Planners: Earle Sumner Draper
Excerpted from Neighborhoods: Charlotte's Neighborhood Planning
by Dr. Thomas W. Hanchett
Photo from Mary Norton Kratt and Thomas W. Hanchett,
Legacy: The Myers Park Story (Myers Park Foundation, 1986).
Three of the most important city planning firms in the United States
helped shape Charlotte. They were the Olmsted Brothers, John Nolen, and
Earle Draper. All worked in the city during the boom years of the 1910s and
1920s. They gave the city new ideals in urban design which are still
followed today. In addition, Nolen and Draper took lessons learned in
Charlotte's neighborhoods and applied them in hundreds of cities throughout
the nation, giving Charlotte's early planning efforts special importance.
When Charlotte's original hundred acre tract was laid off in house lots
in the 1770s the city fathers chose a gridiron street pattern. A surveyor,
either hired by the village or supplied by the colonial government, laid out
the streets at right angles to each other. Many cities of the era were not
planned at all, with streets growing up from trails and cowpaths running in
every direction. The grid was the most popular alternative because it was
orderly and easy to understand, and its straight lines meant that it could
be created quickly and broken up into lots easily. Charlotte's reliance on
the grid continued throughout the nineteenth century.
In the 1910s Charlotte's New South leaders, as part of their drive to
make Charlotte a modern city, hired John Nolen, the Olmsted Brothers, and
Earle Sumner Draper who turned the city forever from the grid pattern. The
very idea of having a landscape architect/city planner design streets was
unusual. In progressive Dilworth, Latta had hired Joseph Forsyth Johnston, a
landscape architect from New York City, to create Latta Park and evidently
also asked him for suggestions on the surrounding street pattern. Most
areas, though, were laid out methodically by surveyors or civil engineers.
Nolen, the Olmsteds, and Draper were part of a generation with a strong
appreciation for nature. America's first National Parks were established in
the era and the conservation movement blossomed, extending even to President
Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09). Landscape architects sought to bring this
consciousness to city planning.
Earle Draper arrived in Charlotte in October, 1915, as field supervisor
Myers Park. 1 He had graduated that spring from the landscape
architecture program at what is now the University of Massachusetts with a
passion for what he called "Civic Art" -- city planning. 2 He won
a position in Nolen's office upon graduation and after only a few weeks of
internship under chief designer Philip Foster, Nolen offered him the chance
to move south.
Draper's first tasks in Charlotte included creating landscape designs for
lot buyers in Myers Park and spending one week per month supervising the
construction of the industrial center of Kingsport, Tennessee, a
Nolen-designed new town. 3 In 1917 with Nolen's blessing he
established his own firm, by some accounts the first professionally trained
resident landscape architect to establish practice in the southeastern
United States. 4
Between 1917 and 1933 Draper's firm was extremely busy, becoming, he
remembers, one of the five largest in the U. S. 5 Work continued
in Charlotte on private estates and revisions to the general design of Myers
Park. At least a third of the street layout in Myers Park is Draper's. In
addition Draper laid out other new developments around the city, including
one for developer Lex Marsh on Old Pineville Road, and a design for the
Rosemont section of
Elizabeth that was apparently not executed. 6 Draper's most
notable Charlotte suburb was
Eastover, the 1920s' most prestigious development. 7
Through his schooling and his work with Nolen, Draper shared the new
ideals of suburban development. "I was of the old school, the
Olmsted school," he recalled in 1982, "that the best and finest use of
the land is the most important thing and that all developments have to be
keyed to the land itself. . .I tried to analyze. . .what the future would be
40 or 50 years away, the growth pattern and so forth, so as to make sure
that they fitted into the environment that was developing. . .That wasn't
done in a lot of places." 8 Like many of his contemporaries,
Draper sought to "limit access to heavily traveled highways as much as
possible" in his developments, and he believed in the "idea of adjusting to
the topography, and very little of that had been done in town planning up to
that time." 9
Despite their similarity of intent, it is possible to distinguish
Draper's work from Nolen's in Myers Park. Nolen favored tightly winding
streets to heighten visual interest, while Draper used grander curves. "I
didn't feel that you wanted to introduce a curve. . .just for the sake of
putting a curve in," he says, "you had to have some reason to. The
topography or direction or relationship. . .to other areas." 10
In Myers Park the winding curves of Queens Road in the northern, older
section of the neighborhood are Nolen's, while the sweeping radius of Queens
Road West at the south end of the neighborhood is Draper's, laid out in
1927-30. 11 Cherokee and Colville roads, the main streets of
Draper's Eastover, have similar majestic curves.
From 1917 to 1933 Earle Draper's work extended all over the South. In the
early twenties the firm had twenty to thirty employees in Charlotte, with
branch offices in Atlanta, Washington, DC, and New York City. 12
Draper planned over a hundred suburbs from Alabama to Virginia, as
developers from all over the region visited Myers Park and determined to
create something like it at home. 13 Among his projects in North
Carolina were Raleigh's Hayes-Barton neighborhood, Durham's Forest Hills,
Highpoint's Emorywood, and the resort development at Lake Lure. 14
Many of Draper's elite neighborhoods included golf courses, and he claims to
have introduced to the South the notion of weaving country-club golf
fairways among suburban streets with his design of Farmington outside
Charlottesville, Virginia. 15 In addition, he did dozens of
parks, cemeteries, private estates and college campuses including parts of
Winthrop and Davidson colleges near Charlotte. 16
At least as important as Earle Draper's contribution to suburban planning
in the Southeast were his activities in mill village design. The decade
following the outbreak of the First World War was a boom period for the
textile industry and tax laws encouraged companies to channel some profits
into worker housing.
Mill villages had always been part of textile production in the region
because of the number of rural workers the plants drew. Early villages
consisted of straight streets lined with rude houses. Draper helped change
this. 17 He worked hard to convince owners that modern
conveniences, including electricity and plumbing, were essential. He pushed
for sidewalks in the villages, pointing out that they would keep workers
from tracking dirt into the plants. 18
Above all, Draper insisted on the importance of planning. Beginning with
his design for Spindale, North Carolina, for Charlotte's Kenneth Tanner in
1917, Draper brought many of the era's suburban concepts to mill village
design. 19 Draper's villages were conceived as complete
communities, with curving tree-lined streets, plentiful parks, churches, and
often a community center. He did nearly one hundred and fifty village and
village extension designs, including the Arkay mills in Gastonia, the
Erlanger mills near Salisbury, the Pacolett mills based in Spartanburg and
the Kendall mills based in Camden. 20 Probably his finest and
most comprehensive design was the new mill town of Chicopee, Georgia. When
Harvard's Arthur Comey toured U. S. new town experiments for a government
report in 1939, he praised Draper's work and wrote that "Chicopee is the
best. . .of the mill villages visited in the South." 21 Even
before the Comey report, Draper was recognized as a leader in industrial
new-town design. In 1933 his reputation resulted in his being named head of
planning for the new Tennessee Valley Authority. 22 Draper was
excited by the prospect of directing what was to be the country's largest
planning effort. He remembers, "I thought it over and just said okay, that's
the most interesting planning project ever to come up in the history of the
United States . . .I was the first or second man on at TVA." 23
He put his private practice in the hands of assistant Harold Burdsley and
left Charlotte for good.
At TVA Earle Draper directed land-use planning, pushed for development of
recreational areas along the new hydroelectric lakes, and supervised the
creation of the new town of Norris, Tennessee. He brought with him ideas he
had begun to develop in private practice in Charlotte. A cornerstone of
Draper's planning philosophy was the need for land-use controls, something
he had had long experience with dating back to Myers Park's restrictive deed
covenants. "Prior to TVA all federal dams. . .acquired land. . . only to
mean high water. . .," he later wrote.
From my experience in the South from 1915 on I realized the importance of
controlled land use. I was aided by the men in my division -- we got the
board to accept takings of one-half to one mile of land above reservoir
water level, which was the beginning of TVA's famous shoreline recreation
development. Without that, much of TVA's beneficial by product activity
would have been lost." 24
By 1940 much of the TVA planning work was done and Draper accepted a high
level post with the recently established Federal Housing Administration. He
was hired to broaden the FHA from its established role as a mortgage insurer
into a backer of new town development. World War Two, however, forced
abandonment of this goal and Draper took responsibility for war housing all
over the United States. In 1945 President Truman designated him Acting
Commissioner of the FHA, the agency's highest post. 25
As part of his government work, Draper was occasionally "loaned out" as a
consultant on specific planning projects. One such was the
Baltimore-Washington-Annapolis regional plan in 1937. 26 Under
Draper's direction, the plan proposed a system of beltway freeways around
Baltimore and Washington, recalling the parkway loop he had first sketched
around Charlotte back in 1917. According to Draper, today's interstate
highway system in that area largely follows the 1937 proposal. 27
At the close of the War Draper resigned from the FHA and became a
full-time consultant. He did little physical planning in this fourth phase
of his career, instead helping builders and developers guide projects
through the Federal bureaucracy. 28 In 1965 he retired after
fifty years in the profession and now lives in Vero Beach, Florida. 29
1 Earle Sumner Draper, interview with Earle Sumner Draper,
Jr., on behalf of the Myers Park Homeowners Association, Vero Beach,
Florida, June 1971. Transcript in the archives of the University of North
Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina.
2 Earle Sumner Draper, letter to John Nolen, 1915, in the
Nolen collection at Cornell, box 73.
3 Draper, interview with Hanchett, August 1982.
4 Ibid. and Kay Haire Huggins, "Town Planning in the New
South: the Work of Earle Sumner Draper, 1915-1933." (unpublished paper
presented to the Citadel conference on the New South, Charleston, South
Carolina, 1978), p. 1.
5 Draper, interview with Hanchett, August 1982.
7 Draper, interview with Draper, Jr., June 1971.
8 Draper, interview with Hanchett, August 1982.
11 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office, map book 3,
12 Draper, interview with Hanchett, August 1982.
14 Ibid. and Who's Who in America 16 (Chicago: A. N.
Marquis Co., 1930-31), p. 712.
15 Draper, interview with Hanchett, August 1982.
16 Ibid. Draper, interview with Draper, Jr., June 1971.
Huggins, "Town Planning in the New South. . .", passim.
17 Brent Glass, "Southern Mill Hills: Design in a Public
Place," in Doug Swaim, ea., Carolina Dwelling: Towards Preservation of
Place. . . (Raleigh: North Carolina State University, 1978), p. 124. Kay
Haire Huggins, "Town Planning in North Carolina, 1704-1920," North
Carolina Architect 20 (November/December 1973), p. 19.
18 Draper, interview with Hanchett, August 1982.
20 Ibid. For other examples of Draper's mill village planning
see Huggins, "Town Planning in the New South. . .".
21 Arthur C. Comey and Max S. Wehrly, "Planning Communities,"
in Urban Planning and Land Policies: Volume Two of the Supplementary
Report of the Urbanism Committee to the National Resources Committee
(Washington, DC: U.S.G.P.O., 1939), p. 24.
22 Earle Sumner Draper, interview with Charles W. Crawford,
Director of the Oral History Research Office at Memphis State University,
Vero Beach, Florida, December 1969.
23 Draper, interview with Hanchett, August 1982.
24 Earle Sumner Draper letter to R. Walter Creese, July 19,
1969. In the Earle Sumner Draper papers, collection 2745, Cornell University
Department of Manuscripts and Archives, Ithaca, New York.
25 Harry S. Truman, letter to Earle Sumner Draper, June 29,
1945. Carbon copy in the Draper papers at Cornell.
26 Draper, interview with Hanchett, August 1982.
28 Ibid. Huggins, "Town Planning in the New South.. .,", p. 2.
29 Draper, interview with Hanchett, August 1982.