnership known as Fogle Brothers. According to the Biographical Dictionary of North Carolina Architects & Builders, the “demand for buildings in Winston and Salem led the brothers to expand their operations several times, as they enlarged their planing mill, added sash-and-blind machinery, and engaged a large work force of carpenters, bricklayers and laborers.”

By the 1880s Fogle Brothers was a major employer for skilled men in the building trades, both white and African-American.

And these men built structures of all types — small frame tenements for factory workers, mansions for the wealthy, tobacco factories and warehouses, public buildings, stables, church additions and apartments.

Providentially or not, the Fogle Brothers were ideally positioned to capitalize on the Winston and Salem industrial boom (it was not until 1913 that the two towns merged). Sometimes on their own, sometimes with investors, they completed a number of successful speculative real estate ventures.

“Trained in the Moravian craft tradition,” the Biographical Dictionary continues, “Charles and Christian Fogle were esteemed by their contemporaries not so much for their skills with hammer and saw as for their well-earned reputation as responsible and perceptive businessmen who not only knew the details of their woodworking trades but were well versed in the principles of investment and finance. Using their influence and connections with local industrialists, they created a virtual monopoly in the building trades for nearly 30 years.”

After our time in the Moravian Archives, Apple takes me on a walking tour. We head down South Church Street, passing the Moravian Home Church, a building Fogle Brothers renovated in 1870.

“Along here,” Apple says, “there was original Fogle Brothers fencing and lattice work, though it’s all reproduction now. Inside many of these houses are cabinets and bookcases the Fogles built.”

As we walk, she points out dormitories and academic buildings on the grounds of Salem College.

“Early on, Fogle Brothers maintained and renovated buildings for the college and academy,” Apple says.

She smiles when she tells me Fogle Brothers built doghouses, though none have survived.

“Augustus Fogle even built a circus wagon for a parade,” she adds.

Farther down Church Street, next door to St. Philips African Moravian Church, which dates from 1861 — Fogle Brothers built a church addition in 1890 — stands a pleasant Moravian house with a big, inviting porch.

“That’s a Fogle Brothers house my husband, Jim, and I restored,” Apple says. “It was built in the 1890s.” She tells me they sold the property three years ago.

She points at the façade and side of the house.

“See the shutters?” she asks. “They’re original. We had to copy and replace some of the windows, though.”

The latticework under the porch is typical of Fogle Brothers foundation treatments, she tells me, as is the picket fence.

Apple knocks at the front door to make sure we won’t disturb the owners. No one’s home.

“They’re wonderful people,” she says. “I’m sorry they’re not here to meet you.”

We walk along the side of the house through a side garden to a back terrace.

It’s a beautiful space, full of blooming shrubs and flowers. There’s a trellis and a stone path.

“I suppose this was our biggest contribution to the house,” Apple says. When she and her husband acquired the property, the backyard of the house fell away sharply into a ravine. The couple had stones trucked in to shore up the ravine and level the space, adding soil for a garden.

“Everything I planted,” Apple says, “was appropriate for a garden of the period.

“So not everything was a favorite, you know,” she adds. “But it was a plant a Victorian gardener would’ve used.”

We go back around to the front of the house. There, Apple introduces me to a gardening term that is new to me: “hell strip.” It’s the patch of earth between the curb and sidewalk in front of a house.

“See all the flowers? To draw pollinators,” she says. “Because of heat and drought, it’s a good idea to plant natives.”

We go over a block and walk up South Main Street. We pass houses and shops built by Fogle Brothers.

Apple points out the train depot, and a nearby building that now houses public offices. Originally it was Salem’s courthouse. She nods.

“Both built by Fogle Brothers.”

We turn the corner, stop to take a look at a new Salem College dormitory, then turn toward God’s Acre. To our right stands a row of brick Victorian townhouses with mansard roofs.

“Fogle Flats,” Apple says. “Built in 1896. It’s a residence hall for the college now.”

As it turns out, Fogle Flats was the temporary residence of Charles R. and his wife, Lucille Wommack, and his daughter, Anna Wray, while they were waiting for Fogle Brothers to complete the house in Washington Park overlooking what was rapidly becoming the modern city of Winston-Salem.

Though it was both of its time and as noted, out of time, the house, when Michael Ryden bought it, was beginning to show its age. After touring me through several bedrooms, Charles R.’s reading room and the bedroom that was Anna Wray’s, Ryden opens the door to an enormous bathroom, again with original tile and fixtures. Its renovation was just completed last year.

“It’s a process, you know,” Ryden says. “We didn’t have air-conditioning the first year we lived in the house.”

We step out onto the flat roof above the kitchen. Once used to dry laundry, the roof now features decking, comfortable chairs and plants in containers. Through the treetops is a magnificent prospect of downtown Winston-Salem.

“This is a great place to get away from it all,” Ryden muses.

We head all the way downstairs into the basement.

Although Ryden had a geothermal system installed, the original steam boiler still is operational. There’s a huge laundry room with a big overhead steam radiator. Beyond the steam boiler are an old coal room, a bathroom and a bedroom where an older tenant had lived until recently. There are rooms and nooks everywhere, and for much of the floor, the original brick.

“Some of the doors down here had screens at the bottom,” Ryden says. “We were scratching our heads about that, until Anna Wray told us her father kept his chickens down here at night, then let them out in the morning.”

We have another good laugh.

Then we walk out a basement door into a garden lined with big boxwoods.

“Those are original,” Ryden says. There’s a path with big stone pavers, a pea gravel drive, and just beyond, Charles R.’s original fishpond.

“We added the fountain,” Ryden adds. With the plash of the water, it’s quiet here, an oasis.

Ryden points out the unusual red-orange color of the brick and mortar of the foundation wall on this side of the house.

“And the stucco?” he asks. “We had some repairs done, but it’s original, and it’s never been painted, as far as we know.”

I realize I’ve taken up a big chunk of Ryden’s time, but as we head back inside and upstairs, he stops in the foyer to point out the details of the beautiful light fixture at the center of the ceiling. While it’s not original, he tells me, it’s a common design of the period, but not easy to secure these days.

Ryden tells me he’d known about this house on Cascade for a long time. A friend had rented there for years, so when he’d come for a visit, he’d have the chance to look around, to get to know the place. And it grew on him. Then he made a decision.

“The owner lived in California,” Ryden says. “And one day I phoned him out of the blue, and said, ‘I’d like to buy your house. Would you sell it?’ And the owner said, ‘Yes.’”

“When we were speaking earlier I said it was rare to find a house like this,” Ryden continues, as we shake hands. “But I think actually, the house found me.”

Some might say it was providential.

Ross Howell Jr. lives with his wife, Mary Leigh, and dogs, Sam and Lucy, in a 1920s Craftsman bungalow on what some might call the “artsy” side of Fisher Park, Greensboro.

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