OAK ROW AND ELM
This report was written on May 3, 1977
1. Name and location of the property: The property known as Oak
Row and Elm Row is located on the campus of Davidson College in Davidson,
2. Name. address, and telephone number of the present owner and
occupant of the property:
The present owner of the property is:
Davidson, NC 28036
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 2434 at
page 339. The Parcel Number of the property is 00316201.
6. A brief historical sketch of the property:
Oak Row and Elm Row constitute part of the original Quadrangle of the
Davidson College Campus. The structures initially served as dormitories and
were constructed shortly before the college opened its doors to students in
March 1837. Elm Row, the farther of the two from N. Main St., originally
stood between two structures which no longer exist -- Steward's Hall (a
dining commons and classroom building) to the right or south, and Tammany
Hall (a two-story professor's house) to the left or north. The structure was
moved a few feet southward in the 1960's. Oak Row is the only one of a
series of one-story brick dormitories (probably three) which initially stood
on the western side of the Quadrangle and stretched from Eumenean Hall to a
point opposite the President's House. Both Oak Row and Elm Row originally
contained four rooms. The style and placement of the buildings suggest that
the founders of the institution were hoping to duplicate the ambience of
Thomas Jefferson's famous "Lawn" at the University of Virginia. The
exteriors of the buildings retain their original Jeffersonian Classical
features, but the interiors of the structures have been massively altered
and now house facilities of the Fine Arts Department of the college.
Nevertheless, Oak Row and Elm Row possess historic significance because of
their age. The Campus of Davidson College contains five antebellum
structures (President's House,
Eumenean Hall, Elm Row and Oak Row) of which these two constitute forty
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 historical and
cultural significance of the property known as Oak Row and Elm Row rests
upon two factors. First, the buildings constitute part of the original
campus of a regionally-important institution of higher education. Second,
the structures are among the more architecturally significant antebellum
edifices which survive in Mecklenburg County.
b. Suitability for preservation and restoration: As mentioned
above, the buildings retain much of their exterior integrity. If the owner
wishes, he could return the interior of the structures to an approximation
of their original appearance.
c. Educational value: The educational value of Oak Row and Elm
Row stems from their historic significance. Also worth noting is the fact
that these are the only antebellum structures surviving in Mecklenburg
County which once served as dormitories.
d. Cost of acquisition, restoration, maintenance or repair: At
present the Commission has no intention of purchasing the fee simple or
any lesser included interest in this property nor is it aware of any
intention of the owners to sell. The Commission assumes that all costs
associated with renovating and maintaining the property will be paid by
the owner or subsequent owners of the property.
e. Possibilities for adaptive or alternative use of the property:
The structures are currently being used for adaptive uses and are
therefore clearly suited for that purpose. The Commission would welcome,
however, the restoration of the interior of the structures to an
approximation of their original appearance.
f. Appraised value: The current tax appraisal value of Elm Row
is $2390.00. The current tax appraisal value of Oak Row is $15060.00. The
Commission is aware that designation of the property would allow the owner
to apply annually for an automatic deferral of 50% of the rate upon which
Ad Valorem Taxes are calculated. This property, however, is exempt from Ad
g. The administrative and financial responsibility of any person or
organization willing to underwrite all or a portion of such costs: As
stated earlier, the Commission at present has no intention of purchasing
the fee simple or any lesser included interest in this property.
Furthermore, the Commission assumes that all costs associated with the
property will be met by whatever party now owns or will subsequently own
the property. Clearly, the present owner has demonstrated the capacity to
meet the expenses associated with maintaining the property.
9. Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets the
criteria established for inclusion in the National Register of Historic
Places: The Commission judges that the property known as Oak Row and Elm
Row does meet the criteria of the National Register of Historic Places.
Basic to the Commission's judgment is its knowledge that the National
Register, established by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966,
represents an expansion of the Federal Government's listing of historic
places to include places of local, regional and state significance. The
Commission believes that the property known as Oak Raw and Elm Row is of
local and regional significance and thereby meets the criteria of the
National Register of Historic Places.
10. Documentation of why and in what ways the property is of
historical importance to Charlotte and/or Mecklenburg County: As noted
earlier, the property known as Oak Row and Elm Row is historically
significant for two primary reasons. First, the buildings constitute part of
the original campus of a regionally-important institution of higher
education. Second, the structures are among the more architecturally
significant antebellum edifices which survive in Mecklenburg County.
An Inventory of Older Buildings In Mecklenburg County and Charlotte
for the Historic Properties Commission.
Chalmers Gaston Davidson, The Plantation World Around Davidson
(Davidson Printing Co. for the Mecklenburg Historical Association, Davidson,
NC, 1973 2nd ed., rev.) pp. 1-7.
Records of the Mecklenburg County Resister of Deeds Office.
Records of the Mecklenburg County Tax Office.
Date of Preparation of this report: May 3, 1977
Prepared by: Dr. Dan L. Morrill, Director
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission
139 Middleton Dr.
Charlotte, NC 28207
During the eighteenth century, and especially in the post-revolutionary
years, large numbers of Scotch-Irish Presbyterians came to Mecklenburg and
its neighboring Piedmont Carolina counties. These disciplined people
fostered education as well as piety. Having the distinction of being the
site of the first college in North Carolina, Charlotte was the center where
these pioneers established Queens College in 1771. Responding to urging from
Mecklenburg Presbyterians, Governor Tryon successfully sponsored an act
which established the college and financed it by a duty of six pence per
gallon on all rum made or consumed in the county. Troubles with George III
and later financial stringencies caused by the war forced the school to
close in 1780. The Presbyterian determination to establish a college for
Mecklenburg youth never flagged, however. In the early 1830's, the local
Presbytery appointed committees to find land for a seminary, to raise the
needed money, and to build a college. Important to this charge were
instruction from the Presbytery that the site "must be within fifteen miles
of Cowan, Ford." Obviously the name of the school was already on their
minds, for at Cowan's Ford the namesake, General William Lee Davidson, fell
a hero during the Revolution. On high land said to drain eastward to the
Yadkin and westward to the Catawba the site committee secured acreage for
the college (traditionally said to have been donated by General Davidson's
descendant, William Lee Davidson, II.) Meanwhile supporters in Mecklenburg
and its neighboring counties subscribed over $30,000, and the building
committee contracted with Messrs. S. & J. Lemly and H. Owens to erect eight
buildings for the college, described thusly:
"three blocks one story high, 18 x 66 feet; one, two stories, 40 x 50
feet; one, two stories, 20 x 66 feet; one two stories, 22 x 32 feet; one,
one story, 18 x 18 feet, and one, one story, 12 x 12 feet. All structures
to have rock foundations, to be covered with tin, painted and completely
finished for a total sum of $10,250.00. Installment payments due March,
1836, March, 1837, and March, 1838."
From this remarkable document emerged the Davidson College campus of
Listed first in the contract, "three blocks one story high, 18 x 66 feet
were four room dormitories, later expanded to include two additional blocks
and known collectively as "The Rows". The campus plan was originally
matching four sided courts or quadrangles anchored by a centered chapel,
"two stories, 40 x 50 feet" in the contract, the President's House, "two
stories, 22 x 32 feet" in the contract, and Stewart's Hall, "two stories, 20
x 66 feet." Aligned with the long sides of the quadrangles, the dormitories
came to be known as "Oak Row" on the west and "Elm Rows on the east. And now
one block from each of these rows is preserved, Oak in its original location
and Elm recently relocated a short distance southward. The recorded
agreement with the contractors fails to mention brick. But an initial
purchase by the building committee consisted of 250,000 brick "bought from
Major John Caldwell at the kiln for $4.00 per thousand to be ready by
November, 1835." All eight first buildings were obviously to be solid brick
construction, and the preserved "rows" illustrate this. With solid exterior
brick walls over 12" thick, the simple rectangular 18 x 66 foot structures
rest on field stone foundation walls. Rising about ten feet to corbeled
headers which form overhang cornices, exterior brick work is irregular
American bond with one course of glazed headers for each four, five or six
courses of stretchers.
Here and there in the face brick in order to maintain a proper bond
masons placed small 'closers' which vary from one to three inches wide. The
two buildings are basically similar, yet they vary in some details. After
the cornerstone was laid in April of 1836, there must surely have been
delays in construction, for the work appears to have been hastily done.
There are waves and undulations in the horizontal coursing, not at all
typical of the skilled craftsmanship usually found in early nineteenth
century brickwork. In Oak Row the window heads have uneven, even carelessly
laid small headers over openings which do not align with adjacent courses,
another rare example of poorly done work. There is no record of the founders
having hired anyone to design the structures other than the builders
mentioned in the contract. Nevertheless the influence of more sophisticated
Federal Style comes through in the general proportions of the structures as
well as in the detailing of wood components. Records of the other six
original buildings, which were later demolished, describe them as being
'Jeffersonian' and there are dormitories on Jefferson's University of
Virginia campus called 'Ranges', which are quite similar to the Davidson
'Rows'. In plan the two dormitories are similar, each containing four rooms
with an entrance opening from the axial quadrangle, and each with a
fireplace. Adjacent to the entrance in each room is a six light over nine
light window, while on the opposite wall in each room are two symmetrically
placed windows, assuring the students generous ventilation during the warm
fall and spring semesters.
Door frames and trim are original, but all of the original hand
fabricated doors have been replaced. The windows all show mortise and
tenoned connections joined with wooden pegs typical of the early nineteenth
century. Muntins, casing, etc. have recognizable delicate molded shapes
typical of the late Federal period. Several lights are still glazed with the
original blown glass. In the face of the far right sill of the western
building, the words "Oak Row" are legibly cut in the granite. Likely a later
feature, the letters appear to be quite old. Window sills in both buildings
are heavy Mecklenburg granite, as are door thresholds throughout. In the
brick work of the window heads, however, there are surprising differences.
All of the windows and doors in "Oak Row" have simple, even primitive, brick
rowlock headers laid in a noticeably irregular manner over the openings.
Whereas, in the twin building, "Elm Row", the window and door openings are
crowned with carefully rubbed wedge brick which form precise brick jack
arches. Elsewhere the two remaining rows are similar, even to the
irregularities which occur in the quality of the face coursing. When the
first building committee wrote the specifications for the rows they said
that the buildings were to be 'covered with tin,' an obvious reference to
the first roofing material. Later changes included a wood shingle roof which
appears in an 1893 daguerreotype of Oak Row, and still later this was
changed to slate, which now covers both buildings. Rising at a moderate
slope to a long uninterrupted ridge, the roof terminates at each end with
From fireplaces at each end there are brick chimneys built integrally
with the gable walls. At the very center of the buildings another chimney
occurs which contains flues from the two adjoining fireplaces in the middle
rooms. These three chimneys are laid in
common bond and rise well above the ridge to corbeled courses which form
typical expanded chimney crowns. The earliest photograph of the dormitory
entrances shows no canopy or cover. Presently, however, there are simple
shed roofed covers over all entrances. These were added soon after the turn
of the century. Steps at each door rise directly from the ground and do not
include a landing at the doors. Original brick fillers under the stairs
create solid strings. These two extraordinary buildings are intriguing
reminders of the original Davidson College architecture. Having been in
constant use since first erected in 1836, the structures have a rich
history, and contribute significantly to the architectural history of North
Carolina as well as this region.