Mooresville Historic District
The Mooresville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2012, The Gombach Group.
The Mooresville Historic District represents the most intact remaining area of architecturally and historically significant structures which reflect the early years of Mooresville's development.
The area comprising the Mooresville Historic District is associated with the earliest development of the town. Founded as a direct result of the expansion of the Atlantic, Tennessee and Ohio Railroad, Mooresville grew up around the railroad tracks which run on a north-south course through the center of the district. The focal point in the development of Mooresville was, quite naturally the railroad depot. A replacement depot, built between 1914 and 1925 on the site of the original one, still marks the historical center of town. The buildings in the Mooresville Historic District, and especially the commercial ones, are representative of the burgeoning growth which took place in Mooresville during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in response to trade opportunities presented by the railroad.
The Mooresville Historic District represents a significant and distinguishable entity, most of whose components represent the distinctive vernacular characteristics of late nineteenth and early twentieth century styles. A broad variety of visually interesting examples representing such styles as the late Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Romanesque and Renaissance Revivals, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and Modernistic styles can be found in the district. These well-preserved buildings are interrelated in such a way that they provide both a high level of visual interest and a cohesiveness which separates the Mooresville Historic District from the surrounding area.
Mooresville was founded as a direct result of the railroad. On August 18, 1856 the tracks of the Atlantic, Tennessee and Ohio Railroad were completed between Charlotte and Statesville. Because of the large shipments of cotton that were being produced in South Iredell County at the time, the railroad company decided to build a depot and side track somewhere in the area. Railroad promoters began a campaign in the area in order to be able to locate a site for the depot. Apparently realizing the commercial benefits that would likely follow the establishment of a depot, John Franklin Moore offered a site to the AT&O Railroad for the depot and also offered to sell lots to parties interested in building a town. His offer was accepted and because of it the railroad officials named the place Moore's Siding, a name used until the town was incorporated.
During the midst of the Civil War in 1863, the community of Moore's Siding received a devastating blow when its life-line, the railroad, was taken up to provide tracks for a railroad being built from Greensboro to Danville to help supply Lee's army with provisions. The rails were finally returned and the railroad re-activated in 1872, enabling the town to continue its development.
The history of the Town of Mooresville officially began on March 3, 1873, when the N.C. Legislature passed a bill incorporating the town. The bill set forth that the town government should consist of a mayor and six commissioners. The AT&O depot was officially made the geographic center of town, with the corporate limits extending one mile in all directions from the depot. At first the town consisted of only two roads, the Public Road (now Main Street) running north and south and the Main Cross Street (now Center Avenue) running east and west.
An early account of Mooresville was printed in the Statesville Landmark on July 18, 1874. According to John B. Hussey, "We were present at the Sheriff's tax paying in Mooresville on Wednesday. Mooresville is the "Hickory" of the AT&O Railroad. It is a promising and flourishing town, with a fine cotton and corn country to sustain it. Last year the railroad receipts amounted to $10,000. More than 1000 bales of cotton were shipped over the AT&O R.R. besides a large amount hauled out in wagons to Charlotte and Concord..."
In fact, Mooresville did develop in the late nineteenth century into a trading center in the southern part of the county which became for a time a rival of Statesville. Its trade, however, was mostly in general supplies with an emphasis on farming implements and fertilizers. The "fine cotton and corn country" surrounding Mooresville, as mentioned in Hyssey's account, helped the town to become in the late nineteenth century the center of cotton trade in Iredell County as well as a flour mill center. In 1878 a steam engine was brought to town to run a saw mill, which must have added tremendous impetus to the building trade in Mooresville.
With the growth of prosperity came many amenities to community life, including schools, churches and town beautification. Again John F. Moore, dabbed the "Father of Mooresville," was at the forefront. In 1874 he deeded land to the school trustees and the Grange for an academy which was built soon thereafter and which lasted until the Mooresville Graded Schools opened in the early twentieth century. Other academies followed the one with which Moore was associated (although when the town was founded there was already a one-room public free school known as North Bend). Several churches were also established, the first being the Presbyterian Church. The church was officially organized on November 13, 1875 with nineteen members, all of whom came from nearby Prospect Church. Initially the congregation met in the Academy building, but by 1876 a church building had been constructed on a lot given by John F. Moore at the corner of Church Street and McLelland Avenue. In 1899 the present Gothic Revival church (First Presbyterian Church, 249 W. McLelland Avenue) was erected at the northeast corner of W. McLelland Avenue and S. Academy Street. In 1880 a major effort at town beautification took place. An interesting note in the minutes of the February 1880 meeting of the Town Board reveals that in honor of Washington's birthday (which fell on a Sunday that year), the commissioners asked that every family living inside the Town limits plant a tree on Saturday the 21st in order that "the shade beauty, and appearance of our Town may be enhanced for those who come after us." Subsequent minutes suggest that a great tree-planting did, in fact, take place on that day.
Large-scale industry began in Mooresville toward the end of the nineteenth century with the organization of the Mooresville Cotton Mills in 1893 and with other textile mills, cotton oil mills, and flour mills. The textile industry remains the major industry in Mooresville today.
The result of the railroad facilities and then the establishment of industry in Mooresville was a boom period of growth during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The population recorded at the first meeting of the Town Board in 1873 was only twenty-five. However, by 1880 the population had grown to 584, by 1890 to 886, and by 1900 to 1,533. According to the Sanborn Insurance Company Maps, the 1914 population was 3,500 and by 1925 it had jumped again to 7,000.
By 1907 Mooresville had become quite a town. According to an article written by D.S.H. Stevenson (one of the first physicians in town) and placed in a zinc box in the cornerstone of Central School when it was laid in ceremonies on June 29, 1907 read, "Mooresville at this date has a white and colored Baptist Church, a white and colored Methodist Church, a white and colored Presbyterian Church and an Associate Reform Presbyterian Church and a colored Congregational Church. Mooresville has 10 grocery stores, 8 meat markets, 2 hardware stores, 2 drug stores, 1 pants factory, 4 brick yards, 2 barber shops, 3 cotton gins, 1 cotton seed oil mill, 2 hotels, 3 cotton mills, 1 sawmill, 1 bank, 1 loan & trust co., 2 real estate agencies, 2 lawyers, 1 dentist, 5 doctors of medicine, 1 newspaper, 1 free town library, and an excellent system of electric lights and local telephone. There is also a Masonic, a Phythian, Odd Fellows and Jr. O.V.A.M. Lodges with Heptosophs and Royal Arcanum Insurance Lodges. There are two furniture stores and one furniture factory...."
By 1914 there were four cotton mills, two flour mills, two cotton seed oil mills, a furniture factory, a large lumber plant, automobile and vehicle shops, a bottling works, an ice factory, a mattress factory, and several other minor industries. In 1914 another interesting step toward the beautification of the town was taking place. All wooden electric light poles were removed from the business section of Main Street and the wires were placed underground and connected with iron standards surmounted by glass globes at the principal corners.
By encompassing the most intact remaining portion of the heart of Mooresville centered around the depot, the Mooresville Historic District reflects well the growth of the town during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The greatest strength of the Mooresville Historic District is the commercial section, whose buildings represent approximately three-quarters of all buildings in the district. The commercial segment is amazingly intact and is especially well-preserved, providing a good view of Mooresville's commercial assets during the early twentieth century. Such elements as the continued presence of the stores on the four corners of the center of town (intersection of Center Avenue and Main and Broad streets) which appeared on the first Sanborn Insurance Company Map of Mooresville in 1902, the large number of unaltered store facades, and the remarkable interior of the D.E. Turner Co. Hardware store which has remained unaltered since it was built and even contains examples of some of its early merchandise, add a rich historical and visual overlay to the present commercial activities of the area. The Sanborn Insurance Maps for Mooresville give not only a clear picture of the development of the town, and especially its commercial area, but also reveal by comparison with extant buildings, just how historically intact the Mooresville Historic District is.
Adding to the view of Mooresville's early history as seen in the commercial area of the district are the other portions of the district, including perhaps the most visually intact of Mooresville's early industries — the Lorene Cotton Seed Oil Mill — and the most intact area of Mooresville's early residential development, centered along S. Academy Street between W. McLelland Avenue and W. Center Avenue and including the 1899 First Presbyterian Church, the oldest remaining church building in town and the second church of Mooresville's oldest congregation.
The local interpretations of nationally popular architectural styles which are present in the Mooresville Historic District — including the Greek Revival, Gothic. Revival, Italianate Revival, Romanesque and Renaissance Revivals, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and Modernistic — along with the design quality of the buildings and their generally well-preserved state contribute greatly to the historical and architectural cohesiveness of the district. Although some buildings neither add nor detract from the particular qualities of this district and function more or less as architectural or historical "fill," almost no buildings actually serve as a negative intrusion to the important district characteristics.
The totality of the architectural and historical elements in the Mooresville Historic District provides a solid view of a successful Piedmont railroad town which had its beginnings in the late nineteenth century and developed into a substantial trading and industrial town in the twentieth century. In comparison with other towns of similar background in the Piedmont, the central core of Mooresville which comprises its historic district stands out in quality and intactness. This is especially true of the commercial portion of the district, for whereas the residential portion is not as large and complete as the residential districts in Statesville, the commercial area is more intact and somewhat less altered than the Statesville Commercial Historic District, although the Statesville district has more large-scale and grandiose commercial structures than the generally, smaller-scale stores and banks, of Mooresville.
† Laura A. W. Phillips, Consultant for North Carolina Department of Archives and History, Survey and Planning Branch, Mooresville Historic District, Iredell County, NC, nomination document, 1980, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.