Pharrsdale Historic District
The Pharrsdale Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. 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 Pharrsdale Historic District (also known as Eastover) is one of several suburban developments that surrounded the city of Charlotte, North Carolina in the early twentieth century. It was originally laid out in 1926 on land inherited by Miss Sarah Pharr, and the first house was built in 1927. The neighborhood experienced three distinct phases of development. The first began in 1927 and was interrupted in 1930 by the Great Depression. After the passage of the Federal Housing Act of 1934, although the Depression was far from over, the construction industry had regained some strength and development in Pharrsdale resumed. Ninety-seven of the 148 houses in the Pharrsdale Historic District (66%) were erected during the second development phase — between 1935 and 1941, when the United States entered World War II and construction was again halted. Building began again after the war ended, and the third growth phase began in 1945. Various local builders and developers played a role in shaping Pharrsdale, including John H. McArn, Lex Marsh, Jr., George D. Patterson, M.R. Ritch, and Ernest Foard. Brick is the favored building material, and Colonial Revival is overwhelmingly the predominant architectural style, although Tudor Revival houses are present in smaller numbers. The neighborhood remains today an impressively coherent and intact collection of dwellings dating from the 1920s through the early 1950s. The Pharrsdale Historic District is locally significant for listing in the National Register of Historic Places for architecture, as it is a distinct early-twentieth century residential suburb in Charlotte and it contains residences designed in popular architectural styles, including the Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival styles. The period of significance begins in 1926, when the first plat was drawn, and extends through 1951. Twenty-six non-contributing houses in the Pharrsdale Historic District date from after 1951. Although the neighborhood continued to develop after 1951, the district does not possess exceptional significance, and therefore the fifty-year cutoff date is appropriate.
The Pharrsdale Historic District was created on land once owned by Miss Sarah Lila Pharr. She was born in 1904 to William L. and Lila Thompson Pharr shortly after their marriage in 1902 or 1903, and was orphaned in childhood. In 1920, she was living with an aunt in the eastern North Carolina town of Rowland, though she also had relatives in Charlotte. Sarah inherited her father's property, which included 102 acres south of the city of Charlotte.
During Sarah's early life, the city of Charlotte grew considerably. Throughout its history, the city had a radius of about one mile from "the square," the intersection of Trade and Tryon Streets downtown, but it would soon expand outward in all directions. The first streetcar suburb, Dilworth [see Dilworth Historic District], opened in 1891 to the southwest of town. On the southeast, Piedmont Park, the first of the five subdivisions that ultimately made up the Elizabeth neighborhood [see Elizabeth Historic District], took shape in the late 1890s. On the east and northeast sides of town, Plaza-Midwood and North Charlotte [see North Charlotte Historic District] grew up after 1903. Myers Park [see Myers Park Historic District], an exclusive neighborhood to the south of the city, opened in 1912. Wilmore on the west and Washington Heights on the north, two African-American neighborhoods, were created in the 1910s. In 1921, Wesley Heights [see Wesley Heights Historic District] opened on the north side. Earlier developments depended on their proximity to streetcar lines, but by the 1920s, more people were driving cars. In the city of Charlotte alone, there were 18,000 automobiles in 1928. Public transportation, therefore, was no longer a determining factor in suburban development.
Charlotte's population increased at a record high level during the 1920s. The United States census counted 46,388 people living in Charlotte at the beginning of the decade, and 82,675 people in 1930 — a total increase of seventy-eight percent, or 36,287 people. The combination of expanding boundaries, a growing population and a strong economy created a citywide building boom.
It was in this environment that Miss Sarah Pharr decided to develop her land. In January 1925, she entered into an agreement with a neighbor in Rowland, John H. McArn. They signed a contract outlining a development plan for a new subdivision. They apparently anticipated rapid development, because they agreed that the contract would expire and they would reconcile the finances on June 30, 1930. The first recorded plat was dated January of 1926 (however, a reference to it was found as early as November 1925). Portions of the tract were re-platted 1928, 1929, 1935 and 1936. Each new plat increased the number of lots on Biltmore Drive or Scotland Avenue by reducing their street frontage, but the overall configuration did not change. The name Pharrsdale was being used by 1928.
John McArn moved to Charlotte and created the McArn Land Company, which was first listed in the city directory in 1926. McArn bought lot 8 in block 16 (at the southeast corner of Providence and Colville Roads) for himself in 1926, and built the first house in the neighborhood. He was living in the house, now known as the E.L. Baxter Davidson House (1115 Colville Road), by 1928. For some reason, McArn and Sarah Pharr dissolved their business relationship by canceling their original contract on October 1, 1927. All unsold lots reverted to Sarah, who married in 1926 and was now Sarah Pharr Dennis. She in turn conveyed her holdings to real estate developer Lex Marsh, Jr. in 1927 and 1928. Four houses were built on Providence Road in 1928 (1301, 1317, 1333 and 1341 Providence Road), and two were built on Biltmore Drive in 1930 (1609 and 1617 Biltmore Drive). The area was annexed by the city in 1928. As the decade ended, there were seven standing houses in Pharrsdale, and the majority of the vacant lots were now owned by a local real estate developer.
Restrictive covenants played a role in shaping Pharrsdale from the beginning. As early as August 1926, when Sarah Pharr enacted a deed of trust with the Carolina Company using two lots on Providence Road as collateral, restrictive covenants were in place. In the absence of a municipal zoning ordinance, covenants were often used by property owners as a way to control the development of the land and to maintain property values by keeping out undesirable components (such as shoddy construction, commercial activity, livestock, etc.). In Pharrsdale, the covenants stipulated that the lots were to be used for residences only, with outbuildings allowed only as secondary structures and no nearer than fifty feet to the street. Minimum setbacks were required for dwellings as well — sixty feet from the street and fifteen feet from any adjoining property line. Even cost was controlled — in Pharrsdale houses costing less than $10,000 to build were disallowed. An uncomfortable fact of the segregated south was reflected in the first clause, which stated that the property "shall be occupied and owned by persons of the white race only."
On October 29, 1929, history changed course when the stock market crashed and ushered in the deepest and longest economic depression the country has ever known. Seven months later, on May 20, 1930, McArn lost his house to foreclosure. Lex Marsh, Jr. also lost much of his property in Pharrsdale to foreclosure in 1933. The Great Depression unquestionably had an deleterious effect on the building industry. Nationwide, there were about 937,000 housing starts in 1925, and only 93,000 in 1933. The Charlotte city directories listed seventy-one building contractors in 1930, and only thirty-nine in 1935. In Pharrsdale, there were no new houses built between 1930 and 1935.
To help revive the construction industry, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Federal Housing Act of 1934, which created the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). The FHA guaranteed home loans on more generous terms than the banking industry had offered before. The FHA loans were negotiated for a higher percentage of a home's value and for longer terms than had been previously available. The legislation achieved the desired effect, and the construction industry rebounded. In Charlotte, the first house built under the Federal Housing Act was erected by Walter J. Nivens (1895-1966), who would go on to build seven houses in Pharrsdale.
Ninety-seven new houses were built in the-Pharrsdale Historic District between 1935 and 1941. Building permit records show that development after 1935 was a mixture of individual and entrepreneurial efforts. Some houses were commissioned by their owners. Many houses were built on speculation by individual contractors or realty companies. Most of the homes in Pharrsdale were erected by builders who never constructed more than a few houses in the neighborhood, which made the more active builders notable. They are: Ernest Foard — eight houses; Nivens Realty Co./Nivens Construction Co. — seven houses; George D. Patterson — thirteen houses; and M.R. Ritch — ten houses. In addition, James H. Carson and/or Carson Realty commissioned seven houses in the neighborhood.
Realtor James H. Carson (1896-1994) lived in Pharrsdale. He had a house at 1205 Biltmore Drive built in 1937 and resided there for many years. Two contractors who were active in the neighborhood chose to build their own homes there — George Patterson and M.R. Ritch. George Dallas Patterson (1904-1994), built thirteen houses in Pharrsdale between 1935 and 1938, including his own home at 1100 Colville Road. It is a fine, two-story brick-veneered Colonial Revival style house erected in 1935. According to his obituary, he "began his career of designing and building private homes in 1935," and therefore his own home is among the earliest he produced. Interestingly, it is the only house in the neighborhood that faces Colville Road, and is grandly sited on an oversized lot. It seemed to signal his confidence in the neighborhood. Morris R. Ritch built a two-story Tudor Revival style house at 1521 Scotland Avenue in 1937. It was the second often house he would build in Pharrsdale between 1936 and 1951.
Along with Patterson and Ritch, another building contractor lived in Pharrsdale. H.E. Garrison lived at 1528 Biltmore Drive through the 1940s. Other long-term residents during the 1930s and 1940s held jobs in a variety of middle class professions. An attorney, (E. McArthur Currie), an accountant (John F. Ryan), and two doctors (J. Robert Adams and John R. Ashe) all lived on Biltmore Drive, as did an electrical engineer (John Bass Brown, Jr.). Two Biltmore Drive residents worked in the motion picture distribution business, which had been active in Charlotte since the 1920s — George Ebersole worked for Twentieth Century Fox, and Robert D. Williamson worked for the Columbia Pictures Corporation. Two neighbors on Providence Road were jewelers — Lewis Bernstein was a manager for Kay Jewelry Company, and G. Duffie Bruns was president of Garibaldi and Bruns. A fellow merchant was George H. Ledbetter, who was a buyer for Ivey's Department store in the early 1940s before opening his own shoe store around 1945. Several residents served during World War II.
World War II effectively halted building construction in Pharrsdale. No new houses were built in the neighborhood between December 1941 and the close of the war in 1945. Building activity increased gradually over the next seven years (through the end of the period of significance). In 1946, only one house was built, two went up in 1947, and three were erected in 1948. The last year of the decade, 1949, saw five new houses built in Pharrsdale. In the next two years, 1950 and 1951, a total of seven houses were built. All twenty-six non-contributing houses in the Pharrsdale Historic District were added to the streetscape after 1951.
In summary, Pharrsdale is one of several early twentieth century suburbs that surrounded the then-small city of Charlotte. It was conceived and laid out during a period of extraordinary growth in population and building activity in Charlotte's history. There were three distinct phases of development during the period of significance — the first (late 1920s) was interrupted by the Great Depression, the second (late 1930s) was halted by World War II, and the third (after 1946) continued through the end of the period of significance. Ninety-seven of the existing 148 houses in the neighborhood (66%) were built during the second phase — between the passage of the Federal Housing Act in 1934 and World War II. The architecture of the three periods is stylistically so similar that there are no appreciable differences between them.
The architecture in the Pharrsdale: Historic District is entirely residential and exhibits a narrow range of types and styles. The vast majority of the houses are two stories tall and constructed of brick veneer. 127 houses (86%) are Colonial Revival style, sixteen (11%) are Tudor Revival style and the rest are a mix of various other styles. Designs are generally restrained, and follow nationally popular forms. Building permits from the period did not record the architect's name (if any), so whether any of the houses were individually designed by architects is uncertain. More likely, the designs came from purchased plans. Published plans were widely distributed at the time, either in newspapers and magazines, or were available through the builder. Little effort was made to tailor such plans to the individual client or site, and the same house could be erected almost anywhere in the country. The architecture, then, followed nationally accepted forms and styles, and is considered "popular." Popular architecture bridged the gap between high style designs and vernacular traditions, and the vast majority of housing built in the twentieth century is popular architecture.
The earliest house in the Pharrsdale Historic District was built by John H. McArn in 1927 on the southeast corner of Providence and Colville Roads (1115 Colville Road). Now known as the E.L. Baxter Davidson House (after a later owner), it is a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmark. It is a fine, two-story brick-veneered Craftsman-style house with a hipped roof and porte-cochere. False half-timbering in the gable ends, which is also found on the matching garage, is an architectural detail which shows up elsewhere throughout the neighborhood. Its early age, central location and association with the first developer make this property a cornerstone of the neighborhood.
Colonial Revival is the most predominant architectural style in Pharrsdale. The typical house in this neighborhood is two stories, brick veneer, has a symmetrical three-bay facade and a side-gabled roof. The level of stylistic detail varies, but in general is limited to door surrounds, fanlights and/or sidelights, porticos (either full-width or sheltering the entry bay only) and an occasional dentiled cornice. Virtually all of the windows in the neighborhood are double-hung sash. Chimneys are usually found on one side elevation. The Colonial Revival style houses in the Pharrsdale Historic District can be categorized as having either asymmetrical (three bay) or symmetrical (three- or five-bay) facades. The 1928 Hall House at 1341 Providence Road, is a good illustration of the asymmetrical Colonial Revival type. The facade is well-proportioned and features gabled wall dormers on the second story and six-over-six sash windows on the first story topped by jack arches with keystones. The classical front door surround shields a panelled door with a half-round fanlight.
Eighty-four symmetrical Colonial Revival style houses are contributing resources to the Pharrsdale Historic District. The symmetrical houses, while similar, can be further broken down into subtypes by describing the porticos: houses with no portico, with a small shelter over the entry only, or with a monumental, full-height portico. Only eight have monumental full-height porticos — the other houses are almost evenly divided between those with no portico (thirty-seven) and those with a small portico (thirty-nine). A house with no portico was built in 1937 by the Nivens Construction Company at 1316 Biltmore Drive. The two-story frame house has a side-gabled roof, a symmetrical three-bay facade and a center entry with a pedimented door surround. A small sunroom extends out from the north side. The design is restrained and the classical door surround is the predominant carrier of style in this house. A good example of the small portico variant is the Woodside House at 1230 Biltmore Drive built in 1936 by Ernest Foard. It stands two stories tall, is brick veneered, and has a side-gabled roof and one exterior end chimney. The symmetrical, three-bay facade holds six-over-six sash windows and a center entry with a half-round fanlight. The simple portico that shelters the entry consists of a pediment with an arched underside supported by thin Tuscan columnettes. An open porch extends out from the south side elevation. The Kimbrell House at 1500 Scotland Avenue has a full portico. The two-story frame house, built in 1938, has a side-gabled roof, and a symmetrical three-bay facade whose center entry has a fanlight and sidelights. The full-height, full-width portico shelters the entire facade.
A local contractor, George D. Patterson, built a home for himself nearby at 1100 Colville Road in 1935. It also stands two stories tall, is brick veneered, and has a side gabled roof and symmetrical, three-bay facade. Unusual for the neighborhood, however, is the original attached garage. The garage stands off to the left (west) of the house, and is connected to the main structure by a one-story hyphen. Both the hyphen and garage are constructed of frame. It is set back on a large lot, and is the only house in the neighborhood that faces Colville Road.
No two of the fourteen Tudor Revival style houses in the Pharrsdale Historic District are alike, but all possess one or more characteristic features of the style, including cross-gabled roofs, asymmetrical facades, arched entry doors, front exterior chimneys and false half-timbering in the gable ends. The more restrained examples simply graft one or more Tudor details onto the traditional rectangular form. Four houses on Biltmore Drive, for example (1234, 1333, 1415 and 1417 Biltmore Drive) are all two-story, brick-veneered side-gabled houses onto which front exterior chimneys and gabled entrance bays have been attached. One house that exhibits all of the style elements is the Ritch House at 1521 Scotland Avenue. It was built in 1937 by local contractor Morris R. Ritch for his own use. A less subtle example of the style is seen in the house at 1516 Biltmore Drive. A steeply-pitched cross gable covers two-thirds of the facade, and the use of arched window and door openings and a large, multi-paned front window all show a slightly more sophisticated use of the design vocabulary. All of the Tudor Revival houses in the Pharrsdale Historic District were built during a three year span — from 1936 to 1938.
Construction continued in Pharrsdale into the early 1950s and later, and the typical building from this period is a two-story brick-veneered Colonial Revival house that is noncontributing only because it falls outside the period of significance. The house at 1708 Scotland Avenue, for example, conforms to the stylistic characteristics of the neighborhood, even though it was not built until 1961.
Many houses have additions at the side, or more typically, the rear of the original house. Most additions are sensitive and unobtrusive. All are one or two stories tall and constructed of brick or frame. Most rear additions are not visible from the street. Most of the eighty-three outbuildings in Pharrsdale are garages, although there are three small sheds and two guesthouses. A particularly good example of an early garage stands behind 1641 Providence Road. It is a two-bay frame garage with a front-gabled roof and has its original sliding doors. A typical non-contributing garage is either similar to the garage at 1641 Providence, or is a c.1950s carport consisting of a brick storage area and a frame, front-gabled canopy. Forty-four outbuildings are contributing, contemporary with the main house, and thirty-nine fall outside the period of significance and are therefore non-contributing. Virtually all of the outbuildings are sited to the rear of their lots and are often not visible from the street.
As a whole, the architecture in the Pharrsdale Historic District is a cohesive collection of primarily Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival dwellings dating from the late 1920s through the mid 1950s. Brick veneer is the predominant building material, although some houses are weatherboarded frame construction. Most houses are two-stories tall and many have unobtrusive rear additions. Almost all of the outbuildings are garages, which are equally likely to be contemporary with the main house or built later.
Bishir, Catherine W. and Earley, Lawrence S. Early Twentieth Century Suburbs in North Carolina. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1985.
Charlotte Building Standards Department, Building Permits.
Charlotte City Directories. Various years between 1927 and 1951.
The Charlotte News.
The Charlotte Observer.
Gatza, Mary Beth. "Survey and Research Report on the E.L. Baxter Davidson House." Charlotte: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, 1998.
Hanchett, Thomas W. Sorting Out the New South City: Race, Class and Urban Development in Charlotte, 1875-1975. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office. Deed Books, Deed Indexes, Will Books, Map Books, and Marriage Records.
Sanborn Map Company, Insurance Maps of Charlotte, North Carolina. 1951 and 1953.
Wright, Gwendolyn. Building the Dream: A Social History of Housing in America. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1981.
United States Department of Commerce. Census Bureau. Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920: North Carolina (Population Schedule).
† Mary Beth Gatza, Pharrsdale Historic District, nomination document, 2001, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.