York-Chester Historic District
The York-Chester Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2012, The Gombach Group.
The York-Chester Historic District is architecturally significant beginning in 1856, the year in which the district's oldest resource, the earliest marked grave in Oakwood Cemetery, was erected. The 1882 Caroline Hanna House, 402 South Chester Street, stands as the York-Chester Historic District's earliest building. Located in the Gaston County seat of Gastonia, just south of downtown, the locally-significant district contains an eclectic mix of nationally popular styles and vernacular house forms common to the suburbs and residential areas that developed in North Carolina's towns and cities during the last decades of the nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth century. Fourteen dwellings, one school, and one synagogue designed by regionally-prominent architect Hugh White Sr. stand as some of the York-Chester Historic District's more stylish. While the district's oldest resources date from the 1800s, most were constructed in the 1910s and 1920s, with fewer built in the 1930s and the post-World War II era. The Colonial Revival, Craftsman, and Period Cottage styles predominant, although many Queen Anne, Minimal Traditional, and Tudor Revival residences are counted among the district's resources. Textile mill owners and investors occupied commodious, stylish homes on South York and South Chester streets. Bankers and other capitalists whose businesses flourished along with the mills also lived on South York and South Chester streets in large homes, as well as along the district's other streets in slightly smaller, but stylish bungalows and one- and two-story revival-style dwellings. Clerks, office staff, mill workers and other employees lived in the district's more modest bungalows, duplexes, or apartment buildings. The 1924 Gastonia High School (800 South York Street), designed by Hugh White Sr. and individually listed in the National Register in 1984, is a monumental Tudor Revival composition. Oakwood Cemetery forms most of the district's northern border and features a wide variety of late nineteenth and early twentieth century funerary art as well as the graves of many prominent Gastonia residents. Churches in the York-Chester Historic District are brick Colonial Revival and stylized Gothic Revival edifices.
The York-Chester Historic District encompasses residential areas that grew organically as well as small platted suburbs laid out between the World Wars. While the district was not platted as one large suburb, it is Gastonia's best example of the suburban development experienced in towns and cities across the country at the turn of the twentieth century. Most building occurred before World War II, with some post-war infill occurring during the mid-1940s and into the early 1950s.
The York-Chester Historic District encompasses approximately 193 acres and 556 primary and 190 secondary resources of which eighty-seven percent contribute to the district's historic and architectural integrity.
Community Development Context and Historical Background
As early as the 1856, some families in the sparsely settled area that became Gastonia buried their loved ones in what became Oakwood Cemetery, but Gastonia's history, like the history of many towns in North Carolina, starts with the arrival of the railroad. In 1873, the Atlanta and Richmond Air Line, known after 1877 as the Atlanta and Charlotte Air-Line Railway, completed a line between Charlotte and Atlanta. Plans called for the corridor to pass through the original Gaston County seat of Dallas. Some residents eagerly awaited its arrival, but others, fearing noise, dirt, and danger, forced the railroad company to build the line along a route four miles to the south where the railroad built a warehouse and one-room dwelling for the stationmaster near Shiloh Methodist Church, which served a widely-scattered agrarian population, and named it Gastonia Station. A blacksmith shop run by an African American named Prince Holland and a one-room saloon soon went up. A few years later, the Chester and Lenoir Narrow Gauge Railroad bisected Gaston County from north to south, passing through Dallas, which apparently by that time had recognized the economic benefits of a rail line. The Chester and Lenoir crossed the Atlanta and Charlotte line in the sparsely populated vicinity of Gastonia Station. During the New South era of the late 1800s, almost any location along the Atlanta and Charlotte rail corridor could have become a successful town, but a location with an intersecting railroad enjoyed even more advantages, and in 1877, the General Assembly chartered the town of Gastonia with just such a juncture at its heart.
Three years after incorporation, only 236 people lived in Gastonia, but over the next twenty years, new cotton mills fostered a radical rise in that number. Textile production was the foundation of New South industrialism in Piedmont North and South Carolina, and it had early roots in and around Gaston County. In 1813, Michael Schenck started North Carolina's first successful cotton mill in Lincoln County, of which Gaston was a part until 1846. Mountain Island Mill, established in 1848, and Woodlawn Mill, built in 1849, were the first two mills located in present-day Gaston County. The county's post-Civil War manufacturing grew from these initial seeds particularly after the Atlanta and Charlotte Air-line Railroad steamed across the region. Rail access to two major transportation hubs enticed local entrepreneurs and investors from neighboring Mecklenburg County to set up several mills across Gaston County. This initial wave of mill construction occurred in the county, outside of Gastonia, but the economic activity they stimulated spurred growth in the town, which, by 1880 was home to several stores, two schools, and the town's first successful newspaper, the Gazette. New homes, including the York-Chester Historic District's earliest and other houses in the district that were later torn down to make way for grander dwellings, were also part of this progress. By 1885, eight cotton mills hummed in Gaston County.
In 1886, local businessmen John H. Craig and Laban Lineberger Jenkins decided to organize a mill for Gastonia. Towards that end, they partnered with merchants J.D. Moore, R.C.G. Love, T.W. Wilson, and Robert H. Adams. The investors invited George A. Gray, superintendent of the nearby McAden Mills, to Gastonia and installed him on their board of directors. In 1887, the General Assembly incorporated the Gastonia Cotton Manufacturing Company and in 1888, the new mill's steam-powered generators started driving 3,000 spindles.
In 1890, Craig and Jenkins opened a second bank in Gastonia, First National Bank. By that time, the town's population had more than quadrupled to just over one thousand, and citizens worked at and patronized numerous merchants, Methodist and Presbyterian churches, a Young Men's Christian Association, two hotels, and an Episcopal mission. Local businessmen established three more cotton mills, Trenton, Modena, and Avon, between 1893 and 1896.
As the nineteenth century drew to a close, Gastonia looked more like a city than a town. In addition to four cotton mills, thirty stores, and two banks, an assortment of smaller factories lined the town's oil-lit streets: Distilleries or outlets for purchasing alcohol were not among the town's enterprises as Gastonia, fearful of corrupting mill operatives or hosting an industry that would compete against textiles, remained a dry municipality within a county known as the distilling capital of North Carolina. Thirty-one Gastonia residents subscribed to the Gastonia Telephone Company and the town square boasted maple trees planted by George Gray. Two dentists and two doctors cared for the expanding population that included the town's first Jew, David Lebovitz, who arrived in 1894. A new city hall, built for $3,385, was erected in 1899 while schools and churches grew rapidly as residential areas blossomed. Numerous dwellings in the York-Chester Historic District were constructed along the district's northern edge during this period. As of 1900, the town's population had quadrupled again to 4,610, six cotton mills hummed, and Gray and John F. Love started planning Loray Mills, by far the largest cotton mill conceived in Gaston County.
In 1900, Flynt Building and Construction Company from Palmer, Massachusetts, completed Loray Mills. With 100,000 square feet under one roof, the factory was one of the largest textile mills ever built. Local investors financed most of the plant's construction, but like many Southern textile concerns, the facility changed hands several times. In 1919, Jenckes Spinning Company of Rhode Island purchased the facility. With New England owners, it became the first mill in Gaston County directed by "outside capital." While its sheer size was a point of pride for Gastonia, the mill eventually became infamous for its Northern ownership and labor unrest that festered in the building's cavernous spaces.
The new century saw Gaston County, with Gastonia at its center, emerge as the "banner cotton mill county of the South" with more cotton factories than any other county in the South and more looms and spindles than any other county in North Carolina. New South advocate and textile pioneer D.A. Tompkins stated in 1902 that "whoever may wish to know what sort of success the present generation of North Carolinians are making of manufactures, and in building a strong and prosperous Commonwealth, may learn best by coming to see Gastonia."
By 1906, more than thirty-six mills operated in Gaston County, including eleven in Gastonia where 145,000 spindles and 2,500 hundred looms employed 4,000 operatives. Fourteen daily passenger trains (ten on the Southern Railroad, formerly the Atlanta and Charlotte Air-Line Railroad, and four on the Carolina and Northwest Railroad, formerly the Chester and Lenoir) served the town's population of around 8,000.
With increasing civic pride, as evidenced by the large number of Chamber of Commerce publications produced in the first half of the twentieth century, and a growing tax base (the county's real estate value was estimated to have increased "several hundred percent" between 1895 and 1905), the city and county undertook numerous improvement projects. Between 1895 and 1905, the county spent nearly forty thousand dollars on new bridges, and by the end of that ten-year-span, twenty-seven miles of macadamized roads eased mobility within the county. Gastonians voted to create a graded public school system in 1900, and they organized a public library in 1904. In the 1905-06 academic year, about 900 white children and 350 African American students enrolled in Gastonia's schools. In 1905, the county's citizens passed a $300,000 bond issue for macadamizing and grading one hundred more miles of roads.
As Gastonia's industry and population grew, its influence on the county's administration and economy expanded accordingly, but Dallas remained the county seat. Twice Gaston County voters considered moving the seat to Gastonia and twice the measure failed, but on August 5, 1909, the county returned to the polls over the issue. By a margin of 639, Gaston County residents relieved Dallas of its duties and set the transfer of power for 1911.
The same year Gastonia officially became the county seat, construction began on the Piedmont and Northern Railroad (P&N), an electric and interurban line linking the region's main textile centers. The P&N ran its first train between Charlotte and Gastonia on May 20, 1912. The line offered passenger service until 1951, but its primary market was freight, and with its slogan "A Mill to the Mile" true for much of its length, the P&N remained profitable for much of its sixty-year history.
Despite a slight economic downturn following the First World War, the general nationwide prosperity of the 1920s encouraged Gastonians to produce more and more yarn and fabric. During 1920 alone, seven weaving and spinning mills were incorporated in Gastonia. Around that same time, Jenckes Spinning Company, the owner of Loray Mill, converted the mill's equipment to manufacture textiles for use in tire production by Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. By 1924, ninety-four mills stood in Gaston County, of which forty-three were located in Gastonia. Only two counties in the country (both in New England) could boast of more spindles than Gaston County's 1,135,793, and only one county produced more fine combed yarn than Gaston.
Meanwhile businessmen opened shops to support the industry. By the mid-1920s, Barkley Machine Shop, Gastonia Mill Supply, Gastonia Comber Needling, Gastonia Brush Company, A.B. Carter Company, and others fulfilled the needs of the industry in Gaston County and across the country.
As the city's businesses expanded so too did its population. Between 1910 and 1920, Gastonia's population doubled to 12,871. Ten more years brought the population to just over 17,000. The Jewish population had also grown, enabling congregants to hire Hugh White to design Congregation Emanuel Synagogue at 320 South Street in 1925. The first services where held on the first day of 1930.
Commercial and manufacturing activity, combined with an escalating population, stimulated public works projects. Regionally-prominent architect Hugh White Sr. designed Gastonia High School between 1922 and 1924. The monumental Tudor Revival facility opened for the 1924-25 school year and included a swimming pool, gymnasium, library, auditorium with a $15,000 pipe organ, and twenty-nine classrooms, each with its own telephone. While the building's design and amenities illustrate the decade's technological advances and emphasis on education, its location, five blocks south of the city's downtown, also reveals changes in residential development as upper income white citizens moved farther from Gastonia's core.
By the time the new high school opened, Gastonia's tax base paid the city's teachers the highest salaries in North Carolina. Motorized fire fighting equipment protected the city's buildings while citizens enjoyed twenty-eight miles of sewerage and a water system planned to absorb capacity for many years to come. Bitulithic paving, an asphalt mix similar to today's asphalt, smoothed transportation on twenty-three miles of city streets, and twenty-five miles of concrete sidewalks offered a mud-puddle-free experience for pedestrians.
Gastonia was not alone its rapid growth. The majority of North Carolina's cities saw their populations double or triple between 1900 and 1930, and many new citizens made their homes in freshly platted subdivisions and mill villages in or around these municipalities. People moved to Charlotte and Greensboro to work in the textile mills, to Winston-Salem and Durham for textile and tobacco manufacturing jobs, and to Wilmington for shipping and railroad work. In Gastonia, the major employers were textile firms. Banks, construction firms, restaurants, and retail outlets created even more opportunities for a regular paycheck.
Most people inundating towns and cities during this time were from rural areas: farmers and farm laborers tired of scratching a living from poor land. Newcomers had to adjust to the noise, pollution, and rigid working hours that accompanied urbanity. Furthermore, the ancient notion of the city as a "den of iniquity" and the countryside as healthy became more firmly entrenched every time a technological advance increased the pace of city life. In reaction, urban planning that idealized separation of commercial and residential uses — as well as the separation of classes and races — took on an unprecedented importance, particularly once it was facilitated by transportation improvements. Industry, commerce, and homemaking were each given their own sector of town, with homes preferably built along tree-lined streets. Suburban lawns and shade were meant to create a sanctuary for the urbanite and bring a bit of the country to those with memories of a farm or crossroads town. Planners based "rural" residential retreats that were within or close to a city in large part on nineteenth century cemeteries and parks: their curving drives, trees, flowers, planned vistas, and sculpture were meant to provide relief from the city's gray stone, steel, and concrete. Towards the end of the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth century, the advent of streetcars and better transportation made it possible for developers to build houses in similar park-like settings carved from outlying open land previously inconveniently distant from downtown.
Most of the residential development in the York-Chester neighborhood began during this period of newfound mobility and segregation. Geographically, building in the district generally started near downtown and spread south. Homes in the northernmost blocks of South Chester, South York, and South streets date from the late 1800s, 1910s and early 1920s while development farther south on those arteries dates from the late 1920s, 1930s, and the mid-twentieth century. Although Second Avenue is closer to downtown, and most of its dwellings were built in the 1920s, the earliest development on the east-west avenues is found on Third and Fourth avenues where homes from the first two decades of the twentieth century stand close to South Street (the York-Chester Historic District's eastern edge) and residences from the 1920s stand on the avenues' more western blocks. Dwellings from the 1920s populate Fifth Avenue while Sixth Avenue features a mix of architecture from the 1920s, 1940s, and 1950s. Most houses on Garrison Boulevard, Eighth, and Tenth avenues were built in the 1940s and 1950s.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Sanborn Maps did not record any east-west streets south of Third Avenue and no north-south streets west of Cemetery Street, later known as Chester Street. By 1915 however, the area between Jackson and South streets and from Second to Seventh Avenue (most of the York-Chester Historic District) appears on the index for the city's Sanborn Maps and detailed maps showed most streets lined with houses as far south as Fourth Avenue. Cemetery Street had also been given the less ominous name of Chester Street.
The area comprising the York-Chester Historic District was not developed as a single formal suburban expansion. The most common way development occurred in the district was through the slow subdivision of small tracts by individual landowners. Mrs. Emma Beard carved her Hanna Street property into eleven narrow lots in 1923. Another plat dates from 1929 and illustrates development on the block now occupied by the Gastonia High School gymnasium and bounded by Neil and Gibbons streets and Seventh (renamed Garrison Boulevard in 1970) and Eighth avenues. The irregularly-sized lots fronting Neil Street and Seventh Avenue (now Garrison Boulevard) belonged to four property owners. A long parcel remained on the Gibbons Street side of the block, prime for further subdivision.
In some cases, landowners with larger tracts subdivided their land to take advantage of the economic and population boom of the 1920s. In 1919 and 1921, the Gastonia Housing Corporation created building lots along Sixth Avenue between Jackson and Chester streets and along Chester Street, south of Sixth Avenue. Another example is the 1921 survey of The Pines, a small subdivision of twenty lots between York and Chester streets, likely along those streets' 800 or 900 blocks. In 1926, Rankin Realty Company platted Rankin Place, which consisted of the blocks bounded by Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh avenues and Lee, Neil, and South streets. Behind the lots fronting Lee and Neil streets, alleys ran the length of the blocks from north to south. The Pinnix Land Company subdivided its property along York Street and Edgewood Circle between Eighth and Tenth avenues in 1924, although much of the development in that area did not occur until the post-World War II period.
The York-Chester Historic District's residents in the 1910s and 1920s ranged from two farmers living on South Chester Street to doctors, dentists, and lawyers. Mill supervisors included Samuel A. Lanier at 528 Harvie Street and Arthur Dixon at 525 South Chester Street. James W. Atkins, the president of Gazette Publishing Company, lived at 210 West Fourth Avenue while Marcus T. Wilson, an assistant cashier at First National Bank, lived at 310 South Chester Street. Hoyt Cunningham, owner of Cunningham and Company and secretary of the Pinnix Land Company, lived at 225 West Fourth Avenue, and another Pinnix Land Company employee, Homer R. Chestnutt, built a house at 508 Lee Street.
As the York-Chester neighborhood experienced its greatest period of growth, the textile industry, upon which Gastonia's prosperity rested, suffered its own growing pains. During the late 1920s, excess capacity among the region's textile mills caused price-cutting, which precipitated an industry-wide recession, layoffs, and labor abuses. As a consequence, labor unrest resulted in strikes and fatal violence at textile mills across North Carolina, but the most notorious struggle happened in Gastonia at Loray Mill, whose village stands on the western edge of the York-Chester Historic District. Between January and September 1929, tensions among Communist labor activists, Loray Mill operatives, Gastonia police, and Gastonians resulted in violence, animosity, protests, and two deaths.
Unlike many of North Carolina's rural counties where the Depression's effects arrived slowly, the economic crash hit Gaston County swiftly. By 1930, the average income of wage earners in Gaston County (nearly all of whom were textile workers) stood at $691. That was a sharp decrease from the mid-1920s when wage earners took home about $786 per year. In fact, over the course of just one year, wage earnings in Gaston County had regressed to 1920 levels. At the end of 1930, First National Bank of Gastonia closed. It reopened the following year, but closed permanently in 1933. Peoples Bank of Gastonia closed its doors in 1931. Most mills in Gastonia either shut down or went into receivership, with many of the survivors eventually coming under control of Textiles, Incorporated with A.G. Myers as the receiver. By 1933, the hulking Loray Mills stood nearly idle and operatives occupied fewer than 200 of the village's 625 homes. The silence in Gastonia, where spinning and weaving machines had hummed loudly and constantly, was startling. Numerous businesses and other industrial concerns closed during the early 1930s and the local population was left "in pitiful want."
Bolstered by New Deal programs, particularly the National Industrial Recovery Act which created the National Recovery Administration (NRA) and the Cotton Textile Code, Gastonia began looking towards its future. It garnered attention from the New Republic which published an article in 1933 entitled "Gastonia: Outpost of Recovery?" The author noted that "this summer the revival of trade started the cotton spindles turning again," creating a "gold rush, Southern style." The writer feared a return to low pay, long hours, and abusive conditions, but he cited improved pay for adults and an end to child labor under the guidance of the NRA as proof that Gastonia, for the foreseeable future, was indeed "an outpost of recovery." As part of the city's recovery, two small textile mills, Gray's Specialty Yarn Company and Piedmont Mills, opened in 1934. In 1935, Firestone Cotton Mills purchased the Loray property, including the mill village, and began an extensive rehabilitation and modernization project.
As Gastonia's commercial and industrial operations rebounded, so too did construction in the York-Chester neighborhood. Although most of the houses in the district had been built by 1929, construction in the mid- and late 1930s resulted in development along the district's edges, and within its core as a few houses went up on previously undeveloped lots. By 1936, Coite H. Jones' management position with the Metropolitan Insurance Company allowed-him and his wife, Lillian, to build at 415 West Third Avenue. Two years later, Hoyt Smith, a traveling salesman, Augustus Froneberger, a secretary with the Rankin-Armstrong Company, and their wives had recovered sufficiently to build houses at 843 South Chester Street and 504 Hanna Street, respectively. Also, in 1938, the Boy Scouts of America started raising money for-the construction of the Piedmont Council Headquarters and finished the new building around 1940.
The 1940 census recorded 21,313 residents in Gastonia. During that decade, Gastonia and the York-Chester neighborhood sent men and women to serve in World War II. Those who stayed behind found work at Gastonia's textile mills. The plants hummed twenty-four hours a day, turning out fabric for American and Allied troops. Across Gaston County, new mills opened, wages increased, and production skyrocketed. Boys too young to join the armed forces participated in the Boy Scouts.
After the war, the county celebrated its centennial and Gastonians began building houses. Construction, which had nearly ceased as resources and materials were reserved for the war effort, resumed as troops came home and rationing ended. In the York-Chester neighborhood, new houses appeared among older homes and in groups clustered on the district's edges, particularly along South, Jackson, and Clay streets. York-Chester and central Gastonia, however, were not the scene of most of Gastonia's post-war residential growth. The car-owning public now preferred subdivisions on the edge of town with easy access to the area's ever-widening highways, and commerce followed suit. Retail businesses, services, and offices moved out of downtown Gastonia.
Meanwhile, changes and upheaval to the city's economic engine loomed on the horizon. Robert Allison Ragan called the 1950s "lean years" for the textile industry during which "numerous weak competitors fell by the wayside." During the post-World War II era, textile mill consolidation, which started before the war, accelerated. Textiles, Incorporated, a conglomerate of thirteen mills as of 1949, closed two plants during the summer of 1950. Other mills, like the Trenton Cotton Mills, expanded and modernized, but some, like the Bernside Mills, which was operating in the old Gray Manufacturing Company building, closed. In 1961, Trenton Cotton Mills merged with a larger group called Carolina Mills, Inc. before closing in 1972.
As the 1970s progressed, Gastonia's textile mills continued consolidating, laying off workers, and closing. Improvements in diagnosis, textile mill machinery, and ventilation decreased rates of "brown lung" disease among mill operatives, but Gaston County's murder rate reached 26 per 100,000 persons in 1974. That rate was higher than any major metropolitan statistical area, any rural or suburban county, or any suburban town or city in the nation. Meanwhile, downtown faced increasing competition from suburban businesses such as Eastridge Mall and Kmart which opened in 1976 and 1977, respectively. In an effort to compete, a $1 million urban renewal project repaved Main Street and created wider sidewalks, and plans were underway to lower the railroad tracks through downtown into trenches, eliminating many at-grade crossings.
During the last two decades of the twentieth century and first years of the twenty-first century, Gaston County continued losing textile jobs. Between 1984 and 2004, Gaston County lost more than 15,000 manufacturing jobs, with about half of those losses occurring between 2000 and 2004. Most of those layoffs occurred in the textile industry, which lost forty-one percent (over 7,000 positions) of its local jobs between 1995 and 2000. By 2000, the industry was still the county's largest industrial employer, but it was the only industry in the county in decline. Some observers believe the worst blows fell in 2001 when 116 textile mills closed nationwide, eliminating 67,000 jobs. Still others expect work to continue moving overseas despite technological advances in machinery and new fabrics that offer some hope for the industry's future.
While ties to Charlotte and industrial and commercial development in suburban locales are a major component of development plans in Gastonia, leaders now recognize central Gastonia as a place of potential economic success. Downtown revitalization is a key component of Gastonia's economic development strategy, and the Gastonia Downtown Development Corporation, formed in 2001, is leading the way. Within two years, the corporation saw twelve new businesses and 112 new jobs come downtown along with the renovation of sixteen buildings. The city is deliberating a tax increment financing program to stimulate more development and the county is considering plans to move offices into a historic downtown building. Additionally, a downtown historic district was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in January 2004.
The Architecture of the York-Chester Historic District
The dwellings, small outbuildings, commercial and office buildings, churches, cemetery, and school in the York-Chester Historic District have the distinctive characteristics of the architectural styles and forms that occurred in Gastonia and throughout Piedmont North Carolina from the late nineteenth century to the post-World War II period. During this period, architecture reflected the social and economic changes occurring as Gastonia rapidly transformed from an isolated rail crossroad to a bustling New South industrial center.
In Gastonia's suburban neighborhoods, the Lineberger Park area to the east of the York-Chester Historic District, the Highland community north of Franklin, and Brookwood south of the York-Chester Historic District, in addition to the York-Chester neighborhood, a wide array of dwellings and styles are displayed. Highland shares a similar history and architectural character with York-Chester, although on a smaller scale, and the Lineberger Park neighborhood is exclusively more modest houses. Brookwood, to the south of the York-Chester Historic District, is a locally-designated historic district with homes dating from the 1910s through the 1930s.
Many dwellings in the York-Chester neighborhood represent high-style design but most are more modest yet stylish houses, while others reflect the use of common house forms with little or no ornamentation. The Caroline Hanna House is the York-Chester Historic District's oldest dwelling (401 S. Chester Street). Built around 1882, the two-story residence is an I-house, which is a simple one-room-deep, two-story, side-gable house form with a central passage built throughout North Carolina from the early 1800s into the early 1900s. The Hanna House's only stylistic references are Tuscan porch posts (which are probably early twentieth century additions), simple sidelights at the front door, and modestly corbelled chimneys. Other forms seen in the York-Chester Historic District are minimally-adorned gable-front bungalows and triple-A cottages, which are one-story, single-pile, center-passage dwellings with a front-gable centered on the front roof slope of a side-gable roof.
Even on modest house forms, however, including I-houses such as the Caroline Hanna House and smaller cottages, prevailing tastes and fashions influenced the final product. In Gastonia, and specifically in the York-Chester neighborhood, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and transitional designs incorporating both Queen Anne and Colonial Revival characteristics dominated residential design from the late 1800s into the 1910s. George Gray, a leading Gastonia industrialist, probably built the Joseph H. and May Gray Separk House I (316 S. York Street) around 1900 as a wedding present for his daughter May and her new husband, Joseph Separk. The one-and-a-half-story transitional Queen Anne-Colonial Revival style dwelling features a complex hip roof with a gabled wall dormer on the facade and projecting clipped-gable wings on either side. Asymmetrical gabled dormers punctuate the roof slopes. Weatherboards cover the exterior walls and pebbledash accents the gable ends. Rectangular, oval, and square windows feature a variety of sash and light arrangements and many include stained glass. The simple balustrade, accented with orbs inserted between the balusters to mimic a swag, and the classical columns, however, indicate attention to the evolving Colonial Revival style. The interior reveals lavish oak woodwork.
A smaller and less complex example is the Mack and Eunice Cloniger House, built around 1910 at 510 Lee Street. Queen Anne style references, such as the turned posts, sawnwork brackets, triple-A roof, and sawn work frieze that decorate the porch, enrich the otherwise simple cottage.
As the Queen Anne style fell out of favor, the Colonial Revival emerged as the national style of choice by the late 1910s, and it became popular in the York-Chester neighborhood during the 1920s and lingered well into the post-World War II period. Builders covered Colonial Revival houses with weatherboard, brick, stucco, and stone. The Colonial Revival style from the pre-World War II period harkened back to the Georgian and Adam (Federal) styles of early America in massing and detail. New methods of mass printing developed in the early part of the century allowed for the distribution of magazines that featured photographs of Colonial Revival dwellings and helped to popularize the style.
The rise of Colonial Revival design in Gastonia coincided with Hugh White's establishment of his firm, White, Streeter & Chamberlain, in Gastonia in 1921. While other architects worked in Gastonia and the York-Chester neighborhood, White was the most prolific and successful. White began his career in the mid-1890s in Rock Hill, South Carolina, where he designed Queen Anne and. Colonial Revival residences and commercial buildings. He went on to work throughout the South and in 1921, White, Charles J. Streeter and Carroll W. Chamberlain set up their firm in Gastonia and got to work on their first commission: the imposing Tudor Revival style Gastonia High School (800 S. York Street). The productive firm designed Classical, Colonial, and Tudor Revival style buildings until 1927 when a commission for a lavish Oasis Shrine Temple in Charlotte fell through. From that time until his death in 1939, White practiced alone in Gastonia. Hugh White and White, Streeter & Chamberlain left an enduring mark on the York-Chester Historic District where White or the firm designed nineteen extant buildings (fourteen houses, one synagogue, one church, one garage, one apartment building, one school) and alterations to four residences. White also served as the supervising architect for two projects, the Arthur C. and Annie L. Jones House (501 West Fifth Avenue) and the Joseph H. and May G. Separk House II (209 West Second Avenue).
In the York-Chester Historic District, the Colonial Revival style began appearing with substantial houses such as the circa 1920 Samuel A. and Sue Robinson House designed by Hugh White and located at 310 S. York Street. The five-bay, two-story dwelling features delicate and elaborate woodwork including an entablature enriched with a Greek key frieze and bead-and-reel molding. Slender, tapered columns with stylized acanthus leaves accenting the capitals support an eyebrow-arched portico with a gouged frieze, corner blocks featuring oval sunbursts, and a Greek fret. The portico's vaulted ceiling is paneled. Sidelights, pilasters, a rectangular transom, and an arched panel enriched with bas-relief carving to mimic a fanlight compose the entrance. Classically inspired gabled dormers with arched windows punctuate the slate roof.
Fred A. and Myrtle Cathey built their more modest Colonial Revival dwelling at 501 W. Second Avenue around 1922. The two-story frame house has a hip roof, single-leaf entry with sidelights and transom, a front-gable entry porch, and, as was typical at many Colonial Revival style houses, a side porch.
Colonial Revival design remained fashionable during the 1930s and 1940s. David and Mary LaFar built a Palladian-influenced Georgian Revival house at 205 West Tenth Avenue around 1941. The two-story, hip-roof brick dwelling features quoins and an entry surround composed of pilasters and a molded pediment. A gabled central pavilion projects slightly from the facade and is finished with a stuccoed cartouche in the gable's pediment.
Colonial Revival elements were also added to simple house forms. Triple-A cottages such as the circa 1911 rental house at 508 South Street had hip-roof porches with Tuscan columns and a pediment centered on the porch roof. These porches were often the only stylistic element applied to some vernacular house forms.
Other revival styles also gained acceptance in the York-Chester Historic District during the 1920s. Mediterranean Revival designs drew from Spanish, French, and Italian buildings found on the Mediterranean coast. Stucco or light-colored brick walls, tile roofs, and large windows and French doors characterize the style. Hugh White designed the Beal-Ragan House, which was completed in 1924 at 706 S. York Street. The dwelling features a tiled hip roof, yellow brick exterior, French doors, and deep overhanging eaves. A stone-walled sunken garden complements the house and includes traditional shrubberies and mature trees surrounding a grassy lawn. A similar Mediterranean Revival style residence is the Joseph H. and May Gray Separk House II, the couple's second home located at 209 W. Second Avenue.
The Dutch Colonial Revival style with its characteristic gambrel-roof proved popular in the district in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The circa 1926 Oscar L. and Pearl Sappenfield House at 509 W. Fifth Avenue presents typical elements of the style. The gambrel-roof dwelling features weatherboard siding, six-over-one sash windows, a large shed dormer extending across most of the front roof slope, and an inset porch. Like Colonial Revival designs, the Dutch Colonial Revival style also enjoyed longevity. About twenty years after the Sappenfield family built their house on West Fifth Avenue, Frank S. Emmett and Catherine Morrison built a gambrel-roof dwelling at 1006 Hillside Drive in the late 1940s. The Morrison House features an intersecting gambrel roof, a fanlight over the front door, and a gabled front portico with a vaulted ceiling.
The Tudor Revival style also emerged as a fashionable style in the York-Chester neighborhood during the 1920s. Around 1922, municipal court judge Arthur C. Jones and his wife Annie built an impressive one-and-a-half-story house at 501 W. Fifth Avenue. The gabled roof incorporates slate and stuccoed shed dormers. Walls are Flemish bond brick with continuous pent roofs extending across the gable ends. Leaded glass casement windows illuminate the interior. Behind the house is a matching brick garage and a shingled, picturesque, hip-roof garden shed. The circa 1930 house at 203 Forest Hills Lane is a detailed example of the style with intersecting front-gable wings, a round-arch front door, and leaded metal casement windows.
Like the scaled-down Colonial Revival porches applied to simple side-gable house forms, Tudor Revival style houses were also executed in more restrained versions, usually called Period or English Cottages. One example, a one-story, clipped-gable cottage, is repeated at least twice in the district in both brick and frame. A particularly intact rendering of this house is the circa 1925 Ed and Alice Adams House at 615 S. York Street. The shingled dwelling incorporates a clipped-gable roof with an eyebrow arch over the segmental-arch front door. A granite facade chimney mimics a rural English cottage. The other example is the Larkin Ellis and Lucille Rankin House at 704 Lee Street. This cottage is executed entirely in brick but features an inset porch, eyebrow-shaped attic vent, and arched entrance.
In response to an ever-growing population, developers erected duplexes and apartment buildings in the 1920s and 1930s. Many carried Colonial Revival characteristics including the Georgia Copeland Residence and Apartment Building at 506 Lee Street. Built around 1925 and designed by Hugh White, the two-story hip roof building features a partial-width inset front porch with square columns and a molded cornice. The second-story rooms above the front porch may have been a sleeping porch. Just across the street, at 501-505 Lee Street, is the two-story, brick Spurrier Apartment Building. Built around 1929, the building has a broad hip-roof with deep eaves, eyebrow attic vents, and six-over-six and eight-over-eight sash windows. The circa 1937 Edgewood Apartments (902-904 S. York Street and 906-912 S. York Street) consist of two multi-unit, two-story brick buildings with six-over-six window sash and gabled porticos.
During this period, middle-class families built bungalows throughout the district, while residents of greater means erected substantial Craftsman houses that, in some cases, incorporated elements of the Prairie style. The bungalow enjoyed national popularity in the late 1910s and 1920s and architects designed fine examples for clients from coast to coast. Bungalows both in high-style form and in scaled-down versions, proved immensely popular in towns and suburbs across North Carolina into the early 1930s. Building plans for these houses, with their wide overhanging eaves, open arrangement of rooms, and inviting porches, appeared in national magazines and catalogs. The bungalow was inexpensive and easy to build and appealed to families' desires for a modern house.
The York-Chester Historic District contains a substantial number of bungalows and Craftsman homes distributed widely in the district, although only one (the Zoe Rankin House (302 S. York Street) can be attributed to an architect. Hugh White's circa 1912 design for the Rankin House incorporates very deep eaves, a wide gable-front porch with Prairie-influenced capitals, and a low hip roof to emphasize the influence of the Prairie style. A change in exterior siding at the level of the second-story window sills, from weatherboard siding on the lower two-thirds of the walls to shingles on the upper third, further underscores the dwelling's horizontal orientation.
Two bungalows are particularly notable for their Asian inspiration. Around 1921, Robert G. and Mildred Cherry were in the process of building their home at 711 S. York Street. The result was a side-gable bungalow covered in weatherboards with mitered corners dominated by a substantial front gable porch with massive square granite posts. The dwelling's kicked roofline with wide bargeboards, which is repeated on the porch roof and a small gabled dormer on the front roof slope, are a reference to the Craftsman style's Asian influences. The J.H. and Lottie Sims House at 514 Lee Street shares with the Cherry House a side-gable form with a gable front porch, but its bargeboards end in sharp points and are supported by open false beams. A water table at the window sill level intersects at the house's corners to form overlapping joints with sharp projecting points. Vertical wood slats in the porch's gable end further express an Asian influence.
A great number of York-Chester bungalow designs incorporate upper-level sleeping porches and balconies. Another common practice in the York-Chester Historic District is the repetition of some bungalow designs, which results in the same house plan appearing on several streets. The Ellis and Jennie Rankin House at 701 South York Street falls into both categories. The cross-gable, weatherboarded bungalow features a recessed porch in the shingled gable-front porch. The porch incorporates brick posts and slender tapered columns. At 416 W. Fifth Avenue, the Edward T. and Ellen B. Suitzer House, a brick, side-gable bungalow built around 1922, and the Andrew and Emily Rankin House (414 W. Fifth Avenue), a frame, front-gable house built next door about two years earlier, display porches at the upper half-story level. The shingle-clad Rankin House also includes wide thirty-three-over-one sash windows.
Another common form built in the York-Chester Historic District in the 1910s and 1920s is the Foursquare. Foursquares are two-story dwellings generally two bays in width. On three-bay examples, the entrance is located in one of the outer bays. Most Foursquares also have full-width porches reflecting the applied style, usually Craftsman or Colonial Revival. The John E. and Annie E. McAllister House at 211 W. Third Avenue is a circa 1914 Foursquare featuring a hip-roof porch with Tuscan columns.
During the 1930s, despite the Great Depression, some construction occurred in the York-Chester Historic District. Most buildings from the period were modest dwellings with classical or Colonial Revival nuances. The Durwood E. and Virginia Morrow House at 518 W. Fourth Avenue was built around 1938. The two-story, side-gable roof dwelling with Tuscan columns and a single-leaf entry with sidelights and a fanlight illustrates the continued popularity of the style into the post-depression recovery period.
Period or English Cottages continued to be built in the 1930s and 1940s but usually with fewer stylistic references than those of the 1920s. Typical examples were small, side-gabled dwellings with steep front gables and facade chimneys. The mid-1940s Nelson and Bertha Kessell House at 1106 South Street features characteristic brick construction with a steep side-gable roof, two steep front-facing gables, and a facade chimney.
When World War II ended, the city's population rose to just over 23,000 as soldiers returned home. As wartime rationing was lifted, construction revived. Many families in North Carolina and Gastonia sought the comfort and reassurance of building in styles of the past such as the Colonial Revival. This held true in the York-Chester neighborhood. Although most of the houses in the district were constructed before World War II, some of the infill among the neighborhood's older houses and the dwellings built on the district's edges fall into the category of traditional design. Representing the staying power of Colonial Revival design is the First Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church Parsonage at 408 W. Third Avenue. The church built the dwelling around 1951, and the design incorporated many elements found on earlier examples, including sidelights, a fanlight over the front door, and a front-gable entry porch with paired posts.
Another example is the Lloyd C. and Jessie L. Hoffman House at 907 South Street. Built around 1947, the one-story frame dwelling has a side-gable roof and an inset porch on south end supported by square posts.
More commonly, however, new houses struck a balance between modern and traditional by incorporating Colonial Revival elements in more modern designs. The result was a simple, one-story dwelling with stripped-down classical elements that could be constructed quickly. The style has been termed Minimal Traditional because it uses a minimal amount of decorative elements to communicate traditional design values. The style began appearing just before the war, but proved more popular in the last half of the 1940s and into the 1950s. Paul E. and Ylia P. Walsh built their Minimal Traditional dwelling at 519 South Clay Street around 1951. The one-story, frame, side-gable dwelling features a projecting front gable entry bay and a flat-roof entry porch with metal posts sheltering a single-leaf front door.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, the Ranch house, with its low-pitched roof and open floor plan, enjoyed popularity in Gastonia, but with limited open lots in the York-Chester area by the 1950s, only a handful of examples exist within the district. The Ranch style originated in California in the 1930s and by the middle of the century it had been adapted to meet the needs of families who desired a low-cost dwelling with its living area on one level and enough space for all their members to enjoy their privacy. Ranch houses in the York-Chester Historic District are generally side-gable dwellings with large picture windows lighting family spaces and ribbon windows, placed high on the exterior walls, punctuating the private spaces such as bedrooms and bathrooms. Most Ranch houses stand on the district's edges, particularly along South Street. The circa 1954 house at 508 Hanna Street is a brick Ranch with metal frame windows horizontal-light windows, a recessed single-leaf entry, an interior chimney and an attached carport, and an inset carport.
Garages constitute the majority of the York-Chester Historic District's outbuildings. Most are one-story, gable-front, weatherboarded buildings. Older garages have one narrow bay for a single car, while later examples dating from the 1940s and 1950s contained wider bays, often with space for two vehicles. The York-Chester Historic District's finest residences, particularly those built during the 1920s, came complete with matching garages that exuded a stylishness to complement the dwelling. At the circa 1927 Spencer House at 609 Neil Street, the two-story, hip roof, brick house features a one-story, brick, hip-roof garage with one narrow bay. When John and Clara Rankin built their commodious Colonial Revival style home at 304 W. Fifth Avenue in the mid-1920s, they also built a two-story, two-bay, brick garage with a slate hip roof to match the main dwelling. An apartment on the garage's second floor probably served as the quarters for one or more servants. In addition to the Tudor Revival style garage at the circa 1926 Arthur and Annie Jones House, at 501 W. Fifth Avenue, stands one of the few historic outbuildings in the district that is not a garage, but instead a shed. At about the same time the Joneses built their house, they also constructed a one-story, hip roof building with a shingled exterior. Visible on the 1930 Sanborn Map, the building probably served as a garden, potting, or tool shed.
Like dwellings, the buildings constructed for religious worship reflect the trends of the period. Congregation Emanuel Synagogue, built in 1929 at 320 South Street at its intersection with West Third Avenue, is the oldest religious building in the York-Chester Historic District. The two-story, brick Colonial Revival building draws heavily on Greek Revival designs of the mid-1800s. Pilasters support a pedimented gable end and a Star of David surmounts the apex of the roofline parapet. A wide frieze and cornice extend around the entire building while tall stained glass windows pierce the side elevations. First Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church, having outgrown its location north of the district at the intersection of York and Franklin streets, began building at 301 South Chester Street with the completion of a two-story, brick education building in 1948. The congregation completed its imposing Colonial Revival sanctuary (317 S. Chester Street) in 1951. A temple-front portico with Doric columns dominates the pedimented gable-front facade. A heavy entablature extends across the double-leaf front door, while a classically-inspired steeple with pilasters, urns, swags, and arched louvered openings rises from the roof. The Presbyterian campus also includes a Boy Scout Hut built around 1950. Like the construction of post war schools, this Boy Scout Hut illustrates the growing need to educate, socialize, and entertain the rising tide of baby boom children who were just beginning to enter schools and programs such as the Boy Scouts by 1950. Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, established in 1899 and housed in a downtown church building until the mid-twentieth century, completed their new sanctuary (805 S. York Street) in 1951 at the corner of South York Street and Garrison Avenue. Like the Minimal Traditional houses of the era, the church's design uses minimal Gothic Revival references to communicate traditional church design. The red brick building features Gothic arch door and window openings, cast stone trim, and a square bell tower on the north elevation.
The York-Chester Historic District's oldest resource is a grave marker in Gastonia's municipal cemetery, Oakwood. Located at the corner of Franklin Boulevard and South Chester Street, the cemetery's bounds are defined with a black metal fence on the north and east sides and a chain-link fence on the south and west sides. Brick pillars accent the South Chester Street entrance. The oldest marker commemorates the death of Frances T. Davis who died on September 30, 1856. The grave of a Davis infant who died later that same year is the second oldest marker. Between then and 1887, many burials occurred in Oakwood, indicating that it was not simply a family cemetery but an unofficial town burying ground. In 1887, Henry Spencer and his wife sold four acres that included these graves to the Town of Gastonia, creating Oakwood Cemetery. The tract is divided into four quadrants containing limestone and granite-edged plots, modest gravemarkers, stone obelisks, and grave houses. Most markers are standing granite tablets or granite monoliths, although some standing marble tablets exist. A few obelisks dot the landscape while two granite mausoleums mark Ragan and Separk burial sites.
Boy Scouts Piedmont Council Headquarters located at 113 W. Third Avenue is among the district's small number of non-residential buildings. In 1938, W.E. Garrison started raising money for the building's construction, which was completed around 1940. The resulting two-story, brick building features decorative buttresses, a flat roof with crenellated parapet and concrete coping, arched panels and cast-stone keys above some windows, and single-leaf entries with transoms. Now converted for use as offices, the building originally housed offices on the first floor and a large banquet hall on the second. The Scouts' Piedmont Council included Alexander, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, McDowell, Polk and Rutherford counties.
The York-Chester Historic District's most prominent landmark is Gastonia High School (800 S. York Street). Designed by Hugh White, between 1922 and 1924 and opened for the 1924-1925 school year, Gastonia High School was one of the finest school buildings in the state at the time of its completion. Rising two stories above a raised basement, with a third story in the central frontispiece, the twenty-one bay building presents a monumental edifice to York Street. The red brick Tudor Gothic building features lavish limestone moldings and ornament including panels, finials, quoins, window hoods, and window sills. A grand stone staircase leads to a double-leaf entry recessed in a Tudor arch opening. Windows retain transoms and four-over-four and six-over-six sash. The school originally had an E-shaped footprint, but a 1954 addition between the south wing and the central wing altered the footprint. The building has been converted for use as Ashley Arms Apartments.
During the mid-twentieth century as schools swelled with baby boomers and educators proposed curriculum changes, high school campuses across the country expanded using Modernist architecture. As more students enrolled in and completed high school and as the country's economy became increasingly urban and industrial, vocational classes were added for those students who sought skilled trade occupations that did not require college degrees. Additionally, physical education became more structured and attained more importance within the educational field during the mid- and late-twentieth century. In 1955, a two-story, Modernist Vocational Building (362 W. Garrison Boulevard) was added to the Gastonia High School campus at the southeast corner of York Street and Seventh Avenue (Garrison Boulevard). About ten years later, the school built a larger gymnasium (245 Garrison Boulevard) to the south beyond the athletic fields. While athletics were included in Gastonia High School's curriculum and physical plant from the school's beginning, the 1965 gymnasium reflects the national movement towards formal physical education.
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†Cynthia de Miranda, Heather Fearnbach, Jennifer Martin and Sarah Woodward, Edwards-Pitman Environmental, Inc., York-Chester Historic District, Gaston County, NC, nomination document, 2005, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Street Names: 10th Avenue West, 2nd Avenue West, 3rd Avenue West, 4th Avenue West, 5th Avenue West, 6th Avenue West, 8th Avenue West, Chester Street South, Clay Street South, Edgewood Circle, Forest Hills Lane, Franklin Boulevard, Garrison Boulevard West, Gibbons Street, Hanna Street, Harvie Avenue, Hillside Drive, Jackson Street, Lee Street, Neil Street, Route 274, Route 29, Route 321, Route 74, South Street, York Street South