by Thomas W. Hanchett
Click on the map to
This suburb, is about two miles from the heart of the city, with
streetcar lines running
through it. It is high and dry, being the highest point around
Charlotte. It has beautiful streets convenient to churches and
schools. In this suburb is to be found some of the best people and
some of the handsomest homes to be found in any part of Charlotte.
Today Washington Heights is one of Charlotte's inner neighborhoods.
It is located along the west side of Beatties Ford Road between the
Brookshire Freeway and Northwest Junior High School. Its streets -
Booker, Sanders, Tate, Dundeen, Celia, Pitts, Carmel, Redbud, and
Onyx - slope gently downward from the ridgeline marked by Beatties
Ford Road, and they are lined with some 200 modest bungalows dating
from the 1910s through 1930s. When Washington Heights opened in
1913, though, it was not an inner city neighborhood but a
"streetcar suburb" at the edge of Charlotte.2 This
suburb was built especially for middle-income black residents.
When C.H. Watson penned his advertisement for Washington Heights
in the mid 1910s, Charlotte was experiencing a suburban boom. The
beginning of electric trolley service and the opening of Dilworth
back in 1891 had heralded the age of streetcar suburbs.3
Now any middle-income person who earned enough to afford the five
cent trolley fare could work downtown but commute home to a
"country house" on a tree-shaded street near the edge of the city.
By the 1910s nine trolley tracks radiated from downtown like spokes
in a wheel. All along the city's rim were new suburban
neighborhoods: Dilworth (1891)
and its extension (1911); the Elizabeth (1891), Piedmont Park (1899), and
Oakhurst (1903) areas of present-day Elizabeth; Colonial Heights
(1905) and Crescent Heights (1907)
between Vail Avenue and Providence Road; Myers Park (1911) southeast of town; the Club
Acres (1910) and Chatham Estates (1912) sections of Plaza-Midwood; and Wilmore (1914)
southwest of the city.4
Developers advertised the benefits of this new "country living,"
and similar arguments could be found in frequent articles in the
popular magazines of the day. Ads touted the clean air and
well-drained homesites available in the suburbs. They promised that
children brought up in single-family homes, with opportunities to
play on tree-shaded grassy lawns, would grow up healthier and
happier than their city peers. The suburbs themselves were designed
to enhance the semi-rural feeling. Most included parkland, and the
biggest parks near the trolley lines, such as Latta Park in
Dilworth or Independence
Park in Elizabeth, drew not only neighborhood residents but
also weekend picnickers and baseball players from all over the
city. After 1911, when landscape architects John Nolen and the
Olmsted Brothers laid out curving Queens and Dilworth Roads, almost
every new Charlotte suburb also featured curving avenues designed
in keeping with the naturalistic spirit of the
The suburbs were also meant to be carefully controlled
residential enclaves, where one's neighbors would always be middle
and upper-class citizens, and where one would never have to worry
about a factory opening up next door. Charlotte had no zoning laws
as yet (the first in America were in New York City in
1916).6 So developers used restrictive covenants in the
lot deeds to ensure that land would be used only for residences,
that houses would be above a specified minimum cost, and that
structures would be set back from the street to provide spacious
One of the most frequently used restrictive covenants had
nothing to do with buildings, however. Almost every Charlotte
suburban deed included the clause, "shall be owned, occupied and
used only by members of the Caucasian race, domestic servants in
the employ of the occupants excepted."7 Such clauses had
seldom been found in older center city areas where blacks and
whites had long lived relatively close together. Suburban race
restrictions were commonplace in the early twentieth century
throughout the South and in parts of the North, but they must have
been particularly disheartening to blacks in Charlotte. By the
1910s the city's black population had made great economic strides.
The Honorable Dr. J.T. Williams, a medical doctor who had served as
United States diplomat to Sierra Leone, West Africa from 1898 to
1907, was the town's leading black citizen.8 He lived in
a spacious house on Brevard Street near downtown, had a farm south
of the city, and owned a number of investment properties including
the Hotel Williams. Lawyer J.T. Sanders, hailed by blacks as "the
Colored Financier of Charlotte," controlled three drug stores, one
barber shop, one restaurant, one hotel, one newspaper, a movie
theater, and large real estate business." 9 Black
architect W.W. Smith was building churches and business buildings
throughout the region, including the four-story headquarters of
Charlotte's Afro-American Mutual Insurance Company. J.W. Crockett
and W.C. Smith ran the Progressive Messenger newspaper. The
A.M.E. Zion Publishing House handled a large volume of printing
under the direction of Bishop George Wiley Clinton, Dr. George C.
Clement and their successors. Black-owned barbershops, twenty-four
in number, were major moneymakers in a period when there were few
white barbers.10 Barber Thad L. Tate rivaled J.T.
Williams in importance, and owned a farm north of the city in
addition to a handsome brick residence in town.11 There
were some two dozen black college professors and public school
principals. 12 Chief among them were Dr. George E. Davis, who had been the
first black teacher at Biddle University in the city, and Dr. Henry
L. McCrory, the institution's energetic young president.
13 Both also invested in real estate. The city also
boasted eighty-seven black ministers, and a dozen black doctors,
many of whom helped staff black Good Samaritan Hospital.
14 Below the lawyers, doctors, business and real estate
investors, publishers, and leading barbers and ministers was a
rising black middle class. 15 Among those in this group
were the city's thirty-nine public school teachers, its eighty
bricklayers and plasterers, the proprietors of its twenty-four
black-owned small grocery stores, the ministers of the smaller
churches, and railway employees. The black middle class was not as
well-to-do as its white counterpart, but its members could afford
the down payment for a modest lot and the five cent fares for the
daily trolley commute.
No less than whites, the emerging black middle class longed for
the advertised benefits of suburban living for themselves and their
children. Land use controls seemed especially desirable, for black
downtown neighborhoods were subject to even greater disruptive
forces than white ones: Rosa Smith, daughter of pioneer black
publisher W.C. Smith, still remembers when the city's informally
sanctioned red-light district was suddenly moved to within sight of
her Second Ward house early in the century.16 As
importantly, a suburban location seemed a fashionable and fitting
attainment for families who had worked their way up from penniless
ex-slavery in two generations.
White real estate developers in Charlotte could not ignore this
ready market. In June of 1912, real estate man Walter S. Alexander
organized the Freehold Realty Company with partners John M. Scott
and A.M. McDonald.17 The same partnership had earlier
developed Elizabeth Heights across town under the name Southern
Real Estate Company.18 By June of the following year
Alexander and partners had purchased a tract of farmland north of
the city along Beatties Ford Road.19 The property lay
along the west side of the old country highway just north of the
bridge over the Seaboard Air Line Railway tracks. It was just
beyond the nineteenth century black village of Biddleville around
Biddle University (later Johnson C. Smith University), which was
now becoming surrounded with white suburbs.20 A trolley
line had recently opened along West Trade Street and out Beatties
Ford Road from downtown; Freehold Realty's new purchase
two-and-a-half miles from the center of town was now within easy
commuting distance of virtually all parts of the
On June 10, 1913, Freehold Realty filed a plat map at the
Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office laying out streets in
the former farmland. 22 The new suburb was to be called
Washington Heights, evidently in honor of educator Booker T.
Washington, the national black leader. The streets running west
from Beatties Ford Road commemorated other local and national black
leaders. There was Davis Avenue (later renamed Dundeen Street),
named for Charlotte's pioneer black professor Dr. George E. Davis.
Parallel to it was Tate Street, after black Charlotte barber and
community leader Thad L. Tate, who himself owned a tract of
farmland just beyond Davis Street. Further down was Sanders Avenue,
named either for J.T. Sanders, or for Dr. D.J. Sanders who had
recently completed his tenure as the first black president of
Biddle University. There was also a Douglas Street shown on the map
(now the site of the on-ramp of the Brookshire Freeway), perhaps
intended to honor black abolitionist Frederick Douglass. These
straight streets formed a grid adjacent to Beatties Ford Road, with
cross-streets named after trees: Elm Street (Carmel Street today),
Holly Street (now Redbud Street), and Oak Street (today Onyx
Street).23 The central street in the neighborhood was
Booker Avenue running west off Beatties Ford Road. It was wider
than the rest because it was intended as the route of the trolley
line whenever it might be extended. After Booker crossed Holly it
broke out of the grid pattern and formed a gentle curve in the
newest suburban style.
Behind the lots lining Booker Avenue the plat map reserved land
for another suburban essential, a creek-bed park. Evidence in deeds
indicates that this area was to be called Lincoln Park, and the
trolley company reserved a right-of-way directly from Beatties Ford
Road to the site. 24 A curving street which ran along
the north side of the park was to be called Park Drive (now Pitts
Along the new streets, Freehold Realty laid out more than 200
lots. Most were fifty feet wide and 150 feet deep and had rear
alleyways. This arrangement was much the same as might be found on
side streets in white suburbs. Thomas Avenue, for instance, platted
the same year parallel to The Plaza across town, has lots fifty
feet wide and from 135 to 182 feet deep.25 Washington
Heights property cost a bit less than Thomas Avenue lots. A Thomas
Avenue homesite went for $500 to $750. Washington Heights lots
ranged from $500 for prime Beatties Ford Road frontage, to $380 in
the first block of Sanders Avenue, to as little as $300 in the
second block of Tate Street. 26 As in all streetcar
suburbs, the further one had to walk from the existing trolley line
(in this case on Beatties Ford Road), the less one paid for a
Just as in white suburbs, Washington Heights buyers were
protected by deed restrictions. Clauses specified that land was to
be used for residence only and that buildings were to be set back
at least twenty feet from the street. The better-located lots
carried a requirement that no house could be constructed costing
less than 1000 dollars, while other sites had minimums of $700 or
in a few cases $600. There were no clauses referring to race.
To help sell the new suburb, Freehold Realty secured the
services of C.H. Watson. Watson was one of the city's black
leaders, and listed "real estate" as his occupation in city
directories of the period. He was active in trying to persuade
government leaders to provide a reform school for delinquent black
youth, who at the time were sentenced to hard labor on the chain
gangs with no provision for education. 27 In 1915 Watson
was instrumental in organizing a massive celebration of the
anniversary of the end of the Civil War and slavery: "The Fiftieth
Anniversary of the Freedom of the Negro in the County of
Mecklenburg and the City of Charlotte, North
Carolina."28 The day included a morning parade through
the streets of Charlotte, noontime program in the city auditorium
with speeches by black civic and religious leaders and music by
four brass bands, and an evening "Musicale" featuring the singing
of eight church choirs, soloists, and the Biddle University
Watson's most lasting accomplishment was a thick booklet
published in connection with the anniversary celebration. Called
Colored Charlotte it heralded the accomplishments of the
city's black community in the fifty years since the end of slavery.
29 Professional black photographer J.H. Alibury recorded
for posterity dozens of the city's black leaders, businesses,
homes, and churches. A.M.E. Zion Bishop George Wiley Clinton
contributed an introduction that set forth the booklet's aim:
The pamphlet to which these words are to serve as an
introduction is designed to set forth in brief form a narrative of
some of the achievements of the Colored people who constitute a
large percentage of the inhabitants of the city of Charlotte and
Facing, as we do, the second half century of Negro freedom, it
is quite befitting that we take note of what has been done along
the line of substantial race progress for our immediate
encouragement and inspiration. It is no less desirable that the
people of other races should know what we are doing in the way of
proving ourselves substantial citizens and valuable members of the
community in which we live....
As a people we have not done much in the way of publishing the
achievements of the race. Other people have been and are still
diligent in advertising our shortcomings, and if we would
counteract these damaging influences we must be no less zealous in
collecting and publishing our best achievements.
The book included paragraphs on the city's black businesses,
publications and periodicals, schools social organizations and
library. Three pages of statistics for the city and county set
forth the number of blacks in professions and trades, gave the
number and assessed value of black business buildings and churches,
and pointed out that the city had 805 black homeowners. Today
Colored Charlotte is the most important single resource for
the study of the city's black heritage. Watson, not coincidentally,
devoted several pages of Colored Charlotte to the Washington
Heights project, and also made mention of the planned suburb of
Douglassville which he intended to develop on the other side of
Beatties Ford Road along present-day Oaklawn Avenue. There was a
half-page photograph titled "Watson Park, Washington Heights -- The
only Park around Charlotte for Colored People. Owned by C.H.
Watson." The park was located at the end of the trolley line, for
the photo shows a streetcar turning a curve. Few residents remember
it well today, but it apparently was actually on Watson's
Douglassville land along Beatties Ford Road in the vicinity of the
present Vest Water Works plant. The park featured wooden pavilions
for weekend picnickers.
Also to be found in Colored Charlotte were photographs of
three handsome new Washington Heights bungalows, plus a pair of
apparently earlier residences probably dating from the land's farm
days. One bungalow was captioned "Owned by Rev. H. Wilson."
Reverend Wilson had been among the suburb's first lot purchasers
when he acquired 2328 Sanders Street in July of 1913. The other
houses were listed as "Residence of Mr. W.H. Lyttle," "Residence of
Reverend A.F. Graham," "Residence Of Mr. L. Henry Warren," and
"Residence of C.D. Dockry." None of these men are known to have
purchased lots in the development, and were likely renting their
Though only five houses were pictured in the 1915 book, some
forty-three lots had already been sold since June of
1913.31 Most of the purchasers were middle-class blacks
who bought the land for investment purposes. R.L. Douglas, a
teacher at Biddle University, purchased a lot on Beatties Ford Road
and another on Sanders Avenue but continued to live in the
Seversville area south of the campus. Two other professors, Rev.
York Jones and W. Thomas Long, purchased Beatties Ford Road lots in
1913 but remained at their old residences near the campus. Other
speculative buyers included bricklayer Walter Hill who owned a lot
at 2320 Sanders Street but continued living in Second Ward, grocer
W.M. Williams who purchased the corner lot at Beatties Ford and
Booker streets but remained in residence at 804 East Stonewall
Street, and barber Eli Jewell who owned 2309 Tate Street while
still living at 302 West Gold Street near Third Ward.
Because Washington Heights was outside the city limits in its
earliest years, and not covered by city directories and insurance
maps or served by city water, it is difficult to determine exactly
when many of the homes were built or by whom. It is certain that a
number of houses were constructed to be rented. A landlord who can
be identified with certainty is Lethia Jones, remembered as one of
Charlotte's leading black women. 33 She purchased two
lots in the 1000 block of Beatties Ford Road in 1916, and in 1918
added another in the 900 block of Beatties Ford and one at 2213
Booker Avenue. In the early thirties when city water reached the
area, Lethia Jones Henderson was listed as landlord on the hookup
permits, but the city directory listed others as living at three of
A number of professional black real estate investors also
purchased lots, sometimes building a house for rental income,
sometimes holding the land for eventual resale. Among them were
J.T. Sanders, I.D.L. Torrence, J.R. Hemphill, and H.L. McCrorey.
Hemphill was a tailor with a shop at 39 North College Street in the
heart of downtown. By the 1910s he also was involved in real
estate, operating Progress Investment Realty Company. Torrence, a
full-time real estate person, and H. L. McCrorey, the president of
Biddle University, were also part of Progress Realty at various
times. Individually they purchased thirteen lots in Washington
Heights over the years, and water permit records indicate that they
built a number of houses for rental, including 1304 Beatties Ford
Road, 2304 and 2312 Booker Avenue, 2417 Dundeen Street, and 2224
and 2317 Tate Street. McCrorey's rental income evidently allowed
him to expand his interests in real estate. He eventually took over
development of Watson's Douglassville area along Oaklawn Avenue and
today it is a handsome suburb known as McCrorey Heights.
After the initial burst of lot purchases, Washington Heights
sales slowed down. In 1919 Freehold Realty sold almost all its
remaining lots to another partnership, Biddle Realty, made up of
grocer C.W. Todd, T.T. Cole, and auto salesman D. F. Reid.
35 The late 1910s and early 1920s were tough times for
real estate developers due to a general economic depression
combined with shortages of building materials resulting from World
War I. By 1921 Biddle Realty had legally dissolved its partnership,
and the Washington Heights lands were in the hands of real estate
developer Louis B. Vreeland who had guaranteed the Biddle Realty
purchase notes. 36
Vreeland and a partner named Thomas B. Newell evidently were
able to regain sales momentum. In February of 1928 they platted an
extension of Pitts Drive and Dundeen Street at the edge of the
neighborhood, adding some sixty new lots. 37 Not all of
the plat was built as proposed, but the west half of Pitts Drive
curving to meet Booker Avenue is a legacy of this extension. About
the same time, Celia Street was laid out parallel to Dundeen Street
just north of the original Washington Heights plat. 38
The land was the property of Celia Henderson, a relative of Thad
Tate. Tate himself owned the large tract of farmland immediately
north of Celia Street, and it is likely that he and his family were
the new street's actual developers.
By the time that city directories began listing Washington
Heights in 1931, the development had grown to be a reasonably
substantial suburban neighborhood. More than 160 families lived
along its streets. Perhaps the neighborhood's leading resident was
Reverend W.H. Davenport, Editor of the Star of Zion, the
national newspaper of the A.M.E. Zion religion which was published
in Charlotte's Second Ward at the A.M.E. Zion Publishing House.
Davenport occupied a large two-story brick residence that stands
today at 1223 Beatties Ford Road. Nearby at 1121 was the residence
(now gone) of hairdresser Lethia Jones Henderson. Leon Alexander,
who owned two grocery stores, lived at 1023 (demolished), and Dr.
N.B. Houser resided at 901 (also demolished). Nellie Dykes, teacher
supervisor for the black Mecklenburg County schools for many years,
lived just off Beatties Ford Road in a small bungalow at 2219 Celia
Other important Washington Heights citizens in 1931 included
Luther Howard (2415 Booker Avenue) who was bell captain at the
elegant new Hotel Charlotte, and Samuel Peterson (2305 Dundeen
Street) who was headwaiter at the posh Stonewall Cafe in the
downtown Stonewall Hotel. There also were a number of ministers,
who commuted from Washington Heights by trolley or auto to parishes
in many parts of the city. Among them were Rev. P.R. Washington
(1118 Beatties Ford Road) who was pastor of Stonewall Baptist
Church in Second Ward, Rev. W.H. Davidson (1316 Beatties Ford Road)
who headed Mt. Carmel
Baptist Church in Biddleville,
Rev. Boysie B. Moore (2308 Dundeen Street) of St. Paul's Baptist
Church in Second Ward, Rev. J.H. Gamble (2304 Booker Avenue) of
Moreland Presbyterian Church, and Thomas T. Barber (2501 Dundeen
Street) who pastored Washington Heights' own Tabernacle Baptist
A frequent occupation among Washington Heights residents in 1931
was Southern Railway employee. Railroad work was an important
calling for blacks all over the United States in the first half of
the twentieth century due to union-secured pay scales and job
security, as well as the opportunity to travel. 40 At
least half a dozen Southern employees lived in Washington Heights
in 1931, a short trolley ride to the yards and offices of the
railroad on West Trade Street. Southern employee John Lyles owned
one of the neighborhood's few two-story residences, a Four Square
type dwelling at 2320 Booker Avenue. Other Southern employees
included machinist helper M.L. Dunham who owned 2316 Booker Avenue,
porter L.C. Boger listed at 2214 Celia Street, H.V. Allen at 2301
Celia Street, Lewis Hefner at 2216 Dundeen Street, and cashier J.C.
Nelson who owned 2215 Sanders Avenue.
Many of Washington Heights' 1931 residents had humbler
occupations, such as laborer, maid, driver, or "helper." The
majority of the renters seem to have fallen in this category, but
evidence indicates that some of these owned their own homes.
Chevrolet dealership janitor John Hemphill (no relation to the real
estate man J.R. Hemphill), Buick Motor Company helper Gaither
Alexander, and a Wilson Motor Company helper owned houses side by
side at 2217, 2221, and 2225 Booker Avenue. Walter Banks, a cook,
lived at 2225 Dundeen Street, and Huntley West, a porter at B,F.
Goodrich, resided at 2229 Dundeen Street. A number of owners were
simply listed as "laborer," including William Lindsay of 2228
Sanders Avenue and John Grier of 2216 Tate Street.
Today 1910s and 1920s dwellings still make up the majority of
Washington Heights structures. Houses are predominantly
single-family, with only a few of the duplexes common in more
working-class areas of Charlotte. Most Washington Heights houses
are one story tall and of wood construction in the Bungalow style. They
feature wide-eaved roofs with exposed rafter ends, broad front
porches that are now often screened in, and wooden weatherboard or
tongue-and-groove "novelty" siding. The structures today look much
like those on the more modest streets of 1910s and 1920s, such as
Thomas Avenue in Plaza-Midwood or Grove Street in the section of
Third Ward that was developed as the Woodlawn suburb.
Along with houses, the 1931 city directory listed three
churches. There was a Church of God on Booker Street at Carmel
Street, the Tabernacle Baptist Church on Dundeen near Rosebud
Street, and the A.M.E. Zion Boulevard Chapel on Sanders Street at
the corner of Carmel. None of these early religious structures
survive today. The neighborhood also boasted a handful of
commercial establishments, including a restaurant, a cleaning and
pressing shop, and grocery stores. Almost all of these were on or
near Beatties Ford Road and have been replaced by newer buildings
since 1931. A single wood-frame grocery remains from the early
years in the neighborhood's heart, at 2515 Booker Avenue. Known in
1931 as Jim Patterson's grocery, it continues to be used as a food
The neighborhood was served by the Biddleville Graded School,
just over the Seaboard Railway tracks on Beatties Ford Road at
Mattoon Street. It was originally a frame four-room structure built
in the late 1910s and supervised by teaching principal Mrs. E.R.
Anderson. 41 The wooden building was later replaced by a
brick school building, later demolished.
Until the late 1930s, high school students (eighth through
eleventh grades) from Washington Heights had to travel to Second
Ward High School on the other side of downtown, the city's only
secondary facility for blacks. Then, in 1938, the city School Board
decided to build West Charlotte High School on the old Thad Tate
farm at 1415 Beatties Ford Road just beyond Celia Street. According
to Superintendent of Schools Harry Harding:
In the building program of 1936-'37 $75,000.00 for the
building, $5,000.00 for the site, and $1,305.00 for equipment, had
been allotted. The architect was Mr. Charles Connelly.
When the Board was negotiating for the purchase of the site, the
Superintendent was directed to approach Thad Tate, for whom all of
the citizens of the city had great respect, with a proposal to name
the new High School "The Thad Tate High School" in his honor if he
would donate the ten acres for the site. He asked for a night to
think it over. The next morning he said, "Mr. Harding, I will take
the $5,000.00." Thad Tate was not only a good businessman and a
good citizen, but he wanted no honors that he had to buy.
The $500 per acre price probably represented something of a
donation on Tate's part anyway. The tract included prime Beatties
Ford Road frontage worth in the range of $500 per lot. West
Charlotte High has recently moved to a new site, but architect
Connelly's original two-story modern, fire-resistive brick building
survives as part of the ten-acre campus of Northwest Middle School,
and the remainder of the Tate farm has been developed as suburban
One suburban attribute that was missing from Washington Heights
by the 1931 city directory was a park. Watson Park was no longer
operating, perhaps a victim of the nationwide Great Depression. The
Piedmont Traction Company had never developed its proposed Lincoln
Park along Pitts Drive in the heart of the neighborhood, though the
land did remain vacant and in a state of nature for many years.
Since 1931, approximately seventy residences have been added
along the streets of Washington Heights. Most of these date from
the late 1930s and early 1940s, but a number are more recent and in
some cases replaced earlier dwellings. The late 1930s and 1940s
also saw an upsurge of commercial activity along Beatties Ford
Road. The wooden store buildings and some residences gave way to
new brick and concrete business structures, most two stories tall.
Along with groceries, drug stores and beauty salons was a music
store, a photography studio, and fraternal society meeting rooms.
Though the streetcars stopped running in 1938, the stores remain
clustered around the area that was once the terminus of the line.
43 Longtime residents continue to refer to the shopping
area as "The End."
The most architecturally and historically interesting building
in "The End" ia a club completed about 1946. It was run by James R.
McKee, and it replaced an early house on the site. The club is one
of Charlotte's best examples of Art Moderne
architecture. It is finished in white concrete with black
horizontal accent stripes and glass-block windows. The small,
square-plan second story is centered ziggurat fashion on the larger
square-plan first story. An elaborate metal awning with
porthole-like openings extends from the front steps to the street.
The club became an important gathering place for black political
leaders during the 1950s and 1960s . Today the Excelsior Club
continues to be a northwest side landmark, and is still popular as
a tavern and meeting place.
Since the 1940s, two changes have affected the edges of
Washington Heights. In the 1970s, the Brookshire Freeway from
downtown sliced through the hillside parallel to the existing
Seaboard Railway track. The wide cut took several businesses along
Beatties Ford Road between Mattoon Street in Biddleville and the
Excelsior Club in Washington Heights, as well as the site of the
old Biddleville Graded School. The main casualty was Douglas
Street, which disappeared, houses and all, and was replaced by a
freeway entrance ramp. Also in the 1970s the land originally set
aside for Lincoln Park was sold for redevelopment. Today the recent
sanctuary of Tabernacle Baptist Church shares the tract with
several clusters of two-story apartment structures.
The developments in the Washington Heights area in the post-1940
decades mean that the neighborhood no longer looks exactly as it
did when it was Charlotte's only black streetcar suburb. There are,
though, abundant reminders of the early years. The names Booker,
Tate, Sanders, and Celia continue to celebrate black history. And
most of the early bungalows built by Charlotte's black middle class
of the 1910s and 1920s may still be seen.
Washington Heights is an important part of Charlotte's history.
A symbol of black economic strength, it helped shape the direction
of black suburban growth after World War II. University Park,
McCrorey Heights, Biddle Heights, Hyde Park, and a number of other
predominantly black developments may now be found out Beatties Ford
Road. In addition, there is evidence that the Washington Heights
development is unique in North Carolina. Real estate developments
for, and in some cases by, blacks were not uncommon in the early
years of the twentieth century. Most, however, were in center city
locations or otherwise within walking distance of employment.
Architectural and historic inventories conducted under the
direction of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History
have yet to identify another black North Carolina neighborhood
built as a streetcar suburb . 44
1 C.H. Watson, ed. Colored Charlotte: Published in
Connection with the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Freedom of the
Negro in the County of Mecklenburg and the City of Charlotte, North
Carolina (Charlotte A.M.E. Job Print, c. 1915), p. 6.
2 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: map
book 230, P. 228. For more on the streetcar suburb phenomenon see
Sam Bass Warner, Jr., Streetcar Suburbs: the Process of Growth
in Boston 1870-1900 (Cambridge , Massachusetts: Harvard
University and the M.I.T. Press, 1962).
3 Dan L. Morrill and Ruth Little-Stokes,
"Architectural Analysis: Dilworth: Charlotte's Initial Streetcar
Suburb" (Charlotte: Dilworth Community Association, 1978).
4 See the section entitled "The Growth of Charlotte:
a History" on this website.
5 For a statement of this naturalistic philosophy
read the chapter on Myers Park in John Nolen, New Towns for Old:
Achievements in Civic Improvement in Some American Small Towns and
Neighborhoods (Boston: Marshall Jones, 1927), pp. 100-110. See
also the chapters on city planning, Myers Park, Dilworth, and
Plaza-Midwood on this website.
6 Mel Scott, American City Planning Since 1890
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969),pp. 153-161.
7 These particular words are from Eastover, but
similar phrases are found in almost all deeds. "Eastover
Restriction Agreement," undated, in the files of the E.C. Griffith
8 Janette Thomas Greenwood, The Black Experience
in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, 1850-1920: a Curriculum Guide for
Teachers ( Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties
Commission, 1984), pp. 4-2, 4-3.
9 Watson, Colored Charlotte..... p. 9.
10 Ibid., p. 6. For more on the importance of barbers
in the black community see Allan H. Spear, Black Chicago: the
Making of a Negro Ghetto 1890-1920 (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1967), p. 112. Oscar Handlin, Boston's
Immigrants: a Study in Acculturation, rev. ed. (New York:
Atheneum, 1974), p. 63.
11 Greenwood, The Black Experience . . . , pp.
12 Watson, Colored Charlotte . .., p. 6.
13 For more on Davis see William H. Huffman, "Dr.
George E. Davis House: Survey and Research Report" (Charlotte:
Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission, 1984). Both
Davis and McCrorey are included in Inez Moore Parker, The
Biddle-Johnson C. Smith Story (Charlotte: Charlotte Publishing,
1975), pp.8-9, 15-23.
14 Watson, Colored Charlotte . . . , p. 6.
15 For a more thorough discussion of the "class
structure" of black communities see Spear, Black Chicago . .
. , pp. 23 and passim, or David M. Katzman, Before the Ghetto:
Black Detroit in the Nineteenth Century (Urbana. University of
Illinois Press, 1973), pp. 29-31, 135-174, and passim. Spear notes
that "The negro class structure ... does not always correspond with
the white class structure. The Negro upper class, for instance,
includes professional people, whose white counterparts are usually
considered middle class. At the same time, postal clerks, Pullman
porters, waiters and other occupational groups that would belong in
the upper lower class among whites have traditionally formed the
core of the Negro middle class," p. 23n.
16 Rosa Smith, interview with Thomas W. Hanchett and
Janette Thomas Greenwood in Charlotte, March 1984.
17 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office:
record of corporations book 3, p. 468; record of corporations book
6, p. 345.
18 See the chapter on Elizabeth on this website.
19 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: map
book 230, p. 228.
20 W.S. Alexander had opened Western Heights
(present-day Martin, Frazier, Flint, and Wake Streets) originally
for whites in 1897. E.C. Griffith opened Wesley Heights (Grandin,
Walnut, and parts of Summit streets off West Trade Street) in the
1910s, also for white residents. Later 1923 Roslyn Heights (Roslyn,
Lima, Bacon, Turner) and 1947 Smallwood Homes (Seldon, Smallwood,
Gregg, and others) opened off Rozelles Ferry Road, also for whites.
City directories indicate that most of these streets remained white
until the 1950s.
21 The trolley tracks were extended along West Trade
Street in stages, stopping originally at the intersection of
Tuckaseegee Road, then near Biddle University, and later along
Beatties Ford Road to the Oaklawn intersection. One such extension,
probably the one to the campus, opened April 25, 1903. Dan L.
Morrill and Nancy Thomas, "Biddleville," in the New South
Neighborhoods brochure series (Charlotte: Charlotte Mecklenburg
Historic Properties Commission, 1981).
22 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: map
book 230, p. 228.
23 Hereafter in this essay, all streets will be
called by their 1984 names, regardless of when they received those
24 Almost every deed specifies that no easement is
given to the lands known as Lincoln Park, owned by the Piedmont
Traction Company. One particular lot was noted as bordering both
Booker Street and Lincoln Park: Mecklenburg County Register of
Deeds Office: deed book 358, p. 598.
25 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Deed
Book 305, P. 686; Deed Book 321, pp. 93, 419, 571. These
transactions took place in late 1913 and early 1914. Minimum
building cost was $1,200.
26 For instance see Mecklenburg County Register of
Deeds Office: deed book 312, pp. 272, 299, 331.
27 Charlotte Observer. June 22, 1910. The
effort was evidently somewhat successful, for Colored Charlotte...
included a photograph of an old farmhouse with the caption, "North
Carolina Reform Manual Training School for Colored Youth. Three
Miles From Charlotte on the Nation's Ford Road. Opens February 1,
1915...." Charlotte blacks did not stop pressing for construction
of a more adequate facility, however, and in the 1920s Thad Tate
was able to convince Governor Cameron Morrison to open the Morrison
Training School at Hoffman, North Carolina. The Morrison School
continues in use in the 1980s, with one of its earliest brick
buildings named in honor of Tate.
28 Watson, Colored Charlotte . . . , passim. A
program of the day's events and a list of the organizers is
included near the end of the book.
30 Ibid., p. 1.
31 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office:
grantor books, listings for Freehold Realty.
33 Mabel Hunt, interview with Wanda Hendricks in
Charlotte, North Carolina, August 1984. Rosabell Davis, interview
with Wanda Hendricks in Charlotte, North Carolina, August 1984.
Hunt is a niece of Jones and is said to have a book with sections
on both Thad Tate and Lethia Jones. Notes from these interviews are
in the files of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Properties
34 An almost complete collection of Charlotte city
directories is in the collection of the Carolina Room of the
Charlotte Public Library. All biographical information in this
essay, except where noted, is drawn from the directories.
35 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: deed
book 407, pp. 52, 54; record of corporations book 5, p. 423.
36 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office:
record of corporations book 6, p. 440.
37 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: map
book 3, p. 391.
38 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: map
book 3, p. 352.
39 Dykes was Jeanes Teacher for Mecklenburg County,
funded by the Jeanes Foundation. Many southern counties had a
Jeanes teacher in the 1920s and 1930s working in black schools:
"well-prepared Negro teachers, mostly women, ...working under the
direction of the county superintendents, ...to help and encourage
the rural teachers; to introduce into small country schools simple
home industries; to give lessons on sanitation, cleanliness, etc.;
to promote improvement of school houses and school grounds; and to
organize clubs for the betterment of the school and
neighborhood.... In 311 counties in fourteen states ... these
Jeanes teachers are veritable missionaries of goodwill and
cooperation." N.C. Newbold, "Common Schools for Negroes in the
South," The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social
Science, November, 1928, p. 12.
40 John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: a
History of Negro Americans, 5th ed. (New York. Alired A. Knopf,
1980 ), p. 358. Such gains were not secured without a struggle
against racial barriers in the union movement itself.
41 Harry P. Harding, "The Charlotte City Schools"
(Charlotte: typescript by the Charlotte Mecklenburg School System,
1966), p. 50.
42 Ibid., P. 134. One of Tate's daughters, retired
school teacher Aurelia Tate Henderson, lives at 1000 Clifton Street
in Charlotte in 1984.
43 Dan L. Morrill, "Myers Park Streetcar Waiting Stations:
Survey and Research Report" (Charlotte: Charlotte Mecklenburg
Historic Properties Commission, 1980).
44 Gwynne Stephens Taylor, From Frontier to
Factory: an Architectural History of Forsyth County
(Winston-Salem: Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Historic Properties
Commission, 1981). Taylor did find a small area called Columbia
Heights around black Winston-Salem State University, but it seems
not to have had streetcar connections and housed mainly professors
at the college. Linda Harris, ed. Early Raleigh Neighborhoods and
Buildings (Raleigh: Raleigh City Council, 1983. Harris includes a
chapter by Charlotte Vestal Brown on Moore Square, a nineteenth
century center city area for blacks. David R. Black, Historic
Architectural Resources of Downtown Asheville North Carolina
(Asheville: City of Asheville, 1979. Claudia Roberts Brown, The
Durham Architectural and Historic Inventory (Durham: City Of
Durham , 1982). Ruth Little-Stokes, An Inventory of Historic
Architecture: Greensboro, North Carolina (Greensboro: City of
Significant Sites in the Washington Heights Neighborhood
- 921 Beatties Ford Road -- The Excelsior Club (1940s)
- 1223 Beatties Ford Road -- Rev. W. H. Davenport House
- 2328 Sanders Street -- Rev. H. Wilson House (1914c)
EXCELSIOR CLUB (1940s)
921 Beatties Ford Road
Created about 1946, the Excelsior Club is one of the most
architecturally and historically important structures in this
sector of Charlotte. It is an excellent example of the Art Moderne
style of architecture, rare in this city. And it has had a leading
place in black social and political life here for some four
Beatties Ford Road has been a major Charlotte thoroughfare since
colonial days. In the first years of the twentieth century it
became, as well, the principal street of the black suburb of
Washington Heights, lined with handsome two-story homes. In the
late 1930s and 1940s many of the houses began to be replaced by
stores and restaurants. It was during this period that the
Excelsior Club opened for business, evidently in a radically
remodeled two-story house. Today the white stucco exterior gives no
hint of its pre-1940s origins. In massing, the Club is composed of
a small, square-plan second story that is centered ziggurat-fashion
on a larger square-plan first story. Black horizontal accents and
glass-block windows give the structure a strong modernistic air, as
does the elaborate metal entrance awning with its porthole-like
openings which extends from the front steps to the street.
Today the Excelsior Club is perhaps the oldest stylish social
gathering place in Charlotte's black community. No earlier night
spots are known to exist. The Club has also long been a gathering
place for local black political leaders, and was an important
meeting spot during the 1950s and 1960s as blacks worked to regain
their political rights lost at the turn of the century. The
Excelsior Club's long-time owner James McKee retired in 1984.
REV. W.H. DAVENPORT HOUSE
1223 Beatties Ford Road
This two-story brick dwelling is the most imposing residence to
be seen today in Washington Heights. The neighborhood was created
in the 1910s as Charlotte's only black "streetcar suburb," and it
soon filled up with middle-class and few upper-class black
families. Heads of household rode the Beatties Ford Road streetcar
into town each day to jobs as ministers, teachers, barbers, or
railroad employees. Sidestreets filled up with one-story frame
bungalows while the main avenue, Beatties Ford Road, became lined
with two-story houses of such leading citizens as physician N.B.
Houser or Leon Alexander, proprietor of two grocery stores. Perhaps
the most important resident in those early years was Reverend W.H.
Davenport. He was Editor of the Star of Zion, and thus one of the
nationally-ranked officials of the A.M.E. Zion Church. The Star of
Zion was the religion's official newspaper, and also a much-read
source of news on black secular life in this area, for it often
carried stories about achievements of blacks in the region around
Charlotte. Today the old A.M.E. Zion Publishing House in Second
Ward is gone, as are the homes of the early editors. The W.H.
Davenport House is a vital reminder of this important chapter in
The two-story red-brick residence is a good example of
conservative 1920s architecture. Its hip-roof and square outlines
mark it as an example of the Four Square style. Its plain trimmings
are a reflection of a national revolt against the over-elaborate
Victorian ornament of the 1890s. Many conservative,
efficiency-minded Charlotteans chose this style for their homes in
the 1910s and 1920s, including music-store founder Charles Parker
(901 Central Avenue) and Iveys Department Store chief executive
David Ovens (825 Ardsley Road).
REV. H. WILSON HOUSE (circa
2328 Sanders Street
This house is the earliest-known structure standing in
Washington Heights, Charlotte's first black suburb. Little is known
about its owner, Reverend H. Wilson, except that he was among the
first lot purchasers after Freehold Realty platted the new
neighborhood June 10, 1913. On July 5th of that year Wilson signed
a deed for this lot at a cost of $300. Two years later C. H.
Watson, real estate salesman for the neighborhood, published a
booklet entitled Colored Charlotte which showed pictures of the
handful of houses erected up to that time. Among them was a
one-story frame bungalow with the caption, "Owned by Rev. H.
Since Wilson only bought one lot in Washington Heights, and
since plat map evidence confirms that it was 2328 Sanders Street,
it is probable that the existing structure is indeed Wilson's
original dwelling despite some variation between the present house
and the early photograph. The house is a typical 1910s one-story
frame bungalow. It features a gable roof and a gabled front dormer
which Has exposed rafters in its eaves. A pair of brick interior
chimneys with corbelled caps pierce the ridgeline of the main roof,
and there is a simpler exterior chimney on the small south side
addition. The most prominent feature of the house is its wide front
porch which runs the length of the main facade. It has a shed roof
with exposed eave rafters supported by square tapered wooden
columns on brick posts, a popular motif in the era.