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Hawkins Avenue Historic District

Sanford City, Lee County, NC

The Hawkins Avenue Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]

The Hawkins Avenue Historic District in Sanford, a railroad town in the Sandhills of North Carolina, forms a dense collection of historic architecture, primarily residential in character, with over one hundred and fifty principal buildings constructed between the 1880s and 1950. Hawkins Avenue, one of the principal avenues of the original 1871 town plan, evolved during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as Sanford's most fashionable residential corridor. As rural residents moved into town to be close to the railroad and new commercial and manufacturing activities, they built houses along Hawkins Avenue, a few reflecting their vernacular roots, but most adopting popular residential designs such as the Queen Anne style. The residences of the founding fathers of Sanford — Major John W. Scott Sr., John D. McIver, Duncan Evander McIver, T.L. Chisholm, and J.R. Jones — stand along Hawkins Avenue within the district boundaries. In 1900 the Sanford Cotton Mill, the town's largest textile mill, was built just east of Hawkins Avenue along the Seaboard Coast Line tracks. With its associated warehouse, office, mill housing, and boarding house, it forms an extremely well-preserved textile mill complex. By the early 1900s the rest of the district began to build up with residences of Craftsman and Colonial Revival character, and in the 1920s community institutions relocated from the central business district into the thriving area, including the Sanford High School (National Register, 1995) of 1925, and the large and splendid sanctuaries of the Presbyterians, Baptists, and Episcopalians. The Hawkins Avenue Historic District has changed little since it reached its present size about 1950.

The Hawkins Avenue Historic District has strong local significance under the theme of community development as the oldest residential area of Sanford. In addition, the Hawkins Avenue Historic District has local architectural significance for its noteworthy collection of dwellings dating from the mid-1880s through the first half of the twentieth century that exemplify late nineteenth century vernacular design as well as the evolution of popular styles from Queen Anne to Neoclassical and Colonial Revival to Craftsman to the Period Cottage style to the early Ranch house style. In addition, the intact, picturesque Sanford Cotton Mill is one of the finest mill complexes standing in North Carolina. Such industrial structures in the midst of residential development illustrate the integrated commercial, industrial, and residential character of Sanford in the first half of the twentieth century.

Historical Background

The Hawkins Avenue Historic District in Sanford comprises the oldest concentration of residential architecture in the town, built beginning in the 1880s. Sanford evolved as a small railroad stop in 1871 when the Raleigh & Augusta Railroad was extended from Raleigh south to Hamlet. At the point where it crossed the Western Railroad that connected Fayetteville with the coal region of Moore and Chatham counties, just northwest of the small town of Jonesboro, Sanford was established. The Raleigh & Augusta Railroad became the Seaboard Coast Line, and is now CSX Railroad. It runs through the Hawkins Avenue Historic District one block east of Hawkins Avenue, forming the eastern boundary of the lower half of the district. The Western Railroad became the Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley Railroad and is now the Southern Railway. It runs along Moore Street on the west side of Hawkins Avenue.

In 1871, a group of land owners in the vicinity of the railroad stop had about 225 acres laid out into streets and lots to create the new town of Sanford, named for the Raleigh and Augusta Railroad engineer responsible for building the railroad through the county. These developers were Jordan Wicker, Augustus W. Steele, John B. Matthews, Sr., brothers Wesley and John D. McIver, and Major John W. Scott, Sr. Major Scott, the largest landowner, purchased large tracts along the Raleigh & Augusta line during the 1870s. Scott hired Major Whitford, an engineer, to survey and draw up the new town plan. Scott himself is said to have supervised the first lot sales in the town in 1871 and 1872. The 1871 town plat maps the area beginning at the railroad crossing and extending north along the two railroad tracks to the present location of Chisholm Street, comprising the southern half of the Hawkins Avenue Historic District. Streets are laid out in a grid, oriented parallel to the two sets of railroad tracks, with Hawkins Avenue extending as a spine north from the railroad depot, midway between the two sets of tracks.[1]

Sanford's original development clustered around the railroad depot for many years, within the triangle formed by the crossing of the railroads, with Chatham Street on the east, Moore Street on the west, and Carthage-Charlotte Street at the north. The depot agent's house was built at the northwest corner of Charlotte and Hawkins avenues. Now known as the Railroad House, this 1872 Gothic Revival dwelling is the oldest building in Sanford. Sanford grew quickly in the late 1870s, both as a local trading center and as the site of grain mills, cotton gins, and saw mills. The main business section occupied the first two blocks of Moore Street, south of Carthage Street, facing the railroad. By 1896 Sanford had a population of 700. The earliest residential area was Chatham Street, but during the 1880s Hawkins Avenue became the town's most popular residential avenue.[2]

Sanford's leading businessmen, railroad developers, and industrialists built homes for themselves along Hawkins Avenue in the 1880s and 1890s, and several of these still stand. Major John W. Scott Sr., who had helped to lay out the town, was the organizer, along with John B. Makepeace, of the town's pioneer manufacturing enterprise, the Sanford Sash & Blind Company, in 1882, located to the south of the railroad crossing. Scott, the most important contractor and developer in town, was responsible for building many of the town's original commercial and residential buildings. About 1890 he constructed a dwelling for himself at 314 Hawkins Avenue, a rambling Victorian cottage that was much-altered in the twentieth century. Scott served as president of the Sanford Cotton Mills, incorporated in 1899 and built in 1900 one block behind his house, on the Raleigh & Augusta (CSX) railroad tracks.[3]

Another of Sanford's founders is John D. McIver, associated with Sanford's principal general store, McIver's Store, established in the 1870s. McIver lived on a large farm on Buffalo Creek near Sanford, and about 1885 he built a handsome town house for himself at 309 Hawkins Avenue.[4] The John D. McIver House is an I-house with Italianate details and a pedimented two-story classical porch. John D. McIver's nephew, Duncan Evander McIver, worked with his uncle at McIver's Store, and moved to town in 1893 when he married Kate Scott, daughter of John W. Scott Sr. The couple built a stylish Queen Anne cottage at 315 Hawkins Avenue, next door to his uncle and across the street from his bride's family home. McIver (1861-1913), described as Sanford's "foremost citizen," was a storekeeper, an attorney, owner of Sanford's first telephone system, involved with Sanford's first bank, involved with the Sanford Cotton Mills, town mayor, and a state senator. During his career in the legislature, he was instrumental in the 1907 creation of the new county of Lee out of portions of Chatham and Moore counties. The courthouse was sited midway between Jonesboro and Sanford, where it remains.[5]

Other founding fathers of Sanford erected residences in the 300 and 400 blocks of Hawkins Avenue. Adjacent to Major Scott's House, T.L. Chisholm built his two-story Queen Anne style dwelling at 318 Hawkins Avenue about 1897. Chisholm, the principal creator of the Sanford Cotton Mill, moved to Sanford from the active textile manufacturing area of Randolph County. Chisholm Street, which runs beside his house east to the mill, is no doubt named for him. Next door, at 402 Hawkins Avenue, another mill partner, J.R. Jones, had local builder Robert Walker construct an eclectic Victorian cottage for him about 1900. One of the most architecturally interesting houses in the Hawkins Avenue Historic District, it displays a hip roof with steep front gable, arched gable windows, and a handsome classical entrance. Artistic brownstone gate posts, a rare instance of the use of the county's native brownstone in a decorative context in Sanford, mark the front yard entrance.[6]

Behind the homes of Scott, Chisholm, and Jones on Hawkins Avenue stands their greatest legacy to Sanford, the Sanford Cotton Mill, the foremost new industry in Sanford at the turn of the century. The sprawling brick mill, built in 1900, faces the Raleigh & Augusta (CSX) Railroad, with a one-story brick cotton warehouse built slightly later on the south side, and a brick mill office, five worker and supervisor mill houses, and a boarding house across the tracks. The main mill building is two stories tall, with ranks of tall segmental-arched sash windows lighting the loom rooms and a four-story tower with decorative brickwork. Local contractor J.W. Brown and his son Vesper may have built the main building, as they later built other structures at the mill. By 1907 some 175 workers were employed here. By 1935, when the workforce numbered 250, it was claimed that the mill supported one-fifth of Sanford's population.[7] The mill ceased operation in the mid-1950s. A large fabric outlet, WSW Fabric Outlet, has operated here since the late 1950s.[8] The Sanford Cotton Mill complex has changed very little since its days as the largest textile mill in Sanford. With its setting on the railroad tracks and surrounding mill village buildings, it is one of the most significant textile mill ensembles in North Carolina.

The only other industrial structures in the Hawkins Avenue Historic District are a pair of warehouses adjacent to the Southern Railroad tracks in the vicinity of Buffalo Street. The 1925 Sanborn Map records a spur track extending from the main track diagonally across to N. Steele Street, with brick warehouses along it. The Liles Bonded Cotton Warehouse still stands at 311 N. Moore Street, and a triangular-shaped grocery warehouse still stands at 300 N. Steele Street, utilized as an automotive garage for the past fifty years.

As Hawkins Avenue became the most fashionable residential street in Sanford, it attracted institutions such as churches. In 1893 the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church purchased a lot from James Weatherspoon, whose house stood where the church fellowship hall now stands. James and his two brothers Jack and Will Weatherspoon lived on Hawkins Avenue in the 1880s and 1890s. No doubt Weatherspoon Street, intersecting the end of the third block of Hawkins Avenue, was named for this family.[9] The original frame church that the congregation built burned in 1913, and the next year the magnificent brick Gothic Revival sanctuary rose on the site of the old building at 205 Hawkins Avenue. The nave-form building has a prominent rose window above the front entrance, recessed within an arcade that connects a two-story tower at one corner and a three-story tower at the other. The architect is unknown; the contractor was apparently W.A. Lashley. Reverend Malcolm D. McNeill, first pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, built a vernacular Victorian cottage for himself about 1903 at 412 Hawkins Avenue, where he lived during his retirement years.[10] The high-hipped roof house has simple decorative trim.

The Baptist and Episcopalian congregations of Sanford built churches in the Hawkins Avenue Historic District in the 1920s. The large congregation of Sanford's First Baptist Church purchased a lot on Summit Drive, two blocks north of the business district, in 1924 and built a monumental brick Colonial Revival style sanctuary that still serves the congregation today. Standing at 202 Summit Drive, the church was designed by Philadelphia architect Herbert L. Cain. As the congregation expanded, the church has continued to add annexes and now occupies the entire city block. The Episcopal congregation left their original 1895 sanctuary in the business district and built a Gothic Revival chapel modeled on English parish churches, with buttresses and stained glass, in 1928 at 312 N. Steele Street. Sanford architect L.M. Thompson designed the building.

In the early twentieth century Sanford's leading families continued to build along Hawkins Avenue, moving gradually north and further away from the business district. E.D. Nall, owner of the Nall Mercantile Company in downtown Sanford, built a large Queen Anne style dwelling for himself at 607 Hawkins Avenue in 1914 out of lumber cut in nearby Chatham County. Local builder Robert Walker may have served as contractor.[11] Attorney E.L. Gavin erected the most prominent residence on the street in 1922. The Gavin House, 305 Hawkins Avenue, a large Neoclassical Revival style house with impressive Ionic portico, was built by Sanford builder John Matthews.

Not until the 1930s did the town of Sanford outgrow its original 1871 plat.[12] At the northwest corner of the district, N. Steele Street, N. Moore Street, and the cross streets of Green, Cross, W. Chisholm, Bracken, and Weatherspoon, west of the Southern Railway tracks, filled in with bungalows in the 1910s and 1920s. Sanford's school officials built a large new high school to serve this white bungalow suburb. The Sanford High School, 507 N. Steel Street (National Register, 1995), designed by school architect George Berryman in the Classical Revival style, occupies an entire city block. Since its closure in 1951, it has served as a middle school and in the 1990s as the Lee County Community Arts Center.[13]

Substantial bungalows appeared on vacant lots between the older houses along Hawkins Avenue in the late 1910s and 1920s. About 1924 John Robert Ingram, Sr. and his wife had a distinguished brick bungalow built as their residence at 206 Hawkins Avenue. Ingram was a builder responsible for the construction of the Temple Theatre and the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant in the business district, two of the most architecturally distinguished downtown landmarks. The Ingram bungalow is one of three in Sanford built of decorative Flemish bond brickwork.[14] Another fine bungalow is the brick side-gable residence built at 507 Hawkins Avenue before 1925 for Thomas G. Gunn, owner of Gunn Veneer and Lumber Company. The most significant bungalow rows in the Hawkins Avenue Historic District line the 300 block of N. Steele Street, Horner Boulevard, and the connecting streets of Cross, Chisholm and Bracken. The 1925 Sanborn Map shows approximately half of the houses already in place; the rest were largely in place by 1930.[15] The Hawkins Avenue Historic District contains three interesting Craftsman duplexes-a nearly identical pair at 404 and 408 N. Steele Street, and a single duplex at 507-509 Greensboro Avenue. The Steele Street duplexes are wood-shingled and originally had central recessed porches. The Greensboro Avenue duplex, built about 1935, has brick walls and modest Craftsman trim. Weatherspoon Street and Hill Avenue at the north end of the district have isolated late Victorian and Craftsman houses built in the early twentieth century, but largely developed with bungalows, Period Cottages, and Ranch houses in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.

Since World War II, the Hawkins Avenue Historic District has suffered fewer destructive changes than many old downtown neighborhoods in other North Carolina towns. The Hawkins Avenue Historic District retains its largely middle-class residential character with generally well-maintained homes. Sanford's commercial district remains vibrant and has not yet begun to expand into the adjacent residential areas. Certain changes in transportation routes and shifting employment opportunities have certainly altered the neighborhood since its heyday half-a-century ago. North Horner Boulevard (originally Endor Street), became the four-lane U.S. 421 Highway in the 1960s, thereby leading to the deterioration of the residences along this busy thoroughfare. Presently a number of these houses have been converted to commercial usage. The Sanford High School closed down in 1951, an indication that the center of population density had moved further away from the town center. The Sanford Cotton Mill closed in the 1950s, a victim of the changing industrial economy. A number of houses in the N. Steele Street and N. Horner Boulevard section are now somewhat neglected rental property.

Due to the rapid growth of the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill metropolitan area (the Research Triangle) in the past decade, Sanford, in commuting distance, is also developing rapidly. New suburbs are being built, downtown Sanford is experiencing a commercial renaissance, and many newcomers have an interest in rehabilitating the fine old houses in the Hawkins Avenue Historic District.

Community Development and Architecture

The Hawkins Avenue Historic District's dual significance in community development and architecture reflects its urban development as a nineteenth century railroad town laid out piecemeal by private developers. Unlike a typical county seat in North Carolina, designed as a formal plan by government officials, Sanford's town plan was shaped by private development around the intersection of the Raleigh and Augusta Air Line Railroad with the Western Railroad in 1871. Beginning as a small railroad stop, the town of Sanford quickly grew as developers laid out streets in a grid, parallel with the two railroad tracks, and subdivided lots. Sanford grew gradually as individual developers continued to enlarge the town, creating an often random blending of residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. The Hawkins Avenue District, largely laid out in 1871, mingles residential and industrial development in a relationship typical of railroad towns.

Many other North Carolina towns followed the same evolution, such as the town of Maxton in Robeson County. Starting with a depot in 1862 along the Wilmington, Charlotte & Rutherford Railroad, Maxton grew into a town as dwellings and commercial buildings were built around an informal square created by two main streets merging in front of the railroad tracks. In contrast, Pittsboro, the county seat of the adjacent county of Chatham, was laid out as a complete entity using the so-called "Lancaster square plan," with a central courthouse square, four streets radiating from the center of each side of the square, and gridded blocks in each quadrant.

Within Sanford itself, other historic neighborhoods have contrasting character to the Hawkins Avenue Historic District. Two neighborhoods to the west, Rosemount and McIver Park, were listed as a single district (see Rosemount-McIver Park Historic District) in the National Register in 1997.[16] Immediately west is the Rosemount neighborhood, platted around 1900 in the next phase of Sanford's urban development. Rosemount's orthogonal grid continues the northwest-southeast orientation of Hawkins Avenue Historic District's streets, with Horner Boulevard and North Gulf Street as the main thoroughfares. Housing in the area began in the Queen Anne style and evolved by the late 1910s into the Craftsman style, just as in the Hawkins Avenue Historic District.

In comparison, McIver Park, the subdivision west of Rosemount, presents a dramatically different model of community planning. Developers Kate S. McIver and Cross & Brinn, a real estate firm, created the subdivision in 1923 from a design by local engineer William F. Cooke and landscape architect Robert Cridland of Philadelphia and Atlanta. In contrast with the grid pattern of the earlier Hawkins Avenue and Rosemount areas, McIver Park is a picturesque subdivision with curvilinear streets fitted to the topography, a creekside park, and brick and granite gateways at the entrances to the development.

The Hawkins Avenue Historic District is distinguished for its significant collection of vernacular and popular architectural design that traces the evolution of residential architecture among the middle-class of Sanford for seven decades. As the new town grew out around the depot at the south end of Hawkins Avenue, the business and professional families who created Sanford built their residences along it, until by 1900 it was the finest residential avenue in town. The Hawkins Avenue Historic District's most architecturally significant themes are the appearance of the popular Queen Anne style from the 1880s to about 1915, and the strong collection of bungalows throughout the district from ca.1915 to the 1930s. Maxton's grand residential avenue, N. Patterson Street, is comparable to Hawkins Avenue in its blocks of impressive houses reflecting changing housing styles through the decades.

Railroad towns, by definition receptive to up-to-date ideas, generally contain few traces of vernacular building traditions. Hawkins Avenue Historic District reflects local rural traditions with a handful of I-houses — the circa 1885 John McIver House (309 Hawkins Avenue); William A. Maness House (114 Hawkins Avenue); and M. Etta Poe House (713 Hawkins Avenue). By 1900, traditional house types were rarely built in Sanford's limits. Local residents displayed their worldliness with stylish Queen Anne and late Victorian styles, Craftsman bungalows, Foursquares, Classical Revival styles and Period Revival cottages. Examples of nationally popular styles in the district include the circa 1893 Duncan E. McIver House (315 Hawkins Avenue), the grand 1922 Neoclassical Revival style E.L. Gavin House ( 305 Hawkins Avenue), the 1924 Flemish bond brick J.R. Ingram bungalow (206 Hawkins Avenue), and the pair of brick Craftsman houses with a Prairie style character (112 and 114 E. Chisholm Street), built about 1930.

The newer subdivisions of Rosemount and McIver Park, west of the Hawkins Avenue Historic District, eventually supplanted the Hawkins Avenue area as the town's most fashionable residential enclaves.[17] McIver Park was a naturalistically planned subdivision developed on her own property by Kate Scott McIver, who lived with her husband Duncan E. McIver on Hawkins Avenue. Kate McIver became one of Sanford's principal developers in the 1920s after her husband's death. Both subdivisions are dominated by nationally popular architectural styles and feature few traditional house types.


  1. Pezzoni, History and Architecture of Lee County, 49-50, 68; Bowen, Downtown Sanford Historic District nomination, 8.2, with footnotes for Sharpe's A New Geography, 206; Sanford Express, March 15, 1934.
  2. Sanford History 1874-1974, 42; Pezzoni, History and Architecture of Lee County, 54; Bowen, Downtown Sanford Historic District.
  3. Pezzoni, History and Architecture of Lee County, 52, 81.
  4. Pezzoni, History and Architecture of Lee County, 52,237.
  5. Pezzoni, History and Architecture of Lee County, 99, 238.
  6. Pezzoni, J.R. Jones House Survey File, State Historic Preservation office; Sanford History 1874-1974, 24.
  7. Pezzoni, History and Architecture of Lee County, 101, 263.
  8. Interview with E. M. Williams, mill owner, August 4, 1999.
  9. A Centennial History of the First Presbyterian Church, Sanford, 36.
  10. em>A Centennial History of the First Presbyterian Church, Sanford, 36.
  11. Pezzoni, E. D. Nail House Survey File, State Historic Preservation Office.
  12. Sanford Sanborn Maps: Sanborn first mapped Sanford in 1908. Area included is the junction of the railroads with streets radiating out, including Hawkins Avenue up to Chisholm Street. Chisholm Street ended at the cotton mill, shown with its store and office across the tracks from the mill. Next time Sanborn mapped Sanford was in 1915, when the town must have grown quite rapidly. Hawkins Avenue extends beyond Weatherspoon Street, and the entire grid-patterned neighborhood between the tracks along Moore Street over to Endor (now Horner Boulevard) was in place. The 1925 and 1930 Sanborn Maps include the same geographic coverage of the district, documenting additional construction within the same geographic area.
  13. Pezzoni, Sanford High School National Register nomination, 1995.
  14. Pezzoni, History and Architecture of Lee County, 318.
  15. Sanborn Insurance Map of Sanford, 1925, 1930.
  16. Pezzoni, Rosemont-McIver Park Historic District nomination, 1997.
  17. Pezzoni, Rosemont-Mclver Park Historic District nomination, 1997.


Bowen, Mary Ellen. Downtown Sanford Historic District nomination, 1985. North Carolina Historic Preservation Office.

Heins Telephone Company. Telephone Directory of Sanford, Broadway, Jonesboro Heights, N.C., 1949. Located at the Lee County Public Library in Sanford.

Hill Directory Company. Hill's Sanford (Lee County, N.C.) City Directory, 1950 and 1954. Richmond, Virginia. Located at the Lee County Public Library in Sanford.

Monger, Ralph, Jr., Seymour, W.W. Jr., Wright, Layne M. A Centennial History of the First Presbyterian Church, Sanford. No publisher, 1994.

Monger, J.H., Teague, D.B., Monger, Ralph, Jr., Sanford History, 1874-1974. Railroad House Historical Association, Sanford, N.C., 1974.

Pezzoni, J. Daniel. The History and Architecture of Lee County, North Carolina. Railroad House Historical Association, Inc. 1995.

________. (former) Sanford High School National Register nomination. Copy on file at the State Historic Preservation Office, Raleigh, N.C., 1995.

________. Rosemount-McIver Park Historic District National Register nomination. Copy on file at the State Historic Preservation Office, Raleigh, N.C., 1997.

Sanford Express, March 15, 1934.

Williams, E. M., Sanford, Interview August 4, 1999.


Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Sanford, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, N.C.: 1908, 1915, 1925, and 1930.

‡ M. Ruth Little, Michael Kullen and Barbara Childress Kelly, Longleaf Historic Resources, Hawkins Avenue Historic District, Lee County, North Carolina, nomination document, 1999, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Bobbitt Street • Bracken Street • Buffalo Street • Chisolm Street • Cross Street • Green Street • Greensboro Avenue • Hawkins Avenue • Hill Avenue • Horner Boulevard North • Moore Street North • Steele Street North • Summit Drive • Weatherspoon Street • Wilson Avenue