Survey and Research Report
On The William Henry and Elizabeth Bell House
1. Name and location of the property:
The property known
as the W. H. and Elizabeth Bell House is located at 3513 Grey Road in Mecklenburg County,
2. Name, address, and telephone number of the present owner of the
The present owner of the property is:
Five Bells, LLC
304 Ponderosa Circle
Mooresville, NC 28117-5501
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. The U.T.M. of the
|The Bell property at an elevation of
The road bordering at the north is Grey Road/State Highway 2418.
|The Bell property at an elevation of
The house is located to the north of the map.
|The Bell property at an elevation of
The blue line represents the boundary of the property.
5. Current Deed Book Reference to the property: The most recent deed
to this property is listed in Mecklenburg County Deed Book 9649 at page 798. The
Tax Parcel Number of the property is: 003-331-01.
6. A brief historical sketch of the property: This report contains a
brief historical sketch of the property.
7. A brief architectural description of the property: This report
contains an architectural description of the property.
8. Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets the criteria
set forth in N.C.G.S. 160A-399.4:
1. The Bell House and its associated
outbuildings are rare survivors of the rural built environment that once
dominated this section of Mecklenburg County.
2. The Bell House, despite having undergone one major
physical alteration, is an especially well preserved example of a vernacular
Folk Victorian farmhouse.
3. The acreage and setting of the Bell House constitutes a
once-prevalent rural landscape within this section of Mecklenburg County.
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 which becomes a designated
historic landmark. The total appraised value of the Bell House and
property is $1,585,100.00. The property is zoned R3.
Date of Preparation of this Report: December 20, 2005.
Prepared by: Dr. Dan L. Morrill
Summary of Historical Significance
The William Henry and Elizabeth Bell House has special historic
significance for the following reasons. First, the William Henry and Elizabeth Bell House
and its associated outbuildings are a rare survivor of the rural built
environment that once dominated this section of Mecklenburg County.
Second, the acreage and setting of the house constitute a rural landscape once
prevalent but fast disappearing from this section of Mecklenburg County.
Third, the William Henry and Elizabeth Bell House is an especially well preserved example of a vernacular
Folk Victorian farmhouse.
Historical Context Statement
The William Henry and Elizabeth Bell House illustrates the sustained prosperity that
characterized farming in Mecklenburg County in the decades following the Civil
War and continuing into the 1920s.1 In 1860, Mecklenburg County had 1182
farms. The number had grown to 2645 by 1880 and to 4190 by 1900.
The principal cash crops were corn, wheat, and cotton. This economic
expansion resulted from three fundamental factors. First, ante-bellum
Mecklenburg County had few large plantations and was made up mostly of farms
averaging about 100 acres. This circumstance meant that most local
agriculturalist had relatively limited investments in slave labor and could,
therefore, recover relatively easily from the emancipation of their bondspeople.
Second, the size of marketable cotton crops in Mecklenburg County and throughout
the South increased substantially with the introduction of Peruvian guano as
fertilizer. Between 1860 and 1880, cotton production in Mecklenburg county
rose from 6,112 bales to 19,129 bales. Third, and most importantly,
Mecklenburg County and its environs emerged as a major center of textile
manufacturing in the second half of the nineteenth century.2
Charlotte took advantage of its strategic location on the railroads of the
Piedmont and became the home of several cotton mills between 1880 and 1910,
including the Charlotte Cotton Mills in 1881, the Alpha, Ada, and Victor Cotton
Mills in 1889, the Highland Park Manufacturing Plant in 1891, and the
Atherton Cotton Mill in 1893. Cotton mills also appeared in the outlying
towns of northern Mecklenburg County, including Davidson, where the Linden
Cotton Factory opened in 1890 and the Delburg Cotton Mill began operations in
1908. Cornelius got the Cornelius Cotton Mills in 1888 and the
Gem Yarn Mills in 1907. The Anchor Mills started up in Huntersville in 1898.3
The W. H. and Elizabeth Bell House
William Henry Bell and his wife Elizabeth demonstrated their
success in farming by occupying a two-story frame Folk Victorian style
farmhouse near the turn of the last century at the top of a hill on Grey Road.4 Although modest
by today's standards, the house and its outbuildings formed the centerpiece
of a farmstead that was more or less typical of successful Mecklenburg farmers
of the early twentieth century. The family most likely superintended tenant
farmers who hauled their cash crops,
including cotton, to Davidson, Cornelius, or Huntersville, where they would have
been either locally consumed or shipped by rail to regional markets. The
earliest photograph of the William Henry and Elizabeth Bell House includes the family
with one child sitting atop a mule. Clearly, the Bells were prospering.
The earliest known photograph of the William Henry and
Elizabeth Bell House
William Henry Bell and Elizabeth Bell and their five
children gather for a family photograph in the early twentieth century.
An early twentieth century photograph of the Bell family
reveals that William Henry Bell and Elizabeth Bell were people of some
economic means. The mother, father, and children are bedecked in
formal clothes. Also indicative of Bell's economic standing was their
ability to make a major addition to their house, most likely in the second
decade of the twentieth century. The Bells were not alone. The
production of cotton in Mecklenburg County reached 27, 466 bales in 1910
-- its apogee. The resulting prosperity impacted the built environment, as
farmers like the Bells constructed new or expanded existing houses.5
Other examples in northern Mecklenburg County of Folk Victorian farmhouses
include the Ewart House, the S. W. Davis House, and the Cashion House
S. W. Davis House
Cashion House (destroyed)
Notice the large addition to the rear
of the Cashion House
This August 2005 photograph shows the major
modification to the Bell House that was made about 1913. A
large, gable-roofed rear addition was completed and became
essentially the new front of the house. The original front
porch was removed, and a new porch was built on the new front.
Agriculture began to decline in importance
in Mecklenburg County in the 1920s partly because new mechanized equipment
increasingly replaced such traditional methods of cultivation and production as
the use of mules, plows, hoes, and the tenant system. Farmers, such as the
Bells, did not have sufficient financial resources to acquire expensive, new
equipment -- acquisitions that became even more essential after the arrival of
the boll weevil, also in the 1920s. The final blow for many middle class farmers
came with the New Deal of the 1930s. The Agricultural Adjustment Agency of
Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal encouraged farmers to reduce farm acreage and
livestock production. One consequence of this Federal initiative was to
drive small farmers and sharecroppers from the land.6
This photograph was taken in recent years of two of
W. H. and Elizabeth Bell's daughters. It is interesting to compare
the clothes worn by these women with those worn by family members in the
earlier family portrait.
The William Henry and Elizabeth Bell House consists
of two principal parts -- the original block of the house facing north and a
large rear el. The hipped-roofed original block of the house is a two-story frame Folk
Victorian style farmhouse three bays wide and one bay deep that rests upon brick
piers with later infill. A one-story front porch has been removed, but the
original block does retain its 4/4 double hung sash windows. A gable
with patterned siding and and vent is atop the center of the original front
facade which still has its original entry door. The eaves of the original
block of the house are unembellished.
The rear el is a one-story frame structure
with a gable roof. A hipped roof porch with wooden columns extends from
the front of the original block of the house to the far end of the eastern side
of the real el. Exposed rafters extend above the fascia of the
porch, and a low-pitched gable is above the new front entrance. A brick chimney
with a corbeled cap is at the rear of the original block of the house, and a
more modest brick chimney extends through the roof of the rear el.
The interior appointments of the William Henry and Elizabeth Bell
House are modest but largely unchanged from the original. Flush board walls, beaded ceilings, and exposed
light bulbs predominate. The stairway leading from the first to the second
floor of the main block of the house is narrow with simple, unturned pickets
in the balustrade and a broad, flat handrail.
1. Some of the information in this report is taken selectively
from Matt Williams, "Bell House," December 16, 2005 (http://www.dancourse.org/).
The reader should be cautioned that some of the data in Williams's
report is incomplete or inaccurate.
2. Lara Ramsey, "Survey and Research Report on the
J. Leonard Cashion Farm," August 10, 2004 (http://landmarkscommission.org/surveys&rcashion.htm).
3. Richard L. Mattson, "Historic Landscapes of
Mecklenburg County: The Small Towns," July 1991 (Charlotte).
Dan L. Morrill, "A Survey Of Cotton Mills In Charlotte and Mecklenburg
County For the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission,"
July 1997 (http://landmarkscommission.org/surveytextilesurvey.htm).
Stewart Gray and Dr. Paula Stathakis, "Survey and Research Report on the
Davidson Cotton Mill, February 2004(http://landmarkscommission.org/surveys&rDavidsonCotton.htm).
5. Sherry J. Joines and Dr. Dan L. Morrill, "Historic
Rural Resources in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina," n.d. (http://landmarkscommission.org/surveyruralcontext.htm).
6. Joines and Morrill.