Route VI: Northwestern & Western Mecklenburg County
Route VI. is approximately 50 miles long
and takes about one and a half hours to complete. Allow extra time
for stops. The best time of day to drive this route is in the
morning, since then you can avoid the glare of the afternoon sun as
you drive west for the first few miles of the route.
Click on the map to browse
The Northwest and Western
Mecklenburg tour begins on a stretch of country road rich in
ante-bellum history, and ends in Steele Creek, one of the county's
largest and most cohesive rural communities. As you drive between
the two, this rural scene is interrupted by the (almost constant)
comings and going of airplanes at Charlotte's Douglas International
Airport. The airport has had a dual effect on the area. Many old
homesites have disappeared under its runways; yet it has delayed
the development of new subdivisions and so the area maintains its
strong rural character.
The tour starts at St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Beatties
- From Charlotte, take W. Trade St. out of the city center,
and follow the signs for I-77 north. From I-77, drive to the north
of Charlotte and take the Harris Blvd./Reams Rd. exit. Turn left
onto Reams Rd. Continue for almost 2 miles (Reams Rd. turns off to
the left, but you go straight ahead onto Vance Rd.) At the stop
sign, turn left onto the Mt. Holly-Huntersville Rd. St. Mark's
Episcopal Church is .8 miles down the road to your left on a wooded
hillside. Turn up the drive into the parking lot.
1. This picturesque Victorian Gothic church is
the oldest Episcopal church in rural Mecklenburg.
Discontented with Hopewell Presbyterian Church to the north, a
local farmer, Columbus McCoy, encouraged the rector of St. Peter's
Episcopal Church in Charlotte to visit the community in 1883.
McCoy's friends and neighbors were impressed, and a year later, the
Church of St. Mark's was
founded and received its first minister, the Rev. Edwin Osborne.
Building the church was not so easy as securing a congregation.
Severe rains during 1886 almost totally destroyed the season's
crops, setting back fund-raising efforts. Moreover, in the same
year, the Charleston earthquake destroyed the brick kiln which had
been set up at the creek branch below the site. A local builder,
the young John Ellis McAulay, was in charge of producing the
bricks. Ever resourceful, he reconstructed a crude and dangerous
kiln using an old steam boiler with no pressure gauge.
By some miracle, McAulay's boiler survived, and
the first service in the new church was held in 1887. At that time,
this wooded hill overlooked the intersection of two sand-clay
lanes. In the valley below the church the Whitley Mill and the
miller's house sat alongside Long Creek, and across the creek was a
St. Mark's Episcopal Church
Gothic-style architecture has traditionally been
associated with the Episcopal church in America. Notice the steep
pitch of the roof, the cross-shaped floor plan, and the lancet
windows set in Gothic arches. Try to find the
cornerstone, and take time to explore the graveyard. Look for the
grave of Captain Gluyas whose house you will see down the road.
John McAulay's perseverance in making bricks
obviously pleased the congregation, for he was asked to build the
rectory in 1887-8. It is just one of many that McAulay designed and
built in the area between the late 1880s and the early 1900s. But,
despite his hard work, it is thought that McAulay never made a
profit from his labors.
to the Mt. Holly-Huntersville Rd. and turn left. Cross Beatties
Ford Rd., and after .6 miles notice the house on your
2. This is the former home of Dr. Walter Pharr Craven. He
built his house next to his first wife's childhood home in the late
1880s. His first wife was Martha Addie May Gluyas, and they raised
their eleven children here. This is the first of many
nineteenth-century houses that are scattered along what was once a
major road in the area. Take your time and drive slowly so that you
don't miss any.
3. Less than one half miles farther, and
also on your left is Gluyas Acres. It was built by Dr. Craven's
father-in-law, Captain Thomas Gluyas. Gluyas emigrated to America
with his parents from England in 1834. The oldest portion of Gluyas
Acres is a log house thought to have been constructed soon after
his marriage to Letitia Beeson in 1847. Captain Gluyas was one of
the founding members of St. Mark's Episcopal Church.
4. Just under one and a half miles
farther on your right is the house which belonged to Dr. Craven's
competitor, Dr. James Samuel Abernathy. Locals referred to them as
"Dr. Pill and Dr. Powder." The house has an early log core, which
is to the right of the front gabled projecting wing. The additions
were made during the 1870s. Dr. Abernathy's ancestors had
originally settled in Charlotte (then a small village), but moved
to the country to avoid the temptations which the "city" presented
to their children.
5. A quarter mile farther on your left
you will pass the ante-bellum home of the Luckey family. Robert
Luckey purchased the house and a 400-acre farm in 1855, and the
family farmed cotton here until the Second World War. Even then
they only stopped because boll weevil infestations were making the
6. After a farther one half mile on your left is the
Abernathy farm. The mid-nineteenth century Abernathy farmhouse was
the center of a large cotton farm. It follows the "I" pattern of a
typical Mecklenburg farmhouse, being two stories high, one room
deep, with side gables, exterior end chimneys, and a central
entrance hall. During the tour you will see many more houses built
in this style.
7. A farther half mile down the road on your right there
is yet another ante-bellum house of log
construction. Notice the single exterior chimney on a fieldstone
foundation. Log buildings usually had only one chimney. The stone
foundation is a clue to its great age.
Continue on the Mt. Holly - Huntersville Road through the
traffic signal at Hwy. 16 and after 3 miles, turn right at the stop
sign onto Hwy. 27. You will notice a house to your left .3 miles
past the intersection and on a rise.
8. The Connell House is typical of many one-story
farmhouses built around the turn of the century in Mecklenburg.
Notice its generous wrap-around porch and prominent gables. Mr. Connell ran a
popular riding stables here.
the next left turn onto Belmeade Rd. (It used to be called
Blacksnake Rd. because of the many black snakes in the area, but
according to one local resident, the name was changed when a church
was built because the members didn't think that the association was
appropriate.) Turn right at the stop sign onto Moore's Chapel Rd.
Not far past the intersection you will pass a picturesque Victorian
house on your left.
9. George Williamson built the house in about 1875. All
of the wood for the house was prepared on site and cured for a year
before building. The weatherboarding on the house is reputed to
have come from one tall pine tree! The two-level porch is
relatively unusual for rural Mecklenburg.
Continue down Moore's Chapel Rd., and pause at the old frame
house opposite Moore's Chapel Methodist
10. This house was also built from lumber cut on the
property. Fabius Wilkinson built it between 1905 and 1907. Notice
the sawtooth shingles
and diamond shaped vent on the cross gable. Both were popular
embellishments at the turn of the century, but underneath the
dressing is the very traditional Mecklenburg "I" house.
11. Across the fields and behind the trees to your left
is the rather grand house of the Moore brothers, who donated
land for the church. At one time a plank walkway was said to have
been laid between the house and the church.
Continue on Moore's Chapel Rd for .7 miles. Turn right onto
Hawfield Rd. After .3 miles, pull in to view the Hovis Spratt house
which is set well back from the road on your
12. The Hovis
Spratt House used to be in the Steele Creek community, and was
moved here to avoid demolition in 1986. Franklin Hovis began
building the house just before the Civil War and completed it after
he returned from service. Family folklore states that he cut the
beams and clapboard from pines so tall that he did not have to
remove any branches. Notice the traditional design of the
convenient place to turn, and retrace your steps, turning left off
of Hawfield Rd. onto Moore's Chapel Rd. When you pass the Moore's
Chapel Methodist Church on your right, turn right onto Sam Wilson
Rd. Continue on Sam Wilson Rd. crossing Wilkinson Blvd., and at the
"T" junction turn left onto Old Dowd Rd. After 1.7 miles, turn
right at the stop sign onto Wallace Neal Rd., and then after 2.5
miles turn right onto Dixie Rd just past a modern convenience
store. Drive .7 miles and turn right onto Mt. Olive Church Rd. Stop
just after the turn to view the Cooper log
13. This house is
unique in that it demonstrates changes in building traditions in
the county over a 100-year period. It is also one of Mecklenburg's
original pioneer dwellings, and one of only two known
eighteenth-century log buildings to remain intact.
The house's story begins with the log section
which is covered by modern siding but which forms the left side of
the house. William Cooper, the son of one of Steele Creek's first
settlers, probably built the log cabin around 1780. By that time
the strongly Scots-Irish settlement of Steele Creek had established
itself in the southwest of the county. Cooper's log house was
typical of many of the first homes in the area. Pines were hand
hewn to produce twelve-inch-thick logs which were laid horizontally
and notched to fit together at the corners. Curved logs were laid
first since the weight of those on top would help to straighten
them in time. The gaps between the logs were filled with clay to
make the building weatherproof. These early dwellings usually had
one entrance, one window, a dirt floor, and an external brick or
Cooper Log House
William lived the life of a typical early
Mecklenburg farmer, growing a variety of crops, including corn,
wheat, hay, oats, and cotton, and raising livestock. Close to the
house were slave quarters, and his slaves could supplement their
rations by hunting, fishing, and raising their own crops.
When William died in 1834, his son Alexander
took over the house and farm and probably built the two-story
addition to the right of the log house. The flush eaves and
tenon-and-mortise construction are characteristic of this era. The
second addition, a frame structure with an internal chimney
directly behind the log structure, was made in 1880 by the next
heir, Thomas Cooper. Thomas Cooper held the prestigious office of
sheriff of Mecklenburg County between 1887 and 1898.
convenient place to turn, and retrace your path to the junction
with Dixie Rd. Turn right onto Dixie Rd. After less than half a
mile, you will see the Freeman house on your
14. Ike Freeman built this house on the site of his old
family home in 1914. The family still treasures a brick saved from
the chimney or foundation of the earlier house. It bears the date
1757, making this one of the first sites of settlement in the area.
Ike was a "jack-of-all-trades". Besides being an employee of the
exciting new Southern Utilities Company (now Duke Power), he also
ran a farm and was an accomplished carpenter. His was the first
house in the neighborhood to have a telephone and electricity, yet
for years he resisted the idea of indoor plumbing!
Continue on Dixie Rd. for a farther .3 miles. On your right,
just past the junction with Byrum Rd., is Dr. Query's
15. Ike Freeman probably helped to
construct this house, built
for Dr. Query in 1919 by a neighbor, Paul J. Brown. Dr. Query
served the neighborhood for over thirty years. Local residents
still remember coming to his office when it was located in the left
part of the building--with a separate door of course. The adjoining
porte cochere was just big enough to drive a Model T or Model A
Ford through, so that patients stayed dry in bad weather. But many
remember earlier days when they arrived by horse and wagon.
Continue on Dixie Rd., (Hwy. 160) which now changes its name to
Steele Creek Rd. After almost a mile, pull into the grounds of the
Steele Creek Presbyterian Church.
16. A local legend says that after the
Lord completed the creation of the Old World (Africa, Asia, and
Europe) he broke off a corner of Scotland, flattened its highlands
with his hand, and laid it along the east bank of the Catawba
River, calling it Steele Creek. The community has persisted in its
strong Scots-Irish Presbyterian emphasis for over 200 years. It has
also continued to be a tightly knit community. Perhaps the most
graphic evidence of this can be found in the graveyard, where
headstones from a 200-year span echo familiar local names. It
contains one of the finest collections of early headstones in the
county, with graves dating from 1763.
It is not known when the very first settlers came to this area of
the county, but they had an organized church here by 1760. (This
makes them one of the original seven Presbyterian congregations in
the county.) This building is the fifth on the site and the only
one to be built of brick. The grand Gothic-style
sanctuary replaced the fourth church which burned in 1888. It was
designed to hold 1,000 people, a testament to a flourishing
congregation. Indeed, until the 1960s there was very little
competition from other denominations in the area. Locals recall
that newcomers to the area automatically became members of Steele
Creek Presbyterian Church!
Steele Creek Presbyterian
leave the parking lot of the church, turn left to continue down
Steele Creek Rd. After .2 miles, you will see the Steele Creek
Manse on your right.
17. The Steele Creek Manse was constructed by the
congregation for their pastor in 1910. It is said that the windows
were crafted on the site and are all slightly different in size.
The spacious lot reminds us of a time when the pastor was expected
to grow some of his own crops and keep animals to supplement his
farther .7 miles down the road you will pass the William Grier
house on your right.
18. The Grier family is a classic example of the
Scots-Irish migration into the county. The patriarch of the family,
James Grier, came to Lancaster County in Pennsylvania from County
Antrum in Northern Ireland in 1772. He brought with him his wife
Margaret, his sons and daughters, and two-year-old grandson Jimmy.
Arriving on the eve of the Revolutionary War, the Grier family
immediately threw their lot in with the revolutionaries, and his
sons James and Thomas both joined the Continental Army. Introduced
to the Carolinas during the war, the family decided to settle here
in the Piedmont once the fighting was over. Thomas Grier became a
significant farmer in Steele Creek; he owned twenty-nine slaves by
1820, an unusually large number for a Mecklenburg farmer. He had this house built for his son
William sometime before his death in 1828. It has been carefully
restored to look much as it did when William lived here. You will
notice that it follows the traditional pattern of rural farm
houses, though it is not as symmetrical as one might expect. During
the last 100 years, the house has been in the possession of the
Byrum family, whose enterprise has left its impression in the
into the parking lot of the Byrum store just ahead on your
19. The little community of Shopton is said to have got
its name "shop town" when the store was built here by Joe
Hayes during the 1880s. Hayes ran a post office in one corner of
the store until rural delivery was introduced in 1896. By the time
Hayes sold the store to William Lester Byrum in 1919, this spot had
become a community gathering place with a blacksmith's shop almost
opposite (the building can still be seen), a cotton gin, and as
many as eight residences. Joe Hayes probably erected the house next
door (to the right) around the turn of the century. It would have
been very stylish at the time and could easily have fit into a
suburban setting such as Dilworth or Elizabeth. (See Route
II.) Notice the classical overtones in the central pediment of
the extensive wrap around-porch.
You may wish to visit the store which sells a
wide range of snacks and drinks as well as fishing tackle and other
goods. Many of the fixtures are original.
Continue down Steele Creek Rd., and keep to the left at the
fork. The next left after the fork is Brown-Grier Rd. Turn left and
drive to the farmhouse which you can see in the distance across the
fields on the left side of Brown-Grier
20. The scene here, with fields, forest, and a classic
Mecklenburg farmstead in the distance, has remained unchanged for
at least 150 years. This was the homesite of James Grier, and the
farm we see today was built by his descendant, John, in 1836. The
Grier family still farm the land and take a pride in their
Federal-style farmhouse. The collection of farm buildings
surrounding the farmhouse includes a smoke house, well house, wood
store, and various barns. Such buildings would have surrounded all
of the old houses we have seen along the route. Notice the two
boxwoods in front of the house marking the entrance. They were
probably planted when the house was built.
Just beyond the house is the creek which gives
this area its name. The derivation is uncertain. Some say the creek
was named for Robert Steele, a pioneer Indian trader. Others claim
that a family named Steele lived here near the confluence of the
two streams that form Steele Creek.
convenient place to turn around and return to Steele Creek Rd. Turn
left and continue straight through the traffic lights at
Westinghouse Blvd. and stay on Steele Creek Rd. for another 1.3
miles and turn left onto Erwin Rd. Drive .5 miles and you will see
a frame building on your left. This is the McClintock Rosenwald
21. Before the Rosenwald School was built here in the
1920s, the local black sharecroppers had little hope of providing
their children with an education, and even afterwards it was not
easy, for many inequalities existed between black and white
schools. (For the history of Rosenwald schools in the county see
Routes III and IV.) Children had to walk five or six miles
to attend the McClintock Rosenwald
School and were often passed by buses full of white children
traveling to their schools. Lucille Stewart attended this school
between 1930 and 1937, and she remembers the walk well: "When you
got there, it was terrible. You'd be so cold your fingers, they'd
just ache like toothache." The school calendar was quite different
for black and white children in Mecklenburg as throughout much of
the South. Black schools were open through the long hot summer in
order to have a fall break for the harvest.
Until the late 1940s, it was difficult to get
school materials. Lucille Stewart, for instance, remembers that she
used to go out after school "and pick greasy greens and sell them
and take the money to help to get our books." During the late
1940s, when books were provided at all, they were the second-hand
cast-offs from Steele Creek School. Facilities were not modern
either. Another student, Shelby Faust, remembers that "we only had
an outside bathroom, and we would have to line up because there
wasn't but two holes." The only chance of an education past eighth
grade was to live with friends or relatives in Charlotte's Second
Ward and attend the high school there.
However, the dedication of the teachers at these
schools was exemplary, and local communities still cherish their
old Rosenwald school buildings. The McClintock School, like many
others, was closely linked with the Presbyterian church. The
McClintock Presbyterian Church was one of the first black
Presbyterian churches in the county.
Continue on Erwin Rd. until you reach the intersection with
York Rd. At this point, you have several alternatives:
- For McDowell
Park, turn right. This nature reserve is a farther 2.5 miles
along York Rd. on Lake Wylie. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
daily (except on Mondays and Tuesdays from August to May).
Admission is free on weekdays, and on weekends there is a small
charge per vehicle. (For information call (704) 336-3854)
- For Carowinds Theme Park,
turn left and then right onto Carowinds Blvd.
- To complete the tour, turn left
onto York Rd. After 4.6 miles, two interesting old houses flank the
road. Stop by the side of the road to read the plaque in front of
the right hand house.
22. This house is the homesite of the McDowell family.
John and Mary McDowell came here from Virginia with three children.
They are known to have secured land here as early as 1739, making
them among the first white settlers in the area. Their log house
was constructed across the road from here, though John did not
enjoy it for long, for he was killed by Indians on his return from
a trip to Virginia for supplies.
Rather like the Cooper house, this house
combines three different eras of building. To the rear is part of a
log house built by John's son in 1790. John's grandson incorporated
this into a typical Mecklenburg "I" house in 1843. To the front is
a four-room addition built in 1912, giving the house its
turn-of-the-century Colonial Revival look. Notice the dentilled
cornice and the classical styling of the front porch, with its
Ionic columns and central pediment.
23. Across the road is a house which is
closely associated with this one. Rev. James Bell Watt, the pastor
of the Steele Creek Church in the late 1850s, bought an
eighteen-acre tract here from his brother-in-law Robert McDowell in
1848 so that his wife could be close to her sister. The house that
he built has been remodeled twice since then. In 1900, James Bell
Watt II moved the whole structure 100 yards east, and replaced the
exterior chimneys with interior ones.
A later renovation of the 1950s, was not so
deliberate. One day, the Watt family was relaxing here with friends
after dinner when an airplane pilot miscalculated his landing and
came crashing into the front porch, with either engine poking
through the front windows. The pilot got out of the plane and
approached the rather shaken family with a polite apology! The
porch, therefore, dates from the 1950s.
This concludes the loop
of Northwest and Western Mecklenburg. To return to Charlotte and
I-77 continue on York Rd. You will see signs for I-77 after about
two miles. If you stay on York Rd., it becomes South Tryon St. and
takes you to uptown Charlotte.