Survey and Research Report
On The Midwood Elementary School
(Formerly Known as the Lawyers
Observer Staff Photo by Jeep Hunter ca. 7/16/87
This report was written December 10, 2001.
Name and location of the property: The property known as Midwood School
is located at 1817 Central Avenue in Charlotte, NC.
Name, address and telephone number of the present owner and occupant of
the property: The present owner of the property is:
Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education
701 East Second Street
Charlotte, NC 28202
Telephone: (704) 343-6011
Representative photographs of the property: This report contains
representative photographs of the exterior of the property.
Click here for photo gallery
map depicting the location of the property: This report contains a map
that depicts the location of the property. The UTM (Universal
Transverse Mercator) is 17 517357E 3892290N.
Current Deed Book Reference to the property: Not Listed. Tax Parcel
brief historical sketch of the property: This report contains a
historical sketch of the property prepared by Tracy A. Martin.
brief architectural description of the property: This report contains
an architectural description of the property prepared by Tracy A.
Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets criteria for
designation set forth in N.C.G.S. 160A-400.5.
Special significance in terms of its
historical, pre-historical, architectural, or cultural importance:
The Commission judges that the property known as Midwood School does
possess special significance in terms of Charlotte and Mecklenburg
County. The Commission bases its judgment on the following
considerations: 1) The building was built during a time of
consolidation among area schools. 2) The school was built to serve
the neighborhood around Midwood and Plaza which was built as a
streetcar suburb of the early twentieth century and; 3) Midwood
School is a surviving example of architect M.R. Marsh and of a non
elaborate traditional style of architecture used so frequently in
institutions during and after the Depression.
- Integrity of
design, setting, workmanship, materials, feeling, and/or
association: The Commission contends that the physical description
by Tracy A. Martin, which is included in this report, demonstrates
Midwood School meets this criterion.
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, which becomes “historic property.”
The current appraised value of the 2.54 acres of land is $624,210. The
current appraised value of the improvements is $1,776,740. The total
current appraised value is $2,405,450. The property is zoned B2.
Tracy A. Martin
November 3, 2009, by:
originally known as Lawyer’s Road School, grew out of the need for a new
school building to be built in the fashionable new streetcar suburb of
Plaza/Midwood. Most subdivisions were built near the city but Plaza/Midwood
was one of the first to be situated farther from the city with the hopes
that the new streetcar system would encourage its growth.
Sitting farther away from the city was not its only problem though. Early
in the history of this neighborhood, a railroad line divided it. It also
had to make do with an inadequate trolley system. These things hindered its
growth and may have helped to start it on a cycle of decline. Today the
neighborhood is experiencing major revitalization. New shops are in the
area and the neighborhood takes pride in keeping its historic structures.
Midwood School started out as an elementary school and is now an important
alternative high school in the city.
Lawyers Road/Midwood Elementary School, built circa 1934 and added to over
the years, was built in the Traditional style so common at the time for
Due to the economy of Charlotte and its tremendous population growth in the
early twentieth century, Midwood School was built to educate the children of
the families of the streetcar suburb, which became known as Plaza/Midwood.
Before Charlotte was the banking giant that it is today it was a cotton and
textile hub. The late nineteenth and early twentieth century saw tremendous
growth in Charlotte as new jobs were created and people moved in. Mills
were being built all around Charlotte and it was clear that there was money
to be made here.
The history of real estate in the Plaza/Midwood area starts as far back as
1903 when the first tracts of land started to be sold.
Most of the streets and neighborhoods of Charlotte were within a two-mile
radius of the Square at the center of the city. This was because of the way
the trolley system was set up. Track for trolleys was quite expensive to
build and the city needed a high population density in the outlying
neighborhoods in order to justify expanding the trolley line or make it
practical and profitable. The first developments of Charlotte grew up
around the city. These were the earliest streetcar suburbs. Starting with
Dilworth in 1891, they later completely surrounded the city. These were
the places with the shortest commutes into town. Later a second tier of
development was implemented which would include the Plaza/Midwood
neighborhood in 1903 and Myers Park, which wasn’t to come until 1911. It
was hoped that this new tier of development would also surround the city
Though it was never as elite or grand as the neighborhoods of Dilworth,
Myers Park, or Eastover, Plaza/Midwood overcame the obstacle of being far
from town and continued to grow due to the trolley and availability of
land. The land is among highest and well drained in the region. Being
close to the fashionable part of Elizabeth was also helpful. Along the
Seaboard Railroad a significant factory district grew.
Many of the wealthier Charlotteans started to relocate here and by 1910 the
area was home to the Charlotte Golf Club. Central Avenue, originally known
as Lawyers Road, was a main thoroughfare through town.
Around The Plaza, a wide boulevard with landscaped medians, many nice houses
started to be built. The trolley ran down Central Avenue to The Plaza and
down Mecklenburg Avenue to the country club.
Chatham Estates, the original name for the Plaza/Midwood development, was at
first a major subdivision. It was the idea of local real estate developer
Paul Chatham. Chatham was born in 1869 in Elkin North Carolina to a wealthy
family that operated the Chatham Woolen Mills in his hometown. He received
his education at Trinity College, now Duke University, and the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He made his first real money in the textile
industry and moved to Charlotte in 1907. Chatham Estates was his first real
development and he hired professional designer Leigh Colyer to plan the new
suburb. His plan was to have the larger homes for the wealthy built along
The Plaza and the more modest homes were to be built along the secondary
streets in the neighborhood.
Aside from being on the outskirts of town, another problem that seems to
have hindered the growth of Plaza/Midwood was the railroad lines, which ran
all over town. Since Charlotte was such a booming mill town trains were
frequently coming into town for cargo and passengers. In the early part of
the twentieth century up to thirty passenger trains would come through
town. The early Plaza/Midwood neighborhood was cut in half by major
railroad lines, which ran right through town. Commuters to and from Plaza/Midwood
had to cross the Seaboard Airline track at Central Avenue everyday. This
was a very busy line, which carried freight from local mill towns to the
coast for shipment. This frequent train traffic deterred many people from
buying land in the new suburb.
Unfortunately there was another major problem which set back the growth of
the new suburb, one for which the developers could not have foreseen. In
1910 Edward Dilworth Latta, owner of the streetcar system in Charlotte,
refused to extend his trolley line out to Plaza/Midwood and the new
Charlotte County Club. He wouldn’t do it because that would have meant
extending the Central line for another two miles and he was unsure about
whether development in the area would be big enough to offset the cost of
construction and the operating costs. So Paul Chatham decided to put his
own trolley line in the new neighborhood. When Chatham went before the
Board of Aldermen to request a franchise to build it, Latta opposed him
because he knew it would end his monopoly on the transit system. Latta
feared that Chatham would sell his rights to James B. Duke and his Southern
Power Company, which would definitely force Latta out of business. Tactics
such as these were commonly used in the early days of trolleys in many
cities. Eventually a deal was made and Chatham received his franchise but
under the condition that it could not be sold or transferred. A month later
Southern Power received a franchise from the Board of Aldermen and brought
in their own Piedmont and Northern electric interurban. After this Latta
eventually had to sell out to Duke and the newly formed Southern Public
Utilities Company. Unfortunately The Plaza/Midwood neighborhood was stuck
with Chatham’s inadequate trolley lines. Because of this commuters had to
get off the Southern Public Utilities Company trolley from downtown near
Hawthorne and Central and transfer to the battery-powered car owned by
Chatham’s company for the rest of the trip out Central Avenue and The
Plaza. This transfer drastically slowed the trip for most commuters and can
be seen as a hindrance of growth in the area. Trolley service ended in
Charlotte in 1938.
The expansion of the neighborhood and its growing population in the early
1930s necessitated the need for a new school in the area. Consolidations
Schools, which brought together all the small country schools into one
graded school building, were the way of the future for the North Carolina
Midwood Elementary School’s beginning started in September of 1933, when the
School Board took the first steps at getting a building program started.
The Board of Finance Committee took the necessary steps to get funds through
the Public Works Administration of the Federal Government. The Finance
Committee estimated the cost of these new school buildings to be
$690,000.00. The price was high in order to provide students with fire
resistive structures. It was figured that the schools in the city were at a
greater risk for fire than those in the country so they were to be given
better construction. The County Superintendent ordered the cheaper style be
built for all the schools at a cost of $400,000.00. The County Boards
approved this amount.
Lawyers Road School, Midwood’s original name, was commissioned to be built
by architect M.R. Marsh.
Born in Jacksonville Florida in 1901, he studied architecture through
correspondence courses and through work with his brother’s architecture
firm. Marsh practiced in Charlotte his entire career except for a brief
period in the early 1940s when he was stationed in New York and Washington
with the War Production Board. Between 1922 and 1964 he designed several
well-known Charlotte buildings, several residences, and many institutional
structures. The most visible surviving structure of his is the main office
of Mutual Savings and Loan at 330 South Tryon Street, which was completed in
1962. Marsh died September 4, 1977.
The original building Marsh designed is very similar to
which was built around the same time and also was a design of his.
It was to have eight classrooms and was built in a very traditional style.
When the schoolhouse opened in 1935, eighty students had to be turned away
to another school because the demand for the new neighborhood school was so
Through the years other additions were added. In November of 1936, the
citizens of Charlotte authorized a bond of $584,000.00 to be used in the
Building Program of 1937. Out of this money Midwood School got $18,000.00
for addition to the building and $1,780.00 for extra equipment.
Fire damaged classrooms in the north wing of the building on August 1, 1941
and the Building Program of 1941 remedied this by building a new auditorium,
additional classrooms, and repairing the classrooms that were damaged by the
That same year an open house was planned to show off the new
Midwood School continued to grow and by the 1940s they had enough students
on campus to merit having an orchestra and drum and bugle corp.
The Building Program of 1946-1949 was carried out with funds made available
by the Bond Election on April 23, 1946. Dr. N.L. Engelhardt of New York was
hired as the architect and Building Consultant while Howard Duval was hired
as the Supervisory Construction Engineer. Midwood School got three
additional classrooms, a visual education room, and improvements in the
closed in June of 1983 due to declining enrollment. At it prime of having
1000 students in the 1950s, it only had 272 during the school year of
While it was closed the building began to deteriorate. The plaster on the
walls peeled and broke and vandals broke many of the windows.
February of 1985 the school was reborn once again. One night an arsonist
set fire to Albemarle Elementary School and 300 second and third graders
needed a new school. The abandoned Midwood building was only five miles
away and it was the only option.
Midwood Grammar School, 2nd Grade
Class Photo ca. 1950s, (Teacher Mrs. Minogue).
Picture supplied by Mickey Connell.
Getting the old building ready was a massive undertaking. The school had
been left in decay for several years. After an initial inspection of the
building work started almost immediately the following Saturday afternoon.
Over seventy workers had until Monday night to have the building prepared
for students on Tuesday morning. Four plumbers went through and checked out
all the pipes and fixed all the leaks. Five heating and air conditioning
specialists went through and checked the boiler and thermostats. Five
roofing and sheet metal workers were needed to repair the roof and check the
kitchen equipment. Nine electricians had to check all the wiring, bulbs,
and power supply over the whole building. Nine warehouse workers moved
desks, chairs, file cabinets and other pieces of equipment from the School
Systems Warehouse to Midwood School. Fourteen groundskeepers were needed to
clean the trash and trim the shrubbery from the neglected yard. Fifteen
carpenters went through and replaced the seventy-nine broken windows.
Eighteen painters went over the exterior and twenty-four painted over the
inside walls. Twenty custodians were working until midnight on the last
night to get the floors scrubbed, waxed, and buffed. It was estimated that
the cost to get Midwood School up and running in those three short days cost
$10,000 in overtime pay to workers and $6,000.00 for material.
Today Midwood School is an alternative school designed to help students who
drop out of traditional school settings for emotional, social, or academic
reasons. Classes are held in two shifts and offered from eight in the
morning to eight at night.
Enrollment at the school now reaches about 900 students per year. Three
graduations are held every year at Queen’s College. It is also home to a
hot lunch program for the elderly, which is housed downstairs in the older
of the cafeterias. The newly renovated school also became the home for
TAPS: Teen Age Parents Services.
This organization tries to keep pregnant teens from leaving school.
Midwood School is an important example of Traditional Revival architecture
that was used for many institutional buildings during the 1930s and 1940s.
Designed by architect M.R. Marsh, the school still retains its
original architectural integrity despite the additions that were added
throughout the 1940s. Even more changes are in store for this school as new
safety updates and renovations are currently being planned for 2002.
The original eight-room building of Midwood School is still intact and
several additions have been added over the years. The school is located
near the corner of The Plaza and Central Avenue, a major thoroughfare
through the city, in the Plaza/Midwood neighborhood. The building sits in
the mixed residential and commercial district of Plaza/Midwood. When built,
this neighborhood was considered the outskirts of town, and was important as
an early streetcar suburb of Charlotte. Many changes have occurred over the
last sixty-five years. Today it is no longer a trolley neighborhood and it
is no longer on the outskirts of the city. The area has experienced major
decline but in the last couple of decades an attempt has been made at
revitalizing the area and businesses are once again locating here.
The 2.54-acre lot sits on essentially level ground.
Parking is in the rear of the lot and in order to make more room for the
parking in the back, the building sits fairly close to Central Avenue. The
yard of campus is covered in grass and a sidewalk completely encircles the
campus. Decorative shrubs and trees grow around the school.
Like its sister
Midwood was designed by architect M.R. Marsh. It represents the
Traditional Revival style that was so prevalent among institutional
buildings during the 1930s and 1940s. It retains plenty of integrity and is
a good example of the smaller, less elaborate architecture that became
popular for schools during and after the Depression.
The earliest structure is the long, one story rectangular building
constructed in 1934. Additions were made in 1937, 1941, and 1946.
These additions give it a vaguely L shape for a footprint on the Sanborn Map
The front of the building has a projecting portico with four columns.
Inside the gable end of the portico is an octagon shaped attic window.
Under the portico are two large twelve over twelve windows and above them
are two flat concrete slabs that flank the double leaf entryway.
The majority of the roof is gabled except the classroom addition, which is
flat roofed. The roofing material is asphalt shingles. The outside of the
building is red brick, which is laid with four rows of common bond and one
row of flemished bond brickwork. This pattern repeats all the way up except
where there is a row of verticals near the top. Around the corners of the
gym are quoins. The majority of the building is one story except the
classroom additions, which are two stories. The windows used in the
two-story addition are ten over ten. There is one external brick chimney on
the original structure and two porches.
Aside from the font portico there is an uncovered gabled porch that connects
to the gabled end of the gym addition. This portico, repeating the octagon
window on the front, has an octagon shaped attic vent above the door. Above
the door is a neatly carved cornice. Incorporated into the gable end of the
gym above the porch gable is
a large wide
octagonal attic vent. The predominant window type of the whole structure is
double hung nine over nine and they are both single and paired. The large
arched windows of the gym have been bricked in and metal vents have been
installed in their place.
View of chimney View of side portico
View of quoins
The interior of the original building remains much like it was when it was
built. With the additions today there are twenty-four classrooms. Many of
the doors to the classrooms remain original, still having the large
eight-pane window above the doors that swing open to allow ventilation.
There are two kitchens that I saw located in the school along with two
cafeterias. One cafeteria is for students and the other is home to a hot
lunch program for local senior citizens. There are several large testing
rooms, an auditorium, a multipurpose room with a stage, seven restrooms and
sixteen other additional rooms used for office and administrative purposes.
All of the rooms are still heated with an old boiler with radiators located
in each room. Walking the hallways one can see how the architectural
integrity of the building has remained intact. Little or no change has been
made to the high ceilings, tiled floors, the original doors, windows,
stairwells, and walls. As former Principal Eulada Watt said, “Midwood is
like an old-fashioned school, with its wide halls and high ceilings.”
Currently there are plans to do even more renovations to Midwood School. In
2002 it will be closed down for two years while changes are made to improve
energy efficiency and safety. All of the windows are going to be replaced
and new wiring will be installed for fire prevention. Also for fire
prevention, a sprinkler system is going to be installed. The original
radiators, which are still in use, are going to be taken out and a new
heating system will be installed. Fortunately the front façade of the
building is going to be left intact in order to keep some deal of historical