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INTRODUCTION

This essay is about the historic architecture and other elements of landscape that have shaped the small towns of Mecklenburg County.

Between the 1880s and the Great Depression, the small town emerged as a significant settlement form in the county and across the Carolina Piedmont. Pineville, Matthews, Huntersville, and Cornelius grew from sleepy stagecoach stops or crossroads hamlets, with names like Morrow's Turnout (Pineville) or Fullwood's Store (Matthews) into centers of local trade with bustling main streets and often clamorous industrial sites. The town of Davidson, too, expanded in these decades and was influenced by the same social and economic forces. Yet, for all its similarities with these neighboring places, Davidson has historically played a unique role in the county as a college town, and its physical appearance clearly reflects the impact of Davidson College. For this reason it will be discussed in its own terms in a separate chapter. By contrast, the other towns followed common patterns of development that engendered a distinctive small-town landscape in Mecklenburg County. They combined features of the farm as well as the city. Like Charlotte, which blossomed into the hub of the Piedmont textile belt and a prominent symbol of New South industrialism, these towns held urban ambitions of their own. Townspeople vigorously participated in the "Cotton Mill Campaign" to bring mills to their communities, invested in red-brick commercial blocks and schools, and erected fashionable residences and churches.

Their main streets invariably were oriented to railroad lines, which crisscrossed Mecklenburg County and sparked urban growth in the early l900s. In their housing patterns, towns reflected the the mounting racial and social segregation that was simultaneously changing the appearance of Charlotte and many other Southern cities.

While city-like, Mecklenburg's small towns had a kinship with the surrounding countryside. The countryside eased into town in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as farms and woodland rolled along behind town lots. Pineville, Matthews, Huntersville, and Cornelius were settled primarily by rural folk, and traditional farmhouse designs often occupied parcels broad enough for flourishing kitchen gardens, smokehouses, and other assorted outbuildings. Street patterns also reflected rural precedents. The main thoroughfares tended to follow traditional local transportation routes, made wide enough to accommodate turning teams of horses. Reflecting both urban and rural impulses, these small towns ultimately took shape as a distinctive kind of place.

This essay first briefly chronicles the rise of the four towns, and then discusses the principal landscape features have historically marked these places. It focuses on the most intact examples of the architectural designs and spatial relationships which epitomized the historic small-town landscape in Mecklenburg County.


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