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Thomas W. Hanchett
Plaza-Midwood is Charlotte's most diverse streetcar-era neighborhood. Its
earliest avenues were platted in 1903 and its newest date from after the
Second World War. 1 Buildings range from turn-of-the-century
factories and blue collar housing, to one of Charlotte's largest pre-World
War II suburban shopping strips, to the city's most prestigious country
Though the Plaza-Midwood area was never the city's most
elite district, as
Myers Park, and
Eastover were in their early years, it has had important residents.
Bishop John C. Kilgo, a major regional Methodist leader and president of
Trinity College in the years before it became Duke University; John
Crosland, Sr., who started one of the most active homebuilding firms in the
Southeast; and textile leader George B. Cramer, whose family founded
Cramerton, N.C., are among those who have made their homes in Plaza-Midwood.
The neighborhood was also the site of the experiments that led to the
creation of WBT, one of the first radio stations to be licensed in the
United States. Moreover, several noteworthy designs by such leading
Charlotte architects as Louis Asbury, C. C. Hook, and William Peeps grace
the area, along with noted New York City designer Aymar Embury's Charlotte
Country Club, and the city's best preserved Queen Anne Victorian residence.
Plaza-Midwood did not formally come into being as a
neighborhood until 1973. 2 Residents who had organized to stop a
highway through the neighborhood decided to form a permanent community
organization, and chose a name that combined those of the area's picturesque
main street and one of its larger subdivisions. Official boundary lines were
drawn in 1979 by the Charlotte Planning Commission, part of a city-wide
effort to define Charlotte's neighborhoods for the first time. 3
Yet, despite its diversity and its recent naming, Plaza-Midwood is clearly a
single neighborhood. Its secondary streets continue across the old
subdivision boundaries to form an interlocking web of residential avenues.
The Plaza, a long, straight boulevard with a landscaped median, forms the
neighborhood's spine. Mecklenburg and Belvedere avenues run east from The
Plaza, tying together the area's network of sidestreets.
Sharp natural boundaries delineate the edges of the area.
Central Avenue, a long-time city thoroughfare originally known as Lawyers
Road, defines the neighborhood's southern boundary with a strip of
commercial development. A band of industrial buildings along Hawthorne Lane
and the CSX Railroad forms Plaza-Midwood's western edge. At the east, Briar
Creek and the fairways of the Charlotte Country Club preclude through
streets, another distinct boundary. The least sharply-defined edge is at the
north where Plaza-Midwood merges into Plaza Hills. Yet even here one can
distinguish between the cottages of the 1920s through 1940s that
characterize Plaza-Midwood and the post-World War II development that
defines the areas north of Mecklenburg Avenue and Country Club Lane.
The diversity of ages and economic levels within Plaza-Midwood
and its building stock are in part a result of the large number of early
subdivisions that make up the neighborhood. The fact that Plaza-Midwood is
composed of several subdivisions is not in itself unusual in Charlotte.
Every neighborhood in the city grew up in this manner. The
Elizabeth neighborhood, for example, is made up of five distinct
developments whose names and boundaries have long been forgotten. Even Myers
Park, conceived as a single mammoth project, is in reality a patchwork of
areas platted at different times by a series of planners under the direction
of successive leaders of the Stephens and Griffith companies. Plaza-Midwood,
however, is made up of more developments than any other neighborhood. There
are ten separate subdivisions, several of which were re-subdivided over the
years, involving at least seventeen different development groups. There was
no recognizable lead developer who built a major project around which
smaller ones gathered. Plaza-Midwood had no one like Dilworth's Latta
family, Wilmore's F. C. Abbott, or Elizabeth's W. S. Alexander.
But this fragmented development is not the underlying
cause of the area's diversity. Even within the individual subdivisions there
is surprising variety. Frequently, a single block will contain houses built
decades apart for persons of widely varying economic levels.
The explanation of Plaza-Midwood's appearance today is to
be found in its location in the Charlotte of the 1900s-1920s, and its
position in the web of railroads and streetcar lines that shaped the city.
The tract that became Plaza-Midwood had much to offer, but it also had some
serious liabilities in terms of location. Its potential drew a stream of
real estate developers who gambled that they could overcome the drawbacks to
create a profitable new streetcar suburb for the booming city of Charlotte.
The gamble seldom paid off as well as the developers would have liked.
Beginning with Dilworth in 1891, Charlotte's streetcar
suburbs came to form a tight ring completely surrounding the old town.
Almost all the new streets were contained within a two-mile radius from the
Square at the center of the city. The arrangement was dictated by the nature
of the trolley commuting system. Streetcar track was expensive to build, and
needed relatively high density residential development to be profitable.
Areas with the shortest commuting time to downtown developed first. Yet even
before this first ring of suburbs was completed in the early 1910s, a few
speculators had purchased land farther from town with the hope that it, too,
could soon be developed. The first subdivisions of Plaza-Midwood were part
of this second tier of development, starting in 1903. The only other
second-tier streetcar suburb to be built was the highly successful Myers
Park development. Myers Park was not begun until 1911, an interval of eight
years that saw Charlotte's demand for new housing leap as the city's
population swelled by nearly fifty percent. 4
Along with distance from town, developers in the Plaza-Midwood
area faced a second liability. To get to the new subdivisions, commuters had
to cross a major rail line. Charlotte planner Earle Sumner Draper, who
arrived in 1915, has stated that railroad bridges were a key factor in the
burgeoning growth of the southeast sector of the city, which continues to
this day. 5 In the early decades of this century twenty-five to
thirty passenger trains entered the city each day, with many more freight
trains and switching runs. 6 Eight railroad lines crossed at
grade and hemmed in the center city for many years. The town's first
railroad bridge carried the South Boulevard streetcar line over the tracks
on Morehead Street, allowing the trolleys to move freely south to Dilworth
in the 1890s. The second, in the early 1910s, carried the southeasterly
Elizabeth/Myers Park trolley under the railroad tracks on East Trade Street.
No more bridges were built until the 1930s. Commuters to Plaza-Midwood were
forced to cross the Seaboard Air Line track at Central Avenue each day. It
was a busy line carrying freight from the Charlotte and Gastonia textile
region to both the port of Wilmington and, via the Seaboard junction at
Monroe, North Carolina, to Atlanta, Georgia. Frequent waits at the Central
Avenue grade crossing undoubtedly deterred potential Plaza-Midwood area
The neighborhood's third major problem was one which its
early developers could not have foreseen. The Plaza-Midwood area became the
victim of a power play over control of the city's streetcar system. The
trouble began about 1910 when the tract's early developers and the
projectors of the planned Charlotte Country Club approached trolley owner
Edward Dilworth Latta about extending service out to the section. 7
Latta refused. He had good reason, for the Country Club was to be more than
two miles beyond the existing end of the Central Avenue line at Hawthorne
Lane. There was little prospect that rapid residential development would
occur to offset the construction and operating costs for such a long track,
and the developers were evidently unable or unwilling to subsidize the line
as George Stephens would later do for Myers Park.
On June 6, 1910, developer Paul Chatham, who planned to
sell house lots along what is now The Plaza, came before the City Board of
Aldermen to request a franchise to build his own streetcar line. 8
Latta quickly rose in opposition, for the move would break his monopoly over
the city's mass transit. Latta suspected that Chatham had no plans to create
a line, but instead would sell his rights to James B. Duke's mammoth
Southern Power Company and thereby allow the electric utility to put its
massive resources into competition with Latta and force him out of business.9
Such tactics were commonplace in the heyday of the trolley, and in more than
one American city new companies actually built track and operated parallel
service at a loss until the old franchise-holders were forced to sell out.
Charlotte historian Dan L. Morrill writes that "evidence abounds that the
Dukes and Chatham were in collusion." 10 Attorney Cameron
Morrison represented both Chatham and Duke, and Chatham was a business
associate of William States Lee, the Duke company's chief engineer. 11
The Aldermen's compromise must have pleased no one.
Chatham received his franchise, but with the stipulation that it could not
be sold or transferred. Ironically, a month later Southern Power received a
franchise from the Board to allow their new Piedmont and Northern electric
interurban to come into Charlotte via city streets. Duke had his armhold
over Edward Dilworth Latta, and Latta sold out to the newly-formed Southern
Public Utilities Company the same year.
The Plaza-Midwood area, however, was stuck with Paul
Chatham's tiny streetcar line. For years commuters to the neighborhood had
to get off the Southern Public Utilities Company trolley from downtown near
Hawthorne and Central, and transfer to a battery-powered rail car operated
by Chatham's company for the trip the rest of the way out Central and up The
Plaza. The inconvenience slowed an already long trip, and permanently
retarded the area's growth.
Far from downtown, blocked by the railroad, and hindered
by poor trolley connections, the Plaza-Midwood area was slow to develop. Yet
it continually lured real estate investors. It was well-drained land, some
of the highest in the region. It was very close to the fashionable parts of
Elizabeth, particularly the Central Avenue corridor where such city leaders
as J. B. Ivey, F. C. Abbott, and others lived in large houses. And, after
the Charlotte Country Club bought a tract of inexpensive farmland on Briar
Creek in 1910, it was adjacent to the city's only golf club. A continual
trickle of lot buyers seemed to justify the investors' optimism. But sales
always remained slow, and forced developers to cut lot sizes, modify plans,
and often to sell out to other speculators before all sites finally sold.
The Plaza-Midwood area subdivisions did not fill up until well into the era
of easy automobile transportation.
There is not space for a detailed history of all of
Plaza-Midwood's numerous development groups, but it is possible to provide a
picture of the subdivisions and profile the most important of their
creators. Benjamin D. Heath was the first man to take an interest in the
area as something more than farmland. He had tasted business success as
owner of a hardware store in Monroe, North Carolina (which gave department
store founder William Henry Belk his first mercantile experience) .12
Heath was attracted to Charlotte's booming textile economy and quickly
became one of the city's financial leaders. By 1900 he was president of the
Charlotte National Bank, two textile mills and a fire insurance company,
and partner in numerous other ventures. 13
About 1900 Heath began to take an interest in suburban
real estate, acting as partner with F. C Abbott and young George Stephens in
a development called Piedmont Park, including Sunnyside, Louise, Jackson,
and Central Avenues in the present Elizabeth neighborhood. 14 As
soon as that subdivision was underway, Heath purchased the next piece of
property out Central Avenue beyond Louise Avenue on his own.15 F.
C. Abbott later remembered Heath's Oakhurst development (not to be confused
with a later neighborhood of the same name out Monroe Road) as one of the
city's earliest, predating several suburbs closer to town. It overlapped
parts of today's Elizabeth and Plaza-Midwood neighborhoods:
. . . Mr. B. D. Heath . . . purchased the Chadwick farm with long
frontage on Central Avenue extending almost out to The Plaza, and Oakhurst
was developed. The price paid was one hundred dollars per acre and
included the fine old homestead occupied as his residence the rest of his
life. Some of Mr. Heath's old time friends "ragged" him heavily for paying
such a price for land "way out in the country."16
Heath was smarter than his friends realized. He sold a
number of lots on Central Avenue near Louise Street for fine homes near his
own, all of which are now gone. But Heath recognized that the tract's main
virtue was the Seaboard Railroad track through its center. He planned to
make a rapid profit creating an industrial area, rather than a streetcar
suburb. In 1897, just before B. D. Heath had made his purchase, H. S.
Chadwick's Louise Cotton Mill had opened northwest of where the Seaboard
crossed Central Avenue, and it expanded to 20,000 spindles in 1900.17
The same year, Heath sold off large parcels of his new tract to three other
industrial concerns. On the northwest corner of the crossing was the
Charlotte Casket Company, of which Heath was a director.18 Behind
it was the factory of Barnhardt Manufacturing.19 A native of
Cabarrus County, Thomas M. Barnhardt had been attracted by Charlotte's
textile boom, and found his fortune in cotton waste.20 He
manufactured cotton batting from the material, which had previously been
thrown away. In the 1920s he became a major supplier to the automobile
upholstery industry, and eventually the Barnhardt Company occupied not only
its original plant and the adjacent former casket factory, but a chain of
facilities throughout the region.
The Cole Manufacturing Company built its present factory
on the southeast corner of the railroad crossing about 1911. E. A. and E. M.
Cole had begun operation about 1900 in a wooden building near Barnhardt's,
producing seed planters patented by E. M. Cole. 22 The implements
sold so well that the Coles commissioned architect C. C. Hook to build the
present complex of handsome one-story brick buildings with Roman arched
windows. 23 A 1980 Charlotte newspaper article called Cole "one
of the world's largest manufacturers of seed planting, fertilizing, and farm
machine equipment." 24
Cole Manufacturing Company Building
By 1903, with Barnhardt, Cole Charlotte Casket and one or
two smaller industrial concerns in place, B. D. Heath had sold off most of
his railroad frontage. He now platted most of the remainder of his tract as
a blue collar residential area. 25 These Oakhurst avenues
included the first streets of the area that is now known as Plaza-Midwood;
Clement, Pecan (originally Chadwick), School and Gordon streets, plus parts
of Thomas, Kensington, Chestnut, and Hamorton (originally Peachtree)
streets. A few middle-income residences appeared on the north side of
Central Avenue between the railroad crossing and the farm road that would
become The Plaza, but most of the dwellings on the side streets were working
All of the housing in these blocks was privately
developed. 26 None was owned by the factories, the usual pattern
in other parts of Charlotte. By the time the city directory listed the
streets in the late 1910s, there were some two dozen one-story Victorian
cottages on what are now Clement, Pecan, Thomas, and Hamorton. Notable among
these is 1216 Clement Avenue, an example of the "shotgun" house-type usually
found in black neighborhoods but here occupied by white machinist A. Fred
Love in its early years. Most of the cottages were inhabited by workmen at
the nearby factories, including 1208 Clement, 1416 Pecan, and 1328 Thomas.
One of the more elaborate early dwellings on Thomas, at 1409, was the home
of casket-maker Jackson Kiser. Cole Manufacturing assistant superintendent
Arthur J. Helms could be found at 1409 Pecan, a house distinguished by a
balcony inset in its front gable. Not everyone worked at the factories,
however. United States Post Office foreman Vitchel Q. Stroupe lived in a
multi-gabled Victorian house at 1443 Pecan, painter R. Harvey Allen resided
at 1319 Thomas, and trolley conductor Charles P. Wooten could be found at
1424 Hamorton. During the 1920s, small bungalows for residents of similar
means filled up the spaces between the first Victorian cottages. Though a
handful of early residences have been demolished along Central and adjacent
blocks, the remainder of this Oakhurst section looks today much as it did
fifty years ago, and contains Plaza-Midwood's oldest dwellings.
Logie Avenue and Forest Circle
The next developments farther out Central Avenue came in
1909. D. A Johnston, evidently a small-time real estate speculator, filed a
plat for Logie Avenue, a short, one-block street off the north side of
Central Avenue near Briar Creek.27 The same year the Eastside
Realty Company made plans for the suburb of "Forest Circle" in a hollow a
bit closer to town (in 1983 the area behind McDonald's restaurant). 28
Eastside's partners were the socially prominent doctor C. J. McManaway, Coca
Cola distributor J. L. Snyder, meat market owner L. P. MacKenzie, plus D. M.
Abernathy and Thurman B. Long. 29 Evidently none had much
experience in real estate, and their streets remained only on paper for
years. A couple named J. J. and Sadie Harrill owned the land by 1914, but
they were little more successful. 30
Today the oldest houses in the area, along Hamorton
Street, are bungalows dating from the late 1920s. The hollow proved to be
the only poorly drained land in the Plaza-Midwood area, a problem that
persists today. Consequently, most of the streets drawn by Eastside back in
1909 were not actually opened until immediately after World War II when
pent-up housing demand created a home-buying frenzy. The short, narrow
streets are now mostly lined with low-cost structures built in the late
1940s and early 1950s.
The avenues that occupy the Forest Circle subdivision
include Landis, Randall, Fulton, Firth, Wolf, Roland, and portions of
Hamorton and Kenwood. Roland Street has the most interesting history. It is
said to run near the site of a nineteenth century gold mine. Mecklenburg
County is, in fact, pockmarked with small "placer pit" digs, few of which
panned out. When the street opened around 1941 it carried the romantic name
"Gold Hill Avenue," but by 1951 had been switched to the less colorful
The Charlotte Country Club and Club Acres
In 1910 a group of Charlotte businessmen organized the Mecklenburg
Country Club. Incorporation papers filed February 21, 1910, listed W. S.
Lee, E. P. Coles, F M. Laxton, John M. Scott, Chase Brenizer, Dr. J. P.
Mathison, Stuart W. Cramer, E. C. Marshall, A. J. Draper, and H. Twitty as
equal stockholders. 32 Charlotte was still a small city of only
34,000 people, but its newly wealthy industrialists and developers felt they
merited the era's symbol of wealth and prestige, the golf course. They
purchased a tract of farmland far out in the country, straddling Briar Creek
on the north side of Central Avenue,and turned the old farmhouse into their
At almost the same time, Laxton, developer Paul Chatham,
banker Word Wood, and Duke executive W. S. Lee chartered the Mecklenburg
Realty Company. 34 The following year the company filed a plat
for streets in Club Acres, a new subdivision just west of the clubhouse.
35 Mecklenburg, Belvedere, and Matheson avenues were part of this
plan, along with a number of side streets that were never actually built.
Belvedere was intended as the main drive to the country club enclave, and
Mecklenburg Avenue was planned as the trolley route, an unusual separation
of transportation modes. By 1918 developers had taken out water permits to
begin construction of a handful of residences on Mecklenburg and one on
The lapse of several years between platting of the
streets and building of the first houses was indicative of the difficulties
in attracting buyers to the area. So was the decidedly middle-income
character of the earliest dwellings. Numbers 2132 Matheson Avenue and 2427
Mecklenburg Avenue, dating from 1916, are two-story frame houses that
combine straight-forward Rectilinear style massing with Bungalow style
details, such as wide-eaved, bracketted roofs.
2427 Mecklenburg Ave.
Both apparently initially housed real estate developers. The dwelling at
2320 Mecklenburg Avenue, erected two years later, is quite similar, and
housed Power engineer J. W. Knowlton. Number 2222 Mecklenburg is the only
1910s residence surviving today that may be said to be imposing. The 1918
design for Western Electric Company manager W. R. Phillips is a two-story
Rectilinear style brick residence that commands its hilltop site.
Unfortunately, the most important residence built during
the Club Acres subdivision's first decade has been demolished. F. M. Laxton,
major investor in both the subdivision and the country club, built a large
two-story brick house in the 1910s at the corner of Mecklenburg and
Belvedere avenues, right next to what was then the entrance to the club. A
chicken coop behind the residence became the location of an important
historic event in December, 1920, when Fred Laxton rigged up a primitive
radio transmitter. 36 The radio experiments evolved into Laxton's
WBT radio with studios in downtown Charlotte, the third radio station to be
licensed in the United States. WBT played a part in attracting regional
attention to the city and spurring its growth, and also helped make
Charlotte a focus for early country music recording. The Carter family,
Bluegrass music pioneer Bill Monroe, and banjo star Uncle Dave Macon were
among those who regularly performed live from the downtown WBT facilities in
the 1930s and 1940s, and were recorded at the nearby field studios of RCA
Victor. In 1931, long after the chicken coop transmitter had given way to
one atop the Independence Building, the Laxton residence was levelled to
provide a more grandiose entrance to the new Charlotte Country Club
The difficulties in attracting buyers to Club Acres were
highlighted when its developers rescinded the original deed restrictions for
the area and allowed lots smaller than one acre. The 1919 document was
signed by all parties involved in the project, and read like a "Who's Who"
of economically powerful Charlotteans. 37 In addition to the
original Mecklenburg Realty Company, with prominent investors Draper and
Wood among its leaders, two additional groups were now involved in the
development. The Club Acres Company had construction man F. M. Laxton at its
head, and the Mayfield Company had realtor E. V. Patterson and
textile/banking leader J. T. McAden in charge. Among those with stock in the
three companies were Myers Park founder George Stephens, realtors V. J.
Guthery and O. J. Thies, builder William Isenhour, and financier John M.
With this roster of backers, the Club Acres development
did not suffer from lack of capital or leadership. Neither did it suffer
from competition from an opposing development group in Myers Park. Both
suburbs had been begun in 1911 and both aimed for the "country club set,"
but they shared the same backers; Stephens, Draper, Wood, and to a lesser
extent Patterson, Thies, McAden, Isenhour and Scott. In the course of the
decade almost all of these men would themselves choose to live in Myers
Park. The attraction of the country club was not enough to overcome the
problems of distance, poor transit, and a disruptive railroad crossing that
plagued all of the Plaza-Midwood subdivisions.
Development in Club Acres finally took off at the very
end of the 1920s and especially in the 1930s, as it became commonplace for
the upper-middle class to depend on automobiles rather than trolleys to
commute to center city jobs. St. Andrews Lane, laid out for investors
Hamilton McKay and J. H. Whitner in 1926, finally filled out in 1939 with
the Colonial and Ranch style residences of upper middle income businessmen.38
Charles F. Barnhardt, a leading cotton broker, and J. Norman Pease, a
successful mill architect, teamed up to develop Country Club Lane in 1937.
39 Barnhardt's opulent house, complete with its own small lake,
dates from the following year.40 In the late 1920s and 1930s
Mecklenburg and Belvedere avenues belatedly began to attract members of the
city's leadership circle. Among them were cotton processor A. L. Boyle who
built a Colonial Revival house designed by William Peeps at 2415 Mecklenburg
(1928), Carolina Trust Company vice-president Benjamin J. Smith at 2448
Mecklenburg (1928), lawyer Robert E. Wellons at 2300 Mecklenburg (1932), WBT
radio program director Charles Crutchfield at 2331 Mecklenburg (1943), and
real estate leader William Tate at 2826 Belvedere (1939).41
2415 Mecklenburg Ave.
Architecture of this era tended toward brick Colonial Revival houses on
ample lots. The largest residence of the period, though, was a striking
example of the Tudor Revival. The Elliot Newcombe, Sr., house at
2817 Belvedere Avenue, said to have been built in 1931 by noted Durham
architect George Watts Carr.42 Newcombe, with interests in
textiles and packaging, was the stepson of mill magnate C. W. Johnston and
husband of Mary Duke Lyon, a grandniece of utility tycoon J. B. Duke.
2817 Belvedere Ave.
Another mark of the neighborhood's success in the 1930s
was the opening of the new country club building in 1931.44 By
now known as the Charlotte Country Club, the institution commissioned noted
northern "society" architect Aymar Embury II to design its new clubhouse.
Embury was well known for his "country-house" designs in better suburbs up
and down the eastern seaboard, and he was also involved in country club and
residential design in North Carolina's prestigious Sand Hills resort region.
45 His Charlotte club building was a costly collage of
revivalistic motives, from Georgian and English, to French, Grecian, and
"modernistic." The grounds were laid out by Charlotte's Earle Sumner Draper.
The large, white structure trumpeted the wealth of Charlotte's leaders in
the midst of the Great Depression.
Charlotte Country Club
The Club Acres area continued to receive new houses after
World War II. Country Club Drive filled up in the early 1950s with large
ranch houses built for managers and sales supervisors of bustling young
companies. On Saint Andrews Lane, Matheson Avenue, Belvedere Avenue, and
Mecklenburg Avenue, new houses, often Ranch style, filled the remaining
vacant lots and sometimes the side yards of earlier residences. Perhaps the
finest dwelling of the post-war period was the home of John Crosland, Sr.,
(1951) at 3021 Belvedere Avenue facing the Country Club. Crosland was the
generation's busiest suburban homebuilder, largely responsible for reshaping
the post-war city. His imposing two-story residence by local designer Warren
Mobley with its white columned portico echoes the club building. 46
John Crosland House
The Club Acres streets today reflect their long history.
Under the tall trees planted in the 1910s there is now an unusually diverse
array of houses, with architectural influences ranging from Bungalow to
Ranch. The area retains the prestige it has enjoyed since the 1930s, and
likely will keep its present appearance for years to come.
Chatham Estates: The Plaza
Early maps drawn before residential development began in
the Plaza-Midwood area show only three pre-existing roads. 47 The
main highway was Lawyers Road (later Central Avenue) at the southern edge of
the tract. A lesser road named Poorhouse Road wound out of downtown along
the present route of Parkwood Avenue at the northern edge of the tract. It
ran out to the county poorhouse, a structure that still stands as the annex
to Spencer Memorial United Methodist Church at 1025 36th Street.
The third road was a farm lane that connected Lawyers Road and Poorhouse
Road. This last track was destined to become The Plaza, the grand boulevard
of the Plaza-Midwood neighborhood.
The man who made the transformation was Paul Chatham.
Like many Charlotte real estate developers, Chatham had made his first money
in textiles. He had been born in 1869 in Elkin, North Carolina, a member of
the wealthy family who operated that city's Chatham Woolen Mills.48
Educated at Trinity College (now Duke University) in Durham, and the
University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, he served as an official with
the family firm for several years.
In 1907 Paul Chatham moved to Charlotte, purchasing a
fine residence on fashionable South Tryon Street.49 He soon
"became interested in the real estate business," and according to the
Charlotte Observer, quickly became "prominent in the life of Charlotte."
50 His first major development was Chatham Estates, including the
streets now known as The Plaza, Nassau Avenue, Tippah Avenue, Thurmond
Place, and parts of Mecklenburg, Mimosa, Belvedere, Belle Terre, Chestnut,
and Kensington Streets. 51 When Chatham filed his plat for the
new streets in 1912, Club Acres and most of the other Plaza-Midwood
subdivisions were already on paper, but it still took a good bit of vision
to imagine the farmland as a subdivision. As fellow developer F. C. Abbott
remembered years later, "At that time The Plaza was a narrow dirt road ,
surrounded on both sides by a large strawberry farm. . .."52
It was landscape architect Leigh Colyer who helped
provide the vision. Bolstered by family capital, Chatham was able to follow
the lead of George Stephens in Myers Park and Edward Dilworth Latta in
Dilworth and hire a professional designer to plan his new suburb. He chose
Charlottean Colyer, a native of Chester, England, who had emigrated to the
Carolinas with his father Charles F. Colyer.53 The elder Colyer
had been a romantic who fell in love with the mountains around Asheville,
North Carolina, and spent the remainder of his life there as a painter and
landscape designer. The younger Colyer had learned landscape design and
drawing working with his father, and by the late 1890s was at work in
Charlotte, where he became the city's first full-time landscape architect.
By the time of his death in 1953 he had executed a variety of projects
across the region, including Chatham Estates, the Belvedere suburb of
Shelby, North Carolina, Charlotte's Elmwood Cemetery expansion, an
award-winning mill village in Lincolnton, North Carolina, and the grounds of
the North Carolina State Sanitorium. 54 Colyer was also
responsible for numerous residential landscape designs for the area's
leading citizens including the Linebergers and Stowes in Belmont, the
Cannons in Cabarrus County, Judge Webb and Clyde Hoey in Shelby, and Ralph
VanLandingham in Charlotte. 55
Leigh Colyer's design for Chatham Estates called for
widening and straightening the dirt farm road into a mile-long, hundred-foot
wide boulevard, with asphalt-paved twin roadways flanking a central median
for streetcar tracks. 56 Two parallel streets and some half-dozen
cross streets formed a grid, relieved by carefully placed curves. The
boulevard was to have large estates of the wealthy, while streets were to
hold more modest homes, a common Charlotte pattern in the period.
There was to be a formal park in the low-lying triangle
of ground bounded by what are now Cochran, Mimosa, and Norcross streets.
Another low piece of ground along a stream between Thurmond and Nassau
streets was evidently intended as a "greenway" park. Today, except for
slight changes to Thurmond Avenue and abandonment of the parkland, The Plaza
and nearby streets follow Colyer's plan.
Paul Chatham used his financial resources to hire Colyer,
to build his own streetcar system, to subsidize city water, electricity and
telephone service, all carefully run along the alleys behind the building
lots, and even installed ornamental light poles along the boulevard. He
renovated a Victorian farmhouse near The Plaza and Central, and used it as a
second residence for himself .57 He also financed a publicity
campaign with handsome maps and brochures of the neighborhood, and
commissioned an artist to draw an aerial view of what the suburb would look
like.58 He then called on his social skills and family and
industrial connections to entice buyers out to the new suburb.
Chatham had some initial success. Union National Bank
president H. M. Victor built a large Colonial Revival residence (now
demolished) in the block of The Plaza between Kensington and Belle Terre
about 1914. Wealthy cotton broker Ralph Van Landingham purchased a five-acre
site a block north the same year and commissioned architects Hook and Rogers
to create a handsome house set in grounds designed by Leigh Colyer.59
Also in 1914 architect Louis Asbury designed a large Rectilinear residence
for Methodist Bishop John C. Kilgo at 2100 The Plaza. Kilgo was a
distinguished figure in North Carolina in that day, recently retired as
president to Trinity College (perhaps not coincidentally Chatham's alma
mater) and a director of the Southern Railroad.
Bishop John C. Kilgo House
In 1915 a former downtown mansion was moved out to the
suburb. Cotton and grain merchant R. M. Miller, Jr., son of an associate of
textile machinery magnate D. A. Tompkins, had evidently tired of his 1891
Queen Anne Victorian style residence on North Tryon Street at Seventh
Street. He had the old house and a neighboring structure moved from the lot
and commissioned Louis Asbury to design a new dwelling in the "modern"
Colonial Revival style.60 Miller's old house was moved to what is
now 1600 The Plaza, where it was purchased by the Scott family.
The Miller house was very nearly the last large residence
in Chatham Estates. The following year, 1916, Joseph D. Woodside, owner and
operator of the Woodside Motor Company, moved into a new house at 1801 The
Plaza, and stockbroker John L. Scott took up residence at 1405 The Plaza.
With those sales, Paul Chatham's luck at attracting well-to-do lot buyers
Sales in Chatham Estates did not pick up again until the
mid 1920s. By that time Chatham had been forced to abandon his vision of The
Plaza lined with grand suburban estates on large lots. Small one-story
bungalows arose between the large two-story residences built a decade
earlier. Lots were frequently split up to allow more buildings, and Chatham
was apparently forced to sell off some of the undeveloped blocks to keep the
project alive. The Nassau Heights Land Company, composed of real estate
speculators U. S. Goode, F. E. Robinson, and T. D. Newell, Jr., purchased
several blocks of Nassau Boulevard near Hamorton and advertised lots for
sale in "Nassau Heights." 61 By the early 1930s the streets of
Chatham Estates were lined with modest bungalows and looked much as they do
After Oakhurst, Club Acres, and Chatham Estates, the last major
development in the present Plaza-Midwood neighborhood was the subdivision
called Midwood. Eastside Realty had been the first to consider development
of the land that became Midwood, in 1911, but it was not until 1914 that a
group known as Century Realty platted most of the streets we see today.62
Century's directors included Charlotte Country Club official E. P. Coles,
Plaza homeowner Ralph VanLandingham and a third man named W. M. Paul.
63 The roster overlapped those of both Chatham Estates and Club Acres,
and it was not surprising that they planned their streets to join these
earlier developments. Today Midwood's grid of straight avenues forms the
heart of Plaza-Midwood and does much to unite its various subdivisions.
Unfortunately for its developers, the streets of Midwood
were farther from downtown than Chatham Estates, and farther from the
Charlotte Country Club than those of Club Acres. Consequently, Midwood took
longer to develop than even those two painfully slow areas. Not until the
very end of the 1920s did the first dwellings appear along Midwood, Ashland,
Winter, Chatham, and the blocks of Belvedere, Kenwood, Club, and Truman that
ran through the subdivision. By the 1950s the subdivision finally filled up,
the streets lined with the compact cottages of barbers, dentists, salesmen,
and small store owners.
Johnston Courts, Club Drive, Eastern Retreat, and
A number of smaller developments rounded out the neighborhood, each
contributing a street or two of compact dwellings. D. A. Johnston's 1913
Johnston Courts subdivision created dead end Haywood Court, and one block
each of Mimosa, Belvedere, Kennon, and Belle Terre avenues, completing
development west of The Plaza. 64 A group of 1920s bungalows
completing development west of The Plaza. A group of 1920s bungalows survive
and dominate this section today. Lawyers Delaney and Lowery filed plans for
the first block of Club Road off Central Avenue (originally to be called
Ridgeway Avenue) in 1925. 65 In 1947 the adjacent short blocks of
DeArmon, Truman, and Morningside drives were platted under the name Eastern
Retreat. 66 The area's final street was Masonic Drive along Briar
Creek, formally laid out in 1951, nearly half a century after Plaza-Midwood's
residential development had begun. 67
The Central Avenue Business District
In 1984 an unbroken string of small businesses lined Central Avenue for
its entire length in Plaza-Midwood. At the heart of this district is a
two-block area between Pecan Avenue and The Plaza that dates from before
World War II. The stores evidently clustered here originally because this
was where the streetcar turned the corner onto The Plaza.
"Streetcar shopping strips" were common in Charlotte by
the end of the 1930s. They could be found in suburban areas all over the
city at the end of a line or at a major turn. They ranged in size from one
or two stores, such as Spoon's drugstore at Seventh and Hawthorne or the
grocery and drugstore at Parkwood and The Plaza, to small clusters of shops
such as those found at Morehead and South Boulevard or at Beatties Ford Road
and Oaklawn Avenue (still called "The End" by old-timers), to full-scale
shopping districts. The largest may still be seen today at Davidson and 36th
streets in North Charlotte, where it served not only trolley commuters, but
also workers in the surrounding mill villages who walked through it to work
each day. Other large districts are found at Pegram Street and Parkwood
Avenue in the Villa Heights neighborhood, and at South Boulevard and Park
Avenue in Dilworth. Of all the city's streetcar shopping strips, Plaza-Midwood's
is the second largest after the one in
Commercial development seems to have begun with Lewis
Long's Grocery in 1916. The utilitarian two-story brick store building still
stands at Central and Pecan, undecorated except for segmented arched window
openings. The location was a logical one, for the intersection dated far
back into the nineteenth century, when Pecan Avenue was a country road
connecting Lawyers Road (Central Avenue) with the Providence Road which ran
south to Providence Presbyterian Church. 68 Long undoubtedly
hoped to draw trade from such travelers, as well as from residents of the
Elizabeth neighborhood, the Plaza area, and the factories along the railroad
Long's Grocery remained surrounded by houses for some
twenty years. It was not until the 1930s, when Plaza-Midwood began to fill
up with automobile commuters, that additional stores joined the grocery. Not
only was Plaza-Midwood growing, but adjacent Chantilly was finally taking
shape. Chantilly's straight streets south of Central Avenue had been platted
as a separate subdivision by Chatham in the 1910s, but the project never got
trolley connections and remained dormant for some two decades. As more
houses were built throughout the area, more stores sprang up along Central
Avenue. Merchants chose their location in order to be able to catch
streetcar commuters as well as auto drivers and pedestrians. By the late
1930s there was a row of one-story and two-story brick stores lining the
south side of Central between Pecan and Thomas, and scattered additional
commercial development in adjoining blocks.
Among the new business was W. T. Harris' 1936 grocery
store at 1504 Central Avenue. Harris' store prospered and in 1951 became the
Harris-Teeter Supermarket, with a handsome large store two blocks away at
Central and The Plaza. By the 1980s Harris-Teeter had grown into a major
Southern chain, with the 1951 store still in use and affectionately known as
"Old Number One." The year 1936 also saw the opening of a Pure Oil gas
station at Central and Pecan that remains a neighborhood landmark. The
facility was built to resemble a small Tudor Revival cottage, complete with
steep-pitched roof and wood and stucco "half timbering." It was part of Pure
Oil's national policy to try to fit their stations into residential
neighborhoods and give this new land use added respectability. Today the
Plaza-Midwood structure is Charlotte's best surviving example of the effort.
Not all 1930s structures on Central Avenue were commercial. Midwood School
was completed in 1936, one of a pair of schools designed for the city by
local architect M. R. Marsh. 69 The-facility was yet another
indication that the area was finally filling up with families.
Pure Oil Gas Station
Trolley service ended in Charlotte in 1938, but the Central Avenue
business district continued to grow for another fifteen years. 70
Businessmen felt it made sense to locate in an established shopping area.
Among the newcomers was an early drive-in ice cream stand, the Dairy Queen
at Central and Pecan. The 1951 building with rounded corners and subtle
strips of decorative neon, blends Art Deco and International style
architectural influences and is one of Charlotte's best surviving examples
of auto-oriented design. A block up the street was another notable example
of the same architectural influences. Architect M. R. Marsh's Plaza Theatre
(now destroyed) dated from 1945-46, one of a number of neighborhood movie
houses that appeared in the city in the 1940s. 71
By the mid-1950s, the business district had reached what
would be very nearly its maximum growth. In addition to the 1930s
storefronts on the south side of Central from Pecan to Thomas, there were
now businesses on both sides of the street all the way to The Plaza. More
shops spilled down adjoining blocks of Thomas, Gordon, and Commonwealth
avenues. Then, in 1956, Park Road Shopping Center opened across town and
signaled the end of the old "streetcar strips."72 The new center
had junior department stores as well as specialty shops and food stores. It
was not a supplement to downtown shopping, as the streetcar strips had been,
but an alternative to the center city. More importantly, the Park Road
Shopping Center had plentiful automobile parking in front of the stores.
Within five years eighteen new shopping centers sprang up around the city.
73 The old streetcar strips, designed for pedestrian traffic from
their surrounding neighborhoods, seemed old-fashioned, and they languished.
There was, however, one merchant who was able to
capitalize on the decline of the Plaza-Midwood business section. In 1959 the
Levine family took over a failed variety store at 1509 Central Avenue.
74 Benefiting from the area's decreasing rents, and instituting a
policy of stocking only items selling for less than $3.99, the Levines were
able to build a thriving business that they named the Family Dollar Store.
The enterprise grew rapidly and by the mid 1980s Family Dollar was a major
regional discount chain with over 650 stores throughout the South. 75
In 1958 the Central Avenue business district received its own automobile
shopping center. The Cole family attempted to cash in on the new trend by
building a small center on part of their factory grounds at Pecan and
Central. 76 Called Central Square, it is still in operation with
a supermarket, a drugstore, and half a dozen smaller shops, including a new
Family Dollar Store. The shopping center's modest success was not enough to
bring vitality to the rest of the business district.
By the 1960s, Charlotteans who watched the city's
development were predicting the demise of areas like Plaza-Midwood. With
gasoline in seemingly endless supply, the city's automobile-dependent
suburbs sprawled out further and further. Already the inner suburbs, even
recently-completed Plaza-Midwood, appeared unfashionable, destined to be
replaced by offices, apartments, and factories. The city's first
comprehensive zoning plan targeted much of the neighborhood, particularly
The Plaza and the old "Oakhurst" streets, for multifamily and office
redevelopment. As original owners grew old and died, speculators bought up
houses with the idea of running them down as rental property, then
demolishing them to build new apartments and offices. 77
Despite this trend a number of younger families were
attracted by the area's solid, affordable housing and closeness to downtown.
The early large residences along The Plaza ranked with the best in the city.
William and Francis Gay brought attention to the area with their
museum-quality restoration of the Queen Anne style R. M. Miller, Jr., house,
which they named "Victoria," at 1600 The Plaza, which they began in 1970.
The H. M. Victor mansion was pulled down for new apartments, but slowly the
other houses on The Plaza, large and small, began to be renovated.
The influx of newcomers spurred a renewed interest in
community organization. The area had had an active neighborhood group as
early as the 1940s. In 1947 the Midwood Men's Club under President Richard
L. Young raised over $6,500 to purchase a tract of land for a neighborhood
park. 78 Midwood Park off Mecklenburg Avenue and Norcross Place
was the result of that effort. In the early 1970s a new community group was
born when the city proposed to extend four-lane Matheson Avenue through the
Club Acres section of the area. Affected residents formed a citizens group
that succeeded in stopping the highway and keeping the neighborhood intact.
Shortly afterward a permanent group was formed under the leadership of
residents Mary Ann Hammond and Francis Gay. 79 It was they who
finally dubbed the neighborhood Plaza-Midwood, in 1973.
The new Plaza-Midwood Neighborhood Association set about
the task of convincing Charlotte's leaders, development interests, and
potential homebuyers that their neighborhood was not expendable. In the mid
1970s the group convinced city council to " downzone" much of the area to
residential use. 80
From 1980 to 1983 the Plaza-Midwood association received
professional assistance in its efforts to attract new owner/occupants to the
area and stimulate reinvestment in buildings. The Federal Home Loan Bank
Board and a group of other federal lending agencies had created Neighborhood
Housing Services of America, Inc. to encourage local banks in United States'
cities to establish loan funds aimed at revitalizing older neighborhoods.
81 The Charlotte Planning Commission chose Plaza-Midwood as the
city's pilot neighborhood in this program. Plaza-Midwood Neighborhood
Housing Services staff administered twenty-three low interest loans,
provided technical expertise for forty-six other rehab projects, helped
residents get the Thomas-Hamorton-Pecan area rezoned to reflect its use, and
convinced the city to underwrite an additional $13 million in tax-exempt
financing for residential and commercial improvements. 82
Neighborhood Housing Services' last accomplishment was to
help create a Plaza-Midwood Development Corporation. Financed largely by
Central Avenue businesses, the corporation's goal is the revitalization of
the commercial district. Today, thanks to the efforts of area residents, the
successes of Neighborhood Housing Services, and the ongoing work of the
Plaza-Midwood Neighborhood Association and the Plaza-Midwood Development
Corporation, Plaza-Midwood's future appears bright.
1 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Deed Book 195,
pp. 28-29; Map Book 6, p. 581.
2 Dave Howard of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Planning
Commission, telephone interview with Thomas W. Hanchett, December,1983.
Francis Gay, interviews with Thomas W. Hanchett in Charlotte, December, 1982
and December, 1983. Mary Ann Hammond, telephone interview with Thomas W.
Hanchett, December, 1983.
3 "Neighborhood Definition Study" (Charlotte:
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission, 1979).
4 Cbarlotte's population jumped 88% between 1900 and 1910, and
increased another 36% from 1910 to 1920, according to data published by the
Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, "1950 Census Data" (Charlotte: Chamber of
Commerce, 1950), which conveniently included city-wide and ward figures back
5 Earle Sumner Draper, interview with Tbomas W. Hanchett at Vero
Beach, Florida, June, 1982. For more on the early railroad bridges see the
section of this report entitled "The Center City."
6 D. R. Reynolds, ed., Charlotte Remembers (Charlotte:
Community Publishing Co., Inc., 1972), p. 109.
7 Dan L. Morrill, "Edward Dilworth Latta and the Charlotte
Consolidated Construction Company (1890-1925): Builders of New South
Charlotte," 1983, draft manuscript in the files of the Charlotte Mecklenburg
Historic Properties Commission, p. 24.
8 Minutes of the Charlotte Board of Aldermen, Book XI, p. 470.
9Morrill, "Latta" manuscript, p. 24.
12 Joseph Schuchman, "Union County: an Architectural and
Historic Inventory," 1983, draft manuscript in the files of the North
Carolina Division of Archives and History, Survey and Planning Branch,
13 Charlotte Observer, December 2, 1900. See also
Charlotte News, July 18, 1919.
14 F. C. Abbott, Fifty Years in Charlotte Real Estate,
1897-1947 (Charlotte: privately published, 1947?), pp. 16-17.
15 Ibid., p. 18.
17 Dan L. Morrill, "A
Survey of Cotton Mills in Charlotte, North Carolina" (Charlotte:
Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission, 1979).
18 Sanborn Insurance Map, 1905, on microfilm in the Carolina
Room of the Charlotte Public Library. Charlotte Observer, December 2,
19Sanborn Insurance Maps, 1905, 1911, 1929, on microfilm.
20 D. R. Reynolds, p. 159. Charlotte Observer, June 8,
21 Sanborn Insurance Maps, 1905, 1911.
22 LeGette Blythe and Charles R. Brockman, Hornets' Nest:
the Story of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (Charlotte: McNally of
Charlotte, 1961), p. 275. Charlotte Observer, July 2, 1980, November
23 Dan L. Morrill, interview with Thomas W. Hanchett at
Charlotte, North Carolina, November 1981.
24 Charlotte Observer, July 2, 1980. A pronounced slump
in U.S. agriculture forced the firm out of business less than half a decade
25Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Deed Book 195,
26 Information on individual structures in Plaza-Midwood was
developed by Janette Thomas Greenwood with assistance from Thomas W.
Hanchett, using the Charlotte city directory collection and vertical files
in the Carolina Room of the Charlotte Public Library, supplemented with
water permit data on file at Charlotte Utility Department, 5100 Brookshire
Boulevard. Dates are generally accurate within two years.
27 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map Book 230,
28 Ibid., pp. 33, 298.
29 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Record of
30 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office, Map Book 230,
31 Charlotte city directory collection in the Carolina Room of
the Charlotte Public Library.
32 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Record of
Corporations book 3, p. 59; Record of Corporations book 5, p. 168.
Charlotte Observer, August 7 and 8, 1977.
33 For a photograph of the original clubhouse see "The Queen
City of the South -- the Reason Why," a promotional brochure done for
Chatham Estates about 1915, and now part of the VanLandingham papers in the
archives of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
34 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Record of
Corporations book 3, p. 45; Record of Corporations Book 4, p. 563.
35 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map Book 230,
pp. 96-97, 130.
36 Reynolds, pp. 60-64.
37 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Deed Book 445,
38 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map Book 3, p.
39 Ibid., Map Book 5, p. 183.
40 Charlotte News, May 26, 1938. Barnhardt died before
the structure was completed.
41 The information that Peeps designed 2415 Mecklenburg Avenue
comes from Boyle's son, Erwin Boyle, interview with Thomas W. Hanchett,
Charlotte, North Carolina, December, 1983.
42 Elliot Newcombe, Jr., telephone interview with Thomas W.
Hanchett, December, 1983. For more information on Carr, see Claudia P.
Roberts, Durham Architectural and Historic Interview (Durham: City of
43 Newcombe interview.
44 Charlotte Observer, December 12, 1931.
45 Information on the country clubs may be found in Embury's
professional papers at the George Arents Research Library, Syracuse
University, Syracuse, New York. The papers are unfortunately not complete,
and do not contain a comprehensive job list that might allow the researcher
to determine what private commissions Embury undertook in North Carolina.
46 Mrs. John Crosland, Sr., telephone interview with Thomas W.
Hanchett, December, 1983.
47 Butler and Spratt, "Map of Charlotte Township, Mecklenburg
County, North Carolina, From Recent Surveys 1892." Copies are in the
collections of the History Department of the Mint Museum, Charlotte, and the
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission.
48 Charlotte Observer, August 9, 1944. This is
51Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map Book 230,
52 Abbott, p. 18.
53 Leigh Colyer, Jr., interview with Thomas W. Hanchett in
Charlotte, North Carolina, June, 1982, and November, 1983.
54 Ibid. Seline Colyer Martin and Helen Colyer Moak, interview
with Thomas W. Hanchett in Charlotte, NC, November, 1983. Charlotte
Observer, August 14, 1953. The plat map of Shelby's Belvedere suburb,
elegantly hand-rendered and signed by Colyer, is on file at the Washington
55 Colyer, Jr., Moak and Martin interviews.
56 A brochure for Chatham Estates may be found in the
VanLandingham papers in the UNCC archives. A detailed two-color plan with
tiny drawings of the earliest mansions, and an impressive "birds-eye" view
of the neighborhood-as-planned were collected by planner John Nolen in 1917
as background for his "Civic Survey," and are now in the Nolen papers,
collection #2903, Cornell University Department of Manuscripts and Archives,
Ithaca, New York.
57 Charlotte News, Mav 10, 1983. The two-story frame
structure stood at 1220 Thomas Avenue-just South of The Plaza. It was part
of the Ho-Toy Chinese Restaurant, until demolished in 1983.
58 See note 56.
59 Current owners Mr. and Mrs. George C. Cline have the
original Hook and Sawyer blueprints for the house.
60 Information for the designated historic property
"Victoria," on file at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Properties
61 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map Book 3, p.
91; Record of Corporations Book 7, p. 464.
62 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map Book 230,
pp. 114, 284-285.
63 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map Book 230,
64 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Record of
Corporations Book 4, p. 95.
65 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map Book 3, p.
66 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map Book 5, p.
67 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map Book 6, p.
68 Butler and Spratt map.
69 The twin of the Midwood School is Eastover Elementary
School on Cherokee Road. Eastover teacher Mary Lynn Morrill and fellow staff
and students have compiled a history of that building.
70 Dan L. Morrill, "Myers
Park Streetcar Waiting Stations: Survey and Research Report" (Charlotte:
Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission, 1980).
71 "The Work Of M. R. Marsh and Successor Architects," job
list in the Department of Archives and Special Collections at the Atkins
Library of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
72 Charlotte Observer. April 23, 1961.
74 Charlotte News, July 26, 1983. Charlotte Observer,
July 27, 1983. The store may not have carried the name "Family Dollar" in
its first years, for the name is not listed in the city directory until
75 Ibid. and Charlotte News, September 16, 1983.
76 Charlotte Observer, April 23, 1961.
77 This process is extremely common in post-war American urban
development. For instance see Peter Wolf, Land in America: Its Value, Use
and Control (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981), p. 409. Leonard Downie,
Jr., Mortgage on America: the Real Cost of Real Estate Speculation
(New York: Praeger Publishers, 1974), pp. 3, 7. For a description of the
process at work in Charlotte, see the Charlotte News, April 11, 1980.
Several interviewees indicated it was a major problem in Plaza-Midwood,
including Dave Howard of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission,
interview with Thomas W. Hanchett in Charlotte, July, 1984; Francis Gay,
interview with Thomas W. Hanchett in Charlotte, July 1984; Mary Ann Hammond,
telephone interview with Thomas W. Hanchett, July, 1984; Arthur Dye, Jr.,
interview with Thomas W. Hanchett, July, 1984.
78 Charlotte News, July 26, 1947; October 2, 1947.
Material pertaining to the history of the neighborhood organizations of the
Plaza-Midwood area may be found in the archives of the University of North
Carolina at Charlotte.
79 Dave Howard of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning
Commission, telephone interview with Thomas W. Hanchett, December 1983.
Francis Gay, interviews with Thomas W. Hanchett in Charlotte, NC, December,
1982, and December, 1983. Mary Ann Hammond, telephone interview with Thomas
W. Hanchett, December, 1983.
80 Hammond interview, July, 1984.
81 Howard interview, December, 1983.
82"Neighborhood Housing Services of Charlotte, Inc., in Plaza-Midwood:
1983 Annual Report." NHS also sponsored a one-day Neighborhood Heritage
Celebration in January of 1983 that brought together more than 200 long-time
residents and provided many research leads for this report.
2817 Belvedere Avenue
The Elliot H. Newcombe house is a large
Tudor Revival dwelling set far back from the road, probably the largest
residence in Plaza-Midwood. Its design was the work of George Watts Carr,
Durham, North Carolina's leading architect and uncle of Newcombe's wife Mary
Duke Lyon Newcombe. The house is a picturesque jumble of wings, each with a
high, slate-covered hip roof. Tall chimneys rise here and there. The
whitewashed brick walls have corbelled decoration under the eaves, and are
pierced by small window openings, in keeping with the "Olde English" tone. A
many-sided stair tower with narrow lancet windows and a tall conical roof
dominates the facade. The grounds include a two-story garage in the same
Newcombe was stepson of C.W. Johnston, who founded the
Johnston Mills and was among the region's wealthiest textile men. Newcombe's
wife Mary was the grandniece of tobacco and utility tycoon James Buchanan
Duke. Newcombe himself began his career as president-treasurer of Southern
Specialties, a textile-supply company. He later became involved in
packaging, heading the Charlotte division of Old Dominion Paper Box Company
and founding the Atlantic Coast Carton Company. Newcombe also was
instrumental in beginning the Charlotte Country Day School in the 1940s, and
founded the Squash Hill Hunt Preserve in eastern Mecklenburg County. He
lived in this house from 1933 until about 1960 when Dr. Ross McElwee, the
current owner, purchased it. According to Newcombe's son Elliot Newcombe,
Jr., the house remains much as it was designed, with the exception of new
heating and air conditioning equipment.
JOHN CROSLAND, SR., HOUSE
3021 Belvedere Avenue
John Crosland, Sr., ranked among Charlotte's most prolific and important
developers, the man perhaps most responsible for the sprawling suburban
development of the city since World War II. He is rivaled in importance only
by Edward Dilworth Latta, who developed the city's first suburb in 1891, and
by post-war competitor Charles Ervin. Crosland was born in 1898 in Richmond
County, son of the second largest cotton planter in North Carolina. After
education at Davidson College and North Carolina State University, Crosland
came to Charlotte and worked at a number of business occupations before
settling on home building in 1937. His pre-war developments of Westbrook
Street in Third Ward and the subdivision of Club Colony south of Myers Park,
among others, helped introduce the Ranch style house to Charlotte and put
him in a good position to make the most of the post-WWII housing boom. At
Crosland's death in 1977 the city was ringed with his neighborhoods,
totaling 6,500 houses, including Plaza Hills (1946), Forest Park (1948),
Ashley Park (1949), Clanton Park and Seneca Park (1956), Spring Valley and
Jamestown Drive (1959), Beverly Woods (1960),Blllingsley Park, Woodbridge
and Laurel Wood (1961), Hampshire Hills and Huntingtowne Farms(1964). John
Crosland,Jr., became president of the firm in 1965.
After living for a few years at a time in several houses
elsewhere in Charlotte, Crosland built this fine residence facing the
Charlotte Country Club in 1951, and remained here till his death. The design
by draftsman J. Warren Mobley, an associate of Charlotte architect Thomas C.
Rickenbaker, echoes the Country Club across the street. The main,
gable-roofed block of the house is built of whitewashed brick and features a
recessed portico with slender two-story ionic columns.
COLE MANUFACTURING COMPLEX
1318 Central Avenue
The red brick buildings of the Cole Manufacturing complex comprise the
finest non-textile-related manufacturing facility remaining in Charlotte.
The company was organized in January of 1900 by E.A. and E.M. Cole to
produce seed planters patented by E.M. Cole. It remained in the family
throughout its eight decades of operation, becoming a nationally-recognized
maker of agricultural implements. A 1980 newspaper article called Cole "one
of the world's largest manufacturers of seed planting, fertilizing, and farm
machine equipment." That year proved to be the company's peak,
unfortunately, and it was caught by a disastrous slump in farm prices that
curtailed demand for new machinery. Cole Manufacturing closed in November of
1982, and the future of its buildings is uncertain.
The first Cole plant was in a wooden structure on the
north side of Central Avenue along the Seaboard railroad track. In 1911 the
company moved to expanded, fireproof quarters in the present complex on the
south side of Central. The handsome buildings were designed by C.C. Hook,
Charlotte's first full-time architect, designer of such landmarks as the
Charlotte City Hall, the J.B. Duke mansion, and the first buildings of
Queens College. The complex had three main buildings clustered around a rail
siding: the foundry, the paint shop/wood shop, and the assembly building.
Smaller structures included a power house, pattern shop, and machine shop.
Separate buildings were a necessity to lessen the hazard of fire.
In 1983 the foundry and machine shop are gone, and the
power plant has been greatly altered, but the rest of the buildings remain
in good original condition with the exception of bricked-in windows. Hook
chose a Roman motif for the complex, and drew robust brickwork that is today
some of Charlotte's finest. The large buildings feature tall, round arched
window openings that march down the long sides. Corbelled pilasters and
corbelled parapets add to the rhythm. The smaller buildings, particularly
the pattern shop, have scaled-down arches and prominent belt courses.
Several recent pre-fabricated sheet metal buildings, and one low brick
structure apparently dating from the 1950s, fill out the complex.
1431 Central Avenue
Charlotte in the late twentieth century is largely a
product of the automobile. Fully two-thirds of the city's growth has come
since the end of streetcar service in 1938. Yet very little remains of the
city's early automobile-related architecture, because continued prosperity
has allowed replacement of early structures with newer ones.
The Central Avenue Dairy Queen is one of Charlotte's
best-preserved early examples of roadside architecture, although insensitive
alterations have occurred in recent years. Along with a twin (which also
survives) on Wilkinson Boulevard, it was built in 1951, part of the same
flush of post-WWII prosperity that saw automobile-dependent suburbs surround
the earlier city. The ice cream stand sits back from the street surrounded
by a parking lot, clearly designed for drive-in rather than walk-up trade.
Like most roadside food-service facilities of the 1950s, it provides only
window service, with no seating. The building shows strong influence of the
Art Moderne style in its stuccoed walls and curved cornice decorated
with subtle strips of pink and green neon tubing.
PURE OIL STATION
1501 Central Avenue
Some observers have called the gas station the most
ubiquitous new building type of twentieth century America. The former Pure
Oil station on Central Avenue illustrates an important step in the evolution
of the type in Charlotte. The city's first stations, like the one still
standing at 314 East Fifth Street believed built in 1911, were simple,
undecorated sheds with flat-roofed porches sheltering the pumps in front. By
the late 1920s, as a result of rising competition between national chains,
distinctive architecture came to be used as a technique to enhance brand
identification. Pure Oil was a leader in this national movement, modeling
its facilities on the then-popular Tudor Revival style. The quaint
half-timbered, steep-roofed stations not only provided a strong image for
Pure, but also helped the facilities blend into residential neighborhoods.
By the 1940s, however, this pseudo-residential approach had been abandoned
in favor of the white enameled panels and flat roofs of the International
The Central Avenue Pure Oil Station is Charlotte's only
surviving example of a cottage-type facility, and may well be the city's
best-preserved 1930s station. Today it looks much as it did when it opened
in 1936, with a steep eaveless gable roof, clapboard walls, and
half-timbered gable ends. There is a round-topped, cross-buck front door
flanked by small-paned windows, with a bay window to one side. The canopy
over the pumps echoes the main roof and half-timbering, and is supported by
massive "hand-hewn" columns.
2733 Country Club Lane
Charles Barnhardt was among Charlotte's leading cotton
brokers during the first three decades of the twentieth century. In 1937 he
and mill architect J. Norman Pease teamed up to develop Country Club Lane, a
new street in the Club Acres subdivision adjacent to the prestigious
Charlotte Country Club. Barnhardt kept several acres of the development for
his own homesite, and began work on a picturesque lake and a handsome
$50,000 mansion. Tragedy struck May 26, 1938 as he inspected the dam and
concrete spillway. Barnhardt, clad in a heavy trench coat and unable to
swim, slipped and drowned in twelve feet of water.
The next owner, Pietro B. Crespi, evidently finished the
mansion and lived there throughout the 1940s. Crespi, like Barnhardt, was a
wealthy cotton broker. About 1952 the residence was purchased by George B.
Cramer, who continues to own it today. Cramer is the youngest son of
textile-inventor Stuart Cramer, a major outfitter of mills throughout the
Piedmont and founder of the Cramer Mills and the village of Cramerton, now
part of Burlington Industries. George B. Cramer served as secretary of
Cramerton Mills beginning in 1932, and remains in the textile business in
1983 as a partner in the firm Cramer and Cramer.
The Barnhardt-Cramer house was designed by Charlotte
architect Martin Boyer and built by Blythe & Isenhour. The white stuccoed
two-and-one-half story structure is set back from the street at the end of a
winding drive. The main gable-roofed block has end chimneys in the Colonial
revival mode, and the long one-story porch across the front is supported by
Ionic columns. The site includes several acres of heavily wooded grounds,
and the small lake.
2222 Mecklenburg Avenue
Though W.R. Phillips took out a water permit for this
house in 1920, city directories show him living on the street as early as
1918. William Phillips served as Charlotte manager of the Western Electric
Company, probably an important position in the region's economy in the
period when the Piedmont's mills were converting from steam to electric
machinery. In the late 1920s Phillips and his wife Geneva sold their
residence to Duncan G. Calder, an official of great importance in the
electrification of the region. Calder served as treasurer of J.B. Duke's
Southern Public Utilities Company, which ran Charlotte's streetcar system,
and acted as treasurer or secretary for many of Duke's other utility
concerns throughout the Piedmont, including the Caldwell Power Company,
North Carolina Public Service Company, Surrey Power Company, and others.
Calder left the house in 1951, and from then until the 1970s it was the home
of cotton broker Allison J. Davant.
The Phillips-Calder House commands a high knoll above
Mecklenburg Avenue, which originally was the route of the trolley from The
Plaza to the Charlotte Country Club. The house is in the Rectilinear style,
a hip-roofed, two-story cube with a minimum of ornament. A wood-shingled
gable pokes through the front roof, and there is a shingled front bay
window. A wide one-story porch with simple Doric columns ,wraps around three
sides of the brick structure.
2415 Mecklenburg Avenue
This delicate Colonial Revival residence was designed by
prominent Charlotte architect William H. Peeps in 1927. Peeps, a native of
England, created such notable Charlotte landmarks as the Latta Arcade, Iveys
Department Store, and numerous Myers Park mansions. His house for A.L. Boyle
is a two-story double-pile Georgian Colonial sheathed in clapboard. Three
narrow dormers pierce its front roof, above a modillion cornice. The front
facade is six bays wide, with twelve-over-twelve-pane windows, and a small
porch. Peeps evidently considered the Boyle residence among his more
important commissions for he included it in his published portfolio of
Albert L. Boyle was a prominent cotton processor in
Charlotte, who is said to have been forced to sell his just-completed
residence during the Great Depression. The dwelling came into the possession
of J.D. Sandridge, who made it his home into the 1970s. Sandridge was a kev
local executive with DuPont, major supplier of dyes to the Piedmont's
2427 Mecklenburg Avenue
The Barker-Britton House is among the oldest of those
clustered around the Charlotte Country Club, having been built about 1916,
probably by real estate developer E.V. Patterson. Charles E. Barker, its
first owner/occupant, was regional manager for Marshall Field and Co., who
sold burlap sacking to the region's cotton producers, and he served as
president of the Charlotte Electric Repair Company. Barker was also active
in local real estate development, a partner along with George Stephens, F.M.
Laxton, and J.M. Harry in the Club Acres Company which developed these
streets. In the early 1950s, Barker sold his home to William J. Britton,
Jr., then assistant manager of Anderson Clayton and Company, cotton factors.
Today Britton is one of Charlotte's last cotton brokers. His wife Christina
has been a force in Charlotte's cultural life, serving as President of the
Opera Guild of Charlotte and of the Children's Theatre Council.
The Barker-Britton house is a rustic design that combines
features of the Rectilinear and Bungalow styles. In massing it consists of a
simple two-story rectangular block covered by a wide-eaved gable roof that
features brackets and exposed rafters under the eaves. There is a central
front dormer with a similar roof. Walls are sheathed in "german" novelty
siding, and the many large windows have wide, plain surrounds. A wide
one-story porch with plain, square columns dominates the front of the house,
extending at one side to form a port-cochere, and at the other side to form
an enclosed sun-porch. The residence appears to be in excellent original
CHARLOTTE COUNTRY CLUB BUILDINGS
2465 Mecklenburg Drive
The Charlotte Country Club is the city's oldest, having
been founded in 1910 as the Mecklenburg Country Club. It remains the most
prestigious, "oriented toward old Charlotte, especially old, more
conservative Charlotte," according to one member. "It is the 500 club," said
another member in a 1977 interview with the Charlotte Observer, "If
you are anything at all, you belong. It was designed for that purpose: to be
select and exclusive." Over the years its members have included the
Piedmont's textile leaders, as well as the financiers and real estate
speculators who have shaped the region.
In December of 1931, near the depths of the Great
Depression, the Club celebrated the opening of this grand new building,
which replaced the farmhouse that had served as a cluhouse for the first
twenty years. The building was the work of Aymar Embury II, a nationally
known architect of college buildings, clubs, and country houses for-the
wealthy. The country club's officers may have known Embury from his several
books on suburban mansion design, or from his work elsewhere in North
Carolina. Trained at Princeton, Embury's major commissions ranged from
college buildings at Princeton and Hofstra, to the Maidstone Country Club in
posh East Hampton, Long Island, to the New York City Building at the 1939
Worlds Fair, to numerous New York public works projects, including the
Triborough Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel. Embury early made important contacts
with North Carolina's textile elite, and over the years designed the
Mid-Pines Country Club, Southern Pines Country Club, and Hope Valley Country
Club in the state.
Embury's design for Charlotte is a good example of the
revivalist eclecticism that was popular in well-to-do conservative circles
in the 1920s and early 30s. In massing, the structure is an oversized
example of the time-tested three-part Palladian plan. It is composed of a
100 foot long central block with a gable roof and massive paired end
chimneys, flanked by a pair of gabled pavillions. A two-story portico with
gigantic fluted Doric columns and a modillion cornice extends across the
entire front of the main block. The end pavillions feature circular gable
windows, overscaled quoins, and bay windows. A low service wing extends off
the side of the north pavillion. At the rear of the building the patterns of
solids and voids is reversed, with Ionic-columned porches on the pavilions
flanking the plain wall of the main block. French doors in the main block
open onto a series of terraces that overlook some of the 240 acres of golf
links. Inside, the main block contains the 100 foot long ballroom and the
grand promenade known as Peacock Alley, while the south pavillion contains a
massive lounge, and the north pavillion the dining room. The basement holds
a cafe, billard room, and lockers and valets for the adjoining golf course,
tennis courts, and swimming pool.
When it opened, local papers fairly gushed over the
building's mix of opulent styles, next to articles discussing medical care
for the region's unemployed.
The building could easily be taken for a fine old
dwelling built in the Virginia hills back in Andrew Jackson's time....
From the east the building looks like a white temple set among Grecian
hills. All exterior, both brick and stone, are done in whitewash and has
the charm of aged paint .... Peacock Alley... has a Grecian motif in the
mural decorations that tell the story of Psyche and Venus. The panels are
of imported French wallpaper that closely resembles handpainted work....
The main ballroom... is decorated in French empire and Americanized
Grecian furnishings.... On the south side is the Pine Room, the walls of
which are panelled in natural pine done with a natural satin finish.
English furnishings bring out the red and green color note of this room.
The Dining Room on the opposite end of the building has a Wedgewood china
motif of blue and white A "powder room" near the main entrance is
delightfully done in modernistic furnishings. Downstairs the mens' lounge
has handmade early Virginia furniture.
In addition to local attention, the building was featured
in a long article in Architecture magazine, March 1935, and has
appeared in numerous other publications from the Princeton Alumni Review
to National Geographic. Early photos of the building taken for the
Embury firm may be found in Embury's professional papers in the George
Arents Research Library of Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, along
with plans drawn by the same firm in 1950 for the golf shop which adjoins
the original structure.
At the same time that Aymar Embury II did the Charlotte
Country Club, he also drew plans for the residence of at least one of its
members. Embury is said to have designed the William States Lee, Jr., house
at 2001 Eastway Drive on the corner of Kilborne Lane. Lee was a top official
at Duke Power, son of William States Lee, Sr., the renowned engineer who
helped create the company.
"VICTORIA," THE R.M. MILLER, JR., HOUSE
1600 The Plaza
The R. M. Miller, Jr., house which now stands at 1600 The
Plaza, is Charlotte's best-preserved example of Queen Anne Victorian
architecture. It was originally built in 1891 on posh North Tryon Street
near the corner of Seventh Street, one of a pair of identical houses
constructed for the sons of R.M. Miller. Miller was an important textile
man, and associate of New South leader Daniel A. Tompkins, and his son
R.M.Miller, Jr., became a successful trader in groceries, grains, tobacco,
and cotton. He became so prosperous, in fact, that in 1915 he paid to have
the old house moved to this site so that he could build an up-to-date
Colonial Revival mansion for himself on the downtown lot (demolished).
Since 1970 the house has undergone a museum - quality
restoration at the hands of new owners Francis and William Gay. It is a good
example of the Queen Anne style popular in the late nineteenth century, with
a complex slate-covered roof, a wood-shingled corner turret, ornate gable
and cornice "gingerbread," and a wrap-around porch with turned columns,
carved brackets, and a spindle-frieze. The interior is, if anything, more
elaborate than the exterior. The wood-paneled entrance hall opens onto front
and back parlors, which flow together through the use of large sliding
doors. Exuberant columned mantels are to be found not only in the main
downstairs rooms, but even in the master bedroom on the second floor.
Original spindle-work screens remain in place. Of special note are the
picture-tiles found around the fireplaces and in the balusters of the grand
stair. "Victoria" is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Ralph VanLandingham residence is an excellently preserved example of an
early twentieth century suburban estate. The two-story house is a noteworthy
local specimen of the Bungalow style expanded to massive proportions. Walls
are sheathed in rustic wood shingles, chimneys and porch columns are built
up of rounded granite boulders, and rafter ends are left exposed in the wide
eaves to produce a rustic effect. The dwelling is set in approximately
three-and-one-half acres of carefully landscaped grounds originally designed
by Leigh Colyer, one of the region's earliest landscape architects.
Ralph VanLandingham was a cotton broker, one of the most
prestigious and lucrative occupations in Charlotte during the textile boom
of the first years of the twentieth century. He also served as treasurer of
the elite Charlotte Country Club for many years, and was among the first men
to make his home in nearby Chatham Estates. His wife Susie Harwood
VanLandingham was an important figure in her own right. She headed an
Atlanta, Georgia, hotel firm and chaired the boards of such institutions as
St. Peter's Hospital in Charlotte, and the North Carolina Board of
Approved Schools. One of the couple's children, Susie Deane VanLandingham,
achieved national prominence as a pioneer sportswoman in golf. The family is
of special value to social historians because all household records and
businesss papers are now in the collection of the Atkins Library at the
University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The VanLandingham Estate is
listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
BISHOP J. C. KILGO HOUSE
2100 The Plaza
This house was built in the fall and winter of 1914-1915
for Bishop J.C. Kilgo. It was designed by Charlotte architect Louis Asbury,
Jr., an M.I.T. trained designer responsible for Mecklenburg's County Court
House among many other major Charlotte buildings. The builder was J.A.
Jones, the city's leading construction company, and the estimated cost was
$10,090, quite a large sum in the days when a comfortable middle class house
could be built for $2,000- $3,000. The J.C. Kilgo House was among the first
on The Plaza.
John Carlisle Kilgo, a native of South Carolinas was a
Methodist minister who served as president of Trinity College, later Duke
University, from 1894 to 1910. He was president emeritus of the institution
from 1910 to 1917. Kilgo had a wide reputation as a progressive college
leader. During his tenure as president, the size of the student body doubled
and the faculty tripled in number. Kilgo initiated the building of the first
women's dormitory on campus, which forged the way for a coordinate college
for women. He encouraged his students to overcome sectionalism, which
plagued the South in the late nineteenth century. In addition, the first
speech ever made by Booker T. Washington in a white institution in the South
was made at Trinity College upon Kilgo's invitation.
Kilgo left Durham in 1915 and moved to his new home in
Charlotte. According to his daughter-in-law, Mrs. J.C. Kilgo. Jr., he moved
for two main reasons. First, Charlotte was centrally located in the
Methodist conference, and he could better execute his bishop's duties from
the citv. Secondly, Kilgo served on the board of the Southern Railway and
needed to travel to New York regularly on business, which he could do more
easily from Charlotte.
Bishop Kilgo died at his home on August 11, 1922, at the
age of sixty-one. His widow, Fannie Turner Kilgo, lived in the home until
her death on February 22, 1946. The residence remained in the Kilgo family
until 1951 when heirs of the estate sold it to Frank and Genevieve Causley.
The Causleys sold it in turn to Erleen B. Sanders in 1956. In 1959 she sold
the house to Lucille Bedsol who used it as a boarding house into the 1980s.
Kilgo United Methodist Church, a few blocks away, was organized in 1943 and
named in honor of Bishop J.C. Kilgo.
Louis Asbury's design for Bishop Kilgo was an imposing
two-story frame residence. Its rectangular, hip-roofed form and elegantly
plain trim mark it as an example of what some architectural historians now
call the Rectilinear style. The Rectilinear mode was developed at the turn
of the century as a rebellion against the over-elaborate ornamentation of
the earlier Victorian Queen Anne style. Kilgo's choice of this modern,
no-nonsense style for his house fits well with what we know of his
personality from his path-breaking work as Trinity College president.