West High Street Historic District
The West High Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] adaptation copyright © 2011.
The West High Street Historic District is a group of eleven buildings and one garden in the central area of High Point, Guilford County, North Carolina, three blocks west of Main Street. The West High Street Historic District borders the North Carolina Railroad tracks that run through the center of town. The district, approximately four acres large, includes three city blocks: the 400 and 500 blocks of West High Street, which run east-west along the south side of the North Carolina Railroad tracks, and the 100 block of Oak Street, which runs north-south and adjoins West High Street in the middle of the district. Eleven resources contribute to the significance of the West High Street Historic District: six houses, three outbuildings, the Kirkman House garden, and the Kirkman Manufacturing Company (1899), a two-story frame factory adjacent to the O. Arthur Kirkman property (National Register, 1988). The buildings in this West High Street Historic District date from 1879 to 1922, and it contains the oldest documented building surviving in the downtown area, the 1879 Blair School (National Register, 1989), a frame, cruciform-shaped building. Also found in the West High Street Historic District is one of the city's finest examples of the Queen Anne style, the 1897 Annettie Brown House. The Fraser-Wilson House (1905) and the W.T. Kirkman House (1900) are large Colonial Revival style houses. The O. Arthur Kirkman House (1915) is a brick Colonial Revival/Bungalow-Craftsman style house (National Register, 1988). The only noncontributing building is the American Legion Post No. 87 (1960).
All of the contributing buildings in the West High Street Historic District retain their architectural character from the period of significance, possess integrity of design, feeling and association, and exhibit fine workmanship, with architectural details that represent their historic period. All of the contributing buildings in the West High Street Historic District are built of natural materials native to the area: hardwoods, brick, and granite. Five of the ten contributing buildings in the district are listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places: the O. Arthur Kirkman House and Outbuildings, with four buildings total, at 501-503 West High Street, and the 1879 Blair School at 106 Oak Street.
Contributing also to the feeling, design and setting of the West High Street Historic District's historic time and place are narrow streets, sidewalks, granite curbs, brick and granite retaining walls, broad lawns, old trees and other mature plantings. The O. Arthur Kirkman House and Outbuildings at 501-503 West High Street maintains its historic gardens covering over one and a quarter acres, representing the last surviving urban "estate" in High Point, a city which once had many homes with large lots that incorporated extensive gardens.
In addition, historic properties and neighborhoods are located near the West High Street Historic District to the north, south, east, and west. To the north across the North Carolina Railroad tracks is the Oakwood Historic District with resources dating from 1901 to 1939 (National Register, 1990). To the east, within less than 600 feet, at 305 West High Street, is the Tomlinson Chair Manufacturing Company Complex (National Register, 1983). To the west, adjacent to the West High Street Historic District, is a late nineteenth and early twentieth century industrial complex which includes the 1881 A.A. Barker Company Manufacturing Building, the oldest factory building in High Point, and a collection of brick factory buildings built by Hayworth Roll and Panel Company, beginning in 1905, the first manufacturing company of wooden veneers in the state.
The West High Street Historic District, located in the 400-500 blocks of West High Street and the 100 block of Oak Street, is an approximately four-acre district combining residential, educational, and industrial uses in the central area of High Point, North Carolina, three blocks west of the central business district on Main Street. As the oldest of two residential neighborhoods in the historic downtown, the period of significance of the West High Street Historic District begins in 1879 with the construction of Blair School (National Register, 1989), and ends in 1922 with the construction of the Ring House, a Bungalow. The West High Street Historic District represents a concentration of stylish houses, a school and a factory along the railroad tracks built by prominent industrialists and merchants, some interrelated. Blair School, a cross-gabled one-story frame building, was constructed in 1879, and is the oldest surviving school in the city. The Queen Anne-style Brown House, built in 1897 by the widow of High Point physician Dr. John Riley Brown, is among the oldest and finest examples of the style in High Point. The W.T. Kirkman House, built in 1900, is a large frame Colonial Revival-style house. The frame Fraser-Wilson House, built in 1905, is one of the finest Colonial Revival-style houses in the city. The O. Arthur Kirkman House (National Register, 1988), built in 1915, is an eclectic house of Flemish bond brick with Colonial Revival-Bungalow/Craftsman elements. Its one and a quarter acre-site includes three brick outbuildings dating from 1902-1917 and a historic garden. O. Arthur Kirkman's 1899 mattress factory is located adjacent to his house, reflecting the first phase of industrial development in High Point, when manufacturers often lived beside or nearby their factories and businesses. The West High Street Historic District is significant for community planning and development and for architecture. Although the Brown House has been moved from its original location, it meets National Register criteria because it was moved only one block and remains in its historic community, is significant primarily for its architectural value, and its new setting is quite similar to the original setting.
High Point, incorporated in 1859, was named by surveyors of the North Carolina Railroad in 1855 because it was the highest point along the entire line. Built alongside the North Carolina railroad tracks, the West High Street Historic District is located along the highest elevation in the city. West High Street is thus appropriately named. Adding to this sense of the district's height is the fact that the North Carolina Railroad tracks that border the West High Street Historic District to the north were lowered in 1938-1939 as a federal project of the Works Progress Administration of the New Deal. At first known only for its hotel and the dried fruits produced by the surrounding farming community, High Point remained small, with a population of only 1,500 people in 1885, until the emergence of furniture manufacturing in the 1890s. Located at the center of North Carolina's hardwood forests, High Point became North Carolina's nucleus of furniture manufacturing and furniture marketing between 1888 and the early 1920s, the period of the West High Street Historic District's era of significance.
The original name of West High Street was West Railroad Avenue. "High Street" appears for the first time in the High Point City Directory in 1911. The orientation to the railroad tracks exemplifies the early twentieth century trend of Southern well-to-do builders of substantial homes to locate along major transportation arteries, often near factories or commercial buildings. The first residents of the West High Street Historic District contributed to this success by helping to foster furniture manufacturing and marketing as the basis for economic growth of the city.
The oldest building in the West High Street Historic District is Blair School, built at the corner of West High and Oak Streets, in 1879. Originally built as Lynch's Select School for Boys, the private school became in 1882 the city's first public school under the direction of William A. Blair for whom it was named. The schoolhouse consisted of three spacious wooden rooms: a large rectangular auditorium running north-south and two large recital rooms on the east and west respectively. The schoolhouse, abandoned in favor of the larger public graded school opened for the first time in 1898, was bought that same year by O. Arthur Kirkman to be used as a private residence. Kirkman added decorative Victorian era porches on three sides, and resided there until around 1911, when he moved the building south approximately sixty feet on his property in order to build his second home on West High Street.
The oldest house on West High Street that stands on its original site is the 1900 W.T. "Tom" Kirkman House at 415 West High Street. The large frame Colonial Revival-style house was built for Tom Kirkman, half-brother of O. Arthur Kirkman who lived next door. Tom and his wife Laura Coffin, had nine children, seven of whom survived. Tom owned a successful dry goods store on Main Street three blocks east of his home. He served as one of High Point's first aldermen between 1898 and 1903, and supported early efforts in banking to foster economic growth of the city as a director of the locally-owned Home Banking Company between 1908 and 1915. A picture documenting Kirkman's civic service hangs in High Point's city council chambers.
At 407 West High Street, early furniture manufacturer Henry Fraser built a large and very stylish frame Colonial Revival style house in 1905. Fraser founded the Alma Furniture Company in 1895 and Myrtle Desk Company in 1899, named after his daughter Isla Myrtle Fraser. Both companies were located along West High Street nearby Fraser's home. Both companies were bought by Charles E. Hayworth, Sr. in the 1920s when Fraser moved to Florida. In the coming decades, under the direction of the Hayworth family, these companies became the largest employer in the city and, after World War II, the largest producer of wooden office furniture in the United States.
Fraser's daughter, Isla Myrtle, and her husband, L.C. Sinclair, President of Myrtle Desk Company, built in 1906 a large Queen Anne-style house at 409 West High Street, next door to Henry Fraser. The Sinclair House was destroyed in 1960 to construct the American Legion building. When the Sinclairs moved to Florida in the 1920s, Henry Fraser sold his house at 407 West High Street and moved to Florida in 1926 to be with them. The second owner of Henry Fraser's home was George F. Wilson, who owned and operated the High Point Motor Company, a successful automobile dealership in the 1920s and early 1930s.
The most significant industrialist who resided in the West High Street Historic District is O. Arthur Kirkman Sr. (1875-1930). His second residence was built in 1915 at 501 West High Street, on the site of the Blair School which he had resided in previously. Kirkman was one of High Point's first auxiliary manufacturers within the burgeoning furniture industry of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. High Point's first era of substantial economic development as a furniture manufacturing town and furniture market center occurred between 1898 and 1930, the span of Kirkman's adult life. He played a substantial role in this development. Kirkman reasoned early and wisely that since the town was producing beds and bedroom furniture, there was a market for mattresses, boxsprings, pillows, and cots. Kirkman founded his mattress factory in 1899, the O. Arthur Kirkman Manufacturing Company, at 507 West High Street, next door to his first home located at 501 West High Street. Others soon followed who produced hardware and varnishes, for example, and later fabric and glass. In each of his eight promotional books on High Point between 1900 and 1916, J.J. Farriss, editor of the local newspaper, the High Point Enterprise, pointed to the achievements of the O. Arthur Kirkman Manufacturing Company and to Kirkman as a civic leader. By 1913, he had made his fortune and sold the company.
Between 1913 and 1924, Kirkman owned and operated a series of businesses from his small brick office on the property at 503 West High Street. His businesses included real estate, a coal distribution company, a harness company, and in 1917 the Interurban Motor Line which ran the first motorized taxi service between High Point and Greensboro. Foremost, however, during this period between 1913 and 1924, Kirkman traded in real estate. Guilford County courthouse records show Kirkman to be one of the area's leading developers. For example, in 1916, J.J. Farriss noted that Kirkman was developing some of the best business property in the city and highlighted that he had recently "made the largest single deal recorded in real estate circles here." In the early 1920s, Kirkman helped to put together a fifty-acre tract of land for High Point College (now High Point University) founded in 1924. Along with William Simmons, Kirkman owned one of the city's earliest furniture exhibition buildings between 1912 and 1915 and helped to develop the Southern Furniture Exposition Building in 1922, now the International Home Furnishings Market, the largest furniture market in the world.
In 1924, in partnership with prominent Thomasville businessman Tom Finch, Kirkman bought the High Point, Thomasville, & Denton Railroad, which ran successfully as a connector line for the furniture industry under his management until his death in 1930. His son, O. Arthur Kirkman, Jr., 1900-1985, who lived his entire life at 501 West High Street, managed the railroad after the death of his father in 1930 until 1965 when it was sold to the Norfolk-Western and Seaboard Coastline Railroad. The younger Kirkman served in politics as Mayor of High Point in the 1930s, and served several terms on the High Point City Council and as the North Carolina State Senator from Guilford County between 1948 and 1961. While serving in the North Carolina Senate in the 1950s, Kirkman considered running for governor, but declined because of a friend's candidacy. O. Arthur Kirkman, Jr.'s wife, Katharine Morgan Kirkman, was the first woman to be elected to the High Point City Council, serving in the 1950s, and was appointed to the city's Parks and Recreation Commission. Guilford County's Kirkman Park Elementary School on Centennial Drive in High Point is named after this family.
As the owner of a railroad, O. Arthur Kirkman, Sr. kept a private railroad car on a spur in front of his office at 503 West High Street. Although the private car is now gone, remnants of the spur are still evident. At the time, owners of railroads could hook up their private cars to any train free of charge. In the 1920s, twenty-six passenger trains stopped daily in High Point. Kirkman enjoyed this advantage of railroad ownership and traveled widely by private railroad car until his death in 1930. Kirkman's wife, Lulu "Lula" Blanche Hammer Kirkman (1875-1936) was said to have always kept at least one bag packed.
In his civic life, O. Arthur Kirkman, Sr. served on the first Parks Commission in High Point and for a short term in the late 1920s as a municipal judge..
Throughout the early decades of the twentieth century, population grew in High Point, fueled first by the development of the furniture industry in the 1890s and then by the development of textile manufacturing introduced in 1905. Growing population, along with the first streetcars introduced in 1910, led to the beginnings of suburban growth, which were accelerated later in the 1920s by the increasing availability of automobiles. Population expanded from 14,302 in 1920, to 36,745 in 1930. Downtown residential areas survived alongside this suburban growth until the second era of economic prosperity arrived after World War II. As the furniture market expanded in downtown High Point throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and again in the 1980s and 1990s, the historic domestic architecture of downtown High Point was destroyed to make way for commercial expansion.
Community Planning and Development Context
The West High Street Historic District reflects High Point's settlement patterns of the first generation of merchants, professionals, and industrialists. They lived near their factories and within easy walking distance of downtown, before the advent of trolleys and automobiles. The West High Street Historic District represents a "walking" downtown, a compact urban design popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Pre-suburban High Point was originally within a half mile radius of the center of town, where the 1855 North Carolina Railroad tracks crossed the Old Plank Road (now Main Street) completed in 1853. The Southern Railway Depot (1905), at the corner of West High Street and South Main Street, is still considered the center of town. Incorporated in 1859, High Point grew in concentric rings from this central point. Good rail connections were paramount to the success of a small industrial town like High Point. The West High Street Historic District is located beside the North Carolina Railroad tracks, demonstrating the popular practice in small southern towns to build fine homes fronting the railroad which often ran through the center of town.
As the oldest surviving residential neighborhood in the original central core, the West High Street Historic District represents an important example of historic community development. The district exemplifies a compact urban design popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries before the advent of trolleys and automobiles, when people got around primarily by foot, or by horse and carriage. (High Point's first trolley arrived in 1910.)These grand dwellings were the homes of High Point's early manufacturers, businessmen, and professionals. The West High Street Historic District also demonstrates the practice of manufacturers to live near their factories. O. Arthur Kirkman's mattress factory is next door to his residence. The factories of Alma and Myrtle Desk Companies, owned by Henry Fraser, were located two blocks west of his home.
On the whole, residential architecture in Guilford County tended to be modest throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Guilford County was settled mostly by yeoman farmers of English, German, and Scotch-Irish descent with an unusually large concentration of Quakers. Domestic building was composed first mostly of simple log and brick houses, often in a Quaker plan; later came the ubiquitous vernacular farmhouses in a central hall or L-shaped plan. These house types were common to both the countryside and the small towns until the turn of the twentieth century when the urban centers of Greensboro and High Point experienced unprecedented growth. Population in High Point expanded from 1,500 people in 1885 to approximately 6,000 in 1902, to 14,302 by 1920.
In High Point, splendid, sprawling houses in Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and Neo-Classical Revival styles, often in combination with Bungalow/Craftsman influences arriving in the early 1910s, were built throughout the city. Many were quite elaborate. They were located along West High and Main Streets, but also on West Broad and East Washington (now Kivett Drive), Oakwood, Hamilton, Chestnut, Steel, Elm, English, Lindsay, and Wrenn Streets. Some of these houses, especially along Main Street, were exceptionally grand, reflecting the enormous profits made during the first boom era of the furniture industry in High Point. Early photographs of the city show broad tree-lined streets, mature plantings, even setbacks, complementary heights, and a host of decorative work like wrought iron fences and vine-laden trellises that reflect a small, prosperous southern town. This historic High Point was captured in photographs in the J.J. Farriss' promotional books on High Point between 1896 and 1916. Today, except for a handful of isolated buildings, the only residential neighborhoods to survive from this original area of downtown development are the West High Street Historic District dating from 1879 to 1922 and the larger, and later, middle class Oakwood Historic District (National Register, 1990) north of the railroad dating from 1902 to 1939. The catalogue of historic architecture for Guilford County describes the West High Street district as "a small but significant neighborhood of substantial late nineteenth and early twentieth century dwellings, a rare survival in the center city area."
The oldest building in the West High Street Historic District is Blair School at 106 Oak Street built in 1879. This simple, one-story, frame building is a fine architectural example of its era, first used as a schoolhouse from 1879 to 1896, and later as the residence of O. Arthur Kirkman from 1898 to 1911. Its original windows and doors with gabled lintels are found on nineteenth century schoolhouses. Then, when Kirkman converted the school to his residence in 1898, the porches and decorative Victorian style embellishments he added typify the modest frame "carpenter" cottages of the late nineteenth century American South.
The 1897 Annettie Brown House at 110 Oak Street, is the earliest example of the Queen Anne style in High Point. Other Queen Anne style houses survive, but most reflect the later transitional Queen Anne/Colonial Revival style. The Brown House features the only surviving Queen Anne style turret in the city, as well as picturesque bay windows, stained glass, two wraparound front porches with turned wooden posts and balustrade, and a highly irregular roof line with three gables. Originally located at 401 West High Street at the eastern edge of the district, the Brown House was scheduled for demolition in November of 2003 by its owner, Lee Industries of Newton, NC, to expand their furniture showroom. In March of 2004, the house was moved one block west within the district, approximately 500 feet from point to point, completely intact, to 110 Oak Street. It was positioned to have an even setback and elevation to its neighbor, Blair School, at 106 Oak Street. In terms of location, materials, workmanship, feeling and association, the Brown House remains integral to the West High Street Historic District and its period of significance between 1879 and 1922.
The oldest and the finest examples of the Colonial Revival style of architecture in the original city limits of High Point are both found in the West High Street Historic District. The W.T. Kirkman House, built in 1900, at 415 West High Street, is the oldest example of the Colonial Revival style. This simple, but imposing frame, clapboard house features a tall hip roof, with central gable with arched windows, rear dormer, and three brick chimneys. Its wide wraparound front porch extends the full width of the house and wraps to both the east and west. The Fraser-Wilson House at 407 West High Street, built in 1905, represents the finest example of the Colonial Revival style of architecture in the original core area of High Point. Its heavy modillion cornice hipped roof, front gabled dormer with a Palladian window motif, is unique in the city; and its fifteen-foot wide wraparound front porch extending to a porch cochere with sixteen Ionic columns adjoined by a heavy wooden balustrade has no equal in High Point. Other Colonial Revival style houses survive in the historic districts of Oakwood Historic District (National Register,) and Johnson Street Historic District (a local district with early twentieth century houses, considered High Point's first suburb), both located to the north of the NC Railroad. But the W.T. Kirkman House and the Fraser-Wilson House, both in the West High Street Historic District, are the oldest and finest historic examples respectively of the Colonial Revival style in the city.
The last surviving urban estate, with large lot and garden, is also located in the West High Street Historic District, the O. Arthur Kirkman House and Outbuildings, at 501-503 West High Street. When Kirkman built his house in 1915, many houses in downtown High Point could be considered urban estates with large lots and extensive gardens often including outbuildings. As population and commercial pressures increased throughout the twentieth century, these estates were divided into smaller lots, and the grand houses and their outbuildings were torn down. Today, the O. Arthur Kirkman House and Outbuildings is the only one to survive. Equally unique as part of this historic complex, is the survival of the 1899 frame O. Arthur Kirkman Manufacturing Company building to the west at 507 West High Street, adjacent to his home and gardens; as well as the survival of his first home, Blair School, next door to the south at 106 Oak Street. Kirkman's second home, a two-story front gabled house, has a Bungalow/Craftsman form with Colonial Revival and Tudor details reflecting the popular tendency to incorporate eclectic styles at the turn of the twentieth century. The house contains more than 250 square feet of stained glass windows and high quality quartersawn oak also popular during this period. Its interior has a dark finishes typical of the pre-World War I era. The one and a quarter acre of gardens to the south and west contain three brick outbuildings, including an early 1902 solid brick office used by Kirkman, as well as a number of ornamental garden features, including a wrought iron fountain, a large cement fish pond, and brick and rock garden walls.
Overall, the West High Street Historic District contains a high quality collection of residences that stand out among High Point's late nineteenth and early twentieth century neighborhoods.
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________. Just for the Fun of It. Forward by Sarah Richardson Hayworth. Edited by Triva W. Mathis. Greensboro, NC. Quaker Collection. Guilford College, Greensboro, NC.
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† Dorothy Gay Darr and Ruth Little, West High Street Historic District, Guilford County, NC, nomination document, 2006, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.