FIRST UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
This report was written on Feb 28, 1977
1. Name and location of the property: The property known as First
United Presbyterian Church is located at 400 N. College St. in Charlotte,
2. Name, address and telephone number of the present owner ant
occupant of the property: The present owner and occupant of the property
Seventh St. United Presbyterian Church USA, Inc.
400 N. College St.
Charlotte, N.C. 28202
3. Representative photographs of the property: This report
contains representative photographs of the property.
4. A map depicting the location of the property: This report
contains a map depicting the location of the property.
5. Current Deed Book Reference to the property: The most recent
reference to this property is found in Mecklenburg County Deed Book 2806 at
page 493. The Parcel Number of the Property is 08002103.
6. A brief historical sketch of the property:
In the years immediately following the Civil War the black people of the
South struggled to establish a new identity for themselves. Encountering
scorn and ridicule from the majority of their white neighbors, the former
slaves of the region had neither the training nor education to compete
successfully for power and status. Consequently, blacks began to create
their own institutions, where they could develop and practice the skills
which the dominant culture rewarded and where they could sustain and nurture
one another. Especially important to the emerging black community were its
churches. Energetic and resourceful blacks associated membership in the
white man's church with the institution of slavery and therefore had no
desire to continue to worship there. Mrs. Kathleen Hayes of Charlotte, N.C.,
summoned the black members of First Presbyterian Church to "come down out of
the gallery and worship God on the main floor." Rev. Samuel C. Alexander, a
white Presbyterian missionary from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, came to
Charlotte soon after the war and purchased property at what is now Davidson
and Third Sts., where Mrs. Hayes and her small band commenced to worship.
Apparently, the black congregation prospered, because on February 20,
1873, the "Charlotte Colored Presbyterian Church" bought for $900 the lot at
E. Seventh & N. College Sts. owned by F. W. and Laura A. Ahrens. On December
20, 1876, the congregation secured a loan of $800 from the Church Erection
Fund of the Synod of Atlanta and Presbytery of Catawba. Tradition holds that
the black Presbyterians moved into a structure which had been used by a
Lutheran congregation. The documents in the Register of Deeds Office,
however, do not support this contention. The congregation most probably
continued to meet at Davidson and Third Sts. until the new facility was
completed. In any case, the black Presbyterians were worshiping in a
substantial structure at E. Seventh and N. College Sts. in 1877. Established
in 1866 as the Colored Presbyterian Church of Charlotte, the congregation
renamed itself the Seventh Street Presbyterian Church.
The present edifice was erected in the mid-1890's during the pastorale of
R. P. Wyche. On July 13, 1896, the Board of Trustees secured a loan of $1000
from the Church Erection Fund of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian
Church in the United States of America. Apparently, this money was used to
complete the new building, which had begun to rise in 1894. The building was
constructed by the members themselves, working in evenings and on weekends.
Supervising much of the work was Mr. William Pethel, a prominent member of
the church who resided at 500 N. Myers St. The members were no doubt pleased
by the product of their labor. The structure was among the more notable
houses of worship in the City and certainly bore testimony to the advance of
the black people of the region. Seventh Street Presbyterian Church merged
with Brooklyn Presbyterian Church in 1968 to form the First United
Presbyterian Church. The congregation continues to occupy the building at N.
College and Seventh Sts. Throughout its history the church has participated
prominently in the evolution of the black community of Charlotte, N.C. It
was intimately associated with the early history of Biddle Memorial
Institute, later Johnson C. Smith University. Indeed, Stephen Mattoon,
President of Biddle Institute and grandfather of Norman Thomas, was one of
7. A brief architectural description of the property: This report
contains an architectural description prepared by Jack O. Boyte, A.I.A.
8. Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets the
criteria set forth in N.C.G.S. 160A-399.4:
a. Historical and cultural significance: The First United
Presbyterian Church is historically and culturally significant for two
reasons. First, it is one of the older Gothic Revival Churches in the City
of Charlotte. Second, it is an important document in the history of the
black people of Charlotte, N.C.
b. Suitability for preservation and restoration: The structure
is in good repair and certainly can be preserved in its current
c. Educational value: The property has educational value as an
important document in the black history of Charlotte, N.C.
d. Cost of acquisition, restoration, maintenance or repair: At
present the Commission has no intention of purchasing this property: It
assumes that all costs associated with renovating and maintaining the
structure will be paid by the owner or subsequent owners of the property.
e. Possibilities for adaptive or alternative use of the property:
The structure would be suitable for a variety of purposes. However, the
Commission hopes that the building will continue to be used by the First
United Presbyterian Church as a House of Worship.
f. Appraised value: The current tax appraisal of the structure
itself is $59,290 and for the .414 acres of land $45,130. The Commission
is aware that designation of the property as a historic property would
allow the owner to apply annually for an automatic deferral of 50% of the
rate upon which the Ad Valorem taxes are calculated.
g. The administrative and financial responsibility of any person or
organization willing to underwrite all or a portion of such costs: As
indicated earlier, at present the Commission has no intention of
purchasing this property. Furthermore, the Commission assumes that all
costs associated with the structure and property will be met by whatever
party now owns or will own the property.
9. Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets the
criteria established for listing in the National Register of Historic
Places: The Commission believes that the property known as the First
United Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C., does meet the criteria of the
National Register of Historic Places. Basic to the Commission's
understanding of the purpose of the National Register. Established in 1966,
the National Register represents the decision of the Federal Government to
expand its listing of historic properties to include properties of local and
State significance. The Commission believes that the First United
Presbyterian Church is of local historic significance and therefore meets
the criteria for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
10. Documentation of why and in what ways the property is of historic
importance to to Charlotte and/or Mecklenburg County: The property known
as the First United Presbyterian Church is historically important to
Charlotte, N.C., because it houses the oldest black Presbyterian
congregation in the City. It is also one of the older Gothic Revival
structures in Charlotte, N.C.
An Inventory of Older Buildings In Mecklenburg County And Charlotte For
the Historic Properties Commission.
F. W. Beers Map of Charlotte.
LeGette Blythe and Charles Brockmann, Hornets' Nest (Charlotte,
N.C.: MacNally of Charlotte 1961), p. 214.
Charlotte City Directory (1879-80, 1893-94, 1896-97, 1897-98).
Lydia C. Pride, "Early History of Seventh Street United Presbyterian
Records of the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office.
Records of the Mecklenburg County Tax Office.
Sanborn Insurance Maps.
Date of Preparation of this Report: February 28, 1977
Prepared by: Dr. Dan L. Morrill, Director
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission
139 Middleton Dr.
Charlotte, N.C. 28207
Throughout the nineteenth century religious architectural design was
strongly influenced by the great European Gothic churches, whose beginnings
went as far back as the twelfth century. In the nineteenth century there
seemed to be a universal feeling that Gothic forms and church buildings
belonged together. American architects followed this mode consistently in
church designs. A number of handbooks on the style were published by
mid-century. So during the early Gothic Revival period, as well as in the
late period, designers copied the mannerisms of true Gothic, and this
resulted in a distinctive eclectic style.
Facing south at the corner of College and Brevard Street, the Seventh
Street Presbyterian Church building is an extraordinary example of this
eclectic architectural style. A rectangular structure measuring some 54 feet
across the front and 70 feet deep, the original building rests on a high
solid brick foundation wall enclosing a partial cellar. Exterior walls are
American bond consisting of repeated header courses separated by five
courses of stretchers.
The entrance elevation on Seventh Street features a high
gabled center section flanked on each side by large square buttressed
towers. The left, or western, corner tower soars through three tiers to a
four sided, slate covered spire terminating in a large cross. At the first
floor doubled paneled entrance doors are cantered in the tower base, set in
a pointed arch frame with wooden tracery above the doors. In the gabled
center section is another double door entrance, flanked by narrow, high,
diamond light windows with pointed arch heads. At the right there is a
single matching window centered in the tower base. A continuous brick band
formed by three projecting courses defines the second tier level. The left
corner tower has two small pointed arch windows at the second level. In the
center section are three tall narrow diamond light windows centered over the
entrance doors below. The right tower terminates at this level with a steep
pitched roof covered in slate
shingles. Above the second tier another three brick band defines the
third level. In the corner tower are two tall pointed arch louvered openings
which enclose the tower bell room on four sides. The center gable at the
third tier features a large circle louvered vent in the gable wall and has
stepped brick corbeling at the gable rake. Dark flashed brick are used in
feature details such as horizontal bands, corbeling and above pointed
On the west side the grade slopes to the rear, exposing the cellar wall.
Centered in this wall is a cellar entrance door with a ventilating
transom window. Above the door frame is a curved brick arch formed by
three header courses of flashed brick. A small gabled roof cover of later
construction now shelters this entrance. Along the exterior brick cellar
wall, forward of this door, a brick stairway rises in a covered outside
arcade to a pair of doors which lead to the nave. Now enclosed with metal
louvers, the arcade has two pointed outside arches. The inside nave wall has
a pointed arch stained glass window beside the similarly arched door
Another feature of the west side is a high gabled wing which forms half
of the side facade. Defined by buttressed pilasters at each corner, this
gable has a three section stained glass window centered at the nave level.
Wooden dividing mullions rise to carved geometric tracery in an upper
pointed arch. Each of the three sections has a pivoted lower ventilator.
Flanking this window are two narrow side windows, again with Gothic arch
tops. In the high gable wall is a large circular louvered red vent banded
with flashed brick headers. At the rake of this roof are corbeled, stepped
brick features similar to those in the front gable.
On the opposite side, facing the east, the facade mirrors the composition
of the west side. Where the arcaded stairway occurs on the west, there is no
east stair. In this wall, rather, there are two stained glass windows with
typical Gothic arches above.
At the rear the original wall is now concealed within an addition added
soon after the turn of the century. This addition is only large enough to
provide a study, an organ chamber, and a choir room at the north side of the
sanctuary. Also in this wing is a second stairway leading to the cellar.
In plan the church follows a classical cross form. Front and rear walls
form the high gables described above, and at each side of the crossing
shallow wings extend to like sized high gable walls. The slate covered roof
surfaces also follow this cross form and hare a small cupola above the
intersection of the ridge lines at the crossing. This cupola has four slate
covered roof surfaces rising steeply to a ball and point crest. At third
points in the main roof slate surface, there are four rows of slate with
chamfered edges. These special shapes create a typical Victorian fish scale
At the front there is a shallow narthex at the center. From this room
there are two pairs of paneled wood doors, glazed in the upper half with
opaque patterned glass, leading to side aisles in the nave. Through the
tower doors at the west front corner one enters a small square anteroom
which also opens to the side aisle of the nave. In the east front tower is a
winding oak stairway which rises to a small balcony at the second tier
level. Having a solid curved rail arching out from the rear nave wall, this
balcony is a narrow platform facing the main auditorium, and was likely the
choir loft in the original plan.
Upon entering the sanctuary through any of the several exterior doors one
encounters a soaring space of carefully scaled proportion and finished with
skillfully executed details. Through stained glass windows on three aides,
natural light floods the auditorium. This soft illumination enhances the
warmth of the dark stained woodwork throughout the room. A high wainscot of
beaded pine strips runs continuously around the perimeter. Above this the
walls are smooth plaster rising to the spring line of the ceiling vaults.
Where window openings occur the windows are surrounded with angular plaster
jambs rising to pointed Gothic arches above. Window stools all occur at the
top of the
Typical of Gothic Revival interior design, the ceiling is formed with a
series of ribbed, pointed vaults of narrow beaded wood. Above the crossing
these ribbed vaults come together in a spectacular canopy over the pulpit
platform. Below this crossing there is a remarkable chandelier of massive
proportions. Crafted in a manner which indicates that it was originally for
gas, the fixture provides a highly decorative feature in the center of the
This fine building is an extraordinary example of church design most
popular during the late Victorian period in Charlotte. During this time the
prospering Queen City saw a number of congregations from many different
denominations erect new buildings. With few exceptions these new buildings
were done in this late Gothic Revival style. The First United Presbyterian
Church building is historically significant as an example of this important
architectural style. In addition, its unique origin from the efforts of one