Survey and Research
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
2. Name, address, and telephone number of the current owner of
James N. Bartl and Dawn A. Blobaum
P.O. Box 1306
Davidson, N.C. 28036
3. Representative photographs of the
property: This report contains representative photographs of the
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
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,
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
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
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
||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
305 North Main Street
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.9 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"
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
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."