Historic Institutional Buildings In
Center City Charlotte
Mecklenburg County Courthouse (1928)
City and County government and Christian congregations have played the
largest part in erecting institutional buildings in Center City Charlotte.
Established in 1768 as the seat of government for Mecklenburg County,
Charlotte has always had a courthouse.1
The first was in the intersection of what are now Trade and Tryon Streets,
locally known as the Square. The second was on West Trade Street and
Church Street; and the third, a Neo Classical style edifice designed by
Frank Milburn, was located just below South Tryon and Third Street.
The oldest surviving building that served as the Mecklenburg County
Courthouse is Louis Asbury’s imposing Neo Classical style former courthouse
at 700 East Trade Street, which officially opened on March 10, 1928.
This City Hall stood at
6th and North Tryon Sts.
Gottfrid Norrman's City Hall (1891)
The City of Charlotte has had several city halls. The earliest
photographed Charlotte City Hall was a whimsical Victorian style building on
North Tryon Street. This structure was replaced in 1891 by a
magnificent Richardsonian Romanesque style edifice that stood at North Tryon
Street and Fifth Street. Designed by Swedish-born architect Gottfrid
L. Norrman (1846-1909), the building housed all city services, including the
police department and the fire department. Some residents still
remember the clock in the tower of the Charlotte City Hall striking the
hour. The bell could be heard in all sections of Charlotte. By the
early 1920s, Charlotte had outgrown this city hall. Consequently, James
Oscar Walker (1879-1947), elected Mayor on May 3, 1921, advocated the
construction of a new municipal complex. The City purchased an entire block
on East Avenue, now East Trade Street, in the midst of what was then a
fashionable residential area. On January 26, 1924, City Council
authorized Mayor Walker to negotiate a contract with Charles Christian Hook
to design the new city hall.2 A native of
Wheeling, W. Va., and graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.,
Hook had moved here in 1891 to teach mechanical drawing in the Charlotte
Graded School and soon thereafter had begun designing homes for the
Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company, the developers of Dilworth.3
C. C. Hook's Charlotte
City Hall (1925)
The new governmental complex consisted of four structures. An administrative
building, commonly known as the City Hall, was placed in the middle of the
block, thereby allowing for future expansion. A fire station, a police
station, and public health building were constructed along the southern edge
of the property.
These are the public
health, police station, and fire station that stood behind City Hall.
All three have been demolished.
Governmental agencies occupied the new facilities on October 30, 1925, and
the initial meeting of City Council occurred there on November 1, 1925.4
The fire station, police station, and public health buildings no longer
stand. The City of Charlotte also superintends two municipal cemeteries in
Center City Charlotte – Old Settlers Cemetery and Elmwood/Pinewood Cemetery.5
One historic fire station survives. It is Station No. 4 at 420 West
Fifth Street, which was completed in 1925. Another local governmental
building of historical note is A. G. Odell’s former Charlotte Civic Center
(1973) on South College St., which is about to undergo insensitive
alteration. Finally, three historic public schools or portions thereof
survive in the urban core. They include two that served African
Americans, Alexander Street School and the former gymnasium of Second Ward
High School, as well as Harding High School, where dramatic events
surrounding the racial integration of public schools occurred in 1957.6
The relocation of the main Center
City Fire Station to East Trade St. from North Tryon St. persuaded the
City to construct a new station on West Fifth Street in 1925. It
continued in service until 1972. It is now a museum.
The Federal government contributed significantly to the built environment of
Center City Charlotte by erecting a Neo Classical Revival style U.S. Post
Office and Federal Courthouse on West Trade Street in 1917.
This 1906 postcard
shows the U. S. Post Office that was demolished in 1917 to make way for
the new building. Note the former U. S. Mint Building that stood
in 1934 to accommodate the needs of a fast-growing city, the imposing
edifice was designed by Government architect James A. Wetmore. “The
construction of the Former Charlotte Post Office in 1917,” writes historian
Emily Ramsey, “and its subsequent expansion in 1934 is a tangible reminder
of the growth of Charlotte itself. From its humble beginnings in taverns and
rented spaces to its occupation of the largest Federal Building in the
Carolinas, the Charlotte Post Office developed along with the city, and
reflects its progress and maturation during the first half of the twentieth
Jews comprised the only
non-Christian religious community of note in Charlotte in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Hebrew United
Brotherhood Synagogue stood on West 7th St. between Pine St. and Graham
St. in Fourth Ward.
Center City Charlotte
contains several churches that date from the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries when Charlotte was experiencing a surge in population
and growth due to its rising importance as a textile manufacturing and
wholesale distribution center. Three continue to serve African American
congregations. They are Grace A.M.E. Zion Church (1902) on South Brevard Street.
in what was once the heart of the Brooklyn neighborhood in Second Ward,
Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church (1911) on North Myers St., and
Grace A.M.E. Zion
Church is in the background.
Presbyterian Church was built by 1911 to serve the nearby suburbs of
McNinchville, Irwin Park, and Woodlawn.
Presbyterian Church on East Seventh Street (c. 1896). A fourth church,
originally West Avenue Presbyterian Church (c. 1911), served the suburbs of
McNinchville, Irwin Park, and Woodlawn in the early twentieth century but
belongs to an African American congregation today. Four Center City churches have been
converted to secular uses – First Baptist Church, now Spirit Square, on
North Tryon Street, First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, now the McColl Center for the Arts, also on North Tryon, the Advent Christian
Church on North McDowell, which has been converted into offices, and East
Avenue Tabernacle A.R.P. Church, now the Aunt Stella Center, on Elizabeth
The oldest and largest historic church in Center City Charlotte is First
Presbyterian Church on West Trade Street. Most of the early white
settlers who migrated to Mecklenburg County in the eighteenth century were
Scots-Irish Presbyterians. As Calvinists, they believed in a stern but
merciful God who rewards good and punishes evil. They were also experienced
pioneers. The Scots-Irish were Scotsmen who had been sent by King James I to
Ireland. Later, many had migrated to the New World, mainly to Pennsylvania,
Maryland and Delaware. After 1730, when the Royal government began to market
land aggressively in the Carolina "backcountry," the Scots-Irish started
pouring into the Piedmont in search of cheap land. Some, like Thomas Polk,
stopped when they came to the major crossroads formed by what is now Trade
Street and Tryon Street.
were not alone. Even in Mecklenburg County there were Germans, English,
Welshmen and others. Especially in county seats like Charlotte, where tavern
keepers and lawyers tended to settle, several Christian denominations could
be found. It is not surprising that the first church on this site,
established in 1815, was a town church. The Presbyterians bought this lot
and erected their own house of worship in 1845, and they have been using the
land ever since. The oldest part of the building you see today is the very
front section. It dates from 1857. Most of the ornate structure, including
its crenelated parapets, towers, spires, and pinnacles, was built in the
St. Peter's Episcopal
St. Peter's Roman
Street contained many of Charlotte's most architecturally ornate churches.
Several, including Second Presbyterian Church, St. Mark's Lutheran Church,
Trinity Methodist Church, and Tryon St. Methodist Church, have been
destroyed. Happily, two imposing churches of the late nineteen century
survive, and neither is endangered. They are St. Peter's Episcopal
Church and St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church. There has been an
Episcopal house of worship on the corner of North Tryon Street and Seventh
Street since 1857. The present Richardsonian Romanesque style sanctuary was
completed in 1893. Jane Smedberg Wilkes, the founder of St. Peter's
Hospital and Good Samaritan Hospital, was a member; and there is a memorial window to her in the church.9
St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church was established in 1851 mainly to serve
the Irish who were laboring in gold mines in and around Charlotte. Two of
the largest mines, the Rudisell and the St. Catherine's, were close by.
That's probably why St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church was located on what was then the southern edge
of town. The current church building, which was erected in 1893, is the only
19th century structure remaining on South Tryon Street, except for the
fanciful Victorian Eastlake style rectory next door, which was completed in
1897. The similarity of St. Peter's design to that of buildings being
erected at Belmont Abbey College in Gaston County
suggests that one architect fashioned all of the buildings.10
First United Methodist
United Methodist Church is the final historic house of worship on Tryon
Street that still serves its original purpose. Architecturally, it
is an extravagant example of the Late Gothic Revival style. Typically
constructed of stone, structures of this type were especially popular as
churches or college buildings, such as Princeton University in New Jersey,
Yale University in Connecticut, and Duke University in Durham, North
Carolina. James Buchanan Duke, whose money created Duke
University, played a role in establishing First United Methodist Church in
Charlotte. In the early 1920's, Duke met with Charlotte Methodist E. R.
Bucher, an employee of what is now Duke Power Company, and said, "You know,
I'm going to spend a great deal of time in Charlotte. I think I ought to do
something for Charlotte Methodism." Later Duke promised to contribute
$100,000 if Trinity Methodist Church and Tryon Street Methodist Church, both
in Uptown Charlotte, would merge and "build a representative stone church."
On November 24, 1926, Trinity Methodist Church and Tryon Street Methodist
Church did vote to unite. The first service was held here on October 30,
1927. Although J. B. Duke had died in 1925, his estate did contribute money
to the building of First United Methodist Church. The architect of the
Charlotte church was Edwin Brewer Phillips of Memphis, Tennessee.11
Public schools came to
Charlotte in 1882 during the era of legal racial segregation. Partly
intended to provide a more educated workforce for local factories and
warehouses, the South Graded Schools for whites occupied the building that
once housed the North Carolina Military Institute on Morehead Street on the
southern edge of Charlotte; and Myers Street School for blacks was
constructed in Second Ward.
This 1887 photographs
shows the students and staff at the Myers Street School.
By the early 1900s several public
schools had appeared in Center City Charlotte, including First Ward Graded
School and Bethune School. The impetus to construct more educational
facilities continued into the 1920s and 1930s as the population of
Charlotte, both black and white, increased. Second Ward High School
for blacks opened in 1923; and the school's modernist gymnasium (1949),
designed by A. G. Odell, Jr., survives. The 1930s saw the completion of a
second major high school for whites, Harry P. Harding High School, which
served Fourth Ward and the western sections.12
1940 Harding Men's
portions of the building are extant. Finally, a new brick elementary
school for blacks, designed by George Rhodes and financed through the
Federal Public Works Administration, replaced an earlier wooden building on
Alexander Street and received its first students in 1935.13
Alexander St. School
The 1929 Sanborn Map
shows the first Alexander St. School and the neighborhood it served.
1. For an historic overview of Mecklenburg
County see Legette Blythe and Charles R. Brockman,
Hornet’s Nest: The Story of
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.
2. Dan L. Morrill, "Survey and Research
Report on the Charlotte City Hall" (http://landmarkscommission.org/surveysrcityhall.htm),
6 Februray 1980. Hereinafter cited as City Hall.
3. Lisa Bush Hankin, "Charles Christian
Hook (http://landmarkscommission.org/educationhook.htm), nd.
4. City Hall.
5. Dan L. Morrill, "Survey and Research
Report on Settlers' Cemetery (http://landmarkscommission.org/surveys&rsettlers.htm),
3 January 1984. Emily D. Ramsey, "Survey and Research Report on
Elmwood/Pinewood Cemetery (http://landmarkscommission.org/Surveys&relmwood.htm),
13 May 2001.
6. For a
description of the Civil Rights era in Charlotte-Mecklenburg see Dan L.
Morrill, "The Emergence of Diversity" (http://danandmary.com/historyofcharlottechapter12newfinal.htm),
2001. Doug Hicken, ed., Charlotte Fire Department Since 1887
(Fine Books Publishing Company, 1999), 21.
7. Emily D. Ramsey,
"Survey and Research Report on the Former Charlotte Post Office" (http://landmarkscommission.org/surveys&rpostoffice.htm),
1 April 2000.
8. Dan L.
Morrill, "Route VII. Uptown Walking Tour Part I" (http://landmarkscommission.org/educationneighuptown1.htm),
n.d. Hereinafter cited as Part I.
9. Part I..
10. Dan L. Morrill, "Route VII.
Uptown Walking Tour Part II" (http://landmarkscommission.org/educationneighbuptown2.htm),
11. Part I.
12. For an overview of the history of
public schools in Charlotte, N.C., see Harry P. Harding, "Charlotte Public
Schools." Hereinafter cited as Harding.