312-314 Sowell Alley/coal Chute Alley

35.981757, -78.886809

Cross Street
Year built
Construction type
National Register
Building Type
Local ID
Can you help?
You don't need to know everything, but do you know the architect?
Log in or register and you can edit this.

Grocer Aaron Seat  (also listed as Aaron Seats and Aaron Seate throughout the years) lived at 312 Sowell Alley, and ran a grocery store next door at 314 Sowell Alley, seen on this map at the corner of Glenn and Sowell, directly across from Ebeneezer Baptist. There were 2 other grocery stores within 100 feet of his home at 1405 Glenn/Humphrey and 313 Sowell Avenue. County tax records show 312 Sowell Street as being built in 1920, but I do not believe that the building currently on that lot  with the brick facade is the same building. Aaron Seat and his wife Fannie were marked as living here in the early 1900s, and remained grocers here until at least the mid 1940s. 


Sowell Street/Sowell Alley is named after the Reverend Frank W. Sowell, who was the pastor at Methodist Independent Community Church (formerly Coppin AME) which was located 2 blocks west on Glenn. Sowell and his wife Rhettie (or sometimes Rettie, Rattie, Retta) lived at 313 Sowell Alley and ran a grocery store out of their home. Numerous Sowell family members lived on this street and taught at the local "colored" schools. In later years, the Sowells moved into the home at 1508 East Pettigrew Street, which was next door to Sowell family members William, Lensey and Ozela at 1510 East Pettigrew. 

Throughout the years this unpaved street changed names numerous times from Clyde Alley to Coal Chute Alley to Sowell Avenue to Sowell Alley to Sowell Street.  I had assumed that Coal Chute Alley was in reference to the Glenn Coal Company at the top of the street next to the railroad tracks, but the name pre-dates the company. Before the area was assigned house numbers, numerous residents were listed as railroad hands, and I assume the name was then in reference to coal being used to power the trains.  There are census records of Sowells living in the area as early as 1880, although Sanborn maps don't include this neighborhood until much later. Another prominant last name in this neighborhood is Bailey, of which the street directly west is named for.  At one point in time Sowell Alley extended much further south and created a loop with Bailey's Alley.  The entire neighborhood was cut in half with the building of 147. 

Add new comment

Log in or register to post comments.