Located 40 minutes north of the capital city of Raleigh, Henderson, North Carolina is a rural town rich with history. The first settlers’ residence was built in what is now Henderson in 1785 by Samuel Reavis, Sr. Reavis called his farm “Lonesome Valley” which likely described the area at that time. Reavis’ son, Lewis Reavis, opened a store close to the stagecoach road in 1811 where he began to see an influx of settlers and the awakening of a city.
With the completion of the Raleigh amp; Gaston Railroad in 1835, the economic development of the area took flight. At a barbecue that same year organized by a group of local settlers, it was decided that the new city would be called Henderson after Lewis Reavis’ good friend, the late Judge Leonard Henderson. It became official in January of 1841 with a charter by the N. C. General Assembly.
With the coming of the railroad passenger station in 1837, many businesses began to spring up along what is now Garnett Street including saloons, mercantiles and hotels. Local land owners donated tracts of land on which the railroad built warehousing and shipping facilities. The tobacco industry blossomed in the area under the leadership of businessmen such as D.Y. Cooper and as a result, Henderson became a tobacco market in 1872.
By 1880, Henderson was comprised of a block of brick buildings, five tobacco factories, three warehouses, three cotton gins, approximately 20 mercantile stores and two newspapers.
Devastating fires occurred along Garnett Street in 1870 and 1885 virtually obliterating most of the commercial district structures, the majority of which were constructed of wood. However, with an ever growing population and their need for work, the burned sections were rebuilt within a year each time. The threat of fire was a major factor in the importation of bricks, stone and cast iron into the area.