Easton historic marker unveiled

Easton historic marker unveiled
October 01
00:00 2015

By Todd Luck

The Chronicle

The Easton Neighborhood got its own historic marker on Saturday.

The marker, erected by the Forsyth County Historic Resource Commission, sits at the intersection of Woodcote Street and Clemmonsville Circle at a main entrance to the neighborhood. It denotes the origins of Easton as a subdivision built for veterans’ housing during Winston-Salem’s housing shortage. The 1944 GI Bill gave low-interest loans to veterans and promoted housing construction. Almost identical houses where created to qualify for government-subsidized mortgages. It has since become a diverse, largely minority community.

The ceremony to unveil the marker happened on a rainy day, as residents sat under a tent listening to remarks from Mayor Allen Joines, Mayor Pro Tempore Vivian Burke, Historic Resource Commissioner Linda Dark and Paula McCoy, president of Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods, which has been involved in revitalizing the neighborhood.

City Council Member James Taylor, who represents the Southeast Ward, which Easton is in, said it was the residents that made the neighborhood great.

“I always say that strong families make strong communities that are the backbone of the city of Winston-Salem,” he said.

Taylor was born and raised in neighboring Belview. He said it was the people in this area of the city that helped him, and many others, get to where they are today.

“It takes a village to raise a young man or young women, a good village, a good community, and, like I said, Easton was built on that,” Taylor said.

The marker also describes the work of the Easton Neighborhood Association, which formed in 1988. The group’s president is Robert Leak III, whose late grandfather Robert Leak Sr. was past president of the association. Leak, who was groomed by his grandfather to lead the group, started grassroots organizing when he was 12 years old and became association president at age 19. At the time, he told Joines that Easton would be a turnaround community.

“During that period, when Easton was going through a lot of drug activity, prostitution, etc., I had in my spirit I wanted to step up to the plate and do something, and God allowed me to be the president,” he said.

Leak, now 26, said the neighborhood has vastly improved. He said with the help of Taylor and the City Council, the association was able to demolish 15 boarded-up properties. Easton has gotten welcome signs with flowerbeds at neighborhood entrances, new playground equipment and resurfaced basketball courts since then. Three years ago, the association, in cooperation with the Winston-Salem Police Department, formed a neighborhood crime watch, which Leak said has caused crime to greatly decrease.

Leak, who works as a small grants coordinator for Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods, said NBN helped train him to be a community leader from a young age. He said the Easton Association has gotten more than $3,500 in grants in the last seven years through NBN for beautifying the neighborhood, training residents and community days.

Leak said the neighborhood continues to change as more renters are now living there and the association works to build bridges with the community’s growing Hispanic population. Leak said his grandfather would be happy to see the historic marker and the Easton that it now sits in.

“I think he’d be very proud,” he said. “It was a longtime coming.”

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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