|To: Projects Committee
From: Dan L. Morrill and Sherry Joines
Date: July 30, 1997
Re: Endangered Properties in Rural Mecklenburg
A. Statement of Purpose. Because the Board of County
Commissioners has created a task force that will be investigating the
possibilities of rural preservation, the consultants to the Historic
Landmarks Commission are conducting a survey of the historic man-made
environment of rural Mecklenburg County. Part of this effort has been to
identify those buildings and sites that have historic significance and
which are threatened either by physical deterioration or encroaching
development. It is the purpose of this report to make a preliminary
recommendation to the Projects Committee of those sites, both designated
and undesignated as historic landmarks, which are threatened and which,
therefore, require the immediate attention of the Projects Committee.
All of the structures and sites listed herein do not exhibit distinctive
aesthetic features. However, in our judgment, they do tell us something
important about the evolution of rural life in Mecklenburg County. It is
important to remember that Mecklenburg's rural history did not occur
solely in the nineteenth century by wealthy cotton planters but is a
process with many phases and a variety of people and property types.
B. Methodology. This list of threatened properties was
generated by a review of the Rural Mecklenburg Inventory conducted by
the Commission in the 1980s, supplemented by extensive field work
performed in the last six weeks by Ms. Joines and Dr. Morrill with the
assistance of Mr. Seamus Donaldson. Thus, it is as comprehensive as time
and resources allowed. Three criteria were paramount in determining
which properties were selected: 1) association with important historic
events or people, 2) excellent examples of a property type important to
the understanding of Mecklenburg's rural past, and 3) level of
C. Financial Resources and HLC Criteria. The Historic
Landmarks Commission uses the following criteria to select its projects
for acquisition and restoration.
1. Historic Significance. The property must be a historic
landmark or in the judgment of the HLC be worthy of Historic Landmark
2. Economic Feasibility. The HLC must determine that the
project has economic feasibility in terms of re-sale. It is not
necessary for the HLC to make a profit. It can even lose money.
However, political realities mandate that any losses should be
3. Level of Endangerment. The HLC must determine that the
historic nature of the property is manifestly endangered of being
The Historic Landmarks Commission has approximately $630,000 of
unencumbered money available to spend.
D. Endangered Historic Rural Sites. The list of threatened
rural properties is divided into two sections. First, the report lists
those properties that have been designated as historic landmarks and
which, therefore, have some legal protection. Second, it lists those
properties that have not been designated as historic landmarks and
which, therefore, have no legal protection in terms of historic
1. Designated as Historic Landmarks and Endangered.
a. W. T. Alexander House. Local tradition holds that this
plantation house was built in 1799 for John Orr. It later became the
centerpiece of a major cotton plantation of approximately 1000 acres.
The Historic Landmarks Commission attempted to work with the owner to
identify development schemes that would be most protective for the
property. The owners are still undecided as to what they want to do.
Recommendation: Historic Landmarks Commission should contact
the owners to obtain an update on their plans.
b. Beaver Dam. The house was built in 1829 by Major William
Davidson, II. It was the site of the meeting that determined the
location of Davidson College. The house is currently unoccupied. The
family cannot agree on methods of sale. The Town of Davidson and
Davidson College are attempting to purchase the house, but owners will
not accept the initial offer. Recommendation: Historic
Landmarks Commission should continue to monitor the situation and only
become involved if prospective purchase by the College and the Town of
Davidson does not occur.
c. James A. Blakeney House. The Vernacular Victorian style
residence was erected in 1905-06 for James Blakeney, a prosperous
farmer. The Historic Landmarks Commission is attempting to purchase
and rehabilitate and sell the house with protective covenants in the
deed. Recommendation: None needed. The Historic Landmarks
Commission is moving ahead with this project. The house will be
restored and sold with protective covenants in the deed.
d. Croft Schoolhouse. The initial portion of the Croft
Schoolhouse was completed in c.1890. A major addition occurred in the
early 1900s, making the Croft Schoolhouse the largest existing
pre-1920 schoolhouse in Mecklenburg County. The Historic Landmarks
Commission has approached the owners, Linda and Troy Cole, about the
prospect of purchasing this building. It was sold to the Coles by the
Historic Landmarks Commission under the proviso that the Coles would
stabilize and protect the building. This has not occurred. The Coles
state that they are interested in selling the building, and they are
obtaining an appraisal. Recommendation: the Historic Landmarks
Commission should aggressively pursue purchase of the Croft School
House, restore it, and sell it with protective deed covenants. The
only restraining consideration should be economic viability of the
project. A first step would be to obtain the sales price, by ordering
our own appraisal if necessary, performing a structural analysis of
the building to obtain estimates for repair, and considering the
market for a variety of adaptive reuses.
Hugh Torance House and Store. Hugh Torance built the initial
log portion of this house c. 1779. It was later enlarged as Hugh
Torance prospered as a planter and merchant in the early 1800s. The
Mecklenburg Historical Association currently has responsibility for
administration, although a new board is being constituted. The
property is owned by the owners of Cedar Grove. The Hugh Torance House
and Store are not open to the public on a regular basis.
Recommendation: the Historic Landmarks Commission should continue
to monitor the situation and only become involved if no other parties
are responsible for the preservation of the structure.
2. Not Designated as a Historic Landmark but Endangered.
Recommendation: the Projects Committee should recommend to the
Survey Committee that it process all of the following properties for
historic landmark designation.
a. Dr. James Samuel Abernethy House (MK 1486), Mt. Holly -
Huntersville Road. The log core of this house was enlarged with a
two-story front gable wing around the 1870s. Some sawnwork details
indicates the Vernacular Victorian style of the update. Dr. Abernethy
did not build the house, but lived here during his years of service in
the area. The house is not far from that of his competitor Dr. W.P.
Craven. The two were known locally as "Dr. Pill and Dr. Powder."
Although still stable, the dwelling is facing serious neglect.
Recommendation: the Historic Landmarks Commission should attempt
to contact the owner to determine the future status of the property.
If necessary, the Commission might consider developing a preservation
strategy for the house.
b. John Milton Alexander House (MK 1449), Beatties Ford
Road. This interesting house was completed in 1874 and exhibits many
unusual Vernacular Victorian decorative features. Alexander farmed
forty-nine acres near the house and ran a blacksmith shop, cotton gin,
and sawmill with his brother-in-law. Two tenant houses existed on the
property in the 1870s. The house is in a deteriorated state and has
been compromised by modern houses and mobile homes placed near it. It
is still significant architecturally, however for its paired windows,
sunburst motif, and pendant brackets which create an exuberant
dwelling uncommon in Mecklenburg County. Recommendation: the
Historic Landmarks Commission should attempt to contact the owner to
determine the future the status of the property. As an individual
structure, the Alexander House is important. The major drawback has to
do with its setting. Indeed, this is a rare instance when moving the
house to a new location might be justified. At the very least the
Commission needs to assess the structural integrity of the house. At
some point in the near future, assuming that the house is sound, the
Commission should attempt to secure options and easements on the
structure to assure its long-term preservation.
c. William Caldwell Farm (MK 1258), Caldwell Road. This is a
two-story log house, surrounded by a significant collection of
outbuildings, built in 1844 and significantly altered in the 1930s and
1980s. The farm is significant because of its age, because it contains
a two-story log house, and because it possesses a large number of
in-tact outbuildings (perhaps a tenant house) and large fields.
Recommendation: the Historic Landmarks Commission should clarify
the impact of I-485 upon the property and advise the owner as to how
he or she might mitigate whatever adverse impact the roadway will have
upon the property. Moreover, the Historic Landmarks Commission should
seek an option to purchase the property should it become available for
sale. Finally, the Historic Landmarks Commission should pursue the
acquisition of easements that will protect the property.
d. Croft Filling Station (MK 1542), Old Statesville Road.
This structure was built in the 1920s by the Alexander family. It is a
random-coursed fieldstone building with a hip-roofed porch. The
filling station is significant because it exemplifies the romantic
notions of automobile travel that characterized the 1920s. Filling
stations are also important in understanding the changes in rural life
that were brought about by the advent of the automobile. The building
seems to be used as storage. Recommendation: the Historic
Landmarks Commission should seek to secure an option and easements on
the Croft Filling Station, so that the property will be protected.
e. Oehler House (U - 27), off Huntersville - Concord Road.
Tradition holds that this house was built in the 1840s as the
centerpiece of a cotton plantation. Inspection of the property
suggests that the house might date from the 1860s or 1870s. It is
currently on the Study List for prospective historic landmark
designation. Recommendation: the Historic Landmarks Commission
should pursue securing an option and easements on the Oehler House, so
that the property will be protected.
f. Thrift P&N Depot (MK 1693), Old Mount Holly Road. The
Thrift P&N Depot was completed in 1912 and designed by noted Charlotte
architect C. C. Hook. It is the only P&N station remaining in
Mecklenburg County. The Historic Landmarks Commission considered
purchasing the building from CSX some two or three years ago. The
problem was that the County staff was concerned about environmental
issues at the station. Recommendation: the Historic Landmarks
Commission should ask Preservation/North Carolina to approach CSX to
obtain an option on the property. Preservation/North Carolina would
then attempt to locate a buyer who would restore the station.
g. Washam Farm (U - 14), Davidson - Concord Road. This is an
excellent example of a Craftsman Bungalow, most likely dating from the
1920s. Several outbuildings and expansive fields are extant. Mature
trees survive in the front yard . The property is currently for sale.
The house and 1.3 acres are not for sale. According to the realtor,
whoever purchases the 84.79 acres surrounding the house will have a
right of first refusal when the current owner dies. The surrounding
land (barn included) are for sale for $10,000 per acre or $847,900.
Tax Parcel Number 001-092-05. The property is zoned R3 and does not
have water or sewer, although the realtor says that water and sewer
will be provided within the next two years. Most of the land does not
perk. The land has approximately 500' of road frontage. The realtor is
not certain as to whether the owner (a group of physicians) would be
willing to subdivide the property.
The Historic Landmarks Commission should make a concerted effort to
prevent the land on the Washam Farm from being developed in a typical
cul-de-sac format. If this concept of development continues to pervade
Mecklenburg County, most, if not all, of the vestiges of the rural
landscape will eventually be lost. The fact that this land is for sale
and possesses importance to the setting of an historic house, its
outbuildings, and the roadway, provides the Historic Landmarks
Commission with a rare opportunity to "teach through example." The end
product hopefully will be what is called by preservationists an "Open
Space Design," somewhat similar to what the Historic Landmarks
Commission executed at Oaklawn.
Recommendation: the Historic Landmarks Commission should
pursue the purchase of this property, restore the house, and submit a
call for proposals from developers who would develop the property
without unduly compromising the setting of the house. Contact owner
and attempt to negotiate an option to purchase. Option should be
renewable and transferrable. This will fix the price for the property.
After option is obtained, circulate a request for proposals from
developers who would develop property with sympathetic treatment of
rural roadway and existing farm buildings, including house. Option
should include right of first refusal on existing farmhouse when
current owner dies. This option should be held by the HLC after
surrounding option is sold to developer.
h. Grier Farm, Tilley Morris Road. This is an excellent
example of a Pyramidal cottage. The expansive fields are a lone
survivor of the rural landscape in an area which is experiencing rapid
and unremitting suburbanization. Recommendation: the Historic
Landmarks Commission should pursue the acquisition of an option to
purchase and easements that will protect the property.