Harmony Hall's tragic legacy
Kinston has many historical homes, some of which have remained beautiful sentinels bridging time. Harmony Hall on King Street is one such home, standing splendid and reminiscent of supposed "simpler times." However, if Harmony Hall could speak its tale, the word "simple" would not be in its vocabulary.
Some families whose lives were conducted behind the walls of Harmony Hall knew tragedy and heartache firsthand.
Harmony Hall was originally known as the Peebles House, after the Peebles family who lived there from 1846 until the 1920s. Research on the Peebles House cannot conclude who the builder was or who occupied the home before 1824.
Its known history began with Abner Pearce, who came to Kinston around 1819. A merchant, Pearce married Phoebe Fonville in December, 1820. Three years after their marriage, Pearce purchased an old house on Lot 102 where their first child, Sarah, was born. Soon after, in 1824, he sold that property and bought the house on Lot 74, which faced King Street, today known as Harmony Hall. Abner and Phoebe had two more children, Ann and Susan, in 1825 and 1827 respectively.
The Pearce family enjoyed life for a time, entertaining and participating in social activities. But then Abner Pearce became part of Harmony Hall's tragic legacy when he died at the age of twenty-nine in August 1827. He was laid to rest behind the house.
In late summer 1834, Phoebe Pearce remarried a man named George Phinney Lovick. Lovick's profession is not known, but there was a store inherited by Phoebe from Abner. George and Phoebe were married for ten years but would not be free from the tragedy seemingly etched into the fabric of life in the home on Lot 74.
Susan Pearce, Phoebe's and Abner's youngest daughter, died in early 1844 at the age of sixteen and was buried near her father.
Then, either later that year or the early 1845, George died. His age is estimated as having been between thirty-five and forty-five. Phoebe would not escape a similar fate, dying herself in 1845.
Sarah and Ann, children of Phoebe and Abner Pearce, petitioned to sell the house and other properties in order to settle the estate, as there were minor children of George and Phoebe who were also heirs.
The property was auctioned publicly on January 6, 1846. John Henry Peebles purchased the property for $3700. With his new property, he also acquired the ominous luck which came with it.
John Peebles was born September 13, 1813, in Virginia. His parents were Thomas Edmund and Susanna Lucas Peebles. John moved to Kinston in 1834 and became a merchant. He married Harriet Elizabeth Ann Cobb in 1843, the daughter of John Cobb and Ann Bryan Grist.
John Peebles' sister, Vienna, married Harriet Peeble's brother, John Washington Cobb around 1850. John Cobb had lived with his sister's family until his marriage.
The Peebles' family tragedy begin with the death of their first child, Harriet Day Peebles, in August 1844. Although financial prosperity was achieved, the personal lives of John and Harriet were marred with loss and sadness, as nine additional children were claimed by death:
John Cobb Peebles, March 1846
Only three of John and Harriet children survived to adulthood, Ann, Elizabeth and Henry.
In 1859, John and Vienna Cobb joined their nieces and nephews in death, causing more anguish to John and Harriet Peebles.
The Civil War would wreak its own brand of tragedy on the Peebles. John had a strong financial interest in the Atlantic and North Carolina Railroad, but Union troops procured it during the first year of the Civil War. Additionally, Union troops controlled New Bern, and the Pamlico Sound was blockaded. Supplies could not be gotten through to John Peebles' store. Also, some of his slaves were escaping to New Bern, and Peebles had to sell some of his town lots to make ends meet for his family.
The war in 1862 had Kinstonians on the run. Union troops were expected to invade at any given moment and residents began leaving for safer havens away from the coast. John Peebles moved his family to Goldsboro in October of that year and rented a house. The family returned to Kinston sometime in 1863 and were relieved to find their home undamaged. Many properties in the area had been burned during the first Battle of Kinston. Even with his home safe, John Peebles was ruined financially. His store was closed, his plantation sat idle and his investments were gone. He was not able to sell his land because of the deteriorating financial situation in the South.
John Peebles would succumb to his losses, dying at the age of 51 in October, 1864. Local rumor is that he took his own life with a gun in the upstairs back room. He was buried in the Cobb cemetery close to his ten children, in a grave lined with brick.
Harriet then had to contend with the Union forces occupying the area over her recently deceased husband's final resting place. The Yankees put a coffin containing a dead Yankee on top of Peeble's coffin. Harriet promptly had it removed. The Yankees again placed the coffin on top of Peebles. Harriet again had the coffin removed, and the Yankees placed it back in. After Harriet had it removed for the third time, she sent a message to the Yankee commander that if the coffin was placed again in her husband's grave, she would have it thrown in the river.
Harriet Peebles also had to contend with the extreme financial difficulties which had so plagued John during the war. The plantation had fallen to ruin with no slaves. John's money had been converted to Confederate money, proving at the end of the war to be worthless. The store was closed for a time, but she hired George Herring to run it for room and board in her home. She also took in two seamstresses as boarders. Her nephew lived with her as well as her son Henry. He married Henri Patrick in 1897, and it is believed that he and his new wife continued to live there after their marriage.
In 1869, Harriet sold some of her property to pay off debts against the estate of John Peebles and her mother, Ann B. Cobb. She sold the plantation and her town lots 73, 74 (the home site), 75 and the northern half of lot 76 to her brother, Dr. R.G. Cobb, for the amount of $5,450. In November of that year, Cobb and his wife deeded the planation and lots 73 and 74 back to Harriet for the amount of $10. The Peebles House was thereby free of debt.
Harriet would prove to be the sturdiest of the residents of the Peebles House, living until 1898, when she died at the age of 76. She was buried in the Cobb cemetery next to her husband. Her son was her only surviving child, because her two daughters, Ann and Elizabeth, died in 1885 and 1895 respectively. Henry Peebles would live until 1930.
Henry did not inherit his mother's property outright. Instead, she loaned it to him for his lifetime. Henry Peebles resided in the Peebles House until approximately 1921. With his departure, a family's endurance of tragedy and misfortune faded into memory.
In 1924, a sale of the home was ordered by the court. It was purchased by John F. Stricklin in February 1925 for $6,000. His heir, Isabel Stricklin Jones, sold the home to Rosa Adams Howerin in 1936. Soon after, it was transferred to Lucy Hood of the Kinston Woman's Club. The home was to be used for a public library and clubhouse. Some renovations were done and the Peebles House became the home of the local library from 1937 to 1952. The collection was then moved to North Queen Street. The Woman's Club managed to remodel the house and opened it in 1954 to the public to be used for weddings, parties, etc. In 1969, the name was changed to Harmony Hall by members of the Historic Sites Committee, which was formed by the Kinston Arts Council. Research indicates no reason for the name change, but harmony was certainly not reflected in the personal lives of its residents. Today, we can only peer into the past and wonder about the mystery and strange luck surrounding Harmony Hall.
The information for this story was taken from a manuscript titled "The Peebles House in Kinston: a Research Report for the Structure Restored as Harmony Hall." It was written by Jerry Cross for the Research Branch of the Division of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.