Hidden History: The story behind Wilson’s Roundhouse Museum

WILSON, N.C. (WNCN) – It might seem like an obscure and perhaps strange site as you pass in Wilson.

You may even do a double-take.

Gloria Freeman says it best – “In terms of history, it represents an era.”

RELATED: More stories from the North Carolina Hidden History special

It’s an era that is as complicated and as layered as the masonry of the building itself.

“If you look around the building you’ll see the bricks, rocks, stone in fact there’s a whole bag of cement that may have gotten wet and he just stuck it in the wall,” says Bill Meyers.

It’s a hodge podge of anything and everything and it’s round.

Appropriately it’s called a “roundhouse.”

“Well something that is round has no end – that’s infinity we’re talking about here. That we have to remember the deeds of African-Americans that’s just not written that’s not in the text books” added Myers.

The former Wilson County educator worked for years to get the structure moved so it could be preserved and also serve as an African-American museum. Myers now serves as its executive the Oliver Nestus Freeman Roundhouse Museum.

Born in 1882, Oliver Nestus or “O.N.” Freeman saw the need for housing for black men returning from World War II.

O.N. had an ingenious solution.

He decided he could build homes out of whatever he could find, that could be held sturdy with cement and also be round.

Gloria Freeman’s great grandfather was a craftsman and O.N.’s brother.

“This is a physical representation of that and it’s odd it’s round and it’s rock and somebody built it, somebody thought of it. I’m standing here in the place of those who cannot be here at this time and cannot tell this story”.

What a story it is.

O.N. walked from Wilson, North Carolina all the way to Alabama where he attended the Tuskegee Normal School. the now famous school was founded by Booker T. Washington.

There O.N. studied construction technology including stone and brick masonry. He later taught those new skills to new students.

You can also spot Freeman’s stonework at other homes and buildings in Wilson.

But, Gloria Freeman says it’s the Roundhouse Museum that helps tell the story best.

“And this is one that we can tell and point to and allow other people to sort of join us in that story,” she said.

Bill Myers doesn’t want people to get lost in the obscurity of it all.

The lesson is right there for everyone to see.

“If you use your might, use your brain, use your heart and all that you have to make things happen.”

Read more on the Oliver Nestus Freeman Roundhouse Museum.

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