Rosemount-McIver Park Historic District
The Rosemount-McIver Park Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Rosemount-McIver Park Historic District is composed of two early-twentieth century residential neighborhoods in the City of Sanford, Lee County, North Carolina. The Rosemount neighborhood began to develop to the northwest of Sanford's downtown after 1900, eventually supplanting earlier neighborhoods as the town's most fashionable residential enclave. In 1923, during a period of tobacco and industrial-based prosperity in Sanford, developers Kate S. McIver and Cross & Brinn established McIver Park adjacent to the Rosemount neighborhood. Local engineer William F. Cooke and landscape architect Robert Cridland of Philadelphia and Atlanta contributed to the design of McIver Park's curving drives, brick and stone gateways, and stream-side park, and the new subdivision soon earned with Rosemount a place of distinction in the history of community planning and development in Sanford. Affluent home builders hired talented local and out-of-town architects and contractors to design and build some of Sanford's finest residences. Construction commenced with rambling Late Victorian and Queen Anne style houses during the first two decades of the century; by the late 1920s the emphasis had shifted to Craftsman Bungalows and Tudor Revival houses; and in the 1930s and early 1940s residences in the Colonial Revival style predominated. Among the Rosemount-McIver Park Historic District's many notable properties are the 1910 James C. Williams House (306 West Weatherspoon Street), a gambrel-roofed Queen Anne built from published plans; a collection of imaginative Tudor Revival houses designed by architect L.M. Thompson in the 1920s and built by African-American contractor A. Lincoln Boykin, including the 1928-29 Edward and Ethel Heins House (410 North Gulf Street), which features carved bargeboards and an oriel window; and the 1936 Robert and Rebecca Benson House (223 North Vance Street), a sophisticated Colonial Revival residence designed by Charlotte architect J.R. Thrower. The Rosemount-McIver Park Historic District retains a near totality of its historic homes, with few modern intrusions, and its park, landscaped yards, and shaded streets preserve much of their historic character. The Rosemount-McIver Park Historic District is significant for the years ca.1900 to 1941, covering the principal period of historic construction in the neighborhoods.
Historical Background and Community Planning and Development Context
Sanford is located in Lee County in the tobacco-growing Piedmont section of North Carolina. The city has its genesis in the crossing of two rail lines in the 1870s, and early developers included railroad officials, among them John W. Scott, Sr., whose daughter Kate S. McIver would play an important role in the development of McIver Park. Sanford's initial growth was stimulated by the establishment of industries such as the Sanford Sash & Blind Company, the Moffitt Iron Works, and brownstone quarries that figured as an important nationwide supplier of the prized building material by the mid-1890s. Other developments transpired at the turn of the century — a cotton mill was built, the first banks opened, the town gained a locally owned and operated rail line — and by 1907 Sanford and the adjoining town of Jonesboro had amassed sufficient clout to put a new county on the state map, Lee County.
Industrial expansion translated into population growth. Sanford's population stood at 450 in 1890. By 1908 that figure had swelled to an estimated 1,800 and by 1915 it rose higher still to 3,000. Much of the new population was absorbed into the working-class white neighborhood of East Sanford and the African-American neighborhoods located south of the downtown. Some merchants, factory managers, and professionals congregated on Hawkins Avenue, a prestigious address since the 1870s, and on other streets leading north and west from the downtown. Third Street in East Sanford, the location of big Queen Anne-style houses built by industrialists and others in the two decades around 1900, failed to sustain its development as a fashionable district in later decades owing to the close proximity of factories and worker cottages.
Existing neighborhoods could not accommodate the growing demand for middle- and upper-income housing, and around 1900 landowners laid out new streets and lots to the northwest of the downtown, extending the tilted northwest-southeast orthogonal grid established in the 1870s. This new neighborhood, ranged along North Steele, Endor, and North Gulf streets, came to be known as Rosemount (also known as "Rosemont"). The "mount" in the name referred to a general rise in topography to a crest on West Weatherspoon Street at the northwest end of the section, and its lofty elevation above the rest of Sanford inspired another name: "Piety Hill."
The earliest known plat for Rosemount dates to 1910 and was drafted by W.G. Potter, a Greensboro civil engineer. The first houses appeared in the neighborhood at about the same time. Among these were the one-story frame Queen Anne home of lumberman J.U. Gunter at 311 Summit Drive, built in 1905, and its similar contemporary at 307 North Horner Boulevard. The 1910s saw increased construction activity, including the erection of some of the first brick houses in town: building supplier Thomas E. King's grand two-story residence, built at 217 N. Gulf Street in 1914, and English-born electrical engineer Frederick P. Strong's house, begun at 301 N. Gulf Street in 1917. Photographs of the Strong House under construction show its surroundings as a dense stand of second- or third-growth short-leaf pine.
By May 1925, the publication date of the first Sanborn maps to cover Rosemount, sixty-three houses stood in the neighborhood, and approximately half the lots had been occupied. By September 1930 the number of houses had risen to eighty, including two back-lot apartments and two duplexes. Several homeowners, among them the brick-manufacturing Casey and Isenhour families, later built rental duplexes (200-02 North Gulf Street and 206 North Gulf Street) on lots near their residences. As development quickened in Rosemount during the 1920s, up-scale construction activity lessened in Sanford's other, more established neighborhoods. Rosemount's success likely served as inspiration for the developers of its next-door neighbor, the McIver Park subdivision. The two originally separate neighborhoods followed the same course of development during the latter 1920s and 1930s, both appealing to Sanford's business and professional elite and both filling with frame and brick houses in the popular eclectic styles of the period.
McIver Park was the brainchild of developer Kate Scott McIver (1869-1947) and the real estate firm of Cross & Brinn, comprised of Tom S. "Lux" Cross and Joseph Edward Brinn (1887-1946). Kate Scott, herself from one of Sanford's leading families, married local entrepreneur and politician Duncan E. McIver in 1893 and carried on her husband's business activities after his death in 1913. By the early 1920s she had established herself as one of Sanford's principal developers. In 1916, Cross and Brinn formed the Sanford Real Estate Loan and Insurance Company (soon renamed Cross & Brinn), and by the early 1920s each held places of influence in local business circles: Cross as a board member of the Chamber of Commerce, and Brinn as secretary and treasurer of the Sanford Bank & Loan Association, the dominant local lender for residential construction during the period. McIver, Cross, and Brinn joined forces in January 1923 to develop a twenty-six-acre tract located to the west of the growing Rosemount neighborhood and belonging to McIver, an area described as "pure forest and good 'rabbithuntin' ground."
The group hired local engineer William F. Cooke and landscape architect Robert Cridland to lay off the new development of McIver Park into lots and streets. Cridland practiced as an architect in Philadelphia from the 1890s to the 1910s, and thereafter he focused on landscape design, designing parks for the exclusive Atlanta suburb of Avondale Estates in the mid-1920s, among other projects. According to one account, he spent a single day acquainting himself with the McIver Park site, and left on the evening train to Philadelphia $500 richer for his efforts. Cridland and Cooke's plan would have been standard in the suburbs of the larger cities of the period, with curving streets fitted to the topography and amenities such as a stream-side park and masonry gateways marking the entrances to the development, but for Sanford it represented a pivotal departure from the traditional orthogonal grid approach to urban design. Nearly all Sanford residential developments since have incorporated curvilinear plans. House construction began in January 1924, the earliest residences clustering towards the northeast/Rosemount end of the development. A period newspaper account identified the "cottage" of Frank Clegg as the first house, although a later account gave that distinction to the gambreled Colonial Revival residence of developer T.S. Cross, located at the Summit Drive entrance to the subdivision (502 Summit Drive). Contractor Vesper C. Brown completed the "second" house by Christmas 1924, a Foursquare influenced frame house at 510 Summit Drive (Brown-Yarborough House), and Harvey Kennedy erected his brick Craftsman Bungalow at 503 Summit Drive soon after. Construction continued through the Twenties but dropped off after the stock market crash of October 1929. A second growth spurt occurred in 1939-40, when thirteen houses were built, many of them on sparsely-settled Hillcrest Drive, and by the end of 1940 a total of thirty-seven residences are said to have stood in McIver Park.
Early deeds placed a number of restrictions on lot purchasers. Only houses and their outbuildings were permitted in the development. The houses had to be set back at least forty feet from front property lines and ten feet from side lines. No wooden fences were allowed, only masonry or wire fences and walls. Deeds from the 1920s disallowed the construction of houses of less than $4,000 value. By 1940 this threshold had been relaxed to $3,000. During the entire pre-World War II period, deeds stipulated that "the premises shall not be occupied by negroes," with the exception of black servants and their families." Like many suburbs developed elsewhere in the state during the period, McIver Park was a segregated community.
McIver Park originally included few secondary dwellings that would have served as rental units or servants quarters. Servants, the majority of whom were black, either lived in the same dwelling with their employer, or at their own residence outside the neighborhood. The arrangement is typified by the experience of Martha Cameron, who worked as a maid and cook for E.L. and Frances R. Morgan at their 217 Hillcrest Drive home. Cameron stayed in a basement efficiency apartment at the Morgans' during the week and returned to her home in another Sanford neighborhood for the weekends. In later years, homeowners in both McIver Park and Rosemount constructed two-story garage/apartments containing rental units, especially during the post-war housing shortage of the late 1940s.
Home construction on McIver Park's Hillcrest Drive was probably stimulated by the near proximity of the Lee County Hospital. This multi-story complex, built in 1930-31 with assistance from the Duke Endowment, provided Sanford and Lee County with access to superior health care. The complex occupies the site of a quarter-circle of lots laid out in the original scheme for McIver Park, bounded by Park Road, which survives today as a gravel access drive. The hospital's siting in McIver Park no doubt reflected the political influence of Rosemount and McIver Park's prosperous residents, among them then mayor W.R. Williams. The hospital itself is not included in the district, owing to extensive modernizations during its conversion into county administrative offices, but two subsidiary buildings with higher integrity are included: the Lee County Hospital Nurses Home at 112 Hillcrest Drive, a two-story brick boarding house with Colonial and Mediterranean styling, and the utilitarian heating plant, both dating to the 1930s.
Development in McIver Park and Rosemount was interrupted a second time by the restrictions placed on civilian construction during the Second World War. After the war, material shortages, high construction costs, and a continuation of war-time restrictions depressed the local market through the end of 1946. Pent-up demand finally found an outlet in the "building fever" of 1947, with an emphasis on the construction of tract housing for returning veterans and industrial workers, the "victory villages" located in other areas of Sanford. Infill construction in Rosemount and McIver Park appears to have picked up in the late 1940s, much of it focused on the remaining lots in the latter neighborhood. Up-scale construction activity shifted to adjoining areas, especially the McIver Park Addition (platted in 1941), where early modernist residences like the second Lewis D. Isenhour House (1949-50; 300 Carbonton Road) are located. Minor infill construction has continued to the present in the Rosemount-McIver Park Historic District.
The Rosemount and McIver Park neighborhoods largely escaped the decline that plagued many other downtown residential neighborhoods during the second half of the twentieth century, with one exception: the creation of Horner Boulevard (US Route 421) from the pre-existing Endor Avenue about 1960. This four-lane thruway split the neighborhoods from the adjoining North Steele Street neighborhood to the east, and the noise and congestion associated with the road have adversely affected the character of properties bordering it. For the most part, however, Rosemount and McIver Park have survived to the present in good civic health. The appreciation that most property owners in the Rosemount-McIver Park Historic District have for their homes was a factor in the decision by the City of Sanford's Department of Community Development and Historic Preservation and Appearance Commission to work with the neighborhood towards historic district designation.
Architecturally, residential construction in Sanford from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is similar to development elsewhere in the small towns and rural areas of North Carolina and the South. Frame construction predominates, eventually supplemented by brick building as industrialization of brick manufacturing and improvements in rail and highway transportation came about. Detached houses of one, one-and-a-half, and two stories in height represent the norm, and styles are typical of the period. Queen Anne and Late Victorian details and forms remained strong up through the first two decades of the twentieth century, eventually giving way to Craftsman house forms such as bungalows and foursquares and houses in the various revival styles — Colonial, Tudor, and Spanish or Mediterranean among the more popular.
The housing stock of the Rosemount-McIver Park Historic District illustrates these basic trends, but against a background of normalcy, individual houses stand out as representative of progressive attitudes among home builders and the skill and creativity of local builders and architects.
One of the Rosemount neighborhood's earliest houses is also one of its more distinctive designs. The James C. Williams House at 306 W. Weatherspoon Street, built in 1910, ranks as one of Sanford's more impressive Queen Anne residences. The two-story frame dwelling features a gambrel-front roof with kicked eaves and a prominent elliptical attic window. Projecting from this gambrel end is a gabled wing, also with kicked eaves, that resolves into a polygonal bay window at the first-floor level, sheltered under a wraparound veranda supported by classical turned columns. This sophisticated — albeit from an urban perspective, late — Queen Anne house was apparently built from published plans. Nearly identical houses dating to the first decade of the twentieth century appear in Eden, North Carolina, and Newport, Virginia. The ready acceptance of architectural designs from outside the sphere of local tradition, from the national mass-culture to which the more progressive-minded in Sanford and similar communities aspired, is an attribute repeated in later Rosemount-McIver Park residences.
In fact, local tradition is virtually unrepresented in the Rosemount-McIver Park Historic District. Traditional house types like the two-story one-room-deep form or "I house" illustrated by the ca.1910 Dewey H. Cooper House (308 W. Weatherspoon Street) are outnumbered by more expressive, rambling Queen Anne and Late Victorian designs, and — after about 1920 — by Craftsman Bungalows, Foursquares, and eclectic "period cottages." This absence of the vernacular reflects in part the lateness of the district's development, when traditional forms were on the wane throughout the South, but more importantly it results from the area's status as Sanford's most fashionable housing district, populated by educated merchants and professionals, many of them transplants to the area who apparently felt disdain for the older, frumpier, countrified forms.
Home builders of the 1920s also looked to the outside world for guidance. George and Mary Casey, the right-hand man and the daughter of the president of the Isenhour Brick Company, chose a published plan by Atlanta architect Lelia Ross Wilburn for their brick Craftsman Bungalow at 205 N. Gulf Street, completed in 1926. They modified the plan to suit their needs and hired the local Jewell-Riddle Company as their builder. Up the street at 410 N. Gulf Street, telephone executive Edward Heins and his wife Ethel selected "The Devonshire," house plan number T-103 of the Common Brick Manufacturers of America. To realize their Tudor Revival dream house, which features false half-timbering, carved bargeboards, and a quarrel-paned oriel window, in 1928 the Heinses hired architect L.M. Thompson to adapt the design (he substituted locally manufactured brick tile for structural brick, among other minor changes) and A. Lincoln Boykin to complete the framing work.
Thompson and Boykin are among the more accomplished local building tradesmen to operate in the Rosemount-McIver Park Historic District. L.M. Thompson (fl. 1920s and 1930s) is responsible for the design of many of Sanford's large downtown buildings of the 1920s. A number of these feature medieval design elements and brightly colored terra-cotta accents, characteristics that are even more pronounced in the houses Thompson created for clients in the Rosemount and McIver Park neighborhoods. In addition to the Heins House, described above, is the 1928 home of Harry and Lillian Isaacson at 506 Sunset Drive, a quaint Tudor Revival composition straight out of a child's picture book, with red, yellow, and blue chimney pots and a curving front walk laid with variegated blue and gray flagstones, and the first Lewis D. Isenhour House at 318 Summit Drive, a sprawling Tudor Revival/Craftsman house with a porte cochere and Palladian windows built for the son of the Isenhour Brick Company.
Arnold Lincoln "Link" Boykin (ca.1870-1943) has the distinction of being both one of Sanford's most prolific builders and its leading African-American businessman of the early twentieth century. Boykin may have begun practice locally in the 1890s; by the 1910s and 1920s, he and his crew of up to fifty tradesmen were active throughout central North Carolina, erecting houses, schools, commercial blocks, and other buildings for black and white clients alike. Boykin's projects in the Rosemount and McIver Park neighborhoods include the aforementioned Heins and Isaacson houses, a two-story weatherboard and wood-shingled house built in 1924 at 220 N. Gulf Street for railroad engineer S.L. Long and the nearly identical James A. and Susie B. Overton House at 323 N. Vance Street of the same year, and the Mediterranean-influenced brick tourist home built for Ida Coulter at 503 Sunset Drive about 1926. During the 1920s, two other builders active in the district, Vesper C. Brown and William Leon Jewell, built houses for themselves in McIver Park at 510 Summit Drive and 506 Summit Drive, respectively.
Most later houses in the Rosemount-McIver Park Historic District are Colonial Revival in inspiration. McIver Park developer T.S. Cross may have begun the trend with his showcase gambreled house at 502 Summit Drive, built in 1924. Only a few of the Colonials are frame; the majority, built in the 1930s and early 1940s, are of brick or brick veneer construction. An especially fine example of the Colonial Revival style is the home of grocery chain executive Robert J. Benson and his wife Rebecca L. at 223 N. Vance Street, completed in 1936 to a design by Charlotte architect J.R. Thrower. The two-story solid brick house features the standard symmetrical front facade of the style, indicative of a center-passage plan within. Like most twentieth-century "colonial" residences, the Benson House borrows eclectically from a number of source styles, with the pediments over the entry hall doorways inspired by Georgian precedents, and a living room fireplace mantel more in line with the (non-colonial) Federal style. Several of the more modest one-story and story-and-a-half colonials built during the district's 1939-40 construction episode feature boxy dormered forms reminiscent of the New England-derived but nationally popular Cape Cod type. Colonial Revival cottages remained popular after the second world war, giving way in the 1950s to Ranch-style dwellings, several of which stand as infill construction in the district.
The Rosemount-McIver Park Historic District also preserves accomplished landscaping, much of it from the historic period. The well-maintained park along Dry Creek laid out by Robert Cridland in the 1920s is naturalistically planted with dogwoods and other trees. Walking paths and foot bridges sketched out by Cridland do not survive, assuming they were ever realized, but a few concrete and wood benches hint at the original intent. The granite-capped brick gateways at the Summit Drive and Sunset Drive entrances to McIver Park still stand, incorporated into the planting schemes of adjoining residential lots, as do the granite pillars at the intersection of Hillcrest Drive and Carthage Street, which are located just beyond the southern corner of the district and are not included due to intervening noncontributing resources. Most historic landscaping in the district began as the initiative of private property owners. The 1926 George and Mary Casey Craftsman Bungalow at 205 N. Gulf Street retains its original concrete walks, architecturally coordinated with the house, and azalea beds and dogwood plantings that perpetuate Mrs. Casey's original plantings. Most retaining walls along sidewalks are constructed of brick or white quartzite cobbles, but in front of two houses — the Edward and Ethel Heins House at 410 N. Gulf Street and the Beulah Womble House at 502 Sunset Drive — are walls constructed of rich brown rubble-blocks from Sanford's numerous brownstone quarries and outcrops.
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