Set within the woodsy end of South
Thompson Street in Davidson, “Mabonsie” reaches back into the rural
history of the town. Mabonsie has two attributes which make it a
suitable candidate for local historic landmark designation. As the
primary point of consideration, Mabonsie is an excellent example of
Rustic Style Architecture, especially in Mecklenburg County where
few of its type remain. Secondly, the builders of the house, Bonnie
and Johnsie Shelton, are connected to two historically influential
Davidson families, the Sheltons and the Johnstons. Activities of
the Shelton family had tremendous impact upon the evolution of the
town in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Rustic Style Architecture in Mecklenburg
Much has been written about rustic
architecture in Mecklenburg County. The most comprehensive survey,
which highlighted 20th century log structures, was
conducted by Stewart Gray in 2005. He identified ten properties as
significant examples of this type of construction, many of which are
discussed in this section.
Log construction was common in early
Mecklenburg County due to the easy availability of building material
and relative speediness of erection. This method of construction
persisted through the 19th century. The oldest surviving
log structures in the county are the Hugh Torrence Store and McAuley
Log House, both constructed in 1780.Both
structures utilize typical details found in log construction,
specifically square-hewn log timbers with notched half-dovetail
joints. The growth of sawmills in the area enabled the popularity
of frame construction, though log building persisted in more rural
areas of the county.
Log construction experienced a
cultural renaissance upon entering the 20th century.
Residential pattern books, which had been dominated by the Queen
Anne style, began including log buildings and other forms of rustic
architecture. One of the first of these publications included
Log Cabins: How to Build and Furnish Them by William S. Wicks in
1889, which targeted the construction of retreats and camps.
illustration of a cabin in Herkimer County, New York, taken from
Wicks’ Log Cabins,shows an inspiration for the revival of
Rustic Architecture at the turn of the 20th century.
Additionally, the Boy Scouts as well as
contemporary marketing strategies may have contributed to the
popularity of log construction during this period. The Mecklenburg
County Council of the Boy Scouts of America was chartered in 1915.
Included in the organization’s first three editions of the
Handbook for Boys were plans and instructions for log
construction. Additionally, marketing during the early 20th
century elevated rural themes, such as Southern culture, to the
sphere of romantic nostalgia. The log cabin received similar
treatment and was used to market maple syrup, whiskey, and toys.
three products are indicative of the marketing usage of
rustic Americana during the early 20th century.
Residential log construction also
became a trend within the emergent Arts and Crafts architectural
movement. Craftsman architectural pioneer Gustav Stickley
constructed a log building at his Craftsman Farms country estate in
1911. Originally intended to serve as a club house, Stickley
modified the upstairs to make the building his family residence.
His publication More Craftsman Homes, published in 1912,
featured sections highlighting log construction within contemporary
American architecture as well as his own home.In
Mecklenburg County, the earliest rustic-revival structure is
identified as 5930 Lakeview Drive in south Charlotte. Constructed
circa 1925, the home was originally the clubhouse of a golf course
development. The detailing of the home, while incorporating rounded
logs chinked with mortar, indicates its derivation from Craftsman
architecture rather than its rustic log predecessors. The gambrel
roof features a wide hipped front porch and banks of windows.
However, this structure stands as the lone example of upper-class
residential log construction.
Hut, Mt. Zion Hut, and Ramah Church Hut are local examples of
log-constructed community buildings from the 1930s.
The onset of the Great Depression
hampered construction across the country. Architects and builders
who could find work were employed in the design and construction of
Works Progress Administration projects. The Civilian Conservation
Corps continued the revival of rustic architecture with their use of
log construction for federal projects, many in national parks, due
to low cost, surplus of manual labor, and availability of local
building materials. These factors trickled down into Mecklenburg
County as well. Log construction was utilized in various types of
buildings, with most surviving examples in northern areas of the
county. Community buildings were the most common as shown by the
Lingle Hut (1931) at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Davidson, the
Mt. Zion Hut (1932) at the Mt. Zion Methodist Church in Cornelius,
and the Ramah Presbyterian Church Hut (1935) in Huntersville.
log structures from the 1930s and 1940s include the Dr. Hood Cabin,
the Page House, and the Bobby McConnell House.
Homeowners also found log
construction to be a suitable choice for residential structures
during the 1930s. Articles about the ease of construction of log
homes as well as plans appeared in many national publications,
including Popular Science and the Sears pre-fabricated home
Aside from the Mabonsie, several other examples exist within
Mecklenburg County. The Page House (circa 1935) in Derita features
log construction in the form of siding. Another residence in Derita,
the Bobby McConnell House (circa 1940), portrays a more rustic
appearance with rounded logs extending beyond the corners and a
stone chimney. The Dr. Hood Cabin (circa 1935) in Davidson was
built as a secondary structure behind the Davidson College
psychology professor’s Concord Road home, Restormel.
Like the Mabonsie, this cabin was constructed primarily as a place
of entertainment. This trend among wealthier homeowners emerged in
the 1920s. In a 1929 issue of House Beautiful, a log cottage
constructed along the James River in Virginia was profiled as “a
sort of whimsical playhouse—a rude shelter against storm for one who
delighted in the joy of silent woodlands.”
The history of Mabonsie is tied to
two well-known Davidson families, the Sheltons and the Johnstons.
The latter family owned extensive tracts of land in the area and
held connections to two well-known plantations in the area, Walnut
Grove and Cedar Grove.
The genealogies of the Sheltons and Johnstons intersected with the
marriage of Robert William Shelton and Mary Minnie Johnston, parents
of Mabonsie builders.
Robert William Shelton was born on
August 22, 1858 in Catawba County, North Carolina, the son of David
Wesley Shelton and Nancy Paulina Little. He married Mary Minnie
Johnston in about 1884. Minnie was born May 19, 1866 in Mecklenburg
County, North Carolina. She was the daughter of James Sidney
Johnston of Mecklenburg County and Susan Jemima Ruddock of
Charleston, South Carolina. James owned a great deal of land around
and in Davidson, primarily along South Main Street and Concord
Road. Robert and Minnie had six children: Robert Johnston, Conrad
Johnston, Mary Johnston “Johnsie,” Bonnie Kathleen, Howard Reid, and
Robert was a successful businessman
and merchant. In 1890 he was one of the initial investors in the
construction of the Linden Cotton Factory in Davidson and routinely
traveled around the region as far as Georgia to purchase cotton for
also owned one of the many Davidson livery stables.Other
businesses connected with Robert included M.C. Mayer Grocery Company
in Charlotte, which he began business with in around 1900. He later
rose to the position of president of the company, renamed
This May 1,
1904 Charlotte Observer advertisement mentions salesman
Robert William Shelton, a prominent member of the Davidson business
The Sheltons were active within the
Davidson community. Robert served on the town commission from 1886
until 1894and as mayor during 1890 and 1891.They
were members of the Davidson College Presbyterian Church. Family
members were also involved in local community organizations such as
the Davidson Civic League, Intermediate Christian Endeavor Society,
and Davidson Music Club. Son Conrad attended Davidson College in
The Shelton family resided in a home
on South Street until about 1905, when local builder B.C. Deal
constructed them a residence at 426 Concord Road. The two-story
Queen Anne with its octagonal tower was indicative of the family’s
parties and other engagements were held at the residence, which
quickly became a popular society location in Davidson.
Robert died March 5, 1919, at the
National Hotel in Wadesboro, North Carolina of a pulmonary
hemorrhage while traveling for business. The death certificate
notes that he had previously suffered heart attacks. As noted in the
funeral notice, “in the death of Mr. Shelton, the town has lost one
of its most prominent and influential citizens and the church an
earnest and faithful member.”He
was buried in the Davidson College Cemetery in Davidson, North
died May 9, 1938 in Davidson and is also buried in Davidson College
Of the Shelton family members,
sisters Bonnie and Johnsie are most applicable to the history of the
Mabonsie, for they were responsible for its construction. Bonnie
Kathleen Shelton was born July 22, 1896 in Mecklenburg County. She
attended Elizabeth College in Charlotte, the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Columbia University in New York.Bonnie
worked as a teacher, primarily with the second grade though records
show she also taught fourth grade.She
taught at many schools in the area, including Woodleaf in Rowan
County and Hope Mills in Cumberland County.Later
she was the second grade teacher at the Davidson school.Bonnie,
who never married, was known as a sportswoman. She was the director
of the Girl Scouts camp in Portsmouth, Kentucky, during the summer
of 1928 and also ran programs at Camp Miniwanca in Stony Lake,
extensive Shelton land housed a large stable and much pastureland
upon which she would ride horses. As noted by local historian Mary
D. Beaty, Bonnie “would sometimes go horseback riding in the late
afternoons, splendid in her crimson coat shining boots, and
impeccable jodphers” with “a red cap…jauntily on her black hair.”She
died on July 13, 1955, and is buried in the Davidson College
Cemetery in Davidson, North Carolina.
Her sister Mary Johnston “Johnsie”
Shelton was born January 14, 1892 in Mecklenburg County. Like
Bonnie, she also never married and was a teacher. She taught at
many schools within the area including Mooresville and Hope Mills
but gave up the profession due to bad eyesight.Johnsie
later worked as a private nurse for a local family.She
also served as the housemother for Pi Kappa Alpha and Phi Kappa Phi
fraternities at Davidson College.She
was the 1949 recipient of the prestigious Algernon Sydney Sullivan
Award, presented by the Southern Society of New York to honor
Davidsonians who worked for the betterment of the town and college.Johnsie
died on July 24, 1983 and is also buried in the Davidson College
Cemetery in Davidson, North Carolina.
Both Bonnie and Johnsie lived in the family home at 426 Concord Road
in Davidson until their deaths.
Town of Davidson and Davidson College
The story of Davidson is synonymous
with Davidson College, established in 1837 by the Presbyterian
church. The school formed the entirety of the isolated town until
the reconstruction of the railroad line between Charlotte and
Statesville in 1874.From this point forward, commercial and
industrial growth characterized post-bellum Davidson. Textile
manufacturing facilities included the Linden Mill, which featured
among its initial investors Robert Shelton, the Delburg Mill, and
the Southern Cotton Seed Oil Company.
This map, from
Mecklenburg County Deed Book 90, Page 34, shows a portion of Shelton
land in Davidson divided into lots and sold off over the next two
decades. Lot 6 was deeded to the Davidson College Presbyterian
Church for the establishment of Davidson Academy.
Although much town land was owned by
Davidson College, it is erroneous to assume this of all land within
the city limits. The Shelton family, through Robert’s marriage to
Minnie, owned expansive property below Concord Road around the South
Main Street area. Over the years, Robert and Minnie sold off most of
the land for development, thereby directly contributing to the
growth of the town. The family donated a lot on South Street for
the Davidson Academy in 1893.In
May 1909 Robert contracted with the Southern Realty and Auction
Company to sell off fifty lots of land along Concord Road in an
occasion called “a notable [day] in the business history of the
But Davidson’s residential growth did
correspond directly with the expansion of the college. Under the
leadership of President Dr. William J. Martin, in the 1910s the
college expanded its faculty from twelve to forty members.
Since Robert had made a great deal of land adjacent to the college
available, this led to a boom of homebuilding along the Concord Road
area of Davidson. Such professors as M.G. Fulton in the English
department, John L. Douglas of mathematics, and Thomas W. Lingle,
the French and Spanish languages professor, constructed homes in
Due to Robert’s untimely death in
1919, Minnie had to find alternative sources of income. One
solution was the selling of family land. In 1923 she auctioned off
land south Concord Road for development of residences for Davidson
College faculty, an area nicknamed Shelton Heights at the time.
Among the faculty purchasing lots were retiring college president
W.J. Martin, chemistry professor Oscar J. Thies, and mathematics and
astronomy professor W.W. Wood.
This property map from 1946
denotes the acreage Minnie had subdivided and sold as residential
lots, many to Davidson College professors,beginning in the 1920s.
Lot 3 is the site of Mabonsie.
Local historian Mary Beaty described
the land beyond Concord Road during the initial decades of the 20th
century as “unbroken pastureland owned by the Shelton family and
occupied by cows of extreme irascibility.”Thus,
this property made an ideal location for a pastoral residential
setting. In September 1932, Minnie deeded 5.5 acres of land along
Thompson Street to Bonnie, who took out a mortgage against the
property with Cornelius Building and Loan Association for $750.
Bonnie received an additional 13 acres of land, presumably pasture
that Bonnie used for riding horses, from her mother in 1938. Soon
afterwards, Bonnie subdivided the additional acreage and began
selling it off residential lots.
During the early 1930s, the sisters
wished to have a weekend getaway built away from the hustle and
bustle of Concord Road. Since the town was quite small, they would
not have to go far. Bonnie had retained ownership of a 5.5 acre
parcel at the end of S. Thompson Street, which would have been the
back of the original Shelton property. The sisters named their
retreat “Mabonsie,” after “Momma,” “Bonnie,” and “Johnsie.”
An architect or draftsman was commissioned to design the house as
evidenced by the original drawings which have been passed down
through each owner of the property. However, no names or
identifying marks on the drawings reveal who the designer may have
The construction of Mabonsie brings
to light the building methodologies and technology of its era. Logs
used in the house’s construction were harvested from the property
and hauled in place by mules and horses. One log on the south
elevation runs the full length of the house. The logs were coated
with creosote to protect them from weathering and rot.One
material used throughout the interior of the house is Celotex. This
fiberboard, made of sugar cane fibers, was applied to the ceilings
and walls as a cheaper alternative to plaster and lathe.A
coal furnace was installed in the south side of the basement with a
chimney for ventilation. Heaters were placed in the kitchen and
dining rooms. Also, two wood-burning stoves were the den and front
bedroom. The screened back porch included bins for coal and
Additionally, personal touches
reflective of the two sisters were added to the house. The stone
rubble for the chimney and the shells on the name plaque were
gathered by Bonnie and Johnsie on many of the vacations they took.
The sisters were known for bringing back suitcases of rocks from the
Bonnie and Johnsie spent weekends relaxing in their retreat. Bonnie
had imagined a place for keeping her horses. Robert and Sue
Baggett, owners of the home after the Sheltons, remember Johnsie as
“giving, caring, and a kind woman” who loved the company of the
neighborhood boys. The family home on Concord Road as well as
Mabonsie was known as a favorite play place for the town children.
A favorite pastime of Johnsie’s was to sit on her back porch and
watch the children play baseball and other games.
Johnsie inherited the property after
her sister’s death in 1955. She leased the house to Davidson
College, which rented to students and faculty for the next twenty
years. This practice was common throughout the town’s history
especially during the post-World War II enrollment expansion of the
college. During the 1957-1958 school year, student Harold P.
Johnson resided in the house.
Assistant football coach Robert C. Brown resided in the home in
Other known occupants of the house included Jim Martin, professor of
chemistry and later governor of North Carolina, football coach Dave
Roberts, and classics professor George Labban. Davidson College
made several changes to the house during their lease, including
replacing the Celotex with drywall in several locations, removing
the heaters, and replacing the coal furnace with a newer gas one
that remains today. The pasture backyard became wooded during this
In 1974 Johnsie sold Mabonsie to
Robert and Sue Baggett. Robert was the ROTC instructor at Davidson
College. The Baggetts made several changes to the house. The attic
was incorporated as a half-story with two bedrooms, nicknamed “the
dorm” since the family’s two sons and numerous friends were in and
out of the house. The Baggetts dug out the basement, which was full
of coal dust, and poured a concrete slab to house a pool table. The
screened back porch was enclosed. Also, the family added two decks
and a greenhouse that still stand. French doors were added to the
south elevation for access to that deck. During their residence,
Robert and his sons reapplied creosote to the home. The family said
the smell was awful and that mosquitoes and other bugs stayed away
for quite a while.
In 1987 the Baggetts sold the
property to Patrick and Lori Cave. Four years later, the Caves sold
the property to Leamon and Renee Brice, the current occupants of
Brices have made structural repairs to the home, including the
reconstruction of the stone foundation under the east elevation.
The northeast corner of the house near the large stone chimney,
severely sagging at the time of purchase, was repaired. The kitchen
also has been remodeled. In 2009 the Davidson National Historic
District was established, and Mabonsie is listed as a contributing
structure within the district.
Beaty, Mary D. A History of Davidson College.
Davidson, NC: Briarpatch Press, 1988.
Beaty, Mary D. Davidson: The History of the
Town from 1835 to 1937. Davidson, NC: Briarpatch Press, 1979.
Gray, Stewart. “Log Building Construction in
Mecklenburg County from 1920 to 1945.” Charlotte-Mecklenburg
Historic Landmarks Commission. 2005.
Mattson, Richard L. and Frances P. Alexander.
“Davidson Historic District.” National Register of Historic
Districts Nomination Form. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the
McAlester, Virginia and Lee McAlester. A
Field Guide to American Houses. New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
Payne, Jennifer and Dan L. Morrill. “The
Evolution of the Built Environment of Davidson, North Carolina.”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission. April 2006.http://landmarkscommission.org/Surveys/surveydavidsonpayne.htm.
Stickley, Gustav. More Craftsman Homes.
New York, NY: The Craftsman Publishing Company, 1912.
Robert and Sue Baggett, May 20, 2013.
Leamon Brice, May 4, 2013.
Chain of Title
Grantor: Patrick and Lori Cave
Grantee: Leamon and Renee Brice III
Date: September 27, 1991
Deed Ref.: Book 6645, Page 491
Grantor: Robert and Sue Baggett
Grantee: Patrick and Lori Cave
Date: January 22, 1987
Deed Ref.: Book 5409, Page 901
Grantor: Johnsie Shelton
Grantee: Robert and Sue Baggett
Date: May 24, 1974
Deed Ref.: Book 3678, Page 478
Grantor: Bonnie K. Shelton
Grantee: Mary Johnston “Johnsie” Shelton
Grantor: Minnie Johnston Shelton
Grantee: Bonnie K. Shelton
Date: September 17, 1932
Deed Ref.: Book 831, Page 131
Mabonsie is a 1.5 story front-gabled
log structure with a porch off the front of the home. It sits on
the highest terrain of the northeast corner of 5.5 acres of wooded
property. The property features steep topography, sloping down from
the northeast corner. The front elevation of the home faces
southeast; for the purposes of this report, this elevation will be
designated as the east elevation with all other elevations of the
home following cardinal directions.
The foundation is constructed of a
stone rubble wall with brick piers throughout the interior crawl
space and basement. The house was originally built upon exterior
stone piers, with the open spaces filled in at a later time (Figure
1). The structure of the house is comprised of rounded logs chinked
with cement grout. The logs are of varying sizes, and corners have
saddle notches with extended ends (Figure 2).The roof eaves are open
with exposed rafter tails. Most windows throughout the house are
original double-hung six-over-six-light sash, with rope sash cords.
The windows are now covered on the exterior with aluminum storm
windows (Figure 3). Newer windows, six-over-six-light wood sash
with aluminum jambs, are called out where they occur in respective
Figure 1–Individual stone piers are
visible within the foundation wall.
Figure 2 - This typical corner detail
shows the extended logs sitting in saddle notches.