North Third Avenue Historic District
The North Third Avenue Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The North Third Avenue Historic District is situated several blocks northeast of the central business district of Siler City. Siler City, one of Chatham County's largest towns, is located in Matthews Township, in the western portion of the county. The town is sixteen miles due west of Pittsboro, the county seat. The opening of the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railway and the location of a depot in Siler City in 1884 were the impetus for development of the town.
At the time of Siler City's incorporation in 1887, the area northeast of town was still principally farmland. The earliest houses, constructed in the 1890s, were built in the traditional triple-A form. By the turn-of-the-twentieth century, however, the area became increasingly popular and the town's successful doctors, attorneys, and businessmen began building stylish homes incorporating Queen Anne and Colonial Revival features. As Siler City's population continued to increase through the 1930s, the original large lots were subdivided and bungalows became the popular housing choice.
The North Third Avenue Historic District comprises five primary residential dwellings along North Third Avenue and East Fourth Street, as well as the First Baptist Church and parsonage which front North Second Avenue. The buildings represent a variety of architectural periods and styles from the time of Siler City's earliest period of growth.
The earliest house in the North Third Avenue Historic District is a triple-A form dwelling built c.1890 by William Wren at 316 North Third Avenue. Across the street and facing East Fourth Street, is the stately 1916 Matthews-Wren House (216 E. Fourth Street). Contractor J.W. Turner built the massive two-story Neo-classical Revival style dwelling for Dr. George Edgar Matthews. Several years later, the house was sold to prominent Siler City businessman, Lossing L. Wren. Situated on a large lot with mature landscaping, the Matthews-Wren House features a c.1918 two-story Neo-classical Revival flat-roof entrance portico, an addition made by Lossing L. Wren. A brick garage is situated near the rear of the property, while a picturesque picket fence encloses the backyard of the property.
Located in the 300 block of North Third Avenue are three one- and two-story residences constructed from the World War I era to about 1930. The c.1918 Grace Grissom House at 307 North Third Avenue is a boxy two-story pyramid-roof house. Several bungalows complete the three-hundred block of North Third Avenue, typifying many that were built in Siler City after World War I.
The 1928 First Baptist Church (314 N. Second Avenue), the most impressive building in the North Third Avenue Historic District, faces the busy thoroughfare of North Second Avenue at the corner of East Fourth Street across from town hall. In 1965, a brick education annex was attached at right angles to the rear of the church. Nestled between these main wings of the church is a 1952 one-and-a-half-story brick bungalow parsonage/office (314 N. Second Avenue).
Surrounded by a busy commercial thoroughfare to the west and more modern residential houses and buildings on its remaining sides, the North Third Avenue Historic District, while small, retains important buildings representing several different eras of Siler City's history. The residential streets are quiet, while the houses, set back from the street, are situated on large lots with mature landscaping. The North Third Avenue Historic District comprises five contributing primary buildings, one non-contributing primary building, and one contributing outbuilding.
The character, integrity, and range of resources in the North Third Avenue Historic District render it eligible for architecture. The North Third Avenue Historic District comprises five contributing primary residential dwellings, a contributing church, a non-contributing parsonage/office, and a contributing outbuilding. Its small group of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century houses, along with the 1928 First Baptist Church, are a well-preserved collection of buildings erected between c.1890 and c.1930, and defines the period of significance for the neighborhood. The architecture of the North Third Avenue Historic District generally depicts a succession of regionally popular styles including triple-A form to Neo-classical Revival and Craftsman Bungalow. The First Baptist Church, with its Romanesque and Moorish overtones, represents an ambitious and unique church in Chatham County.
The North Third Avenue Historic District is also significant for community planning and development. The area encompassed by the district is the best preserved portion of one of the first residential neighborhoods to be developed east of the commercial district at the turn-of-the-century. This early twentieth century residential neighborhood, with its collection of well-maintained middle- and upper-class housing was not pre-planned, but developed gradually over a rather lengthy time span overlapping several stylistic periods.
Historical Background and Community Planning and Development Context
Siler City, located in Matthews Township in western Chatham County, was a region of country homesteads and family farms for over one-hundred years before the town came into existence. Early settlers to the region included Plickard Dedrick Siler and his wife, Elizabeth Hartsoe, who came from Germany through Philadelphia and Virginia, and around 1750 settled at a place approximately four miles north of the present town of Siler City. Their son, John Siler (1756-1822), purchased a plot of land near by in February, 1794. By 1805, the home and farm of John Siler were established where the current center of town is now located (Osborn and Selden-Sturgill, p.122).
In December, 1842, after John Siler's death, William W. Matthews (1814-1894) bought the John Siler House and one-hundred and forty acres of surrounding land. A crossroads existed here as early as 1808, with the east-west road running from Raleigh to Salisbury with branches to Lexington and Salem. The north-south road went from Martinsville (later Greensboro) to Fayetteville. Since Matthews provided food and lodging for stagecoach travelers at his home, the area became known as Matthews Crossroads (Osborn and Selden-Sturgill, p.122).
By 1870, Samuel Siler (1810-1900) was operating a little gristmill on the creek at a point about three blocks south of the Siler-Matthews House. A country store owned by Samuel Siler and operated by his son, Cincinnatus Siler, was located near the mill. A blacksmith shop was also in the vicinity. In 1880, a rural post office was established at the Silers' country store. The new post office was named Energy (Osborn and Selden-Sturgill, pp.122-123). In 1884, with the completion of a track by the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railway from Sanford to Greensboro, the name was changed to Siler Station, honoring Samuel Siler who donated the land for the depot. In 1886, the name changed to Siler City.
The completion of the railway through Siler City spurred a period of growth which was to produce Chatham County's largest town. The town streets and lots were laid out in 1884 and two mercantile houses were opened. An act to incorporate Siler City in Chatham County was ratified on March 7, 1887. By 1890 the population of Siler City had grown to 254. Businesses in the town included several general merchandise and produce companies, a hotel, several livery stables and blacksmiths, a physician, a tan yard, a saw and planing mill, a photographer, a cotton gin, a shoe shop, a dry goods and millinery shop, and a general merchandise and harness shop (Hadley, et.al., p.212, 216-17).
By 1900, Siler City's population had increased to 440. The first ten years of the twentieth century marked the emergence of several important industries, including the establishment of the Siler City Bending Company (1901), the Chatham Manufacturing Company (1909), later incorporated as the Oval Oak Manufacturing Company, and the Siler City Milling Company (1910). Local telephone service was established in 1902, the same year the Chatham Bank opened for business. The town population again doubled during that decade reaching 895 by 1910 (Hadley, et.al., p.216-217).
Significant residential construction had begun in Siler City in the 1880s. Twenty-five dwellings were built in the town between January, 1884, and April, 1887. These earliest houses were one- and two-story frame buildings, many rendered in the vernacular three-gabled form, and located primarily to the southwest of downtown (Osborn and Selden-Sturgill, p.123).
The area east of town developed mostly during the early twentieth century as a neighborhood for upper-class residents of Siler City. Residents included bankers, local politicians, physicians, and businessmen. The neighborhood emerged from origins typical of suburban neighborhoods across the country during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Improved infrastructure such as roads, water, and sewer made it feasible for those with means to move further away from the central business district. The neighborhood was not pre-planned and the earliest homes were not built by speculative developers but rather by prominent citizens who hired local builders to execute custom homes adapted from pattern books, resulting in a diversity of architectural styles.
The William Wren House at 315 North Third Avenue was built c.1890 and is one of the oldest extant dwellings in Siler City. The Wrens were from Randolph County, North Carolina, and apparently moved to Siler City shortly before this house was built. William Wren was the father of Lossing L. Wren, who became a prominent businessman and politician in Siler City. They were charter members of the Methodist Protestant Church which was organized in Siler City in 1894 (Wren, L.L., p.163).
In 1916, Dr. George Edgar Matthews hired contractor, John W. Turner, to build an imposing Colonial Revival style house on East Fourth Street, across the street from the William Wren House. A native of Enfield, North Carolina, Dr. Matthews was a pharmacist in Siler City from 1908 to 1916. In 1917, his house was sold to prominent Siler City businessman, Lossing L. Wren, who raised his family here. Born in Randolph County in 1869, Wren moved to Siler City in 1892 to work in a drug store and within a few years, became the owner of the store. Wren was instrumental in organizing the Chatham Bank, the Siler City Milling Company, as well as Chatham Industries and Chadbourn Hosiery Mills. Also active in politics, he served in the legislature for two terms and as delegate to two Republican national conventions. Wren also served a term as mayor of Siler City, several terms as Town Commissioner, and as postmaster for twelve years. Wren updated his Colonial Revival style house on East Fourth Street by adding a two-story Neo-classical Revival flat-roof entrance portico supported by two pairs of massive Ionic columns. The house remained in the Wren family for many years (Wren, L.L., p.145-147).
Just south of the Matthews-Wren House is the c.1918 Grace Grissom House (307 N. Third Street), a boxy two-story Foursquare with a pyramid roof. From World War I through the 1930s, Siler City's mushrooming population was housed in growing suburbs containing bungalows and other modest dwellings. Two bungalows were constructed in the 300 block of North Third Avenue. The dwellings at 301 and 308 North Third Street are standard one-story frame bungalows representative of many that were built in Siler City after World War I.
The First Baptist Church, facing Second Avenue, was organized as a member of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association in 1889. Shortly thereafter, a frame church building was constructed. By 1927, the congregation had outgrown the building and church members voted to erect a new building on a lot purchased several years earlier. They engaged the services of Greensboro architect, Harry Barton, who had designed Asheboro's First Methodist Church in 1924. Built between 1928 and 1930, the First Baptist Church, with its Romanesque and Moorish overtones is one of the most ambitious churches in Chatham County (Osborn and Selden-Sturgill, p.139-140).
Although building slowed during the Great Depression, it picked back up again after World War II. During the 1940s, the town limits of Siler City were extended and it grew over 100 percent from 2,501 to 4,455 people (Osborn and Selden-Sturgill, p.40). The only house in the North Third Avenue Historic District built after World War II is the 1952 First Baptist Church parsonage (314 N. Second Avenue).
The industrial base of the town started an expansion about 1937 and increased after World War II. Two major factors in this growth were the opening of branch plants of companies located elsewhere in the state and nation, and the increase and expansion of locally owned industries. Furniture manufacturing, poultry processing, meat processing, hosiery, lingerie, yarn, and textiles are among the principal industries located in Siler City at this time. The corporate limits of the town were expanded on June 23, 1959, with the new area containing 4.182 square miles (Osborn and Selden-Sturgill, p.125).
The North Third Avenue Historic District presents a small collection of house styles from the late nineteenth through the early twentieth century. A domestic building boom occurred in Siler City in the 1880s, coinciding with the development of new construction technology. The arrival of the railroad in 1884 initiated a period of growth which was to produce the largest town in Chatham County.
The earliest house in the North Third Avenue Historic District, the William Wren House (316 N. Third Avenue), is typical of the late-nineteenth houses which were built in Siler City. The vernacular Gothic Revival house type typically displayed a gable roof, single-pile depth, and a symmetrical three-bay facade with a centrally placed single-leaf entrance. A central gable projecting from the roof line was the hallmark of this style. As time progressed, typical modifications included moving the exterior end chimney first to the rear and then to the interior of the main block. A rear one-story kitchen/dining ell often was added, when the advent of new cooking stoves eliminated the risk of open fireplace cooking.
Similar house forms in Siler City include the c.1885 Daniel G. Fox House on West Dolphin Street, the 1897 Snipes-Fox House on South Dogwood Avenue, and the 1905 Siler-Wrenn House on North Dogwood Avenue. Two-story triple-A form houses displayed a variety of elements, including two-tier or wrap-around porches, chamfered end bays, and a variable amount of detail work. Plain weatherboards replaced the old wide, hand-planed boards. Narrow beaded boards were used for interior and exterior decoration. Mantels and stairways featured turned and sawn embellishments, and stairs became an important design element in the central hallway plan (Osborn and Selden-Sturgill, p.43).
A general air of prosperity pervaded Chatham County in the first two decades of the twentieth century. During this period the house at 308 North Third Avenue retains typical Craftsman Bungalow details including exposed rafter ends and bracketed eaves. The bungalow and its variations did not diminish in popularity in Chatham County until the appearance of Ranch houses during the post-World War II era.
The Gothic Revival style remained generally popular in Chatham County's church architecture through the 1920's. An exception to that is the 1928-1930 First Baptist Church, located at 314 North Second Avenue. Greensboro architect, Harry Barton who chose a heavy Romanesque style made popular by architect Henry Hobson Richardson designed the church before the turn of the century. The church is easily the most ambitious in Chatham County, with its imposing size, massive gable front adorned with decorative brickwork, three-bay arcaded entrance, and large rose window. Barton modeled the church on his 1924 First Methodist Church in Asheboro, to which this church is virtually identical (Osborn and Selden-Sturgill, p.49). The 1952 brick parsonage/office (314 N. Second Avenue), situated adjacent to the church, is a typical rendition of the Cape Cod style popular in North Carolina after World War II.
The North Third Street Historic District comprises a collection of houses ranging from the late-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, along with a 1928 church. The houses exhibit a variety of architectural styles including a traditional triple-A form, a boxy Foursquare, a Neo-classical Revival, and several Bungalows. The residential neighborhood is enhanced with the addition of the Romanesque/Moorish First Baptist Church.
Register of Deeds Office, Pittsboro Courthouse, Deed Books.
A History of the First Baptist Church, an unpublished manuscript.
Lee, Mary Ann with guidance from Dr. Charlotte Brown. "Chatham County Multiple Resource Nomination, written for National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of the Interior, 1983.
North Carolina Survey Files. Located at the State Historical Preservation Office, Division of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC, 1988.
Osborn, Rachel and Ruth Selden-Sturgill. The Architectural Heritage of Chatham County, North Carolina. Charlotte, North Carolina: The Delmar Company, 1991.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Company Maps, Siler City series.
Siler City Tax Records.
Wren, L.L. A History of the Chatham Bank, 1901-1951. Siler City: Chatham Bank, 1953.
† Beth Keane and Kaye Graybeal, Retrospective, North Third Avenue Historic District, Chatham County, NC, nomination document, 1999, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.