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Report On The James and Elizabeth Purcell House (1956)


1.      Name and location of the property:  The property known as the James and Elizabeth Purcell House is located at 206 Lorimer Road in Davidson, N.C. 

2.      Name, address, and telephone number of the current owner of the property:

James N. Bartl and Dawn A. Blobaum

P.O. Box 1306

Davidson, N.C. 28036

Telephone: 704-987-8955

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.   The U.T.M. coordinates for the property are: 17 513903.1E/173928255.6 N

5.      Current Deed Book Reference to the property:   The current deed reference is book 11988, page 189. The most recent deed to the property is located in Mecklenburg County Deed Book #11988, page 189.  The tax parcel number of the property is 007-013-05. 

6.      A brief historical sketch of the property:  This report contains a brief historical sketch of the property prepared by Dr. Dan L. Morrill. 

7.      A brief architectural description of the property:  This report contains a brief architectural description prepared by Stewart Gray. 

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 James and Elizabeth Purcell House possesses special significance in terms of the built environment of Davidson, N.C. The Commission bases its judgment on the following considerations: 

1) The James and Elizabeth Purcell House is an essentially uncompromised example of mid-twentieth modern architecture in Davidson, N.C.

2)  The James and Elizabeth Purcell House was the home of James Slicer Purcell, III, a faculty member of note at Davidson College.

3) The James and Elizabeth Purcell House was designed by the Charlotte architectural firm formed by Harold L. Cooler and Marshall McDowell, which specialized in modern style buildings.

b.   Integrity of design, setting, workmanship, materials, feeling and/or association: The Commission contends that the architectural description prepared by Stewart Gray demonstrates that the James and Elizabeth Purcell 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 all or any portion of the property which becomes a "historic landmark."  The current appraised value of the building is $153,200.  The current appraised value of the  land is $65,000.  The total appraised value is $218,700.  The property is zoned VIP (Village Infill Planning Area).

Date of Preparation of this Report: May 15, 2009

A Brief Historical Sketch Of The James and Elizabeth Purcell House

The James and Elizabeth Purcell House, designed by the Charlotte architectural partnership formed by Harold L. Cooler and Marshall McDowell, has special significance within the context of the built environment of Davidson, N.C.1  Constructed in 1956, the house was originally the home of James Slicer Purcell III (1912-1980) and his wife Elizabeth Wade Bradley Purcell (1920-2008).2  A native of Florence, Mississippi and recipient of a Ph.D. from Duke University, James Purcell joined the faculty of Davidson College in 1947 and taught in the English Department until his retirement thirty years later and was Department Chairman for part of that period.3  Davidson College issued a statement remembering James Purcell as a "gracious and erudite man"  who was "truly a gentleman and a scholar."4   Elizabeth Purcell established a reputation as a "gracious hostess" who "presided with warmth and good humor over many occasions when family, friends, and college guests gathered around her table, making all feel at home."5 

Plaque On The House

The claim for special significance for  the James and Elizabeth Purcell House rests primarily upon its architecture, not upon the noteworthy accomplishments of its initial owners.  The great majority of the notable structures located in Davidson, N.C. are Classical or vernacular in style -- hardly surprising since the town owes its origins to the founding of Davidson College in 1835.  Until 1874, when railroad service arrived, Davidson was a relatively isolated college town; and its most imposing buildings, which belonged almost exclusively to the college, established the dominant design vocabulary for the town's man-made environment. The most significant extant college structures from this era are Oak Row and Elm Row (1837),  Eumenean Hall (1849),  and Philanthropic Hall (1850).  All exhibit the essential qualities of Classical Revivalism.  This penchant for traditional design persisted into the twentieth century.  In 1929, Dr. Frasier Hood, head of the Psychology Department, built a large Colonial Revival style home at 829 Concord Road.  A year earlier Davidson College opened Jackson Court, a collection of Colonial Revival style cottages designed by Charlotte  architect Martin E. Boyer, Jr., as meeting places for fraternities.   The Davidson Colored School, a W.P.A. project, also a traditional design, opened in 1938.6

Philanthropic Hall, Davidson, N.C.

Hood House Example of Jackson Court Cottage

Davidson Colored School

The late 1800s and early 1900s saw the appearance in Davidson of a substantial number of large frame houses primarily used to board students and mostly to serve them meals, since there was no cafeteria at Davidson College until 1946.  Essentially vernacular in style, these domiciles possessed architectural elements from a variety of design motifs popular in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including Queen Anne, Eastlake, and Four Square.  Striking extant examples of this type of dwelling are the Holt-Henderson-Copeland House and the Martin-Henderson House.7

Holt-Henderson-Copeland House.  

                  305 North Main Street

Martin-Henderson House.

310 Concord Road

Davidson had a dearth of modern style houses until the 1950s.  That situation changed when Davidson College surveyed a tract of land it had bought south of the campus and began laying out streets and selling lots to members of the faculty.  James and  Elizabeth Purcell acquired their home site at the corner of Lorimer Road and Hillside Drive in January 1956.8    According to his wife, Purcell had become enamored with contemporary architecture while teaching in Florida. Purcell had been a visiting professor at Florida Southern College in Lakeland Florida, a campus filled with modernist buildings.  One can infer that it was there that he had acquired a liking for what his wife called "flat roof" buildings.10 

Building at Florida Southern College

James and Elizabeth Purcell hired Charlotte architects Harold L. Cooler and Marshall McDowell to prepare plans for their new home in Davidson with Cooler taking the lead.    Graduating from Clemson College, now Clemson University, in 1943, Cooler, a South Carolina native, came to Charlotte and eventually partnered with McDowell and became a proponent and practitioner of modern design.  Among the notable extant homes he designed in Charlotte are the William Little House at 2301 Red Fox Trail and the Holbrook House at 4141 Arbor Way.11 

4141   ARBORWAY   CHARLOTTE -  Single-Fam - RES

Holbrook House, Charlotte, N.C.

Little House, Charlotte, N.C.

There are other Modernist style homes in the immediate vicinity of the James and Elizabeth Purcell House, most notably the residences at  102 Hillside Dr. and 103 Hillside Dr.  However, in terms of its overall setting on a corner lot and its flat roof design, the Purcell House, excluding the modified interior, is a purer example of modernism.    Also, one should not dismiss the role the Purcell House played in the professional career of its original owner.  Davidson College has a long tradition of encouraging students to visit in the homes of their professors.  Consequently, Purcell, who specialized in teaching Southern Literature, welcomed "would-be-writers out of the cold, hearing them read works that even they knew to be puerile fumblings, finding something  -- if only a phrase -- to praise, and sending them out again just a little bit warmer and a lot better for having been there and for having known him." 12


102 Hillside Dr.

103 Hillside Dr.




1.  Jason Nichols, "Survey and Research Report on the James and Elizabeth B Purcell House (1956)" http://landmarkscommission,org/surveysrpurcellhouse.htm.  Hereinafter cited as Nichols.

2.  Charlotte Observer, June 16, 1980; November 23, 2008.

3.  Charlotte Observer, June 16, 1980.

4.  "James Slicer Purcell, Jr. (1912-1980).  A manuscript held in the Davidson College Archives.  Hereinafter cited as Testimonial.  Purcell's death certificate lists his name as "James Slicer Purcell, III." See Mecklenburg County Death Certificate No. 1980001641.

5.  Charlotte Observer,  November 23, 2008.

6.  Jennifer Payne, "The Evolution of the Built Environment of Davidson, N.C.  Hereinafter cited as Payne.

7.  Payne.

8.  Mecklenburg County Deed Book 1831, Page 501.

9.  Nichols.

10.  Charlotte Observer, June 16, 1980.

11.  Nichols

12.  Testimonial.