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Ausbon House

The Windley-Ausbon House (circa 1830),more commonly known simply as the Ausbon House, occupies the corner of Washington St. and Third St.. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is one of only 5 houses within city limits of Plymouth that pre-date the Civil War. This is largely because most of Plymouth was burned in 1862 by a punitive Confederate raid under Lieutenant Colonel John C. Lamb. Although the Ausbon House was not burned, it bears the scars from musket fire around its second story window. …But more about that in a moment.

The original plot of land was purchased from Authur Rhodes in 1789 for 5 pounds. It was lot number 48 on the original map that Rhodes, the founder of Plymouth, developed 2 years earlier. Rhodes was a third generation resident of the area, and had set aside 100 acres of his farm on the river for his town. By the way, it is believed that Rhodes had named the town for the ship captains who traded with Plymouth, who hailed from Plymouth, Massachusetts. This makes sense, since that area of Massachusetts was a center for shipbuilding and they needed the timber and pitch from our Long Leaf Pines.

The lot changed hands several times. The first owner, Caleb Bembridge sold it to Seth Hardison. After he died, his heir Eziekiel Hardison bought his relatives shares in it. After his death, it was purchased by Edmon Windley in 1834. Edmon is believed to have built the original part of the “T” shaped house, which now fronts Washington St.. He lived there until his death in 1848. In 1855 the property was deeded to Mary Keith, from her father John C. Pettijohn. The house belonged to James and Mary Keith during the turbulent years of the Civil War.

Plymouth was occupied by the Union Army from 1862 until the Battle of Plymouth in April of 1864, when it was held for a brief 6 months by the Confederate Army. But from the beginning, Plymouth and northeastern North Carolina, for the matter, was supportive of the Union cause. They owned few slaves, and had close trading ties with the North.

However, near the end of 1862, John C. Lamb with troops from the 17th North Carolina, a small cavalry unit, and a single battery of cannon took the Federal troops by surprise! They attacked the town on December 10th capturing all the pickets without resistance except one who managed to fire a warning shot. The Union commander, Captain Barnabus Ewer formed his men in a line across Main Street, just one block from the Ausbon House. The Confederate cavalry scattered Ewer’s men in all directions. The Federals reformed inside the customs house at the end of Washington Street. Lamb directed his artillery fire on the customs house, placing nine holes in it and blowing down one side of the upper story. Then he fired on the Union gunboat Southfield, placing one hole in her smokestack and the other through the boiler. Ewer, observing his naval support withdrawing under fire, managed to get aboard a departing vessel, much to the disgust of witnesses.

Colonel Lamb knew he couldn’t hold the town when the superior force of Union troops reformed and counter-attacked. So he burned down the Union garrison’s headquarters and all its paperwork. His men also burned down most of the buildings on Main Street. Then he began his withdraw. However, not all of his men were willing to leave the fight just yet. A Confederate sniper positioned in the strategic upper window of the Ausbon House refused to heed the warning from an officer and held his ground. Becoming the only rebel returning fire, the Union troop concentrated their fire on the sniper in the upper window. Even today you can see 30 bullet holes around the window, and there were another eight found in the interior wall behind the window during recent restoration (along with grape shot still in the wall and a Confederate field spoon used as cannon fodder sticking straight out from the inner wall). The sharpshooter was shot several times before crawling out of the room and downstairs where he died. His bloodstains on the floor by the window remain today, even though the floor has been refinished!

It is not known what became of Mary and James Keith, but in 1869, their two children were orphans and owners of the house. For the next ten years it was rented out to various tenants. The rent was used to pay for medical bills, books and tuition for Joseph and Jeanette Keith, but in later years the house was auctioned to pay off debts. After two more successive owners, it was purchased by Priscilla N. Ausbon in 1885 from one of her relatives. On the 1894 Sanborn Insurance map the addition forming a “T” on the southeast side first appeared. During the year, her son William Fletcher Ausbon resigned as editor of the ROANOKE BEACON that he and his brother purchased in 1890. In 1894 he began an insurance business. After his mother’s death, he added the rear porch in 1902, as well as other improvements. A kitchen dependency was added by 1915, and by 1924 it appears to have been relocated to contain the present dining room and kitchen. Fletcher died in 1930. He and his wife were survived by nine children. One of which was Hermine Ausbon Ramsey who continued the insurance business her father started until 1976! She lived in the house until her death on January 23, 1995. Her niece, Nee Humpries, and her husband Charlie, now own the house, and not only open there home for special events, but have restored the house to its former beauty.

Nee’s grandmother, grandparents, Uncle Marion, and Aunt Hermine, were all born in the downstairs bedroom. Today it is used as a guestroom, and each guest has said that in the middle of the night the door opens and it feels as though someone comes to the bedside, and then leaves, closing the door behind them!

Nee has a great respect for the heritage of this home. “I love this house very deeply- but I feel as a caretaker,…to press on. From me it will go to my daughter Kim, then to my grandson Jay. It is a pleasure to share it, and it’s history with others”. As a result of her commitment, it is now a stately showpiece on Washington Street, as well as an important surviving part of Plymouth’s history.