CHARLOTTE'S NEIGHBORHOOD PLANNING TRADITION
by Dr. Thomas W. Hanchett
Three of the most important city planning firms in the United
States helped shape Charlotte. They were the Olmsted Brothers, John
Nolen, and Earle Draper. All worked in the city during the boom
years of the 1910s and 1920s. They gave the city new ideals in
urban design which are still followed today. In addition, Nolen and
Draper took lessons learned in Charlotte's neighborhoods and
applied them in hundreds of cities throughout the nation, giving
Charlotte's early planning efforts special importance.
When Charlotte's original hundred acre tract was laid off in
house lots in the 1770s the city fathers chose a gridiron street
pattern. 1 A surveyor, either hired by the village or
supplied by the colonial government, laid out the streets at right
angles to each other. Many cities of the era were not planned at
all, with streets growing up from trails and cowpaths running in
every direction. The grid was the most popular alternative because
it was orderly and easy to understand, and its straight lines meant
that it could be created quickly and broken up into lots
Many grid cities featured a central square or squares. These
could occupy a block between streets, as in Savannah, or they could
be at a central intersection with the open square carved out of the
corners of the four surrounding blocks. This is what Charlotte had
at Trade and Tryon Streets, with the courthouse sitting at the
center of the intersection in the earliest decades.
Charlotte's grid was unusual in one respect. Most surveyors
aligned their plats with the points of the compass so that streets
ran due east-west and due north-south. In Charlotte the layout
followed the existing Indian trails, and streets ran at almost a
forty-five degree angle to the compass points.
Charlotte's reliance on the grid continued throughout the
nineteenth century. When Edward Dilworth Latta created his Dilworth suburb in 1892 he had the
streets laid out in a grid roughly oriented to existing city
streets. The first avenues of the Belmont neighborhood were in a similarly
oriented grid as were those of suburban Elizabeth in 1897. Even when a piece of
property was of such a shape or orientation that new streets could
not be aligned with existing ones, developers insisted on straight
parallel avenues. This was the case in Western Heights off West
Trade Street in 1897 and in Piedmont Park straddling Central
Avenue, circa 1900.
The better suburbs of this era featured a wide boulevard for
grand homes and narrower side streets for the middle class.
Elizabeth Avenue was the boulevard for Elizabeth, Central Avenue
the boulevard for Piedmont Park. Dilworth's boulevard was
originally projected as a four-sided loop, including Morehead
Street, South Boulevard, East Boulevard, and a fourth street
partially graded but never completed.
In the 1910s Charlotte's New South leaders, as part of their
drive to make Charlotte a modern city, hired John Nolen, the
Olmsted Brothers, and Earle Sumner Draper who turned the city
forever from the grid pattern. The very idea of having a landscape
architect/city planner design streets was unusual. In progressive
Dilworth, Latta had hired Joseph Forsyth Johnston, a landscape
architect from New York City, to create Latta Park and evidently
also asked him for suggestions on the surrounding street pattern.
Most areas, though, were laid out methodically by surveyors or
civil engineers. 3
Nolen, the Olmsteds, and Draper were part of a generation with a
strong appreciation for nature. America's first National Parks were
established in the era and the conservation movement blossomed,
extending even to President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09). Landscape
architects sought to bring this consciousness to city planning.
No longer would streets be laid in a grid oblivious to hill and
valley, necessitating expensive cuts and fills. Now roadways would
follow the natural topography. Extensive use of trees and shrubbery
enhanced the image of the suburbs as romantic semi-rural parks,
separate from the crowded city. Streets were designed not to
continue existing circulation patterns but to be separate from
them. Access to a new suburb was limited to a small number of
The "suburban party idea was not new. One of the first,
Llewellyn Park, was begun outside New York City before the Civil
War, and Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., designed his famous
"Riverside" development near Chicago in 1868. 4 But it
was not until the first years of the twentieth century that the
idea came to be widely accepted. Roland Park in Baltimore,
Maryland, designed by the Olmsteds in the late 1890s and still an
elite neighborhood today, caught the attention of Charlotte's New
South leaders and led them to hire landscape architects.
5 Nolen and the Olmsteds brought the concept to
Charlotte in 1911-12.
Key to the planners' new concepts was the generation's belief
that the city should be split into its constituent elements, a very
radical idea. Housing should be separate from business which in
turn should be separate from industry. Black people and white
people, who had often lived together on the same block in Charlotte
and other southern cities throughout the nineteenth century, for
the first time began to be segregated into distinct neighborhoods.
In 1916 New York City adopted the country's first zoning ordinance,
based on a German model, which made separate land use zones part of
the law. 6 Charlotte did not pass an effective zoning
law until the 1950s, but it did informally adopt a system of
covenants written into deeds to regulate land use. Deeds in
Dilworth, Myers Park, and some other
New South neighborhoods specified that lots could only be owned by
whites and used for residences, and often also set minimum building
cost, setback lines, and so on.
John Nolen's first job in Charlotte was the design of Independence
Park in June of 1905. 7 Independence was the city's
first public park, and it was also Nolen's first public commission
after his graduation from Harvard University's School of Landscape
Architecture. Nolen went on to become one of the nation's top city
planners, designing more than 400 projects across the nation and
helping to found the first city planning professional organization.
Nolen was part of a movement in the decades around the turn of
the century that sought social reform in America's cities, a
movement that included such well-known figures as social worker
Jane Addams and muckraker Lincoln Steffens. Born in
lower-middle-class circumstances in Philadelphia in 1869, Nolen
graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's prestigious Wharton
School majoring in economics and public administration.
9 He spent ten years as executive secretary of the
American Society for the Extension of University Teaching, a
"people's university" which brought college-level night classes to
the urban working class.
By 1903, after visits to Europe's "Garden City" experiments, he
became convinced that the new profession of city planning was more
effective way for him to improve urban conditions. 10
The Garden City idea, begun in England in the 1890s, proposed
medium-sized new towns surrounded by greenbelts. The new
communities were to be carefully planned by professional designers
to include the best features of both city and country, and to be
self-sustaining with commercial and industrial areas as well as
residences. No university in the United States yet offered a city
planning degree, so Nolen enrolled in Harvard's School of Landscape
Architecture and graduated in 1905 at age thirty-six.
It is not known how Nolen came to be engaged by the Charlotte
Park and Tree Commission to design Independence Park. The job
proved quite fortuitous to Nolen's career. While he was in town a
young real estate developer named George Stephens commissioned him
to design the grounds of Stephens' own residence. 12
Evidently the result greatly impressed Stephens, and he became
Nolen's patron for a substantial number of projects all over North
Carolina. 13 In 1909 Nolen drew plans for Stephens'
Kanuga Lake resort colony Hendersonville, North Carolina, now a
religious retreat for the Episcopal Church. 14 In the
early teens, possibly as a result of Stephens' influence, he
planned Greensboro's country-club suburb of Irving Park in Guilford
County near where Stephens had been born. 15 Nolen did
the 1918 plan for the expansion of the campus of Stephens' alma
mater, UNC Chapel Hill. 16 In the 1920s he prepared a
city plan for Stephens' adoptive home town of Asheville, North
Carolina, a document that received national attention as one of the
first thorough small city plans in the Southeast. 17
Later projects included a new town development called Penderlea in
Pender County, North Carolina, for the U. S. Farm Service
Administration, and a western North Carolina regional plan
undertaken in connection with Stephens' advocacy of the proposed
Blue Ridge Parkway. 18
At the same time, John Nolen continued his activities in
Charlotte. Between 1905 and 1907 he designed grounds for private
residences of Stephens' partner F. C. Abbott, Chamber of Commerce
leader Wade Harris, E. R. Russell, P. M. Brown, A. J. Crowell, W.B.
Rodman. L.A. Dodsworth, R. A. Dunn, F.O. Hawley, and O. A. Robbins.
19 In April 1907 Nolen visited the city and gave a slide
lecture on "Parks and Playgrounds" illustrated with stereoptican
slides. 20 That June, the Park and Tree Commission hired
him once again, to provide designs for the area around the city
Post Office, known as Vance Square, and for the old cemetery behind
First Presbyterian Church, then known as Cemetery Square and now
called Settlers Cemetery. 21
In 1911 John Nolen returned to Charlotte at George Stephens'
behest, to work on his greatest project in the city, the suburb of
Myers Park. 22 Stephens spared little expense, and gave
Nolen free rein to plan a state-of-the-art "unified suburban
design." Myers Park gave the city curving tree-lined avenues, grand
boulevards with landscaped medians, and the beginnings of a system
of greenway parks along creek banks. The results will be discussed
in a later section of this report, but suffice it to say here that
Myers Park has proved to be Charlotte's most lastingly successful
suburb, and a model for similar developments across the South.
Nolen's final job in Charlotte was preparation of preliminary
studies for what would have been the city's first master plan. The
Charlotte Chamber of Commerce hired him in 1917 to gather and map
data on existing land use, population densities, racial patterns,
industrial location, transportation corridors, land values, water
and sewer lines, and parks. 23 The resulting Civic
Survey is an extremely comprehensive and meticulous picture of this
Southern city at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The Civic Survey was intended to lead to preparation of a full
scale plan. Such a plan was vital to Charlotte's orderly growth;
Charlotteans had given up the old grid city with its easy
understandability and it was necessary now that some other form or
organization be developed to tie together all the new suburbs. At
the end of the Civic Survey field supervisor Earle Draper sketched
an indication of what the plan might look like. He extended Nolen's
Independence Park and Edgehill Road Park into a city-wide network
of greenways along stream beds. Boulevards radiated from the center
of the city to carry commuters, and a belt road ringed the old
urban core to provide easy cross-town travel.
The Chamber never appropriated the money to allow Nolen to turn
his data into a master plan. Nolen watched sadly as potential
greenways were cut up into residential backyards, and as expanding
development made the possibility of new radial and belt roads more
and more expensive. He wrote Chamber official Clarence Quester in
1924, "I think Charlotte is slipping so far as city planning goes.
There are examples in the city of errors that are costly and more
or less irremediable. Other errors will follow without a city
Charlotte remained without a coherent development scheme
throughout its early twentieth century boom years. No comprehensive
plan was adopted until 1960. 25 Ironically, its
proposals were very similar to Nolen and Draper's in concept.
During the 1970s the city finally completed a belt road, dubbed
"Charlotte 4", and in the 1980s is struggling to buy up floodplain
John Nolen's work in Charlotte and North Carolina in the 1900s
through 1920s was only part of his growing national practice. From
his start in Independence Park, Nolen went on to be one of the
nation's busiest planners, with projects ranging from private
estates to some of America's first regional plans. By the time he
began Myers Park he had already had private commissions all over
the East Coast from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Havana, Cuba.
26 In the teens and twenties he became sought after by
municipalities. He delighted in drawing city plans to guide small
Charlotte-sized places with great growth potential. His designs for
such places as Wisconsin's capital city of Madison, and
California's capital of Sacramento and port of San Diego, among
many others, are important factors in the shape those cities retain
to this day.
In addition to his planning work, Nolen was a major leader in
the creation of a network of professional planning organizations.
In 1917, just as he was completing Charlotte's Civic Survey, he
helped found the American Institute of City Planners (later the
American Institute of Planners). 27 He also participated
in creation of the American Society of Planning Officials and the
National Housing Association, and was the first American president
of the International Federation of Housing and Town Planning.
28 The honors underscored the fact that Nolen was
considered a leader of his profession. When he died in 1937 the
New York Times praised him as an "internationally known
architect and pioneer in modern city and regional planning."
Along with the Olmsted Brothers and a handful of other early
twentieth century practitioners, John Nolen helped transform
American city planning. 30 Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr.,
had developed the principles of sensitive urban design in the
nineteenth century, but it was Nolen's generation that created
"city planning" as a full-fledged profession to carry out those
principles, with its own educational background and professional
organizations. John Nolen helped set up planning schools at major
universities including Harvard and M.I.T. and his six books, dozens
of articles, and thousands of speeches aided in "spreading the
gospel" of city planning. By the end of his life, cities no longer
saw planning as a rich man's luxury, but as an integral part of
municipal growth, and many large places had their own planning
departments. John Nolen's far-ranging impact as a city planning
pioneer makes his early Charlotte work of special interest to
students of urban development.
The Olmsted Brothers
George Stephens and developer Edward Dilworth Latta were fierce
business rivals. When Latta saw the publicity Stephens received for
hiring Nolen, he determined to secure a planning firm of similar
stature for the extension of Dilworth. 31 On a trip
north in February, 1911, Latta met with the developer of
Baltimore's Roland Park and asked him to speak with the Olmsted
Brothers about the possibility of working in Charlotte.
32 A few months later Latta proudly announced to the
Charlotte newspapers that he had hired the famous Olmsted firm to
lay out the new streets of Dilworth. 33
The Olmsteds are America's most well-known name in landscape
architecture and city planning. The brothers' father, Frederick Law
Olmsted, Sr., had practically invented both professions beginning
with his design for Central Park in New York City in the 1850s. He
went on to create park systems in almost every major U. S. city
from Boston to San Francisco. One of his last commissions was in
North Carolina, the immense grounds of George Vanderbilt's Biltmore
estate near Asheville. 34
The Olmsted brothers, John Charles and Frederick Law, Jr., took
over the firm in the decade before their father's death in 1903.
35 They had not only the famous name but they had their
father's talent. Their commissions included the White House
grounds, city park systems from Washington, DC, to Seattle, and
hundreds of smaller projects including the west campus plan of Duke
University in Durham, North Carolina. 36 Because the
Olmsteds were already an established firm, the Dilworth design
probably had less impact on their later work than Nolen's Charlotte
projects had on his subsequent output, though the basic idea of the
Dilworth street layout does appear to be repeated in the Olmsteds'
design of Forest Hills Gardens done at about the same time in
Queens, New York. 37
Extensive letters and drawings concerning the Dilworth plan
still exist in the Olmsted collections at the Library of Congress
in Washington, DC, and at the Olmsted National Historic Site in
Brookline, Massachusetts. They give a good picture of the process
of suburban planning in this era.
First the Olmsted firm directed Latta to hire local engineers to
make a topographic survey of the land to be developed. Charlotte
civil engineers Blair and Drane produced a large map meticulously
showing not only hills, valleys, existing streets, pathways and
buildings, but even the location of every tree coded with its
species and size. Latta's son, E. D. Latta, Jr., then traveled to
the firm's Boston office. There he met with Frederick Law Olmsted,
Jr., and Perceival Gallagher, one of the firm's top designers and
later a partner.
The Lattas were at first wary that the Olmsted Brothers might be
only interested in designing for the very wealthy. Olmsted assured
them, however, that the firm was happy to work with "what the local
real estate market demands . . . that there might be a variety of
priced lots for instance, and that only a portion of the area would
be actually developed at first. It is essential, however," Olmsted
went on, "that the entire tract be considered in a general way,
that the lines of essential thoroughfares joining the street system
of the city be decided upon, and some general principles of
development be decided." 38
Over the next six months Perceival Gallagher and the staff drew
up their proposals with periodic suggestions from Olmsted.
Gallagher visited Charlotte at least three times, accompanied by
Olmsted on the second visit. 39 By early 1912 the
overall street plan was complete. 40 The firm in
addition drew suggested landscaping for a typical block,
cross-sections through typical streets specifying sidewalks, tree,
and utility location. They also drew a design for a "Garden Courts"
townhouse development, never built, on the north side of Morehead
All of these services were included in the firm's charge of five
dollars per acre. This was a fairly low fee according to fellow
planner Earle Draper, probably because the Olmsteds were not asked
to provide any of the engineering work to implement their vision.
41 The total cost of the Dilworth plan was $2,000.
Over half of the design was carried out just as the Olmsted
Brothers specified. Dilworth Road and all the streets south of
Latta Park, including Dilworth Road East and West, Charlotte Drive,
and Ideal Way, were evidently constructed first and followed the
Olmsted plan. By the time Berkeley, Lexington and other streets
north of the park were developed, however, the Olmsted plan had
Though the Olmsted street pattern was followed in only part of
the enlargement of Dilworth, their concepts carry through the
entire area. Winding avenues follow the natural topography, not the
grid of the adjoining older area, and they are lined with trees to
create a park-like setting. Dilworth is important to Charlotte not
only because a nationally famous design firm created a beautiful
neighborhood for residents to enjoy, but also because the Olmsteds'
work helped set the standard for suburban development all over the
city. To the present day most developers strive for curving streets
and tree shaded lots, the radical new ideas brought to Charlotte by
the Olmsteds, Nolen and their New South backers.
Earle Sumner Draper
Earle Draper arrived in Charlotte in October, 1915, as field
supervisor for John Nolen's Myers Park. 43 He had
graduated that spring from the landscape architecture program at
what is now the University of Massachusetts with a passion for what
he called "Civic Art" -- city planning. 44 He won a
position in Nolen's office upon graduation and after only a few
weeks of internship under chief designer Philip Foster, Nolen
offered him the chance to move south.
Draper's first tasks in Charlotte included creating landscape
designs for lot buyers in Myers Park and spending one week per
month supervising the construction of the industrial center of
Kingsport, Tennessee, a Nolen-designed new town. 45 In
1917 with Nolen's blessing he established his own firm, by some
accounts the first professionally trained resident landscape
architect to establish practice in the southeastern United States.
Between 1917 and 1933 Draper's firm was extremely busy,
becoming, he remembers, one of the five largest in the U. S.
47 Work continued in Charlotte on private estates and
revisions to the general design of Myers Park. At least a third of
the street layout in Myers Park is Draper 's. In addition Draper
laid out other new developments around the city, including one for
developer Lex Marsh on Old Pineville Road, and a design for the
Rosemont section of Elizabeth that was apparently not executed.
48 Draper's most notable Charlotte suburb was Eastover, the 1920s' most prestigious
Through his schooling and his work with Nolen, Draper shared the
new ideals of suburban development. "I was of the old school, the
Olmsted school," he recalled in 1982, "that the best and finest use
of the land is the most important thing and that all developments
have to be keyed to the land itself. . .I tried to analyze. . .what
the future would be 40 or 50 years away, the growth pattern and so
forth, so as to make sure that they fitted into the environment
that was developing. . .That wasn't done in a lot of places."
50 Like many of his contemporaries, Draper sought to
"limit access to heavily traveled highways as much as possible" in
his developments, and he believed in the "idea of adjusting to the
topography, and very little of that had been done in town planning
up to that time." 51
Despite their similarity of intent, it is possible to
distinguish Draper's work from Nolen's in Myers Park. Nolen favored
tightly winding streets to heighten visual interest, while Draper
used grander curves. "I didn't feel that you wanted to introduce a
curve. . .just for the sake of putting a curve in," he says, "you
had to have some reason to. The topography or direction or
relationship. . .to other areas." 52 In Myers Park the
winding curves of Queens Road in the northern, older section of the
neighborhood are Nolen's, while the sweeping radius of Queens Road
West at the south end of the neighborhood is Draper's, laid out in
1927-30. 53 Cherokee and Colville roads, the main
streets of Draper's Eastover, have similar majestic curves.
From 1917 to 1933 Earle Draper's work extended all over the
South. In the early twenties the firm had twenty to thirty
employees in Charlotte, with branch offices in Atlanta, Washington,
DC, and New York City. 54 Draper planned over a hundred
suburbs from Alabama to Virginia, as developers from all over the
region visited Myers Park and determined to create something like
it at home. 55 Among his projects in North Carolina were
Raleigh's Hayes-Barton neighborhood, Durham's Forest Hills,
Highpoint's Emorywood, and the resort development at Lake Lure.
56 Many of Draper's elite neighborhoods included golf
courses, and he claims to have introduced to the South the notion
of weaving country-club golf fairways among suburban streets with
his design of Farmington outside Charlottesville, Virginia.
57 In addition, he did dozens of parks, cemeteries,
private estates and college campuses including parts of Winthrop
and Davidson colleges near Charlotte. 58
At least as important as Earle Draper's contribution to suburban
planning in the Southeast were his activities in mill village
design. The decade following the outbreak of the First World War
was a boom period for the textile industry and tax laws encouraged
companies to channel some profits into worker housing.
Mill villages had always been part of textile production in the
region because of the number of rural workers the plants drew.
Early villages consisted of straight streets lined with crude
houses. Draper helped change this. 59 He worked hard to
convince owners that modern conveniences, including electricity and
plumbing, were essential. He pushed for sidewalks in the villages,
pointing out that they would keep workers from tracking dirt into
the plants. 60
Above all, Draper insisted on the importance of planning.
Beginning with his design for Spindale, North Carolina, for
Charlotte's Kenneth Tanner in 1917, Draper brought many of the
era's suburban concepts to mill village design. 61
Draper's villages were conceived as complete communities, with
curving tree-lined streets, plentiful parks, churches, and often a
community center. He did nearly one hundred and fifty village and
village extension designs, including the Arkay mills in Gastonia,
the Erlanger mills near Salisbury, the Pacolett mills based in
Spartanburg and the Kendall mills based in Camden. 62
Probably his finest and most comprehensive design was the new mill
town of Chicopee, Georgia. When Harvard's Arthur Comey toured U. S.
new town experiments for a government report in 1939, he praised
Draper's work and wrote that "Chicopee is the best. . .of the mill
villages visited in the South." 63 Even before the Comey
report, Draper was recognized as a leader in industrial new-town
design. In 1933 his reputation resulted in his being named head of
planning for the new Tennessee Valley Authority. 64
Draper was excited by the prospect of directing what was to be the
country's largest planning effort. He remembers, "I thought it over
and just said okay, that's the most interesting planning project
ever to come up in the history of the United States . . .I was the
first or second man on at TVA." 65 He put his private
practice in the hands of assistant Harold Burdsley and left
Charlotte for good.
At TVA Earle Draper directed land-use planning, pushed for
development of recreational areas along the new hydroelectric
lakes, and supervised the creation of the new town of Norris,
Tennessee. He brought with him ideas he had begun to develop in
private practice in Charlotte. A cornerstone of Draper's planning
philosophy was the need for land-use controls, something he had had
long experience with dating back to Myers Park's restrictive deed
covenants. "Prior to TVA all federal dams. . .acquired land. . .
only to mean high water. . .," he later wrote.
From my experience in the South from 1915 on I realized the
importance of controlled land use. I was aided by the men in my
division -- we got the board to accept takings of one-half to one
mile of land above reservoir water level, which was the beginning
of TVA's famous shoreline recreation development. Without that,
much of TVA's beneficial by product activity would have been lost."
By 1940 much of the TVA planning work was done and Draper
accepted a high level post with the recently established Federal
Housing Administration. He was hired to broaden the FHA from its
established role as a mortgage insurer into a backer of new town
development. World War Two, however, forced abandonment of this
goal and Draper took responsibility for war housing all over the
United States. In 1945 President Truman designated him Acting
Commissioner of the FHA, the agency's highest post.
As part of his government work, Draper was occasionally "loaned
out" as a consultant on specific planning projects. One such was
the Baltimore-Washington-Annapolis regional plan in 1937.
68 Under Draper's direction, the plan proposed a system
of beltway freeways around Baltimore and Washington, recalling the
parkway loop he had first sketched around Charlotte back in 1917.
According to Draper, today's interstate highway system in that area
largely follows the 1937 proposal. 69
At the close of the war Draper resigned from the FHA and became
a full-time consultant. He did little physical planning in this
fourth phase of his career, instead helping builders and developers
guide projects through the Federal bureaucracy. 70 In
1965 he retired after fifty years in the profession and now lives
in Vero Beach, Florida. 71
Other Landscape Architects
Nolen, Draper and the Olmsteds were not the only landscape
architects active in Charlotte in the early years of the twentieth
century. Leigh Colyer, who set up practice here in the late 1890s,
was probably the first Charlottean to call himself a landscape
architect, and may have been one of the earliest practitioners in
the South. Colyer was born and schooled in England, then moved to
the United States with his parents, residing briefly in Asheville
and Statesville, North Carolina, before coming to Charlotte. City
directories listed him as "landscape architect", indicating this
interest was not a sideline of another profession, from the turn of
the century until shortly before his death in 1953. 72
His son, Leigh Colyer, Jr., still lives in Charlotte and
remembers that his father designed the street pattern for Chatham
Estates, the subdivision that is the heart of today's Plaza-Midwood neighborhood. 73
Colyer created not only The Plaza and parallel streets but also
landscaped the grounds of the Van Landingham estate, the
grandest early home. 74 Colyer also planned much of
Charlotte's Elmwood Cemetery, created the circular rose garden in
Independence Park, and landscaped homes for the prominent Efird
family. 75 Commissions elsewhere in North Carolina
included the grounds of the N. C. State Sanatorium, estates for the
Lineberger family at Belmont, mill villages in Lincolnton, and the
Belvedere suburb of Shelby. 76 Additional research will
undoubtedly turn up more major commissions from the long career of
Leigh Colyer, one of North Carolina's pioneers in the landscape
A few less active landscape architects practiced in Charlotte in
the first half of the century and may have taken occasional
neighborhood planning assignments. Early national membership
rosters of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the
field's main professional organization, list Clarence Leemon and
Harold Bursley as members in Charlotte. 77 Both were top
designers in Earle Draper's office and later worked on their own.
Bursley took over the Draper firm in 1933 and headed it until his
death a few years later. 78 He is probably best known
for his collaboration with fellow planner Hale J. Walker on the
design of Greenbelt, Maryland, one of a handful of Garden City new
towns created by the United States Farm Security Administration
during the Depression. 79
A 1937 membership list also includes a Mrs. S. Porter Graves,
Jr., 100 Ardsley Road, Charlotte, but nothing is known of her work.
80 Charlotte did have at least one active woman
landscape architect in the period, though. Helen Hodge began in
Draper's office and is remembered by Charlotteans today for her
design of the Arhelger Memorial in Independence Park.
The Civil Engineers
While landscape architects Nolen, the Olmsteds and Draper set the
trend of Charlotte planning in the twentieth century, many
developments were still planned by civil engineers. One of the most
active firms, beginning in the 18th century and continuing into the
present, was run by the Spratt family, descendants of Charlotte's
first settler. Their competitor in the late 19th and early 20th
century was the firm of Blair and Drane. Earle Draper remembers
Brent Drane occasionally laying out small subdivisions, and it is
likely that the Spratts did as well. 82
Perhaps the most prolific subdivision designer among Charlotte's
civil engineers was Alse V. Blankenship. A graduate of the
engineering program at what is now Auburn University near
Montgomery, Alabama, he set up his own business in 1935 after an
internship with Charlotte engineer Wilbur Smith. From the late
1930s until the 1960s he headed Charlotte's largest engineering
firm, with over a hundred employees regularly on the payroll.
Blankenship's first job was for E. C. Griffith, the Charlotte
developer who took over Myers Park from the Stephens Company.
84 In Myers Park Blankenship laid out Kings Drive,
Maryland, Sterling, Portland, Hampton, Chilton, and part of Queens
Road East. 85 He also designed the street systems of
Charlotte's Lansdowne, Myers Park Manor, Tryon Hills, Mountainbrook
and Cotswold neighborhoods. 86 He created all
subdivisions in the county owned by C. D. Spangler and George
Goodyear and did work for the region's two largest post-WWII
developers, John Crosland and Charles Erwin, including what is
believed to be Erwin's earliest project, Smallwood Homes.
Blankenship's widow remembers him personally designing the
street layouts for his projects, rather than relying on a landscape
architect. Because he began practice in the mid-thirties, he never
met Nolen, the Olmsteds or Draper in Charlotte. But the curving
streets of his designs testify to the impact of those men both on
professionals like Blankenship and especially on the Charlotte
CHARLOTTE'S NEIGHBORHOOD PLANNING TRADITION
1 Bailey T. Groome, Mecklenburg in the Revolution,
1740-1783 (Charlotte: Sons of the American Revolution, 1931),
2 Ibid., p. 16. Beasley and Emerson's Charlotte
Directory for 1875-76. . . (Charlotte?: Beasley and Emerson,
publishers, Observer Job Office, printer, 1876?), p. 132.
3 Dan L. Morrill and Ruth Little-Stokes,
Architectural Analysis: Dilworth: Charlotte's Initial Streetcar
Suburb (Charlotte: Dilworth Community Association, 1978), section
2, pp. 7-8.
4 Robert A. M. Stern, ed., The Anglo American
Suburb, in the Architectural Design Profile series
(London: Architectural Design, 1981), pp. 10, 21, 24.
5 Local papers compared Charlotte's Myers Park to
Roland Park, and Charlottean E. D. Latta visited Roland Park and
met with its developer before deciding to hire the Olmsted
Brothers. For more on the suburb see Stern, p. 39.
6 Mel Scott, American City Planning Since 1890
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), pp. 152-161.
7Dan L. Morrill, "Independence Park: Survey and Research
Report" (Charlotte: Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Properties
8 John L. Hancock, John Nolen: a Bibliographical
Record of Achievement (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University,
Program in Urban and Regional Studies, 1976), pp. 13-17. See also
Scott, p. 738.
9 Hancock, John Nolen: a Bibliographical
Record. . ., pp. 15-16. John L. Hancock, "John Nolen and the
American City Planning Movement: A History of Cultural Change and
Community Response, 1900-1940" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of
Pennsylvania, 1964), pp. 1-20.
10. Hancock, John Nolen: a Bibliographical
Record. . ., p. 16. Hancock, "John Nolen and the American City
Planning Movement. . .", pp. 21-37.
11 Hancock, John Nolen: a Bibliographical
Record..., p. 16.
12 "Draft of Preliminary Finding Guide: Papers of
John Nolen, Sr., 1869-1937," collection 2903, Cornell University
Department of Manuscripts and Archives, Ithaca, New York. The
"Finding Guide" includes a copy of Nolen's "job book" listing all
his projects chronologically.
13 Hancock, "John Nolen and the American City
Planning Movement. . .," p. 42.
14Charlotte Observer, December 15, 1943.
15 Stephens' connection with the Greensboro project
needs to be explored. Plans for the street layout and gates are in
the Nolen collection at Cornell. It has not been possible to
determine exactly when Nolen created the streetplan. A draft essay
by Ray Manieri of Greensboro, "From City Beautiful to City Useful:
the Development of Civic Improvement Activities in Greensboro,
North Carolina, 1900-1923," April, 1982, places the design in 1911,
based on an undated promotional booklet. One large scale street
plan in the Nolen papers is undated, but the rest of the documents
were produced in 1915 and 1916.
16 Hancock, John Nolen: a Bibliographical
Record. . ., p. 20.
17 Ibid., pp. 26, 30, 64.
18 Ibid., pp. 14, 66.
19 "Draft of Preliminary Finding Guide. . .," job
20 Charlotte Daily Observer, April 20,
21 "Draft of Preliminary Finding Guide. . .," job
list. According to Kathleen Jacklin at the Cornell archives,
Nolen's office discarded all material from these earliest
23 John Nolen, "Civic Survey, Charlotte, North
Carolina: Report to the Chamber of Commerce" (Cambridge,
Massachusetts: typescript, 1917). The only known surviving copy of
this document is in John Nolen's papers at Cornell.
24 John Nolen, letter to Clarence Kuester, March,
1924, in Nolen collection at Cornell.
25 Charlotte Mecklenburg Planning Commission, "The
Charlotte Mecklenburg Comprehensive Plan (draft)" (Charlotte:
Charlotte Mecklenburg Planning Commission, 1973), p. 4.
26 "Draft of Preliminary Finding Guide. . ," job
27 Scott, p. 164.
28 Hancock, John Nolen: a Bibliographical
Record. . ., p. 16.
29 New York Times, February 19, 1937.
30 Hancock, John Nolen: a Bibliographical
Record. . ., pp. 13, 15-17.
31 Earle Sumner Draper, .. interview with Thomas W.
Hanchett, Vero Beach, Florida, August 1982.
32 E. H. Bouton, letter to F. L. Olmsted, Jr.,
February 13, 1911. Letter at the Library of Congress in the
"Olmsted Associates, Inc." collection, container B287, job file
33 Charlotte Evening Chronicle, July 1, 1911.
It was the accidental discovery of this article by Dr. Dan L.
Morrill that led to the recent rediscovery of the Olmsteds' role in
the creation of Dilworth.
34 Laura Wood Roper, F. L. O.: a Biography of
Frederick Law Olmsted (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University,
1973), pp. 414-419, 540.
35 Ibid., pp. 468-474.
36 Architecture and Design 3:8 (August 1939).
Entire issue is devoted to the Olmsted Brothers' work.
37 Stern, pp. 32-34.
38 F. L. Olmsted, Jr., to E. D. Latta, April 24,
1911. Library of Congress collection.
39 Memo on conference with E. D. Latta, Jr., F. L.
Olmsted, Jr., and P. Gallagher at Brookline, June 20, 1911. Library
of Congress collection. Charlotte Evening Chronicle,
February 1, 1912, reported that one of the Olmsted Brothers would
be arriving in two or three days.
40 Olmsted Brothers, "Dilworth: Preliminary Plan for
Subdivision," January, 1912, job 5109 plan 7, in the collection of
the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, Brookline,
41 Draper, interview with Hanchett, August 1982.
42 "Memorandum Statement" from the Olmsted office to
E. D. Latta, Jr., December 31, (1913?). Library of Congress
43 Earle Sumner Draper, interview with Earle Sumner
Draper, Jr., on behalf of the Myers Park Homeowners Association,
Vero Beach, Florida, June 1971. Transcript in the archives of the
University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, North
44 Earle Sumner Draper, letter to John Nolen, 1915,
in the Nolen collection at Cornell, box 73.
45 Draper, interview with Hanchett, August 1982.
46 Ibid. and Kay Haire Huggins, "Town Planning in the
New South: the Work of Earle Sumner Draper, 1915-1933."
(unpublished paper presented to the Citadel conference on the New
South, Charleston, South Carolina, 1978), p. 1.
47 Draper, interview with Hanchett, August 1982.
49 Draper, interview with Draper, Jr., June 1971.
50 Draper, interview with Hanchett, August 1982.
53 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office, map
book 3, page 317.
54 Draper, interview with Hanchett, August 1982.
56 Ibid. and Who's Who in America 16 (Chicago:
A. N. Marquis Co., 1930-31), p. 712.
57 Draper, interview with Hanchett, August 1982.
58 Ibid. Draper, interview with Draper, Jr., June
1971. Huggins, "Town Planning in the New South. . .", passim.
59 Brent Glass, "Southern Mill Hills: Design in a
Public Place," in Doug Swaim, ea., Carolina Dwelling: Towards
Preservation of Place. . . (Raleigh: North Carolina State
University, 1978), p. 124. Kay Haire Huggins, "Town Planning in
North Carolina, 1704-1920," North Carolina Architect 20
(November/December 1973), p. 19.
60 Draper, interview with Hanchett, August 1982.
62 Ibid. For other examples of Draper's mill village
planning see Huggins, "Town Planning in the New South. . .".
63 Arthur C. Comey and Max S. Wehrly, "Planning
Communities," in Urban Planning and Land Policies: Volume Two of
the Supplementary Report of the Urbanism Committee to the National
Resources Committee (Washington, DC: U.S.G.P.O., 1939), p.
64 Earle Sumner Draper, interview with Charles W.
Crawford, Director of the Oral History Research Office at Memphis
State University, Vero Beach, Florida, December 1969.
65 Draper, interview with Hanchett, August 1982.
66 Earle Sumner Draper letter to R. Walter Creese,
July 19, 1969. In the Earle Sumner Draper papers, collection 2745,
Cornell University Department of Manuscripts and Archives, Ithaca,
67 Harry S. Truman, letter to Earle Sumner Draper,
June 29, 1945. Carbon copy in the Draper papers at Cornell.
68 Draper, interview with Hanchett, August 1982.
70 Ibid. Huggins, "Town Planning in the New South..
.,", p. 2.
71 Draper, interview with Hanchett, August 1982.
72 Charlotte Observer, August 14, 1953, p.
73 Leigh Colyer, Jr., telephone interview with Thomas
W. Hanchett, August 1982.
74 Ibid. Dan L. Morrill, Jack O. Boyte, and Thomas W.
Hanchett, "The Van Landingham Estate: National Register of Historic
Places Nomination Form," 1982. On file at the Division of Archives
and History, Raleigh, North Carolina.
75 Colyer, Jr., interview with Hanchett, August
76 Ibid. Tim and Genevieve Keller, conducting an
architectural inventory of Shelby, North Carolina, for the Division
of Archives and History, have found a handsomely drawn plan of
Belvedere signed by Colyer in the Washington County Register of
77 American Society of Landscape Architects, yearly
membership lists. In the collection of the Harvard University
78 Draper, interview with Hanchett, August 1982.
79 Comey and Wehrly, p. 75.
80 American Society of Landscape Architects,
membership list for 1937.
81 Dan L. Morrill, "Independence Park: Survey and Research
Report" (Charlotte: Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Properties
82 Earle Sumner Draper, interview with Earle Sumner
Draper, Jr., based on questions written by Thomas W. Hanchett, Vero
Beach, Florida, March 1982.
83 Mrs. A. V. Blankenship, interview with Thomas W.
Hanchett, Charlotte, North Carolina, June 1982.
85 Ibid. Plat maps filed for Myers Park from 1935
onward at the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office list
Blankenship as the project's Civil Engineer.
86 Mrs. Blankenship, interview with Hanchett, June