Been Here and Gone: The fading structures of SE North Carolina



“Time changes everything except something within us which is always surprised by change.”

―Thomas Hardy

It all goes to dust, eventually.

They’re everywhere now, maybe they always were, the irrelevant works of the past, cobbled together from sand and stone and brick as if to defy the unceasing tide of the world. Day upon day they gather in plain view, unseen, fading before the bright, the new, the modern, like sepia revenants among the Technicolor present.

Some were doomed simply by their location (location!, location!, location!) while others have merely outlived their usefulness, their intended purpose no longer relevant to 21st century profit margins, fashion edicts or calculations of convenience.

The change can be seen far from our glittering cityscapes, in the crumbling tobacco barns framed by shinning new solar fields, in the highways rerouted around the frayed remains of once bustling downtowns, in chamber of commerce boards left holding their heads and grasping for new ideas to revive the empty storefronts, empty sidewalks, and empty-eyed young men on the corner. Eventually, the shuttered restaurants and deserted hotels become indistinguishable from the plastic flowers and crosses along the roadsides.

These structures have been swallowed by modernity, by indifference, by corporations reaching their numb, brittle tentacles into small communities and towns. It’s there in the plywood sign across the front window at Town ’N Country grocery in Oriental, spray painted with the sardonically angry (Thanks, Wal-Mart!; Welcome to Oriental) and the sadly pleading (Please come back! Meat Gone. Love The People.) And just down the road, the plain plastic sign on the big box express store that put the local grocery of 42 years out of business and then closed up shop two months later: “THIS WALMART STORE WILL BE CLOSING.”


Change, of course, is a process neither malignant nor benign, simply inevitable. And in time’s inexorable scheme, stasis can destroy just as surely as the wrong action, only more slowly. Standing before the vine draped folding seats and leaf carpeted stage of Kenan Memorial Amphitheater in Kenansville, it’s difficult to reconcile its vault-like stillness with the boisterous sturm und drang of the historical drama “The Liberty Cart,” which played there throughout the 1970s. Was there actually a time when families sat together, outside, and enjoyed idealized tales of their ancestors, two centuries buried?


However improbable, the amphitheater holds an air of expectation within its classic contours, as if to say, “All is not lost here; time remains.” Those words are long since consigned to the wind for many such abandoned historic sites. Last January, real estate developers in the city of New Bern imploded a 150-foot-tall white silo, the last vestige of a long-closed fertilizer factory. In a matter of seconds, one of the tallest structures in the city was reduced to a few yards of concrete, twisted steel, wire and dust. Windows shattered nearby and the city shuddered for miles from the reverberations of the impact.


Of course, whatever is planned for the riverfront site will surely draw more tourists, and their vital lucre, than the mold and graffiti covered relic that was destroyed. Mourn for the loss of the antique and handmade, the rare and unreconstructed, but these things are as they should be. Let them have their time, wither and be replaced. Not simply the way of all flesh, but the way of all things.


Trenton Church

Trenton Church2

Lost Coin Church, Trenton, N.C.

Kinston Motel

Kinston Motel2

Motel, Kinston, N.C.

Maysville Milling Co.

Maysville Milling Co.2

Feed Company, Maysville, N.C.

Mr. Waffles3

Mr. Waffles5

Mr. Waffles, Kinston, N.C.



Boogies, Trenton, N.C.

service station Hwy 43

Service station Hwy 43 2

Gas Station, N.C. 11 Near Greenville, N.C.


Fertilizer Silo, New Bern, N.C.


Walmart Express, Oriental, N.C.





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