THE THIES HOUSE
This report was written on September 1, 1998
1. Name and location of the property: The property known as the Thies House is located at 544 Providence Road, Charlotte, N.C.
2. Name, address and telephone number of the present owner of the property: The owner of the property is:
Frank R. Thies & Thies Realty & Mortgage Co.
334 Hempstead Place
Charlotte, N.C. 28207
3. Representative photographs of the property: This report contains representative photographs of the property.
4. A map depicting the location of the property: This report contains a map that depicts the location of the property.
5. Current Deed Book Reference to the property: The most recent deed to this property is recorded in Mecklenburg County Deed Book 4773, Page 334. The Tax Parcel Number of the property is: 155-044-06.
6. A brief historical sketch of the property: This report contains a brief historical sketch of the property prepared by Barbara M. Mull and Dr. Dan L. Morrill.
7. A brief architectural description of the property: This report contains a brief architectural description of the property prepared by Thomas W. Hanchett.
8. Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets the criteria for designation set forth In N.C.G.S. 160A-400:
a. Special significance in terms of its history, architecture, and/or cultural importance: The Commission judges that the property known as the Thies House does possess special significance in terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases its judgment on the following considerations: 1) the Thies House, erected in 1898 and renovated in 1918-19, is one of the oldest homes in what is now the prestigious Myers Park neighborhood 2) the Thies House, situated near the intersection of Providence Road and Ardsley Road, makes a significant contribution to the integrity of the Myers Park townscape; and 3) members of the Thies family have made important contributions to the economic, social, and cultural development of Charlotte and its environs.
b. Integrity of design, setting, workmanship, materials, feeling, and/or association: The Commission contends that the architectural description by Thomas W. Hanchett, which is included in this report, demonstrates that the Thies House meets this criterion.
9. Ad Valorem Tax Appraisal: The Commission is aware that designation would allow the owner to apply for an automatic deferral of 50% of the Ad Valorem taxes on all or any portion of the property that becomes "historic property." The current appraised value of the improvements is $307,460. The current appraised value of the 2.760 acres of land is $2,114,840. The total appraised value of the property is $2,422,300. The property is zoned B1.
Date of Preparation of this Report: September 1, 1998
Prepared by: Dr. Dan L. Morrill
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission
2100 Randolph Road
Charlotte, N.C. 28207
Summary Statement of Significance
The Thies House (1898), situated on the northwestern corner of the intersection of Providence Road and Ardsley Road, has local historic significance. It is the better preserved of two turn-of-the-century homes that survive along this section of Providence Road. It and the nearby Wolhford House, now a funeral parlor, are the only remnants on Providence Road of the original Myers Park, a cluster of imposing residences built in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the rural countryside near the home of John Springs "Jack" Myers. The loss of the Thies House would virtually obliterate the initial period of suburban development on Providence Road.
The Thies House is architecturally significant both as a key part of the Myers Park neighborhood and as a remarkably well-preserved example of 1910s architecture and interior design. Also, the Thies House and its grounds occupy a place of strategic significance in terms of the Myers Park townscape. The removal of the house would severely impact the residential edge of the neighborhood, which is listed as an historic district in the National Register of Historic Places. Its corner location makes the Thies House an entrance-marker to the Myers Park neighborhood. It is part of the group of fine homes facing J.S. Myers Park, a group whose exterior appearance has not changed in more than 50 years, an important reminder of the city's prosperity and love of beauty in the New South years around the beginning of this century.
Finally, the Thies House possesses historic significance because of its association with the owners. Members of the Thies family have made important contributions to the growth and development of Charlotte in the twentieth century. Blanche Austin Thies and Eleanore Arhelger Thies strengthened Charlotte's charitable and religious institutions. Oscar J. Thies, Sr. and his son, Frank Ramsay Thies, were leading developers and real estate executives in Charlotte for most of the 1900's.
By Barbara M. Mull
and Dr. Dan L. Morrill
In 1898, near the end of a long and distinguished career as a mining engineer, Carl Adolf Thies (1832-1917) hired real estate agent F. C. Abbott to locate a suitable site in Charlotte on which to build a residence to be used as a place to retire. Abbott advised Thies to purchase a fourteen-acre tract of land along Providence Road just outside Charlotte from John Springs "Jack" Myers for $100 per acre.
Carl Thies and his wife
Providence Road was still a country lane, and the streetcar suburb of Myers Park had not yet been developed.1 Adolf Thies designed the house. There was no architect of record. Thies was living in South Carolina when the house was being built. He asked Frank Ramsay McNinch, a Charlotte attorney and brother-in-law of Oscar J. Thies, one of Adolf Thies' sons, to oversee the construction.2 The Thies House initially was rented out.
Carl Adolf Thies retired from managing the Haile Gold Mine near Kershaw, South Carolina in 1904 and moved into his Providence Road home with his wife, Mathilde Hegmann Thies. The couple lived in the Thies House for the rest of their days. Their Charlotte home was the centerpiece of a serene but lively estate. A wrap-around porch encircled three sides of the house where the family enjoyed a full view of the gardens on pleasant summer evenings. Servants' quarters and a woodshed were located at the rear of the house, and farther back stood a carriage house and large barn. Adolf Thies kept two horses, which he used to travel into town. On the west side of the house was Mathilde Thies' "glass house" where she grew flowers the year around. Formal gardens were laid out over the grounds, and there was an abundance of fruit trees, shrubs, and flowers.3
Of particular significance was the rose garden. It occupied a large area on the east side of the Thies House. The roses were beautiful and also had a utilitarian purpose. They were harvested and used in one of the Thies' favorite hobbies, making a highly effective ointment concocted from a "secret formula." The formula used in producing an ointment for treating surface wounds had been given to Mathilde Thies' grandfather.4 A one-story building called the "Salve House" was constructed beyond the barn, where there was enough room to complete the six-months sun-curing process required in making the salve. Although it started out as a hobby, the ointment developed a wide demand, was sold commercially through drug stores across the country, and was even marketed internationally. Long after the "Salve House" was torn down in 1920, the family received inquiries about the ointment. The family still has copies of the original formula on file.5
Mathilde Thies died in October, 1912. Oscar J. Thies, Sr. moved in with his father in 1915 and inherited the Thies House when Adolf Thies died two years later. Oscar J. Thies was a graduate of Rose Polytechnic Institute at Terre Haute, Indiana, where he earned a degree in mining engineering. For fifteen years he was involved in the development of mines in Alabama, Georgia, and North and South Carolina. In 1906 he moved to Charlotte where he organized Carolina Realty Company. He established Thies-Smith Realty Company in 1912, and in 1936 he formed Thies Realty and Mortgage Company.6 Oscar J. Thies was highly respected as a builder whose houses were "substantially constructed as well as beautifully designed."7 Under his direction Thies-Smith Realty Company erected many of the finer homes throughout the Myers Park section, as well as numerous fine homes in Dilworth, Elizabeth, and along Morehead Street and Selwyn Avenue and Sharon Road when these areas were "under better development."8 Oscar J. Thies, Sr. lived in the Providence Road home until his death on December 27, 1943.
An older photo of the Thies House
Oscar J. Thies, Sr. undertook a major renovation of the Thies House in 1918-1919. The wraparound porches were removed, a new front entry was added, and stucco was applied to the exterior. A decade earlier a porte-cochere had been added and needed only some updating to fit in with the new look of the house. Columns removed from the porches were used to construct an impressive pergola in the east gardens. At this time a three-car garage was built, and the "glass house" was converted into use as a shop where O. J. Thies taught his sons woodworking and metal work. Changes made to the interior of the house were not extensive, with the exception of a sun parlor on the west side of the house. This addition opened off of the main parlor. Colonnades designed by O. J. Thies replaced pocket doors which had opened from the parlor onto the main entrance hall. Another addition to the parlor was a mantle that 0scar Thies designed to complement the colonnades with their fluting, and capitals with Ionic volutes.9 The house had been a Colonial Revival style frame country home. It now had a more formal, stately appearance, more in keeping with the new Myers Park neighborhood that was taking shape around it.
The first wife of Oscar J. Thies, Sr. was Virginia Juanita "Nettie" Thies, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Franklin A. McNinch of Charlotte.10 She died in July, 1912. Oscar and "Nettie" Thies had two children, Frank Ramsay Thies (1904- ) and O. J. Thies, Jr. (1896-1971).11 0scar Thies married Blanche Austin in 1920. Blanche Austin Thies (1883-1982) was from Lenoir, North Carolina and had been teaching in the Charlotte public schools. After a wedding trip to Cuba, Oscar Thies brought his second wife to the family home on Providence Road. This was the beginning of the sixty-two years, 1920 until 1982, that Blanche Austin Thies would live in the Thies House, longer than any other member of the Thies family.
Listed in "Women Builders of Charlotte," Blanche Austin Thies was described as a woman with a wide range of talent who contributed a tremendous amount of time and energy to organizations dedicated to the upbuilding of Charlotte.12 Whether she was involved in civic enterprises, community service, or work in the Presbyterian church, she had a grasp of what needed to be done and a willingness to do whatever was asked of her. Because she was especially adept at finances, Blanche Austin Thies found herself involved in a number of fundraising campaigns for charitable and civic organizations. More than one organization became financially solvent while she was finance chairman, and others reached their financial goals in campaigns under her direction. She was noted for having "a genuine interest in other people and a true hospitality." The house and gardens at the Thies House were a popular meeting place for numerous groups and the setting for special occasions they sponsored.13
Two children were born to Oscar J. and Blanche Austin Thies, Austin Cole Thies (1921- ) and Blanche Hegmann Thies (1923- ). The grounds at the Thies House became a favorite gathering place for neighborhood children, with such attractions as "the Biddy Bungalow" O. J. Thies built to scale for Blanche and the merry-go-round he fashioned for Austin. Budding young builders constructed tree houses from nails and spare pieces of lumber. "Cowboys and Indians" dramas were reenacted with Old West fury from one end of the property to the other. The barn and carriage house became forts. One of the servants gave Austin a nickel-plated revolver so that he could be a "real cowboy," but Oscar Thies thought this a bit too much realism and confiscated his son's weapon. When young Austin convinced his father that he just had to have it back, Thies ground off the firing pin and returned the revolver to the most distinguished cowboy on Providence Road.14
When the house was built, a windmill with a sixty-foot tower had been constructed over a well to provide power for the water system. This area was off limits for the children, but climbing to the top of the tower and looking out over the neighborhood was the thing Austin Thies most enjoyed. Although he knew he would be punished, going up the tower proved to be irresistible. Later, the windmill was sold to Suttles Swimming Pool, a favorite gathering place on Wilkinson Boulevard, and became part of its operating equipment. The little boy who had been fascinated by the windmill grew up to be the Executive Vice President of Duke Power Company. Among Austin Thies' favorite places in the house was the big kitchen where he was allowed to eat with the servant couple when his parents were travelling. There was a wood stove, and he felt warm and cozy sitting at the kitchen table. Left in the servants' care while his parents were journeying in Europe, Austin Thies convinced the maid that his mother "said" he was to have a haircut while she was away--his first. He marched himself across Providence Road to the barber shop and had his golden curls cut off, much to his mother's dismay when she returned.15
Frank Ramsay Thies brought his bride, Eleanore Arhelger Thies, (1901-1983) to live in the Thies House in 1924, where they made their home with Oscar, Frank's father, and Blanche, his stepmother. The young woman from Fredericksburg, Texas adjusted quickly to Charlotte and became active in the Presbyterian Hospital Auxiliary, the Charity League, and was a member of numerous other civic organizations. The Frank R. Thieses were members of Caldwell Memorial Presbyterian Church, where in later years Eleanore served as an elder. Mrs. Thies taught Sunday School for thirty-two years. When their only child, Frank R. Thies, Jr. was born in 1929, his father built the baby a motorized cradle, and at the "flick of a switch" he was gently rocked to sleep. On the completion of their new house on Cherokee Road, Frank R. and Eleanore A. Thies, and two-year-old Frank R. Thies, Jr., left the Thies House; but they would return.16
Frank Ramsay Thies began his career in real estate and mortgage banking in Charlotte in the late 1920s and became President of Thies Realty and Mortgage Company in 1943. Over the years he served consecutive terms as President of Charlotte Board of Realtors and served on various committees of Mortgage Bankers Association of America. During the six years he was a member of the Charlotte Planning Board, a Master Plan for the orderly growth of the City was prepared. The Plan included an overall major street system; a slum clearance and minimum standard housing ordinance; a sub-division ordinance establishing street widths, minimum lot sizes, etc; a city-wide zoning ordinance; survey of traffic and parking problems; elimination of railroad grade crossings; extension of the City Limits; and extension of public utilities.17
After a period of declining health, O. J. Thies, Sr. died in December, 1943. Austin Thies was serving with the U. S. Navy, and Blanche Hegmann Thies was completing her senior year at Woman's College, University of North Carolina. Frank Ramsay Thies and his family moved back into the Thies House, so that O. J. Thies' widow, Blanche Austin Thies, would not have to live alone. Frank R. Thies, Jr. was in his teens when his family moved back to the house they had lived in a decade before, but his memories of the house and the changes it has passed through go back well before that time. When he visited there as a small boy in the 1930s, he remembers what an adventure it was going down the narrow basement stairs with the family's servant and stepping aside so the man could open the door to the wine cellar and make sure it was safe for them to enter. It was a dangerous place in the summer because copperheads had an affinity for the dark and damp atmosphere, coiling up among the bottles of wine O. J. Thies had enjoyed making as a hobby.18
After completing his education and military service, Frank R. Thies, Jr. joined his father in business at Thies Realty and Mortgage Company and continued to reside in the Thies House until 1958, when he and Janet Rich were married and moved to a place of their own. Frank Ramsay Thies, his wife Eleanore, and his stepmother Blanche continued to reside in the Providence Road home. Blanche died in 1982. Eleanore died one year later. Frank Ramsay Thies continued to reside in the Thies House. With the exception of the barn and carriage house lost in a fire, and Blanche Hegmann Thies' "Biddy Bungalow," which was donated to Trinity Presbyterian Church, the Thies House and its outbuildings remain much as they were when Carl Adolf Thies had them built in 1898 and Oscar J. Thies, Sr. had them remodeled in 1918-1919.19
1 Frank R. Thies, Jr., personal interview by Barbara M. Mull, June 13, 1985. Hereafter cited as Interview. Charles Christian Hook might have been the architect. One is especially drawn to the striking similarities between the design of the Thies House and that of the Gautier-Gilchrist House at 320 East Park Avenue, Charlotte.
2 Frank R. Thies, Jr., letter to Barbara M. Mull, October 10, 1985.
5 Austin Cole Thies, personal interview by Barbara M.
Mull, July 10, 1985. Hereafter cited as Austin Interview.
6 Charlotte News, Obituary of O. J. Thies, Sr., Tuesday, December 28, 1943.
7 Charlotte News, "Question and Answer Column," July 18, 1973. The Charlotte Observer, Obituary of O. J. Thies, Sr., December 28, 1943.
8 Frank R. Thies, Jr. letter to Barbara M. Mull,
September 25, 1985.
10 Charlotte News, "Question and Answer Column," July 18, 1973. The Charlotte Observer, Obituary of O. J. Thies, Sr., December 28, 1943. Frank R. Thies, Jr. letter to Barbara M. Mull, September 25, 1985.
11 Charlotte Observer, Obituary of Nettie McNinch Thies, July 22, 1912, 3-A, Column 2.
12 Charlotte Observer, "Women Builders of Charlotte," April 1, 1934.
14 Austin Interview.
16 Thies family records: "Occupants of 544 Providence Road."
17 Frank R. Thies, Sr., "Brief Business History," undated information.
19 Thies family records: "Occupants of 544 Providence Road." Interview.
Thomas W. Hanchett
When the two-story frame Thies Family House was built in 1898 for Carl Adolph Thies, its Providence Road site was far out in the country south of Charlotte. By 1917 the posh Myers Park suburb had grown up around the residence, and heir Oscar J. Thies, Sr. updated it with a dignified stucco exterior and elegant new interiors. The Thies family did their work well, for they were one of the leading forces in construction and real estate development in Charlotte during those textile boom years. Today the house is almost exactly as it was in 1917, down to the grasscloth wall covering and enamel paint on the woodwork in the main rooms, all applied during the remodeling. The Thies House is architecturally significant both as a key part of the Myers Park neighborhood and as a remarkably well-preserved example of 1910s architecture and interior design.
The original Thies estate on Providence Road included all land presently bounded by Providence Road, Ardsley Road, Hermitage Road, and the back property lines of Hermitage Court. Adolph Thies chose to build his house facing Providence near the southeast corner of that tract. The site overlooked the front yard of next-door neighbor John Springs Myers, which was known for its beauty. Myers had long worked at landscaping his property and setting out trees along Providence Road, until the spot became a favorite destination for Charlotteans on their Sunday afternoon carriage rides from town.
Thies settled on the Colonial Revival style for his new residence. The style befitted a prosperous and forward-looking businessman because it was the most modern style of architecture in Charlotte, just introduced to the city by architect C.C. Hook who hoped it would replace the over-ornate Victorian style then in favor. In fact, Hook himself may have provided plans for Thies. The massing of the Providence Road dwelling closely resembles that of Hook's 1896 Gautier-Gilchrist House at 320 Park Avenue and his 1900-1901 Villalonga-Alexander House at 301 Park Avenue, both in Charlotte's Dilworth section.
The Thies design is a large two-story rectangular block with its long side to the street. A shallow, gable-roofed bay projects from either side of the structure. The main hip roof is covered with patterned slate, and pierced by two gabled front dormers. There is an inset balcony above the front door, a motif Hook used on the Gautier-Gilchrist House. At the rear of the main block is a one-story gambrel-roofed kitchen ell, foreshadowing a similar wing on the Villalonga-Alexander House. Like both the Dilworth commissions, the Thies House had a broad one-story porch that extended across the entire front of the structure and wrapped part-way around the sides.
In 1911 John Springs Myers's son-in-law George Stephens began to develop the Myers cotton farm as an elegantly-planned streetcar suburb. Nationally-known Boston planner John Nolen created a web of curving streets and tree-shaded parks that soon drew widespread attention as "the finest unified suburb south of Baltimore." Myers's old front yard on Providence Road became John Springs Myers Park, privately owned by surrounding homeowners. Under the trees near the park the neighborhood's finest mansions were built, including those of tobacco tycoon J. B. Duke, developer George Stephens, utility executive E. C. Marshall, hotelier John M. Jamison, and furniture manufacturer H. M. Wade. The Thies Family House, fronting on tree-lined Providence Road with its fine homes, and situated across Ardsley Road from J.S. Myers Park, was now in excellent company.
By now widower Oscar J. Thies, Sr. lived in the family home, and in 1920 he remarried and at the same time undertook a major renovation of the structure. Again one of the most up-to-date styles was chosen, this time a derivative of the Italianate. Characterized by gleaming white stucco and chunky porch columns, this Italian-influenced architecture was destined to become popular among wealthy Carolinians during the 1920s, largely through the efforts of Philadelphia-based architect Charles Barton Keen who built numerous variations on the theme. In 1917, however, the style was quite an innovation. Keen was just completing Reynolda House in Winston Salem, the state's most famous Italian-influenced design, and it was still several years before he would create the Charles Lambeth House in Charlotte, which would be located immediately behind the Thies Family House at Ardsley and Hermitage Roads.
Workers removed the broad wood-columned porch from the front of the old house, salvaging the columns to create a pergola in the north side yard. They stuccoed the original wooden siding including the front dormers and the side gables. A new small one-story front porch was built to shelter the entrance. It featured massive stuccoed posts supporting a parapet roof, with decorative Doric columns inset on either side of the front steps. A similar porte cochere, without columns, extended from the north side of the house, balanced on the south side by a glass-enclosed one-story sun porch. A one-story glass-enclosed sleeping porch was added at the rear of the main block of the house. A small stuccoed porch extended from the north side of the kitchen ell, while a larger wood-columned gallery ran along the south side of ell. Today the exterior looks exactly as it did when photographed after the renovation. Wooden shutters still accent the paired one-over-one-pane double-hung sash windows on the front facade. Above them may be seen the simple boxed cornice, and over it the round-arched windows of the two front dormers.
One enters the house through a pair of doors under a Art-Nouveau-inspired leaded-glass fanlight. Inside is the wide stairhall which extends back the full width of the house. To the left, through a pair of fluted Ionic columns is a front parlor with a delicate Adam-inspired wooden mantel. The sunporch opens off the parlor. To the rear of the parlor is the downstairs bedroom. It has an elaborate mirrored Victorian mantel, a rear sleeping porch, and its own rear bathroom located in a small addition under the back porch. If one returns to the front door and moves to the right one is in another parlor. Hinged French doors open onto the port-cochere. There was originally a solid pocket door between the stairhall and this parlor, but the 1917 renovation replaced it with sliding French doors. The renovation also removed the fireplace from the rear of the room, installing hidden steel beams to carry the upstairs fireplaces, and opened a wide doorway between the parlor and the dining room behind it. Yet another French door connects the dining room with the stairhall, and a solid mortise-and-tendon six-panel door leads to the kitchen ell. The dining room boasts a pair of built-in china cabinets with leaded-glass doors, one on either side of the exterior window.
All downstairs rooms in the main block share the same Classically-inspired woodwork. There are wide molded mopboards along the floor and small picture molding near the very high ceilings. Woodwork features vertical fluting on door surrounds, topped by wide cornices built up of molding. According to current family member Frank Thies, Jr., the white enamel on much of the woodwork has not been repainted since workmen created the twelve-coat, hand-rubbed finish in 1917. The parlors and stairhall also retain their grasscloth wallcovering from that year. The wallpaper is actually composed of horizontal strands of thick grass left unfinished to provide a warm honey-brown tone.
Moving from the dining room into the kitchen ell, one goes first through what was probably originally a butler's pantry, and later a breakfast room. One can still see the cast iron radiator used to warm food. In the mid 1950s the Thies family removed a wall that separated this room from the corridor leading from the dining room back to the kitchen. The kitchen is a large square space with an extremely high ceiling -- a natural cooling device. One wall is lined with early cupboards that have five-panel wooden doors and copper handles. More modern devices have replaced the early stove and other equipment. From the center of the ceiling hangs a large, delicately detailed round art-glass lampshade. Its leading outlines scenes of deer and cottages. According to Frank Thies it is a product of the famed Tiffany Studio.
Returning once again to the front door, one may ascend the stairs to the second floor. The stairs sweep outward in a graceful curve at the bottom. A balustrade supported by slender paired turned balusters leads one upward. Along the wall is beaded tongue-and-groove wainscoting. The stair makes two turns, and deposits one in the upstairs hall facing toward the front of the house. The spacious upstairs hall equals the dimensions of the downstairs one, and also extends all the way from front to back to provide good cross-ventilation. Double doors at the front of the hall open onto the small, recessed front balcony.
There are four bedrooms, two on each side of the hall. Each has a similar fireplace whose mantel is supported by turned wooden columns. Each pair of bedrooms shares a bath created out of parts of the rear bedrooms in the 1940s. The original one bath for the entire house was at the rear of the hall under the roof of the kitchen wing. This bath was completely redone in the 1940s. A corridor next to it leads back to a room under the eaves that was originally the quarters of the housekeeper. Next to the housekeeper's room is the servants' stair that rises from the kitchen.
Today 2.7 acres remain of the Thies estate. Most of the rest of the property is occupied by houses built by Thies family members over the years. The land around the house is shaded by immense oak trees. Little remains of the gardens that once filled the yards, though untrimmed shrubbery abounds. There are several outbuildings in addition to the pergola. Directly behind the main house is a one-story gable-roofed building that held a garage and a two-room servants quarter for the couple who acted as cook and yard-man. The building is sheathed in grooved "novelty" siding, and has a small square-columned porch. Behind this structure is a concrete-sided three car garage that appears to date from the 1910s or 1920s, and still retains its old wood and glass doors. To the south side of the main house is a small wood and glass greenhouse with a hip roof and raised brick potting beds. Next to it is a fluted cast-iron column that Frank Thies remembers held a roof shading the children's sandbox. The front of the house is now nearly hidden by two large magnolia trees. They shield the dwelling from busy Providence Road, widened in recent decades to take up much of the Thies front yard.
The Thies Family House is now a Myers Park landmark. It is among the last of the mansions that once faced onto Providence Road, and it is the only one still used as a residence. More importantly, its corner location makes it an entrance-marker to the Myers Park neighborhood. It is part of the group of fine homes facing J.S. Myers Park, a group whose exterior appearance has not changed in over a century, an important reminder of the city's prosperity and love of beauty in the New South years around the beginning of this century.