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Uptowns & Residences


The county's small towns were more than places of business; they were homes to the people who made livings there. In each town Main Street was bounded by the houses of leading businessmen and professionals, large farmers who had moved to town, skilled tradesmen, and smaller shopkeepers and clerks. They comprised an emerging "uptown" social class in the Piedmont which, particularly in larger cities, was culturally and geographically distinct from the white working class (typically mill people) and blacks. 20 Its membership aspired to the fashionable neighborhoods, belonged to the principal churches, and attended schools beyond the bounds of the mill. In the small towns of Mecklenburg County, however, such class distinctions were often blurred. Wealthier townspeople and mill workers alike worshipped in the same churches and enrolled their children in the public schools. On occasion they even owned homes on the same blocks. Nevertheless, a recognizable uptown landscape existed. It consisted of streets oriented to Main Street and the railroad tracks, and geographically set apart from areas where the great majority of blacks and mill people lived.

Here on oak-shaded lawns (instead of swept dirt yards), which might measure an entire acre, uptown families dwelled in the town's most stylish houses. Nearby stood the major churches, private academies, and, eventually, the public school.


Uptown houses blended the traditional with the up-to-date. They reflected the conservative tastes of townspeople who still thought as rural folk, accepting new ideas and institutions slowly; but also they embodied a growing attraction for urban and national cultural trends. Thus the range of domestic architecture included folk house types with enduring symbolic appeal, as well as stylishly novel architectural shapes and decoration that represented a major break from the simpler forms of the past. Just as the railroads facilitated commercial exchange, they also brought the latest fashions and building technologies from large cities to the small towns.

By the 1880s virtually all of the dwellings in the towns were erected with mass-produced sawn lumber and nails shipped into the towns by rail. The ready access to standardized building materials encouraged carpenters to abandon the traditional pegged-timber frame construction in favor of balloon framing, employing lighter studs nailed together. This innovative framing technique made all forms of houses radically faster and easier to construct, and neatly coincided with the rising popularity of more exuberant architectural shapes. Houses both large and small were now routinely finished with factory-made doors and windows, stairways, flooring, and tongue-and-groove walls and ceilings. These products as well as assorted mantelpieces, fancy brackets, porch posts, and balusters were made at highly mechanized woodworking shops known as sash and blind factories. By 1900 Charlotte, for example, contained three such plants, each of them linked to the small towns by rail. In this atmosphere of building innovation and mechanization--tempered by conservative tastes--an assortment of architectural styles shaped the uptown landscape. 21

The major surviving house designs in the small towns reflect the influences of three architectural styles: Queen Anne; Colonial Revival; and bungalow. Each enjoyed a wide national following, and many local examples were versions of stock house plans that were constructed across the country. But other new houses did not conform to the architectural mainstream, expressing instead the persistence of traditional forms and layouts that were adapted to the popular styles of the day.

Around the turn of the century the Queen Anne style was claimed enthusiastically by uptown society. The style was the culmination of picturesque architectural tendencies that had been stirring in Mecklenburg County since the 1870s. Contrasting sharply with simple square or rectangular folk house types, Queen Anne dwellings displayed consciously irregular forms, with jutting wings and bays topped by interlocking hip and gable roofs. These shapes were dressed up in a variety of decorative wood shingling, spindles, and big porches trimmed with lacy sawn brackets that often curved around the facades. The amount of elaboration was determined by the tastes and means of the client.

Today, the influence of the Queen Anne style is most apparent on the prime residential streets of uptown Cornelius and Matthews. As Cornelius expanded around the Gem and Cornelius Mills in the early twentieth century, the Queen Anne style permeated the uptown building boom. R. J. Stough, president of the Cornelius Cotton Mill, chose this style for his residence on Main Street. Moved in recent years to a secondary artery, the two-story frame house has a high hip roof penetrated by cross gables, and a wide, full verandah that has classical columns and conforms to the irregular contours of the the facade. This imposing residence, however, was an exception to the far more numerous one-story Queen Anne cottages that proliferated along major residential streets. 22

Queen Anne cottages "built in a tasty style" signified modernity. To professional observers of the state's architectural scene, this lively domestic design stood in contrast to "the old fashioned country house or the ancient residence in town [with] huge outside chimneys . . . and the solemn goods-box shape. Now we build cottages which are convenient and much more economical of space and they look 100 percent more beautiful and generally cost no more money. 23 In Cornelius, Perry Goodrum, manager of the Cornelius Cotton Mill, occupied such a dwelling on Catawba Avenue in 1906. The design is characteristic of the county's Queen Anne cottages--high hip roof, projecting cross gables, full porch with turned posts and decorative sawn brackets. Goodrum's neighbors followed suit. Just west of this house, merchant William Puckett erected a similar frame cottage, distinguished by patterned wood shingles in the gables. Along Main Street, north of the Cornelius Cotton Mill, other versions appeared, conveying good taste and middle-class status in turn-of-the-century Cornelius. Hamilton White, a supervisor at the Cornelius Cotton Mill, selected a gentle rise of land overlooking Main Street to build his stylish cottage. Across the street, farmer Egbert Brown favored a roomier model, with a dormer that pierced the high hip roof and opened up the second story for bedrooms. 24

While uptowners built comparable Queen Anne dwellings countywide, it was in Matthews that a hallmark of this style appeared. In 1890 Edward Soloman Reid acquired a lot adjacent to the business district and built what is Mecklenburg's finest surviving Queen Anne cottage. Family tradition holds that Reid employed a local carpenter to execute the design, fashioned from heart-pine lumber transported to Matthews on the railroad. Reid was a partner in Matthew's largest mercantile enterprise, Heath and Reid, and his new home--like his brick store on Trade Street--hailed his prominent status in town. In 1892 Reid moved to Charlotte, and the residence was subsequently occupied for over fifty years by Dr. Thomas Neely Reid, a country doctor, and his wife, Ellen E. Reid. 25

Reid House

The complex form of the Reid house is accentuated by a corner tower sheathed with scalloped shingles, and a projecting front porch. Exuberant in detail, the porch is trimmed with brackets with a pinwheel design, turned pendents, and a fluted balustrade. The main door opens into a central hallway flanked by a parlor and sitting room, with a dining room and bedroom to the rear. Farther back is room upon room of additions, including kitchen and sun room. On the interior, the Queen Anne is revealed primarily through paneled mantelpieces, which in the tower room has lozenge-shaped raised panels and a scalloped-edge frieze.

Despite the attraction of such up-to-date, picturesque designs, traditional shapes and plans continued to hold strong appeal. Though the possibilities for embellishment were endless, carpenters typically updated these conservative forms with turned or chamfered porch posts, some sawn trim, and, occasionally, decorative roof gables. The result was usually less an inspiration of the Queen Anne style than it was the expression of a few popular motifs that builders and clients accepted as tasteful. Uptown residents selected one customary form in particular, the two-story house, one-room deep. This rectangular, symmetrical folk house usually had a gable roof, brick end chimneys, and a center hallway. A porch extended across the facade and a kitchen wing was at the rear. Symbolizing wealth in rural North Carolina since the antebellum period, this house continued to represent high social status in Mecklenburg's small towns into the early l900s. 26

Examples of the form are most abundant in Huntersville. By the early l900s a collection of two-story, one-room deep residences had gathered along Academy Street (later Gilead Road). Postmaster J. F. Steele selected this basic house type, as did farmer R. E. Henderson, who ornamented the facade of his new residence with a peaked central gable. A particularly fine version is the white-painted, frame dwelling that was built, it is said, as the Huntersville Academy's dormitory. By the 1890s it was converted to the home of Professor Hugh Grey, a member of the faculty and later the superintendent of Mecklenburg's schools. The house was subsequently occupied by J. B. Shearer, president of Davidson College, and, in 1905, by prosperous local farmer J. L. Knox. The residence befitted the stature of these early owners. Handsome slate shingles cover its roofs, and the front porch has turned balusters and stylishly milled brackets. The dignified main entrance is surrounded by paneled and heavily molded sidelights and transom. 27

Other models in Huntersville appeared along uptown streets facing the railroad tracks or in close range of Main Street businesses. Even the owners of Anchor Mills constructed one as a rooming house for employees. Of special note are two examples that feature double front porches. Directly west of Main Street, sisters Jesse and Nell Query, both schoolteachers, lived for many years in a nicely finished, two-story frame house with a two-tier shed porch. As was a popular trend in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the porch does not extend across the entire facade, but covers only the front door and windows. The dwelling's turned porch posts and combination of wide weatherboards with narrow tongue-and-groove sheathing--all factory-made--expressed in simple terms the fashion of the period. 28

At the south end of town, facing the railroad tracks, farmer Charles Alexander and wife, Laura, also chose a stylish double porch for their traditional two-story house. In evidence is the Alexanders' taste for jigsawed trimming and unusual balusters with asterisk patterns that disguise the strict symmetry of the overall form. The attractive main entrance has sidelights and a full transom around a glass-paneled front door. As was standard practice at the time, the Alexanders had the interior ceiled with tongue-and-groove matchboarding. For each of the main rooms they opted for slightly different mantelpiece designs, embellished with variations of raised jigsawed paneling. The kitchen, dining room, and additional bedrooms were arranged in two flanking rear ells.

The Charles & Laura Alexander House

The appeal of Queen Anne cottages and updated folk houses in the small towns overlapped with the popularity of the Colonial Revival. Variations of the style were carried across the country in a flood of house-plan books, and on the local scene, Charlotte architect Charles Christian Hook promoted the virtues of "colonial" domestic designs. Writing in the Charlotte Observer between November 1903 and January 1904, he praised the Colonial Revival's ''symmetry, restfulness, and good proportions" that represented a clear-cut improvement over preceding picturesque styles recklessly shaped by the "jig-saw artist." Though Hook did not explicitly condemn the Queen Anne, he asserted that "colonial architecture" was "the most appropriate form for domestic building in the state." 30 The Colonial Revival was a statement of values as well as fashion. In the South it evoked not just broad patriotic sentiments, but fed a longing for an idealized antebellum past. Hook's architectural firm proceeded to set the local standard for the Colonial Revival, designing residences in Charlotte's wealthy, conservative street-car suburbs that were hallmarks of the style. Hook's single-family dwellings were usually symmetrical forms capped by simple hip roofs and bedecked in columned porticoes or porches, and a flourish of other classical details. 31

In the small towns, the earliest Colonial Revival houses arose as grand two-and-a-half-story, hip-roofed forms sided in white weatherboarding, and wrapped with one-story porches. These uncomplicated and substantial residences represented a popular farmhouse design in early twentieth century North Carolina, and reflected the solid agrarian roots of their small-town owners. In Huntersville, William Ranson occupied an excellent one at the south end of town. In 1913 Ranson, a farmer, general merchant, and operator of the town's principal cotton gin, employed Cornelius contractor Will Potts to build his new house. The Ranson House is a massive frame box with a wraparound verandah that expresses the Colonial Revival style in its porch pediment and classical columns. Contractor Potts installed fancy pressed-tin ceilings in the main first-floor rooms and finished the interior with dark mahogany paneling. 32

Another imposing early Colonial Revival residence was owned by Matthews merchant and banker B. D. Funderburk. About 1900 this two-and-a-half-story house rose from behind the gabled rooftops of one-story dwellings west of Trade Street. Shaded by oak trees, its pure-white form, spacious porch, and clean, classical treatment expressed Funderburk's social prominence.

The boxy Colonial Revival house continued to be the main choice among elites into the post-World War I years. A principal distinction between those built in the 1920s and earlier ones was the application of new building materials--particularly the shift from white weatherboarding to a red-brick veneer. An exemplary design was constructed for Frank Sherrill of Cornelius about 1925. The Sherrills ranked among Cornelius' leading families, with brothers Frank and Joseph serving successive terms as mayor. Frank was president of Gem Yarn Mill and a major stockholder in the Cornelius Cotton Mill. Inspired perhaps by the stylish homes of textile magnates appearing in Charlotte's Myers Park, Sherrill commissioned Louis Asbury, one of the city's major architects, to design his Cornelius residence. Located on Main Street, on a wide parcel that faces the railroad, the Sherrill House would have fit comfortably along the embowered avenues of Myers Park. At Sherrill's behest Asbury covered the roofs with striking green pantiles, reportedly ordered from a Tennessee manufacturer. 34

The 1920s also saw the bungalow take its place beside Colonial Revival houses and Queen Anne cottages along uptown streets. More than any style before it, the bungalow was disseminated via architectural magazines and mail-order catalogues with national circulations. Indeed, for a brief period it even boasted its own periodical, Bungalow Magazine. Scores of architectural writers attempted to define the new style, and generally agreed that true bungalows were low-slung structures with wide projecting eaves, exposed brackets and other supports, a large and sturdily built front porch, and many windows. The bungalow was trumpeted as a solution to America's need for affordable middle-class homes. In a period when the costs of building materials and construction labor were skyrocketing, these writers asserted that bungalows should stand out as models of artful simplicity and rational uses of space. Natural materials were emphasized, including wall claddings of clinker brick, rough split shakes, and stained wood. Bungalow plans stressed simple, informal living, and central hallways were cast aside as wasted, unadaptable space. 35

Throughout the postwar decades middle-class families in the small towns chose mainstream bungalow designs which were regularly pictured in the pages of builders' magazines. In Huntersville and Cornelius, a variety of popular models were built facing major uptown thoroughfares. When Statesville Road was improved through Huntersville in this decade, bungalows appeared side by side along the modern concrete highway. Depot agent Tom Youngblood purchased a house lot on this street from the Ranson family and built one of Huntersville's notable examples . Youngblood favored a brick and stucco design with decorative half-timbering in the front-facing roof gable, brick and stucco veneering, and a porch that extended into a porte cochere. At the rear of the lot Youngblood erected a wooden garage for his automobile--for with the paving of Statesville Road this railroad employee and his neighbors could look forward to smooth motoring south to Charlotte. 36

North in Cornelius, bungalows were emblems of the broad, postwar middle class. Along North Main Street, versions were built for a barber, house painter, mill supervisor, banker, realtor, building contractor, minister, and merchant. In 1921 John Baxter, president of the Cornelius Savings and Loan, chose one of the more prevalent designs for his Main Street parcel. The roomy weatherboarded dwelling has a gable roof that sweeps low over a large front porch. The center dormer opens up the second story for sleeping quarters. North of the Baxter residence, dry goods merchant William Puckett moved from his Queen Anne cottage on Catawba Avenue into a charming new bungalow. Veneered in brick and stucco, the Puckett House showcases decorative angular braces under its clipped-gable roof. As was the fashion among wealthier homeowners, a matching garage was erected to the rear. 37

Across town, on Catawba Avenue, a pair of smaller bungalows epitomize models that were suited for families of more modest means . Their compact forms display essential elements of the style: low, "snug" rooflines, deep porches opening directly into living rooms that span the front the house, and heavy tapered porch posts on brick piers. 38