Charlotte is a crossroads town. You are standing at the crossroads. This intersection has existed for thousands of years, long before the first white settlers began to arrive in the mid-1700's. It is the reason that Charlotte exists. It was here that countless generations of Native Americans passed by on their way to the mountains to the west or the coastal plain to the east. It was here that Thomas Polk built his imposing house and had the log courthouse erected for the new county seat in 1768. The courthouse was right out in the middle of the intersection, and Polk's house stood nearby. It was here that the Mecklenburg Resolves and the alleged Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence were signed in May, 1775. It was here that William R. Davie and a small band of patriot militiamen stood on September 26, 1780, and fired upon the British army and its Tory allies as they marched up South Tryon Street and occupied the town. It was here that General Nathanael Greene assumed command of the patriot army from Horatio Gates on December 3, 1780.
"The Square" is Charlotte's historic heart. In the 1830's and 1840's, gold miners walked through the Square and headed for the U.S. Mint building that used to stand at the intersection of West Trade Street and Mint Street. Confederate president Jefferson Davis and his cabinet came to the Square on their flight southward after the fall of Richmond to the Yankees in April, 1865. Electric streetcars rumbled through the Square beginning in May, 1891, when Charlotte was experiencing the so-called New South era of industrial growth. Thousands of folks gathered here in 1945 to rejoice over the news that World War II had ended. The story is not over. The Christmas parade still moves through the Square each year. Charlotte still has its New Year's Eve celebration at the Square.
Standing in the midst of Charlotte's gleaming skyscrapers it is sometimes difficult to appreciate how historic the Square is. By the way, many people wonder why Charlotte was not built on the banks of the Catawba River, which runs along the western border of Mecklenburg County. The reason is simple. The Catawba River was not continuously navigable in this region, so roads, not waterways, were the more efficient means of transportation. That's why Charlotte is a crossroads town, not a river town. That's why the Square is Charlotte's historic heart.
Continue the Tour by walking along the northern side of West Trade Street. The arrows in the map will show you exactly where to go. Each stop on the tour has a corresponding number on the Walking Tour Map. To your right just after crossing Church Street is First Presbyterian Church. Walk into the church yard and gaze at this grand, majestic structure that looms before you.
Most of the early white settlers who migrated to Mecklenburg County in the eighteenth century were Scots-Irish Presbyterians. As Calvinists, they believed in a stern but merciful God who rewards good and punishes evil. They were also experienced pioneers. The Scots-Irish were Scotsmen who had been sent by King James I to Ireland. Later, many had migrated to the New World, mainly to Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. After 1730, when the Royal government began to market land aggressively in the Carolina "backcountry," the Scots-Irish started pouring into the Piedmont in search of cheap land. Some, like Thomas Polk, stopped when they came to the major crossroads formed by what is now Trade Street and Tryon Street.
The Scots-Irish were not alone. Even in Mecklenburg County there were Germans, English, Welshmen and others. Especially in county seats like Charlotte, where tavern keepers and lawyers tended to settle, several Christian denominations could be found. It is not surprising that the first church on this site, established in 1815, was a town church. The Presbyterians bought this lot and erected their own house of worship in 1845, and they have been using the land ever since. The oldest part of the building you see today is the very front section. It dates from 1857. Most of the ornate structure, including its crenelated parapets, towers, spires, and pinnacles, was built in the mid-1890's.
As you stand amid the trees and look up at the steeple pointing toward the heavens you cannot help but think about the thousands of worshipers who have come to this spot over the years. How many weddings? How many funerals? How much joy? How much sadness? Old and young have come here to listen to the stories and perform the rituals that have sustained them in sickness and in health.
One member of First Presbyterian Church was Daniel Harvey Hill. A graduate of West Point and Professor of Mathematics at Davidson College, Hill came to Charlotte in 1859 to become Superintendent of the North Carolina Military Academy. A devout Christian, he would serve as a Lieutenant General in the Confederate Army. He would lead young Southerners into battle at places like Malvern Hill, South Mountain, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. After the war, D. H. Hill returned to Charlotte and published a magazine and a newspaper that called upon the South to heal up its wounds and reconcile itself with the North.
Another member of First Presbyterian Church was Mary Anna Morrison Jackson, Hill's sister-in-law and the widow of General Stonewall Jackson.
Exit from the First Presbyterian Church yard on the Poplar Street side. Continue down West Trade Street until you see three historic buildings on your right. One is an unmistakeable green.
The green building and its adjoining neighbor are the Century and Gateway Buildings. Constructed in 1924-25 and 1925-26 respectively, they are distinguished by their architecture. The designer was one of the region's finest architects, Charles Christian Hook. The Gateway Building had several long-term tenants. Number 402 housed Smith's Book Store for over thirty years, and number 404 was an A & P grocery store.
The Century Building of 1925-1926 had a somewhat different history. The bright green terra cotta facade stands out along the Trade Street corridor. The golden tan decorative motifs contrast sharply with the restrained Neoclassical details of the Gateway Building. The storefront at 408 West Trade Street was often vacant in the 1920's. From the late 1930's to the late 1960's, the storefront was occupied by a barbershop, during World War II it became known as the "Victory Barber Shop," a name it retained for over twenty years. The second-story offices at 408-1/2 were occupied from the late 1930's until the early 1960's by King's Business College, which continues to operate at another location in the city.
Just a few feet further down the West Trade Street you will see the sleek, curvy, former bus station.
4. TRAILWAYS BUS STATION
The former Trailways Bus Station is one of Charlotte's very few Art Moderne buildings. It became a major entry point for the city in the years between World War I and World War II. Buses were gradually replacing trains as the major means of inter-city travel.
Look across the street at the Federal Courthouse.
This grand Neoclassical structure is the work of pioneer architect C.C. Hook, whose somewhat similar Charlotte City Hall dominates the other end of Trade Street. The many-columned limestone design was greatly expanded in 1934, necessitating the demolition of the old United States Mint, which was rebuilt as an art museum in the Eastover neighborhood. Like the County Courthouse and City Hall, the Post Office is set back from the street to provide a "civic plaza."
Turn back along West Trade Street, retracing your steps, until you reach Poplar Street. Turn left on Poplar Street and look at the brick house on the next corner.
You are now entering a part of Uptown Charlotte known as Fourth Ward. Except for the dwellings on Trade and Tryon Streets, the finest homes in Charlotte in the late 1800's and early 1900's were built on the back streets of Fourth Ward. This fancy brick dwelling with its distinctive corner tower was constructed by E. M. Andrews, a local developer, in 1892-1893. The first owner was Andrew J. Bagley, a railroad ticket agent.
Most folks don't realize how important the railroad has been in Charlotte's history. Until 1852, when the Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad linked Charlotte with Columbia and Charleston, South Carolina, this community did not have easy commercial contact with the outside world. By 1880, Charlotte had an impressive array of railroads, running east, west, north and south; and it was this rail transportation network that played a major role in making Charlotte the largest city in the two Carolinas by the early twentieth century. Think about it. Charlotte is the economic capital of the two states. Listen carefully. You may hear trains rumbling along the tracks at the edges of Fourth Ward several times daily.
The most colorful owner of the Bagley-Mullen House was Walter N. Mullen, a native of Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Mullen was a medicine man. He concocted a brew he called the "Hornet's Nest Liniment." He promised it would make the old look young and the fat look thin. He swore that his secret potion would put hair on a man's head and take it off a lady's face. A Charlotte newspaper explained that Mullen "made a lucrative living from the much advertised and meritorious composition." The house is now a Bed and Breakfast. Go in and see if they have any liniment.
Continue north on Poplar Street. Just after you cross Fifth Street, enter the Old Settlers' Cemetery that covers most of the next block.
This is Charlotte's first burial ground. Many people assume that the cemetery belongs to First Presbyterian Church. It doesn't. The City owned the cemetery in the 1700's, and it still does. Most of the folks buried here were Presbyterians, but not everybody.
The oldest known grave is that of Joel Baldwin, who died October 21, 1776. He was 26. One of the figures from the Revolutionary era there is Colonel Thomas Polk, founder of Charlotte, who died in 1793, and was the great-uncle of President James K. Polk. Among his accomplishments were reported to be his holding office as one of the county's first commissioners, being treasurer and trustee of Queens College and a member of the Colonial Assembly, and signing the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. Next to him is his wife, Susannah Spratt Polk, whose father's house, that of Thomas Spratt, was the site of the first court held in Mecklenburg County.
A hero of the Revolutionary War, Major General George Graham (1758-1826) is also interred in the Old Settlers' Cemetery. Graham came to Charlotte in 1764 from Pennsylvania, and was at the historic battle at McIntire's farm where a small group of patriots sent a detachment of 600 British soldiers back to Cornwallis with the complaint that there was a "rebel behind every bush."
Distinguished politicians are buried here, including William Davidson, a member of the U. S. House of Representatives from 1818 to 1821, and Dr. Nathaniel Alexander, a Revolutionary War surgeon and Governor of North Carolina. Even slaves are buried here. The northwest corner of the cemetery was reserved for them.
The City closed Old Settlers' Cemetery on August 1, 1867, but burials occurred here with special permission until 1884. You are only two blocks from the Square where the Uptown Charlotte Walking Tour began. The vast majority of people meandering about that bustling intersection give little thought to the Old Settlers' Cemetery. But one is reminded of an epitaph written on a gravestone somewhere in Virginia.
As you are, so once was I.
As I am, you will soon be.
Prepare for Death!
Standing in the middle of Old Settler's Cemetery, walk toward the old, red brick building bordering the lower right-hand edge of the burial ground. This was the home of the North Carolina Medical College.
This section of Fourth Ward contained most of Charlotte's medical facilities in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The North Carolina Medical College, a private school founded by Dr. Paul B. Barringer in Davidson, North Carolina in 1887, moved to its new building in Charlotte on October 2, 1907. The driving force behind the expansion and relocation of the North Carolina Medical College was Dr. John Peter Munroe, like Dr. Barringer a teacher at Davidson College. At the official dedication of the building Dr. Munroe explained that he had moved the school to Charlotte because "the opportunities were broader, the scope of work broader." Put simply, there were lots of sick people here. The architect of the new building was James McMichael, and it cost $27,000 to construct. You'll learn more about Mr. McMichael later on the tour. The North Carolina Medical College closed in Charlotte in 1914, because Dr. Munroe and his associates were not willing or able to spend the money to bring the school up to the standards required by the Carnegie Foundation.
The North Carolina Medical College was important in causing Charlotte to become a dominant medical center in this region. Seven hundred and thirty-two students attended the North Carolina Medical College. The school awarded 340 Doctor of Medicine Degrees. Among its graduates were Mary Martin Sloop and her husband, Eustace Sloop, who established a hospital at Crossnore, North Carolina. Portia McKnight, another female graduate, was a co-founder of a clinic in Sterling, Colorado. Dr. B. C. Nalle, founder of the Nalle Clinic in Charlotte, was a member of the faculty, as were many of the leading physicians in the community. Robert H. Lafferty, an official of the institution, contended that "the impetus it gave medicine in Charlotte and this section of the State was both great and lasting." The building, which now contains offices, is an excellent example of adaptive re-use.
Leave the Old Settlers' Cemetery on the Poplar Street side and walk to the intersection of Poplar and Sixth Streets. Look across Poplar Street at the large brick building. This is another example of adaptive re-use, one of the major historic preservation tools used to save historic buildings.
Who remembers Jane Smedberg Renwick Wilkes? Almost nobody. That's sad, because she was a remarkable woman and a true Charlotte hero. A member of St. Peter's Episcopal Church, which you'll see later on this tour, and wife of John Wilkes, owner of the Mecklenburg Iron Works, Jane Wilkes, a native of New York City, labored tirelessly to establish Charlotte's first civilian hospital. It was no easy task. Not the least of her accomplishments was heading the fundraising campaign, which raised enough cash to open the hospital, initially known as the "Charlotte Home and Hospital," at a temporary location on East Seventh Street on January 20, 1876.
Money was not the only issue. In those days people looked upon hospitals with disdain and distrust. One hospital supporter explained: "It is strange to recall the tremendous struggle which the pioneers were called upon to make against prejudice; first of the patient, who had to be almost kidnapped from his relatives, and brought against his own will as well, and secondly, against the opposition of those who lived in the neighborhood, who resented the diseases brought into their midst. The first few patients were brought in under resistance so fierce that one of the two or three policemen which the town boasted had always to walk beside the patient, and at times stand around the premises, to intimidate the rioters who threatened to shoot into the building." In the beginning, hospitals mainly served the poor and homeless. No respectable person would be caught "dead" in such a place.
St. Peter's Hospital, named for nearby St. Peter's Episcopal Church, opened at this location on May 30, 1878. The lot cost $273.42. Gradually, the facility expanded as more and more people were willing to be admitted. The building assumed its present form in 1922, when architect Louis Asbury, Sr. designed a major addition to the front.
In April, 1938 Dr. William Henry Walsh, a hospital consultant from Chicago, presented a survey of medical facilities in Charlotte. His findings prompted the community to launch a drive to establish a new hospital. The St. Peter's Board of Trustees voted to contribute $100,000 to this effort and to close St. Peter's if the drive was successful. It was. Charlotte Memorial Hospital, now Carolinas Medical Center, opened on October 8, 1940. It was quite a scene that day. Patients were carried on stretchers out the front door of St. Peter's to ambulances that hauled them to the new facility across town. By then no policemen were needed to control rioters. The operating rooms stood silent. The halls empty. But there are still lots of folks in Charlotte who drive by the old brick building, which has been converted into condominiums, and say, "I was born there."
Across Sixth Street from St. Peter's Hospital is a fountain which marks the entrance to Fourth Ward Park. Enter the park at this point and follow the sidewalk as it leads you to the north end of the park at the intersection of Pine Street and Eight Street, where you will see a large Victorian house with a corner tower. Stop at the fountain across Eighth Street from the house.
It's hard to believe that this section of Fourth Ward was on the outer fringes of Charlotte in the late 1800's. It was also one of the most fashionable residential districts in the entire community. Look at the one-story projection or wing on the far right side of the Overcarsh House. This is probably the oldest frame structure in Uptown Charlotte. That was the entire house when it was built, and it dates from before the Civil War.
The house was greatly expanded around 1880 when Elias Overcarsh, a Methodist minister, had the main block constructed in the then-fashionable Queen Anne style. Rev. Overcarsh must have inherited a lot of money, because he spared no expense in making his "new" Victorian home a showplace.
Irregularity of plan and massing and variety of color and texture characterize the Queen Anne style. Look at the different kinds of roofs, windows, and exterior siding on the Overcarsh House, and you will see examples of these distinguishing features.
The Queen Anne style began in England in the 1860's when architect Richard Norman Shaw invented the style. But it really caught on in the United States when the British government chose the Queen Anne style for two buildings it erected at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876. Tourists flocked to Philadelphia from all over the country and were enchanted by the extravagant ornateness of what they saw. Whether Elias Overcarsh visited the Centennial Exposition is not known. But it's obvious that he liked the Queen Anne style. One wonders whether Methodist founder John Wesley would have approved of such ornate showiness. Probably not.
Continue north on Pine Street until you reach Ninth Street. Notice the two-story frame store building on your immediate left that now houses Alexander Michael's Restaurant.
Fourth Ward was a "walking-scale" neighborhood in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Horse-drawn streetcars did not arrive in Charlotte until January, 1887, and the first trolleys or electric streetcars did not enter service here until May, 1891. Even after that, or at least until the 1920's, most folks did not own automobiles. When they needed to go somewhere, they walked. That's why there were no driveways between the houses. That's why commercial, industrial, and residential structures often existed side by side.
Fourth Ward was filling up with homes in the 1890's, as Charlotte became the leading cotton mill town in the Carolinas. On July 25, 1898, the Charlotte Observer reported that 37 residences had been completed in Fourth Ward during the previous 12 months. These new residents needed some place close by where they could purchase groceries.
Wilson M. Crowell owned and operated Star Mills, a grist and feed mill and a grocery store on East Trade Street. He recognized the opportunity in Fourth Ward and bought a lot at Ninth and Pine Streets on December 17, 1896, for $300. A neighborhood branch of the Star Mill Grocery opened in this building in 1897. Crowell specialized in selling ground corn meal -- the Star Mills brand, of course. To supplement his income, Crowell put an apartment on the second floor of his store building. It's still there. See the entrance on the left front?
In 1899, Crowell sold the property to a competitor, Andrew M. Beattie, who had a grocery in First Ward, on East Seventh Street. Beattie needed a manager for his Fourth Ward outlet, so he hired Ernest Berryhill, who knew nothing about the grocery business but who lived in the big house diagonally across the intersection.
Friendly, generous, and a devoted family man, Berryhill took to the grocery business like a duck takes to water. In October, 1907, he bought the property and changed the name to Berryhill Store. He ran the store until his death in February, 1931. Every morning Earnest and his wife, Gussie Newcomb Berryhill, and their black helper, Amzi Rosman, welcomed customers, asked about their children and relatives, and discussed politics -- all except Amzi, of course. That's the way things were in those days.
In 1960, John Berryhill, Earnest's son, converted the old store building into a Laundromat. It closed in 1973. In the late 1970's, the Crowell-Berryhill Store was restored, first as a grocery and now as a restaurant. Alexander Michael's doesn't sell Star Mills corn meal, but the food is worth a stop. Ask for the table in the nook by the front window.
Standing in front of the Crowell-Berryhill Store, look diagonally to your right across the intersection of Ninth Street and Pine Street at the Newcomb-Berryhill House.
This is where Earnest Berryhill, the storekeeper, lived. Can't you see him getting up in the morning and walking across the intersection to work? But that's getting ahead of the story. The Newcomb-Berryhill House was built in 1884 by John H. Newcomb, Earnest's father-in-law. John Newcomb was a Yankee from White Plains, New York who had moved to Charlotte in 1879 with his brother George to establish a bellows factory. The two wives, Annie Augusta, nicknamed "Gussie," and Susie A. Newcomb, ran a fancy hat shop on West Trade Street. Gussie would travel to New York City to purchase the finest material and ribbons, and Susie would make the hats. Because Charlotte was a "New South" city, it welcomed enterprising folks from the North, even if they were Yankees.
The two brothers built houses side by side on West Ninth Street in Fourth Ward. George's house was torn down many years ago. It's not surprising that John constructed a fancy house, because by 1884 he and his brother had become building contractors. The Newcomb-Berryhill House and its elaborate trim and dramatic tent-roofed tower were advertisements of sorts. John Newcomb died on July 27, 1892, at the age of 47. Soon thereafter, Earnest Berryhill, the Newcomb's son-in-law, moved in. "Gussie" lived on in the house until September 13, 1933, which ironically was her 83rd birthday. The funerals for John and Gussie, who were members of St. Peter's Episcopal Church, were held in the house.
In 1940, the Newcomb-Berryhill House was turned into a four-unit apartment house. By the mid-1970's, it was in serious disrepair and seemingly forgotten. The Junior League of Charlotte came to the rescue. It purchased the house on October 28, 1975, refurbished it, and sold it with restrictive deed covenants. This assured that the Newcomb-Berryhill House would be saved. Don't you think John and Gussie would be pleased? Maybe Gussie would put on a fancy hat with pretty ribbons!
Walk east on Ninth Street. The only original house on the left side of Ninth Street is the Newcomb-Berryhill House. All the others were moved from elsewhere in Fourth Ward in the 1970's. At the end of the block you will come to another fountain. Continue around the fountain and look at the house on your immediate left that faces Poplar Street.
This was the home of druggist John W. Sheppard, another Yankee who came to Charlotte in the late 1800's to seek his fortune. He and his partner, J. P. Woodall, opened Woodall and Sheppard Drug Store on the northwest corner of the Square in 1896. Woodall and Sheppard was the first drugstore in Charlotte to sell ice cream year around and the first to make deliveries by bicycle.
The John W. Sheppard House was completed in 1899 soon after John had returned to his hometown of Cedarville, New Jersey to marry his childhood sweetheart, Anna Stanton Mulford. John and Anna Sheppard had three sons and one daughter. Tragically, all the boys died as youngsters. Edith, the lone survivor, went on to excel as a student and graduated from Swathmore College in 1923.
Edith's best childhood friend was Mildred Morse, who lived next door. In later years, Mildred Morse, then Mildred Morse McEwen, told in her book, Growing Up In Fourth Ward, what it was like to be a young girl in Fourth Ward at the turn of the century. "There was a big rat in the Sheppard's woodhouse, later a garage. Anyway, smart-aleck Mildred wanted to show Edith that she wasn't afraid of a rat so she stuck her finger in the rat's face and said, 'Boo.' I remember that Mrs. Sheppard brought a saucer for the blood to drip into so it wouldn't get on the floor of the back porch." Or again: "Every summer the Sheppards would go to New Jersey. There was one upstairs room in their house called 'the plunder room' containing the trunks they took with them on the train. I can't remember why I thought it sad when the Sheppards would go to New Jersey, but I remember crying as the surrey loaded with the Sheppards left for the railroad station." They're all gone now. So many memories!
Continue east on Ninth Street one more block. Turn right on Church Street and look for the first house on your right.
On leaving the Sheppard House and continuing on Ninth Street you no doubt noticed that you were moving into a part of Fourth Ward where almost none of the old houses remain. In the 1950's and 1960's, the City of Charlotte began rigorously enforcing its building code. Mildred McEwen wrote movingly about her feelings when she was forced to tear her old Fourth Ward homeplace down. "I stood on the street on the verge of tears. One of the workmen must have felt sorry for me because he stopped his work and came to the sidewalk and handed me a piece of gingerbread."Happily, the Liddell-McNinch House, another example of the Queen Anne style, was not demolished. This imposing Victorian dwelling was constructed in 1892 by Vinton Liddell, whose father, W. J. F. Liddell, had moved to Charlotte in 1875. Vinton's father, still another Yankee, was a brilliant machinist from Erie, Pennsylvania who recognized that Charlotte was fast becoming a major manufacturing center in the late nineteenth century. Therefore he decided to build a plant that made steam engines, saw mills, and cotton presses, as well as other equipment for the textile industry. The Liddell Foundry and Machine Shop were located at North Church Street and the Seaboard Air Line Railroad tracks or about three blocks north from where you are now standing. Liddell Street still marks the site.
Vinton Liddell, like his parents a Baptist, was a vice president of the Charlotte Cotton Mills and also worked for his father, who died in November, 1888. Many years after Vinton Liddell had sold his house on North Church Street in 1903, his daughter, Vinton Liddell Pickens, visited the old homeplace with a reporter from the Charlotte Observer. She remembered a stable with horses in the backyard. She remembered the lot being much bigger. "I do remember hearing that when this house was built, my father insisted on having gas lines installed. It was wired for electricity, but it was quite new, and my father didn't trust it. He wanted the gas in case electricity didn't prove satisfactory."
S. S. McNinch, the Mayor of Charlotte, purchased the Liddell-McNinch House in 1907, and President William Howard Taft visited in the house when he came to Charlotte on May 20, 1909, for the annual celebration of the signing of the alleged Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. The house today serves as the McNinch House Restaurant which serves elegant meals by reservation only. For information, call 332-6159.
Continue south on Church Street until you reach Eighth Street. Turn left on Eighth Street and walk until you reach Tryon Street and go in front of the church to your immediate left.
15. FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH:
The remainder of the Walking Tour of Uptown Charlotte will mostly be along Tryon Street, named for Governor William Tryon, the Royal Governor of North Carolina when Charlotte was established in 1768. Until the early 1900's, Tryon Street was lined with elegant homes, except for one block immediately north and south of the Square. As the size of Charlotte exploded in the twentieth century, however, all of the old buildings were torn down aside from a few churches and early skyscrapers, plus one florist shop and a lavish arcade. You will visit them all!
First United Methodist Church is an extravagant example of the Late Gothic Revival style. Typically constructed of stone, structures of this type were especially popular as churches or college buildings, such as Princeton University in New Jersey, Yale University in Connecticut, and Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
James Buchanan Duke, whose money created Duke University, played a role in establishing First United Methodist Church in Charlotte. In the early 1920's, Duke met with Charlotte Methodist E. R. Bucher, an employee of what is now Duke Power Company, and said, "You know, I'm going to spend a great deal of time in Charlotte. I think I ought to do something for Charlotte Methodism." Later Duke promised to contribute $100,000 if Trinity Methodist Church and Tryon Street Methodist Church, both in Uptown Charlotte, would merge and "build a representative stone church." On November 24, 1926, Trinity Methodist Church and Tryon Street Methodist Church did vote to unite. The first service was held here on October 30, 1927. Although J. B. Duke had died in 1925, his estate did contribute money to the building of First United Methodist Church. The architect of the Charlotte church was Edwin Brewer Phillips of Memphis, Tennessee.
Cross Tryon Street at the Eighth Street intersection and stop in front of the fancy, two-story brick building on the corner of Tryon Street and Eighth Street.
Oscar J. Thies hired architect Louis Asbury, Sr. to design this building, which was completed in 1922 and which housed several automotive dealerships during the flamboyant twenties. The big front windows were show windows for the newest models of automobiles. Shut you eyes and maybe you can imagine a 1923 Chevrolet or a 1925 Oldsmobile glistening in the window. The storefront has an interesting rhythm set up by the progression from the larger first floor panes of glass, to the narrower second floor panes of glass, and finally to the bricks set in soldier course above the windows. That rhythm, combined with the vertical corner emphasis, gives the building a sense of greater height.
Oscar J. Thies was a shrewd businessman. Although he followed in his father's footsteps of being educated as a mining engineer, Oscar made his mark as a real estate developer. The Thies-Smith Realty Company, which he organized in 1912, constructed many homes in Charlotte's outlying suburbs, including Dilworth, Elizabeth, and Myers Park, as well as along Morehead Street, Selwyn Avenue, and Sharon Road. He also invested in commercial real estate projects like the Oscar J. Thies Automobile Building.
It's not difficult to imagine how Oscar felt about owning an automobile sales and service center. The automobile was becoming a status symbol for the middle class by the mid-1920's. No longer totally dependent upon public transportation, average folks could now aspire to follow the affluent to the suburbs, where green grass, cool air, and song birds beckoned and where Oscar J. Thies had plenty of fine homes for sale.
The "walking scale" city that Fourth Ward residents Earnest Berryhill and John Sheppard had known was torn apart by the automobile. In the 1800's, poor folks lived on the edge of town, and the wealthy resided closer in. Now the situation was reversed. The rich and the comfortable headed for the suburbs, and the less privileged were left behind. That process is still going on. If you don't believe this, watch what happens to Uptown Charlotte in the late afternoon. It's a mass exodus of suburbanites. And if you want to see just how fundamental the automobile remains, go to the top of one of Charlotte's skyscrapers and see how much space is devoted to automobile parking lots. They're just about everywhere.
Walk south along Tryon Street by crossing Eighth Street. When you come to Seventh Street, turn left and proceed one block to the intersection of North College Street and East Seventh Street. Look at the brick church on the northeast quadrant of the intersection.
Since crossing Tryon Street you have been in First Ward. Unlike Fourth Ward, which was totally white in the nineteenth century, First Ward was racially mixed. College Street is named for the Presbyterian College for Women, which was located about two blocks north until it moved to Myers Park in 1914 and changed its name to Queens College.
First United Presbyterian Church, known as Seventh Street Presbyterian Church until it merged with Brooklyn Presbyterian Church in 1968, has a rich and illustrious history. The current church building was constructed in the 1890's, but there has been a black Presbyterian church on this site since the mid-1870's. Stephen Mattoon, a white missionary and president of Biddle Institute, now Johnson C. Smith University, was its minister in the 1880's.
In the years immediately following the Civil War, the black people of Charlotte struggled to establish a new identity for themselves. Encountering scorn and ridicule from the majority of whites, many of the former slaves lacked the training and education to compete with whites for power and status. Consequently, blacks began creating their own institutions where they could develop and practice the skills needed to survive. Especially important in this regard were black churches. blacks associated membership in the white man's church with the days of slavery and therefore had no desire to continue worshipping there. This was true of those blacks who belonged to First Presbyterian Church on West Trade Street, which you've already visited on this tour. Mrs. Kathleen Hayes summoned the black members to "come down out of the gallery and worship God on the main floor." Established in 1866, the congregation initially called itself the Colored Presbyterian Church of Charlotte and was located in nearby Second Ward. Samuel C. Alexander, a white minister, bought the original lot for the church.
Return to Tryon Street by retracing your route along East Seventh Street and take a left. Continue south on Tryon Street and stop in front of the tan-colored, brick church in the middle of the block.
The architect of this fancy structure was J. M. McMichael. A native of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania., McMichael moved to Charlotte soon after 1900. He joined First Baptist Church and convinced the minister, H. H. Hulten, that the congregation should take the revolutionary step for turn-of-the-century Charlotte and erect a church that had no steeple. McMichael took an enormous chance in selecting a Byzantine dome as the central element of his design. Stanford White, a world-famous architect, had used the same style in his Madison Square Presbyterian Church in New York City, and that building had failed acoustically. You could hardly hear anybody. Not the preacher. Not the choir. Folks wondered if the same fate would befall McMichael's First Baptist Church in Charlotte. For the dedication service on May 2, 1909, 1400 people packed the sanctuary. At the organ Mrs. Alexander Stephens led the throng in singing the hymn, "All Hail The Power Of Jesus Name." So special was the day that Dr. E. Y. Mullins, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, came to preach the sermon. He took his text from the Sixteenth Psalm: "I have a goodly heritage." The people marveled at the stained glass windows. The one on the south side of the sanctuary was given by Vinton Liddell in honor of his father, W. J. F. Liddell. The acoustics worked! The sound of the music was glorious. "J. M. McMichael has succeeded where the late Stanford White failed," a local newspaper boasted.
First Baptist Church is now the main performance space for Spirit Square, an Uptown center for the arts. As chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, Liz Hair led the effort to save the building from probable destruction in 1975. Let the good sounds continue!
Walk south along Tryon Street to the next intersection, which is Sixth Street. Look diagonally across the intersection at the skinny, ten-story, high-rise building.
This site was created using a Macintosh Performa 6290 by Bruce Schulman. This site is maintained for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission by Bruce R. Schulman.