By Gordon Anderson
Nearly two centuries later, John B. Masemore’s signature hides in plain sight on some of Lee County’s most historic structures.
Masemore isn’t a common name in Lee County, and there’s really only so much to know about the 18th century contractor who built Buffalo Presbyterian church in 1879, as well as several other contemporaneous structures. Born in 1828, he lived on Chatham Street and claimed to have built the first home in downtown Sanford, according to J. Daniel Pezzoni’s The History and Architecture of Lee County, North Carolina.
And beyond a Google search that shows some members of Masemore’s family (his wife and two daughters, but apparently not Masemore himself) being buried in the cemetery at Haywood Independent Bible Church just across the Deep River in Chatham County, as well as his apparent involvement with the then-prominent McIver family (more on that in a bit), there’s not much else to be easily found regarding Masemore and his life’s work.
But like the first sentence of this story referenced, Masemore’s signature is easily visible in at least two locations if you just know where to look. We’re not talking, however, about a John Hancock signature. With regards to Masemore’s buildings – including some that no longer stand, but of which photographs remain – his trademark flourish appears to have come when placing gable vents near the roofs of his work.
A review of buildings that went up around Masemore’s time – again, he worked in the area from at least the mid-to-late 1800s – shows almost as many styles of these attic ventilators as there are structures. Masemore’s preference appeared to be that these vents were perfect circles with triangular protrudences at even intervals, making the whole thing look like a bell.
This bell-shaped gable vent can be seen on two of three remaining Masemore structures the Rant is aware of in Lee County (photos of that third building, the 1855-built John D. McIver farmhouse on Windmill Drive in the Westlake Valley area, don’t appear to show any gable vents at all, bell-shaped or otherwise). One of them is the current Buffalo Presbyterian Church, which went up in 1879 (although the congregation had occupied buildings there for nearly a century prior); the other is a home less than half a mile away on Buffalo Church Road just opposite of the Mallard Cove apartment complex.
That home, first occupied by Wesley McIver (brother of the aforementioned John) and his wife Jane, was also built in 1855, and Pezzoni’s book indicates that “the town of Sanford was established partly on land owned by Wesley and his brother.” So while Masemore’s “signatures” may be just an interesting-to-some wrinkle of the period’s architecture, they’re also something of a symbol of Sanford’s foundational period.
Masemore’s – and the McIvers’ – role in early Sanford also sprawled into the commercial realm. Although it no longer stands, Pezzoni’s book identifies the McIvers Store building at the intersection of Chatham and McIver streets across from the still-standing Lutterloh building as “Sanford’s leading mercantile emporium” and “the largest general store in Moore County” (Lee County wouldn’t form until 1908). And just like the Buffalo Church, and just like Wesley McIver’s homes, photos of the store show Masemore’s distinctive bell-shaped gable vents.
That store was demolished sometime around the 1930s. Later, the old Jonesboro Methodist Church at the intersection of Academy and Main streets (which the Rant couldn’t factually connect to Masemore, but did feature his bell-shaped gable vent) was likewise demolished, leaving the Buffalo Church and the Wesley McIver house as the known remaining structures to bear his signature. But records indicate variously that Masemore also worked in Moore and Chatham counties, leaving open the possibility that his method of leaving his name upon his work – work that was integral to the beginnings of Sanford and Lee County – may still stand elsewhere.
If you have any information or photos of John Masemore-built structures anywhere in the area, send them to email@example.com.
I had the honor of working with Dan Pezoni and Mary Ellen Bowen (then City of Sanford Downtown Revitalizaiton Director). One of the real tricks for Sanford and Jonesboro is that you have go back to Moore County for many original documents as both Sanford and Jonesboro were both platted in Moore County. Going north on US 421 or US 1 today, you would not have crossed into Chatham County until you crossed an imaginary line that would run from the Northview Fire Department east toward McKay Island and west toward where Plank Road interesects NC 42.
IIRC someone burned down the Moore County Courthouse back in the day. Someone like James Van Commer or Jimmy Haire likely know more, but the point is that the County Seat for Sanford and Jonesboro at the time was Carthage and if memory serves those bell shaped vents are on some buildings (or were) in Cameron and along the old Plank Road.