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Thomas W. Hanchett
Plaza-Midwood is Charlotte's most diverse streetcar-era
neighborhood. Its earliest avenues were platted in 1903 and its
newest date from after the Second World War. 1 Buildings
range from turn-of-the-century factories and blue collar housing,
to one of Charlotte's largest pre-World War II suburban shopping
strips, to the city's most prestigious country club.
Though the Plaza-Midwood area was never the
city's most elite district, as Dilworth, Myers
Park, and Eastover were in their
early years, it has had important residents. Bishop John C. Kilgo,
a major regional Methodist leader and president of Trinity College
in the years before it became Duke University; John Crosland, Sr.,
who started one of the most active homebuilding firms in the
Southeast; and textile leader George B. Cramer, whose family
founded Cramerton, N.C., are among those who have made their homes
in Plaza-Midwood. The neighborhood was also the site of the
experiments that led to the creation of WBT, one of the first radio
stations to be licensed in the United States. Moreover, several
noteworthy designs by such leading Charlotte architects as Louis
Asbury, C. C. Hook, and William Peeps grace the area, along with
noted New York City designer Aymar Embury's Charlotte Country Club,
and the city's best preserved Queen Anne Victorian residence.
Plaza-Midwood did not formally come into being
as a neighborhood until 1973. 2 Residents who had
organized to stop a highway through the neighborhood decided to
form a permanent community organization, and chose a name that
combined those of the area's picturesque main street and one of its
larger subdivisions. Official boundary lines were drawn in 1979 by
the Charlotte Planning Commission, part of a city-wide effort to
define Charlotte's neighborhoods for the first time. 3
Yet, despite its diversity and its recent naming, Plaza-Midwood is
clearly a single neighborhood. Its secondary streets continue
across the old subdivision boundaries to form an interlocking web
of residential avenues. The Plaza, a long, straight boulevard with
a landscaped median, forms the neighborhood's spine. Mecklenburg
and Belvedere avenues run east from The Plaza, tying together the
area's network of sidestreets.
Sharp natural boundaries delineate the edges of
the area. Central Avenue, a long-time city thoroughfare originally
known as Lawyers Road, defines the neighborhood's southern boundary
with a strip of commercial development. A band of industrial
buildings along Hawthorne Lane and the CSX Railroad forms
Plaza-Midwood's western edge. At the east, Briar Creek and the
fairways of the Charlotte Country Club preclude through streets,
another distinct boundary. The least sharply-defined edge is at the
north where Plaza-Midwood merges into Plaza Hills. Yet even here
one can distinguish between the cottages of the 1920s through 1940s
that characterize Plaza-Midwood and the post-World War II
development that defines the areas north of Mecklenburg Avenue and
Country Club Lane.
The diversity of ages and economic levels within
Plaza-Midwood and its building stock are in part a result of the
large number of early subdivisions that make up the neighborhood.
The fact that Plaza-Midwood is composed of several subdivisions is
not in itself unusual in Charlotte. Every neighborhood in the city
grew up in this manner. The Elizabeth
neighborhood, for example, is made up of five distinct developments
whose names and boundaries have long been forgotten. Even Myers
Park, conceived as a single mammoth project, is in reality a
patchwork of areas platted at different times by a series of
planners under the direction of successive leaders of the Stephens
and Griffith companies. Plaza-Midwood, however, is made up of more
developments than any other neighborhood. There are ten separate
subdivisions, several of which were re-subdivided over the years,
involving at least seventeen different development groups. There
was no recognizable lead developer who built a major project around
which smaller ones gathered. Plaza-Midwood had no one like
Dilworth's Latta family, Wilmore's F. C. Abbott, or Elizabeth's W.
But this fragmented development is not the
underlying cause of the area's diversity. Even within the
individual subdivisions there is surprising variety. Frequently, a
single block will contain houses built decades apart for persons of
widely varying economic levels.
The explanation of Plaza-Midwood's appearance
today is to be found in its location in the Charlotte of the
1900s-1920s, and its position in the web of railroads and streetcar
lines that shaped the city. The tract that became Plaza-Midwood had
much to offer, but it also had some serious liabilities in terms of
location. Its potential drew a stream of real estate developers who
gambled that they could overcome the drawbacks to create a
profitable new streetcar suburb for the booming city of Charlotte.
The gamble seldom paid off as well as the developers would have
Beginning with Dilworth in 1891, Charlotte's
streetcar suburbs came to form a tight ring completely surrounding
the old town. Almost all the new streets were contained within a
two-mile radius from the Square at the center of the city. The
arrangement was dictated by the nature of the trolley commuting
system. Streetcar track was expensive to build, and needed
relatively high density residential development to be profitable.
Areas with the shortest commuting time to downtown developed first.
Yet even before this first ring of suburbs was completed in the
early 1910s, a few speculators had purchased land farther from town
with the hope that it, too, could soon be developed. The first
subdivisions of Plaza-Midwood were part of this second tier of
development, starting in 1903. The only other second-tier streetcar
suburb to be built was the highly successful Myers Park
development. Myers Park was not begun until 1911, an interval of
eight years that saw Charlotte's demand for new housing leap as the
city's population swelled by nearly fifty percent. 4
Along with distance from town, developers in the
Plaza-Midwood area faced a second liability. To get to the new
subdivisions, commuters had to cross a major rail line. Charlotte
planner Earle Sumner Draper, who arrived in 1915, has stated that
railroad bridges were a key factor in the burgeoning growth of the
southeast sector of the city, which continues to this day.
5 In the early decades of this century twenty-five to
thirty passenger trains entered the city each day, with many more
freight trains and switching runs. 6 Eight railroad
lines crossed at grade and hemmed in the center city for many
years. The town's first railroad bridge carried the South Boulevard
streetcar line over the tracks on Morehead Street, allowing the
trolleys to move freely south to Dilworth in the 1890s. The second,
in the early 1910s, carried the southeasterly Elizabeth/Myers Park
trolley under the railroad tracks on East Trade Street. No more
bridges were built until the 1930s. Commuters to Plaza-Midwood were
forced to cross the Seaboard Air Line track at Central Avenue each
day. It was a busy line carrying freight from the Charlotte and
Gastonia textile region to both the port of Wilmington and, via the
Seaboard junction at Monroe, North Carolina, to Atlanta, Georgia.
Frequent waits at the Central Avenue grade crossing undoubtedly
deterred potential Plaza-Midwood area homebuyers.
The neighborhood's third major problem was one
which its early developers could not have foreseen. The
Plaza-Midwood area became the victim of a power play over control
of the city's streetcar system. The trouble began about 1910 when
the tract's early developers and the projectors of the planned
Charlotte Country Club approached trolley owner Edward Dilworth
Latta about extending service out to the section. 7
Latta refused. He had good reason, for the Country Club was to be
more than two miles beyond the existing end of the Central Avenue
line at Hawthorne Lane. There was little prospect that rapid
residential development would occur to offset the construction and
operating costs for such a long track, and the developers were
evidently unable or unwilling to subsidize the line as George
Stephens would later do for Myers Park.
On June 6, 1910, developer Paul Chatham, who
planned to sell house lots along what is now The Plaza, came before
the City Board of Aldermen to request a franchise to build his own
streetcar line. 8 Latta quickly rose in opposition, for
the move would break his monopoly over the city's mass transit.
Latta suspected that Chatham had no plans to create a line, but
instead would sell his rights to James B. Duke's mammoth Southern
Power Company and thereby allow the electric utility to put its
massive resources into competition with Latta and force him out of
business.9 Such tactics were commonplace in the heyday
of the trolley, and in more than one American city new companies
actually built track and operated parallel service at a loss until
the old franchise-holders were forced to sell out. Charlotte
historian Dan L. Morrill writes that "evidence abounds that the
Dukes and Chatham were in collusion." 10 Attorney
Cameron Morrison represented both Chatham and Duke, and Chatham was
a business associate of William States Lee, the Duke company's
chief engineer. 11
The Aldermen's compromise must have pleased no
one. Chatham received his franchise, but with the stipulation that
it could not be sold or transferred. Ironically, a month later
Southern Power received a franchise from the Board to allow their
new Piedmont and Northern electric interurban to come into
Charlotte via city streets. Duke had his armhold over Edward
Dilworth Latta, and Latta sold out to the newly-formed Southern
Public Utilities Company the same year.
The Plaza-Midwood area, however, was stuck with
Paul Chatham's tiny streetcar line. For years commuters to the
neighborhood had to get off the Southern Public Utilities Company
trolley from downtown near Hawthorne and Central, and transfer to a
battery-powered rail car operated by Chatham's company for the trip
the rest of the way out Central and up The Plaza. The inconvenience
slowed an already long trip, and permanently retarded the area's
Far from downtown, blocked by the railroad, and
hindered by poor trolley connections, the Plaza-Midwood area was
slow to develop. Yet it continually lured real estate investors. It
was well-drained land, some of the highest in the region. It was
very close to the fashionable parts of Elizabeth, particularly the
Central Avenue corridor where such city leaders as J. B. Ivey, F.
C. Abbott, and others lived in large houses. And, after the
Charlotte Country Club bought a tract of inexpensive farmland on
Briar Creek in 1910, it was adjacent to the city's only golf club.
A continual trickle of lot buyers seemed to justify the investors'
optimism. But sales always remained slow, and forced developers to
cut lot sizes, modify plans, and often to sell out to other
speculators before all sites finally sold. The Plaza-Midwood area
subdivisions did not fill up until well into the era of easy
There is not space for a detailed history of all
of Plaza-Midwood's numerous development groups, but it is possible
to provide a picture of the subdivisions and profile the most
important of their creators. Benjamin D. Heath was the first man to
take an interest in the area as something more than farmland. He
had tasted business success as owner of a hardware store in Monroe,
North Carolina (which gave department store founder William Henry
Belk his first mercantile experience) .12 Heath was
attracted to Charlotte's booming textile economy and quickly became
one of the city's financial leaders. By 1900 he was president of
the Charlotte National
Bank, two textile mills and a fire insurance company, and
partner in numerous other ventures. 13
About 1900 Heath began to take an interest in
suburban real estate, acting as partner with F. C Abbott and young
George Stephens in a development called Piedmont Park, including
Sunnyside, Louise, Jackson, and Central Avenues in the present
Elizabeth neighborhood. 14 As soon as that subdivision
was underway, Heath purchased the next piece of property out
Central Avenue beyond Louise Avenue on his own.15 F. C.
Abbott later remembered Heath's Oakhurst development (not to be
confused with a later neighborhood of the same name out Monroe
Road) as one of the city's earliest, predating several suburbs
closer to town. It overlapped parts of today's Elizabeth and
. . . Mr. B. D. Heath . . . purchased the Chadwick farm
with long frontage on Central Avenue extending almost out to The
Plaza, and Oakhurst was developed. The price paid was one hundred
dollars per acre and included the fine old homestead occupied as
his residence the rest of his life. Some of Mr. Heath's old time
friends "ragged" him heavily for paying such a price for land "way
out in the country."16
Heath was smarter than his friends realized. He
sold a number of lots on Central Avenue near Louise Street for fine
homes near his own, all of which are now gone. But Heath recognized
that the tract's main virtue was the Seaboard Railroad track
through its center. He planned to make a rapid profit creating an
industrial area, rather than a streetcar suburb. In 1897, just
before B. D. Heath had made his purchase, H. S. Chadwick's Louise
Cotton Mill had opened northwest of where the Seaboard crossed
Central Avenue, and it expanded to 20,000 spindles in
1900.17 The same year, Heath sold off large parcels of
his new tract to three other industrial concerns. On the northwest
corner of the crossing was the Charlotte Casket Company, of which
Heath was a director.18 Behind it was the factory of
Barnhardt Manufacturing.19 A native of Cabarrus County,
Thomas M. Barnhardt had been attracted by Charlotte's textile boom,
and found his fortune in cotton waste.20 He manufactured
cotton batting from the material, which had previously been thrown
away. In the 1920s he became a major supplier to the automobile
upholstery industry, and eventually the Barnhardt Company occupied
not only its original plant and the adjacent former casket factory,
but a chain of facilities throughout the region.
The Cole Manufacturing Company built its present
factory on the southeast corner of the railroad crossing about
1911. E. A. and E. M. Cole had begun operation about 1900 in a
wooden building near Barnhardt's, producing seed planters patented
by E. M. Cole. 22 The implements sold so well that the
Coles commissioned architect C. C. Hook to build the present
complex of handsome one-story brick buildings with Roman arched
windows. 23 A 1980 Charlotte newspaper article called
Cole "one of the world's largest manufacturers of seed planting,
fertilizing, and farm machine equipment." 24
Cole Manufacturing Company Building
By 1903, with Barnhardt, Cole Charlotte Casket
and one or two smaller industrial concerns in place, B. D. Heath
had sold off most of his railroad frontage. He now platted most of
the remainder of his tract as a blue collar residential area.
25 These Oakhurst avenues included the first streets of
the area that is now known as Plaza-Midwood; Clement, Pecan
(originally Chadwick), School and Gordon streets, plus parts of
Thomas, Kensington, Chestnut, and Hamorton (originally Peachtree)
streets. A few middle-income residences appeared on the north side
of Central Avenue between the railroad crossing and the farm road
that would become The Plaza, but most of the dwellings on the side
streets were working class.
All of the housing in these blocks was privately
developed. 26 None was owned by the factories, the usual
pattern in other parts of Charlotte. By the time the city directory
listed the streets in the late 1910s, there were some two dozen
one-story Victorian cottages on what are now Clement, Pecan,
Thomas, and Hamorton. Notable among these is 1216 Clement Avenue,
an example of the "shotgun" house-type usually found in black
neighborhoods but here occupied by white machinist A. Fred Love in
its early years. Most of the cottages were inhabited by workmen at
the nearby factories, including 1208 Clement, 1416 Pecan, and 1328
Thomas. One of the more elaborate early dwellings on Thomas, at
1409, was the home of casket-maker Jackson Kiser. Cole
Manufacturing assistant superintendent Arthur J. Helms could be
found at 1409 Pecan, a house distinguished by a balcony inset in
its front gable. Not everyone worked at the factories, however.
United States Post Office foreman Vitchel Q. Stroupe lived in a
multi-gabled Victorian house at 1443 Pecan, painter R. Harvey Allen
resided at 1319 Thomas, and trolley conductor Charles P. Wooten
could be found at 1424 Hamorton. During the 1920s, small bungalows
for residents of similar means filled up the spaces between the
first Victorian cottages. Though a handful of early residences have
been demolished along Central and adjacent blocks, the remainder of
this Oakhurst section looks today much as it did fifty years ago,
and contains Plaza-Midwood's oldest dwellings.
Logie Avenue and Forest
The next developments farther out Central Avenue
came in 1909. D. A Johnston, evidently a small-time real estate
speculator, filed a plat for Logie Avenue, a short, one-block
street off the north side of Central Avenue near Briar
Creek.27 The same year the Eastside Realty Company made
plans for the suburb of "Forest Circle" in a hollow a bit closer to
town (in 1983 the area behind McDonald's restaurant). 28
Eastside's partners were the socially prominent doctor C. J.
McManaway, Coca Cola distributor J. L. Snyder, meat market owner L.
P. MacKenzie, plus D. M. Abernathy and Thurman B. Long.
29 Evidently none had much experience in real estate,
and their streets remained only on paper for years. A couple named
J. J. and Sadie Harrill owned the land by 1914, but they were
little more successful. 30
Today the oldest houses in the area, along
Hamorton Street, are bungalows dating from the late 1920s. The
hollow proved to be the only poorly drained land in the
Plaza-Midwood area, a problem that persists today. Consequently,
most of the streets drawn by Eastside back in 1909 were not
actually opened until immediately after World War II when pent-up
housing demand created a home-buying frenzy. The short, narrow
streets are now mostly lined with low-cost structures built in the
late 1940s and early 1950s.
The avenues that occupy the Forest Circle
subdivision include Landis, Randall, Fulton, Firth, Wolf, Roland,
and portions of Hamorton and Kenwood. Roland Street has the most
interesting history. It is said to run near the site of a
nineteenth century gold mine. Mecklenburg County is, in fact,
pockmarked with small "placer pit" digs, few of which panned out.
When the street opened around 1941 it carried the romantic name
"Gold Hill Avenue," but by 1951 had been switched to the less
colorful Roland Street.31
The Charlotte Country Club and Club
In 1910 a group of Charlotte businessmen organized the Mecklenburg
Country Club. Incorporation papers filed February 21, 1910, listed
W. S. Lee, E. P. Coles, F M. Laxton, John M. Scott, Chase Brenizer,
Dr. J. P. Mathison, Stuart W. Cramer, E. C. Marshall, A. J. Draper,
and H. Twitty as equal stockholders. 32 Charlotte was
still a small city of only 34,000 people, but its newly wealthy
industrialists and developers felt they merited the era's symbol of
wealth and prestige, the golf course. They purchased a tract of
farmland far out in the country, straddling Briar Creek on the
north side of Central Avenue,and turned the old farmhouse into
their clubhouse. 33
At almost the same time, Laxton, developer Paul
Chatham, banker Word Wood, and Duke executive W. S. Lee chartered
the Mecklenburg Realty Company. 34 The following year
the company filed a plat for streets in Club Acres, a new
subdivision just west of the clubhouse. 35 Mecklenburg,
Belvedere, and Matheson avenues were part of this plan, along with
a number of side streets that were never actually built. Belvedere
was intended as the main drive to the country club enclave, and
Mecklenburg Avenue was planned as the trolley route, an unusual
separation of transportation modes. By 1918 developers had taken
out water permits to begin construction of a handful of residences
on Mecklenburg and one on Matheson.
The lapse of several years between platting of
the streets and building of the first houses was indicative of the
difficulties in attracting buyers to the area. So was the decidedly
middle-income character of the earliest dwellings. Numbers 2132
Matheson Avenue and 2427 Mecklenburg Avenue, dating from 1916, are
two-story frame houses that combine straight-forward Rectilinear
style massing with Bungalow style details, such as wide-eaved,
2427 Mecklenburg Ave.
Both apparently initially housed real estate developers. The
dwelling at 2320 Mecklenburg Avenue, erected two years later, is
quite similar, and housed Power engineer J. W. Knowlton. Number
2222 Mecklenburg is the only 1910s residence surviving today that
may be said to be imposing. The 1918 design for Western Electric
Company manager W. R. Phillips is a two-story Rectilinear style
brick residence that commands its hilltop site.
Unfortunately, the most important residence
built during the Club Acres subdivision's first decade has been
demolished. F. M. Laxton, major investor in both the subdivision
and the country club, built a large two-story brick house in the
1910s at the corner of Mecklenburg and Belvedere avenues, right
next to what was then the entrance to the club. A chicken coop
behind the residence became the location of an important historic
event in December, 1920, when Fred Laxton rigged up a primitive
radio transmitter. 36 The radio experiments evolved into
Laxton's WBT radio with studios in downtown Charlotte, the third
radio station to be licensed in the United States. WBT played a
part in attracting regional attention to the city and spurring its
growth, and also helped make Charlotte a focus for early country
music recording. The Carter family, Bluegrass music pioneer Bill
Monroe, and banjo star Uncle Dave Macon were among those who
regularly performed live from the downtown WBT facilities in the
1930s and 1940s, and were recorded at the nearby field studios of
RCA Victor. In 1931, long after the chicken coop transmitter had
given way to one atop the Independence Building, the Laxton
residence was levelled to provide a more grandiose entrance to the
new Charlotte Country Club building.
The difficulties in attracting buyers to Club
Acres were highlighted when its developers rescinded the original
deed restrictions for the area and allowed lots smaller than one
acre. The 1919 document was signed by all parties involved in the
project, and read like a "Who's Who" of economically powerful
Charlotteans. 37 In addition to the original Mecklenburg
Realty Company, with prominent investors Draper and Wood among its
leaders, two additional groups were now involved in the
development. The Club Acres Company had construction man F. M.
Laxton at its head, and the Mayfield Company had realtor E. V.
Patterson and textile/banking leader J. T. McAden in charge. Among
those with stock in the three companies were Myers Park founder
George Stephens, realtors V. J. Guthery and O. J. Thies, builder
William Isenhour, and financier John M. Scott.
With this roster of backers, the Club Acres
development did not suffer from lack of capital or leadership.
Neither did it suffer from competition from an opposing development
group in Myers Park. Both suburbs had been begun in 1911 and both
aimed for the "country club set," but they shared the same backers;
Stephens, Draper, Wood, and to a lesser extent Patterson, Thies,
McAden, Isenhour and Scott. In the course of the decade almost all
of these men would themselves choose to live in Myers Park. The
attraction of the country club was not enough to overcome the
problems of distance, poor transit, and a disruptive railroad
crossing that plagued all of the Plaza-Midwood subdivisions.
Development in Club Acres finally took off at
the very end of the 1920s and especially in the 1930s, as it became
commonplace for the upper-middle class to depend on automobiles
rather than trolleys to commute to center city jobs. St. Andrews
Lane, laid out for investors Hamilton McKay and J. H. Whitner in
1926, finally filled out in 1939 with the Colonial and Ranch style
residences of upper middle income businessmen.38 Charles
F. Barnhardt, a leading cotton broker, and J. Norman Pease, a
successful mill architect, teamed up to develop Country Club Lane
in 1937. 39 Barnhardt's opulent house, complete with its
own small lake, dates from the following year.40 In the
late 1920s and 1930s Mecklenburg and Belvedere avenues belatedly
began to attract members of the city's leadership circle. Among
them were cotton processor A. L. Boyle who built a Colonial Revival
house designed by William Peeps at 2415 Mecklenburg (1928),
Carolina Trust Company vice-president Benjamin J. Smith at 2448
Mecklenburg (1928), lawyer Robert E. Wellons at 2300 Mecklenburg
(1932), WBT radio program director Charles Crutchfield at 2331
Mecklenburg (1943), and real estate leader William Tate at 2826
2415 Mecklenburg Ave.
Architecture of this era tended toward brick Colonial Revival
houses on ample lots. The largest residence of the period, though,
was a striking example of the Tudor Revival. The Elliot Newcombe,
Sr., house at 2817
Belvedere Avenue, said to have been built in 1931 by noted
Durham architect George Watts Carr.42 Newcombe, with
interests in textiles and packaging, was the stepson of mill
magnate C. W. Johnston and husband of Mary Duke Lyon, a grandniece
of utility tycoon J. B. Duke. 43
2817 Belvedere Ave.
Another mark of the neighborhood's success in
the 1930s was the opening of the new country club building in
1931.44 By now known as the Charlotte Country Club, the
institution commissioned noted northern "society" architect Aymar
Embury II to design its new clubhouse. Embury was well known for
his "country-house" designs in better suburbs up and down the
eastern seaboard, and he was also involved in country club and
residential design in North Carolina's prestigious Sand Hills
resort region. 45 His Charlotte club building was a
costly collage of revivalistic motives, from Georgian and English,
to French, Grecian, and "modernistic." The grounds were laid out by
Charlotte's Earle Sumner Draper. The large, white structure
trumpeted the wealth of Charlotte's leaders in the midst of the
Charlotte Country Club
The Club Acres area continued to receive new
houses after World War II. Country Club Drive filled up in the
early 1950s with large ranch houses built for managers and sales
supervisors of bustling young companies. On Saint Andrews Lane,
Matheson Avenue, Belvedere Avenue, and Mecklenburg Avenue, new
houses, often Ranch style, filled the remaining vacant lots and
sometimes the side yards of earlier residences. Perhaps the finest
dwelling of the post-war period was the home of John Crosland, Sr.,
(1951) at 3021 Belvedere Avenue facing the Country Club. Crosland
was the generation's busiest suburban homebuilder, largely
responsible for reshaping the post-war city. His imposing two-story
residence by local designer Warren Mobley with its white columned
portico echoes the club building. 46
John Crosland House
The Club Acres streets today reflect their long
history. Under the tall trees planted in the 1910s there is now an
unusually diverse array of houses, with architectural influences
ranging from Bungalow to Ranch. The area retains the prestige it
has enjoyed since the 1930s, and likely will keep its present
appearance for years to come.
Chatham Estates: The Plaza
Early maps drawn before residential development
began in the Plaza-Midwood area show only three pre-existing roads.
47 The main highway was Lawyers Road (later Central
Avenue) at the southern edge of the tract. A lesser road named
Poorhouse Road wound out of downtown along the present route of
Parkwood Avenue at the northern edge of the tract. It ran out to
the county poorhouse, a structure that still stands as the annex to
Spencer Memorial United Methodist Church at 1025 36th
Street. The third road was a farm lane that connected Lawyers Road
and Poorhouse Road. This last track was destined to become The
Plaza, the grand boulevard of the Plaza-Midwood neighborhood.
The man who made the transformation was Paul
Chatham. Like many Charlotte real estate developers, Chatham had
made his first money in textiles. He had been born in 1869 in
Elkin, North Carolina, a member of the wealthy family who operated
that city's Chatham Woolen Mills.48 Educated at Trinity
College (now Duke University) in Durham, and the University of
North Carolina in Chapel Hill, he served as an official with the
family firm for several years.
In 1907 Paul Chatham moved to Charlotte,
purchasing a fine residence on fashionable South Tryon
Street.49 He soon "became interested in the real estate
business," and according to the Charlotte Observer, quickly
became "prominent in the life of Charlotte." 50 His
first major development was Chatham Estates, including the streets
now known as The Plaza, Nassau Avenue, Tippah Avenue, Thurmond
Place, and parts of Mecklenburg, Mimosa, Belvedere, Belle Terre,
Chestnut, and Kensington Streets. 51 When Chatham filed
his plat for the new streets in 1912, Club Acres and most of the
other Plaza-Midwood subdivisions were already on paper, but it
still took a good bit of vision to imagine the farmland as a
subdivision. As fellow developer F. C. Abbott remembered years
later, "At that time The Plaza was a narrow dirt road , surrounded
on both sides by a large strawberry farm. . .."52
It was landscape architect Leigh Colyer who
helped provide the vision. Bolstered by family capital, Chatham was
able to follow the lead of George Stephens in Myers Park and Edward
Dilworth Latta in Dilworth and hire a professional designer to plan
his new suburb. He chose Charlottean Colyer, a native of Chester,
England, who had emigrated to the Carolinas with his father Charles
F. Colyer.53 The elder Colyer had been a romantic who
fell in love with the mountains around Asheville, North Carolina,
and spent the remainder of his life there as a painter and
landscape designer. The younger Colyer had learned landscape design
and drawing working with his father, and by the late 1890s was at
work in Charlotte, where he became the city's first full-time
landscape architect. By the time of his death in 1953 he had
executed a variety of projects across the region, including Chatham
Estates, the Belvedere suburb of Shelby, North Carolina,
Charlotte's Elmwood Cemetery expansion, an award-winning mill
village in Lincolnton, North Carolina, and the grounds of the North
Carolina State Sanitorium. 54 Colyer was also
responsible for numerous residential landscape designs for the
area's leading citizens including the Linebergers and Stowes in
Belmont, the Cannons in Cabarrus County, Judge Webb and Clyde Hoey
in Shelby, and Ralph VanLandingham in Charlotte. 55
Leigh Colyer's design for Chatham Estates called
for widening and straightening the dirt farm road into a mile-long,
hundred-foot wide boulevard, with asphalt-paved twin roadways
flanking a central median for streetcar tracks. 56 Two
parallel streets and some half-dozen cross streets formed a grid,
relieved by carefully placed curves. The boulevard was to have
large estates of the wealthy, while streets were to hold more
modest homes, a common Charlotte pattern in the period.
There was to be a formal park in the low-lying
triangle of ground bounded by what are now Cochran, Mimosa, and
Norcross streets. Another low piece of ground along a stream
between Thurmond and Nassau streets was evidently intended as a
"greenway" park. Today, except for slight changes to Thurmond
Avenue and abandonment of the parkland, The Plaza and nearby
streets follow Colyer's plan.
Paul Chatham used his financial resources to
hire Colyer, to build his own streetcar system, to subsidize city
water, electricity and telephone service, all carefully run along
the alleys behind the building lots, and even installed ornamental
light poles along the boulevard. He renovated a Victorian farmhouse
near The Plaza and Central, and used it as a second residence for
himself .57 He also financed a publicity campaign with
handsome maps and brochures of the neighborhood, and commissioned
an artist to draw an aerial view of what the suburb would look
like.58 He then called on his social skills and family
and industrial connections to entice buyers out to the new
Chatham had some initial success. Union National
Bank president H. M. Victor built a large Colonial Revival
residence (now demolished) in the block of The Plaza between
Kensington and Belle Terre about 1914. Wealthy cotton broker Ralph
Van Landingham purchased a five-acre site a block north the same
year and commissioned architects Hook and Rogers to create a
handsome house set in grounds designed by Leigh
Colyer.59 Also in 1914 architect Louis Asbury designed a
large Rectilinear residence for Methodist Bishop John C. Kilgo at
2100 The Plaza. Kilgo was a distinguished figure in North Carolina
in that day, recently retired as president to Trinity College
(perhaps not coincidentally Chatham's alma mater) and a director of
the Southern Railroad.
Bishop John C. Kilgo House
In 1915 a former downtown mansion was moved out
to the suburb. Cotton and grain merchant R. M. Miller, Jr., son of
an associate of textile machinery magnate D. A. Tompkins, had
evidently tired of his 1891 Queen Anne Victorian style residence on
North Tryon Street at Seventh Street. He had the old house and a
neighboring structure moved from the lot and commissioned Louis
Asbury to design a new dwelling in the "modern" Colonial Revival
style.60 Miller's old house was moved to what is now
1600 The Plaza, where it was purchased by the Scott family.
The Miller house was very nearly the last large
residence in Chatham Estates. The following year, 1916, Joseph D.
Woodside, owner and operator of the Woodside Motor Company, moved
into a new house at 1801 The Plaza, and stockbroker John L. Scott
took up residence at 1405 The Plaza. With those sales, Paul
Chatham's luck at attracting well-to-do lot buyers ran out.
Sales in Chatham Estates did not pick up again
until the mid 1920s. By that time Chatham had been forced to
abandon his vision of The Plaza lined with grand suburban estates
on large lots. Small one-story bungalows arose between the large
two-story residences built a decade earlier. Lots were frequently
split up to allow more buildings, and Chatham was apparently forced
to sell off some of the undeveloped blocks to keep the project
alive. The Nassau Heights Land Company, composed of real estate
speculators U. S. Goode, F. E. Robinson, and T. D. Newell, Jr.,
purchased several blocks of Nassau Boulevard near Hamorton and
advertised lots for sale in "Nassau Heights." 61 By the
early 1930s the streets of Chatham Estates were lined with modest
bungalows and looked much as they do today.
After Oakhurst, Club Acres, and Chatham Estates, the last major
development in the present Plaza-Midwood neighborhood was the
subdivision called Midwood. Eastside Realty had been the first to
consider development of the land that became Midwood, in 1911, but
it was not until 1914 that a group known as Century Realty platted
most of the streets we see today.62 Century's directors
included Charlotte Country Club official E. P. Coles, Plaza
homeowner Ralph VanLandingham and a third man named W. M. Paul.
63 The roster overlapped those of both Chatham Estates
and Club Acres, and it was not surprising that they planned their
streets to join these earlier developments. Today Midwood's grid of
straight avenues forms the heart of Plaza-Midwood and does much to
unite its various subdivisions.
Unfortunately for its developers, the streets of
Midwood were farther from downtown than Chatham Estates, and
farther from the Charlotte Country Club than those of Club Acres.
Consequently, Midwood took longer to develop than even those two
painfully slow areas. Not until the very end of the 1920s did the
first dwellings appear along Midwood, Ashland, Winter, Chatham, and
the blocks of Belvedere, Kenwood, Club, and Truman that ran through
the subdivision. By the 1950s the subdivision finally filled up,
the streets lined with the compact cottages of barbers, dentists,
salesmen, and small store owners.
Johnston Courts, Club Drive, Eastern
Retreat, and Masonic Drive
A number of smaller developments rounded out the neighborhood, each
contributing a street or two of compact dwellings. D. A. Johnston's
1913 Johnston Courts subdivision created dead end Haywood Court,
and one block each of Mimosa, Belvedere, Kennon, and Belle Terre
avenues, completing development west of The Plaza. 64 A
group of 1920s bungalows completing development west of The Plaza.
A group of 1920s bungalows survive and dominate this section today.
Lawyers Delaney and Lowery filed plans for the first block of Club
Road off Central Avenue (originally to be called Ridgeway Avenue)
in 1925. 65 In 1947 the adjacent short blocks of
DeArmon, Truman, and Morningside drives were platted under the name
Eastern Retreat. 66 The area's final street was Masonic
Drive along Briar Creek, formally laid out in 1951, nearly half a
century after Plaza-Midwood's residential development had begun.
The Central Avenue Business
In 1984 an unbroken string of small businesses lined Central Avenue
for its entire length in Plaza-Midwood. At the heart of this
district is a two-block area between Pecan Avenue and The Plaza
that dates from before World War II. The stores evidently clustered
here originally because this was where the streetcar turned the
corner onto The Plaza.
"Streetcar shopping strips" were common in
Charlotte by the end of the 1930s. They could be found in suburban
areas all over the city at the end of a line or at a major turn.
They ranged in size from one or two stores, such as Spoon's
drugstore at Seventh and Hawthorne or the grocery and drugstore at
Parkwood and The Plaza, to small clusters of shops such as those
found at Morehead and South Boulevard or at Beatties Ford Road and
Oaklawn Avenue (still called "The End" by old-timers), to
full-scale shopping districts. The largest may still be seen today
at Davidson and 36th streets in North Charlotte, where it served
not only trolley commuters, but also workers in the surrounding
mill villages who walked through it to work each day. Other large
districts are found at Pegram Street and Parkwood Avenue in the
Villa Heights neighborhood, and at South Boulevard and Park Avenue
in Dilworth. Of all the city's streetcar shopping strips,
Plaza-Midwood's is the second largest after the one in North Charlotte.
Commercial development seems to have begun with
Lewis Long's Grocery in 1916. The utilitarian two-story brick store
building still stands at Central and Pecan, undecorated except for
segmented arched window openings. The location was a logical one,
for the intersection dated far back into the nineteenth century,
when Pecan Avenue was a country road connecting Lawyers Road
(Central Avenue) with the Providence Road which ran south to
Providence Presbyterian Church. 68 Long undoubtedly
hoped to draw trade from such travelers, as well as from residents
of the Elizabeth neighborhood, the Plaza area, and the factories
along the railroad tracks.
Long's Grocery remained surrounded by houses for
some twenty years. It was not until the 1930s, when Plaza-Midwood
began to fill up with automobile commuters, that additional stores
joined the grocery. Not only was Plaza-Midwood growing, but
adjacent Chantilly was finally taking shape. Chantilly's straight
streets south of Central Avenue had been platted as a separate
subdivision by Chatham in the 1910s, but the project never got
trolley connections and remained dormant for some two decades. As
more houses were built throughout the area, more stores sprang up
along Central Avenue. Merchants chose their location in order to be
able to catch streetcar commuters as well as auto drivers and
pedestrians. By the late 1930s there was a row of one-story and
two-story brick stores lining the south side of Central between
Pecan and Thomas, and scattered additional commercial development
in adjoining blocks.
Among the new business was W. T. Harris' 1936
grocery store at 1504 Central Avenue. Harris' store prospered and
in 1951 became the Harris-Teeter Supermarket, with a handsome large
store two blocks away at Central and The Plaza. By the 1980s
Harris-Teeter had grown into a major Southern chain, with the 1951
store still in use and affectionately known as "Old Number One."
The year 1936 also saw the opening of a Pure Oil gas station at
Central and Pecan that remains a neighborhood landmark. The
facility was built to resemble a small Tudor Revival cottage,
complete with steep-pitched roof and wood and stucco "half
timbering." It was part of Pure Oil's national policy to try to fit
their stations into residential neighborhoods and give this new
land use added respectability. Today the Plaza-Midwood structure is
Charlotte's best surviving example of the effort. Not all 1930s
structures on Central Avenue were commercial. Midwood School was
completed in 1936, one of a pair of schools designed for the city
by local architect M. R. Marsh. 69 The-facility was yet
another indication that the area was finally filling up with
Pure Oil Gas Station
service ended in Charlotte in 1938, but the Central Avenue business
district continued to grow for another fifteen years. 70
Businessmen felt it made sense to locate in an established shopping
area. Among the newcomers was an early drive-in ice cream stand,
the Dairy Queen at Central and Pecan. The 1951 building with
rounded corners and subtle strips of decorative neon, blends Art
Deco and International style architectural influences and is one of
Charlotte's best surviving examples of auto-oriented design. A
block up the street was another notable example of the same
architectural influences. Architect M. R. Marsh's Plaza Theatre
(now destroyed) dated from 1945-46, one of a number of neighborhood
movie houses that appeared in the city in the 1940s.
By the mid-1950s, the business district had
reached what would be very nearly its maximum growth. In addition
to the 1930s storefronts on the south side of Central from Pecan to
Thomas, there were now businesses on both sides of the street all
the way to The Plaza. More shops spilled down adjoining blocks of
Thomas, Gordon, and Commonwealth avenues. Then, in 1956, Park Road
Shopping Center opened across town and signaled the end of the old
"streetcar strips."72 The new center had junior
department stores as well as specialty shops and food stores. It
was not a supplement to downtown shopping, as the streetcar strips
had been, but an alternative to the center city. More importantly,
the Park Road Shopping Center had plentiful automobile parking in
front of the stores. Within five years eighteen new shopping
centers sprang up around the city. 73 The old streetcar
strips, designed for pedestrian traffic from their surrounding
neighborhoods, seemed old-fashioned, and they languished.
There was, however, one merchant who was able to
capitalize on the decline of the Plaza-Midwood business section. In
1959 the Levine family took over a failed variety store at 1509
Central Avenue. 74 Benefiting from the area's decreasing
rents, and instituting a policy of stocking only items selling for
less than $3.99, the Levines were able to build a thriving business
that they named the Family Dollar Store. The enterprise grew
rapidly and by the mid 1980s Family Dollar was a major regional
discount chain with over 650 stores throughout the South.
75 In 1958 the Central Avenue business district received
its own automobile shopping center. The Cole family attempted to
cash in on the new trend by building a small center on part of
their factory grounds at Pecan and Central. 76 Called
Central Square, it is still in operation with a supermarket, a
drugstore, and half a dozen smaller shops, including a new Family
Dollar Store. The shopping center's modest success was not enough
to bring vitality to the rest of the business district.
By the 1960s, Charlotteans who watched the
city's development were predicting the demise of areas like
Plaza-Midwood. With gasoline in seemingly endless supply, the
city's automobile-dependent suburbs sprawled out further and
further. Already the inner suburbs, even recently-completed
Plaza-Midwood, appeared unfashionable, destined to be replaced by
offices, apartments, and factories. The city's first comprehensive
zoning plan targeted much of the neighborhood, particularly The
Plaza and the old "Oakhurst" streets, for multifamily and office
redevelopment. As original owners grew old and died, speculators
bought up houses with the idea of running them down as rental
property, then demolishing them to build new apartments and
Despite this trend a number of younger families
were attracted by the area's solid, affordable housing and
closeness to downtown. The early large residences along The Plaza
ranked with the best in the city. William and Francis Gay brought
attention to the area with their museum-quality restoration of the
Queen Anne style R. M. Miller, Jr., house, which they named
"Victoria," at 1600 The Plaza, which they began in 1970. The H. M.
Victor mansion was pulled down for new apartments, but slowly the
other houses on The Plaza, large and small, began to be
The influx of newcomers spurred a renewed
interest in community organization. The area had had an active
neighborhood group as early as the 1940s. In 1947 the Midwood Men's
Club under President Richard L. Young raised over $6,500 to
purchase a tract of land for a neighborhood park. 78
Midwood Park off Mecklenburg Avenue and Norcross Place was the
result of that effort. In the early 1970s a new community group was
born when the city proposed to extend four-lane Matheson Avenue
through the Club Acres section of the area. Affected residents
formed a citizens group that succeeded in stopping the highway and
keeping the neighborhood intact. Shortly afterward a permanent
group was formed under the leadership of residents Mary Ann Hammond
and Francis Gay. 79 It was they who finally dubbed the
neighborhood Plaza-Midwood, in 1973.
The new Plaza-Midwood Neighborhood Association
set about the task of convincing Charlotte's leaders, development
interests, and potential homebuyers that their neighborhood was not
expendable. In the mid 1970s the group convinced city council to "
downzone" much of the area to residential use. 80
From 1980 to 1983 the Plaza-Midwood association
received professional assistance in its efforts to attract new
owner/occupants to the area and stimulate reinvestment in
buildings. The Federal Home Loan Bank Board and a group of other
federal lending agencies had created Neighborhood Housing Services
of America, Inc. to encourage local banks in United States' cities
to establish loan funds aimed at revitalizing older neighborhoods.
81 The Charlotte Planning Commission chose Plaza-Midwood
as the city's pilot neighborhood in this program. Plaza-Midwood
Neighborhood Housing Services staff administered twenty-three low
interest loans, provided technical expertise for forty-six other
rehab projects, helped residents get the Thomas-Hamorton-Pecan area
rezoned to reflect its use, and convinced the city to underwrite an
additional $13 million in tax-exempt financing for residential and
commercial improvements. 82
Neighborhood Housing Services' last
accomplishment was to help create a Plaza-Midwood Development
Corporation. Financed largely by Central Avenue businesses, the
corporation's goal is the revitalization of the commercial
district. Today, thanks to the efforts of area residents, the
successes of Neighborhood Housing Services, and the ongoing work of
the Plaza-Midwood Neighborhood Association and the Plaza-Midwood
Development Corporation, Plaza-Midwood's future appears bright.
1 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Deed Book
195, pp. 28-29; Map Book 6, p. 581.
2 Dave Howard of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Planning
Commission, telephone interview with Thomas W. Hanchett,
December,1983. Francis Gay, interviews with Thomas W. Hanchett in
Charlotte, December, 1982 and December, 1983. Mary Ann Hammond,
telephone interview with Thomas W. Hanchett, December, 1983.
3 "Neighborhood Definition Study" (Charlotte:
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission, 1979).
4 Cbarlotte's population jumped 88% between 1900 and
1910, and increased another 36% from 1910 to 1920, according to
data published by the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, "1950 Census
Data" (Charlotte: Chamber of Commerce, 1950), which conveniently
included city-wide and ward figures back to 1850.
5 Earle Sumner Draper, interview with Tbomas W.
Hanchett at Vero Beach, Florida, June, 1982. For more on the early
railroad bridges see the section of this report entitled "The
6 D. R. Reynolds, ed., Charlotte Remembers
(Charlotte: Community Publishing Co., Inc., 1972), p. 109.
7 Dan L. Morrill, "Edward Dilworth Latta and the
Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company (1890-1925): Builders
of New South Charlotte," 1983, draft manuscript in the files of the
Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission, p. 24.
8 Minutes of the Charlotte Board of Aldermen, Book XI,
9Morrill, "Latta" manuscript, p. 24.
12 Joseph Schuchman, "Union County: an Architectural
and Historic Inventory," 1983, draft manuscript in the files of the
North Carolina Division of Archives and History, Survey and
Planning Branch, Raleigh, NC.
13 Charlotte Observer, December 2, 1900. See
also Charlotte News, July 18, 1919.
14 F. C. Abbott, Fifty Years in Charlotte Real
Estate, 1897-1947 (Charlotte: privately published, 1947?), pp.
15 Ibid., p. 18.
17 Dan L. Morrill, "A Survey of Cotton Mills in Charlotte,
North Carolina" (Charlotte: Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic
Properties Commission, 1979).
18 Sanborn Insurance Map, 1905, on microfilm in the
Carolina Room of the Charlotte Public Library. Charlotte
Observer, December 2, 1900.
19Sanborn Insurance Maps, 1905, 1911, 1929, on
20 D. R. Reynolds, p. 159. Charlotte Observer,
June 8, 1975.
21 Sanborn Insurance Maps, 1905, 1911.
22 LeGette Blythe and Charles R. Brockman,
Hornets' Nest: the Story of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County
(Charlotte: McNally of Charlotte, 1961), p. 275. Charlotte
Observer, July 2, 1980, November 11, 1982.
23 Dan L. Morrill, interview with Thomas W. Hanchett
at Charlotte, North Carolina, November 1981.
24 Charlotte Observer, July 2, 1980. A
pronounced slump in U.S. agriculture forced the firm out of
business less than half a decade later.
25Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Deed
Book 195, pp. 28-29.
26 Information on individual structures in
Plaza-Midwood was developed by Janette Thomas Greenwood with
assistance from Thomas W. Hanchett, using the Charlotte city
directory collection and vertical files in the Carolina Room of the
Charlotte Public Library, supplemented with water permit data on
file at Charlotte Utility Department, 5100 Brookshire Boulevard.
Dates are generally accurate within two years.
27 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map
Book 230, p. 34.
28 Ibid., pp. 33, 298.
29 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office:
Record of Corporations.
30 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office, Map
Book 230, p. 298.
31 Charlotte city directory collection in the
Carolina Room of the Charlotte Public Library.
32 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office:
Record of Corporations book 3, p. 59; Record of Corporations book
5, p. 168. Charlotte Observer, August 7 and 8, 1977.
33 For a photograph of the original clubhouse see
"The Queen City of the South -- the Reason Why," a promotional
brochure done for Chatham Estates about 1915, and now part of the
VanLandingham papers in the archives of the University of North
Carolina at Charlotte.
34 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office:
Record of Corporations book 3, p. 45; Record of Corporations Book
4, p. 563.
35 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map
Book 230, pp. 96-97, 130.
36 Reynolds, pp. 60-64.
37 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Deed
Book 445, p. 121.
38 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map
Book 3, p. 343.
39 Ibid., Map Book 5, p. 183.
40 Charlotte News, May 26, 1938. Barnhardt
died before the structure was completed.
41 The information that Peeps designed 2415
Mecklenburg Avenue comes from Boyle's son, Erwin Boyle, interview
with Thomas W. Hanchett, Charlotte, North Carolina, December,
42 Elliot Newcombe, Jr., telephone interview with
Thomas W. Hanchett, December, 1983. For more information on Carr,
see Claudia P. Roberts, Durham Architectural and Historic
Interview (Durham: City of Durham, 1982).
43 Newcombe interview.
44 Charlotte Observer, December 12, 1931.
45 Information on the country clubs may be found in
Embury's professional papers at the George Arents Research Library,
Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York. The papers are
unfortunately not complete, and do not contain a comprehensive job
list that might allow the researcher to determine what private
commissions Embury undertook in North Carolina.
46 Mrs. John Crosland, Sr., telephone interview with
Thomas W. Hanchett, December, 1983.
47 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 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic
48 Charlotte Observer, August 9, 1944. This is
51Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map
Book 230, pp. 162-163.
52 Abbott, p. 18.
53 Leigh Colyer, Jr., interview with Thomas W.
Hanchett in Charlotte, North Carolina, June, 1982, and November,
54 Ibid. Seline Colyer Martin and Helen Colyer Moak,
interview with Thomas W. Hanchett in Charlotte, NC, November, 1983.
Charlotte Observer, August 14, 1953. The plat map of
Shelby's Belvedere suburb, elegantly hand-rendered and signed by
Colyer, is on file at the Washington County Courthouse.
55 Colyer, Jr., Moak and Martin interviews.
56 A brochure for Chatham Estates may be found in the
VanLandingham papers in the UNCC archives. A detailed two-color
plan with tiny drawings of the earliest mansions, and an impressive
"birds-eye" view of the neighborhood-as-planned were collected by
planner John Nolen in 1917 as background for his "Civic Survey,"
and are now in the Nolen papers, collection #2903, Cornell
University Department of Manuscripts and Archives, Ithaca, New
57 Charlotte News, Mav 10, 1983. The two-story
frame structure stood at 1220 Thomas Avenue-just South of The
Plaza. It was part of the Ho-Toy Chinese Restaurant, until
demolished in 1983.
58 See note 56.
59 Current owners Mr. and Mrs. George C. Cline have
the original Hook and Sawyer blueprints for the house.
60 Information for the designated historic property
"Victoria," on file at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic
Properties Commission office.
61 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map
Book 3, p. 91; Record of Corporations Book 7, p. 464.
62 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map
Book 230, pp. 114, 284-285.
63 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map
Book 230, p. 208.
64 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office:
Record of Corporations Book 4, p. 95.
65 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map
Book 3, p. 168.
66 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map
Book 5, p. 400.
67 Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office: Map
Book 6, p. 581.
68 Butler and Spratt map.
69 The twin of the Midwood School is Eastover
Elementary School on Cherokee Road. Eastover teacher Mary Lynn
Morrill and fellow staff and students have compiled a history of
70 Dan L. Morrill, "Myers Park Streetcar Waiting Stations:
Survey and Research Report" (Charlotte: Charlotte Mecklenburg
Historic Properties Commission, 1980).
71 "The Work Of M. R. Marsh and Successor
Architects," job list in the Department of Archives and Special
Collections at the Atkins Library of the University of North
Carolina at Charlotte.
72 Charlotte Observer. April 23, 1961.
74 Charlotte News, July 26, 1983. Charlotte
Observer, July 27, 1983. The store may not have carried the
name "Family Dollar" in its first years, for the name is not listed
in the city directory until 1962.
75 Ibid. and Charlotte News, September 16,
76 Charlotte Observer, April 23, 1961.
77 This process is extremely common in post-war
American urban development. For instance see Peter Wolf, Land in
America: Its Value, Use and Control (New York: Pantheon Books,
1981), p. 409. Leonard Downie, Jr., Mortgage on America: the
Real Cost of Real Estate Speculation (New York: Praeger
Publishers, 1974), pp. 3, 7. For a description of the process at
work in Charlotte, see the Charlotte News, April 11, 1980.
Several interviewees indicated it was a major problem in
Plaza-Midwood, including Dave Howard of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg
Planning Commission, interview with Thomas W. Hanchett in
Charlotte, July, 1984; Francis Gay, interview with Thomas W.
Hanchett in Charlotte, July 1984; Mary Ann Hammond, telephone
interview with Thomas W. Hanchett, July, 1984; Arthur Dye, Jr.,
interview with Thomas W. Hanchett, July, 1984.
78 Charlotte News, July 26, 1947; October 2,
1947. Material pertaining to the history of the neighborhood
organizations of the Plaza-Midwood area may be found in the
archives of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
79 Dave Howard of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning
Commission, telephone interview with Thomas W. Hanchett, December
1983. Francis Gay, interviews with Thomas W. Hanchett in Charlotte,
NC, December, 1982, and December, 1983. Mary Ann Hammond, telephone
interview with Thomas W. Hanchett, December, 1983.
80 Hammond interview, July, 1984.
81 Howard interview, December, 1983.
82"Neighborhood Housing Services of Charlotte, Inc.,
in Plaza-Midwood: 1983 Annual Report." NHS also sponsored a one-day
Neighborhood Heritage Celebration in January of 1983 that brought
together more than 200 long-time residents and provided many
research leads for this report.
2817 Belvedere Avenue
The Elliot H. Newcombe house is a large Tudor Revival dwelling
set far back from the road, probably the largest residence in
Plaza-Midwood. Its design was the work of George Watts Carr,
Durham, North Carolina's leading architect and uncle of Newcombe's
wife Mary Duke Lyon Newcombe. The house is a picturesque jumble of
wings, each with a high, slate-covered hip roof. Tall chimneys rise
here and there. The whitewashed brick walls have corbelled
decoration under the eaves, and are pierced by small window
openings, in keeping with the "Olde English" tone. A many-sided
stair tower with narrow lancet windows and a tall conical roof
dominates the facade. The grounds include a two-story garage in the
Newcombe was stepson of C.W. Johnston, who
founded the Johnston Mills and was among the region's wealthiest
textile men. Newcombe's wife Mary was the grandniece of tobacco and
utility tycoon James Buchanan Duke. Newcombe himself began his
career as president-treasurer of Southern Specialties, a
textile-supply company. He later became involved in packaging,
heading the Charlotte division of Old Dominion Paper Box Company
and founding the Atlantic Coast Carton Company. Newcombe also was
instrumental in beginning the Charlotte Country Day School in the
1940s, and founded the Squash Hill Hunt Preserve in eastern
Mecklenburg County. He lived in this house from 1933 until about
1960 when Dr. Ross McElwee, the current owner, purchased it.
According to Newcombe's son Elliot Newcombe, Jr., the house remains
much as it was designed, with the exception of new heating and air
JOHN CROSLAND, SR., HOUSE
3021 Belvedere Avenue
John Crosland, Sr., ranked among Charlotte's most prolific and
important developers, the man perhaps most responsible for the
sprawling suburban development of the city since World War II. He
is rivaled in importance only by Edward Dilworth Latta, who
developed the city's first suburb in 1891, and by post-war
competitor Charles Ervin. Crosland was born in 1898 in Richmond
County, son of the second largest cotton planter in North Carolina.
After education at Davidson College and North Carolina State
University, Crosland came to Charlotte and worked at a number of
business occupations before settling on home building in 1937. His
pre-war developments of Westbrook Street in Third Ward and the
subdivision of Club Colony south of Myers Park, among others,
helped introduce the Ranch style house to Charlotte and put him in
a good position to make the most of the post-WWII housing boom. At
Crosland's death in 1977 the city was ringed with his
neighborhoods, totaling 6,500 houses, including Plaza Hills (1946),
Forest Park (1948), Ashley Park (1949), Clanton Park and Seneca
Park (1956), Spring Valley and Jamestown Drive (1959), Beverly
Woods (1960),Blllingsley Park, Woodbridge and Laurel Wood (1961),
Hampshire Hills and Huntingtowne Farms(1964). John Crosland,Jr.,
became president of the firm in 1965.
After living for a few years at a time in
several houses elsewhere in Charlotte, Crosland built this fine
residence facing the Charlotte Country Club in 1951, and remained
here till his death. The design by draftsman J. Warren Mobley, an
associate of Charlotte architect Thomas C. Rickenbaker, echoes the
Country Club across the street. The main, gable-roofed block of the
house is built of whitewashed brick and features a recessed portico
with slender two-story ionic columns.
COLE MANUFACTURING COMPLEX
1318 Central Avenue
The red brick buildings of the Cole Manufacturing complex
comprise the finest non-textile-related manufacturing facility
remaining in Charlotte. The company was organized in January of
1900 by E.A. and E.M. Cole to produce seed planters patented by
E.M. Cole. It remained in the family throughout its eight decades
of operation, becoming a nationally-recognized maker of
agricultural implements. A 1980 newspaper article called Cole "one
of the world's largest manufacturers of seed planting, fertilizing,
and farm machine equipment." That year proved to be the company's
peak, unfortunately, and it was caught by a disastrous slump in
farm prices that curtailed demand for new machinery. Cole
Manufacturing closed in November of 1982, and the future of its
buildings is uncertain.
The first Cole plant was in a wooden structure
on the north side of Central Avenue along the Seaboard railroad
track. In 1911 the company moved to expanded, fireproof quarters in
the present complex on the south side of Central. The handsome
buildings were designed by C.C. Hook, Charlotte's first full-time
architect, designer of such landmarks as the Charlotte City Hall, the J.B. Duke
mansion, and the first buildings of Queens College. The complex had
three main buildings clustered around a rail siding: the foundry,
the paint shop/wood shop, and the assembly building. Smaller
structures included a power house, pattern shop, and machine shop.
Separate buildings were a necessity to lessen the hazard of
In 1983 the foundry and machine shop are gone,
and the power plant has been greatly altered, but the rest of the
buildings remain in good original condition with the exception of
bricked-in windows. Hook chose a Roman motif for the complex, and
drew robust brickwork that is today some of Charlotte's finest. The
large buildings feature tall, round arched window openings that
march down the long sides. Corbelled pilasters and corbelled
parapets add to the rhythm. The smaller buildings, particularly the
pattern shop, have scaled-down arches and prominent belt courses.
Several recent pre-fabricated sheet metal buildings, and one low
brick structure apparently dating from the 1950s, fill out the
1431 Central Avenue
Charlotte in the late twentieth century is
largely a product of the automobile. Fully two-thirds of the city's
growth has come since the end of streetcar service in 1938. Yet
very little remains of the city's early automobile-related
architecture, because continued prosperity has allowed replacement
of early structures with newer ones.
The Central Avenue Dairy Queen is one of
Charlotte's best-preserved early examples of roadside architecture,
although insensitive alterations have occurred in recent years.
Along with a twin (which also survives) on Wilkinson Boulevard, it
was built in 1951, part of the same flush of post-WWII prosperity
that saw automobile-dependent suburbs surround the earlier city.
The ice cream stand sits back from the street surrounded by a
parking lot, clearly designed for drive-in rather than walk-up
trade. Like most roadside food-service facilities of the 1950s, it
provides only window service, with no seating. The building shows
strong influence of the Art Moderne style in
its stuccoed walls and curved cornice decorated with subtle strips
of pink and green neon tubing.
PURE OIL STATION
1501 Central Avenue
Some observers have called the gas station the
most ubiquitous new building type of twentieth century America. The
former Pure Oil station on Central Avenue illustrates an important
step in the evolution of the type in Charlotte. The city's first
stations, like the one still standing at 314 East Fifth Street
believed built in 1911, were simple, undecorated sheds with
flat-roofed porches sheltering the pumps in front. By the late
1920s, as a result of rising competition between national chains,
distinctive architecture came to be used as a technique to enhance
brand identification. Pure Oil was a leader in this national
movement, modeling its facilities on the then-popular Tudor Revival
style. The quaint half-timbered, steep-roofed stations not only
provided a strong image for Pure, but also helped the facilities
blend into residential neighborhoods. By the 1940s, however, this
pseudo-residential approach had been abandoned in favor of the
white enameled panels and flat roofs of the International
The Central Avenue Pure Oil Station is
Charlotte's only surviving example of a cottage-type facility, and
may well be the city's best-preserved 1930s station. Today it looks
much as it did when it opened in 1936, with a steep eaveless gable
roof, clapboard walls, and half-timbered gable ends. There is a
round-topped, cross-buck front door flanked by small-paned windows,
with a bay window to one side. The canopy over the pumps echoes the
main roof and half-timbering, and is supported by massive
2733 Country Club Lane
Charles Barnhardt was among Charlotte's leading
cotton brokers during the first three decades of the twentieth
century. In 1937 he and mill architect J. Norman Pease teamed up to
develop Country Club Lane, a new street in the Club Acres
subdivision adjacent to the prestigious Charlotte Country Club.
Barnhardt kept several acres of the development for his own
homesite, and began work on a picturesque lake and a handsome
$50,000 mansion. Tragedy struck May 26, 1938 as he inspected the
dam and concrete spillway. Barnhardt, clad in a heavy trench coat
and unable to swim, slipped and drowned in twelve feet of
The next owner, Pietro B. Crespi, evidently
finished the mansion and lived there throughout the 1940s. Crespi,
like Barnhardt, was a wealthy cotton broker. About 1952 the
residence was purchased by George B. Cramer, who continues to own
it today. Cramer is the youngest son of textile-inventor Stuart
Cramer, a major outfitter of mills throughout the Piedmont and
founder of the Cramer Mills and the village of Cramerton, now part
of Burlington Industries. George B. Cramer served as secretary of
Cramerton Mills beginning in 1932, and remains in the textile
business in 1983 as a partner in the firm Cramer and Cramer.
The Barnhardt-Cramer house was designed by
Charlotte architect Martin Boyer and built by Blythe &
Isenhour. The white stuccoed two-and-one-half story structure is
set back from the street at the end of a winding drive. The main
gable-roofed block has end chimneys in the Colonial revival mode,
and the long one-story porch across the front is supported by Ionic
columns. The site includes several acres of heavily wooded grounds,
and the small lake.
2222 Mecklenburg Avenue
Though W.R. Phillips took out a water permit for
this house in 1920, city directories show him living on the street
as early as 1918. William Phillips served as Charlotte manager of
the Western Electric Company, probably an important position in the
region's economy in the period when the Piedmont's mills were
converting from steam to electric machinery. In the late 1920s
Phillips and his wife Geneva sold their residence to Duncan G.
Calder, an official of great importance in the electrification of
the region. Calder served as treasurer of J.B. Duke's Southern
Public Utilities Company, which ran Charlotte's streetcar system,
and acted as treasurer or secretary for many of Duke's other
utility concerns throughout the Piedmont, including the Caldwell
Power Company, North Carolina Public Service Company, Surrey Power
Company, and others. Calder left the house in 1951, and from then
until the 1970s it was the home of cotton broker Allison J.
The Phillips-Calder House commands a high knoll
above Mecklenburg Avenue, which originally was the route of the
trolley from The Plaza to the Charlotte Country Club. The house is
in the Rectilinear style, a hip-roofed, two-story cube with a
minimum of ornament. A wood-shingled gable pokes through the front
roof, and there is a shingled front bay window. A wide one-story
porch with simple Doric columns ,wraps around three sides of the
2415 Mecklenburg Avenue
This delicate Colonial Revival residence was
designed by prominent Charlotte architect William H. Peeps in 1927.
Peeps, a native of England, created such notable Charlotte
landmarks as the Latta Arcade, Iveys Department Store, and numerous
Myers Park mansions. His house for A.L. Boyle is a two-story
double-pile Georgian Colonial sheathed in clapboard. Three narrow
dormers pierce its front roof, above a modillion cornice. The front
facade is six bays wide, with twelve-over-twelve-pane windows, and
a small porch. Peeps evidently considered the Boyle residence among
his more important commissions for he included it in his published
portfolio of designs.
Albert L. Boyle was a prominent cotton processor
in Charlotte, who is said to have been forced to sell his
just-completed residence during the Great Depression. The dwelling
came into the possession of J.D. Sandridge, who made it his home
into the 1970s. Sandridge was a kev local executive with DuPont,
major supplier of dyes to the Piedmont's textile factories.
2427 Mecklenburg Avenue
The Barker-Britton House is among the oldest of
those clustered around the Charlotte Country Club, having been
built about 1916, probably by real estate developer E.V. Patterson.
Charles E. Barker, its first owner/occupant, was regional manager
for Marshall Field and Co., who sold burlap sacking to the region's
cotton producers, and he served as president of the Charlotte
Electric Repair Company. Barker was also active in local real
estate development, a partner along with George Stephens, F.M.
Laxton, and J.M. Harry in the Club Acres Company which developed
these streets. In the early 1950s, Barker sold his home to William
J. Britton, Jr., then assistant manager of Anderson Clayton and
Company, cotton factors. Today Britton is one of Charlotte's last
cotton brokers. His wife Christina has been a force in Charlotte's
cultural life, serving as President of the Opera Guild of Charlotte
and of the Children's Theatre Council.
The Barker-Britton house is a rustic design that
combines features of the Rectilinear and Bungalow styles. In
massing it consists of a simple two-story rectangular block covered
by a wide-eaved gable roof that features brackets and exposed
rafters under the eaves. There is a central front dormer with a
similar roof. Walls are sheathed in "german" novelty siding, and
the many large windows have wide, plain surrounds. A wide one-story
porch with plain, square columns dominates the front of the house,
extending at one side to form a port-cochere, and at the other side
to form an enclosed sun-porch. The residence appears to be in
excellent original condition.
CHARLOTTE COUNTRY CLUB BUILDINGS
2465 Mecklenburg Drive
The Charlotte Country Club is the city's oldest,
having been founded in 1910 as the Mecklenburg Country Club. It
remains the most prestigious, "oriented toward old Charlotte,
especially old, more conservative Charlotte," according to one
member. "It is the 500 club," said another member in a 1977
interview with the Charlotte Observer, "If you are anything
at all, you belong. It was designed for that purpose: to be select
and exclusive." Over the years its members have included the
Piedmont's textile leaders, as well as the financiers and real
estate speculators who have shaped the region.
In December of 1931, near the depths of the
Great Depression, the Club celebrated the opening of this grand new
building, which replaced the farmhouse that had served as a
cluhouse for the first twenty years. The building was the work of
Aymar Embury II, a nationally known architect of college buildings,
clubs, and country houses for-the wealthy. The country club's
officers may have known Embury from his several books on suburban
mansion design, or from his work elsewhere in North Carolina.
Trained at Princeton, Embury's major commissions ranged from
college buildings at Princeton and Hofstra, to the Maidstone
Country Club in posh East Hampton, Long Island, to the New York
City Building at the 1939 Worlds Fair, to numerous New York public
works projects, including the Triborough Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel.
Embury early made important contacts with North Carolina's textile
elite, and over the years designed the Mid-Pines Country Club,
Southern Pines Country Club, and Hope Valley Country Club in the
Embury's design for Charlotte is a good example
of the revivalist eclecticism that was popular in well-to-do
conservative circles in the 1920s and early 30s. In massing, the
structure is an oversized example of the time-tested three-part
Palladian plan. It is composed of a 100 foot long central block
with a gable roof and massive paired end chimneys, flanked by a
pair of gabled pavillions. A two-story portico with gigantic fluted
Doric columns and a modillion cornice extends across the entire
front of the main block. The end pavillions feature circular gable
windows, overscaled quoins, and bay windows. A low service wing
extends off the side of the north pavillion. At the rear of the
building the patterns of solids and voids is reversed, with
Ionic-columned porches on the pavilions flanking the plain wall of
the main block. French doors in the main block open onto a series
of terraces that overlook some of the 240 acres of golf links.
Inside, the main block contains the 100 foot long ballroom and the
grand promenade known as Peacock Alley, while the south pavillion
contains a massive lounge, and the north pavillion the dining room.
The basement holds a cafe, billard room, and lockers and valets for
the adjoining golf course, tennis courts, and swimming pool.
When it opened, local papers fairly gushed over
the building's mix of opulent styles, next to articles discussing
medical care for the region's unemployed.
The building could easily be taken for a fine
old dwelling built in the Virginia hills back in Andrew Jackson's
time.... From the east the building looks like a white temple set
among Grecian hills. All exterior, both brick and stone, are done
in whitewash and has the charm of aged paint .... Peacock Alley...
has a Grecian motif in the mural decorations that tell the story of
Psyche and Venus. The panels are of imported French wallpaper that
closely resembles handpainted work.... The main ballroom... is
decorated in French empire and Americanized Grecian furnishings....
On the south side is the Pine Room, the walls of which are panelled
in natural pine done with a natural satin finish. English
furnishings bring out the red and green color note of this room.
The Dining Room on the opposite end of the building has a Wedgewood
china motif of blue and white A "powder room" near the main
entrance is delightfully done in modernistic furnishings.
Downstairs the mens' lounge has handmade early Virginia
In addition to local attention, the building was
featured in a long article in Architecture magazine, March
1935, and has appeared in numerous other publications from the
Princeton Alumni Review to National Geographic. Early
photos of the building taken for the Embury firm may be found in
Embury's professional papers in the George Arents Research Library
of Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, along with plans drawn
by the same firm in 1950 for the golf shop which adjoins the
At the same time that Aymar Embury II did the
Charlotte Country Club, he also drew plans for the residence of at
least one of its members. Embury is said to have designed the
William States Lee, Jr., house at 2001 Eastway Drive on the corner
of Kilborne Lane. Lee was a top official at Duke Power, son of
William States Lee, Sr., the renowned engineer who helped create
"VICTORIA," THE R.M. MILLER, JR., HOUSE
1600 The Plaza
The R. M. Miller, Jr., house which now stands at
1600 The Plaza, is Charlotte's best-preserved example of Queen Anne
Victorian architecture. It was originally built in 1891 on posh
North Tryon Street near the corner of Seventh Street, one of a pair
of identical houses constructed for the sons of R.M. Miller. Miller
was an important textile man, and associate of New South leader
Daniel A. Tompkins, and his son R.M.Miller, Jr., became a
successful trader in groceries, grains, tobacco, and cotton. He
became so prosperous, in fact, that in 1915 he paid to have the old
house moved to this site so that he could build an up-to-date
Colonial Revival mansion for himself on the downtown lot
Since 1970 the house has undergone a museum -
quality restoration at the hands of new owners Francis and William
Gay. It is a good example of the Queen Anne style popular in the
late nineteenth century, with a complex slate-covered roof, a
wood-shingled corner turret, ornate gable and cornice
"gingerbread," and a wrap-around porch with turned columns, carved
brackets, and a spindle-frieze. The interior is, if anything, more
elaborate than the exterior. The wood-paneled entrance hall opens
onto front and back parlors, which flow together through the use of
large sliding doors. Exuberant columned mantels are to be found not
only in the main downstairs rooms, but even in the master bedroom
on the second floor. Original spindle-work screens remain in place.
Of special note are the picture-tiles found around the fireplaces
and in the balusters of the grand stair. "Victoria" is listed in
the National Register of Historic Places.
VanLandingham residence is an excellently preserved example of
an early twentieth century suburban estate. The two-story house is
a noteworthy local specimen of the Bungalow style expanded to
massive proportions. Walls are sheathed in rustic wood shingles,
chimneys and porch columns are built up of rounded granite
boulders, and rafter ends are left exposed in the wide eaves to
produce a rustic effect. The dwelling is set in approximately
three-and-one-half acres of carefully landscaped grounds originally
designed by Leigh Colyer, one of the region's earliest landscape
Ralph VanLandingham was a cotton broker, one of
the most prestigious and lucrative occupations in Charlotte during
the textile boom of the first years of the twentieth century. He
also served as treasurer of the elite Charlotte Country Club for
many years, and was among the first men to make his home in nearby
Chatham Estates. His wife Susie Harwood VanLandingham was an
important figure in her own right. She headed an Atlanta, Georgia,
hotel firm and chaired the boards of such institutions as St. Peter's Hospital in Charlotte,
and the North Carolina Board of Approved Schools. One of the
couple's children, Susie Deane VanLandingham, achieved national
prominence as a pioneer sportswoman in golf. The family is of
special value to social historians because all household records
and businesss papers are now in the collection of the Atkins
Library at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The
VanLandingham Estate is listed in the National Register of Historic
BISHOP J. C. KILGO HOUSE
2100 The Plaza
This house was built in the fall and winter of
1914-1915 for Bishop J.C. Kilgo. It was designed by Charlotte
architect Louis Asbury, Jr., an M.I.T. trained designer responsible
for Mecklenburg's County Court House among many other major
Charlotte buildings. The builder was J.A. Jones, the city's leading
construction company, and the estimated cost was $10,090, quite a
large sum in the days when a comfortable middle class house could
be built for $2,000- $3,000. The J.C. Kilgo House was among the
first on The Plaza.
John Carlisle Kilgo, a native of South Carolinas
was a Methodist minister who served as president of Trinity
College, later Duke University, from 1894 to 1910. He was president
emeritus of the institution from 1910 to 1917. Kilgo had a wide
reputation as a progressive college leader. During his tenure as
president, the size of the student body doubled and the faculty
tripled in number. Kilgo initiated the building of the first
women's dormitory on campus, which forged the way for a coordinate
college for women. He encouraged his students to overcome
sectionalism, which plagued the South in the late nineteenth
century. In addition, the first speech ever made by Booker T.
Washington in a white institution in the South was made at Trinity
College upon Kilgo's invitation.
Kilgo left Durham in 1915 and moved to his new
home in Charlotte. According to his daughter-in-law, Mrs. J.C.
Kilgo. Jr., he moved for two main reasons. First, Charlotte was
centrally located in the Methodist conference, and he could better
execute his bishop's duties from the citv. Secondly, Kilgo served
on the board of the Southern Railway and needed to travel to New
York regularly on business, which he could do more easily from
Bishop Kilgo died at his home on August 11,
1922, at the age of sixty-one. His widow, Fannie Turner Kilgo,
lived in the home until her death on February 22, 1946. The
residence remained in the Kilgo family until 1951 when heirs of the
estate sold it to Frank and Genevieve Causley. The Causleys sold it
in turn to Erleen B. Sanders in 1956. In 1959 she sold the house to
Lucille Bedsol who used it as a boarding house into the 1980s.
Kilgo United Methodist Church, a few blocks away, was organized in
1943 and named in honor of Bishop J.C. Kilgo.
Louis Asbury's design for Bishop Kilgo was an
imposing two-story frame residence. Its rectangular, hip-roofed
form and elegantly plain trim mark it as an example of what some
architectural historians now call the Rectilinear style. The
Rectilinear mode was developed at the turn of the century as a
rebellion against the over-elaborate ornamentation of the earlier
Victorian Queen Anne style. Kilgo's choice of this modern,
no-nonsense style for his house fits well with what we know of his
personality from his path-breaking work as Trinity College