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by Dr. Thomas W. Hanchett
Biddleville is Charlotte's oldest surviving black neighborhood.
At its heart is Johnson C. Smith University, opened shortly after
the Civil War as Biddle Institute to train black preachers and
teachers. Biddleville began in 1871 as a village next to the
college, distinctly separate from Charlotte, two miles from the
center of the city. 1
Around the turn of the century the city grew out to meet the
village. The suburbs of Western Heights and Roslyn Heights were
built, followed by the Smallwood Homes and Crestview subdivisions
after World War II. The whole area today is called Biddleville-Five
Points, taking its name from the original village and from the
intersection of West Trade, West Fifth Street, Rozelles Ferry Road,
and Beatties Ford Road adjacent to the JCSU campus near the center
of the neighborhood.
The institution now known as Johnson C. Smith University had its
formal beginning April 7, 1867. 2 Its founders were two
young white Presbyterian ministers, Rev. S. C. Alexander and Rev.
W. L. Miller, who believed there was a need to train leaders for
the newly freed black population. 3 The idea of a
college for "preachers and teachers" was looked upon by some as
quite a radical notion. Many, including famous black educator
Booker T. Washington years later, felt that blacks should first be
trained in farming and manual labor. But Miller and Alexander and
some of their fellow Presbyterians were adamant about the need for
an educated black leadership.
First classes were held in a Presbyterian church at Fourth and
Davidson (then simply "D" Street) in Charlotte's Second Ward.
4 A few years later the institution purchased the old
Confederate Navy Building on East Trade Street, below where the
Civic Center now stands. 5 The old structure was
disassembled and its materials loaded on wagons, bound for a site
in Second Ward, where prominent landowner Col. W. R. Myers donated
a new site. The new location was on a hilltop north of the town
where two old roads forked west toward Rozelles Ferry and Beatties
Ford across the Catawba River. The eight acre parcel, officially
deeded to the school's trustees in 1873, formed the nucleus of the
present seventy-five acre campus. 6
The first president of the institution was Rev. Stephen Mattoon.
Like the founders, he was a white Presbyterian minister. In 1871 he
and his wife Mary purchased from W. F. Davidson fifty-five acres of
farmland across Beatties Ford Road from the college, just south of
the Wilmington, Charlotte and Rutherford railroad track (now
Seaboard Coast Line Railroad). 7 Over the next
forty-five years, the Mattoons sold the land off in small lots to
blacks who wanted to settle near the college. This tract, which
apparently covered the present Mattoon and Cemetery streets as well
as portions of Campus Street and French Street, was the beginning
The college was named the Henry J. Biddle Memorial Institute in
honor of Major Henry Johnston Biddle, a white Union soldier killed
in action in the Civil War. 8 Biddle's widow, Mrs. Mary
D. Biddle of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, gave considerable financial
support to the institution in its early years. In 1876 the
institution was renamed Biddle University. 9
Early presidents and most of the faculty members were white. In
1891 a black "teacher and preacher," Rev. Daniel J. Sanders, was
named president of the University, and subsequent presidents and
most faculty have been black. 10 Perhaps the most
outstanding of the black presidents was Henry L. McCrorey who
served from 1907 until 1947. 11 He began his
administration by raising money to match a grant from Andrew
Carnegie to build the Carnegie Library on campus. He
also presided over the formerly all-male school's switch to
co-education in 1933, and he developed a large black suburb off
Beatties Ford Road along Oaklawn Avenue north of the campus, today
known to its residents as McCrorey Heights. 12
The Carnegie Library At JCSU
His greatest achievement came in the early 1920s when he
interested a second well-to-do Pittsburgh widow in the school's
cause. Mrs. Jane Berry Smith donated funds for eight new structures
on the campus over the course of the decade, and set up an
endowment fund. In 1923, in the midst of this major expansion, the
college was renamed Johnson C. Smith University in honor of her
husband. 13 The following year the college became a
beneficiary of the James B. Duke Endowment. The fund, established
by tobacco and utility tycoon James Buchanan Duke, helps support
Duke University, Furman College, Davidson College, and JCSU, and
has provided Johnson C. Smith University with more than 10 million
dollars over the decades. 14
Today's campus is a pleasant mix of recent buildings, most
funded by the Duke Endowment, 1920 structures donated by Mrs.
Smith, and a handful of buildings from the days of Biddle
University. The centerpiece of the group is Biddle Hall, topped by a brick
clocktower that is visible from much of the city. The 1883
structure is Charlotte's finest remaining example of Victorian
institutional architecture. 15 It features complex
massing that may have been inspired by Jubilee Hall built a few
years earlier at the prestigious black Fisk University. Biddle
Hall's exterior has exuberant corbelled brickwork with brownstone
trim, including brick crosses worked into the chimneys of the old
chapel/auditorium at the rear of the building.
Biddle Hall at JCSU
Behind Biddle Hall is Carter
Hall, erected in 1895. 16 Named for donor Mary
Carter of Geneva, New York, it was constructed by the students
themselves. The Victorian design has four massive corner turrets
and a delicate central cupola. Like Biddle Hall, it is listed in
the National Register of Historic Places. A third nineteenth
century structure that survives on campus is the Teachers' House, a
two story frame dwelling of the type dubbed an "I" house by
folklorists. The building dates from the early days of Biddle
Institute, when lodging was included as part of a professor's
salary. 17 The structure is decorated in the Stick style
with bracketed eaves and massive bargeboards in the gables, the
best example of the style in Charlotte today.
At least two early twentieth century structures are worthy of
note. One is the Carnegie Library designed by Charlotte architects
L. L. Hunter and Franklin Gordon and completed in 1912. It is a
fine example of the Neo Classical style, with delicate white terra
cotta columns and modillion cornices based on ancient Greek and
Roman models. Charlotte once had two Carnegie-funded libraries. The
downtown building has been replaced by the current main branch of
the Charlotte Public Library, and the JCSU building, currently used
for offices, alone survives. The second noteworthy edifice is the
memorial gateway to the
campus that was erected when the institution was renamed in honor
of Johnson C. Smith. The stone archway has been the symbol of the
University, along with the early Biddle Hall clocktower, since the
Across Beatties Ford Road from the University is the original
Biddleville village. A Map of Charlotte Township drawn in
the 1890s shows it as one of half a dozen villages ringing the edge
of the city. 18 These "ring villages" are a phenomenon
not noted in urban histories of northern cities. They deserve
special study as a unique feature of southern urban geography.
The ring villages shown on the 1890s map, the earliest to
illustrate the city's surroundings in detail, are Blandville along
today's Bland Street off South Tryon, Biddleville on Beatties Ford
Road, Seversville on the west side of West Trade Street in the area
of the present Bruns Avenue Elementary School (built in 1925 as
Seversville School), Greenville and Irwinville west of Statesville
Road, and an unnamed string of lots off Providence Road that would
soon become the heart of Cherry. Except for Seversville, which had
grown up around a white-owned country store, all of these villages
were populated by blacks when the areas were first included in the
city directory in the twentieth century.
Biddleville was founded after the Civil War around its college,
as we have noted, and Cherry was developed as a "model Negro
housing development" in the 1890s by the white Myers family.
19 The genesis of the other black communities is not
known. They may have developed after the Civil War from the slave
quarters of old farms. This seems particularly possible in the case
of Irwinville, because it is known that the Irwin family owned a
large farm that extended to West Trade Street, including the
present site of Irwin School and Irwin Street. 20 It is
also possible that some of the villages grew from pre-war clusters
of free blacks and slaves who did not live on their masters'
property. Historian Richard C. Wade noted in his study Slavery
in the Cities that "there were parts of town with clusters of
colored inhabitants. By the 'forties and 'fifties it was apparent
in most places that Negroes were settling on the periphery of the
cities" of the southeast. 21
Today it is difficult to visualize these early villages because,
with the exception of Biddleville and the comparatively recent Cherry village, they have been demolished.
Greenville and Irwinville were bulldozed as part of the Greenville
Urban Renewal project. Only a handful of dwellings survive near
Bland Street, which was part of the West Morehead Urban Renewal
area. More study is needed with U. S. Census data and land
ownership records to understand the history of Charlotte's ring
Though it is unique in its reason for founding, Biddleville is a
good place to get a picture of what the other ring villages may
have been like. The original Mattoon property apparently ran from
the present Seaboard Coast Line railroad track, which had been
built in 1861, to French Street, along the west side of Beatties
Ford Road. 22 Early on this nucleus was augmented by
sales to blacks from other white landowners. By the 1890s the
village extended to the present West Trade Street. The Map of
Charlotte Township from that decade shows three rows of houses,
the present Solomon Street, Campus Street, and Beatties Ford
It is interesting to note the linear arrangement of the
dwellings, seen also in the other ring villages on the map. There
were no houses built on cross streets, to form blocks, and there
was no attempt to arrange the buildings to create a central square,
another popular type of village design. The lines of houses are
reminiscent of the rows of cabins seen in slave quarters on some
antebellum plantations. Perhaps the arrangement of Biddleville was
a survival of patterns learned in slavery days, or perhaps it came
from an earlier source. In any case it was different from the
around-the-block form favored by white Charlotte in the
The neighborhood has seen much change over the years, especially
along busy Beatties Ford Road, but its narrow lanes still have a
village feel. According to longtime resident Barzilla Thomas, in
1981 all buildings in the village except for the recent JCSU
dormitory on Beatties Ford Road predated World War II.
23 Further research is needed to determine whether any
early cabins survive under later remodelings on Beatties Ford,
Campus, or Solomon streets.
The present study has identified three significant sites in the
original village. One is the old black cemetery at the west end of
Cemetery Street. It is in poor condition, recently cleared of years
of overgrowth as part of the creation of an adjacent city park. The
oldest stone dates back to 1908, though it is not unlikely that
there were earlier burials. Of special interest are two raised
graves of more recent vintage, surmounted by unusual concrete
Three blocks away at 529 Campus Street is the old Mount Carmel Baptist Church.
24 It began in the 1870s in a frame structure which
probably gave Campus Street its original name, Church Street. When
the city annexed Biddleville the street was renamed Carmel Street
to avoid confusion with Church Street in downtown Charlotte. The
present church building dates from 1918, a period of black
prosperity in the city. The large brick Gothic style structure was
built from a design by Louis Asbury. The congregation has now moved
to larger quarters outside the neighborhood, and the street has
been renamed Campus Street for the JCSU dorms at its southern end.
Residents still regard the old Mount Carmel Church building as a
symbolic center of the community.
South on Campus Street at the corner of Dixon Street (probably
named for early black property owner Amanda Dixon) is the home of George E. Davis. Davis was the
University's first black professor, a Ph.D. graduate of Howard
University who taught Natural Science from 1886 through 1921 and
served as Dean of Faculty for many years. 25 After his
retirement he became an official with the North Carolina State
Education Department. George E. Davis Science Hall erected on the
campus in 1922 was named for him. In 1928 he had an imposing two
story brick house built, still the largest in the whole
Biddleville-Five Points neighborhood.
Over the years, Biddleville became known as a favored
residential area for the black elite, along with Brevard Street in
Second Ward and the North Myers-East Seventh street area in First
Ward. Families who wanted to raise their children in an
intellectual atmosphere gathered around the University, with its
cultural offerings. Residents included not only college students,
professors, and alumni, but also public school teachers, including
the principals of Second Ward High School and First Ward's
Alexander Street Elementary. Small wood frame houses on tight lots
line the narrow streets, interspersed with occasional brick-faced
cottages. A handful of more substantial two-story houses are
scattered at intersections. Today the areas adjacent to the campus
are remarkable for their residential stability, with some
homeowners living in the same houses they purchased in the early
years of the century.
Around the turn of the century, a new era dawned for Biddleville
as the city grew outward to include the old village. In 1897 the
first "streetcar suburb" was platted in the area. 26 It
was a triangular piece of farmland just south of the campus,
previously owned by the Davidson family. Its developer was W. S.
Alexander, who was laying out Elizabeth on the other side of town
at the same time. The new area he called Western Heights was
bounded by West Trade, Martin and Frazier Streets. Once the
subdivision was established the Charlotte Consolidated Construction
Company extended its trolley tracks out West Trade Street,
commencing service April 25, 1903. 27
For several years Western Heights was a white area, just like
the old Seversville village across West Trade. Though the trolley
served Biddleville and its college as well as the white areas, the
route was known as the Seversville line. In the 1920s the Western
Heights area shifted from white to black, though some white
residents remained. 28 The last of these was grocer A.
H. Frazier, a member of the family which owned the land that became
Summit Avenue and part of Frazier Street. Some current residents
remember him living in a house that still stood in early 1983 at
127 Frazier Street.
When Western Heights opened to black residents, speculators
quickly crowded its vacant lots with small houses. Most of the
present structures in Western Heights date from the late 1910s or
early 1920s. The most interesting group is that which lines Summit
Avenue. The structures include a number of "shotgun" houses, a long narrow
dwelling once common in Charlotte's black neighborhoods. As noted
in the Architecture Section of this report, the room arrangement of
the shotgun, one room behind the other with no hall, can be traced
back to dwellings in Africa. 29 Despite its frequent use
in the twentieth century as cheap rental housing, the shotgun has a
proud Afro-American heritage. Narrow Summit Avenue, with its front
porches crowding the street, is today the best preserved reminder
of what most of the city's black neighborhoods looked like before
In the early 1920s another white suburb was built next to
Biddleville. This was Roslyn Heights, platted by the Roslyn Realty
Company in 1923 and 1925. 30 Its small bungalows line
Roslyn Avenue and the short cross streets between West Trade Street
and Rozelle's Ferry Road. This area, like the old Seversville
village, remained white until the 1960s when the Urban Renewal
destruction of Second Ward downtown created a massive shift in
Charlotte's black population.
Immediately after World War II a large development of small,
wooden homes was built on new streets straddling West Trade beyond
Roslyn Heights. 31 It was called, with perhaps
unintended ironic humor, Smallwood Homes. Like Roslyn Heights it
was occupied by white working class families until the 1960s.
The area may be of some historic significance despite its recent
vintage, because it is believed to be the first project by Charles
Ervin, who became the largest homebuilder in the Southeast during
much of the post-World War II boom. Ervin, a part-time brick mason,
was living near the present intersection of Rozelle's Ferry Road
and Boulevard Road not far from the Smallwood site in 1947 when he
built a house for himself (now gone). Before the structure was
completed, Ervin was offered a price he could not turn down.
Recognizing the strength of the postwar housing market, Ervin
quickly worked his way into the housebuilding field as a developer.
He was a millionaire at age thirty-one and by 1968 his company had
built in the Charlotte area alone 10,000 single family dwellings,
2,000 apartment units, and about 2 million square feet of retail,
office and warehouse space. 32 Ervin suburbs today ring
the city, including Raintree, Tanglewood, Idlewild, Derita Woods,
Springfield, Montclaire, Starmount, Westchester and more.
33 Among his later developments was another adjacent to
Biddleville. The Crestview subdivision platted in 1961 extended
Mattoon Street and opened Crestview Drive, with new brick ranch
houses for black buyers. 34
Many of Ervin's suburbs were laid out by Charlotte civil
engineer C. E. Blankenship. The pair began their collaboration with
the Smallwood street plan. When the first map of Smallwood was
filed at the Register of Deeds office in 1947 there was no
developer's name. An extension recorded in 1948 bears the name of
Charles Ervin, indicating that these humble homes represent one of
Charles Ervin's very earliest large scale developments, and
probably his first. 35
1 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office, deed
book 7, p. 512.
2 Arthur A. George, 100 Years, 1867-1967: Salient
Factors in the Growth and Development of Johnson C. Smith
University (Charlotte: J.C.S.U., 1968), p. 1.
3 Ibid. See also Inez Moore Parker, The
Biddle-Johnson C. Smith Story (Charlotte: Charlotte Publishing,
1975), pp. 3-5.
4 Dan L. Morrill, "Biddle Memorial Hall: Survey and Research
Report" (Charlotte: Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Properties
Commission, 1976). George, p. 2; Parker, p. 5. This area was known
as "Logtown," the city's poorest section, soon to become the black
area known as Brooklyn.
5 George, p. 2; Parker, p. 5; Morrill, "Biddle
Memorial Hall. . ."
6 Ibid. Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office,
deed book 9, p. 323.
7 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office, deed
book 7, p. 512. A sketch map of the parcel is in the Biddleville
file of the Lawyers Title Company, 301 South McDowell Street,
8 George, p. 2; Parker, p. 5; Morrill, "Biddle
9 George, p. 6; Parker, p. 6.
10 George, p. 11; Parker, pp. 11-12; Morrill, "Biddle
Memorial Hall. . .."
11 Parker, p. 15; George, p. 11.
12 Parker, pp. 16-17, 20, 22; George, pp. 15-21,
25-46. City of Charlotte, Department of Engineering, "1:3000
13 Parker, pp. 19-22; George,. p. 30.
14 Parker, p. 20, see also city directories in
15 Morrill, "Biddle Memorial Hall. . .." Information
on specific buildings in this section was developed through the use
of the city directory collection and vertical files of the Carolina
Room of the Charlotte Public Library, supplemented by the books by
Parker and George, except as noted. Biddleville-Five Points has
proved one of the most difficult Charlotte neighborhoods to study,
especially before 1930, because street numbers changed frequently.
Buildings for which the Historic Properties Commission has
completed Survey and Research Reports are indicated by
16 Dan L. Morrill, "Carter Hall: Survey and Research
Report" (Charlotte: Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Properties
17 Dan L. Morrill, "The Teachers' House at Johnson C.
Smith University" (Charlotte: Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic
Properties Commission, 1980).
18 Butler and Spratt, "Map of Charlotte Township.....
1892." Copies are in the collection of the Historic Department of
the Mint Museum, Charlotte, and the City of Charlotte Historic
19 Ibid. Earle Sumner Draper, interview with Earle
Sumner Draper, Jr., based on questions prepared by Thomas W.
Hanchett, Vero Beach, Florida, March, 1982. "W. S. Myers" vertical
file in the Carolina Room of the Charlotte Public Library.
20 F. W. Beers, C. E., "Map of Charlotte and
Mecklenburg County. . ..," 1877. Copies of this map are available
from the City of Charlotte Department of Engineering.
21 Richard C. Wade, Slavery in the Cities: the
South 1820-1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964), p.
22 LeGette Blythe and Charles Brockman, The
Hornets' Nest: the Story of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County
(Charlotte: McNally of Charlotte, 1961), pp. 261-62. John Gilbert
and Grady Jefferys, Crossties Through Carolina (Raleigh,
N.C.: The Helios Press, 1969), p. 8. The line was originally called
the Wilmington, Charlotte and Rutherford Railroad and connected
Charlotte and Lincolntown.
23 Barzilla Thomas, interview with Thomas W.
Hanchett, Charlotte, N.C., July 1981.
24 William H. Huffman, "Old Mount Carmel Baptist Church:
Survey and Research Report" (Charlotte: Charlotte Mecklenburg
Historic Properties Commission, 1983).
25 Parker, pp. 8-9.
26 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office, deed
book 101, p. 1.
27 Dan L. Morrill and Nancy Thomas, "Biddleville," in the New South
Neighborhoods brochure series (Charlotte: Charlotte Mecklenburg
Historic Properties Commission, 1981).
28 City directories collection, Carolina Room of the
Charlotte Public Library.
29 John Michael Vlach, The Afro-American
Tradition (Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1977), pp.
122-138. "The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts: Notes on
the Exhibition" (Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1977), p.
30 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office, Map
Book 3, pp. 34-35.
31 Ibid., Map Book 5, p. 287; Map Book 6, p. 17; Deed
Book 1166, p. 329; Deed Book 2095, p. 545.
32 Charlotte Observer, March 10, 1968. See
also Charlotte Observer, April 14, 1957; May 1, 1960; August
33 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office, plat
34 Ibid., Map Book 9, p. 403.
35 William S. Michaels, telephone interview with
Thomas W. Hanchett, November 1981. Michaels is Ervin's lawyer.
BIDDLEVILLE - FIVE POINTS:
Significant Structures and Sites
Designated in National Register of Historic Places
Biddle Hall, the main building at Johnson C. Smith University,
is perhaps Charlotte's finest example of Victorian institutional
architecture. It is a cluster of towers, bays and dormers
embellished with carefully detailed brickwork and brownstone trim.
Chiseled in the cornerstone is the Latin motto "Sit Lux" -- Let
There Be Light. When Biddle Hall was built it served as classroom
facility, dining hall and chapel all in one. One can still see the
crosses worked into the brick chimneys on what was the rear chapel
wing. For a hundred years the soaring clocktower has dominated the
western skyline of the city.
Designated in the National Register of Historic Places
Students who complain about work-study jobs today should be glad
they were not going to school when Carter Hall was erected. This
massive Victorian style brick structure was built entirely by
students of the college. Note the four big turrets at the corners,
and the delicate wooden cupola in the center of the roof, all
characteristic of Victorian architecture. The building was named
after its donor, Mary Carter of Geneva, New York, one of a number
of northern Presbyterians who helped fund the college in its early
This small building with its columned portico is the city's
earliest surviving Neoclassical style institutional structure.
Charlotte's architectural firm of Hunter and Gordon based the
design on the buildings of ancient Greece and Rome. The portico has
Doric columns of white-glazed terra cotta, topped by a triangular
pediment inspired by a Greek temple. A delicate modillion cornice
of terra cotta runs around the building. The library was built in
part with funds donated by Andrew Carnegie, the wealthy founder of
United States Steel who helped erect hundreds of such buildings
across the country. Charlotte once had three Carnegie Libraries.
The two downtown have been demolished and this building at Johnson
C. Smith is the only one to survive.
TEACHERS' HOUSE, 18??
This is one of the oldest buildings on the Johnson C. Smith campus.
It dates from the era when the college provided housing for
professors as a supplement to their meager salaries. The crossed
"bargeboards" in the gables are an example of the so-called "Stick
style," a variation on Victorian architecture that is especially
rare in Charlotte. Note also the wooden brackets under the eaves,
another Victorian trademark. The house has been moved more than
once over the years, and its front porch has been enclosed.
Overall, the Teachers' House is in remarkably good condition,
however, and an important reminder of the college's early days.
This stone arch with its iron gates is the twentieth century symbol
of the University. In the 1920s, Mrs. Jane Berry Smith, a
Pittsburgh philanthropist, donated eight new buildings and an
endowment fund to the struggling Biddle University, more than
tripling its size. The institution was renamed Johnson C. Smith
University in honor of her late husband. This memorial gate
commemorated the new name and provided a fine entrance to the
301 Campus Street
Dr. George Davis was the University's first black professor. He
graduated from Biddle University, as it was then known, in 1883 and
went on to attain a Ph.D. in medicine from prestigious Howard
University. Davis returned to Charlotte to teach Natural Science
from 1886 through 1921, and was Dean of Faculty for many years. His
hiring signaled the beginning of a shift in the college's staff
from northern white teachers and administrators to southern black
ones. It was striking proof of how much the University had done in
just three decades to train black leaders.
After his retirement Davis served as an official with the North
Carolina State Education Department and built this house. It is one
of many professors' residences in Biddleville. A two story brick
structure on a prominent corner lot, the Dr. George E. Davis House
is still the neighborhood's most imposing residence in the
529 Campus Street
Old Mount Carmel Baptist Church has long been a center of the
Biddleville community. For decades Campus Street was called Carmel
Street, and back when Biddleville was still a village separate from
Charlotte it was named Church Street. The brick Victorian Gothic
structure was built from plans drawn by Louis Asbury, a leading
Charlotte architect who also designed the old County Courthouse and
Myers Park United Methodist Church, among many other major
Charlotte buildings. The Mount Carmel congregation dates back to
1878. Today it is housed in a larger building and Old Mount Carmel
is rented to another denomination.
SHOTGUN HOUSES, 1920s
Some say the "shotgun" house type was nicknamed for its resemblance
to a long, narrow shotgun barrel. A shotgun is a one-story dwelling
consisting of three or four rooms lined up one behind the other,
with no hallway. This unusual room arrangement has been traced back
through Haiti to western Africa.
Today this street of houses, set close together with their
porches lining the narrow lane, is the best collection of shotguns
left in Charlotte. It is important to preserve some examples of
these humble houses to show our children what black neighborhoods
once looked like, and to celebrate the survival against the odds of
an Afro-American house type.