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Cherry Street Duplexes

404-406, 412-414 Cherry Street


Dr. William H. Huffman
January, 1985

The duplexes located at 404-406 and 412-414 Cherry Street in the Cherry community of Charlotte are among the oldest in that neighborhood, and, as far as is known, are the only turn-of-the-century rental houses for blacks remaining in the city. They were probably built about 1900 to 1910 by John Springs Myers and his wife, Mary Rawlinson Myers, who owned the land that the Cherry and Myers Park neighborhoods now occupy. The origin of their design is not known, but they may have been scaled-down and simplified versions of designs for larger middle-class houses. 1

Local folklore has it that the Cherry neighborhood, which is located about a mile and a half southeast of the Square, was built as a housing area for servants of wealthy Myers Park residents, but in fact it was planned as a "model Negro housing development" by the Myers in the 1890s and early 1900s. The idea was to provide good, low-cost housing for black laborers and craft workers well before development began in Myers Park in 1912 as one of the city's fashionable streetcar suburbs. In its early days, the neighborhood was known as Cherrytown or Cherryton. 2

Cherry was subdivided out of a 306-acre inheritance that John Springs Myers received in 1869 from his father, Col. William R. Myers. Over the next twenty years, Myers added to his holdings until he had over one thousand acres in the area south of town. He built a country house on the Providence Road about two miles south of town, and slowly conceived the idea that perhaps his land could someday become a tree-lined residential area. A distinctly influential factor in the conception of Cherry as part of the development was the Myers' membership in the activist St. Peter's Episcopal Church on Tryon Street. For some time, the church had been involved with ministry to blacks in the city, which included the founding of churches, a school and a hospital (Good Samaritan). The Myers family itself had long been known for their interest in the welfare of the town's black citizens; for example, Col. W. R. Myers, J. S. Myers' father, had donated the land for Johnson C. Smith University after the Civil War. 3

The development of Cherry began in 1891, when Jack Myers first recorded a plat of house lots on three new streets which were located about halfway between the city center and his farm cottage; they were part of what is now Main, Cherry and Luther Streets. "Cherry," the name given to the new settlement, apparently came from the cherry trees that grew on the hillsides there. Over the next thirty years, Myers added more tree-lined streets with small house lots, churches, a park and a school to the community, and it was carried on after the mid- 1920s by their children. Relative to its purpose, Cherry was quite successful. It did in fact provide good (by the standards of the day), low-cost rental or owner-occupied housing for the city's black unskilled or semi-skilled workers. The normal price for a lot was fifty dollars, which could be paid on time payments, and thus by 1925, one hundred ninety-eight of the three hundred five Cherry households, about sixty-two percent, were resident-owned. The modern notion about the neighborhood being a servants' quarter came from the fact that after Myers Park was built starting in 1912, a number of servants did move into Cherry. 4

Cherry is unique among Charlotte neighborhoods because of its conception and completion as a model community for black workers. Indeed, the quality of the housing was better than many dwellings in the city's First, Second and Third Wards, and was comparable to many of the houses of white mill workers in the area. Another standout characteristic is the mix of rental and owner-occupied houses in the community, which gave it a great deal of stability and sense of neighborhood.

The rental duplexes at 404-406 and 412-414 Cherry Street remained in the ownership of Jack and Mary Myers until 1922, when they were deeded to a daughter, Mary Myers Dwelle 5 , she died in 1975, they passed by her will to her son, John Dwelle, who owned and managed many Cherry properties for a number of years. 6 In 1979, the City of Charlotte acquired the properties, rehabilitated the houses, and in 1983, deeded them to the Cherry Community Organization, Inc. a neighborhood preservation group. 7 The latter will continue to have the houses serve their original purpose, that is, to provide good quality, low-cost rental housing. This arrangement also serves the very important purpose of maintaining the historical and communal character of the Cherry neighborhood.

Thus these houses remain historically important as the last examples of turn-of-the-century rental houses for blacks left in the city, and are among the oldest in the Cherry neighborhood. Their preservation will continue to provide a window through which we may view a significant part of Charlotte's past.


Notes

1 Thomas Hanchett, "Charlotte Neighborhood Survey," Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission, 1984.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Deed Book 468, p. 75, 10 April 1922.

6 Will 75-E-l445, probated 1 October 1975.

7 Deed Book 4228, p. 333,1 July 1980: ibid.. 4 Feb. 1983.

Architectural Description

by Joseph Schuchman
April 25, 1985

The Cherry community is one of Charlotte's oldest surviving black neighborhoods. The duplex houses located at 404-406 Cherry Street and 412-414 Cherry Street appear to date from the early twentieth century. Both structures are similarly detailed and form an integral part of the existing streetscape. Each house combines a typical middle and working class exterior with a domestic plan commonly associated with black housing. Exterior elevations recall a vernacular house form which was popular throughout urban and rural areas of the Piedmont during the closing years of the nineteenth and the early years of the present century. The interior consists of two adjacent yet distinct shotgun residences.

Rooms of a shotgun house were arranged in a linear pattern with no center or side hall. A typical, although mistaken, story relates that the name shotgun was derived from the fact that a bullet fired from a gun positioned at the front door of the house would travel uninterrupted to the rear of the structure. Studies have indicated that the shotgun plan is a variation of an African house plan popularized in America by African-born slaves. Even the name shotgun may be derived from the Yoruba language of West Africa; a Yoruba work "To-gun" translates as a place of assembly. 1

Typical of low-income housing, and perhaps also in reaction to the Victorian fussiness of the late nineteenth century, the exterior of each house is simply detailed. The balanced exterior conveys the sense of the symmetrically arranged interior. The weatherboarded main block is square shaped and rises to a high tripped roof. A tripped ell, at the rear of the main block, is also sheathed in weatherboards and appears to be original. A German sided shed, which runs across the rear elevation, is believed to be a later addition. Six over six double hung sash, the primary glazing material, is used in a variety of window dimensions. Exterior openings are symmetrically arranged and framed by plain surrounds. The house originally rested upon brick piers and has been underpinned with concrete blocks. A tripped porch, with plain wood piers, shelters the four bay front elevation. A projecting front gable and the pointed arch ventilator covering contained within convey a faint allusion to the Gothic Revival style. Paired front entrance doors lead to the individual interior units. Shed porches, with wood piers and exposed rafters, run the width of both sides of the ell. Each porch shelters a side entrance and an adjacent four/four double hung sash.

An interior chimney is located at the apex of the main block; the handmade brick is arranged in a stretcher bond pattern, The interior of the main block radiates from this central chimney, which provides four fireplace openings, two per unit, arranged on a 45 degree angle in each room. The interior is designed to make maximum use of a minimal amount of space. Rooms are arranged in a linear pattern. Living and sleeping quarters are contained within the main block; the kitchen is located in the ell and bathroom facilities are placed in the rear shed. 2

As is to be expected, each interior is simply detailed. The interior of 404 Cherry Street survives largely intact. Walls and ceiling are ceiled in horizontal tongue and groove. Openings are set in plain surrounds. The five panel doors are of mortise and tenon construction. A rounded cornice encircles each room in the main block and elf. Identical mantles in the main block recall Italianate style motifs; the quality of detailing is somewhat of a surprise considering the overall simplicity of the structure. Molded piers, with a beaded center panel, rest on a rectangular base and rise to a bracketed mantle shelf. A molded rectangular panel dominates the otherwise unornamented frieze. The interior of 406 Cherry Street was originally ceiled in tongue and groove sheathing and has since been covered in plaster. The Italianate style mantles remain as do the five panel interior doors. Interior access to 412-414 Cherry Street was not obtained; it is believed that the original house plan survives.

These two houses are well-preserved examples of black working class residences of the early twentieth century as well as interesting variations of the once popular shotgun plan. They form an important link in the heritage of the Cherry neighborhood and Charlotte's black community.


Footnotes

1 Beth Rogers, " 'Shotgun' Houses may be Historic," Charlotte News, Clippings file of the Carolina Room, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library, filed under historic houses.

2 Based upon one-family examples of this house seen by the researcher, particularly in predominantly rural sections of neighboring Union County, the typical one family house of this type would have a central entrance on the front elevation which would either lead into (1) a center hall from which rooms would open off either side, or (2) into the larger of two adjacent front rooms, at the rear of which a hall would lead to the more private family quarters.