South Union Street Historic District
The South Union Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2012, The Gombach Group.
The South Union Street Historic District comprises 96 properties along a nearly mile-long, tree-lined stretch of this handsome residential thoroughfare. The district developed during the 1880-1940 period as the home for a significant segment of Concord's merchant, professional, and white collar population. It reflects the growth of this group in numbers and prosperity during a period in which Concord transformed itself from a small courthouse village of barely a thousand inhabitants into a major textile manufacturing city of over 12,000 people. The growth of North Carolina towns such as Concord gave rise to a sizeable urban middle class for the first time in the state's history, and the history of the South Union Street Historic District reflects this development. Although the growing prosperity of Concord found its finest architectural expression in the North Union Street Historic District, where most of the textile executives and other business leaders built their homes, the South Union Street Historic District has a varied and impressive collection of houses representing the Italianate, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Bungalow, and English cottage styles. Several houses in the South Union Street Historic District rank among the city's finest examples of their respective styles, while others are more typical specimens of their particular periods. Taken as a whole, however, the South Union Street Historic District is one of Concord's most significant historic and architectural resources. Because houses have survived from every major period of the district's evolution, its physical and architectural history remains remarkably visible to the modern-day observer.
Settlement of present-day Cabarrus County, located in North Carolina's southwest piedmont, began in the mid-eighteenth century. The area was populated primarily by Scotch-Irish and Germans who had settled in southeast Pennsylvania, piedmont Maryland, and Virginia's Shenandoah Valley before moving into North Carolina. The North Carolina Legislature approved the formation of the county from what was the northeast portion of Mecklenburg County in 1792. The citizens who sought the creation of the new county gained crucial support from Stephen Cabarrus of Edenton, the Speaker of the House of Commons, by proposing that the county be named for him.
It took nearly four years, from 1792 to 1796, for the citizens of the new county to select a site for their county seat. Local historians attribute this delay to disagreement over the proposed location of the new town. The German settlers, who occupied the northeast portion of the new county, and the Scotch-Irish, who predominated in the southern and western sections, each wanted the county seat located in their area. At the urging of Stephen Cabarrus, the Germans and Scotch-Irish compromised on a location in the north central portion of the county; to commemorate the agreement they named the place Concord and its main street Union Street. A townsite of four square of eleven lots apiece, with the Cabarrus County Courthouse at the center, was soon laid out, and the town was charted in 1798.
Although Union Street is as old as Concord itself, South Union Street did not emerge as one of the town's important residential thoroughfares until after Concord had been in existence for nearly a century. Concord remained a small village centered around the first two courthouses, both located near the present intersection of S. Union St. and Corban Avenue (the northern boundary of the South Union Street Historic District), until the Civil War.
Two events of the antebellum period laid the foundation for Concord's later growth but also insured that the town would expand primarily to the north and west. In 1840, a group of prominent Concord merchants and farmers arranged for the construction of the town's first textile mill at what is now the head of North Union Street. Sixteen years later the North Carolina Railroad between Charlotte, Raleigh, and Goldsboro was constructed on a right-of-way that ran slightly less than one mile west of the courthouse, pulling growth in that direction.
Concord experienced steady but unspectacular growth during the early postbellum years — its population had reached 878 by 1870 and 1,260 ten years later. Gray's Map of Concord, published in 1882, shows the northward and westward direction of Concord's growth up to that time. North Union Street was largely built up along its approximately half-mile length between the center of town and the textile mill established in 1840. Depot Street, the east-west thoroughfare opened after completion of the North Carolina Street and Scotia Seminary (now Barber-Scotia College). Several of the streets that would develop between these two thoroughfares already existed. By contrast, fewer than twenty houses appeared on the segment of Union Street south of present-day Corban Avenue. There were no streets to the east of South Union Street, and only the undeveloped Spring Street lay to the west.
Only two houses on South Union Street that appeared on Gray's Map are still standing. The older of the two, locally known as the John Osborne Wallace House (154 S. Union Street), may have been built by Wallace, a county official, before he sold the property in 1866, but the Italianate style details of the house make it equally likely that it was built by Benjamin F. Fraley or A.J. Fray, the two subsequent owners, during the early postbellum years. The second pre-1882 house (168 S. Union Street) was erected by Moses Brown, the owner of a livery stable, shortly after he purchased the lot in 1880. Although the Brown House stands near the northern boundary of the South Union Street Historic District, close to the center of Concord, it was at the southern edge of town at the time of its construction. As originally built, the Moses Brown House, like the Wallace residence, was a substantial two-story structure of Italianate design.
The two decades after 1880 witnessed rapid industrialization in North Carolina. The gospel savation through industrialization and of the "New South" triumphed. The political stability that followed the end of reconstruction in 1877 improved the climate of economic growth. More southern capital became available for investment, and the success of the state's industry began to attract northern capital. Between 1880 and 1900 the number of workers employed by North Carolina industries increased 400 percent and the value of their products increased 500 percent.
Much of this growth took place in the production of cotton textiles, which emerged with tobacco and furniture as one of the state's major industries. During the twenty years after 1880 the number of cotton mills in the state increased 400 percent; the value of their products over 1,000 percent; and the number of workers employed 900 percent. Textiles were the dominant industry of the southwest piedmont, and Concord played an important role in the development of the industry in the region.
In 1877, five years prior to the publication of Gray's Map, John Milton Odell, a successful cotton buyer, had purchased the 1840 cotton mill at the head of North Union Street, which had ceased operations during the national financial panic of 1873. Odell's reopening of the mill began an era of industrial growth for Concord that would last for more than half a century. Over the next eighteen years Odell expanded the mill into one of the largest in North Carolina and built two more plants in Concord. In 1887, James William Cannon, another successful cotton buyer, established another cotton mill in Concord, and within a decade and a half it ranked as one of the state's larger mills. Cannon played an important role in the founding of two other important textile enterprises in Concord before the turn of the century — the Gibson Manufacturing Company and Cabarrus Cotton Mills. As a result of the leadership of Odell and Cannon, Concord's population grew from 1,260 in 1880 to 7,910 in 1900. By the latter date Concord was North Carolina's eighth largest city; Concord's capital investment of two million dollars was exceeded only by Charlotte and Winston, and only Charlotte produced a greater amount of cloth and yarn.
The growth of North Carolina towns such as Concord gave rise to a sizeable urban middle class for the first time in the state's history. This group emerged to serve the clerical and managerial needs of industry and to provide the goods and services required by the new urban population. In Concord, as in other cities of the piedmont, the town's business and professional classes settled in residential neighborhoods adjoining the central business district, where most of them worked.
As Concord grew during the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth; its northern and western orientation became even more marked. The North Union Street neighborhood, where the Odells and the Cannons lived, remained the preferred area of residence for the most prosperous segment of the city's business and professional classes. The city's textile mills and mill villages were developed around the northern and western sides of Concord to take advantage of the railroad. Growth to the south of Corban Avenue, meanwhile, was much more limited. South Spring Street, one block west of Union Street, emerged as a residential thoroughfare for the owners of small retail and service enterprises and the employees of downtown stores. The city's black residential area grew up south of present-day Corban Avenue and west of Spring Street. The section for present-day Concord south of Corban and east of South Union Street remained almost completely undeveloped until the mid-1920's, by which time Concord's population was roughly 12,000 people
These growth patterns made possible the gradual development of South Union Street as a handsome residential thoroughfare. By 1906, houses lined both sides of the street as far south as Chestnut Drive, and there was scattered development along the street to the south. Although South Union was not the home of the city's business and industrial elite, a number of prosperous Concord merchants chose homesites on the street, and several of them erected houses that were as fine as those going up in the North Union Street neighborhood.
Several substantial houses from the 1880-1910 period are still standing in the northern part of the South Union Street Historic District. The houses of William H. Blume (188 S. Union Street), a tanner, and Rufus Alexander Brown (205 S. Union Street), a Concord merchant and contractor who later established a cotton mill, are two-story brick ltalianate houses dating from the 1880s. Fine houses dating from the first decade of the twentieth century include the residences of James Dayvault (216 S. Union Street), a partner in a local meat packing firm; James E. Cline, (184 S. Union Street), a wholesale grocer; D.L. Bost, (158 S. Union Street), another wholesale grocer; and L.D. Coltrane (200 S. Union Street), the cashier at Concord National Bank and the prime mover in the establishment of the Concord Telephone Company. During this period, livery stable owner Moses Brown embellished his house (168 S. Union Street) with Queen Anne style trim as fanciful as that seen anywhere else in Concord.
Early twentieth century city directories and Sanborn Insurance Maps indicate that the first houses built below Chestnut Drive were built far apart in a semi-rural pattern, with subsequent development taking place between the earlier residences. Probably the oldest house in the South Union Street Historic District south of Chestnut is the Paul B. Means House (287 S. Union Street), erected about 1890 for a Concord attorney. Other houses in the southern part of the district that lay beyond the built-up area of Concord when they were built include the residences at 321 and 330 South Union Street and the C.A. Dry House (340 S. Union Street). Certainly the most notable of the houses erected in this dispersed pattern is the Caldwell-Ritchie House (391 S. Union Street), first erected by attorney Morrison Caldwell just after the turn of the century and greatly expanded and embellished by hardware merchant Charles F. Ritchie between 1908 and 1914. The Caldwell-Ritchie House retains its magnificent setting on the crest of a hill several hundred feet east of South Union. The house and its ample grounds vividly recall the spacious character of the street during the early twentieth century.
The dispersed construction of individual houses was apparently not the only form of development that took place on South Union Street during the closing years of the nineteenth century and the first years of the twentieth. Two clusters of modest cottages below Chestnut Drive predate the houses that surround them and suggest early attempts to develop the street as a suburb. The earlier of these two cluster, erected closer to the center of town, is a group of three one-story frame cottages with Queen Anne style trim located at 272, 282, and 290 South Union Street. The second cluster, located just south of Tribune Avenue, is a nearly uniform group of one-story cottages with high hip roofs at 362, 368, and 378 South Union Street. The shared features of this latter group suggest the hand of a single builder.
By 1921 the portion of South Union Street between Chestnut Drive and Blume Avenue had developed sufficiently to be included on the Sanborn insurance maps prepared for the city in that year. The maps show that South Union Street had largely lost its former semi-rural character through construction between the older residences, but that a considerable number of lots remained vacant in the southern blocks of the district between Hillcrest and Blume Avenues. The installation during the mid-1910s of a streetcar line that extended just south of present-day Louise Drive (one block north of Hillcrest) appears to have given some impetus to further development on the street, but the fact that the proprietors of the traction company chose not to extend the line further south reflected the continuing concentration and growth of population to the north and west of the central business district.
The most substantial houses erected during the 1910s were somewhat smaller and less elaborate than the finest residences of the preceding thirty-year period. Houses that survive from the second decade of the twentieth century include two designed by Charlotte architect Louis H. Asbury: the residence of Ralph E. Cline (157 S. Union Street), an official of Cannon Manufacturing Company; and the house of Charles Ivey (215 S. Union Street), the proprietor of a Concord shoe store. Another notable house was erected near the south end of the district during this decade, the two-story, frame, Colonial Revival residence at 422 South Union Street. Two substantial houses received remodelings during the 1910s — the house at 230 South Union and the residence of L.D. Coltrane (200 S. Union Street), the president of the Concord Telephone Company. Louis Asbury prepared the plans for the Coltrane remodeling.
A sampling from Concord's city directory for 1920-1921 shows that South Union Street continued to attract professionals, sales and clerical personnel, and the managers and proprietors of small and medium-sized businesses. Representing the more prominent members of this group were M. Luther Marsh, a doctor and vice-president of Citizen's Bank and Trust Company, and William A. Overcash, the president of a men's clothing store and of the �on cord Merchant's Association. Other South Union residents included William B. Ward (194 S. Union Street), the secretary-treasurer of a wholesale grocery; Dr. B.L. Griffin, a veterinary surgeon; L.A. Weddington (414 S. Union Street), the manager of the Bell and Harris undertaking parlor; postal clerk S.S. Neal (242 S. Union Street); and machinist C.H. Barrier (250-252 S. Union Street).
South Union Street experienced its greatest growth during the 1920s. Sanborn maps indicate that twenty-one of the district's 96 structures were erected in the six years between 1921 and 1927. The buildings that anchor the South Union Street Historic District at its north and south ends — St. James Lutheran Church (100 S. Union Street) and the Franklin C. Niblock House (449 S. Union Street) — were built during the last two years of the decade. Between 1921 and 1927 streetcar service along South Union was discontinued; it appears that the newly widespread ownership of automobiles stimulated the southward extension of development along the street. The automobile not only provided transportation, but the growing automobile service sector furnished livelihoods for a number of the street's new residents.
The houses that went up along South Union during the 1920s represented a broad range of sizes. Among the largest residences erected on the street during the period were those of builder Franklin C. Niblock (449 S. Union Street), whose house was designed by Louis H. Asbury; M. Luther Marsh (148 S. Union Street), the doctor and bank vice-president who had also invested in an auto dealership by the later 1920s; and attorney T.D. Manus (142 S. Union Street). Two sons of Charles Ritchie erected substantial houses (377 and 391 S. Union Street) on either side of their father's imposing residence near the south end of the district. The middle range of houses erected on the street during the 1920s is represented by the one-and-a-half and two-story houses with Colonial Revival and Bungalow style details that went up along the west side of the street during the decade, including the houses of Dr. S.E. Buchanan (406 S. Union Street), school principal J.W B. Long (392 S. Union Street), widow Kate C. Archery (386 S. Union Street), and journalist A. Campbell Cline (226 S. Union Street). The more modest houses erected during the 1920s include the distinctive one-story Bungalow, erected for Zeb Thornburgh, secretary-treasurer of an auto supply and repair company (269 S. Union Street), the Bungalow of auto salesman James E. Dorton (359 S. Union Street), and the bungalows at 265 and 349 South Union Street.
The strength of Cannon Mills Company, which had dominated the Cabarrus County economy since the 1910s, enabled Concord to escape the worst effects of the Depression, and houses were erected on most of the remaining vacant parcels of the district during the 1930s. None of the houses built on the street matched the scale of the largest houses built during the preceding periods, however, reflecting both the hard economic times and the confirmed middle class complexion of the street. Three handsome English cottage style houses of brick construction (193, 197 and 264 S. Union Street) date from this period, but the most notable structure erected in the South Union Street Historic District during the 1930s was the handsome Colonial Revival Yuva Apartments (178 S. Union Street), the last building in the district to be designed by Charlotte architect Louis H. Asbury.
The years since the Second World War have witnessed relatively little change in two-thirds of the district south of Chestnut Drive. There has been a small amount of infill construction, a few houses have given way to newer residences, and a handful of houses in the block below Chestnut have been divided into apartments. Change has been more apparent in the northern part of the district, where the construction of one-story office buildings on the east side of South Union has extended the downtown area southward and eroded the residential fabric. In addition, some houses have also undergone conversion to apartment or office use.
New appreciation and concern for Concord's historic architecture offers the promise of a hopeful future for South Union Street. The district's homes are receiving renewed care from their owners, and in 1982 the city of Concord designated the area included in this nomination as a local historic district. This designation will provide for review of new construction, rehabilitation, and demolition within the district and is intended to safeguard its special character. It is hoped that the inclusion of the district to the National Register of Historic Places will complement these local preservation efforts.
The South Union Street Historic District is important not only because it reflects the growth of Concord and its middle class population during the 1880-1940 period, but because of its considerable architectural significance. The South Union Street Historic District has a varied collection of houses that represent nearly every major style of the period — the Italianate, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Bungalow, and English cottage styles are all present in the district. Several of the houses in the South Union Street Historic District are among the city's finest examples of these succeeding architectural fashions: The William H. Blume House (188 S. Union Street) is perhaps the city's best-preserved house incorporating the Italianate and Second Empire styles; the James Dayvault House (216 S. Union Street) is one of the most fanciful expressions of the Queen Anne style surviving in the city; the D.L. Bost House (158 S. Union Street), designed by Charlotte architectural firm of Hook and Rogers, is one of Concord's most distinctive blends of Queen Anne and Colonial Revival elements; the T.D. Manus residence is perhaps the finest two-story house "built along bungalow lines" in Cabarrus County; and the Franklin C. Niblock House (449 S. Union Street), designed by Charlotte architect Louis H. Asbury (1878-1975), a prolific architect who worked throughout the southern and western Piedmont, is represented by five buildings spanning the period between the early 1910s and the late 1930s. The Gothic Revival of St. James Lutheran Church (100 S. Union Street) is the finest early twentieth century example of its style in Cabarrus County. In the more standardized designs of its less imposing residences, the architecture of South Union Street Historic District well represents the character of residential construction for the urban middle class of the North Carolina piedmont during the early twentieth century. Good examples of widely employed Colonial Revival and Bungalow style designs are particularly numerous in the district.
Alliston, Robert W. "A History of Cabarrus County and Concord.: Essay written ca.1890 and reprinted in Progress, December 1974, pp.22-25.
Bost, Mrs. E. Luther. "Historical Sketch of the Foundation of Concord." Concord Tribune, April 23, 1908.
Brown, David William. "The Cabarrus County Courthouse, 1876-1980.: Concord and Raleigh: Historic Cabarrus, Inc. and North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1980, mimeographed.
Cabarrus County. Record of Deeds. Various Volumes.
Directory of Concord, North Carolina. Vol. 1, Charlotte: Interstate Directory Co., 1902.
Directory of Concord, North Carolina. Asheville: Piedmont Directory Corporation, 1908, 1913-14.
Directory of Concord, North Carolina. Asheville: Commercial Services Company, Inc., 1920-21, 1929-30.
Freeze, Gary Richard. "Master Mill Man: John Milton Odell and Industrial Development in Concord, North Carolina, 1877-1907." M.A. thesis, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1980.
O.W. Gray and Son. "Gray's New Map of Concord." Philadelphia: O.W. Gray Map Company, 1882.
Kaplan, Peter R. The Historic Architecture of Cabarrus County, North Carolina. Concord; Historic Cabarrus, Inc., 1981.
Lefler, Hugh Talmadge, and Newsome, Albert Ray. North Carolina: The History of a Southern State. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 1973.
Sanborn Map Company. "Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for Concord, N.C." New York: Sanborn Map Company, 1902, 1906, 1911, 1921 and 1927.
Sharpe, Bill. A New Geography of North Carolina. Raleigh: Edwards and Broughton, 1954.
† Peter Kaplan and David William Brown, North Carolina Division of Archives and History, South Union Street Historic District, Concord, Cabarrus County, North Carolina, nomination document, 1983, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.