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Survey and Research Report

on the

Stratton House

 

 

1.    Name and location of the propertyThe property known as the Stratton House is located at 911 West Fourth Street Extension, Charlotte, North Carolina.

2.    Name and address of the current owner of the property:

VSW Properties West Fourth Street LLC

638 Hempstead Place

Charlotte North Carolina 28207

3.    Representative photographs of the property:  This report contains representative photographs of the property

4.    A map depicting the location of the property: 

5.  Current Deed Book Reference To The Property: The most recent deed to this property is found in Mecklenburg County Deed Book 25671-620, 07115-457, and 07115-452 .  The tax parcel numbers for the property is 07321326, 07321327, and 07321325.

6.  A Brief Historical Essay On The Property:  This report contains a brief historical sketch of the property prepared by William Jeffers.

7.  A Brief Physical Description Of The Property: This report contains a brief physical description of the property prepared by Stewart Gray.

8.  Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets the criteria for designation set forth in N.C.G.S. 160A-400.5:

a.  Special significance in terms of its history, architecture, and/or cultural importance The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission judges that the Stratton House possesses special significance in terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg.  The Commission bases its judgment on the following considerations: 

1) The Stratton House helps to maintain the historic residential character of Charlotte's Third Ward.

2) Designed by William Peeps, the Stratton House represents the apex of center city, middle class, residential construction in the early twentieth century and the Stratton House may be the last true middle class home to be built in the Woodlawn Neighborhood.

3) The Stratton House is the only Peeps designed residential structure still extant in the center city.

b.  Integrity of design, setting, workmanship, materials, feeling and/or association:  The Commission judges that the physical description included in this report demonstrates that the property known as the Stratton House meets this criterion.

9.  Ad Valorem Tax Appraisal: The Commission is aware that designation would allow the owner to apply for automatic deferral of 50% of the Ad Valorem taxes on all or any portion of the property which becomes a designated “historic landmark”.  The current appraised value $314,900.  The property is zoned UR-1.

10.  This report finds that the interior, exterior, and land associated with The Stratton House should be included in any landmark designation of the property.

Date of preparation of this report: January 15, 2012

Prepared byWilliam Jeffers and Stewart Gray

The Stratton House

Until the middle of the twentieth century Charlotte’s urban core was a mix of residential and commercial structures.  In the early part of the twentieth century the most influential of the city’s population clustered along the two main thoroughfares of Trade and Tryon Streets while businesses and commercial structures were interspersed between them.  This pattern had been the norm, more or less, since the town’s founding.  However, as the twentieth century dawned, Charlotte began to undergo a transformation from a quiet courthouse and cotton mill town to a burgeoning metropolitan city.  As a result, the residential patterns of the urban core began to change in ways that would redefine the built landscape of the center city.

Initially divided into four numerically named wards, Charlotte had a sizable collection of residential housing.  As the twentieth century progressed this collection of residential dwellings began to take a backseat to the industrial and commercial development that overtook the core.  Development of streetcar suburbs like Dilworth and the mill village of North Charlotte is typical of this phenomenon.  These new neighborhoods began to draw residents away from the core and out towards the periphery of the city.  While this transformation was not instantaneous, each ward was affected differently by it.  Fourth Ward retained a strong residential pattern, still evident today.  However, First and Second Ward (the latter comprising the African American neighborhood of Brooklyn), lost most of their historical integrity due to Urban Renewal.  This was most painfully evident in Second Ward, where virtually all of the residential housing was destroyed. 

Third Ward Contextual History

Third Ward, like the other wards around it, also contained a combination of residential and commercial structures.  Dr. Thomas Hanchett points out that what is now generally considered Third Ward is made up of two very separate areas.[1]  The original section of Third Ward was an area that was bordered by, Morehead Street, South Graham Street, and West Trade and South Tryon Streets.[2]  This section of Third Ward followed residential patterns similar to First Ward with a mixture of residential and commercial uses with fewer black residences.[3] 

The existence of Southern Railway tracks and the arrival of the Piedmont and Northern Railroad in the early twentieth century precipitated a shift in land use in this ward, so much so that Hanchett argues, “the area became the least residential of the four wards, with warehousing and commercial uses as its heart and industry on Graham Street along the Southern Railway tracks.”[4]  In addition, like the other wards, Third Ward’s commercial development was contained along Trade and Tryon Streets.  An extant example is seen in the United States Post Office Building on West Trade Street.  The earlier portion of this structure, with its signature limestone columns, was built in 1915. [5]    

Third Ward also had several notable commercial and industrial structures within it. Most notably are the now demolished Good Samaritan Hospital (Bank of America Stadium currently resides on the property) and the demolished Piedmont and Northern Railroad freight depot and its passenger terminal.  James B. Duke, president of both Duke Power and the P&N railroad, first utilized the freight depot site for the headquarters of the Piedmont and Northern.  Eventually, he expanded the structure, building the “headquarters for Duke Power at the front of the lot in 1928.”[6] Other examples include the extant Virginia Paper Company building on West Third Street and the now-demolished Charlotte Supply Building.  The Virginia Paper Company building on West Third Street, constructed in 1937, serves as a largely unaltered example of industrial architecture from the 1930’s and also underscores the ward's transition from residential/commercial to an industrial area.[7]

Woodlawn Neighborhood Contextual History

The Woodlawn neighborhood is located in the second section of Third Ward, which is the residential area between the Southern Railway tracks and Interstate 77/Irwin Creek.  This area remained undeveloped during much of the city’s early history.[8]  The first structure built in this section was the Victor Cotton Mill (no longer extant).  Constructed in 1884, the mill was located “near the intersection of Clarkson Street and Westbrook Drive.”  Around 1907 the Victor Cotton Mill, then known as the Continental Manufacturing Company began, through a subsidiary known as the Woodlawn Realty Company, to develop the surplus land it owned in Third Ward into the neighborhood of Woodlawn.  A second residential neighborhood, McNinchville, was plotted to the south of Woodlawn and bordered Morehead Street.  However, the residential stability of that neighborhood was soon challenged by cheap land, no zoning restrictions, and easy access to the railroad lines.  Eventually, McNinchville became more of an industrial area, while Woodlawn was able to retain its original residential character.  

As Stewart Gray highlights in his essay on the Woodlawn Avenue Duplex, “The Development of the Woodlawn Neighborhood was part of the phenomenal growth that Charlotte experienced in the early years of the twentieth century.  Between 1900 and 1910, the city’s population grew 82%, from 18,091 to 34, 014.”[9]  As a result, the physical boundaries of the city began to expand out from what was considered to be the original four wards.  In order to accommodate these new citizens, real estate developers such as F.C. Abbott, George Stephens, and B.D. Heath built neighborhoods that were linked to the city by the expanding streetcar systems.[10]

The Woodlawn Neighborhood was one of these new streetcar suburbs.  While located inside one of the city’s original four wards, the neighborhood was advertised as a suburb, perhaps due to the developing success of Charlotte’s first true streetcar suburb, Dilworth.[11]  With streetcar lines radiating outward from the center of town, new neighborhoods began to develop along the lines.  Woodlawn was one such neighborhood, and it was served by the West Trade Street streetcar line.[12]  The fact that the neighborhood was situated so close to downtown may have been a marketing tool for local developers.  An advertisement in the October, 10, 1911 Charlotte Observer proclaimed that “Woodlawn is the nearest suburb to the business part of the city, yet NONE is prettier.”[13] Many of the original parcels of land in Woodlawn were bought by J.W. McClung, a realtor whose office was located at 25 South Tryon Street[14] and who also lived in the neighborhood on Woodlawn Avenue.[15]  The parcels were then sold to prospective homeowners.

Woodlawn, as a neighborhood, never grew past its original layout.  It was built as a white middle class community.  Early deeds confirm as much, stipulating that all lots “shall be used for resident purposes and by people of the white race only (a common stipulation in the Jim Crow South); and that no dwelling shall be erected thereon which shall cost less than $1000.00.”[16]   Plotted initially along four streets, the neighborhood began to lose its original identity soon after it was built.[17]  Sanborn Maps show the neighborhood initially listed under the name Woodlawn.  Virginia Woolard, who was born in 1935, and grew up in the neighborhood, never heard her neighborhood referred to as "Woodlawn."  Generally, people would refer to the street on which they lived as a geographic reference rather than using a neighborhood moniker.[18]  As she stated, “when I was growing up I was not aware of the word ‘Woodlawn.’  I didn’t have any concept about any name where we lived.”[19] 

Shifting demographics in the 1960’s caused Woodlawn to transition from a solidly white community to a predominately African-American community.  Seemingly forgotten by the city after this transition, the neighborhood suffered a period of decline.  This decline, however, was resisted by residents of the neighborhood, particularly Dr. Mildred Baxter Davis who helped to create the Committee to Restore and Preserve Third Ward.  Her organization, with NationsBank (today Bank of America) Community Development Corporation, helped create a renaissance in Third Ward.  Housing rehabilitation, as well as improvements to streets, sidewalks, and landscaping helped pave the way, and an industrial scrapyard, long seen as an eyesore, was removed.  These improvements laid the foundation for new residential development along Cedar and Clarkson Streets. 

The Stratton House

One example of the strong middle class presence in Woodlawn is found in the residence of George and Mary Stratton.  This structure was designed by William H. Peeps for George and Mary Stratton.  This structure was designed by William H. Peeps for George and Mary Stratton.  Peeps made his mark as an architect in Charlotte designing homes in the English Tudor style, one of his more prominent examples being his design for the home of F.D. Lethco on Roswell Avenue.  While the Stratton’s home was not a traditional Tudor style residence, elements of this popular style were incorporated into its design.  The Stratton’s were the owners of the Armature Winding Company, which was founded by Louis F. Stratton in 1907.  As Ryan Sumner highlights in his historical essay, the Armature Winding Company, repaired electric components for use in looms and textile equipment, essential to the operations of textile mills in the Piedmont sections of the two Carolinas.  Sumner adds that the company also “repaired transformers for Duke Power, manufactured transformer-cooling fans, and distributed electric motors for General Electric Company, along with a variety of other electrical items. Without the support of firms like the Armature Winding Company, cotton mills could not have proliferated in the Piedmont sections of the two Carolinas in the early twentieth century.”[20]  Armature Winding was originally located on West Fifth Street, but as business increased it found reason to relocate to the McNinchville community of Third Ward.  By the 1920s, this area was very attractive to industry due to the lack of zoning codes, cheap land and access to railroads.  The company purchased three lots in McNinchville in 1923.[21]  The Stratton’s commissioned local architect Fred L. Bonfoey to design the new Armature Winding Company Building[22], which the Thies-Smith Realty Company constructed between 1924, and 1925.  The brothers timed their expansion well, because as the Charlotte Observer noted in 1925: "Charlotte has come to be known in the sales organizations of national manufacturers throughout America as the best point in the Southeast for the distribution of products and for the location of branch plants."[23]

As business continued to improve and the company expanded operations further in the 1930s, the Stratton’s bought land in the adjacent Woodlawn neighborhood.  Virginia Woolard recalled that originally the plan was to erect two residences; one for her family, and the other for Wilson Stratton, George’s brother and partner in the firm. However, Wilson Stratton moved his family to Dilworth (in a residence that was also designed by William Peeps).  As a result only one house was constructed.  George Stratton situated his home on the upper half of the lot, “right beside the alleyway” as Virginia Woolard states.[24]  In addition to locating his residence close to his place of business, Stratton also wanted to be closer to his mother, who also lived in the Woodlawn neighborhood.[25] 

The home that Peeps designed for the Strattons incorporated a faux Tudor façade made popular by his previous residential renderings.  From certain angles the house looks rather large, but this is mostly an illusion, for as Virginia Woolard states, “it looks big because it’s on a hill.”[26]  Since Wilson Stratton opted to live in Dilworth the second half of the lot remained vacant and became something of a makeshift park for the youth of the Woodlawn neighborhood.  Virginia Woolard recalled playing football and basketball with neighborhood children in this impromptu sports field.[27] 

Ms. Woolard also spoke of the strong sense of community within the neighborhood.  In fact, she states that the residents “all knew each other.”[28]  Possibly one reason why this occurred was due to the abundance of homes with front porches in the neighborhood, a practice, she insists that was not lost in Woodlawn. Porches gave people a place to sit and talk to their neighbors, a practice, she insists, that was not lost in Woodlawn.  Another reason for this sense of community stems from the fact that the neighborhood was pedestrian friendly.  West Trade Street was the only main thoroughfare in the neighborhood.  Many of the other streets ended at Irwin Creek and were devoid of heavy traffic.  As a result people moved around the neighborhood freely.  As Virginia Woolard related, “I enjoyed visiting, we would go back and forth between each other’s houses.”[29]  The neighborhood had an abundant tree canopy, and "One had the sense that you were somewhat isolated” from the rest of the city because of it.[30]  The neighborhood contained a mixture of middle and working class families, because, while the Stratton family exemplified the middle class as business owners, other residents of the neighborhood included painters, salesmen, secretaries, and county policemen.[31]  As Ms. Woolard recounts, Woodlawn was, “not a fancy place and nobody was very wealthy.  It felt like a very democratic place, everybody respected everybody else.”[32]

William Peeps

William H. Peeps, the architect of 911 West Fourth Street Extension, was born March 3, 1868 in London England.[33]  Peeps relocated to Grand Rapids Michigan for a brief period before arriving in Charlotte in 1905 to begin practicing architecture.  Jack Boyte, another local Charlotte architect, remarked that Peeps impact on the built environment of the city was powerful and that he “eventually endowed our town with a score of buildings.  Scattered about in older Charlotte neighborhoods, they enrich our environment and add significantly to our dwindling architectural legacy.”[34]

Peeps designed a myriad of commercial and residential structures in Charlotte.  Some of his most recognized commercial structures can be found in the Ivey’s Department Store Building, Eckerd's Drugs, the Latta and Court Arcades, the Radcliffe Florist Shop and the Hovis Mortuary on Tryon Street.  Residentially, Peeps designed the Radcliffe-Otterbourg House which currently houses the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission as well as many other homes for some of Charlotte’s most prominent families.  Most notable of these are the John Bass Brown House on Hermitage Road and the Osmond Barringer House on Sherwood Avenue – both of which are considered some of Charlotte’s finer examples of the Colonial Revival style.[35]  And while he primarily concerned himself with architecture within Charlotte, Peeps also designed the residences for E.T. Cannon and W.W. Flowe to the northeast of Charlotte, in Concord.  However, as Boyte highlights, it was his “English Tudor residence built for the F.D. Lethco family on Roswell Avenue in 1923 is possibly the most copied house of its style in Charlotte.”[36]

Peeps married Margaret Linehan Berry and lived on Avondale Avenue.[37]  Peeps was not only active as an architect, he was also very active in the community.  A member of the Masonic temple Association, he was also a member of the “Church of the Holy Comforter, an active member of the men’s club of the Moravian Little Church on the Lane, the Sharon Hills Club, the Excelsior Masonic Lodge No. 261 and the Charlotte Commandery Knights Templar.”[38] Peeps also served for a time as the grand master of the Grand Council of the North Carolina Royal and Select Masters as well as grand commander of the Grand Commandery of North Carolina.[39]

Conclusion

Today the Woodlawn Neighborhood is an eclectic mix of residents encompassing all levels of the socio-economic spectrum.  Yet the neighborhood still retains its historic integrity. The Woodlawn neighborhood represents the apex of center city, middle class, residential construction in the early twentieth century, and the George and Mary Stratton House may be the last true middle class home to be built in the neighborhood because, by the 1920s, middle class residential building trends had shifted away from the center city to residences like the Peeps-designed Radcliffe-Otterbourg house in Colonial Heights. In addition, the Stratton’s home is one of the only extant residences in Third Ward that was designed by a professional architect.  Furthermore, the George and Mary Stratton Home is the only Peeps-designed residential structure still extant in the center city.  With the near significant loss of historic residential buildings in the center city it becomes increasingly difficult for the public to understand the pre-World War II history of Charlotte based on the current built environment.  One simple way to rectify this would be to preserve examples of this period. The George and Mary Stratton House serves as just such an example.  Not only is the Stratton’s home an excellently preserved example of a middle class pre-World War II residential structure, it was also designed by a locally prominent and prolific architect. Preservation of this structure ensures an example of time and place in the residential development of center city Charlotte and also serves as a tribute to the man who designed it.


[1] See Dr. Thomas W. Hanchett, The Center City:  The Business District and the Original Four Wards, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, http://cmhpf.org/educationneighhistcentercity.htm (Accessed April 10, 2011).

[2] Ibid..

[3] Ibid.

[4] Hanchett, The Center City.

[5] See Hanchett, The Center City.

[6] Hanchett, The Center City.

[7] See CMHLC, Survey and Research Report on The Virginia Paper Company Building, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, http://cmhpf.org/SurveyS&RVirginia.htm, (Accessed June 8, 2011).

[8] See Hanchett, The Center City.

[9] Stewart Gray, Survey and Research Report on the Woodlawn Avenue Duplex, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, http://cmhpf.org/SurveyS&RWoodlawn.htm, (Accessed April 10, 2011).

[10] See Gray Woodlawn Avenue Duplex.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Charlotte Observer, October 10, 1911.

[14] See Ernest H. Miller, Charlotte City Directory, 1911, (Asheville, N.C.:  Piedmont Directory Company, Inc., Publishers, 1911) p. 283.

[15] See Ernest H. Miller, Charlotte City Directory, 1912, (Asheville, N.C.:  Piedmont Directory Company, Inc., Publishers, 1912) p. 294.

[16] Mecklenburg County Deed Book 241, p. 486.

[17] See Gray, Woodlawn Avenue Duplex.

[18] See Stewart Gray, Conversation with Virginia Woolard, October 2006. (Notes on file with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission). 

[19] Interview of Virginia Woolard by Bill Jeffers (May 2011).

[20] Ryan L. Sumner, Survey and Research Report On The Armature Winding Company Complex, Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, http://www.cmhpf.org/Surveys&rArmature.htm, (Accessed September 25, 2011).

[21] See Mecklenburg County Deed Books (DB488/273; DB488/272; DB481/246).

[22] Bonfoey was came to Charlotte from Connecticut in 1918. He developed a reputation as a bungalow architect, and is responsible for the design of numerous homes in Elizabeth, Dilworth, and Plaza-Midwood. His lived at 1509 North Davidson Street. (Charlotte Observer (January 24, 1933); Hanchett, Sorting Out the New South City, p163). Also see, Charlotte Building Permit No. 5184. Application: May 5, 1924; Approved: May 6, 1924.

[23] The Charlotte Observer, June 29, 1925 p. 2.

[24] Interview of Virginia Woolard by Bill Jeffers (October 2011).

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid. 

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] See the 1926, 1933, 1934, 1938, 1939, and 1943 Volumes of Hill’s Charlotte City Directory, (Richmond, VA: Hill Directory Co., Inc., Publishers).

[32] Interview of Virginia Woolard by Bill Jeffers (October 2011).

[33] See “William Peeps is Dead at 82,” Charlotte Observer, September 11, 1950 Section 2, p.1.

[34] Jack Boyte, “An English Architect’s Legacy Still Enriches the Older Parts of Charlotte,” Charlotte News, March 14, 1983, p. 7-A.

[35] See Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] See Charlotte Observer, September 11, 1950.

[38] Charlotte Observer, September 11, 1950.

[39] See Charlotte Observer, September 11, 1950.

ARCHITECTURAL DESCRIPTION