Route II: South & East Charlotte
Following the success of the new
streetcar suburbs in the 1900s, speculators began to buy up any land which
had potential for suburban development. This area, now known as Plaza-Midwood,
grew in piecemeal fashion between 1910 and the 1950s and includes at least
ten subdivisions. Its early development was hampered by the difficulties of
getting an efficient streetcar connection to uptown Charlotte. Because the
busy Seaboard Railway line crossed the area's major artery, Central Avenue,
passengers had to transfer at the railroad crossing on Central to a separate
trolley line. Also, the city refused to grant Edward Dilworth Latta
permission to extend his trolley line into the neighborhood.
More than any of the other of
Charlotte's New South suburbs, Plaza-Midwood had difficulty in getting
established. In the early years several developers tried the expedient of
dividing lots in an attempt to attract lower income homeowners, but this was
only partly successful.
Perhaps it was the locating of the Charlotte Country Club
on Briar Creek in 1910 that saved the early developments from disaster. The
club was originally the Mecklenburg Country Club and from its beginning
membership symbolized wealth and prestige in the business world. Yet even
though its golf course acted as a magnet to some, sales continued to be
relatively slow. Ultimately the increasing prevalence of the automobile
secured the suburb's future by freeing residents from dependence on the poor
streetcar service. The result of this pattern of development is the diverse
mixture of houses that you can see here along The Plaza.
Back in 1912, The Plaza was a "narrow dirt road
surrounded on both sides by a large strawberry farm." Paul Chatham saw the
potential for developing a new suburb. He hired Leigh Colyer, a landscape
gardener, to transform the dirt road into a grand mile long boulevard with a
central median for a streetcar. The original intention was to line the
streets with mansions, and several of these were indeed erected between 1914
30. One of these mansions, located at 1600 The
Plaza (about .3 miles from Central), is a house known as "Victoria." This is
a somewhat unusual case, for the house was moved here in 1915 from its
original site at Tryon and 7th St. in uptown Charlotte. The move was
fortunate, for this 1890s Victorian house thus survived the destruction of
many similar houses during urban renewal and commercial expansion that took
place particularly during the 1960s and 1970s.
"Victoria" is said to have been a wedding gift from R.M.
Miller, who was in textiles, to his son in 1891. However, by 1915 it must
have been considered too old fashioned, since Miller sold it and
commissioned a replacement in the Colonial Revival style. The exuberant
style of "Victoria"
is typical of the
Queen Anne style. Note the complex roof shapes, the corner turret,
fish-scale shingles, sawnwork trimmings, and the wrap-around porch. The
house has been beautifully restored by Bill and Francis Gay.
The Plaza. Just before the traffic light at Belvedere Ave., note the large
house to your right. Turn right onto Belvedere and pause close to the
intersection to view this house set in spacious grounds on the corner of
Belvedere Ave. and The Plaza.
31. In direct contrast to "Victoria" stands the
Bungalow style of the
VanLandingham Estate or
Harwood, adapted here to massive proportions. Susie Harwood and Ralph
VanLandingham moved here in 1914, having commissioned C.C. Hook to design a
house in the latest style, one that struck out on its own instead of being a
mere "revival." Susie Harwood was a "woman of rare gifts" and with a wide
range of interests. She headed an Atlanta hotel, chaired the board of St.
Peter's Hospital and the North Carolina Board of Approved Schools, and
supervised the Red Cross canteen at Charlotte's Camp Greene during the First
World War. Her husband was an affluent cotton broker and prominent citizen
in the community. The magnificent grounds, originally with 65 gardens, were
landscaped by Leigh Colyer, the same man who landscaped The Plaza.
Van Landingham Estate
32. The VanLandinghams' next door neighbor on The
Plaza and across Belvedere was the Methodist Bishop, John Carlisle Kilgo.
Kilgo moved here to the house in 1915 from Durham where he was president of
Trinity College (now part of Duke University) between 1894 and 1910. His
leadership there has been praised as progressive. He helped initiate a
women's co-ordinate college and invited black educator Brooker T. Washington
to make his first speech at a white institution. Louis Asbury, Sr. designed
this elegant house, whose "no-nonsense" style was said to reflect the
character of its first owner.
Bishop Kilgo House
Belvedere Ave. as it winds through Plaza-Midwood. This road was originally
envisaged as the main drive to the Charlotte Country Club. After just over
half a mile you will come to a stop sign. Turn left to continue on Belvedere
33. Along this stretch of road are the more
prestigious houses of the neighborhood, all in close proximity to the
Country Club. Notice the last house facing Belvedere on your left (no.
3021), before you reach the stop sign at the Country Club gates. This house
was built in 1951 by John Crosland Sr., the locally famous building
contractor whose prolific career has been a major influence in shaping
Charlotte since World War II.
34. Opposite the stop sign to your left is the
unmistakable entrance to the Charlotte Country Club. The club was founded in
1910 as the Mecklenburg Country Club. Notice that the road name changes here
to Mecklenburg Ave. The original intention was to have a trolley line
running along this avenue from The Plaza and providing transport between the
club and the city. However, the plan suffered from the general problem of
the trolley system in this neighborhood, and anyway automobiles were rapidly
replacing the position of the streetcar in such prestigious circles.
Charlotte Country Club
Although the area did not develop effectively for some time, the Country
Club itself was a success from the outset, attracting many of the Piedmont's
textile leaders, financiers, and real estate speculators. By 1931 club
members were ready to replace their old farmhouse with a grand new club
house designed by nationally famous architect, Aymar Embury.
Before the Club entrance was widened, Fred Laxton's house
was located on the corner facing you. Laxton headed the group of businessmen
responsible for developing Country Club Acres. He also helped to found WBT
Radio. A chicken coop in his back yard became the location for a primitive
radio transmitter in December 1920 and WBT's first program was broadcast
from here! (See Route I, no. 1)
Turn left onto
Mecklenburg Ave. and continue on this road until you reach The Plaza again.
Notice the width of the road, especially near The Plaza end and remember
that this was originally intended to carry a trolley line. Turn right onto
The Plaza and then almost immediately left at the T junction onto Parkwood
Rd. This road used to be called Poorhouse Rd. since it was once the lane
from the city to the county poorhouse. Take the first left turn at the
traffic lights onto Hawthorne Lane and continue for about 2 miles,
recrossing Central, Independence, and 7th. St., and passing by Presbyterian