House Tours Preservation

Farewell to a Landmark: The James Madison Williams House

May 25, 2019

Unfortunately, Wake County, North Carolina lost a beautiful landmark home this week. The James Madison Williams house was built in 1909. James Madison, known affectionately as “Jim Mack” was born in 1867. He was a tobacco farmer. He purchased fifty-one acres in Wake County, North Carolina in the early 1900’s.

Along with his wife, De’Etta Council Williams and their four children, they lived in a smaller farmhouse on the property while their bigger house was being built. It is most likely that the smaller house was already on the farm when they purchased it. That house later became their tobacco packing house.

Can you imagine their elation as they saw this grand home being built while they were living in the much smaller house. I can imagine De’Etta daydreaming about it and the kids imagining their bedrooms.

James Madison was a successful farmer in 1906. He was growing tobacco and also small amounts of cotton and peanuts. Tobacco was his main crop. He built five tobacco barns, a chicken house, a corn crib, a smokehouse, a horse barn and a wood shed.

James Madison started building the big house in 1906 and continued building it until its completion in 1909. Amazingly, he built much of the house himself with the assistance of local carpenters.

They actually moved the smaller house and built the new one in its place. Once the new house was completed, they converted the first one into their operations center for their tobacco farm. It also became their tobacco packing house.

The James Madison Williams house was a late Queen Anne style farmhouse. The hexagonal turret on the front of the farmhouse made this unique for the area. The interior of the home has a beautiful ceiling where the turret is located. Usually farmhouses in this area built in the late nineteenth century were simple L-plan or I-House style homes.

I found a quote about old houses written by the great Nora Roberts that I found very fitting:


“It was a mistake to think of houses, old houses, as being empty. They were filled with memories, with the faded echoes of voices. Drops of tears, drops of blood, the ring of laughter, the edge of tempers that had ebbed and flowed between the walls, into the walls, over the years.
Wasn’t it, after all, a kind of life?
And there were houses, he knew it, that breathed. They carried in their wood and stone, their brick and mortar a kind of ego that was nearly, very nearly, human.”
― Nora Roberts, Key of Knowledge

I would like to add that the two residents of the home did escape uninjured from the fire that started at approximately 3:30 in the morning. Right now signs are pointing to an electrical issue. Old House Life would like to extend our condolences to the Williams’ family. Thank you to Jeremy Bradham with Capital Area Preservation for providing me with pictures and the history of the farm.