by Thomas W. Hanchett
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This suburb, is about two miles from the heart of the city, with
streetcar lines running through it. It is high and dry, being the
highest point around Charlotte. It has beautiful streets convenient to
churches and schools. In this suburb is to be found some of the best people
and some of the handsomest homes to be found in any part of Charlotte. Today
Washington Heights is one of Charlotte's inner neighborhoods. It is located
along the west side of Beatties Ford Road between the Brookshire Freeway and
Northwest Junior High School. Its streets - Booker, Sanders, Tate, Dundeen,
Celia, Pitts, Carmel, Redbud, and Onyx - slope gently downward from the
ridgeline marked by Beatties Ford Road, and they are lined with some 200
modest bungalows dating from the 1910s through 1930s. When Washington
Heights opened in 1913, though, it was not an inner city neighborhood but a
"streetcar suburb" at the edge of Charlotte.2 This suburb was
built especially for middle-income black residents.
When C.H. Watson penned his advertisement for Washington Heights in the
mid 1910s, Charlotte was experiencing a suburban boom. The beginning of
electric trolley service and the opening of Dilworth back in 1891 had
heralded the age of streetcar suburbs.3 Now any middle-income
person who earned enough to afford the five cent trolley fare could work
downtown but commute home to a "country house" on a tree-shaded street near
the edge of the city. By the 1910s nine trolley tracks radiated from
downtown like spokes in a wheel. All along the city's rim were new suburban
Dilworth (1891) and its extension (1911); the
Elizabeth (1891), Piedmont Park (1899), and Oakhurst (1903) areas of
present-day Elizabeth; Colonial Heights (1905) and
Crescent Heights (1907) between Vail Avenue and Providence Road;
Myers Park (1911) southeast of town; the Club Acres (1910) and Chatham
Estates (1912) sections of
Plaza-Midwood; and Wilmore (1914) southwest of the city.4
Developers advertised the benefits of this new "country living," and
similar arguments could be found in frequent articles in the popular
magazines of the day. Ads touted the clean air and well-drained homesites
available in the suburbs. They promised that children brought up in
single-family homes, with opportunities to play on tree-shaded grassy lawns,
would grow up healthier and happier than their city peers. The suburbs
themselves were designed to enhance the semi-rural feeling. Most included
parkland, and the biggest parks near the trolley lines, such as Latta Park
in Dilworth or
Independence Park in Elizabeth, drew not only neighborhood residents but
also weekend picnickers and baseball players from all over the city. After
1911, when landscape architects John Nolen and the Olmsted Brothers laid out
curving Queens and Dilworth Roads, almost every new Charlotte suburb also
featured curving avenues designed in keeping with the naturalistic spirit of
The suburbs were also meant to be carefully controlled residential
enclaves, where one's neighbors would always be middle and upper-class
citizens, and where one would never have to worry about a factory opening up
next door. Charlotte had no zoning laws as yet (the first in America were in
New York City in 1916).6 So developers used restrictive covenants
in the lot deeds to ensure that land would be used only for residences, that
houses would be above a specified minimum cost, and that structures would be
set back from the street to provide spacious front lawns.
One of the most frequently used restrictive covenants had nothing to do
with buildings, however. Almost every Charlotte suburban deed included the
clause, "shall be owned, occupied and used only by members of the Caucasian
race, domestic servants in the employ of the occupants excepted."7
Such clauses had seldom been found in older center city areas where blacks
and whites had long lived relatively close together. Suburban race
restrictions were commonplace in the early twentieth century throughout the
South and in parts of the North, but they must have been particularly
disheartening to blacks in Charlotte. By the 1910s the city's black
population had made great economic strides. The Honorable Dr. J.T. Williams,
a medical doctor who had served as United States diplomat to Sierra Leone,
West Africa from 1898 to 1907, was the town's leading black citizen.8
He lived in a spacious house on Brevard Street near downtown, had a farm
south of the city, and owned a number of investment properties including the
Hotel Williams. Lawyer J.T. Sanders, hailed by blacks as "the Colored
Financier of Charlotte," controlled three drug stores, one barber shop, one
restaurant, one hotel, one newspaper, a movie theater, and large real estate
business." 9 Black architect W.W. Smith was building churches and
business buildings throughout the region, including the four-story
headquarters of Charlotte's Afro-American Mutual Insurance Company. J.W.
Crockett and W.C. Smith ran the Progressive Messenger newspaper. The
A.M.E. Zion Publishing House handled a large volume of printing under the
direction of Bishop George Wiley Clinton, Dr. George C. Clement and their
successors. Black-owned barbershops, twenty-four in number, were major
moneymakers in a period when there were few white barbers.10
Barber Thad L. Tate rivaled J.T. Williams in importance, and owned a farm
north of the city in addition to a handsome brick residence in town.11
There were some two dozen black college professors and public school
principals. 12 Chief among them were
Dr. George E. Davis, who had been the first black teacher at Biddle
University in the city, and Dr. Henry L. McCrory, the institution's
energetic young president. 13 Both also invested in real estate.
The city also boasted eighty-seven black ministers, and a dozen black
doctors, many of whom helped staff black
Good Samaritan Hospital. 14 Below the lawyers, doctors,
business and real estate investors, publishers, and leading barbers and
ministers was a rising black middle class. 15 Among those in this
group were the city's thirty-nine public school teachers, its eighty
bricklayers and plasterers, the proprietors of its twenty-four black-owned
small grocery stores, the ministers of the smaller churches, and railway
employees. The black middle class was not as well-to-do as its white
counterpart, but its members could afford the down payment for a modest lot
and the five cent fares for the daily trolley commute.
No less than whites, the emerging black middle class longed for the
advertised benefits of suburban living for themselves and their children.
Land use controls seemed especially desirable, for black downtown
neighborhoods were subject to even greater disruptive forces than white
ones: Rosa Smith, daughter of pioneer black publisher W.C. Smith, still
remembers when the city's informally sanctioned red-light district was
suddenly moved to within sight of her Second Ward house early in the
century.16 As importantly, a suburban location seemed a
fashionable and fitting attainment for families who had worked their way up
from penniless ex-slavery in two generations.
White real estate developers in Charlotte could not ignore this ready
market. In June of 1912, real estate man Walter S. Alexander organized the
Freehold Realty Company with partners John M. Scott and A.M. McDonald.17
The same partnership had earlier developed Elizabeth Heights across town
under the name Southern Real Estate Company.18 By June of the
following year Alexander and partners had purchased a tract of farmland
north of the city along Beatties Ford Road.19 The property lay
along the west side of the old country highway just north of the bridge over
the Seaboard Air Line Railway tracks. It was just beyond the nineteenth
century black village of Biddleville around Biddle University (later Johnson
C. Smith University), which was now becoming surrounded with white suburbs.20
A trolley line had recently opened along West Trade Street and out Beatties
Ford Road from downtown; Freehold Realty's new purchase two-and-a-half miles
from the center of town was now within easy commuting distance of virtually
all parts of the city.21
On June 10, 1913, Freehold Realty filed a plat map at the Mecklenburg
County Register of Deeds Office laying out streets in the former farmland.
22 The new suburb was to be called Washington Heights, evidently
in honor of educator Booker T. Washington, the national black leader. The
streets running west from Beatties Ford Road commemorated other local and
national black leaders. There was Davis Avenue (later renamed Dundeen
Street), named for Charlotte's pioneer black professor Dr. George E. Davis.
Parallel to it was Tate Street, after black Charlotte barber and community
leader Thad L. Tate, who himself owned a tract of farmland just beyond Davis
Street. Further down was Sanders Avenue, named either for J.T. Sanders, or
for Dr. D.J. Sanders who had recently completed his tenure as the first
black president of Biddle University. There was also a Douglas Street shown
on the map (now the site of the on-ramp of the Brookshire Freeway), perhaps
intended to honor black abolitionist Frederick Douglass. These straight
streets formed a grid adjacent to Beatties Ford Road, with cross-streets
named after trees: Elm Street (Carmel Street today), Holly Street (now
Redbud Street), and Oak Street (today Onyx Street).23 The central
street in the neighborhood was Booker Avenue running west off Beatties Ford
Road. It was wider than the rest because it was intended as the route of the
trolley line whenever it might be extended. After Booker crossed Holly it
broke out of the grid pattern and formed a gentle curve in the newest
Behind the lots lining Booker Avenue the plat map reserved land for
another suburban essential, a creek-bed park. Evidence in deeds indicates
that this area was to be called Lincoln Park, and the trolley company
reserved a right-of-way directly from Beatties Ford Road to the site.
24 A curving street which ran along the north side of the park was to
be called Park Drive (now Pitts Drive).
Along the new streets, Freehold Realty laid out more than 200 lots. Most
were fifty feet wide and 150 feet deep and had rear alleyways. This
arrangement was much the same as might be found on side streets in white
suburbs. Thomas Avenue, for instance, platted the same year parallel to The
Plaza across town, has lots fifty feet wide and from 135 to 182 feet deep.25
Washington Heights property cost a bit less than Thomas Avenue lots. A
Thomas Avenue homesite went for $500 to $750. Washington Heights lots ranged
from $500 for prime Beatties Ford Road frontage, to $380 in the first block
of Sanders Avenue, to as little as $300 in the second block of Tate Street.
26 As in all streetcar suburbs, the further one had to walk from
the existing trolley line (in this case on Beatties Ford Road), the less one
paid for a lot.
Just as in white suburbs, Washington Heights buyers were protected by
deed restrictions. Clauses specified that land was to be used for residence
only and that buildings were to be set back at least twenty feet from the
street. The better-located lots carried a requirement that no house could be
constructed costing less than 1000 dollars, while other sites had minimums
of $700 or in a few cases $600. There were no clauses referring to race.
To help sell the new suburb, Freehold Realty secured the services of C.H.
Watson. Watson was one of the city's black leaders, and listed "real estate"
as his occupation in city directories of the period. He was active in trying
to persuade government leaders to provide a reform school for delinquent
black youth, who at the time were sentenced to hard labor on the chain gangs
with no provision for education. 27 In 1915 Watson was
instrumental in organizing a massive celebration of the anniversary of the
end of the Civil War and slavery: "The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Freedom
of the Negro in the County of Mecklenburg and the City of Charlotte, North
Carolina."28 The day included a morning parade through the
streets of Charlotte, noontime program in the city auditorium with speeches
by black civic and religious leaders and music by four brass bands, and an
evening "Musicale" featuring the singing of eight church choirs, soloists,
and the Biddle University Orchestra.
Watson's most lasting accomplishment was a thick booklet published in
connection with the anniversary celebration. Called Colored Charlotte
it heralded the accomplishments of the city's black community in the fifty
years since the end of slavery. 29 Professional black
photographer J.H. Alibury recorded for posterity dozens of the city's black
leaders, businesses, homes, and churches. A.M.E. Zion Bishop George Wiley
Clinton contributed an introduction that set forth the booklet's aim:
The pamphlet to which these words are to serve as an introduction is
designed to set forth in brief form a narrative of some of the
achievements of the Colored people who constitute a large percentage of
the inhabitants of the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County....
Facing, as we do, the second half century of Negro freedom, it is quite
befitting that we take note of what has been done along the line of
substantial race progress for our immediate encouragement and inspiration.
It is no less desirable that the people of other races should know what we
are doing in the way of proving ourselves substantial citizens and
valuable members of the community in which we live....
As a people we have not done much in the way of publishing the
achievements of the race. Other people have been and are still diligent in
advertising our shortcomings, and if we would counteract these damaging
influences we must be no less zealous in collecting and publishing our
The book included paragraphs on the city's black businesses, publications
and periodicals, schools social organizations and library. Three pages of
statistics for the city and county set forth the number of blacks in
professions and trades, gave the number and assessed value of black business
buildings and churches, and pointed out that the city had 805 black
homeowners. Today Colored Charlotte is the most important single
resource for the study of the city's black heritage. Watson, not
coincidentally, devoted several pages of Colored Charlotte to the
Washington Heights project, and also made mention of the planned suburb of
Douglassville which he intended to develop on the other side of Beatties
Ford Road along present-day Oaklawn Avenue. There was a half-page photograph
titled "Watson Park, Washington Heights -- The only Park around Charlotte
for Colored People. Owned by C.H. Watson." The park was located at the end
of the trolley line, for the photo shows a streetcar turning a curve. Few
residents remember it well today, but it apparently was actually on Watson's
Douglassville land along Beatties Ford Road in the vicinity of the present
Vest Water Works plant. The park featured wooden pavilions for weekend
Also to be found in Colored Charlotte were photographs of three
handsome new Washington Heights bungalows, plus a pair of apparently earlier
residences probably dating from the land's farm days. One bungalow was
captioned "Owned by Rev. H. Wilson." Reverend Wilson had been among the
suburb's first lot purchasers when he acquired 2328 Sanders Street in July
of 1913. The other houses were listed as "Residence of Mr. W.H. Lyttle,"
"Residence of Reverend A.F. Graham," "Residence Of Mr. L. Henry Warren," and
"Residence of C.D. Dockry." None of these men are known to have purchased
lots in the development, and were likely renting their dwellings.
Though only five houses were pictured in the 1915 book, some forty-three
lots had already been sold since June of 1913.31 Most of the
purchasers were middle-class blacks who bought the land for investment
purposes. R.L. Douglas, a teacher at Biddle University, purchased a lot on
Beatties Ford Road and another on Sanders Avenue but continued to live in
the Seversville area south of the campus. Two other professors, Rev. York
Jones and W. Thomas Long, purchased Beatties Ford Road lots in 1913 but
remained at their old residences near the campus. Other speculative buyers
included bricklayer Walter Hill who owned a lot at 2320 Sanders Street but
continued living in Second Ward, grocer W.M. Williams who purchased the
corner lot at Beatties Ford and Booker streets but remained in residence at
804 East Stonewall Street, and barber Eli Jewell who owned 2309 Tate Street
while still living at 302 West Gold Street near Third Ward.
Because Washington Heights was outside the city limits in its earliest
years, and not covered by city directories and insurance maps or served by
city water, it is difficult to determine exactly when many of the homes were
built or by whom. It is certain that a number of houses were constructed to
be rented. A landlord who can be identified with certainty is Lethia Jones,
remembered as one of Charlotte's leading black women. 33 She
purchased two lots in the 1000 block of Beatties Ford Road in 1916, and in
1918 added another in the 900 block of Beatties Ford and one at 2213 Booker
Avenue. In the early thirties when city water reached the area, Lethia Jones
Henderson was listed as landlord on the hookup permits, but the city
directory listed others as living at three of the addresses.
A number of professional black real estate investors also purchased lots,
sometimes building a house for rental income, sometimes holding the land for
eventual resale. Among them were J.T. Sanders, I.D.L. Torrence, J.R.
Hemphill, and H.L. McCrorey. Hemphill was a tailor with a shop at 39 North
College Street in the heart of downtown. By the 1910s he also was involved
in real estate, operating Progress Investment Realty Company. Torrence, a
full-time real estate person, and H. L. McCrorey, the president of Biddle
University, were also part of Progress Realty at various times. Individually
they purchased thirteen lots in Washington Heights over the years, and water
permit records indicate that they built a number of houses for rental,
including 1304 Beatties Ford Road, 2304 and 2312 Booker Avenue, 2417 Dundeen
Street, and 2224 and 2317 Tate Street. McCrorey's rental income evidently
allowed him to expand his interests in real estate. He eventually took over
development of Watson's Douglassville area along Oaklawn Avenue and today it
is a handsome suburb known as McCrorey Heights.
After the initial burst of lot purchases, Washington Heights sales slowed
down. In 1919 Freehold Realty sold almost all its remaining lots to another
partnership, Biddle Realty, made up of grocer C.W. Todd, T.T. Cole, and auto
salesman D. F. Reid. 35 The late 1910s and early 1920s were tough
times for real estate developers due to a general economic depression
combined with shortages of building materials resulting from World War I. By
1921 Biddle Realty had legally dissolved its partnership, and the Washington
Heights lands were in the hands of real estate developer Louis B. Vreeland
who had guaranteed the Biddle Realty purchase notes. 36
Vreeland and a partner named Thomas B. Newell evidently were able to
regain sales momentum. In February of 1928 they platted an extension of
Pitts Drive and Dundeen Street at the edge of the neighborhood, adding some
sixty new lots. 37 Not all of the plat was built as proposed, but
the west half of Pitts Drive curving to meet Booker Avenue is a legacy of
this extension. About the same time, Celia Street was laid out parallel to
Dundeen Street just north of the original Washington Heights plat. 38
The land was the property of Celia Henderson, a relative of Thad Tate. Tate
himself owned the large tract of farmland immediately north of Celia Street,
and it is likely that he and his family were the new street's actual
By the time that city directories began listing Washington Heights in
1931, the development had grown to be a reasonably substantial suburban
neighborhood. More than 160 families lived along its streets. Perhaps the
neighborhood's leading resident was Reverend W.H. Davenport, Editor of the
Star of Zion, the national newspaper of the A.M.E. Zion religion
which was published in Charlotte's Second Ward at the A.M.E. Zion Publishing
House. Davenport occupied a large two-story brick residence that stands
today at 1223 Beatties Ford Road. Nearby at 1121 was the residence (now
gone) of hairdresser Lethia Jones Henderson. Leon Alexander, who owned two
grocery stores, lived at 1023 (demolished), and Dr. N.B. Houser resided at
901 (also demolished). Nellie Dykes, teacher supervisor for the black
Mecklenburg County schools for many years, lived just off Beatties Ford Road
in a small bungalow at 2219 Celia Street. 39
Other important Washington Heights citizens in 1931 included Luther
Howard (2415 Booker Avenue) who was bell captain at the elegant new Hotel
Charlotte, and Samuel Peterson (2305 Dundeen Street) who was headwaiter at
the posh Stonewall Cafe in the downtown Stonewall Hotel. There also were a
number of ministers, who commuted from Washington Heights by trolley or auto
to parishes in many parts of the city. Among them were Rev. P.R. Washington
(1118 Beatties Ford Road) who was pastor of Stonewall Baptist Church in
Second Ward, Rev. W.H. Davidson (1316 Beatties Ford Road) who headed
Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in
Biddleville, Rev. Boysie B. Moore (2308 Dundeen Street) of St. Paul's
Baptist Church in Second Ward, Rev. J.H. Gamble (2304 Booker Avenue) of
Moreland Presbyterian Church, and Thomas T. Barber (2501 Dundeen Street) who
pastored Washington Heights' own Tabernacle Baptist Church.
A frequent occupation among Washington Heights residents in 1931 was
Southern Railway employee. Railroad work was an important calling for blacks
all over the United States in the first half of the twentieth century due to
union-secured pay scales and job security, as well as the opportunity to
travel. 40 At least half a dozen Southern employees lived in
Washington Heights in 1931, a short trolley ride to the yards and offices of
the railroad on West Trade Street. Southern employee John Lyles owned one of
the neighborhood's few two-story residences, a Four Square type dwelling at
2320 Booker Avenue. Other Southern employees included machinist helper M.L.
Dunham who owned 2316 Booker Avenue, porter L.C. Boger listed at 2214 Celia
Street, H.V. Allen at 2301 Celia Street, Lewis Hefner at 2216 Dundeen
Street, and cashier J.C. Nelson who owned 2215 Sanders Avenue.
Many of Washington Heights' 1931 residents had humbler occupations, such
as laborer, maid, driver, or "helper." The majority of the renters seem to
have fallen in this category, but evidence indicates that some of these
owned their own homes. Chevrolet dealership janitor John Hemphill (no
relation to the real estate man J.R. Hemphill), Buick Motor Company helper
Gaither Alexander, and a Wilson Motor Company helper owned houses side by
side at 2217, 2221, and 2225 Booker Avenue. Walter Banks, a cook, lived at
2225 Dundeen Street, and Huntley West, a porter at B,F. Goodrich, resided at
2229 Dundeen Street. A number of owners were simply listed as "laborer,"
including William Lindsay of 2228 Sanders Avenue and John Grier of 2216 Tate
Today 1910s and 1920s dwellings still make up the majority of Washington
Heights structures. Houses are predominantly single-family, with only a few
of the duplexes common in more working-class areas of Charlotte. Most
Washington Heights houses are one story tall and of wood construction in the
Bungalow style. They feature wide-eaved roofs with exposed rafter ends,
broad front porches that are now often screened in, and wooden weatherboard
or tongue-and-groove "novelty" siding. The structures today look much like
those on the more modest streets of 1910s and 1920s, such as Thomas Avenue
in Plaza-Midwood or Grove Street in the section of Third Ward that was
developed as the Woodlawn suburb.
Along with houses, the 1931 city directory listed three churches. There
was a Church of God on Booker Street at Carmel Street, the Tabernacle
Baptist Church on Dundeen near Rosebud Street, and the A.M.E. Zion Boulevard
Chapel on Sanders Street at the corner of Carmel. None of these early
religious structures survive today. The neighborhood also boasted a handful
of commercial establishments, including a restaurant, a cleaning and
pressing shop, and grocery stores. Almost all of these were on or near
Beatties Ford Road and have been replaced by newer buildings since 1931. A
single wood-frame grocery remains from the early years in the neighborhood's
heart, at 2515 Booker Avenue. Known in 1931 as Jim Patterson's grocery, it
continues to be used as a food store today.
The neighborhood was served by the Biddleville Graded School, just over
the Seaboard Railway tracks on Beatties Ford Road at Mattoon Street. It was
originally a frame four-room structure built in the late 1910s and
supervised by teaching principal Mrs. E.R. Anderson. 41 The
wooden building was later replaced by a brick school building, later
Until the late 1930s, high school students (eighth through eleventh
grades) from Washington Heights had to travel to Second Ward High School on
the other side of downtown, the city's only secondary facility for blacks.
Then, in 1938, the city School Board decided to build West Charlotte High
School on the old Thad Tate farm at 1415 Beatties Ford Road just beyond
Celia Street. According to Superintendent of Schools Harry Harding:
In the building program of 1936-'37 $75,000.00 for the building,
$5,000.00 for the site, and $1,305.00 for equipment, had been allotted. The
architect was Mr. Charles Connelly.
When the Board was negotiating for the purchase of the site, the
Superintendent was directed to approach Thad Tate, for whom all of the
citizens of the city had great respect, with a proposal to name the new High
School "The Thad Tate High School" in his honor if he would donate the ten
acres for the site. He asked for a night to think it over. The next morning
he said, "Mr. Harding, I will take the $5,000.00." Thad Tate was not only a
good businessman and a good citizen, but he wanted no honors that he had to
The $500 per acre price probably represented something of a donation on
Tate's part anyway. The tract included prime Beatties Ford Road frontage
worth in the range of $500 per lot. West Charlotte High has recently moved
to a new site, but architect Connelly's original two-story modern,
fire-resistive brick building survives as part of the ten-acre campus of
Northwest Middle School, and the remainder of the Tate farm has been
developed as suburban streets.
One suburban attribute that was missing from Washington Heights by the
1931 city directory was a park. Watson Park was no longer operating, perhaps
a victim of the nationwide Great Depression. The Piedmont Traction Company
had never developed its proposed Lincoln Park along Pitts Drive in the heart
of the neighborhood, though the land did remain vacant and in a state of
nature for many years.
Since 1931, approximately seventy residences have been added along the
streets of Washington Heights. Most of these date from the late 1930s and
early 1940s, but a number are more recent and in some cases replaced earlier
dwellings. The late 1930s and 1940s also saw an upsurge of commercial
activity along Beatties Ford Road. The wooden store buildings and some
residences gave way to new brick and concrete business structures, most two
stories tall. Along with groceries, drug stores and beauty salons was a
music store, a photography studio, and fraternal society meeting rooms.
Though the streetcars stopped running in 1938, the stores remain clustered
around the area that was once the terminus of the line. 43
Longtime residents continue to refer to the shopping area as "The End."
The most architecturally and historically interesting building in "The
End" ia a club completed about 1946. It was run by James R. McKee, and it
replaced an early house on the site. The club is one of Charlotte's best
Art Moderne architecture. It is finished in white concrete with black
horizontal accent stripes and glass-block windows. The small, square-plan
second story is centered ziggurat fashion on the larger square-plan first
story. An elaborate metal awning with porthole-like openings extends from
the front steps to the street. The club became an important gathering place
for black political leaders during the 1950s and 1960s . Today the Excelsior
Club continues to be a northwest side landmark, and is still popular as a
tavern and meeting place.
Since the 1940s, two changes have affected the edges of Washington
Heights. In the 1970s, the Brookshire Freeway from downtown sliced through
the hillside parallel to the existing Seaboard Railway track. The wide cut
took several businesses along Beatties Ford Road between Mattoon Street in
Biddleville and the Excelsior Club in Washington Heights, as well as the
site of the old Biddleville Graded School. The main casualty was Douglas
Street, which disappeared, houses and all, and was replaced by a freeway
entrance ramp. Also in the 1970s the land originally set aside for Lincoln
Park was sold for redevelopment. Today the recent sanctuary of Tabernacle
Baptist Church shares the tract with several clusters of two-story apartment
The developments in the Washington Heights area in the post-1940 decades
mean that the neighborhood no longer looks exactly as it did when it was
Charlotte's only black streetcar suburb. There are, though, abundant
reminders of the early years. The names Booker, Tate, Sanders, and Celia
continue to celebrate black history. And most of the early bungalows built
by Charlotte's black middle class of the 1910s and 1920s may still be seen.
Washington Heights is an important part of Charlotte's history. A symbol
of black economic strength, it helped shape the direction of black suburban
growth after World War II. University Park, McCrorey Heights, Biddle
Heights, Hyde Park, and a number of other predominantly black developments
may now be found out Beatties Ford Road. In addition, there is evidence that
the Washington Heights development is unique in North Carolina. Real estate
developments for, and in some cases by, blacks were not uncommon in the
early years of the twentieth century. Most, however, were in center city
locations or otherwise within walking distance of employment. Architectural
and historic inventories conducted under the direction of the North Carolina
Division of Archives and History have yet to identify another black North
Carolina neighborhood built as a streetcar suburb . 44
1 C.H. Watson, ed. Colored Charlotte: Published in
Connection with the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Freedom of the Negro in the
County of Mecklenburg and the City of Charlotte, North Carolina
(Charlotte A.M.E. Job Print, c. 1915), p. 6.
2 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: map book 230,
P. 228. For more on the streetcar suburb phenomenon see Sam Bass Warner,
Jr., Streetcar Suburbs: the Process of Growth in Boston 1870-1900
(Cambridge , Massachusetts: Harvard University and the M.I.T. Press, 1962).
3 Dan L. Morrill and Ruth Little-Stokes, "Architectural
Analysis: Dilworth: Charlotte's Initial Streetcar Suburb" (Charlotte:
Dilworth Community Association, 1978).
4 See the section entitled "The Growth of Charlotte: a
History" on this website.
5 For a statement of this naturalistic philosophy read the
chapter on Myers Park in John Nolen, New Towns for Old: Achievements in
Civic Improvement in Some American Small Towns and Neighborhoods
(Boston: Marshall Jones, 1927), pp. 100-110. See also the chapters on city
planning, Myers Park, Dilworth, and Plaza-Midwood on this website.
6 Mel Scott, American City Planning Since 1890
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969),pp. 153-161.
7 These particular words are from Eastover, but similar
phrases are found in almost all deeds. "Eastover Restriction Agreement,"
undated, in the files of the E.C. Griffith Company, Charlotte.
8 Janette Thomas Greenwood, The Black Experience in
Charlotte-Mecklenburg, 1850-1920: a Curriculum Guide for Teachers (
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission, 1984), pp. 4-2, 4-3.
9 Watson, Colored Charlotte..... p. 9.
10 Ibid., p. 6. For more on the importance of barbers in the
black community see Allan H. Spear, Black Chicago: the Making of a Negro
Ghetto 1890-1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), p. 112.
Oscar Handlin, Boston's Immigrants: a Study in Acculturation, rev.
ed. (New York: Atheneum, 1974), p. 63.
11 Greenwood, The Black Experience . . . , pp. 4-8,
12 Watson, Colored Charlotte . .., p. 6.
13 For more on Davis see William H. Huffman, "Dr. George E.
Davis House: Survey and Research Report" (Charlotte: Charlotte Mecklenburg
Historic Properties Commission, 1984). Both Davis and McCrorey are included
in Inez Moore Parker, The Biddle-Johnson C. Smith Story (Charlotte:
Charlotte Publishing, 1975), pp.8-9, 15-23.
14 Watson, Colored Charlotte . . . , p. 6.
15 For a more thorough discussion of the "class structure" of
black communities see Spear, Black Chicago . . . , pp. 23 and passim,
or David M. Katzman, Before the Ghetto: Black Detroit in the Nineteenth
Century (Urbana. University of Illinois Press, 1973), pp. 29-31,
135-174, and passim. Spear notes that "The negro class structure ... does
not always correspond with the white class structure. The Negro upper class,
for instance, includes professional people, whose white counterparts are
usually considered middle class. At the same time, postal clerks, Pullman
porters, waiters and other occupational groups that would belong in the
upper lower class among whites have traditionally formed the core of the
Negro middle class," p. 23n.
16 Rosa Smith, interview with Thomas W. Hanchett and Janette
Thomas Greenwood in Charlotte, March 1984.
17 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: record of
corporations book 3, p. 468; record of corporations book 6, p. 345.
18 See the chapter on Elizabeth on this website.
19 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: map book 230,
20 W.S. Alexander had opened Western Heights (present-day
Martin, Frazier, Flint, and Wake Streets) originally for whites in 1897. E.C.
Griffith opened Wesley Heights (Grandin, Walnut, and parts of Summit streets
off West Trade Street) in the 1910s, also for white residents. Later 1923
Roslyn Heights (Roslyn, Lima, Bacon, Turner) and 1947 Smallwood Homes (Seldon,
Smallwood, Gregg, and others) opened off Rozelles Ferry Road, also for
whites. City directories indicate that most of these streets remained white
until the 1950s.
21 The trolley tracks were extended along West Trade Street in
stages, stopping originally at the intersection of Tuckaseegee Road, then
near Biddle University, and later along Beatties Ford Road to the Oaklawn
intersection. One such extension, probably the one to the campus, opened
April 25, 1903. Dan L. Morrill and Nancy Thomas, "Biddleville," in the New
South Neighborhoods brochure series (Charlotte: Charlotte Mecklenburg
Historic Properties Commission, 1981).
22 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: map book 230,
23 Hereafter in this essay, all streets will be called by
their 1984 names, regardless of when they received those appellations.
24 Almost every deed specifies that no easement is given to
the lands known as Lincoln Park, owned by the Piedmont Traction Company. One
particular lot was noted as bordering both Booker Street and Lincoln Park:
Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: deed book 358, p. 598.
25 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Deed Book 305,
P. 686; Deed Book 321, pp. 93, 419, 571. These transactions took place in
late 1913 and early 1914. Minimum building cost was $1,200.
26 For instance see Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds
Office: deed book 312, pp. 272, 299, 331.
27 Charlotte Observer. June 22, 1910. The effort was
evidently somewhat successful, for Colored Charlotte... included a
photograph of an old farmhouse with the caption, "North Carolina Reform
Manual Training School for Colored Youth. Three Miles From Charlotte on the
Nation's Ford Road. Opens February 1, 1915...." Charlotte blacks did not
stop pressing for construction of a more adequate facility, however, and in
the 1920s Thad Tate was able to convince Governor Cameron Morrison to open
the Morrison Training School at Hoffman, North Carolina. The Morrison School
continues in use in the 1980s, with one of its earliest brick buildings
named in honor of Tate.
28 Watson, Colored Charlotte . . . , passim. A program
of the day's events and a list of the organizers is included near the end of
30 Ibid., p. 1.
31 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: grantor books,
listings for Freehold Realty.
33 Mabel Hunt, interview with Wanda Hendricks in Charlotte,
North Carolina, August 1984. Rosabell Davis, interview with Wanda Hendricks
in Charlotte, North Carolina, August 1984. Hunt is a niece of Jones and is
said to have a book with sections on both Thad Tate and Lethia Jones. Notes
from these interviews are in the files of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic
34 An almost complete collection of Charlotte city directories
is in the collection of the Carolina Room of the Charlotte Public Library.
All biographical information in this essay, except where noted, is drawn
from the directories.
35 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: deed book 407,
pp. 52, 54; record of corporations book 5, p. 423.
36 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: record of
corporations book 6, p. 440.
37 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: map book 3, p.
38 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: map book 3, p.
39 Dykes was Jeanes Teacher for Mecklenburg County, funded by
the Jeanes Foundation. Many southern counties had a Jeanes teacher in the
1920s and 1930s working in black schools: "well-prepared Negro teachers,
mostly women, ...working under the direction of the county superintendents,
...to help and encourage the rural teachers; to introduce into small country
schools simple home industries; to give lessons on sanitation, cleanliness,
etc.; to promote improvement of school houses and school grounds; and to
organize clubs for the betterment of the school and neighborhood.... In 311
counties in fourteen states ... these Jeanes teachers are veritable
missionaries of goodwill and cooperation." N.C. Newbold, "Common Schools for
Negroes in the South," The Annals of the American Academy of Political and
Social Science, November, 1928, p. 12.
40 John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: a History
of Negro Americans, 5th ed. (New York. Alired A. Knopf, 1980 ), p. 358.
Such gains were not secured without a struggle against racial barriers in
the union movement itself.
41 Harry P. Harding, "The Charlotte City Schools" (Charlotte:
typescript by the Charlotte Mecklenburg School System, 1966), p. 50.
42 Ibid., P. 134. One of Tate's daughters, retired school
teacher Aurelia Tate Henderson, lives at 1000 Clifton Street in Charlotte in
43 Dan L. Morrill, "Myers
Park Streetcar Waiting Stations: Survey and Research Report" (Charlotte:
Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission, 1980).
44 Gwynne Stephens Taylor, From Frontier to Factory: an
Architectural History of Forsyth County (Winston-Salem:
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Historic Properties Commission, 1981). Taylor
did find a small area called Columbia Heights around black Winston-Salem
State University, but it seems not to have had streetcar connections and
housed mainly professors at the college. Linda Harris, ed. Early Raleigh
Neighborhoods and Buildings (Raleigh: Raleigh City Council, 1983. Harris
includes a chapter by Charlotte Vestal Brown on Moore Square, a nineteenth
century center city area for blacks. David R. Black, Historic
Architectural Resources of Downtown Asheville North Carolina (Asheville:
City of Asheville, 1979. Claudia Roberts Brown, The Durham Architectural
and Historic Inventory (Durham: City Of Durham , 1982). Ruth
Little-Stokes, An Inventory of Historic Architecture: Greensboro, North
Carolina (Greensboro: City of Greensboro, 1976).
Significant Sites in the Washington Heights Neighborhood
- 921 Beatties Ford Road -- The Excelsior Club (1940s)
- 1223 Beatties Ford Road -- Rev. W. H. Davenport House (1920s)
- 2328 Sanders Street -- Rev. H. Wilson House (1914c)
THE EXCELSIOR CLUB (1940s)
921 Beatties Ford Road
Created about 1946, the Excelsior Club is one of the most architecturally
and historically important structures in this sector of Charlotte. It is an
excellent example of the Art Moderne style of architecture, rare in this
city. And it has had a leading place in black social and political life here
for some four decades.
Beatties Ford Road has been a major Charlotte thoroughfare since colonial
days. In the first years of the twentieth century it became, as well, the
principal street of the black suburb of Washington Heights, lined with
handsome two-story homes. In the late 1930s and 1940s many of the houses
began to be replaced by stores and restaurants. It was during this period
that the Excelsior Club opened for business, evidently in a radically
remodeled two-story house. Today the white stucco exterior gives no hint of
its pre-1940s origins. In massing, the Club is composed of a small,
square-plan second story that is centered ziggurat-fashion on a larger
square-plan first story. Black horizontal accents and glass-block windows
give the structure a strong modernistic air, as does the elaborate metal
entrance awning with its porthole-like openings which extends from the front
steps to the street.
Today the Excelsior Club is perhaps the oldest stylish social gathering
place in Charlotte's black community. No earlier night spots are known to
exist. The Club has also long been a gathering place for local black
political leaders, and was an important meeting spot during the 1950s and
1960s as blacks worked to regain their political rights lost at the turn of
the century. The Excelsior Club's long-time owner James McKee retired in
REV. W.H. DAVENPORT HOUSE (1920s)
1223 Beatties Ford Road
This two-story brick dwelling is the most imposing residence to be seen
today in Washington Heights. The neighborhood was created in the 1910s as
Charlotte's only black "streetcar suburb," and it soon filled up with
middle-class and few upper-class black families. Heads of household rode the
Beatties Ford Road streetcar into town each day to jobs as ministers,
teachers, barbers, or railroad employees. Sidestreets filled up with
one-story frame bungalows while the main avenue, Beatties Ford Road, became
lined with two-story houses of such leading citizens as physician N.B.
Houser or Leon Alexander, proprietor of two grocery stores. Perhaps the most
important resident in those early years was Reverend W.H. Davenport. He was
Editor of the Star of Zion, and thus one of the nationally-ranked officials
of the A.M.E. Zion Church. The Star of Zion was the religion's official
newspaper, and also a much-read source of news on black secular life in this
area, for it often carried stories about achievements of blacks in the
region around Charlotte. Today the old A.M.E. Zion Publishing House in
Second Ward is gone, as are the homes of the early editors. The W.H.
Davenport House is a vital reminder of this important chapter in Charlotte's
The two-story red-brick residence is a good example of conservative 1920s
architecture. Its hip-roof and square outlines mark it as an example of the
Four Square style. Its plain trimmings are a reflection of a national revolt
against the over-elaborate Victorian ornament of the 1890s. Many
conservative, efficiency-minded Charlotteans chose this style for their
homes in the 1910s and 1920s, including music-store founder Charles Parker
(901 Central Avenue) and Iveys Department Store chief executive David Ovens
(825 Ardsley Road).
REV. H. WILSON HOUSE (circa 1914)
2328 Sanders Street
This house is the earliest-known structure standing in Washington
Heights, Charlotte's first black suburb. Little is known about its owner,
Reverend H. Wilson, except that he was among the first lot purchasers after
Freehold Realty platted the new neighborhood June 10, 1913. On July 5th of
that year Wilson signed a deed for this lot at a cost of $300. Two years
later C. H. Watson, real estate salesman for the neighborhood, published a
booklet entitled Colored Charlotte which showed pictures of the handful of
houses erected up to that time. Among them was a one-story frame bungalow
with the caption, "Owned by Rev. H. Wilson."
Since Wilson only bought one lot in Washington Heights, and since plat
map evidence confirms that it was 2328 Sanders Street, it is probable that
the existing structure is indeed Wilson's original dwelling despite some
variation between the present house and the early photograph. The house is a
typical 1910s one-story frame bungalow. It features a gable roof and a
gabled front dormer which Has exposed rafters in its eaves. A pair of brick
interior chimneys with corbelled caps pierce the ridgeline of the main roof,
and there is a simpler exterior chimney on the small south side addition.
The most prominent feature of the house is its wide front porch which runs
the length of the main facade. It has a shed roof with exposed eave rafters
supported by square tapered wooden columns on brick posts, a popular motif
in the era.
For More Information:
Click here for
Washington Heights Slides, by Tom Hanchett