Dr. Thomas W. Hanchett
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In the 1980s, North Charlotte was almost forgotten. Half a dozen
former cotton mills and textile-related factories are strung like
beads along the tracks of the Southern Railway and the old Norfolk
and Southern mainline. East of the mills, look-alike rows of
workers' cottages line straight streets named for dimly-remembered
mills, mill owners, and textile processes: Mercury Street, Holt,
Spencer, and Charles streets, Warp and Card streets. Beyond the
mill housing there is a scattering of middle-class bungalows dating
from the first years of the twentieth century, before one abruptly
enters areas of much newer construction. At the heart of the North
Charlotte neighborhood is a small commercial district of one- and
two-story brick buildings on Davidson and Thirty-sixth Streets, now
mostly vacant except for a post office, fire station, bakery, and
one or two workingmen's bars. North Charlotte represents an
important phase in the development of the City of Charlotte. Few
people are aware today that the city and surrounding Mecklenburg
County were for many years a leading industrial force in North
Carolina. Not only did the offices of textile concerns, cotton
brokers, and banks cluster along South Tryon Street, billed as "The
Wall Street of the South", but many of the cotton mills themselves
were to be found within the county's borders. From the mid 1890s
into at least the mid 1920s, Mecklenburg County was among the top
three textile manufacturing counties in North Carolina.1
North Charlotte was developed in 1903, near the beginning of that
era.2 It was the creation of a group of wealthy textile
leaders who conceived North Charlotte as an almost self-contained
industrial district. Its state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities
contributed greatly to Mecklenburg's leadership role in textile
production. Today the mills are quiet and the city has grown out
around the district, but North Charlotte survives as the county's
largest grouping of textile-related buildings. It is an important
reminder of this vital facet of Charlotte's history.
The Beginnings of North Charlotte:
Following the opening of Charlotte's first mill in 1881,
Mecklenburg County progressed rapidly to a place of leadership
among North Carolina's textile counties. Most of the early capital
came from the immediate area, a fact which remained true through
the late 1890s. But inevitably, Mecklenburg's prosperity began to
attract the attention of outside investors. One of the first such
men was William Edwin Holt, Sr., son of the famed founder of the
Almanance Mill. Holt had begun his career as manager of the pioneer
Almanance Mill during the 1860s, and in succeeding decades he
founded a series of new factories in the northern North Carolina
Piedmont, including the Glencoe Mills near Burlington and the
Wennonah Mills at Lexington. 3 In 1892 Holt made a large
loan to Charlotte's troubled Highland Park Mill.4 The
enterprise had been founded in 1891 under the leadership of local
real estate and streetcar tycoon Edward Dilworth Latta.5
The company had built a new weaving plant that year at Brevard and
Sixteenth Streets beyond the northern boundary of the city. But
rapid shifts in officers during the first years were a sign that
the mill was slow to prosper.6 Though Holt had agreed
simply to supply needed capital in 1892, by 1895 he was the
corporation's president.7 Holt's vice president and
secretary-treasurer in the Highland Park concern were an extremely
able pair of local men. Jesse S. Spencer was an elderly and
established Charlotte banker. He had long headed the Commercial
National Bank of Charlotte, an institution founded in 1874 by Edwin
M. Holt.8 Secretary-treasurer Charles Worth Johnston by
contrast was a hard-driving young textile man. Born in rural
Cabarrus County in 1861, he had begun his career as a store clerk
in the north Mecklenburg village of Davidson.9 Before he
was well into his twenties he had married the storekeeper's
daughter, helped start the nearby Cornelius mills, and found the
village of Cornelius, North Carolina. Spencer took note, and in
1892 brought Johnston to Charlotte to help the Highland Park
concern.10 Holt, Spencer, and Johnston quickly proved to
be a highly effective trio. In 1895 they added a spinning mill to
the Brevard Street weaving plant and dubbed the whole "Highland
Park #1."11 In 1898 they negotiated purchase of the
existing Standard Cotton Mill in nearby Rock Hill, South Carolina,
which was renamed "Highland Park #2.12 In between they
found time to form a new corporation of their own, Anchor Mills
Incorporated, which operated a mill in Huntersville, North
Carolina, fourteen miles north of Charlotte.13
In 1903 Holt, Spencer and Johnston turned their attention back
to Charlotte itself. The city was in the midst of a period of great
economic prosperity, reflected in an 82% jump in population between
1900 and 1910.14 At the same time, North Carolina
textile industry capacity was increasing at a rate that
overshadowed even the rapid build-up of the last years of the 19th
century. In the decade of the 1900s the number of spindles in the
state would rise some 140%.15 In this climate, Holt,
Spencer and Johnston concluded that the time was ripe for
development of a new textile industrial district on the edge of
Charlotte. The area that would become North Charlotte was largely
rolling farmland at the start of 1903. Located about a mile north
of Highland Park #1, the land was held by two different owners. One
tract had once been part of the antebellum plantation of W.W.
Phifer, whose holdings had extended from the plantation house on
Phifer Avenue at the edge of downtown, all the way north to
present-day Thirty-fourth Street. By 1903, the undeveloped portions
of the Phifer estate were in the hands of the Pegram-Wadsworth
development company. The land was particularly desirable for
factory sites because it bordered the east side of the Southern
Railway mainline, the major artery of the burgeoning Carolina
textile region. On February 17, 1903, Highland Park Manufacturing
purchased 102 and 56/100 acres of the old Phifer estate from
Pegram-Wadsworth for $15,000. 16 This triangular-shaped
tract included the area bounded today by the Southern Railway on
the northwest, Charles Avenue (for Charles W. Johnston) on the
south, and Thirty-fourth Street on the north. This land would soon
become the site of the Highland Park #3 mill, village and
powerhouse, as well as the warehouses of the South Atlantic Cotton
Waste Company and eventually the Johnston YMCA. The second tract of
land lay just to the north, and was owned in 1903 by Mecklenburg
County and the Charlotte Water Commission. Part of this land had
long been the site of the County Poorhouse. 17 Part had
been the nineteenth-century farm of country physician Dr. D.T.
Caldwell. 18 In the 1890s a pair of small lakes formed
by Sugar Creek had been tapped as part of the city water supply,
and a pumping station had been built. 19 Despite this
recent investment, Johnston and his powerful associates were able
to convince the Water Commission to sell the lakes and land. A 1905
report of the Water Commission defended the sale:
On January 27th, 1903, the Commissioners in session,
agreed to vacate the Sugar Creek water shed, "provided the
Commission is satisfied that a corporation will undertake the
erection of a manufacturing plant to cost approximately $400,000,
and the adoption of this resolution made it possible for the
Highland Park Manufacturing Company to erect the splendid cotton
mill now under construction on the northeastern border of Charlotte
It is not clear, in fact, whether the land did actually go
directly to the Highland Park concern. Johnston, Holt and Spencer
took title to at least part of it themselves in spring of
1903.21 Before a decade had elapsed the land -- bounded
by Thirty-fourth and Clemson Streets on the south, Herrin Avenue on
the north, the Southern Railway on the west, and The Plaza on the
east -- held the Johnston and Mecklenburg mills, the Mecklenburg
mill village, the General Fire Extinguisher Company, a small
commercial district, and a middle-income housing development
undertaken by North Charlotte Realty Company.
The Highland Park #3 Mill and Village:
On February 27, 1903, the Charlotte Observer announced the start
of construction on Highland Park #3. It was to be a
state-of-the-art factory, and by far the city's largest:
$600,000 PLANT TO BE BUILT
THE FIRST ELECTRIC-DRIVEN MILL
Work will begin Monday on the new cotton mill that is to be
erected by the Highland Park Manufacturing Company.... The plant
will occupy 102,125 square feet. R.A. Brown, of Concord, has the
contract for the brick work of the mill, and the wood work will be
done by A.K. Lostin of Gastonia. It is expected that the mill will
be completed and running by next January. ... C.W. Johnston ...
informed an Observer reporter yesterday that his company had
decided to build a power plant on Sugar Creek, 1,000 feet from the
new mill and about one mile from the Gingham Mill (Highland Park #1
.... The power plant will have 2,000 horse power and will generate
electricity to run both the Gingham Mill and the new mill; and the
two mills will be the first electric driven plants in North
Carolina..... The new mill, which will be called the Highland Park
Manufacturing Company plant #3, will consist of two buildings. One
will be one story high and 450 feet long by 125 feet wide; the
other will be two stories high and will also be 425 [sic] feet long
and 125 feet wide. The mill will employ over 800 operatives and
will have 30,000 spindles and 1,000 looms. The Gingham Mill, which
is considered a large plant, has only 500 operatives .... The No. 3
mill will make a specialty of ginghams, and will give the Highland
Park Company a total of 27,000 spindles on ginghams
Architect and engineer for the new mill, powerhouse, and mill
village was Charlottean Stuart Cramer. Cramer designed and
outfitted hundreds of mills all over the eastern United States and
he had a national reputation as a textile machinery innovator. He
had pioneered the development of heat and humidity controls for
spinning mills, and is credited with coining the term "air
conditioning."23 By the 1900s he had offices not only in
Charlotte, but also in Atlanta, and even in the cradle of American
textiles, Pawtucket, Rhode Island. 24 There is evidence
that Cramer considered Highland Park #3 his finest work; he used it
as the major illustration in his four volume Useful Information
for Cotton Manufacturers in 1906, devoting seventy-three pages
to reproductions of
its plans, machinery layouts, and specifications.
An illustration of the Highland Park mill from Useful
Information for Cotton Manufacturers
The main components of the plant were the huge two-story
spinning room building and the equally large one-story weave room
building. Cramer arranged these two buildings at right angles to
each other, and put the machine room, and smaller slasher, warping,
and picker rooms in between so that the whole formed an unbroken
"L". The structure was built in the standard "mill construction"
developed at the behest of New England insurance firms in the late
nineteenth century. Wooden post-and-beam supports carried floors of
heavy wooden planking. Walls were brick, with a brick firewall
between each room. The brick was made on the site. 26
Stairways were isolated in tall brick stairtowers at the center of
each facade. Clerestories at the centers of the low-pitched roofs
provided natural light, as did more than two hundred windows along
the walls. The brick arches of the windows, and elaborate
corbelling and crenellated parapets in the towers gave the factory
a Victorian flavor. The most ornate tower was the four-story one on
the west facade of the building. It marked that side as the main
front of the mill, and it faced the bustling Southern Railway
mainline with its numerous passenger trains, rather than the dirt
track of Davidson Street (originally Caldwell Street) behind the
plant. Inside the "L" was the one-story dye room, a three-bay
cotton warehouse, and a cotton gin, all separate unconnected
buildings. 27 The mill was able to buy unprocessed
cotton directly from farmers, and thus save on brokerage fees, if
it wished. Cramer was particularly proud of a piping system between
the warehouse and the mill that allowed cotton to be pneumatically
blown from storage to factory rather than carried. 28
The most significant feature of Cramer's plan was the now
demolished powerhouse. The massive two-story structure was located
just south of the #3 mill, next to a small reservoir created by
damming Sugar Creek. A one-story pumping room took reservoir water
into the high-ceilinged boiler room where it was converted to
steam. The steam drove a huge Westinghouse engine in the adjoining
engine room, which in turn generated electric power. Transmission
lines carried the electricity to both Highland Park #3 and #1.
Cramer's powerhouse was something of an engineering landmark in the
Charlotte area and perhaps the state. Previously all local mills
had been powered directly by steam engines. Complicated systems of
belts and driveshafts connected mill machinery directly with the
engineroom, limiting the flexibility of machine layout, and
requiring each factory to have its own powerplant. Electricity
freed designers to create more efficient machine arrangements, and
also gave an advantage to large concerns like Highland Park which
could operate several mills with a single generating station. The
Highland Park installation was probably not the first electric
textile facility in North Carolina, but Cramer's mill was one of
the state's earliest designed specifically for electric power.
America's initial experiment with electric textile production was
in 1893 when General Electric installed a pair of generators at the
Columbia Mills Company in Columbia, South Carolina. 29
The first new mill building in the country constructed for electric
operation was Columbia's Olympia Mill in 1899. 30 North
Carolina experiments with the power source are believed to have
originated with the Fries Manufacturing and Power Company's
hydroelectric power plant on the Yadkin River in 1898.
31 By 1904 the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the State
of North Carolina listed a number of mills equipped for electric
power. 32 It is not known if any of these were
specifically designed for electricity, how many were actually in
operation, or how many of the facilities survive to the
The Highland Park facility was actually used as designed for
only a few months. In 1904 financier James B. Duke helped the
Catawba Power Company build the first hydroelectric power
generating facility on the Catawba River. 33 This new,
cheap source of power was the beginning of what is now the Duke
Power Company, one of the nation's largest utilities. Catawba Power
had inexpensive electricity to offer, and they needed a steam plant
to provide back-up to their customers. About 1905 the Highland Park
Company and Catawba Power worked a trade, and the powerhouse site
is still part of a Duke Power substation today. 34 The
powerhouse itself is gone, but a handsome brick Transformer House
built nearby about 1906 still stands, a well-preserved reminder of
an important turning point in the region's industrial growth.
Across Davidson Street from the Highland Park #3 mill were rows of
workers' houses. As designed by Stuart Cramer, the village was to
have a grid plan with a central square between present-day
Alexander and Yadkin streets. 35 Two stores, a pair of
churches, a hotel and a school were to face onto the square. As
built, most of the east-west streets in the grid were omitted, as
was the square. The hotel was apparently the only one of the
proposed public buildings to be erected, and it stands today at
3020 North Alexander Street. It is a long, two-story clapboard
structure in the Colonial Revival style, with a broad front porch
and a Palladian window in its front gable. 36 The rows
of workers' cottages formed eight parallel tiers. They lined the
east side of North Davidson Street (originally North Caldwell),
both sides of Yadkin Avenue (originally North Davidson), North
Alexander Street, and north Myers Street, and the west side of
North McDowell Street. Additional Highland Park #3 millhouses could
be found on Charles Street, Mallory Street (originally Highland
Avenue), and Faison Street. A Charlotte Observer article in
June of 1903 reported, "There will be 80 houses in the mill town
and they are going up at the rate of a dozen a day." 37
All were one-story, and most were designed for one family. The
predominant type was composed of a gabled, center-entry wing facing
the streets and rear "el." Interspersed were a smaller number of
more spacious "overseers' houses," which Cramer described thus:
This plan comprises a house of five rooms composed of a
living-room, two bed-rooms, dining room and kitchen, closets, hall
and porches; with brick fire places and plastered throughout.
Finished in yellow pine, hard oiled. Foundation latticed between
piers on front and sides. 38
Along with the single-family workers' and overseers' houses
there were a few two-family residences, mainly on Faison Avenue. In
1979 and 1980 the Southern Oral History Project of the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill interviewed some forty long-time
Charlotteans, a number of whom who had lived in the Highland Park
village in the 1910s and 1920s. They remembered it as a community
that was still quite rural, reflecting the backgrounds of the
farmers and mountaineers who came to work in the mills. "Most
everybody in the village had a hog," and salt-cured their own meat.
39 There were chickens, cows, horses -- and lots of
flies. Mill workers raised vegetables on vacant land around the
village and canned the produce. It was not easy to find time for
such activities, because men, women and teen-age children worked 10
or 11 hours in the mill Monday through Friday, and 5 hours on
Saturday. Ralph C. Austin remembered quitting school to go to work
full-time in 1914 at age 14 after spending two summers in the mill.
40 He began as a doffer, taking off full bobbins and
putting on empties. Pay was $11 per week. Occasionally the pressure
of the work resulted in labor unrest. Austin recalled that the
doffer boys spontaneously cut off their machines and left the
factory one day, upset by a hard- driving supervisor. In 1923 the
United Textile Workers of America attempted to unionize Highland
Park #3.41 When the mill fired eight long-time employees
who had become active in the union, a strike was called. Fewer than
half the mill workers went out, and the strike failed after a week.
When they found free time, North Charlotte workers might go into
town on the trolley car that ran down Davidson and Brevard streets.
Such trips were not all pleasure -- some people remembered being
taunted as "lintheads" for the bits of cotton that stuck to their
coats and hair. There were other entertainments without leaving
North Charlotte. The Highland Park Company turned the former county
poorhouse on 36th Street and its grounds on the upper municipal
lake into a recreation area.42 The company periodically
held picnics there, as described in a 1923 press release:
A barbecue and picnic dinner attended by 1,200 to 1,500
employees of the Highland Park Mills #1 and #3 was given by the
Highland Park management Monday at the North Charlotte community
center. Practically all the workers of the two mills attended.
Music for the occasion was furnished by the Highland Park band and
the Duncan Memorial Methodist church orchestra.... The feature of
the afternoon was the baseball game between teams representing the
two mills. Mill No. 3 won 7 to 5 .... In addition to the picnic
dinner, barbecue and Brunswick stew, during the morning watermelons
On Sundays church was an important gathering place, including
the community's own North Charlotte Baptist Church on Thirty-sixth
Street or the original Spencer Memorial Methodist on North
Davidson. Sometimes traveling revivals came, too. "All the shoutin'
I'd see'd was in the tent," remembered Alice P. Evitt. "They had
tent meetin'. Tent'd move around and they's have tent meeting. That
was like they have revival now in the churches. But I never don't
remember havin' revival in the church back then. 44
But the village was far from being an ideal community. "North
Charlotte was a pretty dangerous place back in those days,"
recalled streetcar motorman J.B. Ashe. "So many people got cut up,
fighting all the time. Especially weekends. 45
Remembered former residents John and Minnie Robinson, "In Highland
Park people stole chickens .... People in North Charlotte have had
a bad name for years." 46 The area was far from stable,
as workers moved in and out of the look-alike houses as if they
were interchangeable parts in a machine. The promise of better pay,
shorter working hours, or improved conditions drew families from
mill to mill all over the Southeast. Edna Hargett of the Hoskins
village on the other side of Charlotte was something of an
exception: "People would quit the mills and go up to another mill.
But after I came over here I liked it so well I just stayed.
47 Once the new Highland Park #3 mill was ready for
operation in 1904 and its village was filling with workers, the
leadership of the corporation changed. The financial work of W.E.
Holt and J.S. Spencer was largely complete, and management expert
Johnston could step to the fore. By 1906 Holt had sold all but a
small amount of his stock, and Spencer had passed away leaving his
widow Henrietta his minority interest in the firm. 48
Johnston controlled the majority of shares through proxies. Anchor
Mills held the largest number. New York commission merchants F.
Vietor & Achelis, who had long sold the products of the
Cornelius Mill on the New York market, held a large minority share,
as did New York City investor J.E. Prower.49 Johnston
was empowered to vote all these shares in addition to his own
holdings. In 1906 he voted himself Chairman of the Board of
Highland Park Manufacturing, and Holt stepped down.50
Charles W. Johnston headed the company until the eve of his death
in 1941.51 His son took over the reins in 1938 and
continued to run the concern through the boom years of the Second
World War much as his father had. 52
The Mecklenburg Mill
Even as Highland Park #3 was beginning construction, Holt,
Johnston and Spencer sold a nearby tract to the newly-formed
Mecklenburg Mills for a factory site, May 25, 1903. 53
The acreage was on Davidson Street near one of the former municipal
lakes. The major investors in the project were Charlotte
businessman Robert L. Tate and Durham financier B. Lawrence Duke.
54 Duke was the son of millionaire James B. Duke's
half-brother Brodie Duke, and was heir to a portion of the Duke
Tobacco fortune. 55 Like W.E. Holt, he was attracted by
the prosperity of Charlotte's rapidly expanding textile economy.
The Mecklenburg Mill was
much smaller than the Highland Park #3, having initially 6,500
spindles, and seems to have been devoted mainly to spinning at
first. 56 The main body of the building was two stories
tall with large arched windows and a stair tower on the east side
of the building facing Davidson Street. A one-story wing on the
south side held a cloth room. Another wing on the north side held
the machine room and a power plant of some kind, topped by a
towering brick smokestack. At least one source maintains that the
Mecklenburg Mill bought electric power from Highland
Park.57 Another source shows water intake pipes leading
from the old municipal lake to the Mecklenburg Mills engine room,
indicating the presence of a steam engine which could have served
either as the primary power supply or a back-up unit to supplement
purchased electric power. 58 Across Davidson Street from
the mill was the Mecklenburg Mill village. Three straight streets
held most of the earliest fifty-odd single-family mill cottages:
Mercury Street (originally Holmes Road), Thirty-seventh Street
(earlier Thrift Street and originally Rural Avenue), and Herrin
Avenue. 59 Because of the former municipal lake in its
midst, bordered by stands of trees, the village was quite
attractive in its early days. In 1919 the Southern Textile Bulletin
published a full-page story on the mill and its village.
60 It noted that by 1919 the mill worked 14,048 spindles
and 350 looms, and employed approximately 175 operatives. The
glowing description of the workers' housing included the
Each cottage has a large space for a vegetable garden
and many fine vegetables are raised both in summer and winter, also
a good quantity of beans, peas, corn, etc., are canned in the
summer. There is a piggery where the mill community keep their hogs
in a segregated spot, and many hundreds of pounds of pork is raised
each year. Of course there are some chickens in the village but
these are not encouraged for they are always liable to get out and
do damage in the gardens. There are quite a number of cows that
furnish plenty of milk and butter, and these are kept in perfectly
sanitary stables away from the houses. The employees manifest
considerable civic pride in keeping their village and their homes
in a neat clean manner.61
Sometime later Patterson Street, Card
Street, and Warp Street were added with additional mill houses.
62 During the 1920s and 1930s the Mecklenburg Mill fell
upon hard times. The concern went bankrupt about 1925 and closed
for several months before being sold at a foreclosure sale to a
newly-formed corporation named Mercury Mills. 63 The
plant was sold again in August of 1929 to Martel Mills, Inc., a
Delaware-based corporation.64 On the eve of World War
II, the Johnston family acquired the mill. 65 They added
it to their growing "Johnston Group" of textile plants, which was
headquartered in the handsome sixteen-story Johnston Building (1924) on South
Other North Charlotte Industries:
North Charlotte got its third textile mill in 1913 when Charles
Worth Johnston established his own Johnston Mill.66
Unlike the other projects that he was involved with at the time,
Johnston Mill was wholly owned by its chief executive. It was not
even incorporated until 1921, when Charles Worth Johnston, his son
R. Horace Johnston, and his daughter Rosa Johnston Stokes were
listed as the stockholders. 67 The Johnston Mill
building was erected about 1913 on North Davidson Street
immediately south of the Mecklenburg Mill. It seems to have had no
mill houses of its own.
The Johnston Mill was located between the Southern Railway and
the new Norfolk and Southern mainline. The Norfolk and Southern
opened about 1911 from Norfolk, Virginia, through Raleigh, North
Carolina, terminating in Charlotte.68 It came into
Charlotte through the heart of North Charlotte, crossing Herrin
Avenue on a low trestle, cutting through the center of the
Mecklenburg Mill village at grade, running along the west front of
Highland Park #3, and then heading along Brevard Street toward
downtown. The new line was undoubtedly welcomed by North Carolina
industrialists, because shippers now had access to two competing
railroads. By the time that the Norfolk and Southern opened, North
Charlotte already boasted a pair of textile-related industries in
addition to its mills. The warehouses of the South Atlantic Waste
Company stood southwest of Highland Park #3. 69 The
company was one of several in the city that bought and sold cotton
waste. The material was a by-product of the textile manufacturing
process -the tangled ends and remnants of yarn which were sold to
industries which used it to wipe down machinery, and to railroads
which used it in the journal boxes of railroad cars. At present-day
Thirty-sixth Street and the Southern Railway tracks stood the large
brick factory of the General Fire Extinguisher Company, also known
as the Grinnell Manufacturing Company. The concern made
building-wide sprinkler systems for fire-control in textile mills.
According to Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps published in 1911,
Highland Park #3 and the Mecklenburg Mill were among the many
factories in the region which used Grinnell
The last major industrial concern to locate in North Charlotte
was the Larkwood Silk Hosiery Mill. If Highland Park had signaled
the start in Charlotte of a regional trend toward non-local
investment in textile mills, the Larkwood extended that movement.
Its president was not merely from out of town, as W.E. Holt had
been, but from out of state. President William Sachsenmaier lived
in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Vice President Robert H. Moeller,
Secretary Frank H. Hoffman, and Treasurer Elwood W. Sachsenmaier
were all Charlotte residents, however. 71 The red-brick
plant of the Larkwood mill opened about 1932 on North Brevard
Street just south of Charles Avenue. Its design was much less
ornamental than the earlier mills had been, with little trim beyond
modernistic cast-stone work around its N. Brevard Street entrance.
The facility was the work of Richard C. Biberstein, a noted
Charlotte industrial architect. 72 Biberstein had worked
under Stuart Cramer in the 1890s before founding his own firm and
becoming known as one of the South's most prolific mill
designers.73 The Larkwood facility was a knitting mill
rather than a spinning and weaving mill like the Johnston,
Mecklenburg and Highland facilities. 74 Along with North
Charlotte's four textile mills and two major textile-related
facilities, there were two or three smaller concerns along the rail
lines. 75 Sinclair Refining had a small gasoline storage
facility on Thirty-sixth Street at the Norfolk and Southern
crossing next to the Grinnell Company. There was also an electrical
equipment warehouse on Thirty-fifth Street at the tracks.
The North Charlotte Commercial Area:
Even before work was complete on the Highland Park #3 and
Mecklenburg mills, a small commercial district began to develop
along North Davidson Street. The thoroughfare, running parallel to
the Southern Railway tracks, connected the two mill villages and
also served as the route of the streetcar line to downtown
Charlotte. On August 4, 1904, the Charlotte Observer carried
a story entitled "Progress at North Charlotte" that noted in
Messrs. John M. Atkinson and W.G. Shoemaker have
purchased a corner lot near the centre of the settlement and will
build a handsome merchantile building. The building will be two or
three stories high and will contain two stores, while the upper
stories will be used for lodge rooms and an auditorium. In one of
the stores Mr. Atkinson will run a branch drug store. In the other
Mr. Shoemaker will run a grocery store.76
Before long there were two blocks of one- and two-story brick
store buildings stretching from Thirty-fourth to Thirty-sixth
streets. They were of very simple design, reflecting the prevailing
architectural trend in the period. The more ornate featured
segmental-arched side and upper story windows, and a corbelled
brick course to mark the front cornice line. By the time the area
was included in Charlotte city directories in 1929, the district
included a barber shop, drug store, dry goods store, lunch room,
doctor's office, and five small grocery stores. The Hand Pharmacy building at 3201 North
Davidson had a second-floor meeting hall, but the upper stories of
most of the other structures were used for apartments.77
Two noteworthy non-commercial structures were to be found within
the business district. One was a large Victorian mansion at North
Davidson Street. It was a two-story frame structure on a high
foundation. It boasted a corner tower and the complex hip roofs
favored by architects at the end of the nineteenth century. The
structure has been used as a boarding house throughout most of the
twentieth century but title research indicates that it was built
about 1906 for physician Thomas Costner, the son of a prominent
Lincoln County family.78 The other building of interest
is Charlotte Fire Station Number Seven which opened about 1936 at
3210 North Davidson Street. 79 The two-story red brick
building shows Colonial Revival influence in its railed balcony,
pilasters, and pediment-like decoration at the top of the front
facade. The facility is similar to Stations Five and Six, built under the direction of
prominent Charlotte architect C.C. Hook in 1929 on Tuckaseegee Road
and Laurel Avenue. 80 An interesting difference is a
one-story two-cell holding jail at the rear of the North Charlotte
facility, a necessity because the area was so far from the main
jail downtown. For many years the North Charlotte commercial
district was limited to North Davidson Street. It was not until the
World War II era that stores were built on Thirty-sixth Street. The
most notable of these newer buildings is the flashy facade of the
Astor Movie Theatre, one of a number of neighborhood movie houses
built in the period throughout the city.
Middle-Income Housing in North Charlotte :
The mills and workers' housing along the railroad and the
commercial area on North Davidson used less than half of the land
which Charles Johnston, William Holt, and Jesse Spencer owned. In
1906 the North Charlotte Realty Company was incorporated to develop
the balance of the area as suburban houselots. 81 The
incorporators included not only Holt, Johnston, and Spencer's widow
Henrietta, but also Holt associate J.E. Prior of New York City,
and, most significantly, Edward Dilworth Latta of Charlotte.
82 Latta was the city's leading real estate man, having
developed the Dilworth neighborhood as Charlotte's first suburb
beginning in 1891.83 He also controlled the city's
streetcar system, the important factor in suburban development.
Latta could provide expertise, capital, and vital streetcar
connections to the North Charlotte project. By 1908 North Charlotte
Realty had laid off their land into square blocks of house lots.
84 The blocks nearest the mills had the smaller lots --
mostly 50' x 195' -- while the blocks near The Plaza had lots 80'
or 100' wide by 195' deep. The area covered was irregular in shape,
but North Charlotte Realty streets include all of 35th, 36th,
Hudson, Holt, Spencer, Whiting, and Wesley streets, plus the 700
and 800 blocks of 37th Street, the 1100 block of Herrin Avenue, the
1100 block of Academy Street, the 3200 and 3300 blocks of North
McDowell, and the 3200 blocks of North Alexander, North Myers,
Yadkin, and North Davidson streets. A streetcar track reached the
area via North Brevard, Mallory and North Davidson streets, then
turned the corner onto Thirty-sixth Street and continued eastward
almost to The Plaza. Yet despite its typical streetcar suburb
appearance and good trolley connections, the area was too far from
downtown for commuters. Most North Charlotte homeowners ran stores
in the business district adjacent to the mills, or worked as upper
level employees in the factories.
One of the finest Victorian-influenced dwellings was that of
S.A. Abbey, Superintendent of Construction at the General Fire
Extinguisher plant. His 1911 residence at 1210 East Thirty-sixth
Street features art-glass transoms above its front windows and
beveled cut-glass around its front door, all sheltered by a broad
front porch with Doric columns.85 Less elaborate
variations on the same theme housed Assistant Superintendent C.B.
Miller at 1212 East Thirty-fifth (built 1913), and company engineer
Paul Valaer at 1211 East Thirty-fifth (1918).86 An
example of a shopkeeper's house is the Eugene Turner house at 1101
East Thirty-fifth Street. Built in 1913, it combines Victorian and
Bungalow influences in its simple hip-roofed form. Perhaps the
finest storekeeper's home is at the corner of Holt and Matheson
streets. It is a two-story wood-frame structure with a spacious
"T"-shaped plan, gable roofs, and stick-like trim in the gables. It
was the residence of Jasper K. Hand, long-time proprietor of Hand's
Pharmacy at North Davidson and Thirty-fifth streets. In addition to
his drug business, Hand also profited by renting out the second
floor of his store for lodge and union meetings. The Hand family
was also involved in the production and distribution of Liv-o-lax
tonic, a nationally-distributed elixir produced in Charlotte in the
North Charlotte Since World War II:
Up through the 1940s, North Charlotte seems to have remained
much as it was conceived in the 1900s. The textile mills and
related factories hummed along the railroads. Workers lived in
company-owned villages and shopped at the stores in the commercial
district. The whole area remained at the edge of the city of
Charlotte, surrounded on four sides by farms and fields. After the
War, this began slowly to change. In 1949 David R. Johnston,
grandson of North Charlotte's founder, took over the family
interests. 88 By this time, these included Highland Park
and its village, the Mecklenburg Mill and its village, and the
Johnston Mill. One of Johnston's first actions endeared him to area
residents. In 1951 Johnston's North Charlotte Foundation built a
large red brick Georgian Colonial style community center on North
Davidson Street adjacent to the Highland Park #3 Mill.89
The white-columned building on its spacious tree-shaded grounds was
said to have "cost more than $500,000 in memory of Richard Horace
Johnston and [was made] available as the new home of the North
Charlotte Branch YMCA."90 About the same time, the
Spencer Memorial Methodist Church, which had long occupied part of
the YMCA site, was moved to new quarters on East Thirty-sixth
Street, where the old Highland Park Mill's community center had
been. At the same time, post-war housing development and industrial
areas sprang up beyond the old mill area. The area's major
north-south street, once known as North Caldwell, was eventually
extended to connect with the main Charlotte grid and was renamed
North Davidson Street. North Charlotte was now swallowed up within
the larger city. Subsequent changes were more painful. In 1953
Johnston sold off all the workers' houses to their occupants or
other interested parties. 91 As time went on, Johnston
found it harder and harder to operate the aging factories at a
profit. In 1969 the mighty Highland Park #3 plant ceased
operations. 92 The Mecklenburg Mill, or the Mercury as
it was then commonly known, closed about the same time. In 1973
Johnston sold the North Charlotte mills along with the others in
the "Johnston Group" to an outfit called the Washington Group.
93 It was run by a pair of entrepreneurs who had
assembled a financial empire around a Richmond, Virginia, fast food
franchise. The empire proved shaky. In 1975, strapped for cash, the
Washington Group announced the closing of the Johnston
Mill.94 Some of its machinery and a few operatives would
be transferred to other former Johnston Mills in Monroe and Mineral
Springs, N.C. Within months the Washington Group declared
bankruptcy. Federal bankruptcy trustees blamed David Johnston,
accusing him of collaborating with the Washington Group to milk the
[Johnston's] annual salary and the added fringe
benefits were inconsistent with such provisions and noncompetition
contracts in general in the textile industry at that time. More
importantly, the salary far exceeded salaries for chief executive
officers and presidents of comparable and even much larger
The closing of the Johnston Mill in March of 1975 marked the end
of an era not only for North Charlotte but for the city as a whole.
In 1975, the Johnston Mill was Charlotte's last major operating
textile mill. 96 When its machines went quiet, the city
which had once been a national leader in textile production now no
longer spun cotton into yarn. Today, the North Charlotte industrial
buildings are mostly split up among a variety of small warehousing
and manufacturing businesses. The Mecklenburg Mill is vacant. The
South Atlantic Cotton Waste Company has been demolished, but its
foundations may still be seen near the historic Highland Park
powerhouse, which is part of a Duke Power electrical facility. The
commercial district remains intact, but Hand's Pharmacy, the old
union hall upstairs, and most of the surrounding storefronts are
empty. The workers' cottages and adjacent middle-income houses from
the early years of the century continue to be well-used, however.
In part this is a result of federally-funded renovation efforts
which began in the mid-1970s. 97 It is also a testament
to the will power of the residents, still mostly working-class
white homeowners. They have fought several well-publicized battles
to keep their neighborhood a good place to live, among them an
ongoing effort to end the showing of X-rated films -- and
accompanying prostitution -- at the old Astor neighborhood theatre
on Thirty-sixth Street. 98
Though it has been forgotten by much of the rest of Charlotte,
some of the residents are quite aware of North Charlotte's historic
role in the development of Charlotte. Says the Reverend A. Guy
Patterson of the Johnston Memorial Presbyterian Church, the
neighborhood's weakness is that "the movers and shakers aren't
here." According to a 1984 Charlotte Observer report, "His
dream is to see the neighborhood revitalized as a historic
attraction. 'This is one of the places where the artifacts remain
-- the mills, the company houses,' he said. 'I can see shops on
Davidson, a cinema showing a presentation of the old mill life. If
we wipe this place out,' he said, 'we've lost a real history."'
1 Annual Report of the Bureau of Labor and Printing
of the State of North Carolina, 1894, 1900, 1901, 1904, 1910,
1919-1920, 1925-1926. Title changes slightly in some years. The
Bureau began collecting detailed statistics on North Carolina
industries in 1887, but was not able to gather comprehensive data
until the 1890s. The annual reports provide a wealth of information
on factory size, workforce, power sources, output, and much more.
Unfortunately the Bureau lost most of its funding in the mid 1920s
and ceased publication. When it resumed in 1930, it no longer
published factory-by-factory information.
2 Charlotte Observer, February 27, 1903.
3 Marjorie Young, ed., Textile Leaders of the
South (Columbia, S.C.: James R. Young, 1963), pp. 100-103.
Brent Glass, "Southern Mill Hills: Design in a 'Public' Place," in
Doug Swaim, ed., Carolina Dwelling: Towards Preservation of
Place... (Raleigh: North Carolina State University, 1978), pp.
4 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: deed
book 82 p. 276.
5 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office:
records of corporations book A, p. 221.
6 Highland Park Manufacturing Company memo with
penciled date July 25, 1964, in the files of the Carolina Room of
the Charlotte Public Library.
7 Ibid. and Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds
Office: records of corporations book 1, p. 337.
8 Charlotte Observer, July 17, 1904. It is a
significant measure of Charlotte's postbellum prosperity that this
was evidently the Holt family's major banking venture in these
years. See Samuel A. Ashe and Stephen B. Wade, ed., Biographical
History of North Carolina from Colonial Times to Present
(Greensboro, N.C.: C.L. Van Noppen, 1908), Vol.7, p. 186. Edwin
Holt seems to have had small financial dealings in the county as
early as 1869: Deed Book 5, p 729.
9 Young, ed., Textile Leaders of the South,
pp. 108-109, 766. Blythe and Brockman, pp. 420-421. Charlotte News,
July 5, 1941.
10 Charlotte News, July 5, 1941.
11 Highland Park Manufacturing Company memo.
13 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office:
records of incorporation book 1, p. 48. The Anchor concern
evidently took over the existing Virgin Mills which had been
chartered in 1891. See records of corporations book A, p. 215; Deed
Book 121, p. 224. See also Blythe and Brockman, p. 422.
14 Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, "1950 Census Data"
(Charlotte: Chamber of Commerce, 1950). This report conveniently
includes city-wide and ward data back to 1850.
15 Twenty-fourth Annual Report of the Department of
Labor and Printing in the State of North Carolina, 1910, p.
16 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office:Deed
Book 178, p. 210.
17 Butler and Spratt, "Map of Charlotte Township,
Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, From Recent Surveys ... 1892."
Copies are in the collections of the History Department of the Mint
Museum, Charlotte, and the City of Charlotte Historic Districts
Commission. The Plaza was called "Poorhouse Road" according to the
Butler and Spratt map, and later "County Home Road," according to a
1904 plat map on file at the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds
Office: Map Book 209, p. 460. The poorhouse building appears to be
incorporated in today's fellowship hall of the Spencer Memorial
United Methodist Church on Thirty-sixth Street.
18 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: deed
book 178, p. 253; Deed Book 129, p. 616. Blythe and Brockman, p.
19 Fifth Annual Report, Superintendent Charlotte
Water Works, Charlotte, North Carolina. (Charlotte: Charlotte Water
Works?, 1904), pp. 2, 7, 8, 18, 20.
20 Ibid., p. 20.
21 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Deed
Book 178. p. 253.
22 Charlotte Observer, February 27, 1903.
23 Charlotte News, August 15, 1983. Blythe and
Brockman, p. 276.
24 Stuart W. Cramer, Useful Information for Cotton
Manufacturers (Charlotte?: Stuart Cramer, 1906). Title page of
volume four, which evidently came out shortly after the first three
volumes, includes the Pawtucket office.
25 Ibid. Vol. 3, pp. 1227-1300.
26 Charlotte Observer, June 18, 1903.
27 The factory layout undoubtedly changed over the
years. Interior descriptions here are based on Cramer's 1906 plans.
The dye building, warehouse and gin are as they appeared on the
1929 map of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company (microfilm copy on
file at the Carolina Room of the Charlotte Public Library).
28 Cramer, p. 1255.
29 Sidney B. Paine, "Electric Power as Applied to
Textile Machinery," in Marjorie Young, ed., Textile Leaders of
the South (Columbia, S.C.: James R. Young, 1963), pp.
31 Lefler and Newsome, p. 509. There is not total
agreement on this. See LeGette Blythe, Robert Lee Stowe, Pioneer
in Textiles (Belmont, N.C.: Heritage Printers, 1965), pp.
32 Eighteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of Labor
and Printing for the State of North Carolina, 1904, pp. 93-97.
33 Joe Maynor, Duke Power, The First Seventy-Five
Years. (Charlotte?: Duke Power Company, 1979?), p. 32.
34 Cramer, p. 1272.
35 Ibid., pp. 1227.
36 Charlotte Observer, June 18, 1903 noted
that "the mill settlement hotel is going up. The hotel is on the
highest point of ground and shows up splendidly."
38 Cramer, p. 1251.
39 Ralph Charles Austin, interview with Jim Leloudis
in Charlotte, June 1979. Southern Oral History Program files in the
Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina
Library at UNC-Chapel Hill. Information is from tape index
41 Charlotte Observer, August 14, 15, 18, 22,
25, 1923. The stories are of special interest because they were
written by a summer intern named W.J. Cash, who later became famous
for his analysis of Southern culture, The Mind of the South.
See Joseph L. Morrison, W.J. Cash: Southern Prophet (New
York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1967), p. 37.
42 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company map of Charlotte,
1929, plate 260. Microfilm copy on file in the Carolina Room of the
Charlotte Public Library.
43 Southern Textile Bulletin, September 6,
1923, p. 18.
44 Alice P. Evitt, interview with Jim Leloudis in
Charlotte, July 1979. Southern Oral History Program files in the
Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina
Library at UNC-Chapel Hill. Quote is from a typed transcript.
45 J.B. Ashe, interview with Allen Tullos in
Charlotte, June 1980. Southern Oral History Program files in the
Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina
Library at UNC-Chapel Hill. Quote is from a typed transcript.
46 John and Minnie Robinson, interview with Allen
Tullos in Charlotte, January 1980. Southern Oral History Program
files in the Southern Historical Collection at the University of
North Carolina Library at UNC-Chapel Hill. Quote is from a typed
47 Edna Hargett, interview with Jim Leloudis in
Charlotte, July 1979. Southern Oral History Program files in the
Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina
Library at UNC-Chapel Hill. Quote is from a typed transcript.
48 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office:
Records of Corporations Book 2, p. 3.
49 Ibid. J.E. Prower is probably the same person as
J.E. Prior listed as Johnston's partner in North Charlotte Realty.
See Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Records of
Corporations Book 2, p. 43.
50 Highland Park Manufacturing Company memo. See also
Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Records of
Corporations Book book 2, p. 3.
51 Charlotte News, July 5, 1941. Highland Park
Manufacturing Company memo with penciled date July 25, 1964, in the
files of the Carolina Room of the Charlotte Public Library.
52 Ibid. For more on the younger Johnston, whose
primary interest seems to have been in polo "and the breeding and
training of fine horses," see Marjorie R. Young, ed., pp. 110-111,
53 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Deed
Book 179, p. 206.
54 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office:
Records of Corporations Book 1, p. 344.
55 Robert F. Durden, The Dukes of Durham,
1865-1929 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1975), p.
56 Charlotte Observer, August 8, 1903.
58 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1929, plate 259.
59 The number comes from the Southern Textile
Bulletin, December 25, 1919, p. 203. It coincides with the
number of dwellings along Mercury, Thirty-seventh, and Herrin shown
on the 1929 Sanborn Insurance Map, plate 259, on microfilm at the
Charlotte Public Library. Since no other streets are shown in the
vicinity, it is probable that these constitute the majority of the
60. Southern Textile Bulletin, December 25,
1919, p. 203. The Bulletin's annual "Health & Happiness" issues
in the late 1910s and early 1920s profiled numerous Southern
factories and villages -- a gold mine of information for today's
62 These streets are not shown on the 1929 Sanborn
63 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Deed
Book 628, p. 554.
64 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Deed
Book 748, p. 1; Deed Book 846, p. 336.
65 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: deed
book 1065, p. 279. Thanks to Dr. William Huffman for this
66 Morrill, "A Survey of Cotton Mills..."
67 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office:
Records of Corporations Book 7, p. 1.
68 Blythe and Brockman, p. 263. John Gilbert and
Grady Jefferys, Crossties Through Carolina (Raleigh, N.C.:
The Helios Press, 1969), p. 9.
69 Sanborn Insurance Map of Charlotte, 1911, plate
89, on microfilm in the Carolina Room of the Charlotte Public
70 Ibid. General Fire Equipment was chartered in 1899
by G.W. Brown, H.B. Parks, and S.F. Stephens. Mecklenburg County
Register of Deeds Office: records of incorporations book 1, p.
71 Charlotte city directory, 1933, in the collection
of the Carolina Room of the Charlotte Public Library.
72 Biberstein, Bowles, Meecham and Reed job records
in the collection of the Department of Archives and Special
Collections at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte,
73 William H. Huffman, "Richard C. Biberstein House:
Survey and Research Report" (Charlotte: Charlotte Mecklenburg
Historic Properties Commission, 1985).
74 The Larkwood plant experienced more serious labor
unrest than the Highland Park mill in its early years. In 1933
workers attempted to unionize as a chapter of the American
Federation of Full-Fashioned Hosiery Workers. The company fired
seven employees who belonged to the union, declaring that employees
could join a company-sponsored union but not a national
organization. Approximately seventy-five percent of the Larkwood
employees walked out, closing the plant for several days. The
company hired new employees and reopened, foiling the workers.
Charlotte Observer, June 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 1933.
Clippings in the Harriet Laura Herring Collection in the North
Carolina Collection at the Louis Round Wilson Library, University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
75 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1929, plates 259, 261.
Microfilm copy in the Carolina Room of the Charlotte Public
76 Charlotte Observer, August 4, 1904.
77 The hall was probably the meeting place for the
union in the 1923 strike attempt. See Charlotte Observer,
August 14, 1923. "The meeting was held in the Union Hall over the
Hand Drug Company in North Charlotte."
78 For chain of title see Mecklenburg County Register
of Deeds Office: deed book 3465, p. 1; deed book 3134, p. 27; deed
book 2405, p. 337; deed book 1545, p. 468; deed book 669, p. 210;
deed book 664, p. 174; deed book 327, p. 276; deed book 216, p.
209; deed book 198, p. 604.
79 Information based on city directories in the
Carolina Room of the Charlotte Public Library.
80 E.R. Blalock of the Central Services Office of the
City of Charlotte, telephone interview with Thomas W. Hanchett,
January 1985. Blalock noted that Number 7 was very similar to
Number 5, especially in the arrangement of its upstairs quarters.
For more on Stations 5 and 6, see the chapter of this manuscript
entitled "Crescent Heights."
81 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office:
records of corporations book 2, p. 43.
82 J.E. Prior was probably the same person as J.E.
Prower who was listed as a stockholder in the Highland Park Company
in 1906. See Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: records
of corporations book 2, p. 3.
83 Dan L. Morrill, "Edward Dilworth Latta and the
Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company (1890-1925): Builders
of New South Charlotte," 1983, draft manuscript in the files of the
Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission. See also the
section of the present manuscript on the Dilworth neighborhood.
84 This plat superseded a 1904 layout that featured a
similar street pattern but smaller lots. Mecklenburg County
Register of Deeds Office: map book 209, p. 460; map book 230, p.
85 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Deed
Book 3658, p. 405; Deed Book 992, p. 474; Deed Book 836, p. 344;
Deed Book 583, p. 148; Deed Book 482, p. 176; Deed Book 408, p. 39:
Deed Book 283, p. 347. See also city directories.
86 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: deed
book 378, p. 16; Deed Book 312, p. 7; Deed Book 394, p. 144. Thanks
to David Inman for help with these title searches.
87 Jasper K. Hand lived at the location from about
1908, and the residence is still in the family in 1985, according
to tax records. Hand's relative W.L. Hand ran the Liv-o-lax
company, according to the city directories. An advertisement facing
page 442 of the 1925 directory promised, "Children Love Liv-o-lax,
The Family Regulator."
88 Highland Park Manufacturing Company memo. Marjorie
R. Young, ed., pp. 110-111, 767.
89 One Hundredth Anniversary: Young Men's
Christian Association of Charlotte and Mecklenburg (Charlotte:
Charlotte YMCA, 1974), p. 8.
91 So many properties were sold at once that Johnston
had form deeds printed for the transaction. See for instance
Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Deed Book 1633, PP.
92 Charlotte News, March 13, 1975.
93 Ibid. and August 19, 1978.
94 Ibid. and Charlotte Observer, March 14,
95 Charlotte News, August 19, 1978.
96 Ibid. and March 13, 1975, as well as Charlotte
Observer, March 14, 1975.
97 Charlotte Observer, March 25, 1984.
THE (former) HIGHLAND INN, 1903
3020 North Alexander Street
(North Charlotte neighborhood)
The Highland Inn was one of the first buildings to be completed
in the North Charlotte area. The two-story building was a key
structure in the village of the Highland Park #3 mill, begun in the
summer of 1903. A June 18, 1903 Charlotte Observer article
noted that "the mill settlement hotel is going up. The hotel is on
the highest point of ground and shows up splendidly." As designed
by noted mill engineer Stuart Cramer, the Highland Park #3 village
was to be a model of humane planning. Drawings published by Cramer
indicate that he intended the hotel to front on a square flanked by
a school and store. These plans were not carried out and today the
hotel is surrounded by a sea of one-story mill cottages. The large
hotel stands out as an architectural landmark in the mill village.
The design of the hotel building probably came from the office of
Stuart Cramer, who designed all the rest of the Highland Park #3
industrial and residential structures. Cramer is regarded as one of
the South's most important industrial designers and inventors, and
is credited with coining the term "air conditioning" based on his
development of climate control mechanisms for mills. Plans for the
Highland mill and village were published in his 1906 manual Useful Information for
The Highland Inn is constructed in the Colonial Revival style.
The weatherboarded structure is six bays wide and two bays deep
with a hip roof and
a decorative front center gable. The gable features a three-part
Palladian window surrounded by wood shingle siding. Cornices
are simply boxed, and include returns in the gable. Most windows are six-over-six pane double-hung
sash. The presence of four large brick interior chimneys
indicates that the building may originally have been heated by wood
stoves. A long one-story veranda runs along the entire front of the
structure. The building almost certainly had such a porch
originally, but the present square tapered columns on brick posts
likely date from the 1920s. Two doors open onto the first level of
the porch, and three open onto its roof. They are placed with a
curious disregard for symmetry that may either indicate that they
are not original or that Cramer's engineer-draftsmen had little
patience for stylistic fine points.
HIGHLAND PARK MANUFACTURING COMPANY:
TRANSFORMER HOUSE, c. 1906
2417 North Brevard Street
The Highland Park Transformer House stands between the Southern
Railway and the old Norfolk and Southern mainline, just south of
the Highland Park #3 Mill. The 1903 powerhouse which stood adjacent
to it originally has been demolished, but the Transformer House
echoes master mill architect Stuart Cramer's published drawings of
that structure. The Transformer House is a long rectangular
structure of red brick. Its gable roof is covered with Spanish
tile, and has five metal ventilators along the ridgeline. Twelve
round-arched window openings run under the eaves of the east wall
and originally provided natural light to the interior. A corbelled
brick belt course runs beneath the windows and brick pilasters
accentuate the corners of the building. On the south facade,
several courses of corbelled brick add a decorative touch just
below the eaves, and there is a round vent or window opening at the
center of the gable end. Below the round opening is a row of three
square openings from which project objects that appear to be
massive electrical insulators. A corbelled brick course sets the
gable end off from the first-story facade, which consists of a
doorway flanked by a pair of tall window openings, all with
segmental arches. The north facade is different, featuring three
large square openings surrounded by circular brick courses in the
gable end, and no windows at the ground level. The Transformer
House was not part of Stuart Cramer's original 1903 plans for the
Highland Park #3 complex, believed to be one of North Carolina's
first all-electric textile plants. Cramer evidently added it about
1906 when the company began buying electricity from J.B. Duke's
fledgling Catawba Power Company and put the North Charlotte
powerhouse to work as a back-up unit for the Duke system. The
Transformer House is known to have been in place by 1911.
PARK MANUFACTURING COMPANY: #3 MILL, 1903-1904
2901 North Davidson Street
Highland Park #3 is Mecklenburg County's largest single textile
mill, and an important landmark in the career of nationally-known
mill architect and engineer Stuart W. Cramer, Sr. Built during
1903-1904, it was designed to hold 30,000 spindles and 1,000 looms,
and it ranked among the dozen largest mills in North Carolina when
it opened. Cramer designed the facility to be electrically powered
and built a generating station nearby which gave the plant the
distinction of being the first all-electric mill in Mecklenburg
County and one of the first plants in the state designed
specifically for this revolutionary new power source. Charlottean
Stuart Cramer planned the facility for investors C.W. Johnston,
W.E. Holt, Sr., and J.S. Spencer. It was one of hundreds of mills
all over the eastern United States designed by this engineer and
inventor whose work with climate control led to his being credited
with coining the term "air conditioning." Cramer evidently
considered Highland Park #3 his most important work, for he used it
as the major illustration in his four-volume Useful Information
for Cotton Manufacturers (1906) which was distributed from his
offices in Charlotte, Atlanta, and Pawtucket , Rhode Island. The
brick mill building is arranged in a massive "L" with each leg
approximately 450 feet long and 125 feet wide. The two-story south
wing held the vast first floor carding room and second floor
spinning room plus the picker room, spooling room, and dye room.
The one-story east wing held the weaving room, if such a word as
"room" can be used to describe a space the size of one-and-a-half
football fields. The building is constructed with brick walls,
including a firewall between each room, and wooden columns carrying
floors and roofs of heavy slow-burning planking. The brick was made
on the site. Stairways are isolated in projecting brick towers at
regular points around the facade to enhance fire resistance. The
most ornate tower is on the west front of the building facing the
busy Southern Railway mainline. It is four stories tall with a
crenellated parapet and elaborate corbelled brickwork. Circular
windows light the top-most level, while lower levels feature
round-arched windows. The tower is one of Charlotte's better
examples of Victorian masonry craftsmanship. More than two hundred
windows along the main walls of the building were designed to
provide natural light, and were supplemented by clerestories along
the ridgelines of the low-pitched roofs. Today the plant is no
longer used for textile production but is split among a number of
small warehousing and manufacturing firms. Various small buildings
crowd the space within the "L." Among them are the original two-bay
cotton warehouse, expanded to three bays sometime between 1911 and
1929, facing Mallory Street, and a one-story wooden office building
near the front gate on Davidson Street which probably dates from
the early 1920s.
JASPER K. HAND
PHARMACY BUILDING, c.1908
3201 North Davidson Street
The Hand Pharmacy Building is the most architecturally
interesting of the commercial structures that line North Davidson
Street and Thirty-sixth Street in North Charlotte. The district was
developed beginning in 1904 as a link between the Highland Park #3
and Mecklenburg Mills. Jasper K. Hand opened his drug store in
1908, according to city directory evidence, at which time it was
North Charlotte's only pharmacy. The building housed not only a
drug store but also what seems to have been North Charlotte's main
meeting hall. The space was a regular spot for fraternal
organizations. The Woodmen of the World, a popular working-class
secret society in the period, had a "North Charlotte grove" which
seems to have met in this building from the 1910s into the 1930s.
The hall was also the meeting place for members of the United
Textile Workers of America when they attempted to unionize Highland
Park #3 in 1923. When the mill fired eight long-time employees who
had become active in the union, the union called a strike.
According to a Charlotte Observer report written by W.J.
Cash on August 14, 1923, "The meeting was held in the Union Hall
over the Hand Drug Company in North Charlotte." The strike was not
The Hand Pharmacy Building is a handsome two-story brick
structure. Corbelled brick forms its front cornice facing Davidson
Street, and extends downward to flank the flat-arched second-story
widow openings. On the Thirty-fifth Street side of the building is
a cast-iron stairway, complete with a gate at the bottom, which
leads up to the meeting hall. Wooden double-doors at the
second-story level give access to the hall, and they are flanked by
windows which provided natural light to that space. The building,
with its dark-brown pressed brick still unpainted, appears to be in
good original condition despite the fact that it has been little
used for several years. The wooden frames of the main shop-front
windows have been replaced with aluminum ones, but the early
center-entry and transom arrangement has been retained. Upstairs
windows are covered with easily-removed corrugated fiberglass
CHARLOTTE FIRE DEPARTMENT ENGINE COMPANY #7 ,
3210 North Davidson Street
Fire Station #7 was opened about 1936 in an effort to extend
city services to the North Charlotte area, much of which had just
been annexed to the city in 1928. The station contained not only
space for a fire truck and quarters for its crew, but also a
two-cell jail. Officials may have decided that this unusual feature
was needed because of North Charlotte's distance from the main
police facility downtown, or because the textile workers in North
Charlotte had a reputation for rowdiness. The North Charlotte
Station appears to be a smaller version of Stations #5 and #6 built
on Tuckaseegee Road and Laurel Avenue in the late 1920s and
designed by leading Charlotte architect C.C. Hook. All feature boxy
two-story massing, parapet roofs, and brick exteriors which have
decorative trim only on the front facade. According to fire
department officials, the one-bay North Charlotte station has much
the same interior arrangement as the two-bay earlier facilities.
Colonial Revival style trim was used on Station #7. The front
parapet roof includes as pediment-like decoration and pilasters. A
bank of small-paned windows and a central door at the second-story
level open onto a front balcony. The balcony has an ornate iron
railing, and it is supported by heavy brick piers that flank the
truck door below. Inside, there is little decorative work except
for the slim brass fire pole that once allowed firefighters to
slide quickly from their upstairs quarters to the ground. A front
corner stair leads to the second floor. At the rear of the
building, the one-story wing that housed the holding cells may
still be seen, but inside it has been remodeled as a recreation
room for the firemen.
DR. THOMAS F. COSTNER HOUSE, c. 1905
3228 North Davidson Street
The Dr. Thomas Costner House is the oldest and most imposing
structure built as a private residence in North Charlotte, an area
of textile mills and dwellings developed beginning in 1903. It is a
two-story structure on a high foundation, a late example of the Queen Anne style of
Victorian architecture popular in the last years of the nineteenth
century. The frame structure features the complex massing
characteristic of the style, including side wings, a two-story
corner bay-window, and a one-story gable-roofed rear wing. The
main block of the house is covered by a hip roof with wide, flared
eaves supported by chunky brackets. The exterior walls are clad in
grooved "novelty" siding, The house has had a number of alterations
during its years as a boarding house. The original front porch and
many of the original windows are gone. But despite these changes,
much trim remains, including the original front door and sidelight
frames, exterior window surrounds, and even a dentilled belt course
between first and second floors. Thomas Costner was born in Lincoln
County, North Carolina, the son of business and agricultural leader
Ambrose Costner who served five terms as a North Carolina
legislator. Thomas Costner began practicing medicine in Mecklenburg
County around the turn of the century. On December 1, 1904 he and
his wife Dora G. Costner purchased an entire block in the heart of
the new North Charlotte area for $800.00 from developer C.W.
Johnston's Anchor Mills Corporation. Costner evidently built the
house soon after, but then changed his mind and moved into town to
a residence on South Tryon Street. On September 27, 1906, R.M. and
S.W. Turbeville purchased the block from the Costners for
$5,600.00, a price jump that indicates the presence of a house. Sam
W. and Robert M. Turbeville operated Turbeville Brothers Drygoods
in the bustling business district that was developing around the
house. In 1914 the block was broken up into several lots for
commercial development, and stores began to appear around the
house. The family sold the structure to John Crosland, a prominent
Charlotte developer, in 1927. At that time, if not before, the
Costner House began its long career as a boarding house, which
remains its use today. Owners after Crosland have included M.E.
Herrin (1927-19 ), M.K. Harrill (19 -1952), J.L. Rayner
(1952-1963), E.M. Clark (1963), C.H. Sears (1963-1969), Lillian
Sears Blocker (1969-1972), and Donald Powers (1972- ).
MECKLENBURG MILL, 1903-04
3401 North Davidson Street
The Mecklenburg Mills company purchased this site May 25, 1903.
The land was between the Southern Railway mainline and a small lake
(now drained). Major investors in the project were Charlotte
businessman Robert L. Tate and Durham financier B. Lawrence Duke.
Duke was the son of millionaire James B. Duke's half-brother Brodie
Duke, and was a heir to a portion of the Duke tobacco fortune. The
company fell upon hard times in the 1920s. It went bankrupt about
1925 and the plant closed for several months until a buyer could be
found. Mercury Mills operated it from 1925 until 1929, and the
plant today is still known to residents as The Mercury. Martel
Mills, Inc., a Delaware-based corporation purchased the plant in
August of 1929, and on the eve of World War II it passed into the
hands of Charlotte's Johnston family. It remained part of the
"Johnston Group" until it closed in the late 1960s. Today the
Mecklenburg Mill is among Charlotte's best-preserved textile
factories, despite the fact that it has long been vacant. Its
exterior is almost exactly identical to a photo of the plant
published in the Southern Textile Bulletin in 1919, and to a
fire insurance map of the complex drawn in 1911. The structure is
built in the tradition of late-nineteenth century New England
mills. The main block is two stories tall and built of brick with
abundant wooden windows. At the centers of the east and west
facades there are projecting brick stair towers with decorative
corbelled brickwork. The main facades are composed of eight bays on
either side of the stairtower. Each bay features large
segmental-arched window openings at the first and second floors.
Each window opening holds a pair of nine-over-nine pane double-hung
sash windows, plus a twelve-pane transom. Though vandals have
destroyed some windows, most are intact today, an unusual
occurrence since the advent of climate control in mills earlier in
this century has meant that windows in most factories are bricked
up. The main building is shown in 1911 as being divided into two
huge rooms on each floor, providing separate spaces for spinning,
carding, spooling and weaving. To the south of the main block is a
one-story building with identical windows. It was the cloth room.
To the north of the main block are a series of two-story wings with
small segmental-arched windows. These spaces included the mill's
powerplant, and the northern-most section has a tall, round brick
smokestack. Today only three of Mecklenburg County's twenty-one
pre-1920 textile mills survive in their original form. The 1889 Alpha Mill on Twelfth Street, the
circa 1904 Hoskins Mill on
Hoskins Road, and the Mecklenburg Mill all retain their windows and
overall exterior appearance. These mills are an important reminder
of that crucial period in the county's history when Mecklenburg was
among the top three textile-producing counties in North Carolina.
In large part, Charlotte's rise to prominence as the largest city
in North and South Carolina can be traced directly to this period
of textile prosperity. The buildings, with their handsome brickwork
and well-lit interior spaces, deserve to be preserved and given new
uses so that future generations may understand Charlotte's textile
JASPER K. HAND HOUSE, c. 1908
2900 Whiting Av.
Jasper K. Hand was a leading figure in the life of the North
Charlotte area during its years as a textile mill community. He was
evidently a relative of prosperous downtown Charlotte druggist W.L.
Hand, whose Hand Drug Company concocted the widely-distributed
patent medicine "Liv-O-Lax Tonic" during the 1920s. Jasper K. Hand
opened the first drug store in the newly-developed North Charlotte
community on the edge of the city about 1908. The Hand Pharmacy
occupied a handsome two-story brick building at North Davidson and
Thirty-fifth Streets. It was more than just a drug store, however.
The upper floor of Hand's building was the community's main meeting
hall, home to both fraternal organizations and incipient labor
unions. Jasper Hand and his wife Erwin took up residence in the new
community at the same time that they opened the pharmacy. Their
house is the largest in the suburban area developed adjacent to the
mill villages and commercial district by the North Charlotte Realty
company. It is a two-story weather-boarded structure with a
cross-shaped plan. Wide eaves are supported by brackets and exposed
purlins in the Bungalow style and the ends of the gables have wood
shingling with stick-like trim. The one-over-one pane double-hung
sash windows have wide plain surrounds. There is a one-story front
porch with brick columns and a gable roof whose decorative
treatment echoes that of the main gables. Today the
recently-constructed Matheson Avenue thoroughfare runs directly in
front of the house, making it one of the most visible structures in
the North Charlotte area to the general public of the city. The
house remains in the Hand family in 1985.