By Lisa Brown
Hidden in underbrush behind overgrown trees and away from the road sits a house that was not known to the town of Wake Forest until seven years ago.
Though local residents knew of its existence, its historical significance was not certain until 2008, when the town conducted a survey. The site is now known to be the Ailey Young House, and its legacy and importance are no longer hidden.
The town, unaware of the house, had purchased the land hoping to use it for the town cemetery expansion just off North White Street. The structure has been vacant since its last occupants left in the 1970s. It has suffered damage, including a serious fire by vandals using it for either shelter or parties, but the structure itself has remained largely intact mostly due to its quality construction.
Known as a “saddlebag house,” which was a popular style for slave houses, and built somewhere around 1875, it sits off the ground on stone piers. Saddlebag houses are “double pen” type houses commonly found on plantations. There are two rooms, and the style’s most common identifier is a front door and a fireplace in the middle of the house that each room could use. Town Planner Michelle Micahel calls it a rare and wonderful example of Reconstruction Era, post-Civil War housing for the African-American working class.
“There is just nothing like this left,” local restoration carpenter Patrick Schell said. “The fancier houses tend to survive, but something like this, the housing for regular folks, especially African-Americans, is extremely rare.”
Known as a “Freedom House,” it is among just a few slave houses left in the area. In this case, the home was owned and occupied by an African-American family, offering more historic significance. It was sold to Ailey Young by the widow of William Simmons, a Wake Forest College professor who for rental income had built a row of houses known as “Simmons Row.” All of the other houses have since been demolished.
Ailey Young purchased the house and raised her family there. The most notable was her son, Allen Young, who was a well-known local educator. A teacher for Wake County Schools, Allen Young organized the Presbyterian Mission School for Colored Boys and Girls in 1905. The name was later changed to Wake Forest Industrial School. It was the first school for black children in the county, and students came from up and down the East Coast to attend. With Young as principal, it was a thriving, reputable institution, and by 1930, 300 students were enrolled. Attendance diminished as public schools were built, and once the DuBois School was open, the Industrial School closed its doors in 1957.
One of Allen Young’s daughters, Ailey Mae Young, also was a school teacher, and she went on to become the town of Wake Forest’s first African-American commissioner and second female commissioner. She ran and won in 1971 and was re-elected in 1975. Ailey Young Park in downtown Wake Forest is named for her.
Ruth Little, owner of Longleaf Historic Resources, a historic preservation consulting firm in Raleigh, has worked with the town to obtain National Register of Historic Places status for the house. However, in order to receive historic status, the structure must be stable.
To restore the house and obtain its place on the National Register, the town is hoping to raise about $70,000 for necessary renovations. Town Planner Michelle Michael was able to obtain a grant of $10,000, a good start, but still much more is needed to reach the goal.
The hope is to renovate the home not just for preservation but also for enjoyment. Michael hopes the house will be a Heritage Site which will be available for special events and by appointment.
“There will be interpretive markers and a sign telling the story of both Ailey and Allen Young,” said Michael.
“This was like finding ‘Sleeping Beauty’ in the woods,” Little said. “It is a monument to freedom and an important part of not just Wake Forest history but all of Wake County. And a tribute to the Young family.”
To make a tax-exempt donation to the fund for restoring the Ailey Young House, send checks to: Wake Forest Historic Preservation Commission, 301 S. Brooks St., Wake Forest, NC 27587. Please note the donation is for the Ailey Young House.
If you wish to donate time, materials or expertise, you may reach Michelle Michael, Town Planner, at (919) 435-9516.