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The New South Neighborhoods: Elizabeth

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by Dr. Dan L. Morrill and Nancy B. Thomas

"The breezes of heaven blow their freshest, the light of the sun is at its brightest in this favored neighborhood." -- Charlotte Evening Chronicle, April 16, 1910

Elizabeth is unique. It's the only old neighborhood in Charlotte that is named for a woman. She was Anne Elizabeth Watts, whose husband, Gerard Snowden Watts, had made a lot of money in the tobacco business in Durham. Her son-in-law, Charles B. King, picked Charlotte as the location for a small Lutheran college for women that opened in 1897. Because Mr. Watts provided most of the cash, President King named it Elizabeth College in honor of his mother-in-law.

J.A. Dempwolf, an architect from York, Pa., designed the buildings. The campus was on the block where Presbyterian Hospital now stands, but in 1897, this was outside Charlotte, because McDowell St. formed the eastern edge of the city. Elizabeth Avenue, laid out in 1891, and widened in October 1897, ran from McDowell St., crossed Sugar Creek and rose straight as an arrow to the imposing entrance gates to the campus.

Elizabeth College stayed in Charlotte until 1915, when it moved to Salem, Va. It is hard to imagine how serene and bucolic the campus was in those days. Where ambulances now dash to the emergency room entrance, elegant Victorian damsels once dabbled at tennis. Presbyterian Hospital bought the block in 1917 and moved there from W. Trade St. A hospital in a neighborhood is a boulder in a tea cup. Its impact is enormous. The main building of Elizabeth College, which served Presbyterian Hospital for many years, was demolished in 1980.

The Highland Park Land and Improvement Co. contributed $3600 to entice Elizabeth College to Charlotte. The reason was self-interest. The company reasoned that the college would increase the value of a large tract of land which the company owned nearby. They were right. The Elizabeth neighborhood, named for the college, became one of the most fashionable areas in Charlotte. Such important community leaders as William Henry Belk, founder of the Belk Department Stores, lived there. Most of the earliest houses were built on Elizabeth Ave. and on the streets that crossed it, like Travis Ave. and Torrence St. The pace of development quickened after December 1902, when the Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company completed a trolley line that ran from McDowell St. to Elizabeth College.


The Belk Mansion

Elizabeth became part of Charlotte in 1907. Independence Park, the first public park in the city, opened in the neighborhood at about the same time. The streetcar line was extended along Hawthome Ln., then Kingston Ave., to the park entrance at Seventh St. By the way, the designer of Independence Park was John Nolen, who would fashion Myers Park for the Stephens Company several years later.

Elizabeth has changed drastically since the turn of the century. The most important reasons have been the growth and expansion of the medical complex in the neighborhood and the building of Independence Blvd. in the late 1940's. In recent years, however, Elizabeth has pulled up her petticoat and has started to come back. Great. Fantastic.

For more information...

Neighborhood Guide: Elizabeth
Neighborhood Guide: Elizabeth - Walking Tour