Josephine L. Leary Building
421-423-425 South Broad Street
Josephine Napoleon Leary was born into slavery in Williamston, North Carolina in 1856. She and her husband, Sweety Leary, came to Edenton by the mid-1870’s. Both were barbers by trade, and Mrs. Leary was listed in various business directories from 1883 until 1912. Mr. Leary was only listed in directories in 1890.
- 1856 Josephine Napoleon Williams was born into slavery, and following the Civil War was freed when she was 9 years old.
- 1873 Josephine Williams marries Sweety Archer Leary, both worked as barbers.
- 1881 Mrs. Leary, skillfully maneuvering the real estate market owned 6 properties by 1881, including 421-423-425 South Broad Street in what was called “Cheapside,“ an old business district predating the revolution.
- 1893 Fire destroys the east side of Broad St., everything from King Street to Water Street was lost. Mrs. Leary ‘s investments were a pile of ashes.
- 1894 For Mrs. Leary the question was: sell the land or rebuild? Optimistically she chose to build her signature building, the J. N. Leary’s building!
- 1915 Josephine Leary’s life of success and admiration became one of despair. A battle more serious than a mortgage and notes due, she was fighting cancer. Medical care was pay “as you go” and she was forced to sell a number of properties to meet her medical expenses.
- 1923 Mrs. Josephine Leary dies from stomach cancer. At the time of her death, she still owned 133 East Church Street, 102 South Broad Street, and 317 South Broad Street. All were mired in a tangle of debt from supporting her medical expenses.
Visit and learn more along Edenton’s Museum Trail:
(1) Barker House
(6) 1767 Chowan County Courthouse (no QR code on pedestal sign)
(7) Old Jail
(8) Oldest House in North Carolina
(10) 1800/1827 James Iredell House (no QR code on pedestal sign)
(11) Kadesh Church
(13) 1758 Cupola House
(15) 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse (no QR code on pedestal sign)