The two most important
developmental forces in Martin County, the arrival of railroad
transportation and the proliferation of profitable lumber mills combined
to become major catalysts for the birth of Parmele.
The Wilmington and Weldon Railroad began construction around 1890 to
extend its north-south line down through Martin County on a location
near the Parmele-Eccleston Lumber mill. This chosen tract of land
centering on the Albemarle and Raleigh Railroad developed so rapidly
after the line was completed that on February 14, 1893 the General
Assembly incorporated it into the town of Parmele. In 1895, a third
railroad line was extended from Parmele southeasterly to Washington
making this newly-formed town the junction of railroad lines leading in
five directions. By 1896 it had two lumber mills, ten general stores,
one confectionery, and a population of 200 residents. A devastating fire
in 1904 destroyed much of the town's business sections along the
railroads and, along with the declining available timber, may have
accounted for the closure of those two lumber companies.
During the 1910s Parmele became noted as the location of a very
successful industrial institute for African-American children. Directed
by Dr. William C. Chance, the institute taught not only academic
learning but also agricultural, mechanical, and home-making skills.
After a merger with the town's public school, the Parmele Industrial
Institute was moved into the first brick school building erected for
either race in Martin County. The institute achieved regional acclaim,
eventually occupying a six-building campus. Unfortunately, the main
structure was destroyed by fire in 1954 causing the school to be
consolidated into Robersonville's public school for blacks.
Parmele still seemed to thrive on the commerce brought to it as the
juncture of three railroad lines, and despite an increasing reliance on
automobiles and trucks after the 1910s, the town's population grew or
remained steady during the mid-20th century, peaking to 417 in 1940.
Though improved state highways soon avoided what was left of the old
commercial section, the town continues to supply its residents with
basic goods through the presence of a general store. The railroad tracks
serve as mute testaments to Parmeleâ€™s railroad heyday.
Martin Architectural Heritage: The Historic
Structures of Rural North Carolina County,
edited by Thomas R. Butchko.