Carolina Place Historic District
The Carolina Place Historic District [†] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.
Carolina Place, whose houses were built for the most part between 1906 and the beginning of World War II, was the first suburban residential neighborhood to be developed at Wilmington, North Carolina. Then the state's largest city and most important port, Wilmington was a logical place for an experienced firm of residential developers such as the American Suburban Corporation of Norfolk, Virginia, to make an investment. The success of the neighborhood in attracting working-class people who were moving into the expanding middle class was facilitated by the extension of the city's streetcar system to the area. Development at Carolina Place occurred in two principal historical phases. The first phase extended from 1906 to 1928, the period during which the American Suburban Corporation owned the property and promoted the sale of lots and construction of houses. The second phase began with the purchase of the remaining unsold lots by local realtor and developer Richard L. Player and ended with the commencement of World War II, by which time the area was largely developed. Little construction was undertaken during the war years. The Carolina Place Historic District is significant in the area of community planning and development as a local reflection of the growth of suburban neighborhoods in the early twentieth century as part of the "City Beautiful" movement. Possessing a striking collection of houses representing several architectural styles popular in the early twentieth century, with a particularly impressive assemblage of modest frame bungalows, the Carolina Place Historic District has significance in the area of architecture, as well.
Community Development Context
Wilmington, located on the eastern bluffs of the Cape Fear River approximately twenty-five miles north of the river's terminus, entered the twentieth century as North Carolina's most populous city and as the state's principal port. As the city had grown since its incorporation in 1739, its population had been centered in the grid area which spread eastward from the banks of the river. By the turn of the new century, the city's easternmost boundary was 17th Street, although development remained concentrated close to the river [Wrenn, pp. 1; Gunter, p. 53]. The city, like much of North Carolina, was entering a period of growth and urbanization, and was ripe for the development of residential suburbs [Bishir, p. 3].
In 1974, an extensive Wilmington Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The nomination described the city as, "the most distinctively urban of the state's towns; in a state historically rural, only Wilmington exhibits the character of a nineteenth-century city" [Wrenn, p. 1]. The Wilmington Historic District contains the state's largest collection of nineteenth century buildings, including a dense fabric of commercial, governmental, religious and domestic buildings.
As a thriving commercial center and port city, as a major railroad headquarters, and with a varied industrial economic component, Wilmington in the early twentieth century had a growing population of workers who were beginning to experience the prosperity which was creating the nation's huge middle class. One of the first dreams to be satisfied for this group was that of a home in the suburbs, whose development with their tree-lined streets and attractively landscaped parks owed much to the "City Beautiful" movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries [Goldfield, p. 11].
Carolina Place was the first suburb to be developed in the city of Wilmington, and the extension of the city's trolley lines to the neighborhood ensured its success by giving residents easy access to the workplace, to the commercial district, to entertainment, schools and churches. As Carol Gunter has described it, "Carolina Place was specifically designed to accommodate a particular group of people in need of decent, affordable housing equipped with utilities, yet offering tree-lined streets, yards and a small gardening space" [Gunter, p. 3].
An examination of early twentieth century Wilmington City directories indicates who were attracted to Carolina Place. A small number of professionals — physicians, dentists, an accountant — built or purchased houses in the neighborhood. There were also realtors and insurance agents, officials of the local building and loan associations, a minister, the owner of a candy factory, and several proprietors of retail establishments. A greater number of individuals were office workers or salesmen/clerks at commercial concerns. There were many who worked in the building trades, including carpenters, plumbers, brick contractors, and others — electricians and engineers — who were employees of the Tidewater Power Company. But by far the largest single employer of Carolina Place residents was the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, which maintained a large headquarters operation at Wilmington. Many members of the company's large office staff owned or rented Carolina Place houses.
Even with a relatively rapid turnover in occupants of some of the neighborhood's rental property, there has remained an impressively stable population throughout the Carolina Place Historic District. There are many residents who have lived there for many decades. Several individuals built, owned and/or occupied more than one Carolina Place house. Many houses have remained in ownership by the same family since their construction, either through children or nieces and nephews. In addition, there are several instances of multiple family members — brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles — living in the neighborhood at the same time, a custom which has continued to the present.
These last factors have contributed to a strong sense of continuity and pride in Carolina Place Historic District, even as socioeconomic changes in Wilmington have altered the neighborhood's population mix. Abolition of the racially-motivated restrictive covenants has made possible a multicultural flavor.
Development began in three streetcar suburbs in Wilmington between 1906 and 1911. Carolina Place, the earliest of the three, was aimed largely at those working people whose increasing prosperity made entry into the expanding American middle class possible. The small lots and mostly modest frame houses in the neighborhood reflect this emphasis. The Carolina Place developer was an out-of-state company, the American Suburban Corporation of Norfolk, Virginia, with extensive experience in the initiation of suburban neighborhoods. The company had previously been responsible for such developments at Richmond, Virginia; Jacksonville, Florida; and Greensboro, North Carolina, as well as several in its home city.
In contrast with Carolina Place, the Carolina Heights subdivision, located directly north across Market Street, targeted a more upscale market. Beginning about 1908, the larger lots were sold to local professional and business men who had substantial and architecturally sophisticated houses built. A significant number were designed by Burett Stephens, who provided plans reflecting the popular styles of the period, particularly the Craftsman and Prairie styles. The hand which gave Carolina Heights its first push by purchasing the necessary acreage and having it subdivided into lots and negotiating for extension of services was Mary Bridgers, a railroad heiress without experience in suburban development [Gunter, pp. 3, 59-66].
The third early streetcar suburb, Winoca Terrace, was developed on land in northeast Wilmington which had been within the city limits since the late nineteenth century but had remained largely vacant. Carol Gunter has described Winoca Terrace as combining "...the best attributes of Carolina Place and Carolina Heights; neither crowded nor intended to be excessively grand, it would provide substantial homes in pleasant and appropriate surroundings" [Gunter, p. 70]. The Winoca Terrace developers were also local, the real estate and development firm J.G. Wright and Son, whose principal partner, Thomas H. Wright, was responsible for promoting the area. Generally, the houses of Winoca Terrace are larger and more architecturally sophisticated than the typical Carolina Place Historic District house and are sited on more ample lots, but are on a smaller, simpler scale than is characteristic of Carolina Heights [Gunter, p. 70].
Historical Background and Architectural Context
In early February 1906, a sixty-eight-acre tract of open land marked by the remains of Civil War-era entrenchments was sold at public auction in Wilmington, North Carolina. This tract, located east of the city's boundaries and southeast of the intersection of 17th and Market streets, was purchased by the American Suburban Corporation of Norfolk, Virginia, which entered a bid of $20,000. The property was bordered on the south by the Delgado Cotton Mill and its mill village, on the west by the Wrightsville Turnpike Road (which ran out to Wrightsville Beach and is now Wrightsville Avenue), on the east by Burnt Mill Creek, and on the north by Market Street Road, an extension of Market Street, Wilmington's principal east-wide thoroughfare [Gunter, p. 53].
The American Suburban Corporation quickly announced that it would develop the property into a suburban residential neighborhood — dividing the area into lots for homesites, laying out streets, putting in granolithic sidewalks, planting hundreds of shade trees, providing amenities such as water, sewer and electrical service, and, possibly of most importance, promising to get the city's streetcar line extended into the neighborhood. The latter would provide easy access for residents of the new neighborhood to the workplace, to shopping, to entertainment, and to places of worship [Gunter, pp. 53-54].
The Norfolk-based company was well-versed in this type of endeavor, having previously been responsible for several suburban developments in the home city, as well as in Richmond, Virginia; Jacksonville, Florida; and Greensboro, North Carolina [Gunter p.55]. In its March 1906 advertisements for the Carolina Place lot sales, the company touted itself as, "The Largest Developers of High Class Suburban Real Estate in the South'' [Wilmington Messenger, 25 March 1906, p. 2].
The land within the proposed development was laid off in a grid pattern of lots, although the angled path of Wrightsville Avenue and the meandering channel of Burnt Mill Creek gave the area a rhomboidal configuration and created irregularly shaped jib lots at the eastern and western edges. A network of alleys was established which ran east-west through the middle of each block. North and south of the alleys each of the standard-sized blocks was divided into twelve lots, each 33 feet in width and 113 feet deep, for a total of 24 lots per block [Gunter, p. 56; and deed book 48, p. 180]. Most of the east-west streets in the subdivision, which were south of and parallel to Market Street, were named for officials of the American Suburban Corporation, including W.D. Pender, J.W. Perry, Charles G. Metts, and E.W. Wolcott, who appear to have rotated in the offices of president and secretary, and B.R. Creecy, who was general manager in 1906 [deed book 60, pp. 379 and 607; and "Carolina Place," Wilmington Messenger, 23 March 1906, p. 8].
The company began selling lots in March 1906, employing an unusual installment plan to encourage moderate-income buyers. The 400 lots were priced from $175 to $350, with corner lots costing an extra $50. Under the company's scheme, purchasers could secure a contract for a lot with a $10 cash payment, paying off the balance without interest at a monthly rate of $5.00 to $7.50 [Wilmington Messenger, 29 March 1906].
Sales of lots at Carolina Place appear to have been brisk — the Wilmington Messenger reported the day after the opening of sales that applications had been made to purchase about 200 lots. The first purchase contract went to Miss Mary Bridgers, a local railroad heiress who sought to acquire all of block thirty-two, which was located at the very northwest corner of the subdivision ["Many Agreed to Buy Lots," Wilmington Messenger, 27 March 1906, p. 4]. Miss Bridgers eventually had a building erected on the site for the local Christian Science Church, of which she was a devout member, and began construction in 1909 of a large residence for herself. The church does not survive, but another substantial residence, built in 1917, is still extant on the block, and the two houses and their large lots make up half of the Market Street Mansion Historic District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 [Gunter, pp. 14-15, 56 and 60].
As was typical of suburban residential developments of this period, restrictive covenants were included in each purchase contract and deed. These covenants stipulated the minimum cost for a house constructed in the neighborhood — $1,500. They also required that no liquor be sold on the premises and that houses and lots could not be sold or rented to persons of "African descent." In addition, all houses were required to be built facing the named, east-west streets [Gunter, p. 56; deed book 47, p. 290].
The first house built at Carolina Place was the Richardson-Rogers House (1901 Wolcott Avenue), located at the northwest corner of Wolcott Avenue and 20th Street. The Morning Star announced on 27 April 1906 that the architectural firm of Cooper and Davis had drawn up the plans for a house to be built for insurance agent R.R. Richardson, which would cost $2,800. Richardson had purchased two adjacent lots, providing his two-story frame Classical Revival house with a more expansive setting than was to be typical of Carolina Place ["Build in Carolina Place," Morning Star, 27 April 1906, p. 4].
A short time later, Burett Stephens provided the design for a Carolina Place house on Market Street, the Smith-Willoughby House (1902 Market Street), a handsome Craftsman style house built on the three lots at the corner of 19th Street which had been purchased by Mrs. Lisette Smith, widow of Andrew Smith. Burett Stephens was an architect who had been in practice in Chicago prior to coming to Wilmington to supervise construction of the Swift and Company fertilizer plant on the Cape Fear River [Gunter, pp. 17 and 61; deed book 50, p. 187].
The two blocks of Market Street between 18th Street and 20th Street are not characteristic of the rest of Carolina Place as it developed during the next thirty-five years. Like the Smith-Willoughby House, the houses built here are more substantial and generally more sophisticated architecturally than the great majority of houses found on the streets to the south. They also stand on parcels of land which encompass more than one of the relatively narrow lots laid out by the American Suburban Corporation. These blocks appear to have been consciously developed in a manner in keeping with the more upscale development along the north side of Market Street and in the Carolina Heights neighborhood directly north of Carolina Place, the beginning of whose development followed quickly after that of Carolina Place [Wrenn, p. 273; Gunter, p. 3].
There also are distinct differences between the houses built during the earliest phase of development — the ten years between 1906 and 1915 — and the great majority of those that followed. During that first period, when more than sixty houses were erected, a greater number of houses were examples of architectural styles whose popularity was waning, or were larger, more architecturally sophisticated, and/or more unusual. In that first category is a scattered group of modest frame dwellings with late Victorian details, such as the Hudson House (1916 Wolcott Avenue).
Among the larger houses, the Eugene Philyaw House (1802 Market Street), built for a salesman, is an extensive two-story frame house exhibiting forms characteristic of the Queen Anne style and architectural details derived from the Classical or Colonial Revival modes. Several houses on Market Street, including the J.D. Edwards House (1812 Market Street), built for a realtor and insurance agent, and the Bass-Oliver House (1906 Market Street), whose first owner was employed by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, combined the popular Craftsman and Colonial Revival styles.
The early 20th century popularity of the Classical/Colonial Revival styles is seen in a purer form in such dwellings as the Charles H. Butler House (1808 Market Street), the residence of the vice-president of Carolina Building and Loan Association, and the L.W. Moore House (1820 Market Street), built for a realtor, insurance agent and building and loan official. The "Dutch" variant of the Colonial Revival style, with its idiosyncratic gambrel roof, made a first Carolina Place appearance ca.1914 when a railroad employee built the Walter M. Collins House (1920 Market Street). One of the most notable houses of this period, and one of the few brick or brick-veneered houses in the subdivision, is the E.L. Mathews House (1819 Wolcott Avenue), an ample residence combining Queen Anne and Classical Revival forms and ornamentation.
Possibly the two most unusual Carolina Place houses are located on Wrightsville Avenue, the site of a significant number of early-period dwellings. The Harriss House (1927 Wrightsville Avenue) is a single-story house with Classical Revival styling, built of rock-faced concrete block. Deed records and city directories indicate that this house and its neighbor to the northwest (1925 Wrightsville Avenue), which is the mirror reverse of the Harriss House, were built as speculative or rental housing. By the early 1920s, George Harriss, recorder of the New Hanover County Court, had acquired one of them. Particularly distinctive are the porch supports — concrete columns which resemble stacked spools, resting on rock-faced block piers.
This diversity of house types and styles declined after about 1915, as the Bungalow became the overwhelmingly dominant dwelling form at Carolina Place. In particular, the narrow hall-less, two-room wide and three-room deep Bungalow with either a front gable or hip roof, was chosen for a majority of the houses built between 1915 and 1928, during which period nearly 108 dwellings rose in the area. These houses were especially well-suited for the narrow lots, and their great numbers on some blocks create a remarkably uniform streetscape.
A significant proportion of these houses exhibits an engaged porch spanning an asymmetrical three-bay facade which reflects the interior plan of the house. Porch supports are varied — simple square-section posts, some resting on brick piers singly or in groups; brick corner pillars; classically-inspired columns; tapered posts on brick piers being the dominant types. Most of the houses have relatively limited ornamentation, usually derived from the Craftsman style and often limited to triangular knee braces and exposed rafter ends.
Examples of these two basic house types are large in number, found throughout the Carolina Place Historic District. The R.H. Williams House (1811 Perry Avenue), built as speculative or rental property about 1920 and acquired in the late 1930s by the proprietor of R.H. Williams & Co., is a substantially intact hip-roofed version of the model. Representative of the gable-front rendition is the ca.1922 James D. Loughlin House (2020 Creecy Avenue), named for an appliance dealer who purchased it in the late 1930s.
The Bungalow appears in many other forms and with other stylistic embellishments in the Carolina Place Historic District. There are numerous examples of the one or one-and-one-half-story kind with side gable roofs, some having dormers on the front slope. With most of these the Craftsman style is dominant for ornamentation and detailing, as is seen on the ca.1918 E.H. Tolar House (1923 Wolcott Avenue). But many others draw their decorative inspiration from the Classical/Colonial Revival styles, including several, such as the Loughlin-Bullard House (1913 Wolcott Avenue) dating from ca.1922, which have heavy stuccoed Tuscan-like porch columns.
Wilmington's builders were kept busy at Carolina Place during the period from 1915 through the mid 1920s, when a high proportion of the neighborhood's houses were constructed. By the late 1920s, much of the area was densely developed, and the American Suburban Corporation had ceased active promotion of sales by 1924 [Gunter, p. 73]. In June of 1929, local real estate developer Richard L. Player purchased from American Suburban some 137 lots, many of which were quickly sold to local investors. In some cases, it appears that Player actually bought American Suburban's installment contracts for lots on which houses had already been built, but many of the lots were still vacant, located around the periphery of the subdivision [deed book 201, p. 486; deed book 203, p. 423; and deed book 205, p. 44].
Between thirty-five and forty houses were built at Carolina Place from Richard Player's 1929 purchase until 1938, when Player moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina, "...seeking better business opportunities in real estate and home construction" ["Richard Player Giving Back to Community"]. Many of these houses followed patterns established in the previous decade, such as the J. Elmo Reece House (2015 Metts Avenue), a triple-pile frame, Craftsman-influenced Bungalow with a jerkinhead front gable roof extending over its engaged porch, built for a local fireman who bought his lot in December 1929 [deed book 203, p. 579]. Several simplified versions of the gable-front house were built during this period as well.
The Colonial Revival style, as seen in the Miss Stella Pettway House (2111 Metts Avenue), remained popular during this period, while several "Period Houses" were constructed. This picturesque type combined architectural elements derived from several styles, including Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival fashions. The Lacy O. Goodyear House (2117 Metts Avenue) exhibits the characteristic steeply-pitched, multi-gable roof and front chimney. A small number of significant houses were constructed at Carolina Place after Richard Player moved to Fayetteville, including the 1941 Second David J. Bryant House (2122 Metts Avenue), but the majority were in keeping with the more typical houses of the district — modest frame dwellings in the Bungalow form. Most were built as rental or speculative property.
The period of World War II saw a sudden influx of population at Wilmington because of a surge in military shipping through the port and the growth of nearby military bases [Wrenn, p. 6]. This population increase caused a shortage in local housing which in turn resulted in the conversion of many large residences into boarding houses or apartments on a temporary or permanent basis. The 1942 city directory indicates that the Eugene Philyaw House (1802 Market Street) had been named "The Maples" by Philyaw's widow, who rented furnished rooms. It seems likely that this period saw the construction of apartments above many garages and the conversion of some of the garages themselves to apartments.
Since World War II, Carolina Place has seen the erection of about forty houses, many of which are at the eastern and southern edges of the platted area. A small number are infill construction scattered through the district, which have little impact on the neighborhood. At the eastern end of the subdivision, the city acquired land on each side of Burnt Mill Creek, straightened the bed of the creek, and created Wallace Park in the late 1940s. The park, with its large cypress trees, attractive vistas along the creek, playground equipment, and picnic tables, provides an excellent visual boundary for the east side of the Carolina Place Historic District [Wrenn, p. 318]. The creation of the park attracted at least one current resident who bought land for a residence adjoining the park just as work was beginning there [Lindner interview].
The city of Wilmington, North Carolina, has long been noted for its large collection of outstanding buildings dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, many of which were designed by nationally known architects such as Thomas U. Walter, Samuel Sloan, Carrere and Hastings, Henry Bacon, and Hobart Upjohn. It is particularly celebrated for the "apparently indigenous bracketed, vented Italianate idiom that was popular throughout much of the 19th century, especially during the antebellum period"[Wrenn, pp. 1 and 8].
In the early twentieth century, North Carolina's cities, including Wilmington, became full participants in the move toward suburban residential development in which architectural design followed mainstream trends popularized in architectural magazines and mail-order catalogues. Carolina Place echoes other suburbs promoted among the state's expanding middle class. Typical are its scaled-down late Victorian cottage and modest Craftsman Bungalows, joined by a small number of larger houses embodying the popular styles of the period — late Queen Anne, Classical/Colonial Revival and Craftsman.
David R. Goldfield, "North Carolina's Early Twentieth-Century Suburbs and the Urbanizing South," in Early Twentieth-Century Suburbs in North Carolina, eds. Catherine W. Bishir and Lawrence S. Earley (Raleigh: N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, 1985), pp. 83-86.
Gunter, S. Carol. Carolina Heights: The Preservation of an Urban Neighborhood in Wilmington, North Carolina. Wilmington: Planning Department of the City of Wilmington, 1982.
Lindner, John and Helen. 2112 Pender Avenue, Wilmington, N.C. Allison Black interview, 15 October 1991.
Morning Star, The (Wilmington, N.C.). Issues for March and April 1906.
New Hanover County Register of Deeds Office. Deed books.
"Richard Player Giving Back To Community." The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer-Times, 5 February 1989. (In North Carolina Collection Clipping File, 1976-1989, UNC Library).
Sanborn Insurance Company maps. Wilmington, N.C. series, 1915 and 1922 with new sheets and corrected to early 1950s.
Wilmington city directories. Editions for 1915-16, 1919-20, 1924, 1930, 1934, 1940, 1942, 1953, 1990.
Wilmington Messenger, The. Issues of March and April 1906.
Wrenn, Tony P. Wilmington, North Carolina; An Architectural and Historical Portrait. Wilmington: Tony P. Wrenn and the Junior League of Wilmington, N.C., Inc. 1984.
† Adapted from: Allison H. Black and David R. Black, Architectural Historians, Black & Black Preservation Consultants, Carolina Place Historic District, New Hanover County, NC, nomination document, 1992, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.