The East Main Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
The East Main Street Historic District in Forest City, Rutherford County, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places for its architecture. The period of significance begins in circa 1900 and extends to 1955, encompassing the majority of the resources in the neighborhood. The property of J.V. Ware, E.O. and J.H. Thomas, C.M. Teal, J.B. Harrill, J.A. Wilkie, Horace Doggett and Dr. T.C. McBrayer east of Alexander Street was subdivided in the 1910s and 1920s, and the East Main Street Historic District retains the original street configuration and approximate lot sizes shown on those plats. The locally-significant district, which includes roughly forty-two acres one block east of downtown Forest City, contains a mix of nationally popular styles and vernacular forms common in neighborhoods that developed in the first half of the twentieth century. Dwellings executed in the Craftsman, Colonial Revival, Period Cottage and Minimal Traditional styles are the predominant property types.
Ninety-seven primary and forty-four secondary resources constitute the East Main Street Historic District, eighty-four percent of which are contributing. One contributing building, the T. Max Watson House, was listed in the National Register in 2001. The noncontributing resources include historic residences with alterations such as large additions and synthetic siding, modest Ranch houses built after the period of significance and recently constructed sheds, garage and carports.
Rutherford County was formed from Tryon County in 1779 and named for Griffith Rutherford, an Indian fighter, member of the Provincial Congress and Revolutionary War general. Rutherfordton, incorporated in 1793, is the county seat. The county's population, isolated by poor roads, consisted primarily of subsistence farmers until the introduction of the textile industry in the late nineteenth century. The powerful Broad and Second Broad Rivers in the southeastern section of the county provided the incentive for local investors to build water-powered textile mills, and the arrival of the railroad in the county created an outlet for cash crops and accelerated industrial development.
The town of Forest City was incorporated in 1877 as Burnt Chimney. The small crossroads community was so named after a circa 1855 fire that destroyed the home of James McArthur, leaving only a blackened chimney. The Burnt Chimney Post Office had served the community at the intersection of the Shelby-Rutherfordton Road (now Main Street) and a major north-south road (now Cherry Mountain Road and Depot Street) since 1869. John Bostic built the first dwelling on Main Street between 1825 and 1830, and other early residents included Dr. G.E. Young, Dr. T.E. Lovelace, Reverend J.E. Yarborough, A.H. McDaniel, John Blanton, John B. Harrill, Alfred Harrill, Thomas Wilkins, Amos McBrayer, Matt McBrayer and Wallace Jackson. A few frame commercial buildings were constructed at the center of town, followed by the Burnt Chimney Academy in 1874. The population grew to 110 in 1880, the first year the federal census documented statistics for the town independently of the county. By 1882 there was a movement to rename Burnt Chimney in honor of Forest Davis, a local lumber merchant, and the post office became Forest City, although it was not until 1887 that the community was officially renamed. The first Forest City newspaper was established in 1885, but its offices were destroyed in an 1886 fire along with most of the businesses in town. The commercial district was reconstructed in brick, and many of those late 1880s buildings are contributing resources in the Main Street Historic District (National Register 2002).
Although plans for railroad lines through Rutherford County were in place before the Civil War, it was not until 1887 that the Wilmington, Charlotte and Rutherford (Seaboard Airline) Railroad reached Forest City and Rutherfordton. The Southern Railway, which ran from Charleston to Cincinnati and Chicago, soon followed, arriving in Rutherfordton by way of Forest City in 1890. The Cliffside Railroad connected Cliffside Mills on the Second Broad River in the southeastern corner of the county to the Seaboard Railroad by 1907. The Clinchfield, Carolina and Ohio Railroad was completed through the county in 1909, at which time twelve passenger trains stopped in Forest City daily.
Raleigh Rutherford Haynes and Simpson B. Tanner are credited with bringing the modern textile industry to Rutherford County about the same time the first railroad lines arrived. R.R. Haynes began to acquire land in the High Shoals area of the Second Broad River as potential locations for textile mills in 1885. His partners included Simpson B. Tanner, J.S. Spencer and J.M. Scott. Work on the first mill, named Henrietta after Simpson Tanner's mother-in-law, Mrs. Henrietta Spencer, commenced in 1887. When the Henrietta Mill was completed in 1893 it was the largest textile plant in North Carolina. The mill started out with 10,000 spindles and soon increased to 28,000. The second Henrietta Mill, with 48,000 spindles, was constructed in the nearby community of Caroleen in 1896.
Haynes and his partners financed the construction of the Florence Mill in Forest City in 1897, but Haynes sold his interest in the mill soon after completion of the new building to concentrate on other endeavors. Florence Mill (NR 2004) continued to be an extremely significant force in the growth and development of Forest City, as evidenced by the fact that Forest City tripled in population after the mill and railroads came — growing from a small community of 419 residents in 1890 to a booming town of 1,592 residents in 1910. Haynes began purchasing property along the Second Broad River for a new mill, Cliffside, or Haynes Plant No. 1, in 1899. The mill, completed in 1902, was one of the last water-powered mills in Rutherford County and the largest gingham mill in the southern states at the time of its construction.
As the twentieth century dawned, Forest City, like much of the state, was poised for growth and expansion. Most residents worked at Florence Mill, Dixie Knitting Mills, Regal Manufacturing (lumber) or in auxiliary service enterprises. The rapid surge in Forest City's population in the first two decades of the twentieth century fueled a residential and commercial building boom and a great diversification of goods and services. Amenities such as telephone service were available to Forest City residents by 1901, followed by public water and electrical systems in 1910. Dr. T.C. McBrayer constructed a tuberculosis clinic on Main Street in 1902 and the Mabree Hotel in 1904, hoping to capitalize on the moderate climate, but Forest City never became a health retreat or a resort community. The First National Bank of Forest City was organized in June of 1904 with Dr. G.E. Young as president.
The Forest City Betterment Club, which later became the Forest City Woman's Club, was organized in 1914 and responsible for city beautification efforts, including the creation of a central town square and wide city streets with landscaped medians. Implementation of these initiatives resulted in the 1927 selection of Forest City as one of the ten most beautiful and best planned cities in the United States by the Department of Agriculture. The construction of a new courthouse in 1926 and a town hall and fire department in 1928 further improved the appearance of downtown Forest City. The first public library, established in 1929, was housed in the town hall.
Forest City was not alone its rapid growth, nor in the fact that much of the development was occurring in newly platted neighborhoods. Many North Carolina cities and towns saw their populations double or triple between 1900 and 1930. People moved to Charlotte and Greensboro to work in the textile mills, to Winston-Salem and Durham for textile and tobacco manufacturing jobs, to Wilmington for shipping and railroad work and to Raleigh to work in state government or at State College. Following these primary economic engines were banks, construction firms, restaurants and retail outlets that created even more opportunities for a regular paycheck.
Forest City began to expand to the east in the 1910s. Developers including J.V. Ware, E.O. and J.H. Thomas, C.M. Teal, J.B. Harrill, J.A. Wilkie, Horace Doggett and Dr. T.C. McBrayer subdivided their property in close proximity to downtown from 1914 to 1927, targeting the middle and lower middle class with modest houses on relatively small, inexpensive lots. A few of Forest City's business leaders, including J.H. Thomas, a banker, commissioned more elaborate residences on large lots facing East Main Street.
Forest City, like most of the nation, saw little development during World War I, but the population grew from 2,312 in 1920 to 4,068 in 1930, once again creating the need for additional housing. Approximately one-third of the dwellings in the East Main Street Historic District were constructed between 1920 and 1930.
Although building costs remained high in the early 1920s, the Forest City Courier reported that "new houses are going up almost daily and even with this hustling movement there is still a crying demand for new houses." A May 14, 1925 article entitled "Forest City Growing Like a Green Bay Tree" discussed improvements on East Main Street, particularly the paving of the road, "grading and beautifying of yards" and the construction of the new home of T.R. Pagdett, expected to cost between $25,000 and $30,000. A.D. Mills and F.I. Barber were in the process of building homes on Magnolia Street, and Carolina Avenue was also being developed. A February 1926 article stated that $300,000 worth of building permits were issued in Forest City the previous year. This rapid development may have prompted the creation of a zoning commission, appointed by the city council in early 1926.
On May 27, 1926, the Courier reported that Doggett and Champion and N.J. James were subdividing the thirty-acre B.B. Doggett property into residential lots measuring one hundred feet wide by one hundred and fifty to two hundred feet deep. The neighborhood was to have the most up-to-date water, sewer and electrical systems in addition to paved streets and sidewalks. By July 22, 1926, the Realty Investment Auction Company of Daytona Beach, Florida and Tryon, North Carolina sold approximately $40,000 of lots at a cost of $1,000 to $2,500 each. The ground breaking for three homes with estimated values of five to six thousand dollars each was to happen in the near future.
The Great Depression slowed the economic growth of Forest City, like the rest of the country. The 1932 Sanborn Company map illustrates that only a few new houses had been constructed in the East Main Street neighborhood since 1925. The economy started to recover by the late 1930s, when the Wright-Bachman Lumber Company built a plant just outside of Forest City. The Rutherford Electric Membership Corporation, headquartered in Forest City, was established in 1937 with 120 miles of lines throughout the county. In 1939, the Works Progress Administration granted Forest City $135,000 for street, sidewalk and gutter improvements and $13,409 for a sewage treatment plant. US 74 was widened from eighteen to thirty feet between Forest City and Rutherfordton in 1939 and 1940. Forest City continued to grow, with a population of 5,036 in 1940. The East Main Street neighborhood also expanded, with approximately twenty new houses being constructed between 1930 and 1940.
Increased production associated with World War II resulted in some resurgence for the southern textile industry, but did not provide the impetus to save many small companies. During World War II, seventy-five percent of the total production of the Florence Mill was directed at the war effort. The mill manufactured bag sheeting and flannels for veterans hospitals, the Red Cross and other government contracts. Company employees participated in a payroll deduction plan to contribute to the purchase of war bonds. The only time Florence Mill ever shut down in the middle of a shift was the day World War II ended. Other Rutherford County textile mills manufactured a variety of goods for the war effort, and Rutherford County farmers responded to the national call for increased production of agricultural commodities including soy beans and sweet potatoes. The Wright-Bachman Lumber Company only produced bomb boxes, which enclosed jelly incendiary bombs, during the war years.
Forest City experienced a period of expansion from the mid-1940s through the early 1950s, when the GI Bill helped returning World War II veterans pay for homes. National housing shortages resulting from years of slow development during the Depression and war years, coupled with the post-war population influx, fueled the construction of new houses on vacant lots in the existing East Main Street neighborhood. Twenty-five percent of the dwellings in the East Main Street Historic District were built during this period.
In the decades since, the character of the East Main Street Historic District has remained remarkably stable, maintaining a mix of homeowners and renters, young professionals and retirees. The relatively few buildings that post-date the period of significance are of compatible form and scale, and the neighborhood still retains its early-to mid-twentieth century character.
The church, dwellings and outbuildings in the East Main Street Historic District represent the architectural styles and forms that were common in Forest City and throughout North Carolina from the early twentieth century through the post-World War II era. During this period, architecture reflected the social and economic changes occurring as Forest City transformed from a quiet crossroads community to the largest town in Rutherford County. As the population of Forest City grew, landowners near downtown took advantage of the opportunity to profit from the subdivision of their large parcels of land into smaller residential lots. This push outward from the center of town translated into the construction of houses on streets only one or two blocks beyond main arteries and commercial areas. During the first decades of the twentieth century, it was common for bank presidents and prosperous merchants to live only one street away from store clerks and carpenters. While professionals and workers continued to live in relative close proximity to their work places and each other, the differences in the two groups' income and social standing were made clear by the size of their houses and the lots they occupied.
The earliest residences in the East Main Street Historic District date to the turn of the twentieth century. The simple, vernacular dwellings reflect the use of common house forms with little or no ornamentation. The circa 1900 house at 402 East Main Street is a two-story frame building with a side-gable roof, cornice returns and a wrap-around porch. The one-story frame house built at 419 East Main Street circa 1910 has an L-plan. These modest houses are typical of the dwellings constructed in Forest City during the first decades of the twentieth century, but significant alterations to each building compromise their integrity and make them noncontributing to the East Main Street Historic District.
As the twentieth century progressed, national trends in architecture began to exert a greater influence on houses in the East Main Street neighborhood. While modest homes with little architectural embellishment are located throughout the East Main Street Historic District, many dwellings reflect elements of the popular Craftsman, Colonial Revival, Period Cottage, Minimal Traditional and Ranch styles.
The Bungalow enjoyed national popularity in the late 1910s and 1920s and architects designed fine examples for clients from coast to coast. Scaled-down versions of the style proved immensely popular throughout North Carolina into the early 1930s. Building plans for these houses, with their wide overhanging eaves, open arrangement of rooms, and inviting porches, appeared in national magazines and catalogs. The Bungalow was inexpensive and easy to construct and appealed to families' desires for a modern house.
Bungalows and Craftsman-influenced houses are widespread in the East Main Street Historic District. A cross-gable roof, engaged front porch with tapered posts on brick piers and German siding with wood shingles in the gables characterize the one-story frame Bungalow built at 190 Carolina Avenue in 1920. A one-and-one-half-story brick Bungalow constructed at 151 South Magnolia Street in 1923 features an engaged front porch supported by square brick posts spanned by a brick kneewall with diamond-shaped openings, eave brackets, exposed rafter ends and a large gabled dormer with wood shingle siding. The 1919, two-story, yellow brick house at 358 East Main Street exhibits an eclectic mix of design features, including a hip roof with wide eaves in the Craftsman style, Queen Anne window sash and a single-leaf entry with sidelights sheltered by a hip-roofed entry porch. Even some of the plainest dwellings in the neighborhood, like the side-gable roofed frame house at 306 Arlington Street, sport triangular Craftsman eave brackets and four-over-one window sash.
The influence of the Colonial Revival style is evident in the East Main Street neighborhood from the 1920s through the post-World War II period. Some construction occurred in the East Main Street Historic District during the 1930s, despite the Great Depression. Most of the buildings from the period were modest dwellings with symmetrical facades and classical or Colonial Revival nuances, often executed in brick veneer.
Leah Range Roberts, a Charlotte architect, designed the two-story, five-bay, brick Georgian Revival house at 297 East Main Street for T. Max Watson in 1939. The building features a projecting central gabled bay with an entry framed by leaded-glass sidelights and a fanlight and a flat-roofed portico supported by Ionic columns. More modest dwellings with Colonial Revival features include the 1926 two-story, frame, Dr. W.C. Bostic Jr. House at 326 East Main Street with a flat-roofed entry porch supported by square posts and the 1939, two-story, brick John W. and Bertha M. Dalton House at 126 Carolina Avenue with a hip-roofed entry porch supported by Tuscan columns.
First United Methodist Church, constructed at 341 East Main Street in 1954, reflects the enduring influence of the Colonial Revival style. The two-story, brick, T-plan church is oriented so that the gable end of the sanctuary faces East Main Street, with a gabled wing dominated by a bell tower topped by a pyramidal spire extending to the west. The central double-leaf entry is surmounted by a transom and broken pediment surround. A one-story front-gabled chapel with a portico supported by fluted columns and a double-leaf entry with a fanlight extends south from the west side of the facade.
As in many neighborhoods that developed during the first half of the twentieth century, the East Main Street Historic District includes examples of period revival styles, most notably the English cottage form, also called the Period Cottage, and the Tudor Revival style. Side-gable roofs with steeply-pitched front gables, facade chimneys, arched doors and half-timbering in the gables characterize these houses. The 1925, one-story, brick Hicks and Annie B. Hill House at 166 Carolina Avenue has a single-leaf entry sheltered by gabled hood, a facade chimney and half-timbering and stucco in the side gables. The more restrained M.J. Harrill House across the street at 121 Carolina Avenue is characterized by a recessed, arched, single-leaf entry with stone accents, a facade chimney and arched gable vents.
The only example of the Mediterranean Revival style in the East Main Street Historic District, the 1922 J.H. Thomas House, occupies a large lot at 344 East Main Street. Mediterranean Revival houses usually have low-pitched hipped roofs covered with ceramic tiles, deep bracketed eaves, arches above large windows and French doors and a symmetrical facade. The Thomas House is an interesting interpretation of the style executed in blue granite. The two-story building has a green tile hip roof with a bracketed cornice, double-leaf French doors with fanlights on the facade, a single-leaf entry with leaded-glass sidelights and transom, a gabled entry porch supported by grouped Tuscan columns, a one-story hip-roofed sunporch on the west elevation and a porte cochere with stone posts on the east elevation.
When World War II ended, Forest City's population rose to 4,971 in 1950 as soldiers returned home. As construction revived after the war, some North Carolina families sought the comfort and reassurance of building in styles of the past such as the Colonial Revival, but, more commonly, new houses took on a decidedly modern appearance. The Minimal Traditional style began appearing just before the war and proved very popular in the last half of the 1940s. In the East Main Street Historic District, Minimal Traditional houses took several forms including a side-gabled dwelling with or without a front-facing gable or a one-story L-shaped form.
From the late 1930s through the 1950s Minimal Traditional houses — typically modest, one-story, brick side-gabled dwellings, often with front-facing gables — appeared in the neighborhood. The one-and-one-half story, brick house constructed at 140 North Magnolia Street in 1937 has a side-gable roof with a projecting front-gable entry bay, arched gable vents and two gabled dormers. The 1946 Minimal Traditional house at 403 Arlington Street is a one-story, frame building with projecting front-gable bay, a shed-roofed entry porch with paired square posts spanned by lattice, a screened side porch and asbestos siding.
A small number of apartments and rental houses were built in the East Main Street neighborhood during the 1930s and 1940s. The circa 1930, two-story, brick, hip-roofed apartment building at 433 East Main Street has double-tier front porches supported by square brick posts spanned by wood railings. A one-story, brick, hip-roofed, five-bay garage stands behind the apartments. The four rental houses on McBrayer Court (114, 115, 118 and 119 McBrayer Court) are modest, one-story, frame, side-gable roofed buildings constructed circa 1940. All of the houses retain original single-leaf entries sheltered by gabled hoods with scalloped brackets and German siding.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, the Ranch house, with its low-pitched roof and open floor plan, enjoyed popularity in Forest City. The Ranch style originated in California in the 1930s and by the middle of the century it had been adapted throughout the country to meet the needs of families who desired a low-cost dwelling with living area on one level and enough space for all its members to enjoy their privacy. Ranch houses in East Main Street Historic District have brick and synthetic siding exteriors with broad chimneys and minimal detailing.
Ranch houses were built on undeveloped lots in the neighborhood from the late 1950s through the 1980s. The 1956, frame Ranch at 385 Arlington Street has a side-gable roof and a mixture of sheathing materials including weatherboards, brick veneer and board-and-batten siding. The frame Marley Sigmon House constructed at 327 Arlington Street in 1962 has an engaged front porch supported by turned posts and brick veneer with wood shingles in the gables.
The East Main Street Historic District contains the most cohesive collection of early- to mid-twentieth century residential housing stock in Forest City that is not associated with mill development. There are small groupings of earlier dwellings north and west of town, and another substantially intact cluster of early-twentieth century houses stands west of the East Main Street Historic District, but Forest City's periods of economic growth are clearly manifested in the types and styles of homes constructed east of downtown in the East Main Street Historic District.
Other districts in the region, such as the Central School Historic District in Kings Mountain, contain examples of many of the same architectural styles found in the East Main Street Historic District. The houses, school, churches, commercial building and depot in the Central School Historic District were constructed from 1870 to 1950 and reflect the growth and development of the Kings Mountain that began with the arrival of the Charlotte-Atlanta Railway and was driven by the textile industry in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The residential section of town surrounds a central business district. The earliest vernacular frame dwellings are embellished with decorative Victorian elements. The influence of national architectural styles is evident in the later Second Empire, Craftsman, Colonial Revival, Neoclassical Revival, Tudor Revival and Gothic Revival buildings in the district.
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‡ Heather Fearnbach, Edwards=Pitman Environmental, Inc., East Main Street Historic District, Rutherford County, NC, nomination document, 2005, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Arlington Street • Carolina Avenue • Magnolia Street North • Magnolia Street South • Main Street East • McBrayer Court • Route 74