Dr. Dan L. Morrill & Dr. Thomas W. Hanchett
Click on the map to
Crescent Heights is a small, triangularly-shaped neighborhood on
the near east side of Charlotte, straddling the first blocks of
present-day Randolph Road. The neighborhood is wedged between Myers
Park to the west, the "Rosemont" section of the Elizabeth
neighborhood to the northeast, and prestigious Eastover to the
south; but it is older than any of its neighbors. The distinctive
semi-circular streets of Crescent Heights were laid out between
1907 and 1909 and are of historic interest, as they constitute
Charlotte's first experiment with a planned curvilinear street
system in a residential district.1
The neighborhood incorporates two separate developments, which
were known as Colonial Heights and Crescent Heights at their
inceptions. Both were solidly middle-class, and eventually made up
largely of Bungalow style houses. Several hospitals exist at the
edges of the neighborhood, and their growth has contributed to the
demolition, either directly or indirectly, of many of the oldest
residences in Crescent Heights. The only remaining Bungalow style house on
this thoroughfare is the Ratcliffe-Otterbourg House at 2100
Randolph Road, now owned and occupied by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg
Historic Preservation Foundation. Despite these changes, gently
curving Circle, Crescent and Laurel avenues remain lined with early
cottages, and look much as they did fifty years ago. Tree-shaded
Colonial Park remains the neighborhood's focal point.
The land that is now Crescent Heights is believed to be one of
Charlotte's earliest areas of white settlement. Among the first
white settlers in Mecklenburg County was Thomas Spratt, who erected
his home close to what is now the intersection of Randolph Road and
Caswell Road. 2 A monument placed in 1926 by the
Colonial Dames of North Carolina on the eastern edge of Randolph
Site of the first court held in Mecklenburg County, February
26, 1763. Home of Thomas W. Spratt, first person to cross the
Yadkin River with wheels. Here was born his daughter Anne Spratt,
first white child born between the Catawba and the Yadkin.
The intersection of Caswell and Randolph is certainly very old.
Gravestones dating from the 1770s were excavated nearby when Mercy
Hospital constructed its nursing school in the early 1950's.
3 Nineteenth century maps indicate that what is now
Fourth Street was originally the major easterly route out of
Charlotte. It forked at what is now Caswell Road, with one branch
heading south along Caswell and Providence roads toward Providence
Presbyterian Church and South Carolina, and the other branch
following present-day Caswell Road and Seventh Street toward the
village of Monroe, North Carolina. 4
By the 1890's, the area that is now Vail, Chase, Durham, Van
Ness, Laurel, Crescent, Circle, Alberto, Cook, Willoughby, and
parts of Randolph and Colonial streets was the site of the Vail
Dairy Farm. Thomas L. Vail's house stood near where Charlotte View
office tower is now situated at Randolph Road and Caswell Road.
5 His creamery was located approximately on the site of
Charlotte Orthopaedic Hospital, or a few hundred feet north on
Caswell from Randolph. Mrs. John C. Kilgo, Jr., and Miss Constance
Biberstein, who grew up on once-posh Elizabeth Avenue nearby in the
1900's and 1910's, remember the dairy as an important part of
Charlotte's routine business activities at the turn of the century.
In 1895, near the end of his life, Vail gave the farm to his
daughters Cora Lee Vail and Florence Ida Vail Johnston.
7 At that time Charlotte was going through one of its
greatest boom periods. Textile prosperity, rapid population growth,
and the new streetcar
system were transforming farms at the edge of town into
suburbs. The Vail daughters closed the dairy and began selling
their father's many acres of grazing lands, scattered throughout
the eastern part of the township, to suburban developers.
In 1907 the Suburban Realty Company purchased the old farmhouse
and creamery along with twenty-five surrounding acres. 9
Suburban was headed by F. C. Abbott, who was among Charlotte's most
active real estate men. 10 Abbott had earlier laid out
one of the city's first suburbs, Piedmont Park (now part of the
Elizabeth neighborhood) along the Central Avenue streetcar line;
and he was well aware of the impact trolley connections could have
upon the success of residential developments. Vail saw that his
farm was two blocks from the terminus of the Elizabeth Avenue
streetcar line, which ended its runs from downtown at the Hawthorne
Lane entrance to Elizabeth College (now
the site of Presbyterian Hospital). This distance was probably too
long a walk to make the Vail property desirable for the very
wealthy, but Abbott most likely realized that the streetcars came
close enough to attract middle-class commuters.
On March 18, 1907, Abbott filed a plat creating the first two
blocks of what are now Randolph Road, Colonial Avenue, Chase
Street, and Vail Avenue. Vail Avenue not only took its name from
the former dairy, but its route purportedly followed a path that
the cows had once walked from field to barn. 11 Abbott
called the entire small development "Colonial
Heights."12 At almost the same time that Abbott began
work on Colonial Heights, the Elizabeth Realty Company paid the
Vail sisters $38,600 for sixty-eight acres immediately south of
Suburban's tract. 13 In 1909 this land was platted for
additional middle-class house lots under the name "Crescent
Heights."14 The name was apt because the main avenues
were laid out in half-circles off Providence Road. Circle Avenue,
Crescent Avenue, and the blocks of Laurel Avenue just off
Providence Road formed concentric semi-circles. Tangential avenues
connected the curves with the straight streets of Colonial Heights.
Short radial streets cut across the semi-circles. Several were
named after officers and stockholders of Elizabeth Realty: Alberto
in honor of Dr. Charles Alberto Bland, Chase for Chase Brenizer,
and Willoughby for Willoughby E. Chambers. 15 The
centerpiece of the subdivision was Colonial Park, a low-lying
half-moon of land bounded by Circle Avenue and Providence Road.
The street design of Crescent Heights was likely the work of
local engineer Holmes Blair who drew up the plat map. The curving
avenues gave the subdivision a distinctive identity that has
continued to differentiate it from surrounding developments. The
rigid geometry of the streets, however, did not show the
sophisticated appreciation for natural topography that Boston
planner John Nolen would later bring to the design of adjacent
By the mid 1910's, houses began to appear in the
neighborhood.16 The first blocks of Vail, Colonial and
what is now Randolph developed first, apparently due to their
proximity to the trolley line. Another handful of early houses was
to be found on Circle Avenue facing the park. Notable among the
area's early residents was Franklin Gordon, a major Charlotte
architect responsible for some of Myers Park's finest houses of the
1910's and 1920's. His own two-story Colonial Revival frame house
on Vail Avenue was razed in 1982 to provide parking for Charlotte
Orthopaedic Hospital. Landscape architect Earle Sumner Draper also
lived on Vail Avenue during the first years of his work on the
Myers Park neighborhood. 17
Most early Crescent Heights residents were clerks, small
businessmen and traveling salesmen- the backbone of a city built on
distribution. The first residents of the 200 block of Colonial
Avenue were typical of the whole neighborhood. They included three
salesmen, a manager of Eckard's Cut Rate Store, general manager of
Carolina Standard Gas Products, manager of the Independence Trust
Company, and the owner of the Myers Hardware and Sporting Goods
store. All moved into their new residences between 1921 and 1925.
Surprisingly, although Suburban Realty and Elizabeth Realty laid
out all the streets in the Crescent Heights neighborhood, they did
not handle all of the lot sales. The exception was on the south
side of Laurel Avenue. 18 Originally called part of Vail
Avenue, it evidently ran right along the developers' property line.
In 1926 developer E.C. Griffith's Eastover Company purchased some
forty-three acres that Cora Vail still held south of the street and
renamed the road Laurel Avenue. The odd-numbered lots on Laurel
were sold as part of Griffith's elegant Eastover suburb. This did
not have much influence on the type of people who bought lots, on
the south side of Laurel though, for houses on both sides of the
street are similar middle-class cottages, and are quite unlike the
large two-story residences found in Eastover proper.
The most noteworthy structure in Crescent Heights dates from
this period, when the neighborhood was beginning to fill up. In
1928 Charlotte architect C. C. Hook completed plans for a
neighborhood fire station to serve Crescent Heights, Myers Park,
Eastover, and Elizabeth, Charlotte Fire Station No. 6, 249
South Laurel Avenue. Technically, this magnificent structure,
designed by architect C. C. Hook, is in Crescent Heights. However,
the lots on the south side of Laurel Ave. were sold as part of the
Eastover neighborhood, which had just been annexed by the City of
Fire Station #6
The building at 249 South Laurel was Charlotte's fourth suburban
station, following the Dilworth Station (1909) at 1212 South
Boulevard, the Belmont facility (1910's) at 816 Louise Avenue, and
the Hook-designed Wesley Heights firehouse (1928) on Tuckaseegee
Road. 20 Hook's plans featured a quaint stone facade
that today continues to blend the Laurel Avenue station in with its
residential surroundings. By the early 1930's most lots in the
neighborhood had been sold.
A few vacant lots continued to have houses constructed on them
into the 1950's, usually with the same class of compact cottages
that had been erected in earlier decades. As Myers Park and
adjacent Eastover emerged as the city's prime upper class
residential areas, Crescent Heights benefited by association, never
suffering the sort of disinvestment and decline that plagued some
of Charlotte's other early neighborhoods. The changes that did
occur in Crescent Heights were the result of other forces. The
first alteration of the neighborhood's street plan had come in
1912. With the consent of the Vail sisters, Elizabeth Realty had
reduced the size of Colonial Park to its present dimensions.
21 The park had originally occupied the full half-circle
bounded by Circle Avenue and Providence Road. The 1912 revision had
seen Chase, Alberto, and Phil Aull streets extended through part of
the park to create more house lots for sale. Another change over
the years had been the extension of several streets beyond the
bounds of the original neighborhood, opening up what had been a
self-contained enclave. These included the extension of what is now
Laurel Avenue into the Elizabeth neighborhood, and the opening of
Cherokee off Laurel at Providence Road to form the main entrance to
the fashionable Eastover neighborhood.
The major changes began in the 1950's, when Randolph Road was
opened leading south from the neighborhood. The street had
originally been a minor avenue in the center of Crescent Heights
and was considered a tangential portion of Crescent Avenue known as
Crescent Avenue Extension. Around 1959 the city rebuilt the street
as part of a major new four-lane thoroughfare connecting the
burgeoning post-World War II suburbs in the Cotswold area with the
center city. 22 Randolph Road became a busy radial
artery, and it split the old streetcar suburb. The split widened in
the 1960's, 70's and 80's, as office strip-zoning along Randolph
encouraged the demolition of nearly all the street's old
residences. By the mid-1980's Randolph Road in Crescent Heights had
become a dense strip of new doctors' offices and banks, capped by
the ten-story Charlotte View tower at Randolph and Caswell,
surrounded by a half-block of parking lots where houses once
The fact that the new offices on Randolph were predominantly
medical reflected another change in the neighborhood. Mercy
Hospital, which relocated in 1916 from the center city to the edge
of the neighborhood, near the corner of Vail and Caswell streets,
began to expand in the 1960's and 1970's. 23 A new wing
and a large parking deck replaced houses along Vail. Across Vail at
the Caswell corner, a new hospital was founded. Medi-Centers of
America built a large brick nursing home on the site in the early
1970's. In 1976 the building became the home of Charlotte
Orthopaedic Hospital. 24 A new operating wing was added
to the building in 1976, and in the early 1980's the firm cleared
most of the block bounded by Vail, Caswell, Providence, and
Colonial avenues for parking.
Crescent Heights is now within walking distance of two of
Charlotte's three general hospitals, and most of its smaller
clinics. Pressure to demolish houses for parking, doctor's offices,
and support facilities is intense. The neighborhood's historic
residential character is all but gone along Randolph Road, the
northern blocks of Vail Avenue, and the cross streets between them.
Along Vail Avenue south of Van Ness Drive, and in the curving
blocks of Crescent, Circle and Laurel avenues between Randolph Road
and Providence Road, however, streets are still lined with
bungalows. This section, the heart of Crescent Heights, continues
to be a desirable middle-class neighborhood.
1 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map Book
230, page 20; Map Book 230, page 24.
2 LeGette Blythe and Charles R. Brockman, Hornets'
Nest: the Story of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (Charlotte:
McNally of Charlotte, 1961), p. 161.
3 The stones were moved to Settlers Cemetery in the
center city, where they may still be seen.
4 Butler and Spratt, "Map of Charlotte Township,
Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, From Recent Surveys ... 1892."
Copies are in the collections of the History Department of the Mint
Museum, Charlotte, and the City of Charlotte Historic Districts
Commission. "Plat of a portion of the Dotger Estate, Charlotte, N.C
.... August 29, 1913" on file at Lawyers Title Company, 301 South
McDowell Street, Charlotte, labels present-day Caswell Road as
"Monroe Avenue." Both of these maps also show Seventh Street
running into town, but the naming and the street pattern hint that
Caswell Road is older than Seventh. The area's oldest roads
generally fork coming out of town, as Fourth Street does at Caswell
Road: Monroe Road forks into Caswell and Seventh coming into
5 Butler and Spratt map.
6 Mrs. John C. Kilgo and Miss Constance Biberstein,
interview with Thomas W. Hanchett and Janette Thomas Greenwood,
7 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Deed
Book 104, p. 549. Thomas Vail died January, 1908. Mecklenburg
County Clerk's Office: will book P, p.71.
8 See grantor books in Mecklenburg County Register of
9 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Deed
Book 214, p. 419; Map Book 230, p. 20.
10 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office:
record of corporations book 1, pp. 546 & 571; book 5, p. 527.
Abbott's founding partners were J.0. Thomas and William F. Harding.
Architect C.C. Hook became a major Suburban stockholder, and in the
1920's prominent Durham businessman George W. Watts also had an
interest in the company. For an idea of Abbott's role in the real
estate development of early twentieth century Charlotte read his
memoir Fifty Years in Charlotte Real Estate, 1897-1947
(Charlotte: privately published, 1947?).
11 U.S.G.S. Topographic Map 1:64,000, Charlotte
Quadrant (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Interior, United
States Geological Survey, surveyed 1905, published 1907).
12 When planner John Nolen drew the streets of
adjacent Myers Park in 1911, he extended Colonial Avenue through to
the Queens Road, and Abbott evidently became the subdeveloper for
the resulting middle-class block, platted as "Colonial Heights #2",
part of Myers Park. Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office:
Map Book 230, p. 222.
13 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Deed
Book 218, p. 419.
14 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Offfice: Map
Book 230, p. 24.
15 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office:
Record of Corporations Book 2, p. 154, Book 5, p. 84. Bland later
became Mayor of Charlotte and Brenizer served as state senator from
16 Information on individual structures in Crescent
Heights was developed by research assistant Janette Thomas
Greenwood using the Charlotte city directory collection at the
Carolina Room of the Charlotte Public Libary.
17 Earle Sumner Draper, interview with Thomas W.
Hanchett at Vero Beach, Florida, August, 1982.
18 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Book
620, p. 3. Citation courtesy of Joseph Schuchman. See also "A
Subdivision Plat of Eastover...February, 1927," in the files of the
E.C. Griffith Company, Charlotte.
19 A plaque inside the station gives construction
information, which is echoed in an article in the Charlotte
Observer, April 9, 1929, when the Laurel and Tuckaseegee
stations opened. The city's 1928 boundary expansion is recorded on
a base map on file at the Charlotte City Engineer's Office.
20 Jane McKinnon, "Old Dilworth Fire Station, Fire
Station Number Two: Survey and Research Report," (Charlotte:
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, 1979). Janette
Thomas Greenwood, "Historic Sketch of the Fourth Ward Fire
Station...," 1982, unpublished essay on file with the Charlotte
Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.
21 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map
Book 230, p. 143. The original deed to Elizabeth Realty had
specified that the park could be reduced to two acres: Deed Book
218, p. 419.
22 The 1959 date is based on examination of city
directories. The opening of Randolph was part of a loose program of
new arterials that began with Independence Boulevard in the late
23 Charles M. Strong, History of Mecklenburg
County Medicine (Charlotte: News Printing House, 1929), pp.
96-98. Mercy's first home had been downtown, opening in 1906.
24 Jean Crawford, Director of Nursing, telephone
interview with Thomas W. Hanchett, December, 1983.