William Henry Belk House
This report was written on October 2, 1985
1. NAME AND LOCATION OF THE PROPERTY: The property known as
the William Henry Belk House is located at 200 Hawthorne Lane,
2. NAME, ADDRESS, AND TELEPHONE NUMBER OF THE OWNER OF THE
North Carolina Medical Commission
Department of Human Resources
Raleigh, N.C., 27605
Telephone Number: 704/371-4119
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 which depicts the location of the property.
5. CURRENT DEED BOOK REFERENCE TO THE PROPERTY: The most
recent deed to this property is recorded in Deed Book 127, Page 3. The
Tax Parcel Number of the property is 127-038-01.
6. A BRIEF HISTORICAL SKETCH OF THE PROPERTY: This report
contains a historical sketch of the property, prepared by Dr. William H.
7. A BRIEF ARCHITECTURAL DESCRIPTION OF THE PROPERTY: This
report contains a brief architectural description of the property,
prepared by Mr. Thomas W. Hanchett.
8. DOCUMENTATION OF WHY AND IN WHAT WAYS THE PROPERTY MEETS THE
CRITERIA FOR HISTORIC DESIGNATION SET FORTH IN N.C.G.S. 160A-399.4:
A. SPECIAL SIGNIFICANCE IN TERMS OF ITS HISTORY, ARCHITECTURE,
AND/OR CULTURAL IMPORTANCE: The Commission judges that the
property known as the William Henry Belk House does possess special
significance in terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases
its judgment on the following considerations 1) the house completed in
late 1924 or early 1925, was the home of William Henry Belk, a
merchant and philanthropist of local and regional importance; 2) the
architect of the house was Charles Christian Hook, an architect of
local and regional importance, who specialized in the Colonial Revival
- Classical Revival tradition, of which this house is a striking
examples and 3) the house is one of the few mansions which survives on
Hawthorne Lane, which was once an elegant residential street in
Elizabeth, one of Charlotte's oldest suburbs.
B. INTEGRITY OF DESIGN, SETTING, WORKMANSHIP, MATERIALS,
FEELING, AND/OR ASSOCIATION: The Commission contends that the
architectural description included in this report demonstrates that
the property known as the William Henry Belk House meets this
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 an all or any portion of the property which
becomes "historic property." The current appraised value of the William
Henry Belk House is $118,790. The property is zoned 06.
DATE OF PREPARATION OF THIS REPORT: October 2, 1985
Prepared by: Dr. Dan L. Morrill
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission
1225 S. Caldwell St, Box D
Charlotte, N.C., 28203
Dr. William H. Huffman
Sitting these days in the mammoth shadow of Presbyterian Hospital and
surrounded by acres of parking, the Belk mansion on Hawthorne Lane,
which used to be one of the most prominent structures overlooking the
city, is now hardly noticed. Built in 1924 by William Henry (1862-1952)
and Mary Irwin Belk (d. 1968), it was designed by one of the city's
greatest architects, C. C. Hook.
William Henry Belk's rise from a farm boy in South Carolina who lost
his father in the Civil War to the head of one of the South's leading
retail chains has been chronicled in LeGette Blythe's William H. R.
Belk: Merchant of the South. 1 As a youth, he worked for
twelve years in the B. D. Heath store in Monroe until, with $750 in
savings, he opened his own dry goods business in the same town in 1888.
After three years of operation, he persuaded his brother, Dr. John M.
Belk (1864-1928) to become a partner in the business. Their marketing
strategies, which were somewhat unusual at the time, resulted in
success: selling good merchandise at moderate prices, for cash only;
treating all customers with equal respect; and a no-questions-asked
return policy. 2
After a few years, the brothers Belk decided it was time to branch
out into that booming city of fifteen thousand, Charlotte, and they
opened their first store here on September 25, 1895 in a rented store
building just off the Square on East Trade Street. Despite predictions
of some locals that these country merchants would never make it in the
big city, the Belk Bros. store enjoyed a steady growth parallel to that
of the city itself. 3 From the 1880s to the end of the
Twenties, Charlotte experienced practically uninterrupted, rapid
expansion driven by the prospering textile industry in the New South and
the city's strategic location as a rail hub, banking and distribution
In 1905, the business was doing so well the brothers bought a
three-story building on East Trade to consolidate the store under one
roof instead of having it operate out of several storefronts. The
refurbished building with its fancy new facade opened in 1910 to live
music at a gala grand opening. Fifteen years later, even greater
expansion was called for, and in 1925, an adjacent building, destroyed
by fire, was bought for that purpose. The new store built on the
combined properties was double the width of the original, and five
stories high, cost a quarter of a million dollars, and opened for
business in 1927. 4 At the time, it was not only the largest
department store in the Carolinas, but was also the flagship of an
ever-expanding chain of forty-two Belk stores. The nay-sayers were no
longer heard from. By the time of Henry Belk's death in 1952, there were
hundreds of Belk stores throughout the South, and of course, the chain
continues to expand to this day. 5
Because of his preoccupation with making sure the business was
successful, Henry Belk did not marry until he was fifty-three years old.
On a Western excursion, he met Queens College graduate Mary Irwin, who
was the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. John R. Irwin of Charlotte. They were
married on June 9, 1915, at the bride's home on N. Tryon Street. 6
A major force in the Belk's lives was the Presbyterian Church. In
addition to being very active in the church itself, a number of
Presbyterian-related institutions were the recipients of their
philanthropy; these included the Belk Chapel at Queens College, and Belk
Hall at Davidson College. Thus it was that they also made possible the
move of Presbyterian Hospital from Mint and West Trade Street to the
site of the defunct Elizabeth College. About a year after settling in a
house on N. Tryon near the Irwins, the Belks bought ten acres of the
twenty-five-acre property (their tract included the president's
residence) for fifty thousand dollars, and endorsed a note for the
remaining money needed by the hospital for the move. The main college
building, located at the top of Elizabeth Avenue on the site bounded by
Hawthorne, Caswell, East Fourth and East Fifth Streets was converted to
Presbyterian Hospital, and the Belks took up residence in the former
president's home with their baby, William Henry, Jr. The campus setting
was surrounded by middle and upper middle-class houses of the Elizabeth
neighborhood, which had been developed originally from the 1880s to
Sometime in the early Twenties, a banker friend, Bob Dunn, suggested
to Henry Belk that he ought to build a house on his spacious Hawthorne
Lane property that was more suited to the excellent location (and
presumably also to his position in the community) and promised that he
would lend the money for the new place. Taking Dunn up on his offer,
Belk hired one of Charlotte's best-known architects, C. C. Hook, to
design a large new house. Charles Christian Hook (1864-1938) began
practicing architecture in 1893 after three years of teaching in the
public schools. At various times he was in partnership with others in
the city (Frank Sawyer, 1902-1907; Willard Rogers, 1912-1916; and with
his son, W. W. Hook, 1924-1938). Beginning with design work for the new
Dilworth in the 1890s, Hook went on to produce many of the city's
important landmarks, which included the old
Charlotte City Hall, the
Charlotte Women's Club, the
J. B. Duke mansion
on Hermitage Road, and the Belk's Trade Street
facade of 1927. Among his many state-wide credits are the west wing of
the state capital in Raleigh, the Richmond County courthouse, Phillips
Hall in Chapel Hill and the State Hospital in Morganton. 8
Hook's plans for the house were done by early 1924, and in March of
that year, the builder, Thies-Smith Realty, took out a building permit
and estimated the cost of construction to be $75,000. 9 The
old residence was moved to the back of the property and turned to front
on Caswell Road. (For many years, the Belks rented it to others; it was
demolished in recent years. 10 ) After its completion in late
1924 or early 1925, the Belks moved with baby Henry into their grand new
home. It certainly was a residence befitting the commanding location
overlooking the city, and the social station of its owners. The 2
1/2-story, 16-room mansion had a laundry, playroom (with shower) and
vegetable storage in the basement; on the first floor, a large entry
vestibule led to a double ascending staircase, and also contained a
living room, reception room, playroom, dining room, kitchen and two
bedrooms; in addition to five more bedrooms, the second floor had 3
baths, a sewing and linen room, a maid's room and a sleeping porch; the
attic was a large open area that could be used for a number of purposes.
During the remainder of their lifetimes, the Belks raised their six
children, William Henry, Jr., Henderson, Irwin, Sarah, Tom and John at
the Hawthorne Lane residence, all of whom lived at home until Irwin was
married in 1948. The house was from beginning considered Mary Belk's
province, while the store was his, as she told it,
Mr. Belk told me soon after we were married that he'd make me a
proposition - he would turn the house over to me entirely and I should
run it as I thought best if I would agree to let him run the store in
the same way. 12
Even the deed to the property was solely in her name, although this
was a common practice for Charlotte businessmen, so that the home would
not be lost if there were disastrous business losses. The Belks were a
close-knit family in which traditional values were stressed, and the
home was its focal point for over forty years. It was also the site of
many social, philanthropic, church-related and civic gatherings during
that time. After Mary Belk's death in 1968, the house was donated to
Presbyterian Hospital according to terms of her will, and it is now used
for offices and receptions. 13
The Belk mansion is not only one of the city's largest fine homes
designed by the skilled and versatile C. C. Hook, but it is also
associated with one of the area's best-known families. For these
reasons, its preservation would maintain a noteworthy legacy of a
1 LeGette Blythe, William Henry Belk: Merchant of the
New South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1958).
2 Ibid., p. 63 et passim.
4 Charlotte News, October 3, 1910, p. 4;
Charlotte Observer, May 1, 1927, p. 11.
5 Blythe, pp. 257-263.
6 Ibid., p. 112.
7 Ibid., pp. 199-200.
8 Ibid., p. 200; Charlotte , Sept. 17, 1938, p. 1; copy of
C. C. Hook's drawings on file at Presbyterian Hospital.
9 Charlotte Building Permit No. 5031, 12 March 1924.
10 Blythe, p. 200.
11 Hook's drawings, note 8.
12 Blythe, pp. 200-201.
13 Will 68-E-174, 14 February 1968.
by Thomas W. Hanchett
The W. H. Belk Mansion is a two story beige brick structure in the
tradition which stands at the crest of Elizabeth Hill overlooking
downtown Charlotte. It was built for the William Henry Belk family who
were then gaining a reputation as the leading department store merchants
in the Carolinas. Its architect was Charles Christian Hook, one of the
city's best designers. The house is neither massive nor ostentatious,
but rather a well-detailed example of 1920s upper-class architecture.
Today its grounds have been paved to provide parking for adjacent
Presbyterian Hospital, and a few partition walls have been moved, but
the Belk Mansion remains in a very good state of preservation.
C.C. Hook was not Charlotte's first professional architect when he
arrived about 1890, but he was the first to make his entire career in
the city. From the late 1880s through the 1920s Charlotte underwent a
massive boom period that saw it become the center of a new Piedmont
textile manufacturing region, and move from sixth place to first among
Carolina cities. Hook designed many of the growing town's most important
buildings, including the first buildings of Queens College, the
Charlotte City Hall on East Trade Street, and the
Duke Mansion. His most important contribution to the Piedmont was
his introduction in 1894 of a new architectural style then gaining
popularity in the Northeast -- the Colonial Revival. Hook believed
firmly in its relative simplicity and the elegance it derived from its
roots in ancient Greece and Rome. He wrote:
The true classic style of architecture, which at one time
predominated in the South ... is being revived. The most striking
feature of the house will be its simplicity of design and convenience
of arrangement. The so-called "filigree" ornamentation will not be a
consideration, and only the true design will be carried out and thus
give Charlotte another new style ....
Most of Hook's Colonial Revival dwellings shared similar massing. The
Gautier-Gilchrist House (1896), the
House (1900-1901). and the
Walter Brem House (1902), all in Dilworth, as well as the Z. V.
Taylor House (later expanded as the Duke Mansion) in Myers Park all were
basically two-story rectangular blocks. The main entrance was in the
center of the long side facing the street.
Roofs were usually hipped and featured narrow
dormers. At the rear would be a one-story kitchen ell.
The Belk Mansion is an elegant restatement in brick and stone of this
theme that Hook had been working with, usually in wood, for a quarter of
a century. The basic hip-roofed block is seven bays wide and five bays
deep. It is enlivened on the north side by a two-story gabled bay and a
flat-roofed porte-cochere, and on the south side by a one-story
segmental bay. The rear kitchen ell has a low
mansard-like roof. All roofs are of long-lasting terra cotta tile,
green in color. Four dormers pierce the front roof, with the center pair
joined in such a way as to produce a Palladian effect. The dormers have
projecting gable cornices with returns, pilasters, and round-arched
windows with keystone-like decoration. The four dormer arrangement is
repeated on the rear roof, and there is one dormer on each side roof.
The house's five chimneys are placed on the side and rear roofs to
reduce their visibility from the street.
Below the roof is a wooden modillion cornice. Second-story windows
are rectangular six-over-six-pane double-hung sash units and have no
sill or lintel trim except for a stretcher belt course that extends
around the building at sill level. At the center of the front facade a
three-part window framed by brick pilasters accentuates the main
entrance below. On the rear facade the second-story windows are grouped
more informally than on the front, reflecting the presence of baths and
sleeping-porches inside. At the center of the rear facade is a
full-fledged Palladian window above the back porch.
The first-floor front windows are all actually French doors. The
twelve-pane double units open out onto the front terrace. Each is topped
by a round-arched
fanlight and surrounded by a band of corbelled brick surmounted by a
keystone. The wide entry bay has an elliptical fanlight, twelve-pane
sidelights, and a pair of twelve-pane doors, all surrounded by a band of
corbelled brick. A heavy one-story porch shelters the entrance and the
two flanking French doors. It has heavy brick posts supporting a flat
roof crested by an iron railing. Four
Doric columns add to the decorative effect. The porch floor is
covered with figured green tile and extends out beyond the roofed area
to form a terrace across the entire front facade. The terrace wraps
around the north side under the porte-cochere, which continues the post
and column motif of the main porch. It also wraps around the south side
where it is sheltered by a smaller porch. Both the side porch and the
port-cochere have iron railings that make them useful as second-floor
balconies as well. At the center of the rear facade is a glass-enclosed
back porch which includes a small greenhouse added for Mrs. Belk.
Inside, the house boasted seven bedrooms for the family plus six
baths. The first floor was arranged for entertaining. The spacious stair
and entry hall was crossed by a transverse corridor, dividing the
downstairs into four quadrants. The two across the front of the house
held the living room, entry hall, reception room, and library. These
main public areas were all connected by large sliding doors that could
be thrown open to create one continuous space. The southeast rear
quadrant held the dining room and behind it the kitchen spaces. The
northeast rear quadrant held a pair of bedrooms with a connecting bath.
One comes into the entry hall through a small tile-floored vestibule.
The hall has a wide, simple cornice. Heavy cornices with carved scroll
brackets surmount the doorways to the living room on the left and the
reception room on the right. A chair rail and molded baseboard extend
around the walls of the hall, and the floor is of blond wood with two
inlaid bands of dark wood near the walls. Radiators are set into the
wall on either side of the front door and are covered with iron doors
pierced in a rectilinear motif. Coming through the front door one is
confronted by the horseshoe-shaped grand
stair which rises to a landing beneath the Palladian window at the
rear of the house. The
balusters are of iron with a carved wooden handrail and slender
newel posts. Under the stair landing to the rear of the entry hall
is the play room sheathed in knotty pine paneling. French doors allow it
to be closed off from the entry hall, but when the doors are open there
is an unbroken flow of space from the front door to the back entrance,
located at the rear of the playroom. It is likely that this space was
often left unimpeded, for it provided the visitor a glimpse of the
Belk's rear gardens. The narrower transverse corridor crosses the entry
hall at the base of the stairs. It continues the parquet floor, chair
rail, and cornice of the entry hall.
The northwest quadrant of the first floor, to the left of the entry
hall as one enters, held the living room. It is now the Presbyterian
Hospital uniform salesroom, but the elaborate cornice and the thin
strips of molding applied to the walls to create vertical panels survive
in excellent condition. It is said that the original pink marble
fireplace remains intact behind wallboard at the end of the room. The
southwest quadrant of the downstairs, on the right of the entry hall,
contains the reception room and the library. Both are in good original
condition, especially the library with its dark wood paneling and small
glass-fronted built-in bookcases topped with dentilled cornices.
The southeast quadrant holding the eating and food preparation areas
of the household was the largest, for it extends back into the kitchen
wing. Guests entered the dining room through an archway at the end of
the transverse corridor. The arch has been filled with a glass partition
and a door in recent years, but otherwise the dining room is in
excellent original condition and remains the most ornate room in the
house. The segmental bay on the side of the house means the room is a
more interesting space than the standard rectangular box. A heavy molded
plaster cornice, said to have been imported from Italy, accentuates the
room's shape. The cornice features dentil molding and ornate modillions.
Below it, paired strips of molding break the wall surfaces into panels.
Behind the dining room were a breakfast room, pantry, kitchen, and
porch. This area has been heavily altered in recent years. Most interior
walls have been removed and new ones added to create a corridor of small
offices. Only the tile exterior wall in the old kitchen hints at what
was there. A small service corridor off the dining room does remain
intact. It leads to the tightly turning servants' stair which is hidden
next to the grand stair.
The final downstairs quadrant contains two bedrooms. Each has a wood
and tile mantel, and a coved molded cornice. The bathroom between the
two has its original pedestal sink and high tiled wainscot, though other
early fixtures are gone. A partition has been added in the center of one
bedroom to break it into two office spaces, but this appears not to have
harmed the cornice or the wide molded baseboard.
Upstairs, bedrooms open off a transverse corridor similar to the one
on the first floor. There are five bedrooms and a maid's room. Each pair
of rooms, including the maid's, had a connecting bath in Hook's original
plans. The spacious maid's room is on one's right at the back of the
house as one reaches the top of the grand stair. Next to it, at the
northeast rear corner is bedroom one which features a sleeping porch.
Adjoining it on the front of the house is bedroom two. It has a large
carved mantel of gray-white marble. This is perhaps the most important
piece of stonework in the house, and is a good indication that this was
designed as the master bedroom. Next to it, at the center of the front
facade, is bedroom three. Much like the downstairs living room and
dining room, it has thin strips of molding which break its wall surfaces
into panels. Adjacent to this room is a small sewing room, entered off
the corridor. It has an entire wall of linen storage cabinets and
drawers added after the dwelling's construction at Mrs. Belk's
suggestion. Bedroom four at the southwest corner of the residence rounds
out the front rooms and has its own fireplace. Bedroom five is at the
southeast rear corner. It has its own bathroom done in pink tile with a
laundry chute hidden behind the medicine cabinet. This space is shown as
a closet on Hook's plans, and may have been added some time after the
house was built.
A small service corridor is nestled between bedroom five and the
grand stair. It contains the service stair, closets, and the stairway to
the attic. The attic is a large low-ceiling room with painted
rough-plaster walls. The dormer windows give plenty of natural light,
and small closets line the room under the eaves. One of the closets
holds an immense wooden crate full of spare pieces of plaster molding
from the living room and dining room. The three-part front center dormer
window provides a grand view through the trees toward downtown. Standing
here it is not hard to imagine the time sixty years ago when William
Henry Belk built the finest house on Elizabeth Hill and had it sited so
that he could look out toward his growing department store.
Today Elizabeth Hill has changed greatly. The grassy campus of
Elizabeth College has been replaced with the crowded brick buildings of
Presbyterian Hospital. The Belk grounds have been paved for parking.
Most of the houses that once lined the Elizabeth Avenue trolley line on
its way up the hill from downtown have given way to business buildings.
Yet one can still see some of the grandeur in the Belk Mansion, and in
the nearby St. John's Baptist Church (1925)and the James Staten Mansion
(1912c). All use the same yellow brick and share similar stylistic use
of motifs from ancient Greece and Rome. Each possesses individual
architectural and historic significance, and together they remind us of
those textile boom years when Charlotte became a leading city.