Battery Heights Historic District
The Battery Heights Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. 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 Battery Heights Historic District is located southeast of downtown Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina, approximately one-half mile from the city center, and thus having a more suburban character than neighborhoods located within the central core of the city. The Battery Heights Historic District is roughly bounded by East Martin Street on the north, Battery Drive on the east, East Davie Street on the south, and Sherrybrook Drive (originally Cox Street) on the west. The topography within the Battery Heights Historic District varies from flat, with houses level with the streets, to gentle hills where houses are located above the street with a steep drop-off to the rear. Most houses are set back at least fifty feet from the street, with lot sizes varying from one-fourth acre to nearly a full acre, with most being one-third acre in size. Streets are wide, with granite curbing and no sidewalks. They form a grid pattern, with the curvilinear Battery Drive the exception that runs at an angle from the southeast to the northwest. Large deciduous and evergreen trees are located along the streets throughout the neighborhood as well as on individual properties. Many of the individual properties are extensively landscaped, and yards are generally unfenced. Most houses are parallel to the streets, but some are set at unusual angles to the street. By far, the predominant architectural style in the neighborhood is Ranch, including minimal, archetypal, and contemporary variations. The second style within the neighborhood is Split-Level, of which there are three houses. Outside of the Battery Heights Historic District are residential areas to the north, south, and west that date from earlier or later time periods. Houses along the east side of Battery Drive back up to Raleigh Road, a busy four-lane highway to the east of the district with no direct access into the neighborhood.
The Battery Heights Historic District, which encompasses approximately eleven acres, incorporates within its boundaries those houses dating from 1956 to 1964, forming an intact collection of houses of the post World War II modern period of development in the southeast quadrant of the city of Raleigh. The houses in the Battery Heights Historic District have retained a high degree of architectural integrity, with only a handful of houses scattered throughout the district post-date the period of significance.
The Battery Heights Historic District consists of seventeen contributing houses and one outbuilding, four non-contributing houses and six outbuildings, and one non-contributing structure. Of the non-contributing resources, all of them date from after the period of significance.
The Battery Heights Historic District, with a period of significance from 1956 to 1964, is listed on the National Register for its contributions to the Community Planning and Development and Black Ethnic Heritage history of mid twentieth-century Raleigh. Built as one of only a handful of subdivisions planned for and open to the black community in the city, original property owners included physicians, educators, builders, and government agency employees. The Battery Heights Historic District also significant for its highly intact collection of several variations of Ranch and Split-Level modern house architecture, forms and styles of both national and local importance in the post-World War II time period. The Split-Level house type was popular in Raleigh beginning in 1955. While all three of the contributing Split-Level houses in Battery Heights post-date 1960, they are a continuation of this house type design in Raleigh into the early 1960s.
Battery Heights Historic District maintains its integrity of setting, feeling, association, design, and materials, with only four of its houses not contributing to the district's overall character.
Historical Background, Community Planning and Development, and Black Ethnic Heritage Context
Raleigh, North Carolina experienced a significant period of growth after World War II, with a total of 18,256 buildings constructed between 1945 and 1965, with 15,000 of these structures being houses. Many subdivisions were laid out in this twenty-year time frame, providing housing for World War II veterans and their families. However, this era was also a time of racial segregation in Raleigh and throughout the South, so only a handful of these subdivisions were intended for black families.
The mid-1950s to mid-1960s, the period during which the Battery Heights neighborhood was established, was a time of great social change for black citizens of North Carolina and the nation at large. While this time period was known for the intensity and activity of the Civil Rights Movement, these mid-twentieth century years served as a culmination of almost one hundred years of discrimination towards black United States citizens.
The Jim Crow era of "separate but equal" formed the context within which Battery Heights developed from 1956 to 1964. Even though there were many professional blacks settling in the Raleigh area after World War II, housing opportunities were minimal. Shaw University and St. Augustine's College, both historically black colleges founded after the Civil War, were particular draws to the area.
Battery Heights, so named for the earthen batteries built during the Civil War in the same location, was first platted as a much larger subdivision of land originally owned by Bartholomew Gatling as early as 1915, extending east from Tarboro Street to Battery Drive, and bordered by New Bern Avenue on the north and Davie Street on the south. Born in Raleigh, Bartholomew Gatling received his bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1892 and his law degree from Harvard University in 1895. From 1915 to 1922 Gatling served as postmaster for the city, and also practiced law, including serving as the county attorney several times. He owned extensive acreage in Raleigh, including the land for Battery Heights and that of his own home, which was located just to the west of the district, at 1400 East Martin Street, now the location of Roberts Park, established in the early 1970s. Gatling had five sons, John Gatling of Raleigh, James Moore Gatling of Princeton, New Jersey, William C. Gatling of Raleigh, Lawrence Van Valkenburgh Gatling of Raleigh, and Bartholomew M. Gatling Jr. of Atlanta. When Gatling died in 1950, a large portion of his land was willed to his son Bartholomew Gatling Jr. As of 1951, John Gatling, a bridge engineer by trade, still lived in the family home with his mother Lenora, but was not listed as living there in 1953. Bartholomew Gatling Jr. later sold many of the lots to his brother John Gatling in a civil action between the two brothers that took place in 1955. In the 1950s, the Gatling family rented homes to blacks along Gatling and Bart Streets. However, there was no move initially to sell any of the vacant land area to blacks in the community. It was through the negotiations initiated by George C. Exum, one of the earliest residents of the neighborhood, that John Gatling was convinced to sell the lots to professional black families. Gatling initially wanted to continue the practice of selling small lots to make more money, but Mr. Exum convinced him to do otherwise. Gatling did place restrictions on minimum house size, and required setbacks of a minimum of thirty feet from the front and rear of the lots. According to Mr. Exum, many of the plans for the houses were taken from Chicago house plan books or those of Standard Homes Company in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina.
Some of the original Battery Heights subdivision lots, primarily along the western edge, had developed by the 1930s and 1940s, but as late as 1950, the majority of the extensive subdivision had not developed, including the southeastern corner of the original plat which was to later become the "subdivision within a subdivision" that makes up the Battery Heights Historic District. According to current residents, the area was mostly forest in its early years. Martin Street and the north side of Battery Drive were the only streets, both dirt. The remaining streets were cut as the lots were sold. Sherrybrook Drive was originally named Cox Street, but the name was changed by the City of Raleigh ca.1966.
The original Battery Heights subdivision, as platted in 1915 and again in 1935 from Gatling land, included an area covering hundreds of acres in southeast Raleigh. These lots as originally laid out were small, and only a handful of them were developed. As noted above, none of the lots of the southeastern section of the subdivision had been built on by the mid-twentieth century, so that buyers could then purchase two or three adjoining lots to provide a more ample setting for their houses. It was unusual to have such large lots, considering that the earlier subdivisions in Raleigh platted for the black community such as South Park barely had room for a small shotgun house. Deed records reveal that almost all of the subdivision lots were sold by John Gatling, son of Bartholomew Gatling, or Mary Davis Lassiter, girlfriend of John Gatling, to the original owners. John Gatling, known as a racist for most of his life despite the concessions he made to selling property for the black subdivision in the 1950s and 1960s, died in 1975, leaving most of his remaining estate to North Carolina State University for the establishment of a scholarship fund for "white men."
Many prominent black families bought lots and built large homes in the Battery Heights neighborhood. Included among these were John H. Baker, a professional football player and the first black sheriff for Wake County; several physicians including Dr. David P. Lane, dentist, Dr. Christopher L. Hunt, M.D., Dr. Robert W. McDowell, M.D., and Dr. George C. Debnam, M.D.; many schoolteachers including Frankie L. Turner, James W. McCall, William M. McLean, Iris Mangum, Dearl Webster, Blanche and Lawrence C. Rivers, Norman M. McMillan, Daisy and Charles B. Robson, Anne and Frank A. Toliver, Elsie and William A. Perry, James E. Byers, Bernice and William A. Rainbow, and Marguerite and George C. Exum. George Exum was a brick mason and shop teacher, serving, with his students, as the general contractor who built many of the houses in the neighborhood. Mr. Exum also assisted in the building of the pro shop at Meadowbrook Country Club, a private African American club in Garner, North Carolina. Additionally, many early residents of the neighborhood worked for State agencies, including Aaron Solomon and David J. Knight. Some residents already lived in the Raleigh area, mostly in Washington Terrace, one of the few apartment complexes open to black professionals, when lots in Battery Heights came up for sale. Other early residents came from as far away as Louisburg, Greensboro, Tarboro, and Durham, North Carolina as well as New York and South Carolina.
In addition to their professional lives, neighborhood residents were active in the politics and social life of the Raleigh African American community. Families took care of each other and there were often social activities, including pool and tennis parties, holiday events, and an active neighborhood association, Les Pins Neighborhood Club. Les Pins, named for the towering pines in the neighborhood, was founded in 1960 by resident Anne Toliver. The club was committed to "encourage families which shared common interest, similar values, and had similar life styles to join." A neighborhood bulletin from the summer of 1964 notes that the children were active with tennis, swimming, fishing, bicycling, camping and playing Monopoly. The Hunt family (300 Sherrybrook Drive) had just finished building their tennis court, and note was made of the academic achievements of many of the youth, along with a list of summer activities of all the families. This active, involved community still exists today, with Les Pins holding community dinners twice per year, and neighbors helping each other in times of need. The community works closely together through social events and as advocates to city government to maintain their property and the character of their neighborhood.
The Battery Heights Historic District is a highly intact collection of primarily Ranch and Split-Level houses dating from 1956 to 1964. While there were some additional houses built in the area after 1964 that continue the same style and quality, the time frame noted was the major development period for the neighborhood. The Battery Heights Historic District, one of only four strictly African American mid-twentieth century subdivisions in Raleigh, compares admirably with these other neighborhoods. In addition to the Ranch and Split-Level architecture present in the neighborhood, Battery Heights is a good example of a post-World War II suburban neighborhood in Raleigh. While not as far away from the city center as most suburban developments of the late 1950s tended to be, it is a self-contained residential subdivision located away from the center of the city but connected to the city by easily accessible roads and dependent on the automobile for daily needs. It is typical of the time in its layout of large lots, required front and side setbacks, extensively landscaped lawns, and large evergreen and deciduous trees remaining from earlier wooded land. The relative ease of mass production of the homes from model plans, availability of low-cost, long-term mortgages, and the need for housing after World War II made the development of Battery Heights a favorable enterprise for John Gatling and the residents who bought land and built houses there.
It is likely that many of the homes in the Battery Heights neighborhood were built from plans from the Standard Homes Company, a national company with its headquarters in Raleigh. Founded in 1917 in Detroit, Michigan by A. Gales Johnson, Standard Homes Company opened its first offices in Washington, D.C. in 1921. Mr. Johnson's sons, A. Glendon and William W. Johnson, founded the Raleigh, North Carolina office in 1937. In 1967 the company, with its only office in Raleigh, was renamed Standard Homes Plan Service, Inc., which it remains today. Throughout its history the company has produced as many as eight plan books per year, filled with ideas and plans to house the growing American population. Plans could be purchased by builders and a full materials list was included.
The Standard Homes Company archives does not include information as far back as the 1950s and 1960s about which plans were purchased by local builders, so it was not possible to make an exact match of plans in the books to the houses in the Battery Heights neighborhood. A survey of catalogs from 1956 to 1963 revealed that many of the homes in Battery Heights likely could have been built from Standard Home Company plans, as noted by builder George Exum. As Mr. Exum mentioned, often the plans were used as a basis but were modified in the field to fit the lot or to add or delete elements depending upon the family's preferences. The current owner of the company, Leigh Cameron, noted that it was not uncommon for builders to make modifications in the field, to flip the plan to fit the lot, or to change window styles or entrance locations. Popular plans often appeared in subsequent years, and details of the Ranch and Split-Level house types which also appear in Battery Heights were common, including brick planters, recessed entries, bowed windows, inverted triangular porch posts, carports and garages, and central massive brick or stone chimneys.
The Ranch houses incorporate many of the design features of the style including one-story, long, linear massing, hip or side gable roofs with wide eaves, carports or garage bays, picture windows, patios, recessed entry stoops, wide, unadorned brick chimneys, and large sweeping lawns. Within the Ranch style in the neighborhood are several variations that range from the three-to-four-bay minimal designs with their low-pitched roof and horizontal lines to the large six and seven-bay Rambler houses that have additional side, front or rear wings including carports or garages. Additional variations of the Ranch include archetypal, with side-gable roof, picture window in the living room, small horizontal bedroom windows placed high in walls, and often a combination of brick and vertical wood siding; and contemporary, with groupings of large windows, post-and-beam framing, wide eaves, clerestory windows, and the blending of the house into the landscape through exterior spaces such as terraces, porches, and carports. Even with the many variations of the style, the Ranch house as seen in the Battery Heights neighborhood typically is one-story, low to the ground with a horizontal configuration, having either a side-gable or hip roof, large picture windows in the facade, a carport or garage bay, and architectural elements such as planters, terraces, or patios that extend into the landscape, blending the two environments closely together. A good example of the minimal Ranch is the four-bay Stephen and Carol Rodgers House (1621 Battery Drive, 1963), with its low-pitched hip roof, wide overhanging eaves, covered entry stoop with an inverted triangular support post at the northwest corner, two-light horizontal windows, and wide central brick chimney. Notable Rambler Ranch examples include the Dr. David P. and Vivian Irene Lane House (1601 Miller Street, 1956), a five-bay brick house set at an angle to the street and facing southwest, with a hip roof, wide overhanging eaves, recessed entry, a carport on the east side, a central, wide brick chimney and a picture window in the front; the Dr. George C. and Marjorie Debnam House (1615 E. Davie Street, 1959), a seven-bay large brick house with a hip roof and wide overhanging eaves, a carport bay at the west end, a sunroom with vertical windows of three lights each, three interior brick chimneys with corbelling, single and double two-horizontal-over-two windows, and two large picture windows at the front, of single lights flanked by two-horizontal-over-two windows; the George C. and Marguerite Exum House (321 Sherrybrook Drive, 1959), a six-bay, hip-roof house with a two-car, side-gable-roof garage bay, wide overhanging eaves, randomly placed ashlar stone within the brick veneer wall, recessed entry stoop, wide central brick chimney, and single, double, and bands of four, two-horizontal-over-two windows, with a large picture window in the front, and the Frankie L. and Augusta B. Turner House (1609 East Davie Street, 1961), a seven-bay brick house with a hip roof, wide overhanging eaves, entry stoop supported by metal posts, wide, unadorned central brick chimney, and paired double-hung eight-over-eight windows, with a picture window east of the entrance comprised of a twenty-four-light center flanked by six-over-six windows. An example of the archetypal Ranch is the Dr. Frank A. and Anne Toliver House (312 Sherrybrook Drive, 1960) a hip and side-gable roof, five-bay brick house with a recessed entry stoop and a garage bay at the north end, interior brick chimney, and horizontal bands of three-light or nine-light awning style windows, with clerestory windows on the north end and a picture window in the center. One of the best examples of a contemporary Ranch is the Lawrence C. and Blanche Rivers House (1617 East Martin Street, 1963) , a five-bay, one-story, rusticated-face tan Roman brick house with a projecting central bay with a low-pitch front-gable roof with exposed purlins that step back and extend over the carport to the east, and a side-gable roof on the west wing. Windows are double one-horizontal-over-one with one-over-one windows in the projecting front bay, with the upper sash larger than the lower.
The houses in Battery Heights Historic District are also typical of the style with side gable or hip roofs with wide eaves, one-story wings intersecting the two-story wing, picture windows, recessed entries, patios, and garages or carports. However, there exists in the neighborhood a wide variety of design elements to this style including the addition of classical features and contemporary treatments. Good examples of the Split-Level style include the Dr. Christopher L. and Gladys D. Hunt House (300 Sherrybrook Drive, 1961), a brick, six-bay, hip-roof house with a double garage, and notable classical design elements in the porch at the center front entry with tall wood posts and a quarry tile floor, along with the broken pediment and fluted pilasters framing the front door, the William A. and Elsie Perry Jr. House (1616 E. Davie Street, 1962), a brick house with a hip-roof, wide overhanging eaves, a covered entry bay with an metal railing and brick steps, a wide central brick chimney, single and double one-horizontal-over-one windows, and a covered patio with a shed roof supported by metal posts; and the David J. and Ida Knight House (1501 E. Martin Street, 1963), a brick and weatherboard house with a side gable roof, projecting garage bay, recessed entry stoop, an unadorned, interior brick chimney, single fixed horizontal light and one-horizontal-over-one windows, and a multi-light bowed picture window.
Argintar, Sybil. "Meadowbrook Country Club," National Register nomination, October 2009.
"Bart Gatling Dies At Home," Raleigh News and Observer, August 3, 1950.
Brown, Justice Henry Billings, "Majority opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson." Desegregation and the Supreme Court, ed. Benjamin Munn Ziegler (Boston: D.C. Heath and Company, 1958) 50-51.
Cameron, Leigh. Current owner and descendent of founder of Standard Homes Company. Interview with Sybil H. Argintar, July 6, 2010.
Hess, Alan. The Ranch House. New York: Henry R. Abrams, 2004.
www.nps.gov/history/nr/publications/bulletins/suburbs/part1.htm. June 16, 2010.
Lane, Vivian Irene. Original owner and long-time resident. Interview with Sybil H. Argintar, February 22, 2010 and July 6, 2010.
"Les Pins Neighborhood Club: The Pines." Unpublished history of the neighborhood club.
Little, M. Ruth. "Post-World War II and Modern Architecture in Raleigh, North Carolina, 1945-1965." Multiple Property Documentation Form, May 2009.
Neighborhood Bulletin for Battery Heights, 1964. Unpublished, summer 1964.
Neighborhood residents oral history interview with Sybil H. Argintar, September 3, 2009.
Pildes, Richard H. "Democracy, Anti-Democracy, and the Canon." Constitutional Commentary, Vol. 17, 2000, p.12 and 27.
Raleigh City Directories 1951 to 1953 and 1956 to 1970.
"Roberts Park: A Proud Old Raleigh Neighborhood of Upper-Class Black Families Holds on in the Face of Changing Times," Raleigh News and Observer, 26 October 1997.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map 1950.
Standard Home Company plan book catalogs. Located in corporate offices of Standard Homes Plan Service, Inc., Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina.
† Sybil Argintar, Southeaster Preservation Services for the Raleigh Historic Districts Commission, Battery Heights Historic District, Wake County, North Carolina, nomination document, 2010, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.