John Wesley Campbell a name to remember in local Black History

The Neville home at 107 Cobb St. in Carrboro is a historic home that reflects the Black artisan craftsmanship of John Wesley Campbell, a well-known mason during WWII era construction of homes in the Northside Community. Photo by Michelle Cassell.


By Michelle Cassell
Managing Editor 

The Neville home, built in 1945, is one of four homes built by John Wesley Campbell, a local Black mason with a legacy of strong ties to the Northside, Pine Knolls, and Tin Top communities. This home is advertised as one of his finest craftsmanship displays in the Lloyd-Boyd neighborhood of the Northside community. It is located at 107 Cobb St. in Carrboro.

According to the Jackson Center’s oral and written history, he left school in the third grade to pursue his calling as a full-time mason.

John Wesley Campbell was born in 1888 to Judge Campbell, a White man and Della Campbell, a Black woman. He began his work in masonry at the age of seven.

John Campbell was described as a self-made man and taught the craft of masonry to his five sons: Handy, George Preston, Nathaniel, Jake, and Leo. The sons worked with him on many projects, including the Neville home.

“As you take a journey around the UNC campus in Chapel Hill, there are stone walls my uncles and grandfather put together, especially ones that are called hand-stacked walls,” said Minister Robert Campbell in an oral history recording offered by the Jackson Center on their From the Rock Wall page.

“I got introduced to construction work at a very young age working for my grandfather and my uncles. My grandfather was Mr. John Wesley Campbell. We called him ‘Papa’ – and he was teaching all of us how to be construction workers, bricklayers, rock masons and carpenters.”

Minister Campbell recalled, “In my journey with my grandfather, I guess I learned how to mix mortar and cement too well, because that basically was my job. But I did learn how to lay bricks, and I learned how to put the joints – different types of joints, the V joint, the bubble joint, several different other types of joints.” He said the discipline around the construction work really got instilled into him.

“Just see some of the work that Papa helped put together that still stands. I tell people most of the time, you cannot go from Carrboro to Durham without seeing some of the handiwork from my grandfather and my uncles.”

Minister Campbell’s grandfather taught his children and his grandchildren how to fend for themselves. “Papa said if you have a craft, you’ve got the ability to do things. You could take that discipline from learning that trade and add it to another one.”

Campbell and his family developed a stellar reputation for superb quality work with devotion to detail. Not just in masonry but also in carpentry, plumbing, and wiring. According to Minister Campbell, they were dependable. “When you called them, they did show up.”

The Neville home is a World War II-era home styled with unique architecture and craftsmanship. The home showcases the high-quality masonry work and attention to detail for which Campbell and the family are known. The interior of the home has been completely renovated with 21st-century conveniences. It is one of four homes built in the Northside Community by John Wesley Campbell and his family.

The $15,000 buying incentive is offered to anyone who is community-connected, a first-generation homebuyer or an NAACP member.

“The legacy of what they [the Campbells] built years ago is still here. And people do remember who they are, who they were, and what they did for the community,” Minister Campbell said.

Louise Felix, a relative of Campbell, was selected as the Chapel Hill Historical Society’s Treasures in 2023. She was born and raised in Chapel Hill and is the granddaughter of stonemason and builder John Wesley Campbell.

Felix volunteers with the Linking Generations Across Northside and Northside Residential Fellowship program at the Marian Cheek Jackson Center, where she mentors UNC student residents and volunteers on what it means to be a Northside neighbor.

Michelle Cassell is a seasoned reporter who has covered everything from crime to hurricanes and local politics to human interest over the course of 35 years. As managing editor, she hopes to encourage writers of a wide range of backgrounds and interests in TLR’s coverage of Southern Orange County news. 

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