Survey and Research Report
Big Rock Rock Shelter
Click here to view Big
Rock Rock Shelter SHPO Letter
1. Name and
location of the property: The property known as the Big Rock Rock
Shelter is located at 6500 Elmstone Dr. or 635 meters at c. 229 degrees from
the intersection of Endhaven Lane with Elm Lane in southern Mecklenburg County .
Name, address, and telephone number of the current owner of the property:
600 East Fourth St., 11th Floor
Charlotte, N.C. 28202-2816
photographs of the property:
This report contains representative photographs of the property.
4. A map depicting the location of the property.
5. Current Deed Book Reference To The Property.
The most recent deed to this property is found in Mecklenburg County Deed
Book 7647, Page 899. The tax parcel number for the
property is 223-441-60.
6. A Brief
Historical Essay On The Property. This report contains a brief
historical sketch of the property prepared by Dr. Dan L. Morrill.
7. A Brief Physical Description Of The Property.
This report contains a brief physical description of the property prepared
by Dr. Dan L. Morrill.
8. Documentation of
why and in what ways the property meets the criteria for designation set
forth in N.C.G.S. 160A-400.5.
significance in terms of its history, architecture, and/or cultural
importance. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg
Historic Landmarks Commission judges that the Big Rock Rock Shelter possesses special significance in terms of
Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases its judgment on the
The Big Rock Rock Shelter is a locally
significant pluton and contains the largest known exposed boulders in
2) The Big Rock Rock Shelter has
experienced minimal ground disturbance, thereby making it especially
important as an archeological resource for both historic and pre-historic
b. Integrity of design,
setting, workmanship, materials, feeling and/or association:
The Commission judges that the physical
description included in this report demonstrates that the property known
as the Big Rock Rock Shelter meets this criterion.
9. Ad Valorem Tax
Appraisal: The Commission is
aware that designation would allow the owner to apply for automatic
deferral of 50% of the Ad Valorem taxes on all or any portion of the
property which becomes a designated “historic landmark”. The current
appraised value of the Big Rock Rock Shelter is $532,000. The
property contains 14 acres and is exempt from the payment of Ad Valorem
taxes. The property is zoned R120.
Date of preparation of this report:
March 4, 2008
Dr. Dan L. Morrill
A Brief History of the Big Rock
Big Rock Rock Shelter is one of many plutons or bodies of intrusive igneous
rock that appear in the Piedmont plateau of the two Carolinas. Located
on a northwestward-sloping, wooded, rock-strewn or talus hillside near a second order tributary of
Four Mile Creek in southern
Mecklenburg County, the Big Rock Rock Shelter, like its many counterparts in the
region, most notably the Concord Pluton, consists of a cluster of sizeable,
randomly distributed granite boulders that have been exposed by weathering
over the eons because they have been especially resistant to erosion.
Although geological formations of this type are widely dispersed in
Mecklenburg County, the Big Rock Rock Shelter is locally significant because
it contains the largest known exposed boulders in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and
because it has experienced minimal ground disturbance, thereby making it
especially important as an archeological resource.
This pluton is off
Scaleybark Rd. in Charlotte.
40-acre rock near Pageland, S.C. is one of the
region's most visited surface plutons.
The largest erosion resistant promontories are
called monadnocks. Several appear in the Piedmont plateau,
including Crowders Mountain (pictured here), the Pinnacle, Anderson
Mountain, Pilot Mountain, and the Sauratown Mountain.
An archeological investigation of the Big Rock Rock Shelter site was conducted
by Dr. Fred W. Fisher in March 1987.1 No significant material alterations to the
place have occurred
since that investigation. This study reveals that the Big Rock Rock Shelter and its
immediate surroundings contain American Indian habitation debris from as early
as 7000 years ago, as well as pre-historic and historic artifacts from more
recent periods. The existence of a multilayered or stratified
archeological deposit is a rare discovery in this region. To quote
from the official report: "Stratified archeological deposits are
rarely found on the interfluvial upland in this region, and the size and
form of the outcrop/shelter are unique."2 Noteworthy is the fact that a perennial spring rises on
the site and has provided a nearby source of water over the centuries.
"The proximity of natural shelter, vantage, and a variety of upland
resources attracted Indians to the place for several thousand years," writes
Fisher.3 Especially rich in terms of archeological resources are dry
shelter areas created by fractures in the rocks. Potsherds, sharp-edged waste material, a variety of stone and
bone tools, animal bone, shell, plant remains, and a musket ball have been
unearthed in the largest shelter area on the site. In 1964,
investigators identified one two-sided stone tool or biface as a Morrow
Mountain projectile point (c. 5500 to 4500 B.C.E.).
This fracture in the largest of the exposed granite
boulders has provided shelter over the centuries for those who have
visited the site..
Although there is no
physical evidence, it is reasonable to
assume that the Big Rock Rock Shelter site was a campsite, rendezvous point,
and observation post for the first human beings who inhabited what is now
Mecklenburg County. They were Paleo or Ancient Native Americans whose
forbearers had migrated from Asia across the Bering Strait made dry by
advancing glaciers some 40,000 years ago. These initial nomads reached the
Carolina Piedmont about 12,000 years ago. They had wandered over the Blue
Ridge and Smoky Mountains in pursuit of big game. Living in highly mobile
and lightly equipped groups, the Paleo Indians ambushed their prey,
principally now extinct giant mammals, by thrusting spears into their flanks
at close range. Native
American materials recovered from the Big Rock Rock Shelter site mostly date from
three principal periods: Early Woodland (c. 600-100 B.C.E.),
Missiissippian (c. 1300-1450 C.E.), and Late Woodland (c. 1650-1850 C.E.).
Graffiti mars the face of the largest boulder at the
Big Rock Rock Shelter
The first Native Americans who resided here lived in tiny
bands of one or a few families, rarely came in contact with other human
beings, and inbred for centuries. They have left no evidence of permanent
settlements, burial sites, pottery or agriculture; and, like the great
majority of Native Americans, they never developed a written language.
Despite the harshness of their existence, Paleo Indians saw their numbers
increase in North America. Only the hardiest had completed the long trek
from Asia, and the cold climate of the Ice Age may have eliminated many
About 10,000 years ago the glaciers started to retreat
and deciduous forests began to predominate in this part of North America.
Their habitat destroyed or massively altered, some large mammals, like the
mammoth, disappeared, while others, like the camel and the horse, moved
elsewhere. Paleo Indian traditions began to die out as the Native Americans
adapted to their new environment. Archeologists have named the next cultural
customs the "Archaic."
Archaic people foraged for plants and hunted smaller
game, such as rabbit, squirrel, beaver and deer. Still nomads, they roamed
within smaller territories than had their predecessors, because to succeed
as hunters and food gatherers they had to become intimately familiar with
local plant life and with the habits of indigenous animals. Indians of this
era were more technologically proficient than their forbearers. One of their
most ingenious inventions was the atlatl, a spear-throwing device that
enabled them to kill deer and other large game more easily. They also used
grinding stones and mortars to crush nuts and seeds, carved bowls from
soapstone, and fashioned their spear points into smooth and shiny
A momentous event in the history of the Native
Americans of this region occurred about 2000 years ago. Indians of the
so-called "Woodland" tradition began to practice agriculture and establish
permanent settlements. The great majority of the Native Americans who
inhabited what is now the Carolina Piedmont, including the Catawbas of this
immediate area, were still following these Woodland customs when the first
white men arrived in the 16th century. People of this tradition
developed a sophisticated culture, replete with religious ceremonies and
complex ethical systems. Their religion was polytheistic, meaning that
Woodland Indians believed in many gods. Unlike followers of
Judeo-Christianity, who divide existence into heaven and earth or separate
celestial and terrestrial realms, Native Americans held that many spirits
inhabit this world and that they must be appeased. Woodland Indians
also had no concept of private property. Land was for use, not for
ownership. Native Americans believed that carving up the earth into separate
plots and fencing it off was as senseless as parceling out the air or
cutting up the water. Such notions would come into direct conflict with the
cultural values that white settlers would bring to the Carolina Piedmont.
This tributary of Four Mile Creek is just northwest
of the boulders and has been an convenient water supply.
Example of Catawba pottery.
The first white people to move through this region were
merchants who beginning in the mid-1600s began bringing finished goods, such
as iron utensils, pots, and axes, on the backs of horses or on their own
backs to trade for animal hides prepared by the Catawbas and other Native
American tribes. The Catawbas and other inland tribes also traveled widely.
Long before the arrival of the white man, Native Americans had established
trade routes along footpaths that stretched from the mountains to the sea.
White explorers and traders became familiar with this system of reliable,
well-established Indian trails and adopted it for their own use.
A fundamental transformation of the Yadkin-Catawba
territory occurred in the 18th century when the era of Native
American domination of the region came to a precipitous end. European
civilization became predominant within a very few years. The initial white
settlers drove their covered wagons into the Carolina Piedmont in the 1740s,
mostly along ancient Indian trading paths. First in a trickle then a virtual
flood, these immigrants, who were mostly from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and
Delaware, came swarming down the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road to establish
farms and homestead. Unlike the white traders who had preceded them, these
families planned to stay.
The pioneers changed what they found. To them the ancient
home of the Native Americans was a wilderness to be tamed. The white
settlers built houses, taverns, mills, established ferries, and cleared
fields. The Catawbas were powerless to resist. By the 1760s, after
only a decade of persistent white occupation, much of the Catawba's lands
had been sold, bartered, or lost. The Catawba nation had dwindled to a
population of about 1000, for in addition to tribal warfare they suffered
from contact with European diseases and vices: chiefly smallpox and whiskey.
In 1764, two years after the death of the last famous Catawba chief, King
Haiglar, the colonial governor of South Carolina granted the Catawba fifteen
square miles on the border of North Carolina and South Carolina. By 1840 the
area had dwindled to 652 acres, and there were only seventy-five Catawba
Unlike the Native Americans, who had used the Big Rock
Rock Shelter site as a meeting place and a place of refuge from the
elements, the white settlers transformed the surrounding countryside into
farmland and looked upon the Big Rock Rock Shelter as place of lesser
importance. There is evidence that quarrying did occur around the
southern part of the outcropping during the nineteenth century. The
greatest number of non-Native American artifacts identified on the site are
glass bottle fragments, mostly pieces of reusable beverage bottles from c.
1920 until the present. Aluminum can pull tabs and plastic ammunition
box fragments, as well as disposable thin ware manufactured after c. 1950,
also exist on the site. Graffiti painted on the boulders suggests
casual visitors frequent the Big Rock Rock Shelter Site today for
unsupervised recreational purposes. Mecklenburg County has acquired
the property and plans to develop it as an environmentally sensitive park.
Fred W. Fisher, "Preliminary Report Big Rock Rockshelter Site," for the
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission (July 1987).
The majority of the information in this report is taken from this
source. Click here to view the
report. For an historical overview of Mecklenburg County see
Dan L. Morrill, Historic Charlotte: An Illustrated History of
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, Historical Publication Network,
2002. For a treatment of the history of Native Americans in North
Carolina see Douglas L. Rights, The American Indian in North Carolina,
John F. Blair Publisher, 1988.
Physical Description of the Big Rock
View from the bottomland toward the major
The Big Rock Rockshelter is
located on an approximately 23-acre tract of land bordered by Elmstone Dr. on the
south, a curvilinear residential street connecting the Thornhill and
Elmstone neighborhoods in southern Mecklenburg County. To the west
and east of the tract are suburban homes. Elm Lane, a major local
thoroughfare, borders the property on the north. The tract slopes
northwestward from its summit on the east and continues across a mostly
flat, low-lying area to a tributary of Four Mile Creek. The property is
heavily wooded throughout with hardwoods. A dirt pathway leads
from Elmstone Dr. northward to the major rock outcroppings, and other
pathways of similar configuration meander through the site. The
tract contains three principal plutons -- the largest on the
hillside just below the summit, where another smaller outcropping
occurs, and a third a short distance north of the largest pluton. The
tract show no signs of major recent ground disturbance. Graffiti
does mar the face of many of the boulders, especially on the north face
of the tallest exposed rock. There is also intrusive noise
pollution caused by the traffic on Interstate 485, which is just north of