The Oakwood Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
The Oakwood Historic District is one of the two finest and most intact late nineteenth and early twentieth century neighborhoods in the city of Hickory. Its growth and development began in the 1880s and 1890s when a handful of relatively early settlers in Hickory bought sizable parcels of land in what was at that time the very fringe of the city limits. These early residents were followed by a group of prominent businessmen and professionals who sought new homes built in the latest architectural fashions in areas which were removed from the noise associated with the railroad and the activity of the business district. This second period of growth lasted until about 1916 when building activity ceased for five years. After 1921, a twenty year period of development took place in the district. During this time period Hickory's population and expanding industrial base created an urgent need for new home sites. That the Oakwood District maintained its position as one of the finest residential neighborhoods in the city is evident in the many large and well-designed houses which were built for the new tide of businessmen, professionals, and industrialists. Just after the end of World War II the remaining building lots were improved, and once again the district's new residents were primarily businessmen and professionals. The area has remained relatively stable since that time.
When William McMullin received a 640 acre land grant on October 28, 1782, it included what is now downtown Hickory and the adjacent residential neighborhoods, one of which is the Oakwood Historic District. Subdivided and resold, that portion of the original McMullin tract which comprises the Oakwood Historic District came into the possession of Abraham Peterson and Jesse Robinson. In 1859 Peterson sold his 162 acre tract located on "the waters of Horseford Creek" to Margaret and Priscilla Peterson and their two heirs Catharine and Laura Huggins. The subdivision of this parcel of land comprising the western half of the Oakwood Historic District commenced with this generation of owners. Jesse Robinson acquired his 320-acre tract of land, which was the eastern half of the McMullin tract, in 1798 at a public auction in Lincolnton. In 1810 Robinson deeded this land to his son Henry W. Robinson, who in the years 1865 to 1870 had most of it surveyed into building lots and a grid pattern of streets. Robinson's parcel of land included portions of the eastern half of the Oakwood Historic District, principally Oakwood Cemetery.
Hickory in the late 1860s and 1870s was a growing, but still small trading center located astride the tracks of the Western North Carolina Railroad. Commercial and residential development, clustered around and on both sides of the tracks, had not yet expanded into the surrounding countryside. Whether this "countryside" in the northwestern portion of the city which includes the Oakwood Historic District was being farmed at this time is unclear. In any case, the land was available for resale as early as 1865 to 1870 in Robinson's parcel and at least by 1877 in the Peterson tract.
When the sale of land commenced in the Oakwood District, lot boundaries were partially defined by existing roads. These early rights of way included Robinson's street plan extended, where necessary, into the adjoining Peterson tract, and the older and economically strategic road (variously known as Bridge Street or Horseford Bridge Road) leading to the Horseford toll bridge on the Catawba River. This route was one of the principal arteries by which farmers from outlying areas to the north shuttled their products to Hickory, and it passed through the western portion of the district on what is now 6th Street, NW. Peterson's land transactions referred to this road as well as three others: Ivey Street, Rowe and Fry Mill Road, and Peterson Street. Peterson Street was an early name for what would eventually become 3rd Avenue. The Rowe and Fry Mill Road is noted in an 1881 deed to Michael L. Cline. It apparently led to a saw, flour, and corn mill located on Horseford Creek, and the road is at present a portion of 4th Avenue, NW. Ivey Street is the present 5th Street, NW. The precise point in time when it was constructed has not been determined, but reference was made to it in deeds as early as 1889. At that time it appeared to have extended from the railroad tracks north to the Clement Geitner property — an area lying to the north of present day 4th Avenue (which was not there). Present 4th Street, NW was laid out in Robinson's plat and had been extended into the Peterson lands at least by 1884. Its extent is not clear, but an 1886 map suggests, by its exclusion, that it was not an important road beyond the city limits. Fourth Avenue, known as Cemetery Street, was not clearly defined in Robinson's plat, but by 1889 it had been built. The extension of 2nd Avenue and 6th Street south of 3rd Avenue would not take place until the 1920s.
One can only speculate as to whether any portion of the Peterson and Huggins tract had been surveyed and platted in a manner similar to Robinson's. The earliest land sales seem to have been surveyed according to the size of any particular parcel which one might wish to purchase Land sales dating from the 1870s and early 1880s clearly indicate this, but also reveal that the large parcels were purchased along the edges of the present Oakwood Historic District. Whether the block bordered by 3rd Avenue, 5th Street, and 6th Street had been platted is also unknown, although by 1890 standard size, albeit very large, lots were being sold.
The initial period of development in the Oakwood District lasted from 1882 to 1901. In this period a number of people purchased relatively large lots on which both modest frame and large brick and frame houses were built. Initial ownership of large lots would also shape, in some respects, the direction of development in the district. A majority of these early residents were merchants and businessmen in the small town of Hickory. They also represented the first wave of residents who sought home sites in outlying areas after Hickory became a city, a trend which would gain momentum after 1900.
The oldest extant structure erected in the Oakwood Historic District was built on the west side of 6th Street in 1882 for Michael L. Cline. Cline had come to Hickory from Newton sometime after the Civil War but prior to 1873. In Hickory he established a mercantile store on Main Street, and in 1877 and 1880 was elected mayor. Cline initially located on the south side of the railroad tracks but he moved to 355 Sixth Street, NW in 1882 where he had purchased a large tract of land. Branson's Directory for 1884 lists M.L. Cline as a farmer. Whether his new house was in fact, the seat of a farm is unclear and relatively unimportant. Double occupations were common at the time among wealthier citizens living in or near emerging cities.
The Reverend J.C. Moser House (383 Sixth Street, NW) was clearly a city residence. In 1887 Rev. Moser came to Hickory to serve the congregation of the Holy Trinity Evangelical and Lutheran Church. Although they offered a parsonage to him he apparently decided to have his own home built. In 1888 he purchased a lot from Michael Cline, just north of Cline's house. The one-dollar sale price was probably related to the fact that Cline was an elder in the church. That the house was built soon after is documented by a reference (1888) in the Press and Carolinian noting that it was nearly completed.
Two other houses were built along 6th Street sometime after 1890. Ella and Alfred P. Whitener purchased two lots on the east side of 6th Street from Peterson and Huggins in 1890, and probably had their small, one story house constructed soon after. According to the 1900 census Alfred Whitener was a saloon keeper and his wife Ella Whitener was a milliner, but little else is known about them. John S. Setzer also moved to 6th Street in 1892 after he had purchased a piece of property at the northwest corner of 3rd Avenue and 6th Street (305 Sixth Street, NW). In a newspaper article Paul A. Setzer, one of John's sons, stated that the house was already on the site when Setzer purchased it. If it was there at that time it was probably built in 1891 after G.W. Sherrill bought the lot from Peterson and Huggins. Setzer had come to Hickory in 1892 from the southern part of Catawba County near Newton, and was engaged in the mercantile business with Jones W. Shuford and J.D. Elliott in the firm of Shuford, Setzer and Company (later known as Setzer Brothers).
There is no way to document the particular reasons why these people decided to build along 6th Street at this time. The trend to move away from the earlier areas of settlement along the railroad tracks may have begun by the 1880s but it was not well-established until the late 1890s, yet it may account in part for the development here. It would also seem significant that both Setzer and Moser, and perhaps Whitener, were newcomers to Hickory. In their desire to have homes built they turned to this part of the city where land was available at what may have been a reasonable price. Even Cline's move was probably motivated, to some extent, by his desire and ability to assemble a large tract of land within some proximity to the downtown area. In any case, the building activity along 6th Street reflected the growth of the city as well as the development of residential areas away from the increasing railroad noise and wagon traffic of the commercial, and small manufacturing district.
Residential construction in the Oakwood District prior to 1901 was not confined to 6th Street even though it was concentrated there. At least two other homes and perhaps a total of four were built elsewhere in the district in this general period. Amzi A. Yoder, a railroad agent and charter member of the Holy Trinity Evangelical and Lutheran Church had been purchasing parcels of land throughout the city in the late 1800s. One of these was a four and one-half acre tract along 4th Street which he bought in 1881. No documentary evidence has been found to suggest when his house (367 Fourth Street, NW) was built, although according to a granddaughter it was 1896. Originally built farther back from the street, the frame house was moved to its present site after 1925. Sometime after 1895 Robert W. Stevenson, a dry goods merchant, had a large Queen Anne style residence constructed at the northeast corner of 4th Street and 4th Avenue (356 Fourth Avenue, NW). The finest example of the style in the Oakwood Historic District, the Stevenson house represents a scale and quality of design which characterized much of the residential construction in this and other areas of north Hickory at this time. Much subsequent construction in the Oakwood District would follow this early example.
In 1900 Charles H. Geitner had a two story brick and frame house built at 407 Fourth Street, NW directly to the west of Robert W. Stevenson's house. His motivation to relocate was in part, no doubt, a desire to join the migration away from downtown. In addition it must have also been his wish to be closer to the Hickory Tannery, located to the northwest of his new home, which he bought from his father in 1900. The Geitner family had moved to Hickory in 1882 from Lititz, Pennsylvania, and initially settled along the railroad tracks. Geitner was mayor of Hickory in 1913, and 1914, a school board member, a banker, and businessman. He operated the tannery, established in 1882, until 1914.
One house, and perhaps a second, had been built during this period along 3rd Avenue, but they have been demolished. One of them was razed for the Elbert Ivey Memorial Library (420 Third Avenue, NW), and the fact that it was a nineteenth century dwelling is documented by a reference to its completion in an 1889 issue of the Press and Carolinian. It is not clear whether an adjacent house was built prior to 1900, but the property had been purchased by Amon Sigmon in 1881. A building was on the site in 1911 when Paul A. Setzer bought it, but he had a new house erected there in 1927.
As both the extant buildings and those which have been demolished suggest, Hickory's residential areas began to expand outward at the close of the nineteenth century. The trend is evident in a comparison of Sanborn maps, and has been documented in the other surviving fashionable late nineteenth century neighborhood in Hickory (the Claremont High School Historic District). As suggested above, the outlying areas around Hickory provided a change from the congestion of the growing business district and noise of the railroad. These areas were also a source of undeveloped land which could be acquired in small or large parcels and subsequently improved with modest houses or larger more stylish structures. That the young city was growing rapidly is further reflected in the development of Oakwood Cemetery. The Old Robinson Cemetery, located in the southwestern part of Hickory, had reached its capacity when, in 1899, the City purchased a nine acre tract of land on the northern fringes of the corporate limits from John W. Robinson. Located on rolling terrain its picturesque design of "walks, drives, mounds, and lots (were)...laid out in the most artistic manner." F.A. Grace, an artist who had moved to Hickory from Detroit, Michigan, was responsible for the design. He also painted the frescoes which adorned the Bank of Hickory, Elliott Opera House, Hickory Inn, and the 1887 Queen Anne home of David W. Shuler.
The second sustained period of development in the Oakwood Historic District took place from about 1905 to 1916. Within that span of eleven years no less than twenty houses were constructed in the district. This building activity can, in part, be attributed to Hickory's continued growth as a diversified manufacturing center as seen in the expansion of existing industries and the establishment of new ones. With the growth of basic industries there was an attendant need for support and consumer services rendered by city government, retail merchants, and by various professionals. Many members of the growing middle and upper middle class who provided such services (attorneys, doctors, coal and ice dealers, furniture dealers, and elected officials) chose the Oakwood District for what was often a substantial investment in large and impressive homes. The majority of these new houses, especially in the latter half of the period, also reflect new fashions in architectural taste. Impressive early Colonial Revival houses and a varied collection of bungalows are interesting foils to the older vernacular and eclectic Queen Anne houses. Construction of these houses was concentrated along 6th Street and 3rd Avenue but two houses were also erected on 4th Avenue, and two on 2nd Avenue.
While the fact that land was available in this area of the city certainly contributed to its rate of growth, it was not the only reason for it. An examination of Sanborn maps from this general period indicate that there were also numerous vacant lots situated in close proximity to the business district. That such lots were available, and remained undeveloped, underscores the ongoing trend (which had begun in the late 1890s) to locate to new outlying residential areas. In fact a number of houses constructed within the Oakwood Historic District in the years between 1905-16 were built for long-time residents of the city who had lived in the previously fashionable areas close to the railroad. Another interesting feature of this period is the frequency in which children of earlier residents settled near their parents, if not on family owned property. Seven houses or more than one-third of the total number were constructed for these children.
One of the most impressive houses in the city was built at 534 Third Avenue NW about 1905. Abel A. Shuford, II, the son of one of Hickory's leading citizens, bought the lot from his father in September 1904. Active in a number of the family businesses since 1898 he later took charge of Shuford Mills after its founder, Abel A. Shuford, I, died in 1912. In 1905 Edgar D. Yoder, one-time manager of Home Stores, bought a building lot at the southeast corner of his father Amzi's tract. Sometime thereafter, and by 1915, he had built a house (335 Fourth Street, NW) there. The second house (354 Sixth Street, NW) which Alfred and Ella Whitener built for themselves about 1906 was a much larger and more elaborate Queen Anne style design than their first house. Their son Loyd purchased the lot adjoining them to the north in 1907 where the older house had apparently been relocated. Almost directly across from the Whitener's, and bordering the Moser's house to the north, J. Guy Cline purchased a lot from his father, Michael L. Cline in 1908. On it he built an imposing Colonial Revival house (367 Sixth Street, NW), one of the first of its type in the Oakwood Historic District.
In the two years between 1906 and 1908 three large residential structures were built in the district for families who removed here from older, well-established residential areas. Benjamin F. Seagle purchased a lot on Cemetery Street (now 4th Avenue) from W.P. Cline, and thereafter had his large Queen Anne style house (321 Fourth Avenue, NW) built. Seagle was involved in the real estate business in Hickory, and at his death in 1935 was the last Confederate veteran in Hickory. Before moving to his new home Seagle lived in a house located on the north side of the railroad tracks and adjacent to the old Episcopal Church. In 1908 Thomas A. Huffman acquired the lot adjacent to Seagle's on the east and apparently began building a house there. When he defaulted on his mortgage in 1909 the property was sold at public auction to Mrs. Essie J. Russell, the wife of prominent attorney and municipal judge, David Lester Russell. The large Queen Anne style house (311 Fourth Avenue, NW) was partially destroyed by fire in 1914 but, according to local tradition, was rebuilt to its original form. Russell was a son of Dallas H. Russell, an early Hickory resident whose house was near the campus of Lenoir-Rhyne College.
Another prominent Hickory resident relocated to the district in 1907 when a large Colonial Revival house was completed at 417 Sixth Street, NW. Jones W. Shuford had moved to Hickory in the 1880s after a short teaching career in Catawba and Lincoln counties. At one time a partner with John S. Setzer in the mercantile company of Shuford, Setzer and Company, Shuford was also a banker and retail furniture dealer. He also operated a funeral home and was a former mayor. He had purchased a large piece of property on the west side of 6th Street, including most of the present 400 and 500 blocks, from W.S. Stroup in 1898 and 1900.
One other family probably moved into the Oakwood Historic District in this period (1906-1908) from their earlier location along the railroad tracks. According to one source the Tom Greenes occupied a house located on the north side of the railroad not far from the Hickory Manufacturing Company. In 1901 Thomas J. Greene bought a lot at the northwest corner of 5th Street and 3rd Avenue, and although a date of construction for the present frame dwelling has not been documented, Mrs. Rosa Greene was occupying a house on the lot by 1915.
At least one other house and perhaps a second was built at this time. C.S. Cashwell had a large house (436 Second Avenue) constructed sometime between 1905 and 1907 at the northeast corner of 2nd Avenue and 5th Street. The second house was located on the site of the Shuford Memorial Gardens. The house, standing on the site by 1915, was demolished in the late 1960s or early 1970s to make space for this small park.
Development in the district continued along 6th Street after James W. Espey (342 Sixth Street, NW) purchased a lot in 1911 located south of and adjacent to the Alfred P. Whitener House (354 Sixth Street, NW). Espey was a bookkeeper for the city of Hickory, and the subsequent long-term owner of the house, Stephen C. Nowell, was a physician. The vacant lot adjoining the Whitener-Hammersla House (364 Sixth Street, NW) was purchased by Della F. Sherrill in 1913, and her bungalow (374 Sixth Street, NW) was built sometime thereafter. Della's husband W. Newman Sherrill was engaged in the real estate and insurance business and later the Sherrill Ice and Fuel Company. The deed describing the Sherrill lot made reference to a "new road" located on the northern edge of the property. This reference suggests that 4th Avenue had been extended by this time at least from 6th Street to 5th Street and probably to 4th Street. This note is substantiated by a 1915 map of the city which shows such a street in broken lines. Two lots north of this "new street" Edwin H. Umstead occupied a bungalow (412 Sixth Street, NW) built about 1915. Umstead was the secretary and treasurer of the Umstead Grocery Company. On the west side of 6th Street and at the north edge of John S. Setzer's lot (305 Sixth Street, NW), Espey D. Sherrill and his wife Bertha Setzer purchased a lot from her father in 1913. Their house (327 Sixth Street, NW) was erected on it by 1915.
In 1912, J. Summie Propst, a local carpenter and the original owner and builder of the J. Summie Propst House (332 Sixth Street, NW), completed the John H.P. Cilley House (406 Third Avenue, NW) at the northwest corner of 3rd Avenue and 4th Street. Cilley moved to Hickory in 1900 and established the Cilley Foundry and Machine Company. He was long active in city government having served as mayor in 1907 and alderman in 1910 and again in 1927-1929. At the same time that Cilley's house was being built Edward B. Cline was having his large Colonial Revival dwelling (533 Third Avenue, NW) built at the southeast corner of 3rd Avenue and 6th Street directly across from the Abel A. Shuford, II House (534 Third Avenue, NW). Edward, son of Michael L. Cline, was a prominent lawyer and district Superior Court judge between 1910 and 1918. Cline was also mayor of Hickory in 1894 and 1896, served as a municipal judge in 1893, and was a deacon in the Presbyterian Church. Two lots to the east of Cline's house is the imposing Colonial Revival residence (509 Third Avenue, NW) that was built for Walker Lyerly in 1913. Lyerly was born in Hickory and established himself as one of the city's leading businessmen and as an elected official. President of the Hy-Lan Furniture Company, the Elliott Knitting Mills, and the Hickory Manufacturing Company, he was mayor for eight consecutive terms between 1939 and 1946. Adjacent to Cline's residence, and at the southwest corner of 3rd Avenue and 6th Street is a bungalow (605 Sixth Street, NW) Frank A. Henderson built on a lot he purchased in 1912. Henderson and J.W. Hartsfield organized a stock company in 1913 which led to the establishment of the Hickory Overall Company, manufacturer of "Old Hickory Overalls" (in the Second Street Place Southwest Historic District).
The three houses built on the south side of 3rd Avenue occupied lots which were purchased from the estate of W.H. Ellis. Ellis had assembled a large parcel of land in the late 1800s located in the area north of the railroad tracks and now bisected by 2nd Avenue, and from 5th Street westward. It is not clear what Ellis had planned to do with this property, but after his death the heirs of his estate began to sell off lots, initially along 3rd Avenue. One exception, however, was the lot which Thomas A. Mott and his wife Mildred bought from the estate in 1911. Mildred was one of Ellis's daughters and she and her husband had a fine bungalow (507 Second Avenue, NW) erected at what is now the southwest corner of 2nd Avenue and 5th Street. In 1911 Second Avenue extended to, but not beyond, the Ellis estate which bordered 5th Street. By 1915, however, both the extension of 6th Street to 1st Avenue and 2nd Avenue to 6th Street had apparently been surveyed, since they are indicated on a 1915 map with broken lines. A deed recorded in 1926, however, still refers to the extension of 6th Street as a proposal only. In any case, further development in this area did not take place until 1922.
The remaining two houses built in this period are located on 4th Street. In 1912, Dr. T.C. Blackburn purchased a lot from Amzi A. Yoder which adjoined the north boundary of Edgar D. Yoder's lot, and sometime thereafter he built his frame house (343 Fourth Street, NW). At the southwest corner of 4th Street and 4th Avenue, Lula G. Wannemacher, a daughter of Amzi A. Yoder, moved into a large bungalow (375 Fourth Street, NW) built about 1916.
A period of at least five years elapsed between the time Lula Wannemacher's bungalow was built and the point when construction began once again in the Oakwood District as it did generally in Hickory. This hiatus in building activity was a direct result of the United States' increasing involvement and later its entrance into World War I. As industry retooled for wartime production, building materials, like many other items, were channeled into the war effort. This situation did not ease until 1921 when the economy had revived from the postwar recession.
When building activity commenced once again, it ushered in a long period of development in the Oakwood District which did not falter until World War II. During this twenty-year period, Hickory experienced a tremendous rate of growth in its manufacturing base, especially evident in the number of new textile and furniture plants that were established. The population in this same period had grown by 265 percent from 5,076 persons in 1920 to 13,487 persons in 1940. Although this figure reflects the 1931 incorporation of West Hickory and Highland, there was clearly a steady growth in the city's population. The general post-war non-farm economic boom in North Carolina contributed to, and is reflected in, these figures, as is the rise in the number of urban immigrants resulting from the collapse in farm prices.
It is quite clear that the Oakwood District continued to be a fashionable neighborhood, especially for members of the middle and upper class. Many professionals, businessmen, and industrialists located to this area throughout the period. Twenty-nine houses were added to the district's boundaries between 1921 and 1940, a 111 percent increase in the building stock. While some of these houses were built on lots between older homes, others were constructed in areas which had only recently been opened up for development. Building activity in the 400 block of 4th Avenue following the subdivision of the Charles H. Geitner and Amzi A. Yoder properties underscores this second point. In the first case, Geitner had at least a portion of his property around the old Hickory Tannery surveyed and platted in 1916 after operations there had ceased. A large section of Yoder's parcel was subdivided in 1923 after J.A. Moretz purchased the property bordering 5th Street and 4th Avenue.
The first house built in this period was probably the 1922 Robert E. Simpson House (506 Second Avenue, NW) located directly across from the Thomas A. Mott House (507 Second Avenue, NW). Simpson had married Annie Ellis, daughter of W.H. Ellis from whose estate they purchased this building lot. At the time the house was built and named Stonehaven, no doubt because of its granite veneer, Simpson was general manager of Lines East of the Southern Railway system. George F. Ivey, superintendent of the Southern Desk Company, Methodist lay leader, and civic minded citizen, had a dwelling (521 Third Avenue, NW) built after 1921 on the vacant lot between Edward B. Cline's house (533 Third Avenue, NW) and Walker Lyerly's house (509 Third Avenue, NW). The Iveys had moved to Hickory in 1903, and their legacy to Hickory included a substantial donation made in 1942 toward the construction of a new library (later to be called the Elbert Ivey Memorial Library (420 Third Avenue, NW) in memory of their son), and the outdoor arboretum in Carolina Park (in the Claremont High School Historic District). Another furniture manufacturer, William N. Cox, had a house (335 Sixth Street, NW) built after 1921 on the west side of 6th Street and adjacent to the Espey D. Sherrill House (327 Sixth Street, NW). Cox moved to Hickory in 1918 from Martinsville, Virginia to become general manager of the Martin Furniture Company; in 1932 he founded the Cox Manufacturing Company. In 1928 Lawrence O. Rector bought two parcels of land from the Charles H. Cline estate. Cline was one of Michael L. Cline's sons, and the parcel of land which Rector bought shared William N. Cox's north property line. Rector had a house (343 Sixth Street, NW) built there, but in 1931 he sold it to Carl V. Cline. Carl V. Cline was the son of J.A. Cline, founder, in 1906, of the first hosiery mill in Hickory, the management of which the younger Cline eventually assumed.
Four other houses built at this time along 6th Street were all constructed north of 4th Avenue on land which had been subdivided from the large tracts which Jones W. Shuford and Charles H. Geitner owned. In 1919 and 1920 Livius L. Hatfield, a sales representative for Lily Mills at Shelby and an active member of the First Baptist Church, bought a number of small parcels of land along the east side of 6th Street. Sometime after 1921 he had a large bungalow constructed on one of the lots (508 Sixth Street, NW). A few hundred feet to the north, Nillah M. Edmisten had a house (540 Sixth Street, NW) built soon after she bought a lot from Charles H. Geitner in 1924. The only Dutch Colonial Revival house in the Oakwood Historic District was built about 1927 for E. Harold Shuford. The son of Jones W. Shuford, E. Harold had his house (515 Sixth Street, NW) built on a portion of his father's property located on the west side of 6th Street. Dr. Robert T. Hambrick and his wife Josephine moved into an exquisitely rendered Tudor Revival house (529 Sixth Street, NW), two lots to the north of Shuford's residence, which had been completed in 1928. Hambrick was one of the founders and former medical director of the Hickory Memorial Hospital, one of the city's two large hospitals. His wife is the daughter of Eubert and Josephine Lyerly, both prominent figures in Hickory's development.
In 1927 the third house was erected in the development along 2nd Avenue, known at that time and at least until the 1940s as "Ellis Place." The area derived its name from W.H. Ellis, a prosperous Hickory merchant. Ellis owned a large tract of land in this part of the city, and his two daughters, Mildred Mott and Annie Simpson, and their husbands had built houses (507 Second Avenue, NW and 506 Second Avenue, NW) at the eastern end of the property. Surveyed into building lots complete with deed restrictions this subdivision represented the first documented attempt in the district to impose a comprehensive plan on the development of a particular area. The Tudor Revival Cecil T. Bost House (535 Second Avenue, NW) was the first building constructed under the plan, and a portion of the deed is recorded below:
"It is understood and agreed that this conveyance is made with the understanding, and on the condition that the property be used for residential purposes only; that no building other than a residence and the necessary private garage and servants quarters shall be placed on said lot; that no apartment house or duplex be placed on said lot; that no more than one residence be placed on said lot; that no residence shall be placed on said lot the completed cost of which shall be less than $10,000.00; that the one residence shall be placed approximately mid-way between said property lines and no nearer than 12-1/2 feet of side property lines; (this includes porch) that residence proper excluding porch shall be placed 48 feet from front property lines, no more and no less; and no one story or flat roof residence be placed on said lot; that the property shall not be sold, rented, leased, mortgaged or otherwise encumbered or occupied by any one other than a member of the Caucasian race, except servants quarters especially provided for them."
Although the restrictions remained the same at least until 1947, it is interesting to note that the $10,000.00 minimum cost of a residence had been lowered to $7,000.00 by 1931.
The use of covenants such as those employed in "Ellis Place" was, at the time, one of the only ways to control development in Hickory. Deed restrictions had been used in the Kenworth subdivision [see Kenworth Historic District] in the early 1920s, and there were possibly other, but as yet uncovered, early uses of this tool throughout the city. The effect of their use along 2nd Avenue is readily apparent in the substantial and generally well-designed houses built there.
As mentioned above, subdivision of the Geitner and Yoder properties opened the way for the construction of houses along 4th Avenue, and seven were built prior to 1930. At some point between 1923 and 1925 Elwood W. Walton had a frame house built on the north side of 4th Avenue. Walton was the secretary and treasurer of Hickory Hosiery Mills prior to founding the Walton Knitting Mills in 1934. During this same short time two bungalows were built on the south side of the street in what appears to have been a speculative venture by J.A. Moretz. Moretz had purchased the property from the Yoder estate in 1922. In 1923 and 1924 he sold one lot for $6,000, a second for $6,500, and a third for $1,500; the price differential suggesting that two of the lots had been improved. Douglas P. Taylor, partner in the jewelry firm of Dietz and Taylor purchased the $6,000 lot and house (431 Fourth Avenue, NW), and William B. Southerland, an employee of the Southern Railway bought the $6,500 house and lot (423 Fourth Avenue, NW). In 1928 Albert S. Lutz, founder of Service Dry Cleaners and a prominent civic leader, had a Spanish Mission Revival style house (437 Fourth Avenue, NW) — the only one in the Oakwood Historic District — built at the southeast corner of 4th Avenue and 5th Street on Moretz's $1,500 lots. This was followed soon after by the construction of two more houses: another bungalow (Harold G. Deal House, 415/417 Fourth Avenue, NW) directly behind the Lula G. Wannemacher House (375 Fourth Street, NW), and a large Tudor Revival house (420 Fourth Street, NW) on the north side of the avenue. The bungalow was probably built about 1928 for Harold G. Deal, manager of the Piggly Wiggly store, who had married Lula Wannemacher's daughter. The Tudor Revival house (420 Fourth Street, NW) was built in 1929 for Charles H. Geitner on a lot behind (west of) his first house (407 Fourth Street, NW). Charles and Suehonor Geitner's decision to have a new house built beside an older one was the third and last time in the district when some factor, perhaps the desire to live in a more architecturally fashionable house, motivated such a change. Their son, R. Walker Geitner, a retired banker and prominent businessman, has occupied the house since the late 1940s. The last house constructed on 4th Avenue was built about 1930 for Clement Geitner, one of Charles Geitner's sons. Another Tudor Revival dwelling (436 Fourth Avenue, NW), it was acquired in the late 1930s by G. Lee George, president of Boyd-Lee Hosiery Mills.
Two other houses constructed in the 1920s are the Edgar D. Yoder House (353 Fourth Street, NW), and the Paul A. Setzer House (436 2nd Avenue, NW). Edgar Yoder had a house (335 Fourth Street, NW) built around 1905, but in 1921 he bought a second parcel of land from his father Amzi A. Yoder's estate and constructed a small bungalow on it. Finally, in 1927 Paul A. Setzer had a stone veneered residence built on the site of an older house which had been there at least since 1915. Setzer was the son of John S. Setzer (305 Sixth Street, NW) and worked in his father's store, but in 1910 he established a horse collar manufacturing plant with Charles H. Geitner who lived at 407 Fourth Street, NW. In 1925 he sold that business and sometime later founded the Setz-Right Hosiery Mill.
In 1934 Dr. George E. Bisanar had a house (431 Sixth Street, NW) built on the west side of 6th Street on land he purchased from Jones W. Shuford. Bisanar had established a jewelry business on Union Square in 1896, and was a former mayor and official of the First National Bank of Catawba County. In 1935 the vacant lot between the homes of Dr. Robert T. Hambrick and E. Harold Shuford became the site of the Connolly C. Gamble House (517 Sixth Street, NW). Gamble earlier was residing near the business district. He had moved to Hickory from Watkins Glen, New York and at some point had established Gamble's Grocery. His wife Rachel was one of the partners in Sarah's Flower Shop. Another businessman, George Fuller, owner of Fuller's Furniture store, had a Colonial Revival house (406 Sixth Street, NW) built in 1938 on the lot adjoining Edwin H. Umstead's bungalow. In 1940 Eugene C. Ivey, George F. Ivey's brother and founder of the Community Oil Company, moved into yet another Colonial Revival residence (428 Sixth Street, NW) on the east side of 6th Street. Two more Colonial Revival houses were built on the east side of 6th Street after 1944 for businessmen Otho E. Sigmon (524 Sixth Street, NW) and Ervin C. Yount (516 Sixth Street, NW). Sigmon was the owner of the Men's Shop which he had established in 1933, and Yount was a furniture dealer. In the development of these lots on the Geitner estate it is interesting to compare the deed descriptions that pertained to the lots. Lots sold in the 1920s and 1930s, and even Yount's lot, were not subject to restrictions, but when Sigmon purchased his lot (six months after Yount) a number of them were placed in the deed including one on the value of the improvements and their locations on the lot.
Two duplexes were constructed along 6th Street in the 1930s. Their location in the district represented the first (and last) time that specially designed multi-family housing was introduced into the neighborhood. Although the district continued to be composed primarily of single family residences, the generally high quality of the duplexes revealed the need for smaller but attractive housing units in this period of tremendous growth. One of the duplexes (317 Sixth Street, NW) was constructed on property which John S. Setzer had sold to his daughter Bessie and her husband David Rowe in 1915. Built about 1935, it apparently had been constructed solely for rental purposes since Bessie is not listed as living there until 1949. The second duplex (418/420 Sixth Street, NW) was erected on the lot adjoining the north property boundary of the Edwin H. Umstead House (412 Sixth Street, NW). One of its occupants in the mid 1940s was Livius L. Hatfield who had previously lived in a bungalow located on a nearby lot (508 Sixth Street, NW).
A number of the remaining lots in "Ellis Place" were improved in the 1930s and 1940s under the same deed restrictions that had been applied to the Cecil T. Bost House discussed earlier. Sometime after 1931 Dr. Henry H. Menzies moved into a new house built in the 600 block of 2nd Avenue (614 Second Avenue, NW). Menzies was the son of William B. Menzies, an early businessman in Hickory. Adjacent to Menzies on the east, John F. Miller, a prominent businessman and theatre operator had a residence (606 Second Avenue, NW) constructed after 1934. The third house was built in 1937 on the south side of 2nd Avenue for Edgar L. Fox (525 Second Avenue, NW). Fox had been associated with the First Savings and Loan Association for many years and at his retirement was the executive vice-president and secretary. One Colonial Revival house built outside of "Ellis Place" at 426 Second Avenue was constructed about 1940 for Ralph W. Maynard, an employee of the Hickory Cotton Company.
In 1947 Dr. Ralph C. Flowers had a house (522 Second Avenue, NW) built on a lot which had been part of the Robert E. Simpson property. Subsequently, in 1950, the First Baptist Church erected a parsonage adjacent to Flower's house at the northeast corner of 2nd Avenue and 6th Street (534 Second Avenue, NW). Their new parsonage was built at the same time that plans were being developed for the construction of a new church now located at the southeast corner of 2nd Avenue and 4th Street.
The only institutional building erected in the Oakwood Historic District was completed in 1952. Construction of the Elbert Ivey Memorial Library (420 Third Avenue, NW) was the culmination of a long effort to improve the city's public library system. In 1942, when the George F. Iveys had pledged $30,000 to the city toward the construction of a new facility, a serious effort was made to replace the small, long outgrown Elliott-Carnegie Library which opened in 1922. Named in honor of one of the Ivey's sons, the new library represented the latest manifestation of a long-standing commitment to such facilities by the citizens of Hickory.
Changes within the Oakwood Historic District since the 1960s include the construction of an intrusive Ranch-type house (217 Fifth Street, NW) behind the Robert E. Simpson House, and the demolition of a dwelling (replaced by the Shuford Memorial Gardens) once located between the Greene-Lutz House (506 Third Avenue, NW) and Abel A. Shuford, II House (534 Third Avenue, NW). In addition, the 1880-83 J. Summie Propst House (332 Sixth Street, NW) was moved in 1972 from its original location on the south side of the railroad tracks to a site in the Shuford Memorial Gardens. Owned by the Hickory Landmarks Society, it has been rehabilitated and is now used as a museum.
From its earliest residential development the Oakwood Historic District has been an area where residents have been prominent businessmen, public officials, and professionals. As a result both the architectural fabric and historic relationships associated with the Oakwood Historic District are important testimonials to Hickory's growth and development from a small trading community to a thriving manufacturing center. Early Hickory merchants such as Michael L. Cline, John S. Setzer, and Robert W. Stevenson, were joined at the turn of the century by Charles H. Geitner, Jones W. Shuford, and Abel A. Shuford, II. Later residents included businessman and long time mayor, Walker Lyerly, attorneys David L. Russell and Edward B. Cline, and another former mayor John H. P. Cilley. In the 1920s and 1930s, when building activity in the district reached its peak, industrialists and businessmen such as George F. Ivey, Robert E. Simpson and Dr. George E. Bisanar joined professionals like Dr. Robert T. Hambrick in choosing to settle in the neighborhood. The allure of the district continued well into the 1940s when Otho E. Sigmon, Ervin C. Yount, and Dr. Ralph C. Flowers elected to have homes built here. Today the neighborhood is still occupied by bankers, businessmen, and professionals representing a broad range of occupations.
‡ Kirk F. Mohney, Consultant to the City of Hickory, Oakwood Historic District, Catawba County, NC, nomination document, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
2nd Avenue NW • 3rd Avenue NW • 4th Avenue NW • 4th Street NW • 5th Street NW • 6th Street NW