Survey and Research Report
The Torrence-Lytle School
Name and location of the property: The property known as the Torrence-Lytle School
is located at 302 Holbrooks Road, Huntersville, North Carolina.
Name and address of the present owner of the property:
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks
2100 Randolph Rd.
Charlotte, North Carolina 28207
Representative photographs of the property: This report contains representative photographs
of the property.
depicting the location of the property: Below is a map depicting the location of the
property. The UTM coordinates are 514908E 3917295N
Current deed book reference to the property: The most recent deed to this property is recorded
in the Mecklenburg County Deed Book 3314 page 441. The tax
parcel number of the property is # 01909304.
brief historical sketch of the property:
This report contains a brief historical sketch of the property.
brief architectural description of the property: This report contains a brief architectural
description of the property.
Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets the
criteria for designation as set forth in N.C.G.S. 160A-400.5:
Cultural importance: The Commission judges that the
property known as the Torrence-Lytle School does possess special significance in
terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases its
judgment based on the following considerations:
The Torrence-Lytle School represented the first opportunity
for African-American residents of North Mecklenburg County to attend
a public high school in the region where they lived.
The Torrence-Lytle School is one of the older remaining
African-American school buildings in Mecklenburg County and is,
therefore, important in understanding the broad patterns of the
The Torrence-Lytle School is representative of a movement in
the 1930’s to bring high school education to rural blacks in
IV. The Torrence-Lytle
School is significant as an important example of early 20th-century
school building architecture
Valorem tax appraisal: The
Commission is aware that designation would allow the owner to
apply for an automatic deferral of 50% of Ad Valorem taxes on
all or any portion of the property which becomes a designated
“historic landmark.” The current appraised value of the
lot, which is 4.9443 acres, is $435,100. The appraised
value of the buildings and other improvements is $2,149,200.
The current total tax value is $2,584,300.
Portion of property recommended for designation:
The Commission recommends that all portions of the building and
the entire tax parcel be recommended for historic landmark
Date of preparation of
this report: December 2004
Prepared by: Hope L. Murphy and Stewart Gray
The history of Charlotte-Mecklenburg public schools began in the
1880’s. Though the Federal Freedmen’s Bureau had set up
schools for newly-freed slaves at the end of the Civil War, there
was little support for education from local or State governments
prior to the1880’s. In 1882 the City of Charlotte established
its first graded schools, one for white children and another for
In the 1890’s Mecklenburg County began to buy land for county
schools for white and for black children. All buildings were
locally funded, with the county school board paying for teacher
salaries and supplies such as wood out of local tax revenues, which
left serious disparities between the quality of education in
wealthier communities and poorer rural ones.
Most efforts to improve public education for blacks in North
Carolina, as well as the rest of the South, were initiated by
Northern philanthropists. In response to the lack of public funds
for the education of black children, Julius Rosenwald, the president
of Sears-Roebuck, established the Julius Rosenwald Fund. At
the time of its founding, in 1917, there was not a single standard
eight-grade rural public school or a public high school that
provided even two years of instruction for black children.
Most black children only attended school three months out of the
year, to enable them to aid in planting and harvesting crops.
While the Rosenwald Fund allowed for the development of elementary
education for Mecklenburg County’s black children, there was no
opportunity for high school education for rural blacks in their own
communities. African-American children who completed
elementary school in the first three decades of the 19th
Century and who desired advanced schooling were sent to boarding
schools, if their families were able to afford it.
Though the North Carolina Legislature passed legislation in 1913
that enabled counties to issue bonds to build high schools for
African American children, it was not until 1923 that the City of
Charlotte opened its first high school for African American
children, Second Ward High School. Some rural families sent
their children to live with relatives in the City so their children
could attend there. In 1936 the County approved the
construction of four rural high schools for black children:
Pineville Colored High School, Plato Price High School (West
Mecklenburg County), J.H. Gunn High School (East Mecklenburg
County), and the Huntersville Colored School.
Huntersville Colored School, later Torrence-Lytle High School,
opened in 1937. At that time it was a “union school” housing
grades 1-11. It had seven rooms that housed three elementary
school teachers, two high school teachers, principal Isaac T. Graham
and 181 pupils.
From its opening in 1937 to its closing in 1966 Isaac T. Graham was
the school’s principal. Torrence-Lytle was the only high
school for African-Americans in northern Mecklenburg County.
Torrence-Lytle High School
Torrence-Lytle is located in the south end of Huntersville, in an
area historically known as Pottstown. Pottstown is named for
Ortho Potts, a brick mason and prominent member of the community.
Most of the other men in the community were employed as tenant
farmers or janitors, yard men, and kitchen help at the Mecklenburg
Sanitarium, which opened across the railroad tracks from the
community in 1926. Black women from Pottstown also worked at
the Sanitarium or traveled to white communities to perform domestic
Times were often difficult in Pottstown. Pottstown resident
B.J. Caldwell, an alumnus and member of the Torrence-Lytle class of
1964, recalls that her father was forced to use newspapers to cover
the large cracks in her family’s home. She recounts a
recurring joke that someone could stand on the railroad tracks and
read the newspaper through the holes in the walls. But she
says that her family was better off than some. While she
carried her lunch to Torrence-Lytle in a fresh brown paper bag,
others had to reuse the same bag all week. When the original
one-story brick Huntersville Colored School was erected it was
surrounded by the Potts’s farm, Huntersville A.M.E. Church, and a
few frame houses. Ms. Caldwell’s, whose family moved into one
of those houses, relays that these were the first homes owned by the
former slaves and sharecroppers who had previously rented their
In the fall of 1952 the school expanded its physical space with the
addition of a cafeteria and eight additional classrooms.
In 1953 the name of the school was changed from Huntersville Colored
School to Torrence-Lytle High School. The name change honored
two men who had been important in establishing the Huntersville
Colored School, Isaiah Dale “Ike” Torrence and Franklin Lytle.
Franklin Lytle was born a slave, on a farm owned by Rutledge
Withers. Little is known of Lytle’s life from his childhood
until the 1890’s. But he later became a prominent and
influential farmer, and married Lois Alexander, a schoolteacher.
Lytle was able to send all five of his and his wife’s children
through college, paying for their sons’ tuition at Biddle University
(now Johnson C. Smith) and daughters’ at Barber-Scotia with farm
Though not formerly educated himself, Lytle became a proponent of
African American education in Huntersville. He was an integral
part of the establishment of Lytle’s Grove Colored School, a
Rosenwald school, and helped to acquire the land for Torrence-Lytle.
Not much is known of Isaiah Torrence’s early or personal life.
He worked as a farm agent, and is purported to have been a music
teacher and coach. What is known, from the public record, is
that Torrence was a staunch advocate for the education of black
children in north Mecklenburg County. In July 1935 Torrence
appeared before the Board of County Commissioners of Mecklenburg
meeting. The meeting was a public hearing to gather
constituent views on a proposal by the Board to issue Public Works
Administration bonds, from The Federal Emergency Administration of
Public Works (P.W.A.), to enhance public education in Mecklenburg
County, by improving and expanding school buildings. The Board hoped
that such expansion would ensure every student access to six months
of schooling, as required by the North Carolina Constitution. The
County schools requested $242,000 for this purpose. The
minutes from that meeting read, “Ike Torrence, negro citizen and
taxpayer, asked for schools in the county for children who had
passed the seventh grade and wanted to go to high school.”
Apparently Torrence was a savvy lobbyist and appeared before the
Board again in September 1935. This time Torrence brought a
group of African American residents of Huntersville and a gift to
the Board of farm produce.
In July 1936, when the Board met to appropriate the P.W.A. funds,
$35,300 was dedicated to “the construction of a New School building
and auditorium in Huntersville Township.”
A little over a year later Huntersville Colored School, later
Torrence-Lytle High School, opened its doors.
Torrence-Lytle 6th Grade Class, Late 1950’s
Photo: Public Library of Charlotte-Mecklenburg
In 1957 twelve new classrooms, a science laboratory, a home
economics department, a gymnasium and an agricultural building were
added to the school. In 1966 when the school closed there were 964
students, 45 teachers, a librarian, a guidance counselor, an
assistant principal and five custodians. In 1965
some high school students were re-assigned to North Mecklenburg High
School. In 1966 the school was closed, and all of the students were
sent to racially integrated schools.
Graham was sent to be an assistant principal at North Mecklenburg
High School, a move many found unjust considering Mr. Graham’s long
tenure as a full principal.
Long tenures were not unusual at Torrence-Lytle. According to
B.J. Caldwell, Esther H. Johnson, the school librarian, came to the
school in 1938 shortly after its opening, and stayed until the
school closed in 1966. Caldwell worked as an assistant to
Johnson after her graduation in 1964. She remembers Johnson as
the consummate professional. Though she approached all things
with “love, care and tenderness,” Johnson was demanding and
taught her staff and students to “do things right the first time.”
Caldwell credits her own ease in finding a job after the closing of
Torrence-Lytle with the lessons that Johnson taught her.
Caldwell further recounts that parents were very involved with the
education of their children. Going to P.T.A. meetings was difficult
for most parents who worked long hours, but students knew that their
parents cared about their progress and behavior at school. If
a student was having a problem at school, teachers would visit the
parents in their home. If a teacher came to your house, Ms.
Caldwell explained, “then there was big trouble.”
The closing of the school in 1966 was difficult for the community.
Caldwell recounts that the school had been the “center of the
universe” for African Americans in Northern Mecklenburg. Caldwell
believes that the community fragmented with the termination of
classes. Torrence Lytle had been the nucleus of the
neighborhood, and it was now gone.
Because of the prevailing system of racial segregation “there were
no McDonald’s where you could go and hang out,” Caldwell explains.
Instead there were “sock hops” in the school gym every Friday.
Football games and Basketball games were also big social events.
David Beatty, who attended Torrence-Lytle from 1961 to 1965,
recounts that games were taken seriously and that school rivalry
could at time be extreme. Beatty recounts that it was not
uncommon for the football team to lie on the floor of the bus going
to games so that they would not be hit by rocks and bottles thrown
at the bus from opposing school students.
Torrence-Lytle’s homecoming games were held at Davidson College in
the 1960’s and were accompanied by a parade.
Torrence-Lytle band in the late-1950’s
Photo: Public Library of Charlotte-Mecklenburg County
Photo: 1965 Torrence-Lytle yearbook.
When Torrence-Lytle closed its doors as a school it became an
alternative learning center. Students, counselors and teachers
lived on campus. Subsequently, the Torrence-Lytle gym has been used
as a Recreation center for the community. The rest of the
campus is currently used as a storage facility for Mecklenburg
County and the Town of Huntersville.
Thomas Hanchett, “Rosenwald School Survey,” Charlotte
Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.
Betty Jane “B.J.”Caldwell, “A History of Torrence-Lytle High
“Small Towns of Mecklenburg County”, Charlotte Mecklenburg
Historic Landmarks Commission
Interview with B.J. Caldwell, December 8, 2004.
Stewart Gray and Paula Stathakis, “Survey and Research Report of
the Frank Lytle House (2003),” Charlotte Mecklenburg
Historic Landmarks Commission.
Minutes, Board of Commissioners for the County of Mecklenburg,
July 10, 1935.
Minutes, Board of Commissioners for the County of Mecklenburg,
September 3, 1935.
Minutes, Board of Commissioners for the County of Mecklenburg,
July 8, 1936.
Caldwell, “”A History of Torrence-Lytle School”
B.J. Caldwell interview.
David Beatty interview with Mihir Desai , Davidson Reminiscence
The Torrence-Lytle High School opened in
the fall of 1937 as the Huntersville Colored High School.
In 1953 and again in 1957, the school was greatly expanded.
In 1965, some students were reassigned to North
Mecklenburg High School, and in 1966 the school was closed when
all of the students were reassigned to racially integrated
schools. Despite some notable structural deterioration is some
sections of the large masonry building, the original one-story,
section of the school exhibits a high degree of integrity.
Along with the Davidson Colored School in the nearby town of
Davidson, the Torrence-Lytle School is significant in
Mecklenburg County as a substantial surviving African American
school building from the first half of the 20th
century. Flat-roofed, two-story Modernist wings are
attached to the north and south elevations of the hipped-roofed
1937 building by stair tower/hyphens. The style of the
Modernist wings contrast markedly with the traditional
architecture of the older one-story building, but the
distinctive Modernist features of the wings, combined with their
high degree of integrity give these additions significance.
The original 1937 one-story brick school
building faces west onto Central Avenue in Huntersville, one block east of the
Norfolk Southern Railroad line that runs north-and-south through
the town from Charlotte to Statesville. In 1937 this area, known as Pottstown,
consisted of the new hipped-roof masonry school
building, Ortho Potts’ farm, and a few frame houses concentrated
around the Holbrook Road intersections with Central Avenue and
Church Street, and the Huntersville A.M.E. Church.
The 1937 school building features a rear-facing T-plan, with a very wide façade and
a short rear wing, which houses an
auditorium. The bricks walls are laid in 5:1 common
bond, with a corbelled water course that continues around the
building. The school building features a steeply pitched modified
hip roof, with small gables housing louvered vents located at the ends
of the ridgelines. The school’s main entrance is centered
between the four sets of tall windows that have been covered
with plywood. Each set of windows includes triple
nine-over-nine double-hung sash windows, with the ganged windows
bordered on each side by a single nine-over-nine window.
The openings have brick sills and a soldier course representing
the lintel. However, the facade is not symmetrical.
The northernmost section of the facade features a large, simple
brick panel laid in running bond, highlighted by a border
composed of soldier courses and cast stone corner blocks.
Note the small
gable at the ridgeline of the otherwise hipped roof.
Note the brick and block-work
behind the deteriorating metal paneling.
While the exterior of
the building has retained a high degree of integrity, the front
entrance has been greatly altered. A gabled porch
shelters the entrance, supported by ca. 1957 cast concrete
posts. The original doors have been replaced with
metal doors and direct-glazed transoms. Decorative brick
and block-work surrounding the doorway has been encased with
painted metal panels.
The relatively narrow north and south
elevations are partially obscured by the two-story brick
hyphens, which connect to the 1937 building's original side
entrances. The north elevation features paired
nine-over-nine windows to the west of the hyphen, and a
bricked-in opening to the east of the hyphen. The south
elevation features a simple brick panel laid in running bond,
highlighted by a border composed of soldier courses and cast
stone corner blocks.
of the 1937 building from the northeast
southernmost section of the 1937 building.
houses the auditorium.
The rear elevation features a substantial
hipped-roofed wing that also features a gabled vent at the
ridgeline. Unlike the rest of the building, the rear wing
incorporates tall brick piers, that indicate the use of roof
trusses needed to span the relatively wide auditorium. The piers form pilasters that divide the wing
into three bays. On both the north and south
elevations the bays closest to the principal section of the
building contain paired nine-over-nine windows. The middle
bays contain tripled windows, and the easternmost bays each
contain a single door and a narrow four-over-four window.
The wing's east (rear) elevation is also divided into three
sections by exposed piers, but is otherwise blank. The ridge of the
hip roof over the auditorium is slightly lower than the
building’s main ridgeline. The grade slopes away from the rear
of the school building.
The interior of the 1937 building is in
poor condition, but it has retailed sufficient integrity to
contribute to the significance of the building. The most
notable feature of the building's interior is a wide hallway
that runs the length of the building. While some changes
have been made to the original floor plan, it appears that the
original plan included three classrooms and a library to the
west of the central hallway, and three classrooms and the
auditorium to the east of the hallway. Classrooms feature
some original woodwork such as baseboards, blackboard surrounds,
and interior transoms with three-light sash. The interior
walls are plastered, and the solid masonry construction of the
building is visible where some of the plaster has deteriorated.
At least one wythe of terra-cotta block was laid in the exterior
walls, allowing for a textured surface that would accept
plaster. Original 4" pine floors are exposed in some
areas. Linoleum tile has covered the floor in several of
the rooms. The frame-work of the massive "stick-built"
hipped roof is visible in one of the classrooms where the
ceiling has been removed. The auditorium features a raised
stage, accessed by short enclosed stair on each side of the
stage. Two small dressing rooms open onto the rear of the
West Elevation of North Wing
Elevation of South Wing
Masonry Hyphens Attach Old and New Sections
Classroom in South Wing
The two flat-roofed wings to the north and
south of the 1937 building feature exposed concrete frames,
filled with curtain walls of glass block, metal framed windows,
and masonite or cast panels. The end walls are brick
veneered block. The wings feature concrete floors,
with the second floor supported by cast concrete beams. On
the second floor, narrow cast beams support corrugated steel
roof pans. The classrooms are divided by partial-height
masonry walls, topped with corrugated translucent fiberglass
panels. The interior doorways are topped with operable
louvered-vent transoms. The hallway walls are tilled.
While the condition of the wings has been affected by neglect,
with some areas of water damage, the degree of integrity is very
high. It appears that the original floor plans of the
wings has not been altered, and original features such as doors,
door hardware, lights, and fixtures have survived.
The two flat-roofed wings, aside from
their significance as well preserved examples of Modernist
architecture, offer an important contrast to the traditional
early 20th century architecture of the original 1937 building.
Built only twenty years apart, there are almost no building
material, building techniques, or design features common between
the older and newer buildings. The buildings are all
excellent examples of school buildings for their time, and they
dramatically illustrated the great changes that took place in
Mecklenburg County architecture in the middle decades of the