ROBINSON ROCK HOUSE RUIN
This report was written on April 1, 1981
1. Name and location of the property: The property known as
the Robinson Rock House Ruin is located off Plaza Rd. extension in the
northeastern section of Mecklenburg County.
2. Name, address, and telephone number of the present owner and
occupant of the property:
The present owner of the property is:
The City of Charlotte
600 E. Trade St
Charlotte, NC 28202
Telephone: (704) 374-2241
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 which depicting the location 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
4313 at page 930. The current tax parcel number of the property is
6. A brief historical sketch of the property: This report
contains a brief historical sketch of the property by Dr. William H.
7. A brief architectural description of the property: This
report contains a brief architectural description of the property by
Jack O. Boyte, A.I.A.
8. Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets the
criteria set forth in N.C.G.S. 160A-399.4:
a. Special significance in terms of its history, architecture:
and/or cultural importance: The Commission judges that the
property known as the Robinson Rock House Ruin does possess special
historic significance in terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The
Commission bases its judgment on the fact that the house was most
probably built in the eighteenth century. Consequently, it dates from
the earliest decades of the history of Mecklenburg County, North
Carolina. Moreover, the site has experienced minimal ground
disturbance and, therefore, is particularly well suited for an
archeological dig. The only other known eighteenth-century rock house
in Mecklenburg County, the Hezekiah Alexander House, is not suited for
an archeological dig because of massive ground disturbance which has
occurred over the years.
b. Integrity of design, setting, workmanship, materials, feeling
and/or association: The Commission judges that the architectural
description included herein demonstrates that the property known as
the Robinson Rock House Ruin meets this criterion.
9. Ad Valorem Appraisal: The Commission is aware that
designation would allow the owner to apply annually for an automatic
deferral of 50% of the Ad Valorem taxes on all or any portion of the
property which becomes "historic property." The current Ad Valorem tax
appraisal on the entire 119.96 acre tract is $750. The parcel is
exempted from the payment of Ad Valorem taxes.
Date of Preparation of this Report: April 1, 1981
Prepared by: Dr. Dan L. Morrill, Director
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission
3500 Shamrock Dr.
Charlotte, N.C. 28215
Telephone: (704) 332-2726
The Robinson Rock House was built on the site originally granted to
Robert Robison (Robinson) by George Augustus Selwyn in 1767 and King
George III in 1769.1 The Selwyn tract of 212 acres and the
King's grant of 200 acres overlapped to the extent of about one-third of
each area, and the stone house site was located in this area. On April
14, 1783, Robert Robison, Sr. divided the combined Selwyn tract and the
crown grant between his two sons, Robert Robison, Jr.2 and
John Robison;3 the latter parcel encompassed the location of
the stone house.
Presently the ownership of the land is not known from the acquisition
of the site by John Robison in 1783 until the "stone house tract" is
willed by a Matthew Wallace to his son Albert Wallace in 1854.4
Since this period covers the likely date of construction of the house,
the original date and the builder are unknown. Later deeds refer to the
dwelling as the "Robinson Stone House," but whether this means John
Robison or one of his heirs or relatives has yet to be determined.5
It is believed that the date the house was built is carved on a stone
now buried in the ruins on the site, which could be discovered by an
archeological study.6 Judging by the dates of construction of
other stone houses in the area, the Robinson Stone House was probably
built between 1780 and 1810. By the time of its ownership by Matthew
Wallace in 1850's, the house was apparently part of a large plantation,
and probably was rented to various tenants. Matthew Wallace and his son
Albert appeared to have lived in a large, elegant plantation house known
and the "White House," which was located to the southeast of the stone
house about two miles.7
Albert Wallace sold off the stone house from his holdings as a 75-1/2
acre tract to Wesley Griffin on July 31, 1862.8 From the
latter owner the same tract passed to Robert Simpson, who in turn sold
the property to George Jordan on January 16, 1871.9 George
Jordan (1818-1899) and his wife, Mary Eveline Notes Jordan (1821-1909),
were the last residents of the stone house.10 According to
his grandson, Baxter Jordan (b. 1890), George had a blacksmith shop and
woodworking shop near the house in which he made a variety of products,
including wagons and farm implements. The farming of Jordan's
plantation, which included an adjoining 15-1/2 acres (totaling 227
acres) was left to three tenant farmers. In addition to some livestock
and food crops, the primary crop was cotton. George Jordan, and perhaps
his predecessors, prospected for gold on the property, apparently
without substantial results. Jordan worked a pit behind the house with a
"bucket and windlass" operation.11
After George Jordan died on May 18, 1899, his widow moved from the
house and the property was willed to his three children; the site was
never occupied or cultivated again.12 The children in turn
sold their respective one-third interests in the site to N. W. Wallace,
a former sheriff of Mecklenburg County, who bought it for an investment.13
Unfortunately, during Wallace's ownership the house was not cared for
and fell into ruins. N. W. Wallace died in 1928, and the site was bought
from his heirs by Beulah W. Grier, wife of Joseph W. Grier, Sr., who
owned large acreage immediately to the west of this tract. 14
In 1978, the land parcel which included the stone house was willed by
Mrs. Grier to her son, Joseph W. Grier, Jr., a Charlotte attorney.15
Less than a year later, in September, 1979, the site was acquired by the
City of Charlotte to be incorporated into a new park and nature
1 Meck. Co. Deed Book 3, p. 296 (8 January 1767) and Book
17, p. 270 (4 May 1769).
2 Meck. Co. Deed Book 11, p. 296 (288 acres).
3 Meck. Co. Deed Book 11, p. 234 (212 acres).
4 Meck. Co. Will Book I, p. 246.
5 e.g., Meck. Co. Deed Book 144, p. 236.
6 Interview with Baxter Jordan, Concord, N.C., Dec. 26,
1980. Baxter Jordan is the grandson of the last resident of the stone
house, George Jordan.
7 Meck Co. Deed Book 5, p. 259.
8 Meck. Co. Deed Book 4, p. 668.
9 Meck. Co. Deed Book 7, p. 130 (Simpson to Jordan). The
transfer from Griffin to Simpson has not yet been uncovered.
10 Interview with Baxter Jordan. George and Mary E. Jordan
are buried in the Hickory Grove Methodist church cemetery.
11 Ibid. Baxter said that George discovered a small nugget
in his pit, but was conned out of it by a "miner" who said he could get
Jordan a big price for his mine if he could show the nugget to
prospective buyers. Jordan loaned the man the gold to show, but the
"miner" was never heard from again.
12 Meck. Co. Will Book N. p. 233.
13 Meck. Co. Deed Book 144, p. 236 (16 Feb. 1900); Book
152, p. 318 (17 Nov. 1900); Book 256, p. 188 (18 Nov. 1909).
14 Meck. Co. Deed Book 717, p. 489.
15 Meck. Co. Will 78-E-2221.
16 17 September 1979.
Charlotte's historic building inventory received an extraordinary
supplement in the winter of 1981 when remnants of a hitherto unknown
eighteenth century stone dwelling were discovered within present day
municipal boundaries. Rare indeed are examples of stone buildings
erected by pioneer settlers in Mecklenburg County. Thus, the find is an
event of marked significance and unique importance in the architectural
history of this community. Cut into a gently sloping hillside among the
headwaters of historic Reedy Creek, scattered foundation stones outline
graphically the size and shape of the original house. Stones of various
sizes and shapes lie in disarray inside the foundation walls and conceal
the earth as well as any wood, iron or glass fragments which might
remain from the original house. Somewhat smaller than neighboring
contemporary stone houses of Hezekiah Alexander and Ezekial Wallace, the
dwelling is a modest version of the remarkable wilderness architecture
created by hardy immigrants who brought the style from their homes in
Maryland and Pennsylvania. The abandoned house had few visitors during
most of this century. Its remote location was protection against vandals
and souvenir seekers, but not against the ravages of time and nature.
Storms and falling trees have inflicted major damage on the structure.
The decaying trunk of a huge elm spans the rear half of the house,
where it fell long ago. This falling monster devastated most exterior
walls and all of the original wood, roof and floor systems. So complete
was the damage that little evidence is visible to tell of the roof, side
wall, or chimney forms. Now only one lone section of original masonry
rises higher than a few feet above piles of stone rubble which surround
the foundation. At the southeast corner of the house is a wall, twenty
feet above grade at its highest, which includes wide parts of the
original south and east facades. These remaining wall panels are large
enough to illustrate the skill of the artisans who built the house. The
masonry closely resembles the stone work in the companion Wallace and
Alexander dwellings. Wail surfaces are
random coursed ashlar with small chip infill fragments used here and
there in widening joints. The extraordinary stone work is carefully
executed with precise corner faces worked alignment, consistently
horizontal jointing and wall into a uniform plane. Stones are of various
sizes, averaging perhaps two to three square feet in surface area.
Occasionally larger pieces were used, and one at the base of the south
wall is a massive unit six feet long and a foot high. Initial compass
readings indicate that the structure was placed on an exact north-south
magnetic orientation. From its site a few yards north of Reedy Creek,
the main facade faces south, consistent with the custom of the time.
This south wall is thirty three feet across and appears to have been
three bays wide. In this existing stone work, where wood jambs were
installed, are straight vertical edges and three openings spaced
equally. This pattern hints of a center entrance flanked by single
In the remains of the north wall is evidence of three similar
openings where tumbling stones still reveal a center door and side
windows. No evidence indicates any side wall openings. Exterior
dimensions of the house are thirty three by twenty nine feet. The stone
foundation walls are two feet thick from the ground to the first floor.
At this level a narrow water table bands the house on all four sides. On
the south the ledge is about three feet above grade. Sloping up along
each side the ground is less than a foot below the water table along the
north side. Inside surfaces of the wall remnants show narrow ledges at
two levels. These offsets coincide with the support pattern which would
have been needed for wood floor joists. At the first floor the support
ledge is approximately nine inches below the water table. For the second
floor the offset is about nine feet higher. The level of the two ledges
offers strong evidence of the original floor to floor distance, as well
as the methods of construction used by the builders. At each offset the
exterior wall thickness is reduced about four inches. So from a two foot
thick foundation, the walls narrow to less than sixteen inches thick
above the second floor. Exposure to weathering has stripped the existing
interior wall surfaces of all visible evidence of original finishes.
This stone work is a motley array of uncoursed random ashlar and rubble,
and appears to be quite unsuitable for exposure to view. The surfaces
are, however, laid up on a fairly uniform plane, as if in preparation
for plaster or wood covering. Where the original walls remain intact at
the southeast corner there are carefully fitted quoins from the ground
Shaped from granite pieces which vary in thickness from six to twelve
inches, the long dimension of the stones change direction as the courses
rise. This pattern of headers and stretchers gave added strength to the
walls, while at the same time contributing to the very real beauty of
the stone work. Lying slightly askew at the base of the south foundation
are several large stones. Flattened on top and roughly cut into long
rectangles, these blocks appear to have been steps. When stacked they
reached to the top of the water table, or to the level of the original
first floor. A brief tour of the wooded area surrounding the stone ruins
reveals little clear evidence of original outbuildings. Such remains, if
any, are concealed below decaying growth and accumulating humus from the
years when no one was about. But the farm yard is not barren. There are
two locations where wide, flat stones show evidence of special use. On
one such stone, which measures about four feet across, there is a
pattern of shallow veed grooves radiating out from an edge notch in a
series of branches as if to collect liquid. This stone is some fifty
feet south of the house under a huge old poplar and rests among a ride
scattering of smaller stones. Off to the west, also about fifth; feet
from the house, is another, somewhat smaller flat grooved stone. On this
remnant veed grooves follow a fanlike pattern and radiate also from an
edge notch. Smaller stones are scattered here also. There are several
other nearby piles of rubble and shaped stone -- the likely sites of
small wood buildings for farm activities. A few paces east of the house
ruins is a continuous depression much like an old road bed. This lane
approaches from the north and runs southward past the house toward Reedy
Creek. Recent dredging has disturbed the creek banks and removed signs
of the earlier ford, if one in fact existed.
Settlement along Rocky River and its tributaries came early in the
eighteenth century, and this fine stone dwelling appears to have been
part of that wilderness venture. The house was likely built by John
Robison in the 1780's on crown grant land passed to him by his father,
Robert. The original structure, while quite fine and substantial when
compared with many of the other pioneer houses along the Catawba and
Rocky Rivers, is yet not among the finest homes of the time and place.
So one must judge John Robison's affluence as limited. The Robison stone
house probably followed in many ways the patterns found in contemporary
dwellings erected nearby. The size is of primary importance if one is to
make assumptions about the original plan and details, however. Rather
than incorporating the popular center hall plan, it is likely that the
house had two, perhaps three rooms on each floor and entrance at the
front and rear was directly into one such room. At one corner there was
probably a winding stair, at least partially enclosed, with storage
below. On the end wall opposite the stair was a large stone chimney for
fireplaces on both floors. Perhaps there were corner angle fireplaces on
both floors. The house is hardly large enough for chimneys at each end.
Above the second floor there was a garret with a steep winding stair.
Headroom was sufficient for storage -- even sleeping. Pole rafters
probably formed a ridge with the long dimension of the house, and end
wall gables were either stone or wood -- stone being the more likely.
The only openings in the end walls were small garret vents high in the
gables. No windows were here -- the openings sealed with wood blinds
when necessary. Modest, yet meticulously crafted was the character of
the Robison stone house. Trim was fabricated carefully, stone work
skillfully executed and finishing details proudly done. This was the
dwelling of people who were determined to retain a higher life style
than the primitive wilderness might dictate.