Click here to view photo
gallery of the Trotter Building.
This report was written on May 1, 1985
1. Name and location of the property: The property known as the
Thomas Trotter Building is located at 108 S. Tryon St., Charlotte, NC.
2. Name, address, and telephone number of the present owner of the
Albert S. Rousso & Wife, Doris H.
108 S. Tryon St.
Charlotte, NC, 28202
Telephone: (704) 374-0100
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 which depicts the location of the property.
5. Current Deed Book Reference to the property: The most recent
deed to this property is recorded in Deed Book 3403, page 89. The Tax Parcel
Number of the property is 073-011-11.
6. A brief historical sketch of the property: This report utilizes
the historical sketch included in the National Register of Historic Places
Nomination Form for the Thomas Trotter Building.
7. A brief architectural description of the property: This report
utilizes the architectural description included in the National Register of
Historic Places Nomination Form for the Thomas Trotter Building.
8. Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets the
criteria set forth in N.C.G.S. 160A-399.4:
a. Special significance in terms of its history, architecture,
and/or cultural importance: The Commission judges that the property
known as the Thomas Trotter Building does possess special significance in
terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases its judgment on the
following considerations: 1) the Thomas Trotter Building, erected in
1850-51, is the oldest remaining masonry structure in Charlotte; 2) the
building was originally owned by Thomas Trotter (1800-1865), one of the
State's finest silversmiths and the leading jeweler of Charlotte for over
forty years; and 3) the Thomas Trotter Building's construction and
subsequent remodelings reflect Charlotte's economic development over a
130-year period, as it grew from a small upcountry crossroads town to the
largest city in North and South Carolina.
b. Integrity of design, setting, workmanship, materials, feeling,
and/or association: The Commission contends that the architectural
description included in this report demonstrates that the Thomas Trotter
Building meets this criterion.
9. Ad Valorem Tax Appraisal: The Commission is aware that
designation would allow the owner to apply for an automatic deferral of 50%
of the Ad Valorem taxes on all or any portion of the property which becomes
"historic property. The current appraised value of the .026 acres of land is
$101,250. The current appraised value of the improvement is $29,390. The
total current appraised value is $130,640.
Date of Preparation of this Report: May 1, 1985
Prepared by: Dr. Dan L. Morrill
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission
1225 S. Caldwell St.
Charlotte, N.C. 28203
The Trotter Building at 108 South Tryon Street is a three-story brick
loft structure. The shell of the building includes portions of an 1850s
commercial structure known as Granite Row, which is today the earliest
surviving brick commercial building in Charlotte, the leading commercial
city of the Carolinas. Because of the structure's prominent location near
the Square in the center of downtown Charlotte, its interior and front
facade have been updated many times over the years. Today's front and
interior are a composite of twentieth century remodellings, while the hidden
side walls and exposed rear wall are much as they were before the Civil War.
In the early 1850s Charlotte was the Carolinas' sixth largest urban
place, an upcountry town of barely a thousand souls. But the coming of the
Charlotte & South Carolina Railroad in 1852 promised that the town might
soon grow into a city. In anticipation, a group of Charlotte businessmen
erected a string of handsome store buildings which they dubbed Granite Row
just off the square at the center of town. The row faced east toward the
railroad tracks two blocks away, so that visitors walking up the hill from
the train station would be sure to be impressed by it.
The Granite Row consisted of five connected three-story
Greek Revival style structures with
gable roofs. Between each store was a shared brick wall which extended
above the roofline to form a stepped gable. Three courses of molded,
corbelled brick formed an ornamental cornice and gable decoration. The shop
fronts were probably constructed of granite, hence the building's name. Such
Granite Rows were quite popular in cities all over the eastern United States
in the period, though few survive. Raleigh and Salisbury, North Carolina,
are known to have had examples. Perhaps the best known survivor today is
Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston, whose elegantly simple brick buildings
with their granite shopfronts have recently been restored.
Around the turn of the century, the owners of Charlotte's Granite Row
buildings began to update them in the modern Victorian, and later the
Neoclassical, fashion. Flat roofs replaced the gables, and elaborate new
fronts were substituted for the plain brick and granite; Charlotte was
booming with textile prosperity, and was too wealthy to allow such
old-fashioned looking structures to remain at the center of the city.
Included in the remodelling was the old Thomas Trotter Building, the
southern-most one of the five structures that made up the row.
In 1911 M.I.T-trained Charlotte architect Louis Asbury, the city's first
professionally-schooled designer, was hired to provide a fresh facade for
the Trotter Building. Asbury apparently had the entire original front of the
structure taken down. He replaced it with a vaguely Victorian front of wood
and metal that was dominated by huge windows on each of the upper levels.
The ground floor consisted of a glass shopfront, and an entrance to the
stairwell along the north wall that gave access to commercial space on the
second and perhaps third floors.
In 1925 the building was again remodeled, an action that nearly coincided
with Charlotte emergence in the Census of 1930 at the largest city in both
North and South Carolina. Asbury's front was replaced by a Colonial Revival
influenced facade of yellow pressed brick, the color chosen to complement
Garibaldi & Bruns Building to the north (an Asbury remodelling of two
Granite Row units) and the just-completed First National Bank tower to the
south. According to the building permit dated November 13, 1925, the work
was undertaken by contractor J.P. Propst at a cost of $2,000.00. Propst may
have designed the new facade as well, for no architect was listed.
The 1925 front was topped by a simple parapet that aligned with the lower
cornice of the adjoining Garibaldi-Bruns Building. The third story featured
three tall and narrow windows with round-arched tops each arch held a
fanlight transom, above the main one-over-one-pane
double-hung sash window. The second floor was lit by a single large
window opening that held a three-part "Chicago" window. It consisted of a
large central "picture window," flanked by two narrower one-over-one-pane
double-hung sash windows for ventilation, and topped by a long transom made
up of vertical panes.
On the ground floor, the 1925 remodelling divided the Trotter Building
into two deep, narrow shops. There were no longer front stairs from the
street to the upper floors. Instead a new stairwell was added at the back of
the building; from then on, the second and third stories were used largely
The Trotter Building was remodelled yet again in 1967. By this time the
downtown location near the Square was not as lucrative as it had been in the
era before suburban shopping malls. As consequence, the 1967 remodelling was
less costly than preceding reworkings, and left much of the earlier work
The ground floor was rebuilt as a single shop once again. The occupant
was to be once again a jeweler, just as Thomas Trotter had been, this time
Brownlee Jewelers. Contractor Board Construction of Charlotte left the
existing stamped metal ceiling, and simply added a dropped ceiling beneath
it of acoustical tile. A smooth, windowless facade of blue "Granolux
'Stucco' Marble" was put in place over the upper stories of the front,
covering the windows and all. The only ornament of the exterior was now the
jeweler's tall neon sign.
An examination of the Trotter Building in 1984 shows evidence of all of
the building's incarnations. Inside the long-disused third floor one can see
the stacks of two 1850's chimneys. One is on the south wall near the front,
and the other is at the center of the rear wall, though the fireplaces have
long since been plastered over. Floors are heavy six-inch-wide planking,
with the boards running the long way in the single large room. The roof has
two large metal ventilators. At the rear south corner is the stair to the
second floor, surrounded by a simple wooden railing apparently from the
early twentieth century.
The second floor is also basically a single room, except for recent
restrooms at the rear. At the front north corner, evidence may be seen in
the floor and ceiling to indicate where the original front stairs once ran.
The new stairwell enclosure at the rear south corner has tongue-and-groove
boarding, and a heavy wooden door with a large glass upper section and a
glass transom. The plaster ceiling of the second story has been removed to
reveal the large joists that support the third floor, each approximately 3"
x 12". The floor of the second story is made up of diagonal strips of oak, a
popular practice in the 1910s and 1920s.
The first story interior at first appears to date completely from the
1967 remodelling. Close examination, however, reveals the ornate
early-twentieth-century stamped metal ceiling hidden under the acoustical
tile. A sink at the rear of the shop dates from the same period.
Outside, careful examination indicates that much of the handsome 1925
front facade remains under the 1967 sheathing. The upper front windows were
not altered in any way when the new front was put on. Inside the third floor
one may still see the woodwork of the arched windows, complete down to much
of the glass in the elegant fanlights. The "Chicago" window at the second
level is nearly as intact. It seems quite possible that the 1967 covering
could be removed and the front returned to it vintage appearance.
The rear facade of the Trotter Building shows evidence of the earliest
period of the structure's heritage. Above the two-story
early-twentieth-century brick stairwell one can see the brick exterior of
the original 1850s building. The brick is laid in
common bond, alternating one course of headers after every three
stretcher courses. The two window openings (one now a firedoor, and the
other bricked in) are topped by brick flat arches. Above the windows is a
section of the three-course corbelled, molded brickwork that decorated the
building when it was new, when the Trotter Building of Granite Row was a
prestigious symbol of the railroad prosperity that set Charlotte on its way
to becoming the Carolinas' leading city.
A distinctive common thread linking Charlotte's 18th-Century origins with
its present configuration is retail commerce at the intersection of two
former Indian trails, now known as Trade and Tryon Streets which meet at
Independence Square. One of the last small-scale retail store buildings
remaining as part of this long tradition is the Thomas Trotter building at
108 South Tryon Street, and in fact, it is, as far as is known, the only
antebellum commercial building remaining in the city. Along with four other
companion buildings extending to the corner of Trade and Tryon Streets,
which were known as "Granite Row," it was built in 1850-51,and much of the
original construction remains today. The development of that corner and much
of the rest of Charlotte was a direct result of the boom set off by the city
acquiring rail links to the sea and the Northeast.1
In 1850, Charlotte had a population of just over one thousand, and was a
dirt-street village with the typical small merchants, cotton brokers, and
craftworks. On the southwest corner of Trade and Tryon stood a large,
two-story wood structure, the corner of which was used as a store on the
first floor, and the rest as a dwelling next to it was a smaller wood
building which was also used as a store, and later as Charlotte's first
bank, a branch of the New Bern Bank.2 That same year, a group of
merchants bought that part of the block, known as the "Davidson Corner," and
divided it into five separate store lots.3 From 1794, when Thomas
Davidson of the pioneer Mecklenburg family of that name bought the property
and built his house there, it had been owned by the Davidsons until 1842,
when the Bank of the State of North Carolina bought it at a public sale.4
In 1852, Charlotte began its ascendancy to being a major brokerage and
distribution center by the acquisition of its first rail service which ran
to Columbia, SC, thus giving it a link to the seaports. Three years later a
connection was made to Norfolk, VA, linking the city to the markets of the
Northeast. The boom brought by the great increase in cotton trade as a
result of the new railroads was reflected in the town.5 It was
just before the time of the first railroad service that the investors who
bought the "Davidson Corner" developed it to include five stores of three
stories with a common facade, which was either of granite or appeared to be
so, because it was thereafter known as "Granite Row" for the next fifty
Granite Row, or, as they first called it, Granite Range, was among the
first brick commercial buildings in the city, and indeed, may have been the
first.7 Construction began in July, 1850,8 and the
stores were completed and occupied in September, 1851, when several
merchants, including jeweler Thomas Trotter, announced in the papers that
they had removed to the "Granite Range."9 Today the basic
structure of the Trotter building appears to be the only remaining
ante-bellum brick commercial building in the city.
Number Five Granite Row, now 108 South Tryon street, was purchased by
jeweler and silversmith Thomas Trotter from the investor group in 1850, and
ownership remained in the Trotter family until 1909.10 Thomas
Trotter (1800-1865), was a Virginia native who was apprenticed to a
silversmith in Salisbury, NC at the age of eighteen, and subsequently opened
a shop in Greensboro, NC prior to 1824. In that year, he came to Charlotte
and set himself up in the jewelry business singly and at times in
partnership with others. Trotter not only would make or gild jewelry, but in
an 1833 advertisement said that he continues to manufacture silver spoons
and other articles of gold an silver, and he would inform the public, that
this is the only shop in town where such articles are repaired. As stated in
Silversmiths of North Carolina: "For nearly forty years Trotter
dominated the jewelry business of Charlotte."12
Two years after installing his jewelry business in the Granite Row,
Trotter took his son William P. in as a partner.13 When the Civil
War broke out in 1861, Trotter's four sons (by his first marriage to
Margaret Graham in 1828) enlisted in the Confederate army, and he sold much
of his extensive real estate holdings in the city to buy Confederate bonds.14
In 1864, Trotter's health began to fail, and he made out a will wherein he
left his plantation to his second wife, Jane Elizabeth Brown Trotter
(married in 1850), and the children by this marriage, and Number Five
Granite Row to the children of his first marriage.15
In July, 1865, just over three months after Thomas Trotter died on March
31, a merchant tailor named James A. Caldwell moved his business to the site
of Trotter's store, and for the next three decades it housed various retail
concerns.16 But in 1896 it was leased once again for a type of
business which has occupied the building for most of its existence: a
jewelry store. Garibaldi, Bruns and Dixon (Garibaldi-Bruns, 1916-present)
prospered so well in this location that in 1904 and 1909 they bought Number
Three and Number Four respectively of the old Granite Row, remodeled them
both with a common facade, and moved there in 1911.17
That the jewelry business flourished there in turn-of-the-century
Charlotte was not surprising, because the city was in the middle of a
sustained business boom that lasted nearly unabated from the 1880s to the
end of the 1920s. At the end of Reconstruction, Charlotte was able to
improve its rail connections in the 1870s, and over the next five decades it
became an increasingly important banking, distribution and commercial center
serving the Piedmont Carolinas as cotton mills mushroomed in the region as
part of New South industrialization.18
In 1911, when Garibaldi, Bruns and Dixon moved to their own quarters next
door, Thomas W. Wade, who had purchased the building (now No. 14 South Tryon
Street) two years earlier, put up a new facade and interior designed by
Charlotte architect Louis Asbury.19 Wade (d. 1943) was typical in
many ways of Charlotte businessmen who prospered during the city's rapid
economic expansion. He made money as a cotton broker with his Piedmont
Cotton Company, then organized and became president of the Union National
Bank in 1908 (in 1958 merged with First National Bank of Asheville, NC to
become First Union National Bank). Louis Asbury (1877-1975), the designer of
the 1911 facade, also designed the neighboring fronts and remodeling of the
Garibaldi and Bruns building (1909) and the Southern Real Estate and Loan
and Trust Company building (the former No. 2 granite row, 1913). A Charlotte
native who was educated at Trinity College (now Duke University) and MIT,
Asbury was the city's first professionally trained architect. After
practical experience in architectural firms in New York, he returned to
Charlotte in 1908 to launch a distinguished career of nearly fifty years and
over one thousand commissions. Among his best known important commissions
are the old Mecklenburg County Courthouse (1929), the Law Building (1926),
First National Bank (1915), all in Charlotte, and many large churches,
stores, municipal buildings and fine residences throughout the city and
surrounding area. 20
After the remodeling of four of the five 3-story stores of the old
Granite row, from 1900 to 1913, the buildings presented a dignified, even
stately appearance, yet they remained on a human scale which fit the lively
street activity at the town's center. Following the move of Garibaldi and
Bruns two doors down, No. 14 South Tryon was variously occupied by a
millinery shop, a short-lived bank, the Peoples Bank and Trust (1916-1920),
and a cafeteria and tea room until 1925, when T. W. Wade again had the
building remodeled and put on a different facade, this one being done by
builder James P. Propst. In this change, the side entrance and stairs
leading to the second floor were eliminated, and the building was divided
into two ten-feet wide stores at the street level, which by 1931 were
numbered 108 and 108A South Tryon Street.21
The remodeling of the Wade Building to include a street level division
and new facade was completely in keeping with similar changes in other
stores on Tryon Street in the mid-twenties, all of which reflected the great
surge in business and building activity throughout the city until the end of
1929. In 1925 alone, there were sixteen major alterations of twenty-two
storefronts in the first three blocks of South Tryon Street, which included
the twenty-story First National Bank building next door to Wade's on the
south side.22 Following this remodeling, number 108 was occupied
by a shoe store (1926-31) and the National Hat Shops (1933-1958), and 108A
by various clothing stores.23
In 1940, Brownlee Jewelers set up business in number 108A, and continued
operating there until 1967, when it took over the entire store building and
the present facade was put on over the 1925 one.24 While vast
changes have taken place recently in the vicinity of 108 South Tryon Street,
particularly the building of large Bauhaus-type, impersonal office and hotel
towers, Brownlee Jewelers still flourishes as the only small scale retail
store remaining in the first block of South Tryon. The present owner of the
property, who is also head of Brownlee, Al Rousso, would not only like to
preserve the building for its historic character but because of its
uniqueness as a busy small retail store in that part of the business
A building that for over 130 years has been a part of a long tradition of
small retail business in the center Of the city surely deserves
preservation, and has earned the distinction of being historically
1 LeGette Blythe and Charles Brockman, Hornet's Nest: The
Story of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (Charlotte: Public Library of
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, 1961), pp. 259-261.
2 Ibid., p. 449; Charlotte City Directory, 1875/6, p. 135.
3 Unrecorded deed dated 6 July 1850; Mecklenburg County Deed
Book 3, pp. 243-245, 11 December 1850.
4 Mecklenburg County Old Deed Book 15, p. 54, 1 November 1794;
Ibid., Book 17, p. 743, 1 May 1802; Ibid., Book 24, p. 42, 14 July 1836;
Ibid., Book 2, p. 26, 7 March 1842.
5 Blythe and Brockman, pp. 259-61; Charlotte City Directory,
1875/6, p. 132.
6 Various Mecklenburg County deed references from 1855 to
1907; c.f. note 10.
7 A description of Trade and Tryon Streets in 1850 states that
there was only one brick building in the city besides the courthouse, a
one-story structure on the east side of North Tryon. Charlotte City
Directory, 1875/6. pp. 132-135.
8 The Charlotte Journal, July 31, 1850, p. 2.
9 Ibid., October 8, 1851, p. 2.
10 Mecklenburg County Deed Book 3, p. 343, 11 December 1850;
Ibid., Book 254, p. 71, 10 July 1909.
11 George B. Cutten and Mary R. Peacock, Silversmiths of
North Carolinas 1696-1850 (Raleigh: North Carolina Department of
Cultural Resources, Division of archives and History, 1973), pp. 111-115.
12 Ibid., p. 113.
13 Western Democrat, January 28, 1853, p. 3.
14 Cutten and Peacock, p. 113; Mecklenburg County Marriage
15 Original will of Thomas Trotter, dated 25 May 1864,
probated July, 1865, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, N.C.;
Mecklenburg County Marriage Bonds.
16 Western Democrat, July 3, 1865, p. 4; Ibid., various
dates; The Charlotte Journal, various dates; Sanborn Insurance Map,
1885, p. 4.
17 Mecklenburg County Deed Book 250, p. 394; William H.
Huffman, " A Historical Sketch of the Garibaldi and Bruns Building,"
Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission, February, 1983;
Sanborn Insurance Maps, 1900, p. 10, 1905, p. 13 and 1911, p. 4.
18 Blythe and Brockman, pp. 259-60, et passim; William H.
Huffman, "A Historical Sketch of the Charlotte Supply Company Building,"
Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission, August, 1983.
19 Mecklenburg County Deed Book 254, p. 71, 10 July 1909;
Louis Asbury Job Book, Job # 66, 28 February 1911, Louis Asbury Papers
#4237, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at
20 Louis Asbury's Job Book; information on file at Charlotte
Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission.
21 Charlotte City Directories, 1911-1931; City of Charlotte
Building Permit No. 6509, 13 November 1925.
22 City of Charlotte building permit records.
23 Charlotte City Directories, 1925-present.
24 Ibid.; City of Charlotte Building Permit dated 21 February
Bibliography of Principal Sources
Blythe, Le Gette and Charles Brockman, Hornet's Nest: The Story of
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (Charlotte: Public Library of Charlotte
and Mecklenburg County, 1961).
Charlotte City Directories.
The Charlotte Journal
Cutten, George B. and Mary R. Peacock, Silversmiths of North Carolina.
1696-1850 (Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources,
Division of Archives and History, 1973), pp. 111-115.
Mecklenburg County Deed Books
Sanborn Insurance Maps