SURVEY AND RESEARCH REPORT
The Ralph Johnson House
1. Name and location of the
property: The property known as the Ralph Johnson House is located at
115 Mock Circle, Davidson, North Carolina.
2. Name and address of the
present owner of the house is:
Floyd D. and Jacklyn B. Ross
P.O. Box 293
121 Mock Circle
Davidson, N.C. 28036
Name and address of the present
owner of the land upon which the house is situated is:
The Davidson Housing Coalition,
P.O. Box 854
220 Sloan St.
Davidson, N.C. 28036
3. Representative photographs of
the property: This report contains representative photographs of the
4. Maps depicting the location of
the property: This report contains a map depicting the
location of the property. The U.T.M. coordinates of the property are
17 513307E 3928499N.
5. Current deed book and tax parcel information for
the property: The most recent deed to this
property is recorded in Mecklenburg County Deed Book 16219 on page 738
(deed for house) and Book 16219 on page 759 (lease of land upon which
house is located). The Tax Parcel Number of the house is 0032407B (the
land has a separate Tax Parcel Number 0032407A).
6. A brief historical sketch of
the property: This report contains a brief historical sketch of the
7. A brief architectural
description of the property: This report contains a brief
architectural description of the property.
8. Documentation of why and in
what ways the property meets 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 Ralph Johnson House
does possess special significance in terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
The Commission bases its judgment on the following considerations:
(1) The Ralph Johnson House,
originally built by Otho (“Tobe”) Johnson in 1924, was the home of his
nephew, and longest-lasting resident, Ralph W. Johnson. Johnson was
one of the most successful African-American businessmen in Davidson
throughout the twentieth century and continues to be a benefactor to
the town of Davidson and to Davidson College.
(2) The Ralph Johnson House
features Eclectic architectural elements, primarily those of the
Craftsman Bungalow style that were popular during the early twentieth
(3) The Ralph Johnson House,
located approximately one-half mile from the center of center city Davidson, is
now surrounded by low income and multifamily residential development
on all sides. Despite the home’s altered surroundings, the Ralph Johnson House still
retains the physical integrity of a small town domicile.
b. Integrity of design, setting,
workmanship, materials, feeling and/or association: The Commission
contends that the architectural description which is
included in this report demonstrates that the Ralph Johnson 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 designated "historic
landmark." The current total appraised value of the Ralph Johnson
House is $31,900.00. The current total appraised value of the lot is
Date of preparation of this
report: December 2005
Prepared by: Gwendolyn
L. Gill and edited and revised by Dr. Dan L. Morrill
Summary Statement of Historical
The Ralph Johnson House, a
Craftsman Bungalow style abode built in 1924 and named for its
long-time resident, possesses special historical significance as the
home of one of the most prominent African-American businessmen in
Davidson, North Carolina, who served both nearby Davidson College and the
surrounding farming communities with his barbershop being a fixture on
Main Street from 1921 to 1971. Ralph Johnson also owned several
properties in the African-American section of then-segregated
Davidson, providing housing to families that met standards commonly
only found in the “white” housing of the community. Moreover, Johnson
was a central, albeit unwilling, figure in the events surrounding the
civil rights movement in Davidson. In 2001, Johnson provided the
aforementioned properties – including his long-time residence – to be
transformed into affordable housing for lower income families trying
to live in an increasingly affluent Davidson; and he also established
a scholarship at Davidson College for deserving African-American
students, thus serving both the college and community well into the
Statement of Historical Context
The future town of Davidson
(established, 1879) sprang into existence on April 7, 1836, the same
day the cornerstone of the first building of Davidson College was laid
in a rural area of northern Mecklenburg County, North Carolina,
surrounded by small farming communities.
The first structures and businesses in the town were for the support
of the college.
The railroad came to town in 1871, opening the community to the
outside world, bringing additional businesses to the area and also
making the town a center of commerce for the surrounding farms, which
were primarily cotton growers.
The railroad also encouraged a rise of diversification in the local
built environment by providing affordable and easily accessible modern
manufacturing materials such a pre-cut lumber and mass-produced nails
and bricks. The future of the town remained inextricably linked to
the fortunes of the college, though, until a core group of permanent
non-college affiliated families settled in the town; and, by 1879,
Davidson College, the town, was chartered and existed independent of
Since then, Davidson has existed in two worlds: a small town hosting
a thriving college and supporting the rural community surrounding it.
The recent rapid expansion of suburban sprawl in northern Mecklenburg
County is threatening this rare vestige of an earlier time. In
particular, several long-standing houses and other structures are
especially vulnerable to external development pressures. The Ralph W.
Johnson House, located in what was then the African-American area of
segregated Davidson and which is still predominately African-American,
is one such structure.
The Ralph Johnson House
The Ralph Johnson House was built
by Otho (“Tobe”) Johnson, the uncle of Ralph Walter Johnson. The one
and one-half story residence was purportedly built partially of bricks
salvaged from the (Old) Chambers Building of Davidson College, which
was destroyed by fire in November, 1921.
The house was a symbol of Tobe Johnson’s success as the proprietor of
the first and best known “pressing club” – a precursor to dry cleaning
– in Davidson.
Tobe Johnson, and later his son Odell, borrowed against the property;
and, in 1933, the house came under the ownership of the creditor, J.
R. Withers, a local banker. In 1934, Withers sold the house to Ralph
Johnson, his sister Erving E. Johnson, and their mother, Bessie
Johnson, after their previous house had burned under mysterious
Electricity and plumbing were installed after 1934. The house was
continuously occupied by the Johnsons until 2001, when it was sold to
the Trustees of Davidson College.
The Trustees immediately transferred ownership to the Davidson Housing
Coalition, which sold the house to Floyd G. and Jacklyn B. Ross in
2003. The Davidson Housing Coalition maintains ownership of the land
upon which the house is located and leases the land to the Rosses.
The house is currently unoccupied.
Ralph Johnson’s father, Walter
Johnson, was the best known barber in Davidson before his death in
Ralph Johnson followed his father and opened his barbershop in 1921,
at the age of 16, next to Tobe Johnson’s pressing club.
In 1922, the wooden buildings were demolished to make way for a new
brick building and both the barbershop and the pressing club moved to
a store front farther south on Main Street. In 1924, Frank Knox
completed his brick building, also supposedly using salvaged bricks
from the (Old) Chambers Building, and Ralph Johnson moved into a
downstairs section. Here his barbershop remained until 1966, serving
both the Davidson College community as well as the permanent residents
of Davidson and the surrounding farming communities.
During the 1960s, Johnson had
steadily increased the size of his shop; and, by 1966, he had a total
of seven barbers (all African-American) in his barbershop. As was
custom throughout his career, the barbers were African-American and
the customers were white; no African-Americans could get a hair cut or
a shave during regular business hours. In early 1966, Johnson bought
the Dime Store building (a.k.a. the Thompson building) and moved his
barbershop to the corner of Main Street and Depot Street.
The barbershop remained at this location until Johnson closed his
business for good in 1971, over fifty years after he had started.
In 1951, Johnson opened a grocery
store in the African-American section of town, which was situated on
the west side of the railroad; and his sister, Erving, operated the
store for its entire fifteen year existence.
Starting in the mid-1950s, Johnson began buying, relocating and
renovating rental property in the African-American part of
His renovations included covered foundations (warmer in the winter)
and indoor plumbing with full baths (very rare in the African-American
community). While purchasing and renovating such property, Johnson
continued to operate his barbershop.
Johnson also continued having
problems with certain members of the Davidson College community which
he claimed started during World War II when Johnson resisted efforts
by faculty at Davidson College to “kick-back” ten-cents of each
haircut given to Army Air Corps cadets being trained at the college.
According to Johnson, this resistance engendered a long-running animosity toward Johnson by
members of the Davidson College population. In 1968, this hostility
culminated in a protest and boycott staged by students of Davidson
College, which was supported by the faculty and approved by the
administration, as the civil rights movement made its way to Davidson,
The protest was purportedly against the
“segregationist policies” of Johnson’s barbershop to not serve
It started when three local African-American men entered Johnson’s
shop, during regular business hours, asking for hair cuts and, keeping
with custom, were refused. Immediately following the refusal, several
Davidson students began picketing his barbershop; and a boycott was
later called by student leaders. Interestingly, the other barbershops
in town, which were also segregated, were not picketed even though one
(Norton’s barbershop) was in close proximity to Johnson’s shop.
It is also interesting that the business attacked for its
discriminatory actions toward African-Americans was itself owned by an
African-American and employed several African-Americans, even though
there were segregated barbershops in town that were owned and operated
by white proprietors. After five weeks of picketing and boycotting,
Johnson quietly instructed his barbers to start serving
African-American customers. This action caused him to lose many of his long-time white
customers (many of whom went to the other still-segregated barbershops
in town). Within three years, his business had dwindled to a level
that he only employed one other barber. After breaking up a fight
between two customers, and being fearful of future violence, Johnson
closed his barbershop for good in 1971.
Ralph Johnson was a successful business man and
entrepreneur for over fifty years. His barbershop was a fixture on
Main Street from 1921 to 1971 (and his father was on Main Street
before that). A number of Davidson’s leaders passed many a quiet
afternoon in his barber chair. He knew national leaders, especially
those who had frequented his barbershop when they were students at
Davidson College. He bought property – land and buildings – renovated
them to standards not commonly enjoyed in his community and rented to
African-American families, thus providing a standard of living
previously available only to the “white” part of segregated Davidson.
He became the central focus of the civil
rights movement in Davidson (although Johnson always thought ulterior
motives precipitated the protests). Finally, he became a respected
elder of the community. His largess has provided affordable housing
in Davidson and funded a scholarship at Davidson College.
The Ralph Johnson House is located in Mecklenburg
County at 115 Mock Circle, approximately one-half mile west of center city
Davidson. The house sits on a level 0.17-acre lot and faces east. A
grass driveway, which extends to the rear of the dwelling, is located
directly north of the house, separating it from the house at 121 Mock
Circle. A row of mature bushes on the south side of the house
separates it from a vacant lot. The front yard is grass. There are
no outbuildings. A few mature trees are located between the rear of
the house and another residential lot, which is on Mock Road.
Multifamily dwellings owned by the Davidson Housing Coalition, Inc.
are located southeast of the house and a vacant lot is directly
opposite the house, both being across Mock Circle.
The Ralph Johnson House
The Ralph Johnson House is a one-and-one-half
story Craftsman Bungalow style house, three bays wide and three bays
deep with a full-width front porch and a side gabled roof with exposed
rafter and beam ends. The first story is white-painted brick
veneer over a wood frame while the half-story is sheathed in staggered
wood shingles. A shed dormer, sheathed in wood shingles, extends
from the front (east) elevation above the front entrance and a smaller
shed dormer, covered by wooden siding, extends from the rear (west)
elevation and is centered approximately between the two side
elevations. The roof is covered in metal shingles or tiles
that were painted red at one time. Two semi-exterior chimneys,
located at the ridgeline of each the south and north elevations, are
also covered in white-painted bricks and have a capped by a row of
brick corbeling. A section of the northwest corner of the dwelling,
the section extending approximately one bay along the north elevation
and two bays along the west elevation, is sheathed in wooden siding
and is covered by the existing roof, indicating that the differently
sheathed area was part of the original structure, although not
necessarily in its present, enclosed, form.
The east elevation has two sets of paired
windows that flank a centrally located entrance.
The windows are double-hung sash, 1/1, and have exposed wooden lintels
and a corbeled sill of painted brick headers. The front entrance also has an exposed wooden casing and lintel. The front door is of recent origin and has a fanlight. The
shed dormer extending above the front entrance has a row of four
double-hung sash, 1/1 windows. The full-width engaged porch is
covered by the principal roof which is supported at the front of the
porch by posts extending to the porch floor. A set of two closely
situated posts are located at the southern and northern ends of the
porch while single posts are located on each side of the concrete
stairs leading to the porch. The outermost posts have yardarms
attached at the top that extend out from the porch to support the wide
eaves which continue beyond the vertical sides of the house on the
south and north elevations. A metal balustrade of recent origin
encloses the porch; and the porch flooring is a faux-stone, also of
The north elevation has two sets of windows,
located in the lower and upper stories, bracketing the exposed portion
of the chimney (Figs. 1 and 3). The lower story portion consists of a
single double-hung sash window, 1/1, with an exposed wooden lintel and
a row of header bricks for the sill. The upper story portion consists
of two deep-set windows, one window being a full-length double-hung
sash 1/1 with an exposed wooden casing and the second window being
approximately one-half the length of the first, fixed sash, 2/2, with
an exposed casing. The smaller windows are centered horizontally
along the mid-line of the larger window. The smaller window of the
rear upper portion has been covered by louvers and appears to be a
ventilation portal. The north elevation of the section sheathed in
wooden siding has two smaller, off-set, windows, 1/1, with one having
an exposed casing. The rear corner-post has brackets at
the top to support the wide eave.
The west elevation has a set of two windows
placed proximately to the rear entrance, both of which are located in
the portion covered by wooden siding, and a single window located in
the brick section. The set of two windows are double-hung
sash, 1/1, with exposed casings. The entrance consists of a solid
storm door covered by an aluminum screen door, both of which appear to
be a recent origin. The single window is also a double-hung sash,
1/1, with no obvious exposed casing. A shed dormer is located above
the rear entrance and has two centered windows, each being double-hung
sash, 1/1, with exposed wooden casings. A brick patio is attached to
the west elevation and is centered about the rear entrance. The patio
is elevated by several layers of bricks and has brick steps leading to
it from ground level. The foundation bricks appear to be older than
the flooring bricks. A metal balustrade of recent origin encloses the
The south elevation has two sets of windows,
located in the lower and upper stories, flanking the exposed portion
of the chimney, and a single window in the lower rear bay.
The lower story windows are single double-hung sash windows, 1/1, with
exposed wooden lintels and each having a corbeled sill comprised of a
row of header bricks. The upper story portion of the window sets
consists of two recessed windows, one window being a full-length
double-hung sash 1/1 with an exposed wooden casing and the second
window being approximately one-half the length of the first, fixed
sash, 2/2, with an exposed casing. The smaller window of the
front upper portion appears to be horizontally aligned with the bottom
of the large window while the smaller window of the rear upper portion
is centered horizontally with the mid-line of the larger window.