Route VI: Northwestern & Western Mecklenburg County
Route VI. is approximately 50 miles long and
takes about one and a half hours to complete. Allow extra time for stops.
The best time of day to drive this route is in the morning, since then you
can avoid the glare of the afternoon sun as you drive west for the first few
miles of the route.
Click on the map to browse
The Northwest and Western Mecklenburg tour
begins on a stretch of country road rich in ante-bellum history, and ends in
Steele Creek, one of the county's largest and most cohesive rural
communities. As you drive between the two, this rural scene is interrupted
by the (almost constant) comings and going of airplanes at Charlotte's
Douglas International Airport. The airport has had a dual effect on the
area. Many old homesites have disappeared under its runways; yet it has
delayed the development of new subdivisions and so the area maintains its
strong rural character.
The tour starts at St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Beatties Ford Rd.
- From Charlotte, take W. Trade St. out of the city center, and
follow the signs for I-77 north. From I-77, drive to the north of
Charlotte and take the Harris Blvd./Reams Rd. exit. Turn left onto Reams
Rd. Continue for almost 2 miles (Reams Rd. turns off to the left, but you
go straight ahead onto Vance Rd.) At the stop sign, turn left onto the Mt.
Holly-Huntersville Rd. St. Mark's Episcopal Church is .8 miles down the
road to your left on a wooded hillside. Turn up the drive into the parking
1. This picturesque Victorian
Gothic church is the oldest Episcopal church in
rural Mecklenburg. Discontented with Hopewell Presbyterian Church to the
north, a local farmer, Columbus McCoy, encouraged the rector of St. Peter's
Episcopal Church in Charlotte to visit the community in 1883. McCoy's
friends and neighbors were impressed, and a year later, the
Church of St. Mark's was founded and received its first minister, the
Rev. Edwin Osborne. Building the church was not so easy as securing a
congregation. Severe rains during 1886 almost totally destroyed the season's
crops, setting back fund-raising efforts. Moreover, in the same year, the
Charleston earthquake destroyed the brick kiln which had been set up at the
creek branch below the site. A local builder, the young John Ellis McAulay,
was in charge of producing the bricks. Ever resourceful, he reconstructed a
crude and dangerous kiln using an old steam boiler with no pressure gauge.
By some miracle, McAulay's boiler survived, and the first
service in the new church was held in 1887. At that time, this wooded hill
overlooked the intersection of two sand-clay lanes. In the valley below the
church the Whitley Mill and the miller's house sat alongside Long Creek, and
across the creek was a country store.
St. Mark's Episcopal Church
Gothic-style architecture has traditionally been
associated with the Episcopal church in America. Notice the steep pitch of
the roof, the cross-shaped floor plan, and the lancet windows set in Gothic
arches. Try to find the cornerstone, and take time to explore the
graveyard. Look for the grave of Captain Gluyas whose
house you will see down the road.
John McAulay's perseverance in making bricks obviously
pleased the congregation, for he was asked to build the rectory in 1887-8.
It is just one of many that McAulay designed and built in the area between
the late 1880s and the early 1900s. But, despite his hard work, it is
thought that McAulay never made a profit from his labors.
Return to the
Mt. Holly-Huntersville Rd. and turn left. Cross Beatties Ford Rd., and after
.6 miles notice the house on your left.
2. This is the former
home of Dr. Walter Pharr Craven. He built his house next to his first
wife's childhood home in the late 1880s. His first wife was Martha Addie May
Gluyas, and they raised their eleven children here. This is the first of
many nineteenth-century houses that are scattered along what was once a
major road in the area. Take your time and drive slowly so that you don't
3. Less than one half miles farther, and also on
your left is Gluyas Acres. It was built by Dr. Craven's father-in-law,
Captain Thomas Gluyas. Gluyas emigrated to America with his parents from
England in 1834. The oldest portion of Gluyas Acres is a log house thought
to have been constructed soon after his marriage to Letitia Beeson in 1847.
Captain Gluyas was one of the founding members of St. Mark's Episcopal
4. Just under one and a half miles farther on your
right is the house which belonged to Dr. Craven's competitor, Dr. James
Samuel Abernathy. Locals referred to them as "Dr. Pill and Dr. Powder." The
house has an early log core, which is to the right of the front gabled
projecting wing. The additions were made during the 1870s. Dr. Abernathy's
ancestors had originally settled in Charlotte (then a small village), but
moved to the country to avoid the temptations which the "city" presented to
5. A quarter mile farther on your left you will
pass the ante-bellum home of the Luckey family. Robert Luckey purchased the
house and a 400-acre farm in 1855, and the family farmed cotton here until
the Second World War. Even then they only stopped because boll weevil
infestations were making the crop uneconomical.
6. After a farther one half mile on your left is the Abernathy
farm. The mid-nineteenth century Abernathy farmhouse was the center of a
large cotton farm. It follows the "I" pattern of a typical Mecklenburg
farmhouse, being two stories high, one room deep, with side gables, exterior
end chimneys, and a central entrance hall. During the tour you will see many
more houses built in this style.
7. A farther half mile down the road on your right there is yet
ante-bellum house of log construction. Notice the single exterior
chimney on a fieldstone foundation. Log buildings usually had only one
chimney. The stone foundation is a clue to its great age.
the Mt. Holly - Huntersville Road through the traffic signal at Hwy. 16 and
after 3 miles, turn right at the stop sign onto Hwy. 27. You will notice a
house to your left .3 miles past the intersection and on a rise.
8. The Connell House is typical of many one-story farmhouses built
around the turn of the century in Mecklenburg. Notice its generous
wrap-around porch and prominent
gables. Mr. Connell ran a popular riding stables here.
Take the next
left turn onto Belmeade Rd. (It used to be called Blacksnake Rd. because of
the many black snakes in the area, but according to one local resident, the
name was changed when a church was built because the members didn't think
that the association was appropriate.) Turn right at the stop sign onto
Moore's Chapel Rd. Not far past the intersection you will pass a picturesque
Victorian house on your left.
9. George Williamson built the house in about 1875. All of the
wood for the house was prepared on site and cured for a year before
building. The weatherboarding on the house is reputed to have come from one
tall pine tree! The two-level porch is relatively unusual for rural
Moore's Chapel Rd., and pause at the old frame house opposite Moore's Chapel
10. This house was also built from lumber cut on the property.
Fabius Wilkinson built it between 1905 and 1907. Notice the
sawtooth shingles and diamond shaped vent on the cross gable. Both were
popular embellishments at the turn of the century, but underneath the
dressing is the very traditional Mecklenburg "I" house.
11. Across the fields and behind the trees to your left is the
rather grand house of the Moore brothers, who donated land for the
church. At one time a plank walkway was said to have been laid between the
house and the church.
Moore's Chapel Rd for .7 miles. Turn right onto Hawfield Rd. After .3 miles,
pull in to view the Hovis Spratt house which is set well back from the road
on your right.
Hovis Spratt House used to be in the Steele Creek community, and was
moved here to avoid demolition in 1986. Franklin Hovis began building the
house just before the Civil War and completed it after he returned from
service. Family folklore states that he cut the beams and clapboard from
pines so tall that he did not have to remove any branches. Notice the
traditional design of the house.
convenient place to turn, and retrace your steps, turning left off of
Hawfield Rd. onto Moore's Chapel Rd. When you pass the Moore's Chapel
Methodist Church on your right, turn right onto Sam Wilson Rd. Continue on
Sam Wilson Rd. crossing Wilkinson Blvd., and at the "T" junction turn left
onto Old Dowd Rd. After 1.7 miles, turn right at the stop sign onto Wallace
Neal Rd., and then after 2.5 miles turn right onto Dixie Rd just past a
modern convenience store. Drive .7 miles and turn right onto Mt. Olive
Church Rd. Stop just after the turn to view the Cooper log house.
house is unique in that it demonstrates changes in building traditions
in the county over a 100-year period. It is also one of Mecklenburg's
original pioneer dwellings, and one of only two known eighteenth-century log
buildings to remain intact.
The house's story begins with the log section which is
covered by modern siding but which forms the left side of the house. William
Cooper, the son of one of Steele Creek's first settlers, probably built the
log cabin around 1780. By that time the strongly Scots-Irish settlement of
Steele Creek had established itself in the southwest of the county. Cooper's
log house was typical of many of the first homes in the area. Pines were
hand hewn to produce twelve-inch-thick logs which were laid horizontally and
notched to fit together at the corners. Curved logs were laid first since
the weight of those on top would help to straighten them in time. The gaps
between the logs were filled with clay to make the building weatherproof.
These early dwellings usually had one entrance, one window, a dirt floor,
and an external brick or stone chimney.
Cooper Log House
William lived the life of a typical early Mecklenburg
farmer, growing a variety of crops, including corn, wheat, hay, oats, and
cotton, and raising livestock. Close to the house were slave quarters, and
his slaves could supplement their rations by hunting, fishing, and raising
their own crops.
When William died in 1834, his son Alexander took over
the house and farm and probably built the two-story addition to the right of
the log house. The flush eaves and tenon-and-mortise construction are
characteristic of this era. The second addition, a frame structure with an
internal chimney directly behind the log structure, was made in 1880 by the
next heir, Thomas Cooper. Thomas Cooper held the prestigious office of
sheriff of Mecklenburg County between 1887 and 1898.
convenient place to turn, and retrace your path to the junction with Dixie
Rd. Turn right onto Dixie Rd. After less than half a mile, you will see the
Freeman house on your right.
14. Ike Freeman built this house on the site of his old family
home in 1914. The family still treasures a brick saved from the chimney or
foundation of the earlier house. It bears the date 1757, making this one of
the first sites of settlement in the area. Ike was a "jack-of-all-trades".
Besides being an employee of the exciting new Southern Utilities Company
(now Duke Power), he also ran a farm and was an accomplished carpenter. His
was the first house in the neighborhood to have a telephone and electricity,
yet for years he resisted the idea of indoor plumbing!
Dixie Rd. for a farther .3 miles. On your right, just past the junction with
Byrum Rd., is Dr. Query's house.
15. Ike Freeman probably helped to construct this
house, built for Dr. Query in 1919 by a neighbor, Paul J. Brown. Dr.
Query served the neighborhood for over thirty years. Local residents still
remember coming to his office when it was located in the left part of the
building--with a separate door of course. The adjoining porte cochere was
just big enough to drive a Model T or Model A Ford through, so that patients
stayed dry in bad weather. But many remember earlier days when they arrived
by horse and wagon.
Dixie Rd., (Hwy. 160) which now changes its name to Steele Creek Rd. After
almost a mile, pull into the grounds of the Steele Creek Presbyterian
16. A local legend says that after the Lord
completed the creation of the Old World (Africa, Asia, and Europe) he broke
off a corner of Scotland, flattened its highlands with his hand, and laid it
along the east bank of the Catawba River, calling it Steele Creek. The
community has persisted in its strong Scots-Irish Presbyterian emphasis for
over 200 years. It has also continued to be a tightly knit community.
Perhaps the most graphic evidence of this can be found in the graveyard,
where headstones from a 200-year span echo familiar local names. It contains
one of the finest collections of early headstones in the county, with graves
dating from 1763.
It is not known when the very first settlers came to this area of the
county, but they had an organized church here by 1760. (This makes them one
of the original seven Presbyterian congregations in the county.) This
building is the fifth on the site and the only one to be built of brick. The
Gothic-style sanctuary replaced the fourth church which burned in 1888.
It was designed to hold 1,000 people, a testament to a flourishing
congregation. Indeed, until the 1960s there was very little competition from
other denominations in the area. Locals recall that newcomers to the area
automatically became members of Steele Creek Presbyterian Church!
Steele Creek Presbyterian Church
As you leave
the parking lot of the church, turn left to continue down Steele Creek Rd.
After .2 miles, you will see the Steele Creek Manse on your right.
17. The Steele Creek Manse was constructed by the congregation for
their pastor in 1910. It is said that the windows were crafted on the site
and are all slightly different in size. The spacious lot reminds us of a
time when the pastor was expected to grow some of his own crops and keep
animals to supplement his wages.
A farther .7
miles down the road you will pass the William Grier house on your right.
18. The Grier family is a classic example of the Scots-Irish
migration into the county. The patriarch of the family, James Grier, came to
Lancaster County in Pennsylvania from County Antrum in Northern Ireland in
1772. He brought with him his wife Margaret, his sons and daughters, and
two-year-old grandson Jimmy. Arriving on the eve of the Revolutionary War,
the Grier family immediately threw their lot in with the revolutionaries,
and his sons James and Thomas both joined the Continental Army. Introduced
to the Carolinas during the war, the family decided to settle here in the
Piedmont once the fighting was over. Thomas Grier became a significant
farmer in Steele Creek; he owned twenty-nine slaves by 1820, an unusually
large number for a Mecklenburg farmer. He had
this house built for his son William sometime before his death in 1828.
It has been carefully restored to look much as it did when William lived
here. You will notice that it follows the traditional pattern of rural farm
houses, though it is not as symmetrical as one might expect. During the last
100 years, the house has been in the possession of the Byrum family, whose
enterprise has left its impression in the vicinity.
Pull into the
parking lot of the Byrum store just ahead on your right.
19. The little community of Shopton is said to have got its name
"shop town" when the
store was built here by Joe Hayes during the 1880s. Hayes ran a post
office in one corner of the store until rural delivery was introduced in
1896. By the time Hayes sold the store to William Lester Byrum in 1919, this
spot had become a community gathering place with a blacksmith's shop almost
opposite (the building can still be seen), a cotton gin, and as many as
eight residences. Joe Hayes probably erected the house next door (to the
right) around the turn of the century. It would have been very stylish at
the time and could easily have fit into a suburban setting such as Dilworth
or Elizabeth. (See Route II.) Notice the classical overtones in the
central pediment of the extensive wrap around-porch.
You may wish to visit the store which sells a wide range
of snacks and drinks as well as fishing tackle and other goods. Many of the
fixtures are original.
Steele Creek Rd., and keep to the left at the fork. The next left after the
fork is Brown-Grier Rd. Turn left and drive to the farmhouse which you can
see in the distance across the fields on the left side of Brown-Grier Rd.
20. The scene here, with fields, forest, and a classic Mecklenburg
farmstead in the distance, has remained unchanged for at least 150 years.
This was the homesite of James Grier, and the farm we see today was built by
his descendant, John, in 1836. The Grier family still farm the land and take
a pride in their Federal-style farmhouse. The collection of farm buildings
surrounding the farmhouse includes a smoke house, well house, wood store,
and various barns. Such buildings would have surrounded all of the old
houses we have seen along the route. Notice the two boxwoods in front of the
house marking the entrance. They were probably planted when the house was
Just beyond the house is the creek which gives this area
its name. The derivation is uncertain. Some say the creek was named for
Robert Steele, a pioneer Indian trader. Others claim that a family named
Steele lived here near the confluence of the two streams that form Steele
convenient place to turn around and return to Steele Creek Rd. Turn left and
continue straight through the traffic lights at Westinghouse Blvd. and stay
on Steele Creek Rd. for another 1.3 miles and turn left onto Erwin Rd. Drive
.5 miles and you will see a frame building on your left. This is the
McClintock Rosenwald School.
21. Before the Rosenwald School was built here in the 1920s, the
local black sharecroppers had little hope of providing their children with
an education, and even afterwards it was not easy, for many inequalities
existed between black and white schools. (For the history of Rosenwald
schools in the county see Routes III and IV.) Children had to walk
five or six miles to attend the
McClintock Rosenwald School and were often passed by buses full of white
children traveling to their schools. Lucille Stewart attended this school
between 1930 and 1937, and she remembers the walk well: "When you got there,
it was terrible. You'd be so cold your fingers, they'd just ache like
toothache." The school calendar was quite different for black and white
children in Mecklenburg as throughout much of the South. Black schools were
open through the long hot summer in order to have a fall break for the
Until the late 1940s, it was difficult to get school
materials. Lucille Stewart, for instance, remembers that she used to go out
after school "and pick greasy greens and sell them and take the money to
help to get our books." During the late 1940s, when books were provided at
all, they were the second-hand cast-offs from Steele Creek School.
Facilities were not modern either. Another student, Shelby Faust, remembers
that "we only had an outside bathroom, and we would have to line up because
there wasn't but two holes." The only chance of an education past eighth
grade was to live with friends or relatives in Charlotte's Second Ward and
attend the high school there.
However, the dedication of the teachers at these schools
was exemplary, and local communities still cherish their old Rosenwald
school buildings. The McClintock School, like many others, was closely
linked with the Presbyterian church. The McClintock Presbyterian Church was
one of the first black Presbyterian churches in the county.
Erwin Rd. until you reach the intersection with York Rd. At this point, you
have several alternatives:
- For McDowell Park, turn
right. This nature reserve is a farther 2.5 miles along York Rd. on Lake
Wylie. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (except on Mondays and
Tuesdays from August to May). Admission is free on weekdays, and on
weekends there is a small charge per vehicle. (For information call (704)
- For Carowinds Theme Park, turn left and
then right onto Carowinds Blvd.
- To complete the tour, turn left onto York Rd.
After 4.6 miles, two interesting old houses flank the road. Stop by the
side of the road to read the plaque in front of the right hand house.
22. This house is the homesite of the McDowell family. John and
Mary McDowell came here from Virginia with three children. They are known to
have secured land here as early as 1739, making them among the first white
settlers in the area. Their log house was constructed across the road from
here, though John did not enjoy it for long, for he was killed by Indians on
his return from a trip to Virginia for supplies.
Rather like the Cooper house, this house combines three
different eras of building. To the rear is part of a log house built by
John's son in 1790. John's grandson incorporated this into a typical
Mecklenburg "I" house in 1843. To the front is a four-room addition built in
1912, giving the house its turn-of-the-century Colonial Revival look. Notice
the dentilled cornice and the classical styling of the front porch, with its
Ionic columns and central pediment.
23. Across the road is a house which is closely
associated with this one. Rev. James Bell Watt, the pastor of the Steele
Creek Church in the late 1850s, bought an eighteen-acre tract here from his
brother-in-law Robert McDowell in 1848 so that his wife could be close to
her sister. The house that he built has been remodeled twice since then. In
1900, James Bell Watt II moved the whole structure 100 yards east, and
replaced the exterior chimneys with interior ones.
A later renovation of the 1950s, was not so deliberate.
One day, the Watt family was relaxing here with friends after dinner when an
airplane pilot miscalculated his landing and came crashing into the front
porch, with either engine poking through the front windows. The pilot got
out of the plane and approached the rather shaken family with a polite
apology! The porch, therefore, dates from the 1950s.
This concludes the loop of
Northwest and Western Mecklenburg. To return to Charlotte and I-77 continue
on York Rd. You will see signs for I-77 after about two miles. If you stay
on York Rd., it becomes South Tryon St. and takes you to uptown Charlotte.