The second oldest town in
Martin County, Jamesville was incorporated in 1785 as James Town, with
its name changing in 1797 to Jamestown and finally, on Feb. 10, 1855, to
Situated directly on the Roanoke River, Jamesville residents depended on
the shipment of agricultural and forest products, supplying local
farmers with merchandise, and taking advantage of the early springtime
fishing season that was centered here.
Jamesville thrived prior to the Civil War with the formation of a large
sawmill operation headed by Dennis Simmons. The construction of the
Astoria Mill about a mile upriver gave the county its largest antebellum
During the Civil War, Jamesville's placement between Union headquarters
at Plymouth, downriver to the east, and Williamston, Hamilton and Fort
Branch, upriver to the west, put the town in constant peril. The town's
unenviable position placed it, as one local historian described, in "no
man's land" between opposing Union and Confederate interests. The
once-prosperous town was virtually destroyed during the course of the
war. As a result, the only surviving antebellum residence in town is the
ca. 1810 Burras House on West Main Street.
Post war redevelopment followed improved transportation and continued
exploitation of the vast forests in the region. While Simmons' mill
suffered devastating losses during the Civil War, it recovered nicely,
rebuilt on a larger scale and operated until 1919. In 1889, it was
touted as the largest manufacturer of wood shingles in North Carolina,
producing about 25,000 a day.
Even more important was the incorporation in 1869 of the Jamesville and
Washington Railroad (J&W) and Lumber Company. By 1870, the first segment
of a narrow-gauge railroad extended into the company's vast stands of
timber south and east of Jamesville. Facetiously known as the "Jolt and
Wiggle" for its uneven ride, the J&W made possible the expansion of
large-scale timbering and small-scale farming into heretofore
hinterlands in Jamesville and Griffins townships.
Furthermore, the county's important fishing industryâ€“including the
famous "fishing machines"â€“ was centered here, particularly in the spring
when runs of herring brought hundreds to the Roanoke River to obtain a
supply of fish to salt and preserve. The C.C. Fleming Fishery on Stewart
Street was the most successful, and stands today as the only important
structure associated with the fishing industry in Martin County.
Jamesville currently has the only riverfront restaurants in Martin
County. The Cypress Grill is open seasonally when the herring run
(usually January through April). The other restaurant is River's Edge.
The advantageous location of the original commercial district along
Water Street near the river was lessened as travel relocated to the
highways, and old commercial buildings were abandoned for new ones along
what became US 64. In fact, only one survives on siteâ€” the 1914 (former)
US Post Office The ca. 1900 general store of Henry Gray Griffin, located
across the street from the old post office building, was demolished in
Info from Martin Architectural
Heritage: The Historic Structures of Rural North Carolina County, edited
by Thomas R. Butchko.