Survey and Research Report
This report was written on September 1, 2000
1. Name and location of the property:
The property known as the Erwin-Oehler House is located at 14401
Huntersville-Concord Road, Huntersville, N.C. 28078.
2. Name, address, and telephone number of the current owner of
Frances Ferrell Rogers
P.O. Box 236
Huntersville, N.C. 28078
Telephone: (704) 875-6953
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 maps depicting the location of the property.
5. Current Deed Book Reference to the property: The most
recent deed to the property is located in Mecklenburg County Deed Book
#1140, page 245. The tax parcel number to the property is 019-401-02.
6. A brief historical sketch of the property: This report
contains a brief historical sketch of the property prepared by Emily D.
7. A brief architectural description of the property: This
report contains a brief architectural description prepared by Emily D.
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:
a. Special significance in terms of its history, architecture
and/or cultural importance:
The Commission judges that the property known as the Erwin-Oehler House possesses special significance in terms of
Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases its judgment on the following
1) The Erwin-Oehler House is a tangible reminder of
the agricultural economy that shaped life in largely rural
nineteenth-century Mecklenburg County.
2) The Oehler family figured prominently in the social and religious
activities around the Ramah community in northeast Mecklenburg County.
3) The Erwin-Oehler House is a rare example of
farmhouse architecture in Mecklenburg County, and reflects the melding of
European building practices with local and regional vernacular
4) The Erwin-Oehler House retains its pastoral
setting, recalling the rural landscape of pre-twentieth century
b. Integrity of design, setting, workmanship, materials,
feeling and/or association:
The Commission contends that the architectural description prepared by
Emily D. Ramsey demonstrates that the Erwin-Oehler House meets this criterion.
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 tall or any portion of the property which becomes
a "historic landmark." The current appraised value of the house is
413,390. The current appraised value of the 140.47 acres of land is
$709,030. The property is zoned OPS.
Date of Preparation of this Report: September 1, 2000
Prepared by: Emily D. Ramsey
745 Georgia Trail
Lincolnton, NC 28092
Statement of Significance
The Erwin-Oehler House is a structure that possesses
local historic significance because it is a tangible reminder of the
agricultural economy that shaped life in largely rural nineteenth-century
Mecklenburg County and because of its association with the Oehler family,
which figured prominently in the social, religious, and business activities
of the Ramah Community of northwest Mecklenburg County. The mid-nineteenth
century saw the beginning of a period of rapid development and growth in
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County that would continually progress well into
the twentieth century. Although the vast majority of Charlotte-Mecklenburg
was still rural, Charlotte's economic, commercial and physical growth in the
decades leading up to the Civil War created new opportunities and advantages
for the area's farmers and helped to attract farmers relocating from
northern states and from abroad.
One such farmer was George Martin Oehler, who, along with many of his
relatives, emigrated from Germany to northern Mecklenburg County in the
early 1840s. Oehler married a native of Mecklenburg and settled in the
Ramah community in the northwestern section of the county. In 1852, he
purchased 250 acres from Caleb Erwin and built an impressive and unusual
farmhouse on the property for his growing family.1 There, the
Oehler family farmed the land and became important figures within the social
and religious spheres of the Ramah Community. George Oehler became an elder
Ramah Presbyterian Church in 1856 and remained a prominent member of the
congregation until the Civil War, when he was asked to leave because of his
"Northern sympathies." George Oehler's youngest son, James Cornelius Oehler,
would continue the family's dedication to the church by attending Princeton
Theological School and becoming a Presbyterian minister.2
The Erwin-Oehler House is also significant architecturally
for its unusual blending of German building practices and regional
vernacular building styles. The two-story, three-bay-wide and one-bay-deep
"I-house" plan, was one of the most popular forms for rural residents
and farmers throughout the nineteenth century. The Erwin-Oehler House is a rare
example of this common form; while the vast majority of I-houses in
Mecklenburg County (and throughout the state) were
wood frame construction covered with wooded clapboards, the Erwin-Oehler
is a heavy, almost spartan brick structure and the only known brick I-house
in the county. Although the house itself is unusual, the land that
surrounds the Erwin-Oehler House reflects the rural landscape as it was on
countless farms in and around Charlotte- Mecklenburg. While many
nineteenth-century farm complexes have been stripped of their original rural
surroundings by encroaching suburban development and subdivisions, the
Erwin-Oehler House, encircled by pristine fields, woodlands, and streams, retains
its rural, agricultural setting.
During the decades leading up to the Civil War,
Charlotte-Mecklenburg entered the beginnings of a prolonged period of growth
and prosperity that would continue, in one form or another, until the Great
Depression well into the twentieth century. The discovery of gold in the
area in 1799, which resulted in construction of a branch of the
U.S. Mint near the center of Charlotte, along with the arrival of the
Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad (one of the first railroads in western
North Carolina) in 1852, which prompted the completion of four railroads
through Charlotte by the time of the Civil War, all helped to make
Charlotte-Mecklenburg a main trading and distribution center by the
mid-1800s, in addition to its already solid reputation as a leading
agricultural center.3 Farmers nearby now had easy access to
railroads and, consequently, to an expansive trading network for cotton, the
county's leading cash crop since the invention of the cotton gin in 1793,
and other cash crops such as corn and wheat.
These new developments, coupled with Charlotte-Mecklenburg's strong and
agriculturally diverse economy, made the area an attractive location for
farmers relocating from northern states and from abroad.4 In the
mid-nineteenth century, a large group of at least six related Oehler
families, descended from Johann Georg Oehler and Maria Magdalena Leonhardt
of Wuerttenberg, Germany, immigrated to the United States and settled in
northern Mecklenburg County and southern Cabarras County.5
George Martin Oehler was among them, and he wasted no time putting down
roots in his new country. By the early 1850s, George Oehler was married to
Mecklenburg native Elizabeth B. Thomasson and was the father of seven young
children.6 Since church affiliation formed the center of
community life in nineteenth-century Mecklenburg, George and Elizabeth
Oehler became active members of Ramah Presbyterian Church, which in turn
helped establish the Oehler family in the small, closely-knit Ramah
community in northeast Mecklenburg County.
In 1852, George Oehler purchased a large parcel of land (around 250
acres) from Caleb Erwin, a wealthy planter and well known public figure in
Mecklenburg County who owned almost 800 acres in Ramah near Clarks Creek.7
Although there has been some debate as to whether the house was built by the
Erwin family in the early 1800s and sold to George Oehler in the1852
transaction, or built by George Oehler after he bought the property, no
evidence exists to suggest that the house predates George Oehler's purchase
of the property. Furthermore, architectural features of the house examined
in a 1988-1989 survey suggest a mid-nineteenth century construction date;
this information, coupled with the unusual use of brick for the otherwise
simple farmhouse, indicates that George Oehler was most likely the builder
of the house.8
After completing the two-story, one-pile farmhouse, George Oehler began
farming his land, eventually cultivating over ninety of the two hundred and
fifty acres he owned. The Oehlers grew corn, wheat, oats and some cotton as
primary cash crops, in addition to a variety of vegetables produced in the
family's kitchen garden. The family also raised swine for slaughter, cows
for milk, cheese and butter, and sheep for wool and meat.9
The Oehlers, like most farming families in Mecklenburg County, did not
own slaves before or during the Civil War, although they did employ two
teenage boys, Martin and John, as farm hands and one young female laborer,
Elizabeth, to help Elizabeth Oehler and her daughters with household chores
and gardening. Martin, John and Elizabeth lived on the farm with the Oehler
Although George Oehler adjusted well to his life in the United States and
in the South, his views on slavery clashed with those held by the majority
of southern farmers, and these differing views created tension and division
within the Ramah community when the Civil War broke out. The Oehlers had
never owned African-American slaves, and family stories depict George Oehler
as a man staunchly opposed to the system of slavery that had created the
wealthy plantation economy in the South. These beliefs, even in an area
where most farmers did not own slaves, were extremely controversial.
According to Ramah Presbyterian Church history, George Oehler, along with
his sons, James and Milas, and his son-in-law, Thomas Brewer, divided the
congregation and aggravated tensions and dissention in the church when they
attempted to bring in a Northern Presbyterian minister, Reverend McFarland,
to preach to the Ramah Presbyterian congregation in 1866.11 Still
smarting from the recent defeat of the Confederacy, the people of Ramah
Presbyterian Church were determined to keep northerners, and all those with
northern sympathies, out of their congregation. What had begun as a heated
debate reached a surprising climax when McFarland attempted to enter the
church to preach. Several of his more vehement opponents locked the church
doors, and Thomas Brewer, whom most of the church members assumed was acting
on George Oehler's orders, responded by "jump[ing] through the window and
open[ing] the door of the church by violence." The congregation reacted
swiftly; on April 7, 1866, the elders of the church voted to suspend George
Oehler, "whose sympathies were entirely with the north from the church and
from his office as elder."12
Despite his suspension from the church, which no doubt
damaged his standing within the Ramah Community, George Oehler, his wife and
his children stayed in the community and continued life on their farm.
Eventually, the family was welcomed back to Ramah Presbyterian Church, where
George and Elizabeth Oehler worshipped until their deaths.13
George Oehler's death in 1871 left his wife, Elizabeth, with full
ownership of the farm. She and her son, Milas, ran the farm with the help
of tenants and farmhands, and after Elizabeth Oehler died in 1883, Milas
took over ownership of the farm and a majority of the land.14
Although Milas continued to farm his father's property after his mother's
death, living in the house with his wife, Susan Morrison Oehler, their five
children and several relatives, his interest in farming dwindled as his
interest in gold increased, until finally, in the early 1920s, Milas (then
in his sixties) abandoned the farm in Mecklenburg County and headed west to
look for gold.15 Other members of the Oehler family drifted into
and out of the Erwin-Oehler House, until Milas returned briefly in 1926 to
mortgage his family homestead to a man named Wash Davis. The property,
including the house and approximately 160 acres, was sold in 1945 to
Sherrill and Georgia Ferrell of Guilford County for $5,500.00.16
The family lived in the house until Sherrill's death in 1985. The property
is presently owned by Ferrell's daughter, Frances Ferrell Rogers, and was
occupied by her son, David Rogers, until 1999.17 Now vacant, the
house remains an excellent example of a nineteenth century farmhouse, and a
visible reminder of the prosperous agricultural economy that existed in
Mecklenburg County before, during, and after the Civil War.
Mecklenburg County was, like most areas in North Carolina,
primarily a county of small farmers until well into the twentieth century.
As a result, most of the rural dwellings built in Charlotte-Mecklenburg
during the 1800s tended to be modest farmhouses. By far the most popular
and widespread vernacular architectural form in Mecklenburg was the simple
"I-house" a two-story, three-bays-wide by one-bay-deep rectangular
structure, often with a front porch and detached kitchen in the rear (many
were later attached to become rear kitchen ells). The interior was a
straightforward, practical plan, most often consisting of a central hall
flanked on each side by a single room. Although Mecklenburg farmers were
not entirely ignorant of national architectural trends, particularly after
the arrival of the railroad in 1852, only a select few had the time or the
means to erect elaborate structures. Often, details of a particularly
popular architectural style would be modified and simply integrated or
"attached" to the basic I-house form. In this way, well-to-do farmers in
the first half of the 1800s could use restrained Federal ornamentation or
grand Greek Revival elements to reflect their status in the community. Only
a few decades later, the mechanization of building practices and the
widening network of railroads allowed even modest farmers the opportunity to
transform their simple dwellings into elaborate Victorian structures, with
the addition of mass-produced spindles, sawnwork, and vergeboards which
could be tacked onto the exterior of any building. Despite this continual
changing of surface details, the I-house remained the most popular house
form in Mecklenburg County until well into the twentieth century. Even
today, a person driving through rural portions of Mecklenburg and
surrounding counties might typically encounter dozens of clapboard-covered
When George Oehler arrived in Mecklenburg County in 1842, he
was no doubt influenced by the vernacular architecture of the area,
particularly the ubiquitous I-house. When he bought land on which to erect
his house in the Ramah community in 1852, Oehler planned a house that fit
perfectly into the rural built environment, but which also reflected
European architectural influences. The Erwin-Oehler House is undoubtedly an
I-house form (a rectangular, two-story, one-pile structure) but several
features make the house distinctive - a unique version of a rather common
house type. Oehler's use of brick in place of the usual wooden clapboards
reflects a European predilection for brick and stone structures according
to Virginia and Lee McAlister, authors of A Field Guide to American
Houses, although structures with masonry load bearing walls were the
minority in America, they were most often constructed by European immigrants
who wished to continue the tradition of their homelands, where wood was
scarce and brick was considered a superior building material.19
The walls of the Erwin-Oehler House, several feet thick in places, are unusual
features on a relatively small farmstead. Oehler's decision to build a
basement kitchen instead of a detached kitchen also diverged from popular
local building practices. Basements required more time and labor than a
simple frame outbuilding, and though small root or storm cellars were common
in Mecklenburg farmhouses, a large kitchen basement like the one beneath the
Erwin-Oehler House, complete with brick floor and two large cooking fireplaces,
was an unusually elaborate element in a simple farmhouse.
original portion of the Erwin-Oehler Houseis a two-story, side
gable, rectangular brick structure done in
common bond, three-bays-wide by one-bay deep with regular fenestration
and two brick end chimneys. Several family stories debate the origin of the
brick used for the house one story contends that the brick was shipped
from England to Charleston and brought up to the homesite by a wagon train
led by slaves; another contends that the bricks were made on site.20
Although brick was commonly brought from Charleston to areas inland, and
particularly to Charlotte, it was most often a type of brick called "pressed
brick," made and shipped to Charleston from Philadelphia. North Carolina
produced mainly common brick, both in commercial brickyards and small,
on-site productions.21 The foundation is constructed of large
slabs of granite, encasing a full kitchen basement beneath the house.
Granite was also used for the sill of the houses windows, which contain
wooden muntins and frames, many held together with wooden pegs and
apparently original to the house. Oehler family history claims
that, originally, two large porches flanked the front and back elevations of
the house. The present porch is not original, and was most likely
constructed in the 1940s by Sherrill Ferrell, who also constructed the
wooden addition on the southeast side of the house, which contained a more
modern kitchen, bathroom and family room.22 Another major
addition was added earlier to the rear of the house, quite possibly as a
kitchen ell to replace the original basement kitchen, which may have proven
impractical for the household. The wooden ell is in a state of great
disrepair and has fallen away from the original house.
Although the house itself has suffered from neglect and
interior alterations, it remains an excellent and uncommon example of a
nineteenth-century farmhouse. Moreover, the rural and agricultural context
of the house have remained virtually intact. The house is currently
surrounded by over 140 acres of undeveloped, undisturbed land. From the
house, one can look out onto an uninterrupted view of fields and woodlands,
and it is easy to imagine what life on this farm (and in rural Mecklenburg
County in general) might have been like almost 150 years ago.
1 Auswanderungsakten, 1806-1888, Brackenheim (Wuerttemburg)
Oberamt (microfilm): record of application for permission to
emigrate. Marriage bond for George Martin Oehler and Elizabeth B. Thomasson,
5 January 1841, Mecklenburg County, NC.
2 Ramah Presbyterian Church Records. George and Elizabeth's
children were all baptized at the church.
3 Thomas Hanchett, "The
Growth of Charlotte: A History" (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic
Landmarks Commission, 1985).
4 Sherry J. Joines and Dr. Dan L. Morrill, "Historic
Rural Resources in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina"
(Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, 1997). An 1850 North
Carolina agricultural analysis listed Mecklenburg County third in the state
in cotton production, fourth in butter production, eleventh in corn
production and twelfth in wheat production.
5 Letter from Marilyn Brown to Emily Ramsey, dated 20 August
2000. These six Oehler families settled around the Mecklenburg/Cabarras
County line and joined Presbyterian congregations in Ramah, Mallard Creek
and Poplar Tent.
6 Marriage Bond for George Martin Oehler and Elizabeth B.
Thomasson, 5 January 1851, Mecklenburg County, NC. Eighth Census of the
United States: Population Schedule, Mecklenburg County (1860).
7 Interview with JoAnne Brown Miller, August 2000, hereafter
cited as "Miller Interview." Seventh Census of the Unites States;
Population and Agricultural Schedules, Mecklenburg County (1860). Erwin,
in addition to serving two terms in the North Carolina State Legislature,
was also a Deputy Sheriff, a Justice of the Peace, and an Elder at Ramah
8 Joines and Morrill,
www.cmhpf.org . The Survey contends that "inspection of the property
suggests the house might date from the 1860s or 1870s."
9 Eighth Census of the United States: Agricultural
Schedule, Mecklenburg County (1860).
10 Eighth Census of the United States: Population
Schedule, Mecklenburg County (1860).
11 Miller Interview. Letter to Dr. Robert D. Billinger from
Marilyn Brown, dated August 17, 2000.
12 Nell Bradford Jenkins. They Would Call It Ramah Grove:
A History of Ramah Presbyterian Church (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public
Library Main Branch, Robinson Spangler Carolina Room, 1999), p.14.
13 Ibid, p. 283-284. George Oehler (who died in 1871) and
Elizabeth Oehler (who died in 1883), along with a number of their children
and descendents, are buried in the Ramah Presbyterian Church cemetery.
14 Will of George Oehler, Mecklenburg County, N.C., probated
15 Miller Interview.
16 Mecklenburg County Deed Book #692 (Mecklenburg County
Register of Deeds, Charlotte, N.C.), page 176. Mecklenburg County Deed Book
#1140 (Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds, Charlotte, N.C.), page 245.
17 Interview with Frances Rogers, September 2000, hereafter
cited as "Rogers Interview."
18 Catherine W. Bisher, Charlotte V. Brown, Carl R. Lounsbury
and Ernest H. Wood III, Architects and Builders in North Carolina: A
History of the Practice of Building (The University of North Carolina
Press, 1990) p.193. Joines and Morrill, www.cmhpf.org .
19 Virginia and Lee McAlester, A Field Guide to American
Houses (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc, 1984) p. 89-90.
20 Miller Interview. Rogers Interview.
21 Bisher, et. al, p.235-236.
22 Miller Interview.
Special Note: Subsequent to the preparation of this report, the Commission received an
email on November 4, 2009, from Linda Long, a descendant of Caleb Erwin:
I am writing
concerning the George & Elizabeth Oehler House. I am a direct descendant of
Caleb Erwin. I recently received a box of photos that was in my mother's
attic. In is a photo from early 1900's of a house. On the back it says,
"Great, great grandfather Erwin built is still standing. N.C." I'm
attaching a copy of the front and back of the photo. According to what I've
read there has been a debate over whether the Oehler house was built by
Caleb or by Oehler's and that no evidence exists to support that Caleb built
it but that he just sold the land to the Ohelers. My picture appears to be
the same house and apparently it was believed at the time of the picture
that the house was built by Caleb. I just thought someone might be
interested in this information.
This information proves that the house was built by Caleb Erwin, not
George and Elizabeth Oehler. Hence, the name of the house should be
changed to the Erwin-Oehler House.