Center City Housing
This photograph of
the Alpha Mill in First Ward shows the variety of housing.
Especially noteworthy are the two middle class Victorian cottages in
The history of housing in Center City Charlotte can
best be understood within the broader context of the history of the
development of the city as a whole and especially its rapid growth in
population in the second half of the nineteenth century and the early
twentieth century. Defeat in the Civil War and the end of slavery
led Southern leaders to push for economic modernization, especially the
diversification of agriculture and the development of industry. This
so-called "New South Era" witnessed profound changes in the region’s built
or man-made environment. As a manufacturing base, mainly textiles, began
to emerge, the small towns and villages of the Piedmont grew rapidly into
cities. Inland communities with excellent railroad connections, such as
Charlotte, outdistanced the old ports, including Wilmington, Charleston,
and Savannah, in importance and population. This process had begun
even before the Civil War. With four railroad lines already in
place, Charlotte had seen its population more than double between 1850 and
1860 -- from 1065 to 2265.1
This map of South
Mint St. and South Graham St. in Third Ward shows the density and
arrangement of housing in a "walking scale" city.
Rapid growth persisted in Charlotte in the decades
following the Civil War. The emergence of the city as a major
textile manufacturing center, the introduction of streetcars, and the
emerging importance of Charlotte as a regional distribution center,
continued to fuel economic advancement, population growth, and its
concomitant physical expansion. Between 1900 and 1910, for example, the
city grew from 18,091 to 34,014 people, an 82 percent increase, larger
than any other decade in the twentieth century. Also impressive
was a 78 percent augmentation in Charlotte’s population in the 1920s,
bringing the number of residents to 82,675 by 1930.2 Clearly, the
coming of so many people to Charlotte in the decades following the
Civil War produced a substantial demand for housing.
The Galloway House
stood at 702 North Brevard St. until the 1970s. It was more or
less typical of the middle class homes that once stood in the "finer"
section of First Ward.
What is now Center City Charlotte essentially comprised
the entire community until the late 1800s.
Consequently it became increasingly filled with houses. "The grid of
straight streets that lies within today's innermost expressway loop was
the whole of Charlotte less than one hundred years ago," stated historian
Thomas W. Hanchett in the early 1980s.3 There were
residences in all of Charlotte’s original four wards (created in 1869),
but the most prestigious neighborhoods were in Fourth Ward and parts of
First Ward, as well as along the two thoroughfares of Tryon St. and Trade
St., briefly known as East Ave. African Americans lived interspersed
with whites in some parts of First Ward, but
the largest collections of blacks resided in Second Ward, also known as
“Brooklyn,” and Third Ward. The earliest map of the outlying areas of
Charlotte, Butler and Spratt's Map of Charlotte Township ... 1892,
shows a cluster of small houses labeled "Blandville"
just off South Tryon Street outside the city limits. This area was
one of several black villages that grew up in the nineteenth century
around the edges of the city. Another was
North McDowell St. on
the eastern edge of Center City Charlotte still had several imposing homes in the
mid-1970s. This eclectic cottage stood at 125 North McDowell.
Note the historian recording the house in the Summer of 1975.
Ovens, who came to Charlotte in 1903 to work for J. B. Ivey Co., gave a
compelling description of the city when he arrived. "Charlotte
wasn't much of a place to come to -- in 1903," he declared. "Beyond the homes of the aristocracy, a fringe of dwellings housed the poorer white
class, and still further back were the homes (if they could be called
such) of the colored folks."4
This is the type of
humble "shotgun" house that David Ovens saw. It was still
standing at 522 North Caldwell St. in 1975.
Abodes for the less advantaged economic
groups were of two dominant types –
so-called “shotgun” houses and textile mill houses. In the 1970s,
folklorist and social historian John Michael Vlach
performed the first academic investigation of the shotgun house. He
discovered that it was found almost
exclusively in the South. According to Vlach,
the shotgun house has its roots in Haiti, where he believes it had
originated during the seventeenth century. “Today Haitian blacks still
build thatched-roofed ‘cailles,’ which, except
for their primitive building materials, look exactly like urban American
shotgun houses,” writes historian William Huffman.5 D. A. Tompkins,
Charlotte’s preeminent champion of the “New South” movement, profoundly
influenced the design of many of Charlotte’s textile workers’ houses
through plans he included in his book, Cotton Mills,
House. North Church Street.
Architecturally, the houses in Center City Charlotte
reflected, although belatedly, the dominant styles of the day. The
designs of the finer older houses in Fourth Ward and First Ward and along
Trade St. and Tryon St were Victorian. “Beginning before the Civil
War, builders and architects all over America began turning away from the
severe, symmetrical formality of the Greek Revival,”
writes Hanchett. “They
created new freer, more ornate designs inspired by a diverse array of
Italian, French, English, Roman and other prototypes.”6 In keeping
with the needs of a “walking scale” city, these imposing houses tended to
have minimum frontage on the streets and sat close to one another.
The early twentieth century saw the introduction of the Craftsman style
into Center City housing, especially in the early streetcar suburbs of
Irwin Park, Woodlawn, and McNinchville.
This was one of the
more imposing dwellings in Second Ward. It was the home of J. T.
Williams, a local African American physician and educator. It
stood at 215 South Brevard St.
No historically significant houses survive in Third
Ward or Second Ward nor along Trade St. and
Tryon St. None. One Second Ward
house was moved from South Brevard Street to North Poplar St. in the
1970s. There are a few historic houses remaining in First Ward, most
notably the Treloar House at Seventh and
Brevard, the Queen Anne style John Price Carr House at Fifth and McDowell,
and the Rectilinear style William Bratton House at 631 North Brevard
Street. In the 1970s, when urban renewal swept through First Ward,
several early twentieth century homes were relocated to East Eight St.;
and the Historic Landmarks Commission moved two shotgun houses from Bland
Street to the rear of the former Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church, now
African American Cultural Center, in the 1980s. The Alpha Cotton
Mills Village borders First Ward on the North and contains a significant
collection of textile workers' houses.
Click here for more detailed
description of the Alpha Cotton Mills Village.
Alpha Cotton Mills
Fourth Ward has the largest collection of historic
homes in the older part of Center City Charlotte. They include such
notable structures as the Queen Anne style Liddell-McNinch
House, the Italianate style Newcombe-Berryhill
House, and the Queen Anne style Elias Overcarsh
House, all of which have been designated as historic landmarks.
Three historic apartment buildings survive in the original four wards –
the Poplar Apartments on West Tenth St. and the Frederick Apartments on
North Poplar St. (in Fourth Ward and both designated) and the
Guthery Apartments on North Tryon St. in First Ward. The Woodlawn
Ave. Apartments and the Elizabeth Apartments are located on the fringes of
uptown Charlotte. There is one surviving intact African American
house in Blandville.
largest number of Center City Charlotte
residences that have yet to be processed for historic designation are
early middle class Craftsman style suburban homes. Charlotte did begin to
obtain outlying middle class neighborhoods after 1887, when horse-drawn
streetcars began to operate. This process accelerated with the
advent of electric streetcars or trolleys in May 1891.
One area of intense real estate activity was
known as "Phifer's," a district situated
between Tryon St. and College St. near the northern edge of Charlotte.
"Four new houses are now in process of erection, besides several already
finished," reported the Charlotte Chronicle on February 13, 1890. A
second suburb arose at the opposite end of town between Tryon St. and
Church St. The local press announced on March 14, 1890, that the streetcar
lines would be extended into this emerging residential section and that E.
K. P. Osborne would "erect a handsome residence on part of the property."7
Unfortunately, none of the homes in either of these neighborhoods
survives. Three turn-of-the-century streetcar suburbs called
Woodlawn, Irwin Park, and McNinchville platted streets on the western edge
of Charlotte soon after 1900.
All contain significant collections of historic residences.
"These areas are now thought of as part of the Center City, but they were
conceived and advertised as 'streetcar suburbs,'" explains Hanchett.
"They were served by the West Trade trolley line."8
The streetcar line extending across Big Sugar Creek or Irwin Creek to Biddleville opened on April 25, 1903. Unlike homes in Fourth Ward, where Victorian styles of architecture
predominate, the houses in Woodlawn, Irwin Park, and McNinchville are
mostly Craftsman style, principally bungalows. Charlotte City
Directories reveal that Grove Avenue in Woodlawn had eleven houses by 1911
and that Irwin Ave. in Irwin Park had seven houses by 1916.9
An Irwin Park
A Rectilinear style home