Myers Park Historic District
Myers Park Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
Myers Park, begun in 1911, is the premier streetcar suburb of Charlotte, North Carolina. The city boomed during the 1910s and 1920s as the surrounding Piedmont section of the Carolinas became the world's leading textile manufacturing region, and in 1930 Charlotte took its place as the largest city in North and South Carolina. In Myers Park lived J.B. Duke, Cameron Morrison, George Stephens, members of the Cannon, Springs and Hanes families, and many of the other banking, commercial, real estate, utility and textile leaders not only of Charlotte but of the entire Piedmont. Among the 958 structures in the Myers Park Historic District are examples of the best work by the region's leading architects, including C.C. Hook, Louis Asbury, and J.M. McMichael, and by at least one nationally known designer, Charles Barton Keen of Philadelphia. Most significant is the neighborhood's planning. John Nolen of Boston, one of America's most important early-twentieth century planning pioneers, provided the initial design. It featured an unusual degree of detail, ranging from parks and curving streets to the design of individual house lot landscaping, and Nolen gave it national exposure in his 1927 book New Towns for Old. The suburb became a model for surrounding cities and served as a training ground for a number of southern landscape architects, notably Earle Sumner Draper who went on to plan hundreds of Myers Park inspired projects across the South. Today, three-quarters of a century after its beginning, Myers Park remains a Charlotte showplace, its hundreds of giant willow oaks arching their boughs across the boulevards.
Myers Park is associated with events that have made significant contribution to the broad patterns of local, regional and national history.
Myers Park is Charlotte's premier streetcar suburb, part of the broad pattern of early suburbanization in Charlotte and the nation. The neighborhood's prosperity is a symbol of a regional economic boom, built on textile manufacturing, which saw Charlotte emerge as the largest city in North and South Carolina by 1930.
Along with portions of the nearby Dilworth neighborhood, also designed in 1911, Myers Park introduced curvilinear planning to Charlotte, and virtually all subsequent Charlotte suburbs follow this naturalistic design philosophy. Myers Park also made the southeast sector of the city highly desirable, and today the city's boundaries show a pronounced southeasterly bulge.
Myers Park is closely associated with the introduction of the concept of suburban planning to the South. John Nolen's extraordinarily detailed design was publicized in the Baltimore-based Manufacturers Record magazine (November 3, 1921) as the "finest unified suburban development south of Baltimore." Visitors flocked to Charlotte and returned home to copy the new idea. Said planner Earle Sumner Draper in 1982: "Myers Park was so noted: there was nothing in Atlanta like it — nothing in any Southern city comparable to it. And people from all over the South would come to me and say, 'I've got some property — can you do the development like Myers Park for us?"'
Myers Park is associated with the spread of the suburban planning concept nationally. It was one of the first large-scale works of John Nolen, one of the most active planners in America in the early 20th century. Articles on the design appeared in at least five national periodicals. Nolen devoted an entire chapter to the design in his 1927 book New Towns for Old, distributed nationally.
Myers Park contains the residences of many of the most prominent early 20th century industrialists in the Carolinas, who collectively shaped events. Most notable of these is James B. Duke, multi-millionaire tobacco pioneer, who late in life turned his attention to development of hydroelectricity and created what is now Duke Power. His investments, centered at Charlotte and guided by such Myers Park residents as William States Lee, Norman Cocke, E.C. Marshall, and Z.V. Taylor, electrified the piedmont Carolinas.
The neighborhood was home to numerous banking, commercial, real estate, and textile leaders not only of Charlotte, but also of the piedmont Carolinas. A sampling includes: textile man Stuart Cramer, Jr., who controlled the nearby mill town of Cramerton; fellow textile magnate Leroy Springs, who built now-giant Springs Industries; politician Cameron Morrison, who became governor of North Carolina; and entrepreneur George Stephens who owned newspapers in Charlotte and Asheville and founded the predecessor of NCNB Corporation, today the region's largest interstate banking company.
Myers Park represents the work of two master city planners, and embodies the distinctive characteristics of early 20th century suburban architecture.
Myers Park Historic District boundaries include the areas of Myers Park which were built following the designs of John Nolen and Earle Sumner Draper.
Myers Park represents an important design in the career of John Nolen, who biographer John Hancock ranks among the half-dozen most important city planners in the United States in the early 20th century.
Earle Sumner Draper, who started his career in Myers Park, went on to become the first professionally-trained planner based in the South. He lived in the neighborhood while planing over 200 major projects throughout the region. Later he became chief land planner for the Tennessee Valley Authority in its busy first years.
The buildings within the neighborhood embody the distinctive characteristics of early 20th century suburban design. Nearly all are detached single-family dwellings one to two stories tall on tree-shaded lots. Brick, weatherboard, and wood shingles are the favored exterior materials. Predominant architectural styles include Colonial Revival, Bungalow and Tudor Revival: Myers Park Historic District has one of the best collections of Tudor Revival specimens in North Carolina.
Three religious properties in Myers Park are notable for their architectural, not religious, significance. The stone Gothic Revival Myers Park United Methodist Church was designed by noted Charlotte architect Louis Asbury, and its siting at the intersection of Queens and Providence roads makes it one of the neighborhood's most important visual landmarks (1020 Providence Road). Myers Park Presbyterian Church, designed by J.M. McMichael, is a good example of English Gothic, handsomely executed in stone (2501 Oxford Place). Myers Park Moravian Church (528 Moravian Lane) is believed to be Charlotte's first church to employ the red brick Colonial Revival style (more accurately Early American Revival). Its forms and details are closely modelled on the mother church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. These three churches were built in the 1920s and 1930s and are labelled as contributing to the Myers Park Historic District.
Three structures in the Myers Park Historic District have been moved, but still contribute to the historical and architectural character of the neighborhood. The C.J. McManaway House (1700 Queens Road) is an 1870s mansion moved from downtown to Myers Park in 1915. It is one of a mere handful of 19th century Victorian dwellings surviving in Charlotte, and is a vivid symbol of the exodus of the wealthy from downtown to the suburbs at the beginning of the 20th century. The house at 1937 Selwyn Avenue was also moved from downtown at about the same time, and remodelled from the Victorian to Colonial Revival style. In the early 1980s the Charles Moody House, one of the earliest residential designs by Louis Asbury, was moved approximately a hundred yards to 949 Granville Road from its original site on busy Providence Road in order to prevent its demolition.
The logical ending date for the period of significance of the Myers Park Historic District, rather than the usual fifty-year cutoff which would fall at 1937, is 1943, when construction stopped due to the Second World War. Therefore, there are 37 structures built between 1937 and 1943, scattered evenly throughout the neighborhood, which contribute to its historic character and are judged "Contributory." This figure includes only the two-story Colonial Revival style houses; one-story Ranch style dwellings of the same period are judged "Non-contributory."
A second category of under-fifty-year-old structures deserve special mention. These are the 1944-1959 houses constructed in the blocks planned by Nolen and Draper. Although all of these are "Non-contributory" because of age, a substantial number continue the two-story Colonial Revival mode of the pre-1944 era. A large percentage of this category of houses are concentrated on Queens Road West and on the side streets captured within its sweep: Wellesley, Radcliffe, Princeton, Bucknell, and Hastings avenues. Even though this means that the majority of houses in this southwest corner of the Myers Park Historic District are "Non-contributory," inclusion of these streets is imperative to the integrity of Myers Park as an aesthetic totality. Queens Road West was designed as the backbone of John Nolen's original 1911 design, and it remained the key feature through Earle Sumner Draper's updating of the plan in the early 1920s. Today willow oaks one hundred feet high form a cathedral of arched limbs over the vast sweeping curve of Queens Road West. Here at least seven rows of trees — one in the median, one between each sidewalk and the street, and two in each front yard — were planted in the 1920s, long before houses were built. The "Non-contributory" houses themselves form a muted, minor background to these silvan cathedrals. The architecture is secondary to the elements of landscape design: the street, median, trees, and yards. These sense of place created by these avenues is so strong that they are unquestionably a harmonious part of the Myers Park Historic District.
In all, 70% of the 958 buildings within Myers Park Historic District boundaries are Contributory, with 30% Noncontributory. 66% of structures are fifty years or older, compared to 34% of more recent vintage.
Myers Park developed in three phases, lasting from the 1910s into the 1950s. First was its creation by Harvard-trained landscape expert John Nolen for developer George Stephens. This era from 1911 to about 1916 produced most of the streets in the north half of the suburb, lying between the Fourth Street entrance gate and the intersection of Queens and Providence roads. The neighborhood quickly attracted members of Charlotte's commercial, financial, utility, and textile elites, and members of the middle-class as well.
In 1917 Earle Sumner Draper, a pioneer in Southern urban planning, took over the design work. He drew many of the streets in the vicinity of Queens College, including Sherwood Avenue, Roswell Avenue, and the broad sweeping curve of Queens Road West. The neighborhood filled out with upper-middle income dwellings in the Colonial, Tudor, and Bungalow styles, and with large houses of some of the most important businessmen in the Carolinas. Residents included tobacco and utility magnate James B. Duke, North Carolina governor Cameron Morrison, and the families for whom such North Carolina textile towns as Draper, McAdenville, and Cramerton are named.
In the mid 1920s developer George Stephens ended his involvement with the neighborhood. The main avenues developed by John Nolen and Earle Sumner Draper continued to fill out as originally envisioned during the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Despite competition from newer suburbs, leading Charlotteans kept on building houses on these streets, and took special care to continue earlier architectural motifs. But as new management completed street construction, it abandoned the concepts of Nolen and Draper. Outlying streets in the 1200-acre development seldom match the picturesque curves, handsome street trees, and traditional architecture of the early areas.
Boundaries of the District/Period of Significance
The neighborhood proved to be such a success over the years that an area far beyond the boundaries of the Stephens Company's development came to be considered "Myers Park." By the 1920s competitors were routinely borrowing such trademarks as curvilinear streets, heavy tree-planting, and even — in the case of Myers Park Manor — the very name. Today to many city residents, "Myers Park" is synonymous with all well-to-do areas of southeast Charlotte.
The Myers Park Historic District, however, focuses on the original 1200-acre Stephens Company tract, plus the early additions of Dartmouth Place and Moravian Lane. Within that area, the Myers Park Historic District includes only those sections planned and/or laid out during the tenure of John Nolen and Earle Draper, 1911-1926. (Also included are a handful of later blocks along Princeton, Hastings, Bucknell and Norton roads which are captured within the sweep of Draper's Queens Road West.)
This area contains 958 buildings and structures, the majority of which are more than fifty years old. The years 1911-1943 constitute the Myers Park Historic District's Period of Significance, although it was not until the late 1960s that the lots along some of Nolen and Draper's streets filled with houses. Influenced by the continuity of the landscape design, most latter-day builders continued to opt for established architectural forms, particularly the two-story brick Colonial Revival. By 1960 virtually all lots were filled. Subsequent construction has usually involved destruction of earlier landscaping or buildings, and has mostly been multi-family in nature.
The Textile Boom
Charlotte, North Carolina, boomed in the first decades of the twentieth century. The city had become an important trading hub for the piedmont Carolinas with the arrival of the railroads in the 1850s. After the Civil War the Carolinas became a center for a movement to build an urban, industrial "New South." In 1881 the city's first cotton mill opened, and by the end of the 1890s Mecklenburg County ranked among the top three textile manufacturing counties in North Carolina. More importantly, it emerged as a major trading center for the new piedmont textile belt. As early as 1906, boosters celebrated the fact that "within the radius of 100 miles of Charlotte there are more than 300 cotton mills, containing over one-half the looms and spindles in the South."
Textile machinery distributors the world over made Charlotte their southern headquarters. Charlotte mill architects including D.A. Tompkins, Stuart Cramer and R.C. Biberstein designed hundreds of factories. Tobacco millionaire James B. Duke invested in hydro-electric plants around Charlotte to power the new industries, and his Charlotte-based companies soon controlled municipal power, light, and street railway service for many Carolina cities. Cotton brokers for the region maintained downtown offices and filled vast warehouses along the railroads with their fleecy bales. Mill owning families across the Carolinas established Charlotte homes, and put their profits into a burgeoning number of Charlotte real estate companies and banks.
Between 1900 and 1910 Charlotte population increased from 18,091 to 34,014 people, an eighty-eight percent jump, as a ring of new "streetcar suburbs" surrounded the city. The growth continued at nearly the same rate through the 1920s. In 1927 the South — with North Carolina in the lead — officially overtook New England in textile manufacturing. In 1930, the United States Census showed that Charlotte had surpassed the old port of Charleston to become the biggest city in North and South Carolina, the rank it holds to this day. Charlotte's ascendence dramatically symbolized the South's shift from a coastal-plain export economy to one based on piedmont manufacturing.
J.S. Myers' Farm, the Stephens Company and John Nolen
John Springs Myers was born in 1847 to "Colonel" William R. Myers and Sophia Springs Myers. Both the Myers' and Springs' were long-established leading families in the region and were known for their extensive land holdings in Mecklenburg and neighboring counties. In 1869 at age twenty-two, "Jack" Myers' parents gave him 306 acres of farmland located southeast of Charlotte along the road to Providence Presbyterian Church. As years went by, Myers bought up adjoining parcels until by the 1890s his cotton farm included 1,005 acres of gently rolling land between Providence Road and Sugar Creek.
The booming economy gave J.S. Myers the idea of converting his cotton farm to a fine suburb, and there is evidence that he toyed with development from the early 1890s on. But he found that it would take a rare combination of skillful salesmanship and visionary design to convince leading citizens to move this far out in the country. Beginning in 1911 Myers' son-in-law George Stephens provided the former, and Harvard-trained landscape architect John Nolen contributed the latter.
Born in 1873 in Guilford County, George Stephens attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he gained wide popularity as star pitcher of the championship baseball team. Upon graduation in 1896, Stephens came to Charlotte and quickly parlayed his social contacts into successes a real estate developer and banker. While still in his twenties he developed the Piedmont Park section of Charlotte's Elizabeth neighborhood, created the Kanuga Lake resort in the North Carolina mountains, and founded the Southern States Trust Company (later the American Trust Company), the predecessor to today's mammoth NCNB banking corporation.
In 1902 in the midst of all this activity, George Stephens found time to marry Sophia Myers, daughter of J.S. Myers. In the words of Charlotte historian Dr. Dan L. Morrill, "The father-in-law had the land. The son-in-law had the business expertise." Within a decade Jack Myers' dream of a fine suburb was being realized on a grand scale.
To develop Myers Park, George Stephens formed the Stephens Company with investors Word H. Wood and A.J. Draper. Winston Salem native Wood was a college classmate of Stephens who had come to Charlotte to help start Southern States Trust and stayed on to become one of the city's financial leaders. Draper was a transplanted New Englander, wealthy descendant of the inventor of the famed Draper loom widely used in U.S. textile mills. The original three Stephens Company stockholders were soon joined by John M. Miller, Jr., about whom little is known, and utility pioneer William States Lee, the engineer-executive who constituted the driving force behind James B. Duke's Southern Power Company.
Next, Stephens arranged with his father-in-law to buy the old cotton farm in sections. Myers gave extremely generous terms: the Stephens Company would not have to pay for each tract until lots were sold. The company purchased additional acreage from several adjoining owners, including dairy farmer McD. Watkins who held land needed to connect the Myers' farm with the established Elizabeth Avenue streetcar line. Soon Stephens and his partners controlled some 1,200 acres.
To design the new suburb, George Stephens brought in John Nolen from Boston. Nolen had first journeyed to Charlotte in 1905 while still a Harvard landscape architecture student to design Independence Park, Charlotte's first city park, adjoining Stephens' Piedmont Park subdivision. By 1911 Nolen was a rising star in the generation of designers who were making planning an integral part of the every-day workings of American cities. Inspired by visits to the England's Garden City experiments, Nolen saw planning as a way to reform urban life by bringing together the best of the city and the country. He was champion of land use controls, pushing for American adoption of the now-familiar concept of zoning. Nolen helped found planning's first professional organizations, including what is today the American Institute of Planners, worked to start planning schools at Harvard and M.I.T., wrote six books and dozens of articles, and gave thousands of speeches to "spread the gospel" of planning. His Boston-based firm was among the nation's busiest, turning out over 400 designs for suburbs, parks, estates, campuses, and even entire cities including Madison, Wisconsin, and Sacramento and San Diego, California. Biographer John Hancock ranks him among the half-dozen most important American planners in the early twentieth century. When Nolen died in 1937 the New York Times eulogized him as an "internationally known architect and pioneer in modern city and regional planning.
John Nolen's Plan
The Stephens Company directors chose John Nolen because they knew that their development would have to be uncommonly attractive to lure residents accustomed to living on fashionable Tryon and Trade streets downtown. Nolen, for his part, was excited because Stephens had both the resources and the vision to carry out a true state-of-the-art suburban plan. Myers Park, Nolen later wrote, was to be "designed aright from the first and influenced only by the best practice in modern town planning."
Though Charlotte was still too small to justify developing Myers Park all at once, Nolen resigned the entire 1,200 acres as a whole. He knew that it would take many years to build all that he planned. But he felt that it was critical that the tract be considered as a "unified suburban design," rather than as a patchwork of haphazard subdivisions.
Nolen discarded the time-honored grid street pattern seen downtown and in earlier Charlotte suburbs, referring derisively to "unnatural checkerboard streets on an undulating surface." Instead he introduced to Charlotte the concept of gently curving avenues that followed the natural topography. Also unlike downtown neighborhoods, Myers Park had a variety of street widths because, Nolen observed, "Not every street is a carrier of traffic. Some merely lead to the home." A network of residential byways fed into a 110-foot-wide grand boulevard named Queens Road, the neighborhood's spine. Its grassy median, probably modelled on posh Beacon Street in suburban Boston, carried the tracks of the electric streetcar line. Nolen planned Queens Road in a huge loop intended to put mass transit within two blocks walk of every house.
John Nolen's vision included a mix of land uses. He drew small lots along Hermitage Court and other side streets for the cottages of clerks and shopkeepers. Queens Road, Providence Road and Hermitage Road had the largest lots, for leading citizens. To ensure this mix of economic classes, Nolen helped write land use controls — which took the form of deed covenants since Charlotte had no zoning law. On upper-middle class Bromley Road in 1919, for instance, deeds required a minimum house cost of $4,000 while around the corner on ritzy Queens Road the minimum was $6,500. Nolen set aside a large tract at the center of the suburb for educational uses — eventually the site of Queens College (1900 Sylvan Avenue) and Myers Park Elementary School (2132 Radcliffe Avenue). He also proposed a shopping center for the intersection of Providence and Queens roads (site of Myers Park United Methodist Church, 1020 Providence Road).
John Nolen took care to make his suburb a quiet enclave separate from the growing city. He limited entry to a handful of points, with the main entrance at Queens Road and 4th Street marked by an elaborate stone gateway. The bewildering network of winding streets deliberately discouraged through traffic. Most important was the neighborhood's greenery. Nolen freely scattered parks throughout his drawings, particularly "greenways" along creek beds. He provided detailed planting plans for flowers and shrubs along sidewalks and in medians. Thousands of trees would line the avenues, transforming the open cotton fields into a shady glen.
Underwritten by Stephens, Nolen even went beyond the design of public spaces. For dozens of lot buyers up until 1918, his office supplied free detailed plans for yard landscaping, and the Stephens Company provided materials at cost to carry them out. Knowing he could not design all the private lots, Nolen took care to write design guidelines into the deeds issued by the Stephens Company. He mandated the setbacks of the houses from the street — varying according to street width — and forbade fences in front yards. Few suburbs anywhere in the United States exhibit this level of thorough planning.
Early Residents: 1910s
Construction began first on the blocks at the northern end of Nolen's plan, closest to town. In the early weeks of 1912 a force of fifty laborers, mostly black, and twenty-four horse teams began grading the initial four miles of Queens Road, plus adjoining streets. Separate contractors laid water, gas and sewer mains, all paid for by the Stephens Company since the project was well outside municipal boundaries. At the same time a series of advertisements and glowing news reports began to appear in the Charlotte Observer; it was no coincidence that Stephens had recently purchased the newspaper.
The Stephens Company sold house lots in a variety of ways. Many went directly to individuals who wished to build for themselves. Others were sold one or two at a time to speculative builders such as Patterson and Glasscock, Thies-Smith Realty, or Myers Park Homes. These companies constructed for resale both middle-class dwellings and some of the suburb's fine large houses. In a few cases entire blocks went to subdevelopers, who graded and paved the street, planted the trees and built the sidewalks, and then sold lots. In the early 1910s, F.M. Simmons created Hermitage Court in this manner and E.C. Griffith (who may have bought directly from J.S. Myers rather than Stephens) did Dartmouth Place. Moravian Lane represented a variation on the pattern. In 1898 the Thies family had erected a country house on a Providence Road tract that eventually came to be surrounded on three sides by Myers Park. In the 1910s the family sold off house lots facing onto the suburb's Hermitage Road and built a short suburban street of their own. Moravian Lane became an integral part of the Myers Park neighborhood.
Well-to-do Charlotteans began building fine residences in Myers Park even as crews graded the first avenues. A trickle of businessmen came first, clustering around J.S. Myers Park, one of the few spots to boast pre-existing shade trees. Furniture manufacturer H.M. Wade had a big wooden house (later replaced) built at Hermitage Road and Granville Road in 1912. Hotel owner J.M. Jamison and flour mill owner Charles Moody commissioned architect Louis Asbury to design side-by-side mansions in the 800 block of Providence Road in 1912 and 1913 (802 Providence Road, 949 Granville Road [moved]).
Next came bankers and real estate men, many active not only in Charlotte but throughout the piedmont. Developer and contractor F.M. Simmons built himself a white-columned Colonial mansion at 625 Hermitage Court in 1913 and began selling off adjoining lots. In 1915 fellow home builders H.J. Dunavant (1040 Queens Road) and V.J. Guthry (837 Harvard Place) arrived. George Stephens himself located in the suburb that year, erecting a large wood-shingled dwelling at 821 Harvard Place. Brothers Charles Lambeth ( 923 Granville Road, 1916) and Walter Lambeth (518 Hermitage Road, 1917) were officers in Stephens' bank and had extensive real estate and insurance businesses. H.M. McAden commissioned Louis Asbury to design one of the neighborhood's most elegant mansions in 1917 at 920 Granville Road, an understated exercise in stucco and tile. McAden ran Charlotte's First National Bank, and his family controlled the textile town of McAdenville in neighboring Gaston County.
When the engineer-entrepreneurs of Duke's Southern Power Company began to buy in Myers Park, it signalled the neighborhood's "arrival." First came Norman Cocke, who built a Bungalow at 816 Harvard Place in 1913. He eventually rose to presidency of the utility, and today Lake Norman north of Charlotte is named in his honor. In 1915 three other top officials built nearby — Charles I. Burkholder at 801 Ardsley Road, Z.V. Taylor at 400 Hermitage Road (listed on the National Register of Historic Places), and company president Edward G. Marshall at 500 Hermitage Road. In 1919 James B. Duke himself bought Taylor's house overlooking Edgehill Road Park and J.S. Myers Park. Duke directed noted Charlotte architect C.C. Hook to triple the Colonial Revival dwelling in size (Duke also had Hook design buildings for Trinity College in Durham, North Carolina, now named Duke University in the benefactor's honor). The fifty-two room Myers Park mansion with acres of gardens became Duke's Southern "cottage" when he visited from New Jersey to attend to his hydro-electric investments. The Duke Mansion and the fine houses clustered around it came to represent not only the architectural highpoint of Myers Park and a social hub of Charlotte, but also a concentration of men who had great influence over the destiny of the Carolina piedmont.
After the businessmen, financiers, and utility executives, Myers Park slowly attracted mill owners themselves. David Clark, the outspoken conservative publisher of the Southern Textile Bulletin and owner of mills in Randolph County, was among the first settling into a handsome dwelling at 100 Hermitage Road at Queens Road in 1914. Over the next fifteen years many of the Piedmont's leading textile families joined him, including famed mill founder Colonel Leroy Springs and heirs to the Cannon, Hanes, Holt, Erwin, Pharr, Stowe, Lineberger, Tanner, McAden, Johnston, Gossett, and Cramer fortunes.
By no means were all newcomers to Myers Park in its first decade rich. From 1913 on, modest Bungalows sprang up along Dartmouth Place, Amherst Place, Hermitage Court, and others, occupied by an insurance agent, a music teacher, a dentist, a machinist, and so on. As Nolen intended, Myers Park's high-quality planning and abundant greenery benefitted the middle-class as well as the very wealthy.
Nolen's proposals for educational facilities in the suburbs were also realized in this decade. In 1916 the first buildings of Presbyterian-sponsored Queens College opened their doors. The campus on Selwyn Avenue initially featured five structures designed by C.C. Hook set amidst grounds planned by Nolen's office.
Earle Sumner Draper
From the first days of 1912, Nolen's office kept a planner in Myers Park to supervise construction, make any necessary revisions to the overall plan, and prepare the landscape designs for individual lot buyers. In October 1915, a young man named Earle Sumner Draper, just graduated from the landscape architecture program at what is now the University of Massachusetts, arrived in Charlotte to take over the position as field supervisor. He stayed on to become perhaps the most important planner based in the South in the first half of the twentieth century.
One of Draper's first tasks was directing tree-moving along the avenues. J.B. Duke had expressed disappointment at the small size or saplings being planted, and offered the use of foremen and state-of-the-art equipment from his estate in New Jersey. With special mule-drawn carts, Draper and his crews moved hundreds of mature willow oaks and water oaks (ten to sixteen inches in diameter) from low-lying spots up to the former cotton fields. The venture transformed the neighborhood, made Draper's regional reputation, and attracted national notice.
By 1917 Earle Sumner Draper saw that there was much work in the southeastern United States for a landscape architect and city planner. With Nolen's blessing Draper formed his own firm in Charlotte, taking over revisions to the Myers Park plan. "The Myers Park development was developed with several blocks put on record at a time...," he later recalled. "Changes were possible in any parts of the plan not put on record." Some of Draper's revisions added more middle-income house lots to the neighborhood. Bromley Road, for instance, was extended from Queens Road to Morehead Street in order to split a block of large lots into two blocks of smaller sites.
Draper's best-loved contribution to Myers Park was the design of Queens Road West. In 1911 Nolen had planned it as a winding road to delight the eye of the pedestrian, but Draper simplified it as a single vast sweep more appropriate to viewing from the motorcar. Under his direction the avenue was graded in the early 1920s, a double row of trees planted on each side, and another row in the median. Though it would be decades before houses lined many of the blocks, Queens Road West became a silvan cathedral as the limbs of the oaks met above the street.
Myers Park proved to be a training ground for Draper and his staff. According to landscape architecture historian Norman T. Newton, Earle Sumner Draper was the first professionally-schooled landscape architect to set up practice in the South. By the early 1920s Draper's firm had twenty to thirty employees in Charlotte with branch offices in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and New York City. His practice ranged north to the Mason-Dixon line and west to the Mississippi River and included college campuses, parks, the grounds of public buildings, and private estates, among them the residence of Mrs. Robert Todd Lincoln in Washington, D.C. From 1917 to 1933 the Draper firm designed over 100 suburbs in the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and surrounding states. Among Draper neighborhoods in North Carolina are Forest Hills in Durham, Hayes Barton in Raleigh, Emorywood in High Point, Mayview Manor in Blowing Rock, and Eastover in Charlotte.
Draper also pioneered in applying the Myers Park trademarks of curving streets, trees, gates and perks to design of working-class areas. His firm planned nearly 150 textile mill villages and village extensions, including the new towns of Spindale, North Carolina and Chicopee, Georgia. This work gave Draper national stature. When Harvard planning expert Arthur Comey toured new-town experiments across the country for a government report released in 1939, he praised Draper: "Chicopee is the best, though not the largest, of the mill villages visited in the South."
By the time the Comey report appeared, Draper had already left Charlotte for the second phase of his career, in which he continued using lessons learned in Myers Park. In 1933 he was tapped as chief of planning for the huge new Tennessee Valley Authority, the world's largest public works effort. He directed design of the model town of Norris, Tennessee, and was instrumental in the creation of parks along the new reservoirs: "From my experience in the South from 1915 on, I realized the importance of controlled land use. I was aided by the men in my division — we got the board to accept takings of one-half to one mile of land above reservoir water level, which was the beginning of TVA's famous shoreline recreation development. Without that, much of TVA's beneficial by-product activity would have been lost."
In 1940, when TVA's initial planning was in place, Draper moved on to the Federal Housing Administration where he directed war housing planning across the United States. After World War II he left the government but stayed in Washington as a consultant helping developers guide projects through the federal bureaucracy.
Myers Park in the 1920s
The 1920s proved to be the busiest decade for home building in Myers Park, as Charlotte surged toward the lead in population in the Carolinas. Over 400 structures appeared in the city directory, including 63 each in the peak years of 1926 and 1928. The suburb remained the favorite location for the city's elite. Large houses filled in the vacant lots along Queens Road and Hermitage Road, and lined new blocks of Sherwood Avenue, Roswell Avenue, and Queens Road West. Textile families continued to arrive, including Stuart Cramer, Jr. ( 200 Hermitage Road, 1928) who controlled the Gaston County mill town of Cramerton. Charlotte's growing importance as a retail and distribution center for consumer goods for the piedmont was reflected in the mansions of Carolinas' Coca Cola bottler J. Luther Snyder ( 1901 Queens Road, 1920), clothing store proprietor John Bass Brown ( 600 Hermitage Road, 1920s), and car dealer Osmond Barringer ( 2232 Sherwood Avenue, 1928), among others. As in the teens, though, most Myers Park houses were for the middle and upper-middle class of the city: travelling salesmen who sold mill machinery and consumer goods; Carolinas representatives of national insurance companies which covered the mills; small retailers, wholesalers, cotton traders, bank department managers, architects, home builders, real estate men, and so on.
The construction of the 1920s set the "look" of Myers Park. Most 1920s houses were executed in red brick, a shift from the 1910s when wood was favored two-to-one over masonry. Bungalow-influenced designs continued to be built, and the neighborhood received over 60 examples of the romantic Tudor Revival style, including such landmarks as architect Martin Boyer's Frank Ross House (2001 Sherwood Avenue, 1925) and D. Heath Nesbit House (522 Hermitage Court, 1921).
But it was the two-story Colonial Revival style residence that emerged as the trademark of the neighborhood's more well-to-do. More than 150 specimens lined such side streets as Hertford and Brandon. Many of Myers Park's richest residents favored the Colonial Revival, including furniture man H.M. Wade who called on famed Philadelphia "society" architect Charles Barton Keen in 1928 to create a landmark mansion in red brick facing J.S. Myers Park at 530 Hermitage Road at Granville Road. Another Keen design, an eclectic variation on the Colonial executed in stucco for real estate man Charles Lambeth, may be seen at 435 Hermitage Road.
As Myers Park population increased, residents founded community institutions. The Myers Park Country Club opened in 1921, Charlotte's second golf course. Draper's office laid out the links in a wedge-shaped tract of land lying between present-day Roswell Avenue, Queens Road East, Westminster Place, and Briar Creek at the southern edge of the suburb. (The Country Club flourishes today, but the initial clubhouse is gone and the original Draper-planned fairways, lying west of Roswell Avenue, have been sold off for house lots). The neighborhood's first religious congregations formed in the early 1920s. By the end of the decade the suburb boasted three handsome church buildings. Myers Park Moravian, branch of a sect established in the 18th century in nearby Winston-Salem, occupied a red-brick 1924 structure at 528 Moravian Lane. Myers Park Presbyterian Church had just opened its 1929 stone sanctuary designed by James M. McMichael at 2501 Oxford Place, and Myers Park United Methodist Church was putting the finishing touches on the stone sanctuary designed by Louis Asbury at the intersection of Queens and Providence roads (1020 Providence Road).
The rise in population spurred demand for municipal services. In 1919 the neighborhood embarked on a short-lived experiment with self-government, incorporating as a village under North Carolina law. The village proved unable — or unwilling — to raise sufficient levies to provide police and fire protection, and in 1924 voted to join the City of Charlotte. By 1928 city boundaries included virtually the entire neighborhood, and in that year Myers Park received its own city-funded elementary school, a whimsical C.C. Hook design at 2132 Radcliffe Avenue adjacent to the Queens College campus.
Even as the neighborhood entered its peak building years, management changes began in the Stephens Company that would eventually influence the nature of Myers Park development. In 1922 George Stephens resigned to move to the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, "for reasons based on the welfare of my family in the matter of health." New management showed little interest in continuing to pay for professional planning, and Earle Sumner Draper and the Stephens Company soon parted ways. In 1926 civil engineer Wilbur Smith was put in charge of laying out new blocks. In some places he implemented Draper's earlier proposals. But at the direction of management he began redrawing other areas to squeeze in more middle-income house lots.
One set of changes in particular aroused the ire of residents of Queens Road near Queens College. Early promotional maps had indicated that the land between Queens and Providence roads would be laid off in generously-sized lots similar to the 100'x200' ones on Queens Road and Brandon Road. Instead, the new management created Beverly Avenue and adjoining streets with cramped lots averaging only 60 feet wide and 150 feet deep. Earle Sumner Draper himself, who lived at 1621 Queens Road, joined with neighbors in threatening a suit against the company, but dropped the action when it was determined that the promotional maps had no legal validity.
A civil engineer named A.V. Blankenship took over from Smith in 1936 and during the next twenty years he completed the neighborhood for the Stephens Company. His work owed little to Nolen and Draper. Streets such as Portland Avenue, Sterling Road, and Princeton Avenue incorporated gentle curves, but other avenues were arrow-straight, notably Kings Drive. Early plans for a long greenway park stretching the length of Sugar Creek were abandoned. Blankenship even went so far as to omit median and street trees from Myers Park's main boulevard when he laid out the lest blocks of Queens Road East in the 1950s.
Home building 1930s-1950s
Despite the less-than-sensitive development of outlying areas in Myers Park, the sections planned by Nolen and Draper continued to fill out very much as their creators had envisioned. In the 1930s a new neighborhood called Eastover, located across Providence Road, began to compete with Myers Park to lure wealthy Charlotteans. After the Second World War it was joined by Foxcroft and other fashionable areas sprawling south along Providence and Sharon Roads. Increasingly, the city's very wealthiest families went to these new areas, but nonetheless Myers Park continued to draw leading citizens.
Downtown retailer Fred W. Bradshaw moved into 2200 Selwyn Avenue in 1930, one of the neighborhood's largest mansions and perhaps the city's finest Tudor Revival example up to that time. Political activist Gladys Tillett (vice-chairman of the national Democratic Party 1940-1950) and her husband Charles Tillett, a prominent lawyer, completed their gracious Colonial Revival residence at 2200 Sherwood Avenue in 1932. Lumber dealer Herbert Baxter, another political leader who founded the posh City Club and served three terms as Charlotte mayor (1942-49), built a large Colonial Revival house at 1512 Queens Road West in 1930, and then built an even bigger one at 1601 Queens Road West in 1937. In all, 155 structures in the Myers Park Historic District date from the 1930s.
Residential construction ground to a complete halt in the early 1940s as a result of World War II. Material shortages and national restrictions on new building had much more effect on Myers Park than the Depression had; only 51 new dwellings date from this decade.
But once the war was past, construction resumed in earnest, from the end of the 1940s through the next decade. In fact, 186 Myers Park houses date from the 1950s, more than from any other decade except the 1920s. Notable among the newcomers in this last phase of Myers Park building was C.D. Spangler, one of the area's busiest construction and real estate leaders. His 1950 house at 1930 Queens Road West incorporated modernistic details while maintaining traditional two-story brick Colonial Revival outlines.
As the Bungalow and Tudor Revival styles faded from popularity nationally after 1930, the Colonial Revival house reigned triumphant on Myers Park's Nolen- and Draper-designed streets. It was a testament to the strength of the early planners' work that newcomers continued to build in the established style and form.
This was nowhere more noticeable than on Queens Road West between East Boulevard and Selwyn Avenue. In the early 1930s the first dwellings appeared near the intersection of Wellesley Avenue. Some were Tudor Revival but most were Colonial Revival, and nearly every one was two stories tall and built of red brick. Because of the Great Depression and the materials shortages caused by World War II, it was some thirty years before houses filled all the lots under the trees Draper had planted. Yet there was little to distinguish between structures erected in the 1930s, 1940s, or even 1950s. Nearly all were red-brick two-story Colonials based on Georgian prototypes from the Virginia colony.
By contrast, most blocks created under Smith and Blankenship's tenure were developed with one-story Ranch houses, a new style that represented a sharp break with the past.
Development in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s
By 1959, virtually all the lots in Myers Park were filled with houses. New construction dropped abruptly from 186 structures in the 1950s to a mere 19 buildings in the 1960s. A few of these 1960s buildings were single-family houses, erected on the side yards or gardens of earlier dwellings. Such was the case with the spacious residences lining the north side of the 800-900 blocks of Ardsley Road and the south side of the 800-900 blocks of Edgehill Road, all built where gardens of the J.B. Duke Mansion had once been.
Now for the first time, though, most new construction was multi-family in nature. Myers Park seems to have had no multi-family dwellings before George Stephens' departure in 1922. A handful of duplex and townhouse apartments scattered through the neighborhood in the mid and late 1920s. More appeared in the housing boom immediately after World War II, particularly along Selwyn Avenue at the southern end of the district.
In the 1950s other streetcar suburbs began to lose their prestige, and houses on main boulevards throughout Charlotte fell to new development. Myers Park held firm, however — a quiet testament to the value of Nolen's planning. Then in 1962, in keeping with the automobile-oriented thinking of the period, Charlotte's first comprehensive zoning ordinance zoned the old streetcar suburbs for redevelopment for offices, stores and apartments. In Myers Park virtually all of the Nolen-designed area was treated in this manner. With government thus officially encouraging demolition, houses finally began to fall along Queens Road in the early 1960s. Unlike other neighborhoods, they were replaced by posh apartment complexes: wealthy and upper-middle income Charlotteans still saw the half-century-old suburb as a desirable place to live.
The demolition angered many single-family homeowners, who formed the Myers Park Homeowners Association in 1970, one of Charlotte's earliest and most effective neighborhood organizations. The MPHA succeeded in downzoning much of the neighborhood to encourage retention of the original dwellings. But to this day the organization fights a continual and not always successful battle against developers who wish to replace old houses, trees, and landscaping with high-density multi-family projects. Since 1970 more than two dozen early dwellings have fallen. The new construction ironically threatens the very beauty which attracts buyers.
Summary and Conclusion
Myers Park planning had lasting influence on the look of Charlotte neighborhoods and the shape of the city as a whole. After Nolen nearly all suburban developers switched from straight to curving streets. Myers Park set a high standard for promoters who wished to sell to upwardly mobile Charlotteans. Tree-planting became part of normal real estate practice, and to this day, many new Charlotte neighborhoods feature gates and a bit of grassy median at the entrance.
The success of Myers Park permanently skewed Charlotte growth to the southeast. As middle and upper income families bought automobiles in large numbers in the 1920s, developers independent of the Stephens Company began to lay out streets close to Myers Park but beyond the streetcar line. Middle-income Myers Park Manor opened by W.M. Cosby, S.C. Jackson, and H.C. Dockerey in 1927 included Ridgewood, Hillside, Tranquil, and Chelsea drives south of the original suburb. Upper-income Eastover, developed by the E.C. Griffith, Company with streets planned by Earle Sumner Draper, opened east of Providence Road the same year. These were among the city's first automobile suburbs. The post-war housing boom of the 1950s added more developments beyond, giving Charlotte maps a pronounced southeasterly bulge.
Another aspect of Myers Park's historic significance is the importance of its residents. Houses built for numerous political leaders are here, including at least two Charlotte mayors and one North Carolina governor. Commercial, banking, and real estate men who made their homes in Myers Park forged Charlotte's New South economy, and often had interests far beyond the city, a notable example being George Stephens with his real estate projects throughout western North Carolina and his ownership of an Asheville newspaper. Textile families who controlled the destiny of thousands of mill workers lived along these streets, not only nationally-known names such as Cannon and Springs, but less-well-known men who nonetheless had wide influence, like Benjamin B. Gossett who owned a dozen Carolina mills and sat on the boards of several banks. At the center of the neighborhood, the Duke Mansion and surrounding dwellings held men whose decisions on electrical power, street railway and interurban routes, and related matters shaped the industrial and urban growth of much of the piedmont.
A number of the houses themselves are architecturally significant. The majority of Charlotte's most elaborate Bungalow-influenced examples are here, along with several of the best Colonial Revivals. The suburb contains a collection of Tudor Revival dwellings whose quality and quantity rival or surpass any other neighborhood in the state. Myers Park holds the only known Charlotte designs of nationally-renowned architect Charles Barton Keen, and the neighborhood is a showcase of every important Charlotte designer of the day. Many of these architects had wide practices in the Carolinas, especially C.C. Hook, Louis Asbury, and James M. McMichael.
But it is Myers Park's early planning that marks the suburb as a district of importance far beyond the Carolinas. John Nolen was barely six years into his career when George Stephens' finances allowed him to plan this state-of-the-art design, detailed down to the transplanted trees and professionally landscaped lots. The project became a prototype for later Nolen efforts. His 1918 plan for a second quadrangle on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for instance, is closely modelled on his earlier double-quadrangle design of Queens College. In 1927 Nolen devoted a full chapter to Myers Park in his book New Towns For Old. Well before the book came out, the neighborhood attracted wide attention in regional and national magazines, and inspired imitators throughout the South. Some hired Nolen or Earle Sumner Draper. Recalled Draper in 1982: "Charlotte was where I did get the original start. Because Myers Park was so noted; there was nothing in Atlanta like it — nothing in any Southern city comparable to it. And people from all over the South would come to me and say, 'I've got some property — can you do the development like Myers Park for us — lay it out?"
Myers Park precepts shaped Draper's far-flung suburbs and mill villages, his TVA work, and perhaps his FHA plans. Landscape architects trained in Draper's office carried Myers Park ideas, too. Among them were Helen Hodge, one of the South's first female landscape architects and C.O. MacIntosh, longtime planner in the High Point-Winston Salem-Greensboro area. Key Draper associate Harold Bursley went on to collaborate on the internationally-famed "new town" of Greenbell, Maryland, developed by the United States government in the 1930s. He later took over Draper's private practice, planning Myers Park-influenced suburbs in Martinsville, Virginia, and Kingsport, Tennessee, as well as the Georgia mill villages of the West Point-Pepperell company.
Today the fruits of John Nolen and Earle Draper's early planning are evident in Myers Park. The trees they had planted are now reaching full maturity, and most of the houses they saw built are still standing. Myers Park remains one of Charlotte's most gracious and desirable neighborhoods.
Mel Scott, American City Planning since 1890 (1969).
John Nolen, New Towns for Old (1927).
John L. Hancock, "John Nolen and the American City Planning Movement" (U.Pa. dissertation, 1964).
Catherine Bishir and Lawrence Earley, eds. Early 20th Century Suburbs in N.C. (1985).
Thomas W. Hanchett, Charlotte and Its Neighborhoods (under consideration by UNC Press).
Interviews with Earle Sumner Draper; Papers of John Nolen & Earle Draper at Cornell, Duke and UNC.
† Thomas Hanchett, Myers Park Historic District, Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, NC, nomination document, 1986, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.