Oakwood Historic District
The Oakwood Historic Districtwas listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] adaptation copyright © 2011.
The Oakwood Historic District is a small, compact, three-block residential corridor whose southern edge borders Kivett Drive and the North Carolina Railroad tracks just three blocks west of the central business district in High Point, North Carolina. The northern end of the Oakwood Historic District is approximately one-half mile from the central downtown area and points the way to some of the city's finest suburbs which date from the mid-1920s. Encompassing approximately twelve acres, the Oakwood Historic District is relatively homogeneous in scale and design with even setbacks, mature plantings, and a well-preserved representative collection of early, pre-suburban, twentieth century residential structures — all within easy walking distance of the downtown area. The present exterior physical appearance of the Oakwood Historic District remains virtually unchanged from the historic exterior physical appearance. Little significant commercial encroachment or excessive infill construction is evident. What little infill construction exists is unobtrusive and architecturally complementary.
The Oakwood Historic District contains rare examples of High Point's surviving urban residential buildings built between 1902 and 1915 (the 300 block, including the city's only surviving collection of Queen Anne style houses), as well as the last group of residential structures to be built in the downtown area (the 100 block), constructed mainly between 1921 and 1927. This 100 block, also known as Oakwood Court, displays an exceptionally handsome broad, grassy median ninety feet wide including the street at its center point. This gracious median offers a cozy repose and tranquil character within the inner city. Principal architectural styles in the Oakwood Historic District are Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and Bungalow/Craftsman. Exterior wall materials range from common southern pine weatherboard to exotic North Carolina quartzite stone.
Today, a substantial number of buildings within the Oakwood Historic District need rehabilitation and almost all of the immediately surrounding area is now commercial. The earliest commercial development dates from c.1917, but the vast majority of commercial development now surrounding the Oakwood Historic District grew up in the last three decades. Especially threatening is the acceleration of commercial development in the area since 1982.
Within the Oakwood Historic District are a total of thirty-six resources of which twenty-eight are contributing. Of these contributing resources, twenty-five are primary buildings. All of the primary buildings are residential: twenty-one are single family houses and four are multi-family units (two-story brick apartment buildings built late in the district's period of significance, 1936-1939). All of the multi-family units, both contributing and noncontributing because of post-1940 construction, blend well with the Oakwood Historic District in size, scale, and building materials.
Today, approximately 75% of the primary buildings offer multi-family accommodations and 25% are solely single family structures: the interiors of four of the large Queen Anne style houses are in apartments and the owners of six more of the district's larger homes have boarders. These interior changes and uses, however, do not affect architecturally the exterior physical appearance of the buildings. The houses and apartment buildings of the Oakwood Historic District still portray their prosperous middle and upper-middle class beginnings, although the majority of residents today are low to moderate income people and the overall appearance of the neighborhood is somewhat shabby.
The three secondary contributing buildings are a modest frame duplex (1939) built in the large backyard of 301 Oakwood Street (Hayworth-Johnson House, 1902), and two garages, one converted from a carriage shed/barn. The proximity to town of the Oakwood Historic District has always kept secondary buildings to a minimum.
Noncontributing buildings in the Oakwood Historic District include five primary and three secondary buildings. All of the primary noncontributing buildings except one (J. Quincy Moffitt House, an altered 1922 bungalow) have that status due to age: two residential buildings — a brick duplex and a brick triplex — and two small brick one-story commercial buildings. The commercial buildings are clustered on English Street, which is lined with light industry and the only street to intersect the Oakwood Historic District.
Directly across the railroad tracks from the Oakwood Historic District, less than 400 feet away, in full view, stand three highly significant National Register listings: the O. Arthur Kirkman House and Outbuildings, 1913 (National Register, 1988), a large two-acre urban estate incorporating Blair School, (built in 1879 and expanded in 1898, National Register, 1989), High Point's first public school and the first home of O. Arthur Kirkman at the edge of his estate; and the Tomlinson Chair Factory, 1904-1927 (National Register, 1984). Four other National Register properties bring High Point's current  total to seven.
The district of Oakwood Street is special for its historic architecture. Especially within the 300 block, the oldest block in the Oakwood Historic District, one feels as if time has stood still, giving the best example in High Point of what residential life was like in the town at the turn of the century. The 300 block also contains the only collection of Queen Anne style houses left in the city. Five of these two-story houses are virtually identical, reflecting their origins as speculative ventures by developer Benjamin A. Best. (The 200 and 300 blocks of Oakwood Street were, in fact, first named Best Street.) All have a projecting three-sided bay at one end of the main facade, featuring decorative shingles in the gable and spoolwork spandrels, as well as full-facade or wraparound porches with Tuscan columns which indicate the growing popularity of the classical modes. Another strong architectural influence on the 300 block is the Charles Welborn House (305 Oakwood Street, 1905), a 4,000 square foot early Colonial Revival house with Queen Anne influence whose original lot incorporated the two flanking properties and swept back all the way to Meadow Place. The Welborn House is the best built house on the block with an array of elaborate fireplaces, although it now needs rehabilitation.
All except two of the houses in the 300 block of Oakwood Street are frame. All exhibit even setbacks and have mature plantings. The lots are today relatively uniform, roughly measuring on the average about 65' x 175'. Although the Queen Anne style houses originally had wooden shingle roofs, today all of the houses on the block exhibit contemporary roofing materials such as asphalt and fiberglass shingles. Foundations are brick. Decorative elements are typical for the styles: wide front porches with classical columns, porch rails and spindles, tall gables, spandrels, turned work, and bay windows. The Colonial Revival Welborn House has a second-story balcony centered above its wide wrap front porch. Other than the Welborn House (305 Oakwood Street, 1905), outstanding architectural examples on the block include the Mary Fisher Frazier House (308 Oakwood Street, 1905), one of the finest examples of the extant Queen Anne style homes.
Although more angular, the four brick and frame houses in the short 200 block of Oakwood Street are equally gracious with their front porches, one of which is two-tiered. All except one of these houses are two stories. The triple-A style such as 207 Oakwood Street (Hart-O'Neil House, 1924) and 209 Oakwood Street (Norman L. Garner House, 1924) is extremely common to Guilford County, these examples of the style in brick with large rear wings, stucco accents, and two-tiered porches are elaborate urban examples of the style and today rare survivals in the city.
Along the 100 block of the Oakwood Historic District come the large Colonial Revival and Craftsman-influenced house of Thomas Gold (108 Oakwood Street, 1910) and the Foursquare of Gilbert W. Clark (111 Oakwood Street, 1913) displaying a stucco and rock exterior. Also on this block are two of the finest examples in High Point of the Bungalow/Craftsman styles the David O. Cecil House (109 Oakwood Street, 1924), with its exterior of North Carolina quartzite, and the second home of Charles S. Welborn (105 Oakwood Street, 1923), with Spanish Mission influence and an especially handsome porte cochere. Additionally in this 100 block are the Oakwood Court Garden Apartments (#17,18,19), the largest apartment complex in the Oakwood Historic District. With approximately thirty-three units in total, the apartments consist of three brick buildings joined over grassy divides by brick arches inlaid with blond brick. Even these 1930s apartments have front porches as do the majority of contributing buildings in this block. The building materials of brick, stone, and stucco predominate; roofing materials are contemporary. Decorative elements are those common to the Colonial Revival and Bungalow/Craftsman styles. Setbacks are for the most part even, although oval shaped to follow the line of the block's central median.
Although Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and Bungalow/Craftsman styles are the most pervasive in the Oakwood Historic District, with a complementary assemblage of apartment buildings, other architectural styles do occur. It seems likely that the designs for most of the houses in the Oakwood Historic District were derived from stock plans, magazines, or from the popular architectural pattern books of the day. The Queen Anne houses of the 300 block, for example, are fairly uniform. On the whole, workmanship is above average, solid and substantial.
As noted earlier, commercial development in the Oakwood Historic District occurs primarily at the intersection of English Street. Elsewhere only one other commercial building is found, just outside the southern end of the district: the High Point Coal and Ice Company building (1928), a long rectangular brick building with long front loading ramp facing W. Kivett Drive.
Today, the Oakwood Historic District remains intact in character, feeling, and association despite the need for rehabilitation and despite the loss of five houses over the last thirty years, three within the 200 block. Today, however, Oakwood is more threatened than ever before, not only from commercial encroachment which is continuously present, but also from an aggressive code enforcement policy recently adopted by the Inspections Department of the City of High Point.
The Oakwood Historic District is significant in the history of High Point, North Carolina as the only survival of that city's downtown middle-class residential development between 1902 and 1927. Of the multi-faceted expansion of middle and upper middle class housing in High Point which grew out of the city's tremendous population growth and ever increasing prosperity during the first three decades of the twentieth century, Oakwood is the only residential neighborhood of substantial scope, constructed within the original one-half mile radius of the central city, to survive relatively intact. The Oakwood Historic District presents a noteworthy assemblage of turn-of-the-century pre-suburban residential architecture which includes the only surviving collection of Queen Anne style houses left in High Point. It also displays some of the best surviving examples of early downtown Colonial Revival structures, as well as two of the finest Bungalow/Craftsman style houses found anywhere in the city. With historic construction spanning the period 1902 to 1940, the Oakwood Historic District is the last phase of downtown residential construction and, as such, reflects High Point's community development spurred by the local furniture industry's early twentieth century successes.
Community Development and Architecture Contexts
Residential expansion within the city of High Point, North Carolina, was extensive in the early twentieth century in response to a growing and diversifying local economy. Prosperity in High Point grew foremost from the development of the furniture and hosiery industries. Although woodworking factories were present in High Point as early as 1881 (population: 1,500), the city's first real economic boom didn't occur until the turn of the century. (Before that time High Point's largest product was dried fruit.) Beginning in the 1890s and accelerating during the first three decades of the twentieth century, population exploded as an ever increasing number of successful furniture factories and hosiery mills developed. In 1900, High Point boasted a population of 4,163 and twelve furniture plants, by 1930 population had soared to 36,745 and High Point had over 100 manufacturing establishments.
The abundance of lumber, access to the railroad, pent-up demand, an able labor force, adequate local capital, and the spirit of enterprise combined in High Point at the turn of the century to make the city a bustling center of furniture factories. Most importantly, High Point is at the center of North Carolina's hardwood forests offering an abundant supply of raw materials. David Nolan Thomas, historian of the early furniture industry in North Carolina, writes that as the "American market for household furniture grew with unusual speed after 1900 because of accelerated urbanization and a general rise in the standard of living," High Point emerged within a mere thirty years as one of the country's leading producers of wooden household furniture. Along with the furniture industry developed auxiliary wholesale industries: lumber, millwork, hardware, glue, cots, pillows, mattresses, bedsprings, varnishes, stains, paints, dyes, plate glass and mirrors. With the advent of the wholesale furniture market in High Point as early as 1910 and solidifying with the opening of the Southern Furniture Market Exposition Building in 1921, High Point began to grasp its present day title of "Furniture Capital of the World." Today, sixty percent of all solid wood furniture made within the United States is made within a 200 mile radius of High Point, and twice yearly in April and October, the city hosts the largest wholesale furniture market in the world.
The early decades of the twentieth century was also the period during which the hosiery and textile industries took root in High Point. Several hosiery firms were established at this time that would play a substantial role in the future development of the hosiery industry in the state and in the nation. Whereas Hanes was established in Winston-Salem in 1900, High Point's first hosiery mill — the nucleus of Adams-Millis — opened in 1905. Today, High Point's eighteen hosiery mills manufacture more than 87,000 dozen pairs of hose and socks a day; High Point's Adams-Millis has the largest share of the sock market in the United States, making an astounding twenty-three percent of all socks made in America.
The history of this early economic growth was recorded admirably in the city's urban architectural development. High Point's factories and mills were located mostly to the south along with the smaller homes of the factory and mill workers and the larger homes of the factory and mill owners. Before 1925 in High Point, it remained the tendency of factory owners to build their homes near their factories. Middle and upper middle class residential expansion occurred mostly to the north. The North Carolina Railroad tracks running through the center of town divides these two segments. The Southern Railway Depot (1905), where the tracks cross Main Street, is still considered the central point of the city. Incorporated in 1859, High Point first grew up at this point where the North Carolina Railroad tracks were laid across the Old Plank Road (Main Street) in 1855. Good rail connections were paramount to the success of a small industrial town like High Point and the central location of the train depot in the early twentieth century symbolized the importance of rail transportation to the life of the city.
High Point grew in concentric rings radiating from this one central point. First came full-scale development within a one-half mile radius of the depot. Living within this one-half mile radius, one could walk anywhere in the downtown area in three to five minutes. This symbolized the village life in High Point which persisted within this one-half mile radius as shown in the development of Oakwood even into the 1920s. Living within the one-half to one-and-a-half mile radius of the city, development that overlapped with that of Oakwood, but started somewhat later, necessitated some form of transportation like the streetcar, which operated in High Point from 1910 to 1925. Still later, with the widespread use of the automobile, came the more extensive spread of suburbs in the late 1920s and 1930s.
Today, except for a handful of isolated structures, the only residential neighborhoods to survive from the original area of full-scale development are the small, but highly significant W. High Street residential area mentioned earlier, whose five houses, dating from 1879 to 1913, represent the tendency of factory owners to build their homes near their factories, and the more intact and extensive middle class neighborhood of Oakwood which dates roughly from 1902-1927. Once there were many residential areas within the original radius of downtown that were comparable to Oakwood and even grander. They occurred for the most part along W. Broad and E. Washington (now Kivett Drive), Hamilton, Chestnut, Steel, Elm, English, the first two blocks of Lindsay Street, and Main Street (Main Street being the most favored location until the mid-1920s). These were fine middle and upper middle income streets lined with a magnificent array of early twentieth century residential architecture. Some of these structures, especially along Main Street, were exceptionally grand, reflecting the enormous profits made during the first boom era of the furniture and hosiery industries in High Point. This historic High Point, of which Oakwood was but one part, was captured in photographs beginning in 1896, published in the J.J. Farriss promotional books on High Point until 1916. Broad tree-lined streets, mature plantings, even setbacks, complementary heights, and a host of decorative extras like wrought-iron fences and vine-laden trellises graced a large variety of turn-of-the-century downtown residential architecture and conveyed well a small prosperous southern town.
On the whole, residential architecture in Guilford County tended to be modest throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Guilford County was settled mostly by yeoman farmers of English, German, and Scotch-Irish descent with an unusually large concentration of Quakers. Domestic building was composed first mostly of simple log and brick houses, often in a Quaker plan; later came the ubiquitous vernacular farmhouses in a central hall, L-shaped, or triple-A plan. These house types were common to both the countryside and the small town until the turn of the century when the urban centers of Greensboro and High Point experienced unprecedented growth. In High Point, splendid, sprawling houses in Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and Neo-classical Revival styles, often in combination, with Bungalow/Craftsman influences arriving in the early 1910s, were built throughout the city. Many were quite elaborate.
An abundance of natural resources, skilled labor (spawned by the advent and growth of the furniture industry) and easy access to the railroad facilitated construction. In High Point, the Oakwood Historic District is the only middle and upper middle income residential area to survive from this early downtown development, and it contains a fine representative collection of High Point's historic urban domestic architecture. More elaborate representations of the styles found in Oakwood, as well as other styles like the Neo-classical Revival, did occur in the central city, but they are now gone. The majority of these historic structures were destroyed during High Point's second major economic boom in the 1950s and 1960s.
It should be noted also that since 1982 High Point is again experiencing an economic boom that is destroying and increasingly threatening to destroy what little remains of the historic architecture not only within the one-half mile radius of downtown but throughout the entire city. Preservation forces are mounting in High Point, but to date there are few examples of successful preservation in the community from the private sector to offer as models for a wider understanding and appreciation of preservation. Besides the High Point Museum, which displays on its grounds the 1786 John Haley House (National Register), the most prominent examples of successful preservation in High Point to date are the 300 to 500 blocks of W. High Street (including three National Register listings) and the locally designated Johnson Street Historic District (R. Homer Wheeler developer), High Point's first streetcar suburb located within the mile to mile-and-a-half radius of downtown. It is hoped that the Oakwood Historic District listing to the National Register will encourage the successful rehabilitation of Oakwood and thereby demonstrate the benefits of preserving our historic housing stock.
The development of Oakwood has always been tied to the development of the municipality of High Point. At the far western edge of the city at the turn of the century, the oldest block of Oakwood began the same year as the city first supplied public water, in 1902. In that year, High Point opened its water works system which not only guaranteed city residents plenty of water for the first time, but also a degree of fire protection.
The Oakwood Historic District was originally part of undeveloped rural farmland bordering the cow pastures of J.M. Hedgecock and Everett Corbett to the west and the lightly populated rural outskirts of the city along Lindsay Street to the east. The 200 and 300 blocks of Oakwood Street were sold by meets and bounds. A plat for the 100 block of Oakwood Street was drawn up in 1914, but two houses were already present (Thomas J. Gold House, 108 Oakwood Street, 1910 and Gilbert W. Clark House, 111 Oakwood Street, 1913). The major developers of Oakwood were Benjamin A. Best, along with his uncle, J.B. Best, and brother, J.T. Best, and Robert A. Wheeler. All of these men were large land owners and tied closely to the early prosperity of the city from the 1890s through the early decades of the twentieth century. Both Benjamin A. Best and Robert A. Wheeler, as High Point directories show, lived but one block away on Lindsay Street.
Robert A. Wheeler came from a wealthy Guilford County family whose members represented some of High Point's earliest downtown residents. From the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries, Wheeler was considered one of High Point's most prominent citizens, associated with a number of successful businesses and real estate ventures. Whereas Robert A. Wheeler dealt mainly in downtown real estate, his son, R. Homer Wheeler, was responsible for some of High Point's early suburbs: the blocks of Lindsay Street beyond the half-mile radius of downtown, Johnson Street, the city's first streetcar suburb, and the blocks of Main Street adjacent to suburban Johnson Street, both within the mile to mile-and-a-half radius of the central city.
Benjamin A. Best made his fortune manufacturing chairs. Starting off first in his uncle's chair business in the 1890s, Best bought into the company and along with his brother J.T. Best, in 1906, started the Best Chair Company, which specialized in manufacturing large oak rockers. Perhaps this is why Best was so partial to the Queen Anne style house of which he built so many in the 200 and 300 blocks of Oakwood — because the style had wide front porches that might encourage the use and sale of his large porch rockers. Today, Best's Queen Anne style houses that line Oakwood are the only surviving collection of the style in High Point, a city which once displayed many in the downtown area.
Prominent residents in the Oakwood district included Charles S. Welborn (305 Oakwood Street, 1905 and 105 Oakwood Street, 1923), who, with his brother, D.N. Welborn, owned the largest retail furniture store in the South. Thomas J. Gold and his wife, Nina Wheeler Gold (daughter of the developer of Oakwood Court, Robert A. Wheeler) built the first house in the 100 block in 1910, a Colonial Revival influenced dwelling (108 Oakwood Street). Tom Gold, as a young man, became a successful attorney as Judge of the High Point Court, a North Carolina State Legislator, and eventually a prominent lawyer to High Point's larger insurance companies, banks, and captains of industry. Also in the 100 block lived Gilbert W. Clark, who built the second house in 1913, a huge rock and stucco Foursquare at 111 Oakwood Street. Clark owned a successful wholesale grainery two blocks from his home and in the 1920s branched out into real estate development and insurance. Other prominent residents included David O. Cecil (109 Oakwood Street, 1924), who began his career manufacturing baskets, then furniture, and in the 1920s started a chain of automobile service stations and Dixie Oil Company to supply them; Clifton A. Ring (101 Oakwood Street, 1921), a pharmacist, who in the 1920s owned and operated a wholesale drug supply company, and T. Walter Albertson (114 Oakwood Street, 1923), a successful local attorney in the 1920s who became the city's public defender. Thus, although the automobile came into general use in the 1920s and fashionable neighborhoods developed on the outskirts of town, members of the prosperous middle and upper middle class continued to buy lots and build houses on Oakwood, apparently due at least in part to its prominent location within the downtown area. Although Robert A. Wheeler officially filed his plat for the 100 block of Oakwood which he named Oakwood Court in 1914, the majority of construction on the block occurred between 1921 and 1927, making it the last downtown residential development until the present with the construction of Market Square Tower, scheduled for completion in the fall of 1990.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, rooms for rent began to be offered in houses and four apartment buildings were constructed in the district. This trend, coupled with the increasing popularity of the suburbs, started the neighborhood's slow decline to the present. To date , only five houses in the entire district have been lost. Since 1970, however, the city has proposed a variety of plans to destroy the neighborhood. None has been aggressively pursued until now. The attack now is through rezoning to commercial, higher taxes, and aggressive building code inspections and enforcement.
Oakwood has been saved to date partially because it is located just beyond the dense commercial center of the city to the east and just beyond the current development surrounding the new High Point Regional Hospital to the north. Also, a number of long-term residents, with their special interests in Oakwood, have protected their properties from commercial intrusion. Roy B. Johnson, 88, has lived in the 300 block of Oakwood Street for more than 65 years and has owned a number of buildings in the 200 and 300 blocks. Today, he still owns 301 Oakwood Street, the homeplace of his wife's family, W.W. Hayworth, and lives in the backyard at 504 Newton Place (although with a separate address, it remains part of the original lot fronting Oakwood Street for tax purposes). Mildred A. Clinard, 83, of 300 Oakwood Street, has lived on this block of the street since her marriage in 1925. Mary Fisher Frazier held her two Queen Anne style houses, 304 and 308 Oakwood Street, for more than 60 years until her death at 94 in 1988.
It is hoped now that the strengthening of the neighborhood through the recognition of its historic character will encourage rehabilitation and thereby demonstrate the many benefits and wise economy of historic preservation.
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† Dr. Dorothy Gay Darr, Oakwood Historic District, Guilford County, NC, nomination document, 1990, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.