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JOHN BASS BROWN HOUSE

600 Hermitage Road


Deborah L. Swanson
14 May 1986

The residence at 600 Hermitage Road is said to be one of Charlotte 's finer colonial revival houses. 1

The house was built on land purchased from The Stephens Company in 1911, 2 the year the suburb of Myers Park was opened. The land had been part of J. S. Myers' cotton farm.

The present building is the second house to be built on this lot. The first one was built in 1912 3 for A. D. Glascock and his wife, Ivah P., who purchased the land in November 1911. 4 Mr. Glascock was a real estate speculator and "an active early Myers Park developer," 5 and also an osteopath. 6 This was their residence until it was sold in March 1916 to John Bass Brown and his wife, Mildred S. Brown. 7

This lot was on the corner of Hermitage Road and Granville Road. In 1921 the Browns purchased the adjoining lot on the corner of Hermitage Road and Providence Road. 8 This expanded their property front to take up the entire end of the block facing Hermitage Road and the land has remained with the house to this day.

John Bass Brown was one of four children born to Peter Marshall Brown and Jennie Beecher Bass Brown. Peter was a native of Charlotte. He was a well-known political figure in the city and was elected mayor in 1901 and 1903. He was the president and a director of Commercial National Bank; president of Highland Park Land Company, Southern Real Estate Loan and Trust Company and Southern Loan and Savings Bank; and a prominent stockholder in the Selwyn Hotel. At the time of his death in 1913 he was one of the city's wealthiest men and "perhaps the most extensive owner of city property." 9

John Bass Brown was a director of Commercial National Bank and its successors from 1913 to 1960. It was transformed to American Commercial Bank and then in 1960 to North Carolina National Bank. 10 In 1917 he opened Brown's, Incorporated, 11 a men's clothing and furnishings store, and operated it for forty years. 12 He was a charter member of the Charlotte Country Club and a member of the Myers Park Presbyterian church. 13 He married Mildred Sutherland in 1910 and they had three children. John Bass Brown was eighty-one years old when he died 10 May 1968.

John and Mildred Brown moved to Hermitage Road in 1916 and their children were raised there. The first house burned down about 1923. The family lived in a house across the street on Providence Road for about two years until the new house was built in 1925. 14

William H. Peeps was the architect of the house now standing at 600 Hermitage Road and Benchley was the contractor. 15 Peeps came to Charlotte from his native England in 1911. He was the architect of the Latta Arcade on South Tryon Street, the Court Arcade on East Trade Street and Ivey's on North Tryon Street. 16 He also designed many other fine buildings in Charlotte and elsewhere in North Carolina. The original plans, dated April 1, 1925, have remained with the house and the present owners have them.

Some architectural features from the old house were saved and used in the new. These include the marble mantle in the library, the front door and the electric fixtures. 17

The basement originally contained the laundry and all the mechanical equipment for the house. John Bass Brown made furniture as a hobby and his workshop was in the basement. 18

The main floor is very elegant, as would be expected. The large entry hall runs the depth of the house with the staircase to the upstairs rising from the front of it. The hall and staircase are well-lighted from the windows that rise two stories at the front of the house. There is a large formal living room, a library, the dining room, kitchen and butler's pantry on this floor. The latter two have been updated through the years. Originally there was a screened porch off the living room, on the end of the house closest to Providence Road. This porch had steps leading from the end of the house into the yard. The columns here matched those in the front and back of the house. 19 It is interesting that this porch had a fireplace. Mrs. John Bass Brown, Jr., who came to Charlotte as a bride in 1935, remembers the neighbors visiting and gathering on the porch, including the Marshalls and the Wades. E. C. Marshall was the president of Southern Power when he built his house at 500 Hermitage Road in 1915 and continued to be a leader in Duke Power for many years. Howard Madison Wade was "a leading Charlotte manufacturer" who lived at 530 Hermitage Road. 20

The second floor consisted of four large bedrooms, a walk-in closet, a sewing room, a large bathroom and two sleeping porches. The sleeping porch on the Granville Road end of the house was divided in two, one-half being for the boys and the other for girls. 21 The house also has a very large attic.

The servants' quarters were separate from the house and adjoined the four car garage. The Browns employed three full time servants: a chauffeur/yard man, a cook and a maid. Two others worked two days a week to do the laundry. 22

The buildings were originally red brick. There was also a pony house in the back yard. 23

John Bass and Mildred Brown lived in the house until Mildred's death in 1951, Mr. Brown then built a house at 1020 Granville Road. He planned the rooms to be the same size at those in his Hermitage Road house to accommodate the furniture. 24

The house at 600 Hermitage Road was sold in October 1952 to Catharine Hardwick Efird, wife of Hugh Martin Efird II. 25 Hugh is the son of Joseph Bivens Efird. Hugh was named for his uncle, who left the family farm in Anson County in 1875, came to Charlotte, and invested in a business that became a "mercantile dynasty." His business became known as the Charlotte Mercantile Company. 26

The elder Hugh's brothers, including Joseph Bivens Efird, joined him in the beginning years of the 1900s. In 1902 "The Bee Hive", a small dry goods store, was opened at 43-47 East Trade Street and it prospered. In 1907 they opened a bigger and better store, the first Efird's Department store. It grew to be a chain of fifty-four stores and was one of the largest retail organizations in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. 27

Joseph Bivens Efird married Elizabeth Withers of Charlotte, daughter of Benjamin F. Withers, "one of the well-known citizens of this section of North Carolina.." Hugh Martin Efird II was one of their three children. 28

Members of the Efird family became , "bulwarks of the community," including bank chairmen and civic leaders. They were responsible for many philanthropic deeds, including contributing land for Myers Park Baptist Church and major contributions to several North Carolina and South Carolina universities. 29

Hugh Martin Efird II became the vice-president of the Charlotte Mercantile Company, which operated Efird's Department Stores. 30 In September 1956 Efird's Stores were sold to Belk Department Stores. 31

While living in the house at 600 Hermitage Road, Hugh and Catharine Efird had the screened porches on the first and second floors enclosed, in 1962. The contractor for this work was Myers Chapman. 32 The architect was Charles H. Wheatley & Associates and the plans, dated April 10, 1962, are with the present owners of the house. The Efirds also had the red brick painted white. 33

The house was sold in 1970 to Thomas D. Ghent and his wife, Lydia E. Ghent. 34 Dr. Ghent is an ophthamologist who practiced in Charlotte from 1953 to 1984. 35

On 1 November 1985 the house at 600 Hermitage Road was purchased by Randell C. and Maria S. Thomas.36 Randell is with Arthur Anderson & Company and they had just moved to Charlotte, returning to the United States from Europe. They love the house and its location, as the Browns did, and look forward to continuing to raise their children there. 37

They have totally refurbished the house, updating the kitchen to meet their needs and putting in a new heating and air conditioning system. Most of their work has been reconditioning, refinishing and decorating.

Outside the Thomases have added a brick wall on the Providence Road side of the property. The wall goes around the corner on the lot line at the back of the house and around the corner on Hermitage Road. They have also cleared out much of the yard which had become overgrown. When this was done they discovered a fish pond and walkways in the side yard by Providence Road. This space had originally been a tennis court, but John Bass Brown had it converted to a rose garden in 1929 or 1930. 38 The paths and the fish pond are being saved.

With the loving care this property is now receiving it is regaining its original grandeur. This house maintains a prominent position in the Myers Park community as it has since it was built by the Browns. This is because of its fine architectural style, the grounds surrounding it , and its location.


FOOTNOTES

1 The Charlotte News, 14 March 1983, p. 7A.

2 Deed Book 283, p. 447, 29 November 1911.

3 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utility Department, water tap installed 6 September 1912.

4 Deed Book 283, p. 447, 29 November 1911.

5 "Myers Park, Charlotte, N.C.", a brochure based on the findings of the Charlotte Neighborhood survey, conducted by Thomas W. Hanchett, 1981-1982.

6 Charlotte City Directory, 1910, p. 231.

7 Deed Book 358, p. 150, 16 March 1916.

8 Deed Book 450, p. 452, 27 October 1921,

9 The Charlotte Daily Observer, 6 May 1913, p 1.

10 The Charlotte Observer, 11 May 1968, p. 4A.

11 The Charlotte News, 10 May 1968, p. 4C.

12 The Charlotte Observer, 11 May 1968, p. 4A.

13 Ibid.

14 John Bass Brown, Jr., Telephone Interview, 24 February 1986.

15 Ibid.

16 The Charlotte News, 14 March 1983, p. 7A.

17 Mrs. John Bass Brown, Jr., Telephone Interview, 24 February 1986.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

20 Op Cit. "Myers Park, Charlotte, N.C.", a brochure.

21 Op Cit. Mrs. John Bass Brown, Jr.

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid.

25 Deed Book 1580, p, 357, 1 October 1952.

26 The Charlotte Weekly Uptown, 30 January 1979, p 2.

27 Ibid.

28 Special Staff of Writers, North Carolina - Rebuilding An Ancient Commonwealth (Chicago and New York: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1928), p. 588.

29 Op Cit. The Charlotte Weekly Uptown, p. 2.

30 Charlotte City Directories, 1953, p. 198 and 1955, p. 206.

31 Op Cit. The Charlotte Weekly Uptown, p, 2.

32 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Building Standards Department, Building Permit #CID35350, 12 April 1962.

33 Op Cit. Mar John Bass Brown, Jr. 34 Deed Book 3157, p. 487, 12 February 1970.

35 Charlotte City Directories, 1953-1984.

36 Deed Book 5115, p. 724, 1 November 1985.

37 Maria S. Thomas, Personal Interview, 20 March 1986.

38 John Bass Brown, Jr., Telephone Interview, 13 May 1986.