The Evolution of the Built
Environment of Davidson, North Carolina
edited by Dr. Dan L. Morrill
To determine the historic significance of individual historic
properties and collections of historic properties one must have an
understanding and appreciation of the historic context within which
they appear. This paper sets forth the principal forces that
have shaped the evolution of the built or man-made environment of
Davidson, North Carolina. The intent is to identify those
individually significant properties that should be given some level
of protection in order to safeguard the historic character of the
principal investigator recognizes that some significant properties
might have been inadvertently excluded and welcomes public input
into this process. Also, the principal investigator
understands that some individuals might come forward with
information that will supplement or correct information that is
contained herein. The survey of historic resources in the
built or man-made environment is a process, not a product.
Davidson College, which was established in 1835 to educate young men
according to the values of the school’s Presbyterian founders, has
provided the impetus for the evolution and development of the Town
of Davidson. From 1835 to 1874, the town was a relatively
isolated college community; and its growth was almost exclusively
linked to the increasing number of students and faculty who attended
or taught at Davidson College. Not only was the built
environment of Davidson in this period characterized by faculty and
student housing, but also by dwellings and commercial structures
built for the fledgling merchant class that provided goods and
services to the students and faculty.
Profound change came
to Davidson in 1874, when the reactivation of the railroad linking
Charlotte and Statesville removed Davidson from its relative
isolation and introduced forces that made the town a commercial and
industrial center for the rural environs of northern Mecklenburg
County and southern Iredell County. The late 1800s and early
1900s witnessed the rise of textile manufacturing in Davidson
through the construction of such notable structures as the Linden
Mill and the Delburg Mill. The mills had a significant impact
on the nature of the built environment of Davidson through the
introduction of industrial buildings and mill housing. The
College continued to be important to the growth of the town
in the late 1800s and throughout the early and mid twentieth century
and also occasioned significant changes in the built environment
primarily through the introduction of faculty housing constructed in
a variety of styles, but also through the creation of campus
buildings such as the literary society halls and Jackson Court.
In recent years, the pace of development in Davidson has
increased exponentially; and suburban sprawl has overtaken much of
the surrounding countryside.
The period of construction from 1835 until roughly 1910 in Davidson
gave rise to dwellings for faculty and students, first along
North Main Street and subsequently along Concord Road, as well as
producing a variety of campus buildings. The products of this
early growth were such locally distinctive structures as Eumenean
Hall, Philanthropic Hall, and the
Holt-Henderson-Copeland House on North Main Street and the
on Concord Road. The Holt-Henderson-Copeland
House and the Martin-Henderson House are representative of the Folk
Victorian style dwellings that were made possible in Davidson and
throughout the United States by innovations in technology and
transportation. The Folk Victorian style was also the choice
of prosperous merchants who benefited from the establishment and
growth of the College, like
Holt Armour, who built his family’s home on North Main Street.
Some African-Americans in the town were also able to gain financial
success by participating in the commercial enterprises that sprouted
up along Main Street. The home of
Ralph Johnson on Mock Circle bears testimony to these new
The on-going development of Davidson College has left in its wake
eclectic examples of many styles of architecture, including Colonial
Revival, Arts and Crafts, and Modernist, all of which
contribute to the variety of the built environment of Davidson.
Hood House, a Colonial Revival style abode located on Concord
Road, is the product of the expansion of College in the first three
decades of the twentieth century and contains a fine local example
of a Rustic Revival style log outbuilding.
located on Concord Road, was also constructed in the Colonial
Revival style and was innovative as an architectural type that
addressed the needs of students and the administration as a
fraternity row. The influence of the College over the built
environment of the town in the middle of the twentieth century is
strikingly evident on Hillside Road, where several faculty
James Purcell, erected distinctive homes in the new Modernist
fashion. All of these stylistic components of the built
environment of Davidson, though very different aesthetically, serve
in combination to illustrate the history of the town and its place
in Mecklenburg County.
The Establishment and Early Growth of
Presbyterians in the western piedmont of North Carolina were adamant
in their desire to bring opportunities for higher education to the
sons of the white elite of the region. The establishment of
Davidson College in 1835 by the Concord Presbytery was the
culmination of this process and followed the failure of a similar
project for Western College in nearby Lincoln County. Western
College functioned as an alternative to the State University in
Chapel Hill from 1821 to 1824 and brought higher education into the
reach of students from the more geographically isolated western
regions of North Carolina.
A decade after Western College's demise, the Concord Presbytery
purchased from William Lee Davidson a tract of land containing 469
acres in northern Mecklenburg County with the intention of building
a college to instill in its future students the Presbyterian values
of its founders. Davidson, a staunch Presbyterian, facilitated
the project by selling the land at the reduced price of about
fifteen hundred dollars; and the Presbytery voted to name the new
institution in honor of the “ardor of patriotism” of Davidson’s
father, William Davidson, a Revolutionary War hero who was killed at
the Battle of Cowan’s Ford.
The construction of the first College buildings followed; and when
Davidson opened its doors in 1837, several edifices had been
constructed for the purposes of housing, educating, and supporting
student life. Twelve buildings had been erected on campus by
the close of the antebellum period, including the Chapel, five
dormitory rows (of which
Elm Row and Oak Row
alone still stand), Tammany Hall ( a faculty
residence destroyed in 1906), the Old Chambers Building (destroyed
by fire in 1921), and the President’s House.
Hall, Davidson College
Eumenean Hall, Davidson College
Literary Societies, Fraternities, and
Two of the most
significant and recognizable extant structures that were constructed
during the early history of Davidson College are
Philanthropic Hall and
Eumenean Hall, which housed respectively the two debating
societies around which much of student life revolved.
The societies served as more than the clubs that their formal purposes
suggest; in fact, they were the regulating bodies of student
behavior on campus. Almost all Davidson students belonged to
one of the debating societies; and strict codes of behavior were
imposed upon the members of the clubs. These strictures were
enforced by “vigilance committees,” which were charged with
reporting infractions of the student honor code.
When in 1848 the Eumenean and Philanthropic societies decided to
construct halls to house their activities, they agreed that the
structures should be “alike in size, material, and magnificence.”
The Greek Revival style in which these halls were erected was based
on a reinterpretation of the power of classical Greek architecture
and was highly popular in the United States following the War of
1812 as a means to differentiate American architecture from English
architecture and, in so doing, to establish what could be seen as a
The architecture of Eumenean and Philanthropic Halls cleverly uses
"variation and repetition" to highlight the similarities and
differences between the two buildings; and it is this dramatic
interplay between the structures that has helped to make them two of
the most recognizable landmarks for the College and the town.
Although the literary societies were the focal point of social life
on the campus well into the early twentieth century, a challenge to
the dominance of these clubs arose in the 1850s due to
the rising influence of the fraternity culture in Davidson.
The literary societies and their events filled most of the free time
that Davidson College students enjoyed early in the history of the
school. However, by the middle of the nineteenth century
students were forming new societies, the purposes of which were
non-academic. The Sons of Temperance, a student club that was
embraced by the faculty and the administration for its position of
abstaining from drinking alcoholic beverages and fighting the
sale of liquor within the vicinity of the College, provided one
outlet for students; but many hoped for a student society that was
“livelier than the temperance meetings and less academic than the
The students’ wishes were answered in 1857, when Beta Theta Pi
became the first fraternity chapter on campus.
the turn of the twentieth century, close to one-half of the student
population belonged to one of the fraternities, and their prominence
on campus was overshadowing the membership rosters of the literary
societies. The nature of
fraternity life greatly contrasted with the vision of a strong moral
and academic foundation on which the College was based. Thus, the
question of how much control the administration should exert over
the activities of the fraternities became a recurring theme,
especially during the turbulent 1960s and arguably even to the
present day. 
The faculty and administration, concerned with the alleged dubious influence
of the clubs on the student population, attempted to stunt the
growth the fraternities twice before 1900 -- once in the 1860s when they
temporarily forbade the addition of any new chapters on campus, and
once in 1898, when the Trustees called for the abolishment of the
fraternity societies altogether.
However, these calls for a return to the era of the literary societies
failed; but the College could at least console itself that the
fraternities, which were housed in the Old Chambers building, were
under the close and watchful eye of the administration.
Until the 1920s, the
tenuous relationship between the College and the fraternities was
based on the administration’s ability to control the behavior of the
fraternities because of geographic proximity. However, the
College and the Town both would experience a shift in the dynamics
of this relationship after 1921, when the Old Chambers building
burned. The fraternities had been asking for permission to
move off campus with no success since 1901; and the unfortunate
conflagration probably provided the College with little choice
except to allow them to do so, because the temporary meeting
quarters for the societies in Elm Row and Oak Row were not large
enough to accommodate all of the members.
Thus, by 1923, the fraternities had been asked to move off campus,
and the students readily complied, many merely “strengthening the
relationships that they had” with local boarding houses.
The College recognized the flaws in this system, however, including the loss
of fifteen hundred dollars in revenue and the lessening of the degree of
control it could exercise over the students. Consequently, the
College set about
formulating a plan that would reconcile the desire of the
fraternities to have independent meeting spaces with the need of the
College to impose behavioral controls over their members.
The result of this
compromise was Jackson Court, the original fraternity row on
campus. It was situated on Concord Road, built in 1928,
and designed by by Martin Evans Boyer, Jr., a
noted Charlotte revivalist architect, and named for Frank Lee
Jackson, who served as College treasurer from 1913-1952 and as the
Mayor of Davidson from 1951-1969.  Jackson Court provided a solution to the problem of how to
bring about a compromise between the conflicting desires of the
students and the administration by providing meeting houses for
student activities that would foster “age-old traditions of
democracy and friendliness,” but which were owned and controlled by the
The eleven, one-story buildings of Jackson Court are laid out on a
semi-circular plan facing Concord Road and are designed in the
Colonial Revival style that was highly influential until the middle
of the twentieth century. While each of the buildings is
individually symmetrical or asymmetrical, they all exhibit a
symmetrical arrangement in relation to one another, meaning that an
individually symmetrical building is flanked by two buildings which
are individually asymmetrical, but which give the three buildings
together a symmetrical appearance.
The construction of Jackson Court allowed the College to regulate
the activities of the fraternities to a degree and also enriched the
built environment of Davidson.
Examples of the
individual Jackson Court fraternity houses
Boarding houses were
important to the fraternities at Davidson College during the interim
period of 1921-1928, when they were forced to locate off-campus.
However, the fraternities were not the only group that benefited
form the existence of boarding houses. In fact, there was no
dining hall on campus until 1946; and boarding houses where
students took their meals were more than a convenience. They
were a necessity.
Mary Beaty, a historian of the town and College, has noted that the
rise of the boarding house culture was important to Davidson for
three reasons. First, the boarding of students in private,
off-campus housing encouraged the co-mingling of students and town
residents. Second, the prospect of operating a boarding house
was the cause of the construction of some of the more imposing
domiciles in Davidson. Third, operating a boarding
house gave families the opportunity to earn a good living while
educating their sons at the school.
One of the earliest dwellings that served as a boarding house was
the Folk Victorian style
Holt-Henderson-Copeland House located at 305 North Main Street. The
central portion of the house was constructed prior to the 1860s and
was located so that its occupants could take advantage of easy
access to both the campus and the commercial district.
The original owner of the house was Jacob Coldiron, the local
tailor; but by the Civil War the house had been sold to Dr. William
Holt and his wife, Julia A. Holt, who promptly enlarged the
Mrs. Holt operated a school for girls until the early part of the
twentieth century but was also running what came to be known as “one
of the most popular boarding houses in Davidson” out of her home in
After Mrs. Holt’s death in 1912, the new owner of the house, Mrs.
Miles Henderson, continued the dwelling’s boarding house tradition
through the 1940s; and that custom has been carried on by the
subsequent owners of the house.
Holt-Henderson-Copeland House,305 North Main Street
Housing for the faculty, which had increased from three members in
1837 to seven in 1884, was the cause of much of the growth on North
Main Street initially and on Concord Road after 1890.
As late as the 1870s, the Davidson College faculty was still easily
accommodated in the six college-owned dwellings --
Louisiana, Danville, the
Blake House, the Grey House, the Oak, and the President’s House. However,
in 1900, the College had to admit that it had not built new faculty
housing in over forty years; and the strengthening of the Davidson
College curriculum and the continual growth of the student body
created a need for more homes.
Many new faculty members in the early decades of the twentieth
century chose to build their abodes along North Main Street,
including Dr. William J. Martin, Archibald Currie, and William J.
The land along Concord Road also began to be occupied by both
faculty members and faculty families soon after lots were
offered for sale by the Trustees of the College around 1900.
Two of these faculty families, the Hoods and the family of Colonel
William J. Martin, took advantage of the new properties and
constructed distinctive homes in motifs that represented the influx
of new architectural styles.
The family of Colonel William J. Martin was enticed to come to
Davidson in 1869 as a result of the growth of the college after the
Civil War. Colonel Martin accepted a professorship in
chemistry, and he later served as the acting president of the
He and his wife, Letitia Costin Martin, reared their three children
in town; and all three would make individual contributions
that had lasting impacts on the community. One of the Martin’s
children, Dr. William J. Martin, served, like his father before him,
as a professor and later president of Davidson College. Dr.
Martin commissioned the construction in 1898 of the house at 310
Concord Road, known today as the
Martin-Henderson House, as a residence for his mother and two
sisters, Mary and Lucy. Mary Turpin Martin doggedly pursued
her medical education after her graduation from Davidson College.
She and her husband, Dr. Eustace Sloop, established the
Crossnore School in the North Carolina mountains, an educational
facility that still operates as a charter school, and which has had
an enormous impact on the lives of abused and neglected children
from North Carolina and beyond.
Lucy Battle Martin married Archibald Currie, a political science
professor at Davidson College; and the couple were lifelong
residents of the town. The life of Lucy Battle Martin is
reflective of the interconnectedness between the town and the
school. She is remembered not only as the daughter of one of
Davidson College’s presidents, the sister of another, and the wife
of the chair of the department of political science, but also as a
teacher in her own right who helped to ensure that the children of
the town were provided a quality education through her activities at
the “free school” for the children of the town.
The Martin-Henderson House, 310 Concord Road
The Martin-Henderson House also retains a connection with the
boarding house culture of the town, a culture which in many ways
defined the nature of the community. The house was sold to
Josephine Worth after the death of Letitia Martin in 1905. Ms.
Worth, who was recently widowed, used the home to earn a steady
income while her son, David, was educated at the college. By
the opening decade of the twentieth century, boarding houses in
Davidson had proliferated; and the Martin-Henderson House was one of
twelve in town that were taking on boarders by the 1920s.
Even after the Worth family left Davidson, the dwelling continued to
operate as a boarding house under the ownership of Mr. and Mrs.
Walter and Florence Henderson.
The Martin-Henderson House and the Holt-Henderson House are fine
examples of the Folk Victorian style of architecture which was a
product of innovations that brought more refined styles of housing
into the reach of middle class citizens. The movement stemmed
from the highly stylized Victorian forms, such as Queen Anne, that
were popular in the last decades of the nineteenth century, in
combination with the simple and widespread National or vernacular
The increased levels of ornamentation that are seen in Folk
Victorian structures such as the Martin-Henderson House and the
Holt-Henderson House were made possible by innovations in technology
and transportation. The advent of the railroads made lumber and
machinery more accessible; the use of manufactured nails
replaced the hewn joints which required skilled labor. The
mechanical jigsaw and lathe were two of the most important
innovations which aided the growth of this style, and Queen
Anne-like scrollwork and brackets, as well as turned porch supports,
which were previously only accessible to a few, were now within the
realm of possibility for the masses.
Another distinctive dwelling on Concord Road that came about as a
result of the expansion of Davidson College in the early decades of
the twentieth century was the
Hood House, located at 829 Concord Road.
The growth of Concord Road in the 1920s was directly due to the
period of rapid faculty expansion under Davidson College president
Dr. William J. Martin, who recruited thirty-seven of the forty-six
active faculty members in 1929.
Once solidly based on classical studies, the offerings of the
school were extended into the arts and social sciences, a move which
necessitated the recruitment of additional faculty. Psychology
was also a new field of study at Davidson; and Dr. Frasier Hood, who
was trained at Yale and abroad, became the head of the department of
The Hood House, 829 Concord Road
Dr. Hood, his wife, and their daughter originally settled in town in
a house on North Main Street known today as the Lloyd House; but by
1929 the family had purchased one of the lots on Concord Road that
the Board of Trustees of Davidson College was selling.
They built their imposing Colonial Revival style home in a section
of Concord Road that was relatively distant from other faculty
housing, thus maintaining their access to the town while
safeguarding their privacy. The family named their home
“Restormel” after an English castle.
Dr. Hood was known around town for his lively and convivial nature;
and the Rustic Revival log house which was built in the backyard may
have been used to entertain guests, as remnants of what may be a
shuffleboard are still intact near the structure.
The revival of log structures in North Carolina was perhaps
influenced in part by the architecture of Henry Bacon in Linville,
North Carolina, as well as a resurgence of log structures in popular
culture and mass advertising. The log house on the Hood
property is the “only identified example of a secondary log
residential building” in Mecklenburg County.
The Hood House was built in the Colonial Revival style, a broad
category of architecture that was popular between approximately 1880
and 1955 and which persists to this day. Although the design of
Colonial Revival houses varied widely, what they shared in common
was a desire to reengage the early Dutch and English architecture
and ideals of the American colonial period.
The movement was popularized by the Philadelphia Centennial
celebration in 1876 and was based upon the traditions of the Adam
and Georgian styles, in which broad facades with minimalist
ornamentation clearly hearkened back to a colonial past.
The Hood House is a good example of Colonial Revival ornamentation
in which the focus of the detailing is placed on the entranceway,
the cornice line, and the windows.
To summarize, from its inception as a school for Presbyterian youth
through the first century of its development, Davidson College has
impacted the built environment of the town in a number of ways.
Increasing numbers of students and faculty have led to the
construction of houses and campus buildings in a range of styles;
and the influence of the boarding house culture has helped to
shape the community’s view of itself, bringing together the
residents of the town and those people associated with the college
into a blend that has made Davidson unique among the small towns of
Public Education in Davidson
As has been shown, the opportunities that were afforded to
Davidson College students came about because of the commitment of
local Presbyterians to education. This desire to instruct the
youth of the region did not end with efforts at the College; in
fact, the Presbyterians were also a driving force in bringing
education to the children of the white townspeople. Public
instruction in Davidson from 1835 until the 1890s was initially
reliant upon individual citizens who operated schools out of their
homes or buildings provided by the community for the purpose of
education. The earliest of these schools opened in the years
following the Civil War and was taught by Julia Holt. Davidson
College allowed Mrs. Holt to conduct the school out of Tammany Hall,
a two-story brick faculty residence that stood between Philanthropic
Hall and Elm Row.
Between 1875 and the mid-1880s, many Davidson children attended Lucy
Jurney’s “School for Boys and Girls” in the building known as Lingle
Manor on Glasgow Street, the same building that housed the Reverend
Leonidas Glasgow’s school between 1887 and 1892.
Private citizens continued to teach local children out of their
homes into the 1900s, as was the case with Mary Lafferty on North
However, by the turn of the twentieth century, a movement was well under way
to provide a consistent public education to the white children of
the town. The cause of public education was spearheaded by the
trustees of Davidson College, who in 1892 established the Davidson
Academy, which was initially located in the Masonic Hall near the
intersection of South Street and South Main Street.
The new schoolhouse, which stood on the site of the present Davidson
IB Middle School, was completed in 1893 and expanded in 1924.
Originally, the term of the Davidson Academy consisted of three
sessions: one each in the fall and spring that were supported by
tuition, and a third, winter term, “Free School,” that proved to be
popular with the townspeople.
The Davidson “Academy” in 1923, as the
building was being expanded
By 1910, the graded school
movement, which revolutionized the way in which children were
instructed, had spread across the state. Prior to the new
theory of graded education, children would attend school for as long
or as short a period as their parents wished, and the town was
responsible for funding the institution.
A statute passed by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1911
added Davidson to the list of North Carolina communities which had
established graded schools that were supported by taxes.
The new graded school was popular and could boast of an enrollment
nearing two hundred students in 1911; and by 1924, the school had
grown enough to require a forty thousand dollar addition.
A gymnasium, which still stands to the rear of the lot, was added in
Unfortunately, in a pattern that was familiar to the older residents
of Davidson, the expanded school was destroyed by fire in 1946, and
classes were held in the gymnasium and in the basement of the
Its replacement, which serves today as the Davidson IB Middle
School, was completed in 1948.
Davidson IB Middle School, right front
Front Entrance of School (2005)
Although the movement to provide education to Davidson’s white
children was successful, it was not inclusive of all of the town’s
youth. Efforts to educate the African-American
children, who were denied public education at the “academy” as a
result of institutionalized segregation, were undertaken in some
instances by private citizens before the construction of the
Davidson Colored School. Dr. Howard Arbuckle, a chemistry
teacher at Davidson College for twenty-four years, sponsored a local
school for African-American children.
In 1936, the town submitted an application to the Public Works
Administration for funds to construct a more formal school.
The Davidson Colored School opened in 1938, and originally
consisted of a six-room school house in which grades one through
nine were taught.
The importance of the school to the African-American residents of
Davidson is evident in the degree to which the school became a part
of the community; it often served as a meeting place, the site of
fundraisers for local projects, and as an entertainment venue.
Ada Jenkins is remembered by many as the reason for this incorporation
of the school into the community. Jenkins was a well-loved
Davidson resident and worked at the school in a number of
capacities, including history teacher and guidance counselor.
In 1955, the school was renamed in her honor, and retains that
distinction in its current use as a community center that houses
local charitable and community organizations.
From its initial, private efforts at primary and secondary
education, to the construction of the
Ada Jenkins School, the Town
of Davidson illustrated its desire to extend the principles of
quality instruction on which the College was based to all residents
of the town.
The Ada Jenkins Center, 2005
|Picture of Ada Jenkins displayed in the
Ada Jenkins Center
The Commercialization and Industrialization
Davidson is anomalous among the small towns of Mecklenburg County.
Whereas the county’s other outlying towns, such as Pineville,
Huntersville, Cornelius, and Matthews, were mostly the result of the
establishment of the railroads and the growth of the textile
industry, Davidson clearly owes its existence to more than being a
railroad turnout. The commercial sector emerged in direct
response to the expansion of the College; and while the mills of the
other small towns in Mecklenburg County were the driving force
behind their growth, the arrival of mills in Davidson served to make
the town and its built environment more diverse rather than acting
as the fundamental reason for the town’s existence.
North Main Street commercial core in the mid-twentieth century
Main Street Books, South Main Street
Detail of brick corbelling on the front facade of Main Street
M and M Soda Shop, South Main Street
Detail of brick corbelling on M and M Soda Shop
of Davidson had several effects upon the town. First, it
created a new merchant class in the town whose fortunes, while
dependent upon the success of the College in order to draw
customers, was not directly related to the daily operation of the
school. In addition, it led to the establishment of the
commercial sector of Davidson along Main Street. Town and
College historian Mary Beaty has noted that the boundaries of the
commercial sector of Davison were defined early in the town’s
history because of the district’s reliance on and proximity to the
College. The initial stores in Davidson, built in the 1830s,
were grouped near the new campus in order to serve the student and
The Helper Hotel, or Carolina Inn, as it is alternatively known,
is one of the oldest commercial structures in the downtown district
and was created as a direct result of the establishment of the
College. The core of the hotel was constructed in 1848
as a store under the ownership of Lewis Dinkins which catered to the
students at Davidson College.
The building was enlarged and re-established as a hotel in 1855 by
Hanson Pinkney Helper, but continued to house small stores on the
first floor throughout its history.
From the very earliest days of its history, the “downtown” district
was hemmed in by the campus on the east, residential development to
the north and south, and eventually by the railroad to the west.
Thus, today’s downtown Davidson retains many of the same qualities
as it did in 1920s.
Helper Hotel, circa 1880
Helper Hotel, 2006
Lewis Dinkins proved to be an entrepreneur who saw the value of
providing goods and services to the College population, and around
1850 he constructed a tailor shop on Main Street.
The shop not only specialized in alterations and the like but also
offered a variety of groceries and “stationery of every kind.”
Soon, new businesses were competing for customers; and a variety of
enterprises, including five and dime stores and drug stores, had, by
1914, filled out the northern portion of Main Street. However,
many of the brick commercial buildings which dominate the built
environment of downtown Davidson are later additions to the area.
The central business district was originally dominated by wooden
frame buildings which have been lost to a series of fires.
Home and business owners along Main Street learned from these
conflagrations and adjusted their building methods. This
reality is nowhere more evident than in the B. C. Deal House
on North Main Street, which counts among its many utilitarian
features thick firewalls that divide and protect the house from the
buildings which surround it. By 1920, Main Street was lined with
brick commercial buildings which constituted its business district.
The Sloan buildings and the M and M Soda Shop building are reminders
of this period of growth.
The merchant class to
which Dinkins belonged built more than the one and two story brick
commercial buildings which make up the commercial streetscapes of
North and South Main Street. It also erected homes in a
variety of styles in Davidson. The
Armour-Adams House, located at 626 North Main Street, was
constructed in 1900 by Holt Armour, the son of wealthy local farmer
Robert Armour owned “everything along Main Street as far south as
the cemetery,” and gave four lots cut out of this land to his
Holt Armour erected his home in the same Folk Victorian style used
by the Holts and the Martins. He soon broke away from the agrarian
tradition of his parents, however; and by 1915 he seized the
opportunity provided by the growth of Davidson’s commercial sector
to open Armour Brothers and Thompson, a dry goods store that
operated out of the brick building on the north corner of Brady’s
Armour-Adams House, 626 North Main Street
Some African-Americans in Davidson were also presented with new
opportunities as a result of the increasing growth of Davidson
College and the resultant commercialization of the downtown
district. One of the most prominent African-American
businessmen, Ralph Johnson, owned a successful barbershop on Main
Street from 1921 to 1971. Johnson was able to use the profits
from his business to invest in real estate in the African-American
section of racially segregated Davidson; and he provided housing to
black families built to a standard commonly found only in the
“white” areas of town.
His house on Mock Circle stands as a symbol of his success and
activism within the community.
Ralph Johnson House
was built by Ralph Johnson’s uncle, Otho
“Tobe” Johnson in 1924, and local tradition holds that the dwelling
was constructed with bricks salvaged from the Old Chambers Building
on the Davidson College campus after it burned in 1921. Tobe,
like his nephew, was a successful businessman in Davidson; he was
the proprietor of the first pressing club (a precursor to dry
cleaning) in Davidson.
Ralph Johnson got his start in business by running his first barber
shop out of the corner of his uncle’s pressing club; and he probably
received early training in the barbershop business from his father,
who was the best known barber in Davidson before his death in 1912.
Ralph Johnson opened his first independent barbershop in 1921 and
continued his trade on Main Street until 1971.
The town has benefited greatly from Ralph Johnson’s success as a man
of commerce. Not only did the standards of living in the
African-American section of town increase through the renovations
that he made to the dwellings in that area, but Johnson also
provided for the educational future of African-Americans at Davidson
College through the endowment of a scholarship for deserving
The Ralph Johnson House, 115 Mock Circle
The commercialization of Davidson, although based on the foundation
of the College, was one step in the diversification of the economy
and population of the town. Increasing numbers of rural
families from the surrounding countryside sought the regular income
and financial security that careers as merchants, landlords, and the
like, could provide. The growth of the population in Davidson
that was unassociated with the College was so great in the late
nineteenth century that the town changed its name in 1891 from
Davidson College to Davidson.
Davidson Cotton Mill, Delburg Street
of Davidson expanded both the economy and the built environment of
the town. The impetus for the coming of factories was the
reactivation of the railroad in 1874. The circumstance of
relative isolation was thereby lifted, and Davidson became a center
of commerce for the outlying areas of northern Mecklenburg County
and southern Iredell County. Concurrent with the success of
the textile industry across the North Carolina piedmont, and
especially in Charlotte, Davidson’s first mill, the Linden Mill,
opened in 1890, and was soon followed by the construction of the
Delburg Cotton Mill (later the
Davidson Cotton Mill) in 1908.
The mills radically transformed the nature of the town from a
college community to a village with multiple economic bases.
Farm families were lured to town in search of stable incomes in a
period that was characterized by a failing agricultural economy.
The introduction of the mills also increased the social
stratification among the residents of the town and caused further
variation in the built environment. The employees of the
Linden Cotton Mill seem to have initially taken up residence in the
existing houses of the town; and within a year of the opening of the
first mill “not a vacant house was to be found in the town.”
However, company housing was soon built for the employees of the
Delburg Cotton Mill in a manner which was typical of mill villages.
The houses on Delburg Street had similar plans and were arranged in
a regular grid with each house having a small yard where the
residents kept farm animals and tended vegetable gardens.
These neighborhoods arose not only to provide housing for
the mill workers close to the workplace but also to increase the
degree of control that the mill owners exercised over their
To summarize, by the
first decade of the twentieth century the built environment of
Davidson had evolved from the early smattering of College buildings,
to one that included grand boarding houses and faculty residences,
to one that varied even more because of the emergence of a
commercial sector and industrial sector.
Delburg Street Mill Employee’s Housing
Continued Growth of Davidson College in the
1950s and the Introduction of Modernism
In the post-World War II era,
Davidson College grew substantially and continued to be a driving
force behind the evolution of the built environment of the town. The
student population more than doubled from its pre-war numbers.
As a result, forty-nine faculty members were hired between 1946 and
1949; and housing for the new professors and their families became a
The influx of faculty also brought Modernist architecture to
Davidson; and the extant examples of this Modernism are important,
because they illustrate the optimistic visions of the future that
characterized progressive intellectual thought in the years
immediately following World War II.
Davidson had been a community rooted in its traditions; and
thus Modernism might have shocked the older residents of the town.
However, the majority of the professors who built their houses on
Hillside Road, where a spate of Modernist-inspired buildings was
erected, were not deeply rooted in the Davidson community and had
become familiar with Modernist architecture elsewhere. Harold
Cooler, a prominent Charlotte architect who designed several
residences in Davidson, including the Modernist
Purcell House on Hillside Drive, recalls that most of his
clients shied away from modern styles, favoring instead the
traditional homes built in such familiar motifs as Colonial Revival
or Arts and Crafts, because they wanted to make sure that their
houses would be marketable.
This disdain for modern architecture was not unique to
Davidson or even to the United States. In Europe, where
Modernist architecture was conceived and developed in the offices of
architects such as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and Mies van der
Rohe, the avant garde school was also a small minority; and
Europeans as a whole preferred to rely on the continuance of
James Purcell, an English professor who came to Davidson in 1948 and
subsequently became the dean of the English department, first saw
“flat-roofed," modernist houses in Florida and determined that he
would build one for his family when the opportunity arose. His
chance came when the Board of Trustees of the College purchased the
land that is now Lorimer Road and Hillside Drive as lots for faculty
The College allowed the faculty to choose the styles of their homes.
Some chose Modernism, and several houses of that architectural
motif survive on Hillside Drive.
102 Hillside Drive
The Purcell House is a representative example of the Modernist
residences on Hillside Drive. Of particular interest is how
the architects, Harold Cooler and Marshall McDowell, took into
account the setting of the house, including the topography of the
The broad, one-story front facade of the Purcell House reflects the
sweeping landscape that was once a pasture; and the rear elevation
also reflects the geographical setting of the dwelling, which
recedes in response to the undulating terrain. The distinctiveness
of structures like the Purcell House puts them at risk, because the
populace in general is not fond of Modernism. Communities such
as Davidson are in danger of losing these irreplaceable examples of
this highly significant but under appreciated phase of the evolution of the built
environment of the town.
The Purcell House, 206 Hillside Drive
From its inception as
a village that existed for and because of Davidson College to a
bustling town with a multifaceted economic foundation, Davidson,
North Carolina, has been mirrored in the diversity of its built
environment. As noted above, Davidson’s history is
locally unique because, even though it shares some themes in
common with other small towns in Mecklenburg County and the North
Carolina piedmont, its connection to Davidson College provided for
an early built environment that allowed for the construction of
numerous grand residences; and there was later a freedom to
experiment with progressive, modern styles. For these reasons, there
exists within the Town of Davidson a distinct local mixture of
architectural examples that runs the gamut of nineteenth and
twentieth century architecture and which bears testimony to the
Potential and Existing Historic Landmarks in Davidson, North
Carolina, listed in alphabetical order:
Ada Jenkins School/ Davidson Colored School (212 Gamble Street)
Armour-Adams House (626 North Main Street)
Bell-Martin House (3513 Grey Road)
Cashion and Moore Family Cemetery (Near the intersection of
McAuley Road and Hwy 73)
Davidson Cotton Mill/ Delburg Cotton Mill (209 Delburg Street)
Davidson IB Middle School and Gymnasium (251 South Street)
BC Deal House (107 North Main Street)
Fulcher House (215 Woodland Street)
Helper House (603 North Main Street)
Holt-Henderson House (305 North Main Street)
Hood House (829 Concord Road)
FL Jackson Court (Davidson College Campus between Concord Road and
Ralph Johnson House
(115 Mock Circle)
Martin-Henderson House (310 Concord Road)
Metrolina Warehouse/ Linden Cotton Mill (201 Depot Street)
Purcell House (206 Hillside Drive)
Shearer-Alexander House (252 South Main Street)
Summers-Potts House (544 Potts Street)
 Cornelia Rebekah Shaw, Davidson College
(New York: Fleming H. Revell Press, 1923), 7-12. Students in a
Fall 2005 graduate course in the
Public History Program at UNCC generated much of the
information on the history of individual structures included in
 Mary D. Beaty, Davidson: A History of
the Town from 1835 until 1937 ( Davidson, NC: Warren
Publishing, 1979), 181.
 Mary D. Beaty, A History of Davidson
College (Davidson, NC: Briarpatch Press, 1988), 45.
 Virginia and Lee McAlester, A Field
Guide to American Houses ( New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984),
 “National Register of Historic Places
Nomination Form: Philanthropic Hall,” December, 1971, available
online at http://www.cmhpf.org/surveys&rphilanthropichall.htm.
 Some of the information on the
fraternities and Jackson Court is taken from Abby Coker,
“Survey and Research Report on Jackson Court,” December, 2005;
Beaty, A History of Davidson College, 74.
 Beaty, A History of Davidson College,
 Ibid., 266; Beaty, A History of the
 Beaty, A History of Davidson College,
 Beaty, A History of the Town, 162.
 Neil Cottrell and Dr. Dan Morrill,
“Survey and Research Report on the Holt-Henderson-Copeland
House,” December, 2005, retrieved online from
16, 2006; MB Gatza, “Holt-Henderson-Copeland House,”
1988 survey on file with the North Carolina State Historic
Preservation Office, survey site number MK 1583.
 Gatza, “Holt-Henderson-Copeland House.”
 Beaty, A History of the Town, 40.
 Cottrell and Morrill.
 Beaty, A History of the Town, 106.
 Beaty, A History of the Town, 37.
The Blake House, the Grey House, and the President’s House still
 Beaty, A History of Davidson College,
 Beaty, A History of the Town, 78.
 Beaty, A History of the Town, 64.
 Some of the information contained in this
report regarding the Hood House was taken from: Kimberly Tweedy,
“Survey and Research Report on the Hood-Lore House,” December,
 Ibid., 281; Beaty, A History of the
 Beaty, A History of the College,
 Beaty, A History of the Town, 40.
 Picture taken from Beaty, A History of
the Town, 172.
 Kristin Stakel and Dr. Dan L. Morrill,
“Survey and Research Report on the Davidson IB Middle School,”
 Beaty, A History of the Town, 113.
 Laura Dameron and Dr. Dan L. Morrill,
“Survey and Research Report on the Davidson Colored School/ Ada
Jenkins School,” December, 2005.
 Beaty, A History of the Town, 134.
 Ibid., Beaty, A History of the Town,
 Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina
Architecture (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina
Press, 2005), 433-436; Thomas W. Hanchett, Sorting Out the
New South City: Race, Class, and Urban Development in Charlotte,
1875-1975 ( Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina
Press, 1998), 52-53.
 Beaty, A History of Davidson College,
 Harold Cooler, interview with Jennifer
Payne, 16 February, 2006.
 William JR Curtis, Modern Architecture
Since 1900, 3rd Ed. (London: Phaidon Press, Ltd.,