West Chapel Hill Historic District
The West Chapel Hill Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. 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 West Chapel Hill Historic District comprises an intact upper-middle class residential neighborhood that developed in North Carolina between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries. The West Chapel Hill Historic District is significant in the area of community planning and development as representative of the town's growth and development as an educational hub in central North Carolina during the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Its development was spurred by its inclusion within the incorporated town limits in 1851, and perpetuated by a high interest in real estate activities by town citizens and university professors, and the employment offered by the university. With its location adjacent to the university, the area emerged as the town's major western neighborhood in the 1870s. The neighborhood represents typical residential development that occurred across the country in the first decades of the twentieth century in response to nationwide trends set forth by the "City Beautiful Movement" and the "Neighborhood Movement" of the early twentieth century. With these incentives for development in place, the West Chapel Hill neighborhood grew steadily through the 1940s from its inception in the mid-nineteenth century.
The character, integrity, and range of the West Chapel Hill Historic District's architectural resources further make it eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places for architecture. Its few surviving antebellum dwellings are joined by a large group of twentieth century Colonial Revival and Craftsman Bungalow dwellings. It represents a well-preserved collection of residential buildings erected between c.1845 and 1948, thus defining the period of significance for the neighborhood, and primarily exhibits nationally popular twentieth century styles such as Colonial Revival and Craftsman Bungalow, and Tudor Revival along with a few examples of late-nineteenth century and turn-of-the-century architecture including Queen Anne and vernacular nineteenth century forms with Greek Revival elements. The John O'Daniel House, a c.1900 Queen Anne cottage at 237 McCauley Street exhibits the transition to Colonial Revival with its classical porch, while the c.1913 Webb House (or Caldwell-Mitchell House) at 211 McCauley Street with its hipped-roof represents a more evolved rendition of Colonial Revival. The 1927 Dewitt Neville House (311 Patterson Place) is a notably-typical Craftsman Bungalow along with several similar houses clustered along Patterson Place. Unique architectural highlights of the West Chapel Hill Historic District include the stately c.1930 Jacobethan Revival Chi Psi Fraternity House (321 West Cameron Avenue) and the c.1914 Gothic Revival United Church of Christ (211 W. Cameron Avenue). Several notable examples of late-nineteenth century houses are found along West Cameron Avenue and Mallette Street and include the c.1870 Pool-Harris House (206 W. Cameron Avenue), the c.1845 Mallette-Wilson-Maurice House (215 W. Cameron Avenue), the c.1860 Scott-Smith-Gattis House (400 W. Cameron Avenue), the c.1860 Mason-Lloyd-Wiley House (412 W. Cameron Avenue), the c.1870 Pool-Harris-Patterson House (403 W. Cameron Avenue), the c.1890-1900 Warriole-Tilley House (113 Mallette Street), the c.1850 Morris-Gore-Hocutt House (117 Mallette Street), and the c.1880 Sallie Davis-Clyde Eubanks House (129 Mallette Street).
Nineteenth Century Development
The earliest existing plat map of Chapel Hill indicates the origins of the first residential streets on the west side of Chapel Hill date to 1792. Land in this vicinity was originally part of a large eighteenth century holding of Hardy Morgan, a 221-acre portion of which was bought by Kit R. Barbee. Barbee later donated the land to the University of North Carolina (UNC) for expansion. Most of the remaining land, which constituted approximately 107 acres in the vicinity of South Columbia and Pittsboro Streets, was held by the Morgans until 1806 when the family donated the land to the university. Until well into the nineteenth century, the university occasionally sold off this property to raise revenue, and the land was bought and sold successively thereafter by other settlers and their descendents, some of whom were savvy enough to leverage their holdings into significant fortunes (Vickers 1985, p.86).
The village of Chapel Hill grew slowly during the early nineteenth century. Growth occurred more rapidly in the 1850s as state funding and enrollment in the university expanded, and the town of Chapel Hill incorporated in 1851 (Ordinance and Charter, 1896). Until that time the area west of the university and the central business district was considered an outlying area and most residential development had taken place only along Franklin Street and Rosemary Lane, the town's two main arteries at the time (Reeb 1989, p.6). In 1865, Federal troops occupied Chapel Hill and camped there for three weeks, pillaging the countryside but sparing the town. The Civil War and its aftermath slowed development and new construction greatly. The university began to falter in 1867 and finally closed in 1870. Upon its reopening in 1875 after finally winning approval from the state legislature, the town also began to revitalize. It was at this time that the area west of Columbia Street began to take on the character of a residential neighborhood. By the turn-of-the-century, many new residents had come to Chapel Hill to find employment, to start businesses, and to build houses. In 1882, a spur railroad track was run to the western edge of town from the main line which was located about ten miles north. A horse and buggy shuttled students and parents to the central part of town where the university campus was located (Chapel Hill Historical Society 1973, pp.35-36).
Nineteenth century development in the town was characterized by large tracts with lot sizes averaging 300 square feet which were conducive to being divided, sometimes into street-facing parcels with back lots. The individual tracts resembled miniature farmsteads and typically included small outbuildings, livestock barns and gardens. The village was truly rural in spite of the sophistication of its university culture: hogs ran unrestrained until the 1890s when a fencing ordinance was enacted that included a provision for removing dead hogs from the roadway. Cows were not banished from some areas until 1930 (Orange County Register of Deeds, Deed Book 125, p.209; p.520, p.107). Until the late 1880s, the only roads between Columbia and Merritt Mill Road were the following three: the Cameron/College Avenue extension, Pittsboro Street, and Mallette Street (Corporate Limits of Chapel Hill Map 1852).
The two main arteries of the West Chapel Hill Historic District, the parallel east-west running Cameron Avenue and McCauley Street, were named for persons who were prominent citizens of Chapel Hill although not spastically involved in establishing the neighborhood itself. During the eighteenth century, Cameron Avenue was referred to as "College Avenue," and it ran through the university campus serving as its southern boundary. The street was renamed in 1885 for Paul Carrington Cameron, a mid-nineteenth century resident of Chapel Hill who, by the 1870s, was the richest man in the state due to his real estate dealings (A Backward Glance 1994, p.35). In 1873 Cameron was appointed by Governor Zebulon Vance to an executive committee whose charge was to oversee the renovation and reopening of the university after the Civil War. The street was extended west beyond the campus in the 1880s, establishing the main spine of the West Chapel Hill residential area (Vickers 1923, pp.86-87).
During the nineteenth century individual taxpayers owning land along a proposed road could influence the layout and choose names of streets in exchange for a reduction in tax liability. However, this practice ended as street design became the jurisdiction of town planners (Vickers 1895, p.110). An example of a street named by a landowner after himself is that of McCauley Street. David McCauley (1832-1911) was the largest landowner and most prominent merchant in Chapel Hill by 1875.
As was typical in the town, David McCauley lived near his business on Franklin Street. The success of his business enabled him to buy land from bankrupt residents during the late 1800s, until he became owner of most of the land south of Cameron Avenue and west of the university. McCauley also named the neighborhood streets of Vance Street and Ransom Street after two respected North Carolina Democratic politicians (Vickers 1895, p.110). David was a great-grandson of both William and Matthew McCauley, original donors of land given to help found the University. He later moved to a house that was located on the site of the present-day Chi-Psi Fraternity House at 321 West Cameron Avenue (A Backward Glance, 1994, p.37).
Because of the relationship between the town and the university which originated from their inception between 1792 and 1795, the economic base of Chapel Hill has always been focused on education, and its leading citizens have been professors. It was a village in which the number of booksellers equaled the number of blacksmiths. This focus on the "gown of the town" has somewhat detracted from Chapel Hill's rich history of real estate transactions. While the leaders of the community may have been professorial, their avocation was the buying and selling of land. Many university faculty and professors were residents of the West Chapel Hill area including geology and mathematics professor Elisha Mitchell, who bought property from bankrupt fellow residents during the depression of the 1830s, and later, in the 1920s, botany professor William Chambers Coker who owned large tracts as did education professor M.C.S. Noble (Vickers 1985, p.38). They bought, developed, and sold land and subsequently profited from it. Buyers who held prominent positions in other professions such as politics, banking and mercantile trades also became attracted to the area and during the early twentieth century, the neighborhood became the home of some of Chapel Hill's wealthiest citizens.
Professors were not the only citizens in Chapel Hill who profited from the land. Many of the original group who donated land for the university — John Daniels, Hardy Morgan, Christopher "Kit" Barbee, William and Matthew McCauley, James Patterson and others — reclaimed some of the twenty-four platted lots surrounding the campus at a 1793 land auction by the university (A Backward Glance, 1985, p.2). The land remained in their families for generations. Like the professorial group, these land dealers had other vocations. Many were residents of the West Chapel Hill neighborhood including Charles P. Mallette who owned a bookstore and for whom Mallette Street was named; his daughter Sallie who ran the university facility in the 1840s; William McCauley who was a lawyer; brothers William N. and Isaac W. Pritchard, and David McCauley, son of William and grandson of Matthew McCauley, who were merchants; and Thomas Lloyd who opened a cotton gin and two mills on the "West End," near what is now the nearby town of Carrboro (Vickers 1985, p.114). Much of their mercantile or industrial activity was underwritten by real estate profits.
Twentieth Century Residential Development Trends
The high level of participation in the residential development of Chapel Hill by ordinary townspeople in these numerous real estate transactions was an unusual trend during the late nineteenth century and first few decades of the twentieth, a phenomenon most likely influenced by the fact that the town's economy, rooted in the university, was more stable than might be the case in villages with other labor bases. From its administrators and professorate, to its laundry workers and food handlers, Chapel Hill was principally a community of landowners.
Because residents invested heavily in the land, they were committed to the success of the town, an investment both financial and psychological. The pattern tended to be that land dealers built or sold in good times and purchased during periods of economic recession, the hard-pressed days of the Reconstruction and, in the twentieth century, during the Great Depression. Black residents, while owning proportionately fewer acres, divided their lots and built homes for their kin as did West Chapel Hill resident Wilson Caldwell (Vickers 1985, p.36). The growth of the university after 1900 resulted in the influx of more faculty families, and the suburbs of West Chapel Hill provided an area for the new housing to accommodate them, given that the business district was already densely developed.
As commercial and government uses consumed the urban core of cities across the country in the late nineteenth century, urban dwellers became increasingly ardent about preserving residential space and distinguishing it from incongruent land uses. As a result, residential enclaves such as the West Chapel Hill neighborhood became more common and among their inhabitants a sense of neighborhood pride emerged. Inspired by the concepts set forth by the City Beautiful Movement that ensued the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, communities throughout the country began to focus on the improvement of their currently-developing residential suburbs. Local governments created organizations whose purpose was to create more visually-appealing neighborhoods and streetscapes. Thus the desirability of suburban living was enhanced by density control, landscaping, and the inclusion of park-like amenities and walkways, all characteristics exhibited by the West Chapel Hill Historic District (Bisher and Early 1983, p.11 and p.35).
The western residential section of Chapel Hill was considered a suburb until it was encompassed into the town limits in 1851. However, the area did not begin to take on the character of a suburban neighborhood until the 1870s. Although the neighborhood is now not only within the town limits, but also nearly adjacent to the central business district, it retains a pleasant suburban countenance.
Another planning philosophy that emerged nationwide during the 1920s was that of the "Neighborhood Movement." This movement was based on the philosophy that attractive and stimulating neighborhood environments affected and shaped human behavior in a positive manner. With the migration of residents and capital to the suburbs, insightful entrepreneurs began to understand the benefits of planned neighborhoods (Bisher and Early 1983, pp.12-14).
The manifestation of early real estate investors' dealings varied. Coker preferred the planned approach. During his tenure as director of what became the Department of Building and Grounds during the 1920s, a boom period in the university's and thus the town's growth, Coker was influenced by the planning philosophies of nationally acclaimed landscape architects such as Earle Sumner Draper and John Nolen (Report of the University Building Committee, 1922). In 1919 Nolen's firm was hired to develop a master plan for the university. Other land dealers were more informal in their approach, simply dividing their farm property into lots and selling the portions along existing roads. Subdivision of land in the area began in the northern portion of the district in the late nineteenth century moved progressively south, with the earliest and largest lots along West Cameron Avenue as exhibited by the lot on which the Chi Psi Fraternity House is located (321 West Cameron Avenue). During the 1910s, land along McCauley and Vance Streets began to be subdivided into slightly smaller and more regularly-sized lots than those along West Cameron Avenue (Sanborn Insurance Maps).
The influences of the Neighborhood Movement in Chapel Hill were manifested in a street improvement program beginning in 1925. According to the Chapel Hill Weekly of June 26, 1925, "The streets of Chapel Hill are being rapidly transformed, in appearance and serviceability, by the construction of concrete curbs and gutters." These improvements were considered to be a temporary solution to facilitate the use of streets which for lack of funding could not be paved at the time. The improvements, consisting of concrete curbs and gutters were installed on Cameron Avenue, and Columbia, McCauley, Ransom and Mallette Streets all within the West Chapel Hill residential area. In 1924 plans were made for the construction of sidewalks along Cameron Avenue and in 1926, South Columbia Street was paved (Chapel Hill Weekly, January 10, 1924 and July 16, 1926).
The successive selling of lots in the West Chapel Hill residential area over the years has resulted in a streetscape that reflects the urbanized residential character that developed across the country in response to out-migration from the urban cores in the early twentieth century. As a result, the large nineteenth century residences urbanites left behind became rooming houses or were converted to institutional use. In most situations nationwide, this movement was a result of the influx of rural factory labor which drove the urban population to the peripheries of the downtown. However, having little industry like other southern towns, Chapel Hill experienced little or no in-migration from workers (North Carolina Commerce and Industry 1923). Instead the trend resulted from the need for student accommodations near the university.
Therefore, the fact that many rooming houses are currently found in the West Chapel Hill neighborhood does not signify a dramatic demographic shift from the original constitution of the population mix of permanent residents and boarders. The ongoing flow of students, faculty and staff between the neighborhood and the campus create a bustling collegiate atmosphere still today and the West Chapel Hill neighborhood remains inextricably linked with the university as a domicile for both students and professors alike.
Another Chapel Hill residential neighborhood that provided needed housing for university families was that of Gimghoul (National Register 1993; Gimghoul Neighborhood Historic District). However, its initial development took place later than that of the West Chapel Hill neighborhood — its first houses erected in 1924. The neighborhood was the first residential subdivision to be developed outside of the university village, and thus was considered a suburb in the true sense of the word. Here too, the streetscapes are quietly picturesque and the dominant architecture Colonial Revival (National Register Nomination February 2, 1993). Other North Carolina neighborhoods that followed a pattern of development similar to that of West Chapel Hill include those of College Hill (NR 1993; College Hill Historic District) in Greensboro and College View (NR 1992) in Greenville, both of which also emerged within a university setting. As with the West Chapel Hill neighborhood, the development of College Hill was in part spurred by the growth of a nearby educational institute, in this case, the Greensboro Female College which was established in the mid-nineteenth century and later became UNC-Greensboro. However, the major factors which molded College Hill development were corporate real estate interests and the electric streetcar. The initial emergence of the College View neighborhood was somewhat later — during the first decade of the twentieth century — and development here was borne out of regard for the East Carolina Teacher's Training School (established 1909 and now known as East Carolina University) as an economic development tool. All of these neighborhoods are similar to the West Chapel Hill neighborhood in their spatial, economic, and social characteristics and share the collegiate atmosphere created by their provision of a convenient domicile for professors and students. They are also similar architecturally given that their construction activity for the most part occurred in the first two decades of the twentieth century.
As was true across the country, the post-World War I building boom ended in the early 1930s with the onset of the Depression years. In Chapel Hill, the economy took a downturn as a result of a reduced university appropriation (twenty-five percent of its 1928 budget in 1929, twenty percent of that in 1930, and an additional twenty-two percent in 1932) (Vickers 1985, p.131). Personal income was reduced during these economically bleak years, nonetheless a number of university professors were enabled to build handsome houses given that builders were available for very modest wages. Professors often supplemented their Depression-reduced salaries by renting rooms to students. Some provided overnight accommodations for female students visiting from St. Mary's, Peace or Womens' College (now UNC at Greensboro); this service was necessitated by the fact that the university had not become co-ed at that time (Chapel Hill: 200 Years 1984, p.84). The effects of the Depression ended sooner in Chapel Hill than elsewhere in the state however, and in 1935 the university appropriation was reinstated to 1929 levels, and residential construction resumed its pace. As the university entered an expansive phase, so too did the town to accommodate new businesses and the subsequent increased demand for housing.
Evidence of this renewed development vigor was exhibited in a subdivision just south of the West Cameron Avenue and McCauley Street area and conceived by a professor and developer by the name of W.F. Prouty. Prouty, who resided at 602 South Columbia Street subdivided lots in the Westwood area as a speculative venture between 1933 and 1937. The layout of this section diverged from that of the northeast section of the West Chapel Hill suburb in that it was organic in nature. The first street to be developed was that of Westwood Drive, which forms a loop beginning and ending at South Columbia Street. Lots along South Columbia Street near Westwood were developed earlier — between 1925 and 1930. Isaac Pritchard was the developer of the portion of the neighborhood along Briarbridge Lane also at about this time. He was one of the business partners in the development of the cotton mill complex that became the center of the nearby village of Carrboro to the adjacent northwest of Chapel Hill (Reeb 1989 and personal interview with neighborhood resident Phyllis Barrett 1/19/98). The Westwood area was annexed into the town of Chapel Hill on December 25, 1951 (Vickers 1985, p.168).
The residual affects of the City Beautiful and Neighborhood movements are apparent in the Westwood area of the district. Sensitively developed within a wooded and rolling terrain, it is nestled within a park-like setting. The first such planned subdivision in Chapel Hill was that of Rocky Ridge Farm, mostly developed during the 1930s. It resembles Westwood with its naturalistic setting and substantial Colonial Revival-style houses. Planned subdivisions have since become commonplace in Chapel Hill as in other southern cities and towns (National Register Nomination 1989, p.1).
After World War II, there was a new demand by returning GIs for small, minimal traditional-style houses, which began to be erected as in-fill in neighborhoods. A few of these simple, rectangular house forms are evident along Kenan Street, and Colony and Dawson Courts. From the 1950s to the 1970s, Ranch houses became the preferred infill.
The growth of the town of Chapel Hill has throughout history kept pace with that of the university. By the end of World War II, the town had become a mecca for writers of diverse intent and style, and cultural pundits predicted that the village would become a vital "literary colony" (Vickers 1985, p.161). This prophecy has indeed been fulfilled. The population of Chapel Hill grew 251 percent from 3,654 in 1940 to 9,177 in 1950 (Vickers 1985, p.167). In a 1971 report, town planners estimated that the town has maintained an approximately fifty-percent student population over a period of recent years. Chapel Hill remains a small, vital town which, despite the rapid development of residential and commercial areas as well as the adjacent university campus, retains a vestige of its early intimacy and charm — "its sociability interwoven with intellectual liberality" (National Register of Historic Places Nomination 1971, p.4). The West Chapel Hill neighborhood manifests these attributes as well and contributes to the historic integrity and character of the overall town. Additionally, the desirable characteristics of nineteenth century suburbs born out of the City Beautiful and Neighborhood Movements — those of shady, naturalistic settings, diverse house styles, modern amenities, economic homogeneity, and distance between residence and employment — have manifested in the once-suburban and now technically more urban West Chapel Hill residential area (Bisher and Early 1983, p.21).
The infrequency of mid-to-late nineteenth century vernacular forms such as the I-house and triple-A is indicative of the West Chapel Hill neighborhood's predominantly twentieth century development during which the architecture reflected a preference for nationally popular styles spanning the period between the turn-of-the-century and 1948. However, a handful of notable examples of nineteenth century house forms found along West Cameron Avenue and Mallette Street include the c.1870 Pool-Harris House (206 W. Cameron Avenue), the c.1845 Mallette-Wilson-Maurice House (215 W. Cameron Avenue), the c.1860 Scott-Smith-Gattis House (400 W. Cameron Avenue), the c.1860 Mason-Lloyd-Wiley House (412 W. Cameron Avenue), the c.1870 Pool-Harris-Patterson House (403 W. Cameron Avenue), the c.1890-1900 Warriole-Tilley House (113 Mallette Street), the c.1850 John Morris (Harris)-Gore-Hocutt House (117 Mallette Street), and the c.1880 Davis-Eubanks House (129 Mallette Street).
During the nationwide City Beautiful Movement of the late nineteenth century and the Neighborhood Movement of the early twentieth century, builders and architects were inspired by the revival of traditional styles, namely Colonial Revival. Along with the Bungalow, Colonial Revival was the most popular style in upper-middle class neighborhoods throughout the country as exhibited prominently in the West Chapel Hill Historic District — in both transitional and fully-rendered form. The 1930s Colonial Revival houses of the Westwood subdivision exhibit the enduring popularity of the style in the area, a notably typical late example being the 1935 Margerie Campbell House at 407 Westwood Drive.
Throughout America's suburbs, some forms of the Colonial Revival style manifested in the transitional Queen Anne cottage as well as in the American Foursquare design. These designs diverge from the earlier Victorian-era houses in their simpler detailing, more geometric massing, and compactness. In the West Chapel Hill Historic District, the John O'Daniel House, a c.1900 Queen Anne cottage at 237 McCauley Street, exhibits the transition to Colonial Revival with its Doric porch columns, while the c.1913 hip-roofed Webb House (Caldwell-Mitchell House) at 211 McCauley Street represents a more evolved rendition of Colonial Revival.
Houses became smaller in the twentieth century to compensate for the technological advances in plumbing and heating and cooling systems which substantially added to the cost of building (Bisher and Earley 1983, p.27). The Craftsman Bungalow became popular as a response to this trend towards economy, most of these houses being constructed between 1920 and 1940 according to pattern book plans. In the West Chapel Hill Historic District, the 1927 Dewitt Neville House at 311 Patterson Place is a notably typical smaller version of the Craftsman Bungalow in the district along with several similar houses on the street. More substantial renditions are exhibited along the north side of the 200 block of McCauley Street. The significant number of Bungalows and Colonial Revival houses in neighborhoods such as West Chapel Hill Historic District signifies a nationwide building explosion in the 1920s that was concurrent with the Neighborhood Movement emphasizing suburban residential development. During the first two decades of the century, the Revival styles, including the Colonial, Classical, and Tudor Revivals became prominent, representing what Mary M. Foley in her book The American House refers to as the "colonial and picturesque" styles which reflected an American and European past that was romanticized to counteract what had become declasse in contemporary design schemes.
The best of this work was executed by Beaux Arts-trained architects for wealthy industrialist clients who could afford to build impressive houses before the 1929 crash. More modest versions were also available in pattern books (Reeb 1989).
Following World War II, a demand for practical minimal traditional houses emerged. These dwellings took the form of small simple rectangles erected as infill in existing neighborhoods. Next, from the 1950s to the 1970s, the preferred dwelling form became the Ranch house, which was also often constructed as infill. Both dwelling forms are evident in small quantities in the West Chapel Hill Historic District, with the Ranch houses being scattered and several Minimal Traditional examples clustered along Colony and Dawson Courts.
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† Kaye Graybeal, Historic Resource Consultant, DSAtlantic Corporation, West Chapel Hill Historic District, Orange County, N.C., nomination document, 1998, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.