By Noah Manneville, 2013
Along the route to Williamston, North Carolina by way of Highway 64, a house stands quietly alongside the narrow two-lane road. A large display reads, ‘Jenkins Antiques’ in cursive, and from one look at the building one is struck with an irrepressible idea that more than just history is housed inside.
The owners, Ronnie and Becky Jenkins, have owned the building for 28 years, having bought the house in 1985 and remodeled it from its previous usage as a bar and restaurant. Though they’ve owned it longer than I have been alive, the peg-built antebellum farmhouse has survived for many more generations than nearly any building in the area. It was erected in 1857, and survived through the American Civil War. Perhaps most astounding — and a testament to the love the Jenkins have for the house — the building remains in its original condition today, aside from minor renovations made to the interior by the Jenkins’ over the years. With over 10,000 square feet of space, the antique shop houses thousands of items spanning the past two centuries, and some items dated to even more ancient times. In a move of brilliance, the Jenkins decided to house goods on consignment; people bring in antiques they want sold, and for a fee, the Jenkins’ exhibit the goods. When they sell, Jenkins Antiques receives a percentage of the profit. Often the antiques come in from professional appraisers, which ensure that the antique shop stays full of unique and interesting items that come from around the area.
Digging through the displays, I found an American army infantry helmet used during the Vietnam War, a Ku Klux Klan token from the early 20th century used to signify membership, a bottle of bourbon in the shape of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s head, and a string of Chinese coins and small tools that were remarkably dated to the 1st century CE. Unlike some antique stores, the objects on display were not tossed about in an unorganized fashion. Instead, they were arranged in precise aisles and designated areas that reminded me of a scene in an interior decorating magazine. Coca-Cola bottles and mason jars were set against a backdrop of lace with a soft light casting shadows on the objects, and for a moment it seemed I was in a coastal cottage, not wandering about an old antique shop. The neatness of the place was certainly a result of loving care, and, after nearly three decades, the expertise of the owners.
When I first opened the door to Jenkins Antiques, Becky Jenkins was measuring two boat oars that a man had brought in that morning. Ronnie, her husband, was reclining listening to headphones. Becky’s initial assumption was that the oars, which were 16-feet long well-worn and splitting, had possibly been used on slave ships that brought Africans to North Carolina to work on cotton and tobacco fields. Ronnie removed his headphones to hear the hypothesis, and nodding his head in approval, returned to his music. Ronnie was listening to Dixie 105.7, a local country music station. He used to listen to classic rock from the ‘60s, but needed a change. Becky doesn’t like country, so instead of playing the music on the speakers in the store, Ronnie is forced to keep the music to himself).
It seems that without trying, the Jenkins’ have become antique experts by nature. After Ronnie retired, the Jenkins made the antique shop a full-time gig. Becky created a website for the store, which is constantly updated whenever new items are sold or brought in. Samurai swords are on display that their son, now married, contributed when he decided he no longer had the space or desire to keep them. There is furniture all around the house labeled and tagged with prices, ready to be sold at a moment’s notice. A box of objects brought in from a friend to be put on consignment sits in prominent display near the front door — the friend is an appraiser using some of his most sensational antiques to help pay for cancer treatment.
It would seem that after two centuries of history, the house itself has adopted a personality of its own. When I ascended the stairs to the empty second floor, the house seemed to greet me, creaking as if in memory of every step that came before mine. Perhaps the antiquity of the house itself has rubbed off on the Jenkins’, or perhaps the love for the job has brought the old house back to life. It seems that there is a symbiosis between Becky, Ronnie and the old farmhouse that can only come from prolonged contact and loving care. It is not something that can be understated, nor replicated. It is a true display of what a home can be, and what a homeowner can aspire to become.