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To: Projects Committee

From: Dan L. Morrill and Sherry Joines

Date: July 30, 1997

Re: Endangered Properties in Rural Mecklenburg

A. Statement of Purpose. Because the Board of County Commissioners has created a task force that will be investigating the possibilities of rural preservation, the consultants to the Historic Landmarks Commission are conducting a survey of the historic man-made environment of rural Mecklenburg County. Part of this effort has been to identify those buildings and sites that have historic significance and which are threatened either by physical deterioration or encroaching development. It is the purpose of this report to make a preliminary recommendation to the Projects Committee of those sites, both designated and undesignated as historic landmarks, which are threatened and which, therefore, require the immediate attention of the Projects Committee. All of the structures and sites listed herein do not exhibit distinctive aesthetic features. However, in our judgment, they do tell us something important about the evolution of rural life in Mecklenburg County. It is important to remember that Mecklenburg's rural history did not occur solely in the nineteenth century by wealthy cotton planters but is a process with many phases and a variety of people and property types.

B. Methodology. This list of threatened properties was generated by a review of the Rural Mecklenburg Inventory conducted by the Commission in the 1980s, supplemented by extensive field work performed in the last six weeks by Ms. Joines and Dr. Morrill with the assistance of Mr. Seamus Donaldson. Thus, it is as comprehensive as time and resources allowed. Three criteria were paramount in determining which properties were selected: 1) association with important historic events or people, 2) excellent examples of a property type important to the understanding of Mecklenburg's rural past, and 3) level of endangerment.

C. Financial Resources and HLC Criteria. The Historic Landmarks Commission uses the following criteria to select its projects for acquisition and restoration.

1. Historic Significance. The property must be a historic landmark or in the judgment of the HLC be worthy of Historic Landmark designation.

2. Economic Feasibility. The HLC must determine that the project has economic feasibility in terms of re-sale. It is not necessary for the HLC to make a profit. It can even lose money. However, political realities mandate that any losses should be minimal.

3. Level of Endangerment. The HLC must determine that the historic nature of the property is manifestly endangered of being destroyed.

The Historic Landmarks Commission has approximately $630,000 of unencumbered money available to spend.

D. Endangered Historic Rural Sites. The list of threatened rural properties is divided into two sections. First, the report lists those properties that have been designated as historic landmarks and which, therefore, have some legal protection. Second, it lists those properties that have not been designated as historic landmarks and which, therefore, have no legal protection in terms of historic preservation regulation.

1. Designated as Historic Landmarks and Endangered.

a. W. T. Alexander House. Local tradition holds that this plantation house was built in 1799 for John Orr. It later became the centerpiece of a major cotton plantation of approximately 1000 acres. The Historic Landmarks Commission attempted to work with the owner to identify development schemes that would be most protective for the property. The owners are still undecided as to what they want to do. Recommendation: Historic Landmarks Commission should contact the owners to obtain an update on their plans.


b. Beaver Dam. The house was built in 1829 by Major William Davidson, II. It was the site of the meeting that determined the location of Davidson College. The house is currently unoccupied. The family cannot agree on methods of sale. The Town of Davidson and Davidson College are attempting to purchase the house, but owners will not accept the initial offer. Recommendation: Historic Landmarks Commission should continue to monitor the situation and only become involved if prospective purchase by the College and the Town of Davidson does not occur.


c. James A. Blakeney House. The Vernacular Victorian style residence was erected in 1905-06 for James Blakeney, a prosperous farmer. The Historic Landmarks Commission is attempting to purchase and rehabilitate and sell the house with protective covenants in the deed. Recommendation: None needed. The Historic Landmarks Commission is moving ahead with this project. The house will be restored and sold with protective covenants in the deed.


d. Croft Schoolhouse. The initial portion of the Croft Schoolhouse was completed in c.1890. A major addition occurred in the early 1900s, making the Croft Schoolhouse the largest existing pre-1920 schoolhouse in Mecklenburg County. The Historic Landmarks Commission has approached the owners, Linda and Troy Cole, about the prospect of purchasing this building. It was sold to the Coles by the Historic Landmarks Commission under the proviso that the Coles would stabilize and protect the building. This has not occurred. The Coles state that they are interested in selling the building, and they are obtaining an appraisal. Recommendation: the Historic Landmarks Commission should aggressively pursue purchase of the Croft School House, restore it, and sell it with protective deed covenants. The only restraining consideration should be economic viability of the project. A first step would be to obtain the sales price, by ordering our own appraisal if necessary, performing a structural analysis of the building to obtain estimates for repair, and considering the market for a variety of adaptive reuses.


Hugh Torance House and Store. Hugh Torance built the initial log portion of this house c. 1779. It was later enlarged as Hugh Torance prospered as a planter and merchant in the early 1800s. The Mecklenburg Historical Association currently has responsibility for administration, although a new board is being constituted. The property is owned by the owners of Cedar Grove. The Hugh Torance House and Store are not open to the public on a regular basis. Recommendation: the Historic Landmarks Commission should continue to monitor the situation and only become involved if no other parties are responsible for the preservation of the structure.

2. Not Designated as a Historic Landmark but Endangered.

Recommendation: the Projects Committee should recommend to the Survey Committee that it process all of the following properties for historic landmark designation.

a. Dr. James Samuel Abernethy House (MK 1486), Mt. Holly - Huntersville Road. The log core of this house was enlarged with a two-story front gable wing around the 1870s. Some sawnwork details indicates the Vernacular Victorian style of the update. Dr. Abernethy did not build the house, but lived here during his years of service in the area. The house is not far from that of his competitor Dr. W.P. Craven. The two were known locally as "Dr. Pill and Dr. Powder." Although still stable, the dwelling is facing serious neglect. Recommendation: the Historic Landmarks Commission should attempt to contact the owner to determine the future status of the property. If necessary, the Commission might consider developing a preservation strategy for the house.


b. John Milton Alexander House (MK 1449), Beatties Ford Road. This interesting house was completed in 1874 and exhibits many unusual Vernacular Victorian decorative features. Alexander farmed forty-nine acres near the house and ran a blacksmith shop, cotton gin, and sawmill with his brother-in-law. Two tenant houses existed on the property in the 1870s. The house is in a deteriorated state and has been compromised by modern houses and mobile homes placed near it. It is still significant architecturally, however for its paired windows, sunburst motif, and pendant brackets which create an exuberant dwelling uncommon in Mecklenburg County. Recommendation: the Historic Landmarks Commission should attempt to contact the owner to determine the future the status of the property. As an individual structure, the Alexander House is important. The major drawback has to do with its setting. Indeed, this is a rare instance when moving the house to a new location might be justified. At the very least the Commission needs to assess the structural integrity of the house. At some point in the near future, assuming that the house is sound, the Commission should attempt to secure options and easements on the structure to assure its long-term preservation.


c. William Caldwell Farm (MK 1258), Caldwell Road. This is a two-story log house, surrounded by a significant collection of outbuildings, built in 1844 and significantly altered in the 1930s and 1980s. The farm is significant because of its age, because it contains a two-story log house, and because it possesses a large number of in-tact outbuildings (perhaps a tenant house) and large fields. Recommendation: the Historic Landmarks Commission should clarify the impact of I-485 upon the property and advise the owner as to how he or she might mitigate whatever adverse impact the roadway will have upon the property. Moreover, the Historic Landmarks Commission should seek an option to purchase the property should it become available for sale. Finally, the Historic Landmarks Commission should pursue the acquisition of easements that will protect the property.


d. Croft Filling Station (MK 1542), Old Statesville Road. This structure was built in the 1920s by the Alexander family. It is a random-coursed fieldstone building with a hip-roofed porch. The filling station is significant because it exemplifies the romantic notions of automobile travel that characterized the 1920s. Filling stations are also important in understanding the changes in rural life that were brought about by the advent of the automobile. The building seems to be used as storage. Recommendation: the Historic Landmarks Commission should seek to secure an option and easements on the Croft Filling Station, so that the property will be protected.


e. Oehler House (U - 27), off Huntersville - Concord Road. Tradition holds that this house was built in the 1840s as the centerpiece of a cotton plantation. Inspection of the property suggests that the house might date from the 1860s or 1870s. It is currently on the Study List for prospective historic landmark designation. Recommendation: the Historic Landmarks Commission should pursue securing an option and easements on the Oehler House, so that the property will be protected.


f. Thrift P&N Depot (MK 1693), Old Mount Holly Road. The Thrift P&N Depot was completed in 1912 and designed by noted Charlotte architect C. C. Hook. It is the only P&N station remaining in Mecklenburg County. The Historic Landmarks Commission considered purchasing the building from CSX some two or three years ago. The problem was that the County staff was concerned about environmental issues at the station. Recommendation: the Historic Landmarks Commission should ask Preservation/North Carolina to approach CSX to obtain an option on the property. Preservation/North Carolina would then attempt to locate a buyer who would restore the station.


g. Washam Farm (U - 14), Davidson - Concord Road. This is an excellent example of a Craftsman Bungalow, most likely dating from the 1920s. Several outbuildings and expansive fields are extant. Mature trees survive in the front yard . The property is currently for sale. The house and 1.3 acres are not for sale. According to the realtor, whoever purchases the 84.79 acres surrounding the house will have a right of first refusal when the current owner dies. The surrounding land (barn included) are for sale for $10,000 per acre or $847,900. Tax Parcel Number 001-092-05. The property is zoned R3 and does not have water or sewer, although the realtor says that water and sewer will be provided within the next two years. Most of the land does not perk. The land has approximately 500' of road frontage. The realtor is not certain as to whether the owner (a group of physicians) would be willing to subdivide the property.

The Historic Landmarks Commission should make a concerted effort to prevent the land on the Washam Farm from being developed in a typical cul-de-sac format. If this concept of development continues to pervade Mecklenburg County, most, if not all, of the vestiges of the rural landscape will eventually be lost. The fact that this land is for sale and possesses importance to the setting of an historic house, its outbuildings, and the roadway, provides the Historic Landmarks Commission with a rare opportunity to "teach through example." The end product hopefully will be what is called by preservationists an "Open Space Design," somewhat similar to what the Historic Landmarks Commission executed at Oaklawn.

Recommendation: the Historic Landmarks Commission should pursue the purchase of this property, restore the house, and submit a call for proposals from developers who would develop the property without unduly compromising the setting of the house. Contact owner and attempt to negotiate an option to purchase. Option should be renewable and transferrable. This will fix the price for the property.

After option is obtained, circulate a request for proposals from developers who would develop property with sympathetic treatment of rural roadway and existing farm buildings, including house. Option should include right of first refusal on existing farmhouse when current owner dies. This option should be held by the HLC after surrounding option is sold to developer.


h. Grier Farm, Tilley Morris Road. This is an excellent example of a Pyramidal cottage. The expansive fields are a lone survivor of the rural landscape in an area which is experiencing rapid and unremitting suburbanization. Recommendation: the Historic Landmarks Commission should pursue the acquisition of an option to purchase and easements that will protect the property.