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Madonna Acres Historic District

Raleigh City, Wake County, NC

The Madonna Acres Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]


Madonna Acres Historic District, a 13-acre subdivision located in east Raleigh on the east border of the St. Augustine's College campus, was platted in 1960. The compact plan contains a central north-south street named Delany Drive that extends from Milburnie Road on the south to Glascock Street on the north. Three short cul-de-sacs extend to the east: Dillon Circle, Tierney Circle, and Summerville Circle. The topography is generally level, although lots on the west side of Delany Drive slope down to a creek at the rear. Some lots on Tierney Circle and Summerville Circle also slope to the rear. Lots average one-quarter acre in size. Those along Delany Drive are rectangular, 70 to 90 feet wide and generally 125 feet deep, while the cul-de-sac lots are trapezoidal with a larger square footage although generally not as deep. Streets are concrete-curbed, guttered, and asphalt-paved, with no sidewalks. Each house has its own driveway. The subdivision plat, dated October 25, 1960, contains a street outlet on the west side of Delany Street leading into St. Augustine's College campus. This was never constructed; instead it was converted to a lot, 633 Delany Drive, and a house constructed on it about 1996. All but two of the forty houses were built from late 1960 to 1965; 625 and 633 Delany Drive were constructed later.

The approximately 6-acre section on the east side of Delany Drive, south of Dillon Circle, including Dudley Circle, was not developed until the 1970s and is not included in the Madonna Acres Historic District because it does not fall within the period of historical significance. A variety of 1- and 2-story houses were constructed here from the 1970s to the present. The exception is 620 Delany Drive, built in 1965, which is included. At each entrance to the neighborhood, at Milburnie Road and Glascock Street, is a low brick structure bearing a "Madonna Acres" sign erected around 1980. Only the north one is within the Madonna Acres Historic District boundary, because the house adjacent to the south gate is not included in the boundary.

The houses maintain a thirty-foot setback from the street. The large grassy front lawns are edged neatly with shrubs and flowers. Front yards tend to be open and mature trees are generally located behind the houses. The Madonna Acres Historic District contains a total of forty houses: all are contributing resources except for four. 625 and 633 Delany Drive were built or rebuilt after 1965. 718 Delany Drive and 1508 Dillon Circle have lost their architectural integrity due to major character-altering changes. Most of the houses have small prefabricated metal and frame 1-story storage sheds at the rears that were not large enough to warrant evaluation. One recently-constructed shed, at the rear of 1509 Dillon Circle, is a noncontributing resource. A post-1965 brick outdoor grill at the rear of 810 Delany Drive is counted as a noncontributing structure. A total of 87 percent of the houses contribute to the Madonna Acres Historic District's architectural character.

Pre-1965 houses in the Madonna Acres Historic District consist of twenty-four Ranches, eleven Split Levels, one Split Foyer, and two 2-story houses. All contributing houses are of brick, generally with accent walls of stone veneer or wood. Most of the Ranches are the minimal, archetypal type. The common Ranch in Madonna Acres is 4 bays wide, side-gabled, with brick walls, a section of wood siding, a living room picture window, and a 1-car carport. Four of the Ranches, 605 Delany Drive, 701 Delany Drive, 1505 Dillon Circle, and 1508 Tierney Circle, are asymmetrical front-gabled contemporary Ranches rather than of side-gabled form.

Eleven of Madonna Acres's houses are Split Levels. The Lightner House, 717 Delany Drive, the Lewis House, 1505 Tierney Circle, and the Brown House, 725 Delany Drive, have an unusual front-to-back floor plan in which the living room, dining room, and kitchen occupy the front 1-story level, and the den and bedrooms occupy two stories arranged to the rear. Several of these houses also have dramatic contemporary spaces. The rest of the Split Levels feature the more common side-to-side Split Level plan, with a 1-story main level containing living room, dining room, and kitchen at one side and a split level side wing with bedrooms and den on the other side.

The pair of 2-story houses are the Webb House, 1509 Tierney Circle, and the Wilson House, 901 Delany Drive. The contemporary Webb House functions like a raised Ranch; the Wilson House is the only Colonial Revival -style dwelling in the Madonna Acres Historic District.

Madonna Acres Historic District houses generally retain their original massing and simple, modern features. They maintain a high level of integrity of materials, workmanship, design, and setting. In fact, they are unusually intact because of the remarkable continuity of ownership: at least twelve houses are still occupied by an original owner. A number of the others are now occupied by a descendant of an original owner. Houses retain their original massing and their simple modern features, including roof shape, wall materials, windows, floor plan, and carport. The brick and stone surfaces remain in their original condition. Most of the exterior wooden surfaces remain in place and have not been covered with aluminum or vinyl siding. The most common alteration is the addition of stone veneer to one or more exterior surfaces. The Downing House, 713 Delany Drive, received a stone veneer on its right two bays in the 1980s. Because stone wall accents are a common feature in the subdivision architecture, these newer stone accents alter the house appearance but still allow the house to remain a contributing resource in the district.

Carports are an important feature of the houses. Most houses retain their integral carports with metal or 4 inch by 4 inch wood post supports and a rear storage closet. Some of them retain original horizontal board privacy walls or decorative concrete block screens. 1501 Tierney Circle and 621 Delany Drive have carports that have been enclosed as dens. 1501 Tierney Circle's den has stone veneer, an early alteration that resembles the original stone accents used on other houses and thus still contributes to the Madonna Acres Historic District's character. 621 Delany Drive's den was built in an unobtrusive way so that the house is still a contributing resource. The only original garages are at the Lightner House, 717 Delany Drive, and the Haynes House, 620 Delany Drive. The additions of two-car garages to 718 Delany Drive and 1508 Dillon Circle altered the architectural character to the extent that these houses are noncontributing resources.

The large picture windows with lower awning sash that opened for ventilation are also a significant thematic feature. Very few of these windows have been replaced — for example that at 1504 Tierney Circle was replaced in kind following a 1996 fire. The other windows, generally small 2-over-2 or 1-over-1 wood sash windows, survive intact on nearly every house.

Planters are a small but important feature of most houses. Many of the houses have built-in brick or stone planters along one side of the entrance stoop or extending along the outer edge of the concrete slab of the carport. Many of these boxes are landscaped with flowers. A few other houses have original wooden flower boxes with a distinctive angled shape hanging below a row of windows.

Although interior integrity is not an issue in a historic district, the interiors of a number of the houses were documented. The continuity of ownership that has preserved the exteriors from alterations has also maintained the interiors. Floor plans, floor, wall and ceiling materials, living room fireplaces, doors and trim are intact and unaltered.


Madonna Acres Historic District is a small residential subdivision in east Raleigh, North Carolina platted in 1960 by African American developer John Winters. The forty custom houses were largely built between 1960 and 1965 for middle-class black families who still reside in a number of them. The subdivision consists essentially of one street, Delany Drive, with three short intersecting cul-de-sacs named Dillon Circle, Tierney Circle, and Summerville Circle. Most of the Ranches and Split Levels include contemporary features such as picture windows, a variety of brick, wood, and stone surfaces, exposed exterior framing, clerestory windows, cathedral ceiling living rooms, floor plans of different levels that integrate the houses into sloping lots, and integral carports. Two-thirds of the original residents were educators: either faculty or staff at the adjacent St. Augustine's College, faculty at other colleges, public school teachers and principals, or staff of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Madonna Acres was identified as a significant subdivision in a citywide survey. The subdivision is significant in the area of Community Development and Planning and African American ethnic heritage as the earliest residential subdivision in Raleigh built by African Americans for African Americans. This was a major achievement because Jim Crow segregation still operated in Raleigh during this era, making the American dream of modern residential subdivisions difficult to achieve for black families. Madonna Acres Historic District is listed on the National Register for its architectural significance as a well-preserved collection of archetypal and contemporary Ranch and Split Level houses of modern design. Its 1960 to 1965 period of significance meets National Register criteria because of its exceptional significance as the first postwar black subdivision built by a black developer.

The locally significant Madonna Acres subdivision with cul-de-sacs contains a well-preserved collection of archetypal and contemporary Ranch and Split Level houses of modern design, a rare and significant grouping in the largely traditional subdivision architecture of Raleigh in the mid-twentieth century. Madonna Acres retains its overall integrity of setting, feeling, association, design, and materials, with only 4 of its 40 houses not contributing to the district's character.

Historical Background

Madonna Acres Historic District's location, adjoining the east boundary of the St. Augustine's College campus, was propitious. The college, established in 1867 by the Episcopalians as Saint Augustine's Normal School, a teacher training institute for African Americans, served as a vibrant center of black life and culture in east Raleigh. St. Agnes Hospital on the campus provided health care, the Episcopal Chapel offered religious services, and local residents attended the school as well as enjoyed cultural events such as musicals and programs. Reverend Henry Beard Delany (1858-1928), Episcopal rector of St. Augustine's, occupied an eminent position in the Episcopalian denomination, serving as the first African American Episcopal bishop in the United States from 1918 to his death in 1928.[1] He and his large family resided on a tract purchased in 1918 along the east boundary of the campus. Reverend Delany purchased the land, known as Tract One of the C.B. Barbee Land, from the Carolina Realty Company. The subdivision plat in Book of Maps 1915, page 90 shows Tract One, a long, narrow 17.9-acre rectangle, extending from the Tarboro Road to the north. In the southeast corner of the tract is the "home place," presumably that of Mr. Barbee.[2] The Delany family apparently lived on the St. Augustine's campus prior to 1918.

Bishop Delany's widow, Nanny J. Delany, deeded three tracts of land in 1946 to a family corporation known as Delany Farms Inc. [Wake County Deed Book 957, page 399]. In 1959 Delany Farms Inc. conveyed the first of these three tracts, the 17.9-acre Delany home place, to John W. Winters. The tract began in the center of the Tarboro Road (renamed Milburnie Road), on the south side of the subdivision, and continued north along Harris Branch, the college campus boundary, to Glascock Street. A 5.9-acre parcel in the southeast corner was retained by Delany Farms, which granted a twenty-five-foot easement for the main street, Delany Drive. The subdivision plat of 1960 shows this parcel as a part of the subdivision, with no lots subdivided. [Wake Co. Deed Book 1376 page 410; Madonna Acres Plat Map, Book 1960, page 215]. This section was subdivided and developed in the 1970s and is not included in the Madonna Acres Historic District, with the exception of the Haynes House, 620 Delany Drive, built in this section in 1965.

John W. Winters (1920-2004), born into an old Raleigh family descended from free blacks, shaped local and state policies for the betterment of the African American community during his half-century career. Winters grew up at the corner of Martin and East streets in a mixed-race neighborhood. After his mother's death he lived with relatives in Brooklyn, New York, and completed secondary school. He attended Long Island University and Virginia State College, then returned to Raleigh to study at Shaw University. He and his wife Marie married in 1941 and raised eight children. Winters worked at a variety of jobs, including railroad porter, waiter, and deliveryman for Pine State Creamery, meanwhile building a home for himself and one for another family member.

In 1957 Winters noticed that developers were expanding the city to the north and west, paying little attention to predominantly black southeast Raleigh. In response he formed John W. Winters and Company, a real estate and insurance business, while working as a skycap at the Raleigh-Durham airport.[3] The 1959-1960 Madonna Acres subdivision carried his business into land development. His company gradually moved into shopping center development, apartment construction, and property management. In 1961 Winters became the first black Raleigh city councilman of the 20th century and served three 2-year terms. Winters served in the North Carolina Senate from 1974-1977. Other positions of leadership included director of the North Carolina Housing Corporation, which encouraged moderate-cost housing; director of the Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County; board member of the North Carolina Utilities Commission; and a member of the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina System.[4]

Madonna Acres was apparently Winters's earliest land development. He designed a compact subdivision on the 17.9-acre tract that he acquired from the heirs of Bishop Delany. Because of its long, narrow rectangular shape, the plan consists of a main central north-south axis, Delany Drive, aptly named for the distinguished Delany family, and three short cul-de-sacs along the east side, named Summerville, Tierney, and Dillon Circles. Engineer Vernon Peebles drew the subdivision map in October 1960 with thirty-nine lots. Winters named the subdivision for one of his daughters, Donna. The 5.9-acre southeast corner of the property remained in the ownership of the Delanys, and may have still contained the old Barbee home place.

The subdivision covenants required a minimum house size of 1,100 square feet for a 1-story house and 800 square feet for a taller house, with a maximum of 2-1/2-half stories allowed. All plans had to be approved by a 3-person architectural committee. Mr. Winters, who worked closely with the purchasers of the lots, was the primary member of the committee. His wife Marie, who served as a co-director of Madonna Acres, Inc., may have also been on the committee. The third director was John K. Culbertson.[5]

The new subdivision generated considerable excitement in the African American community, since it was the first known Raleigh subdivision created by a black developer for black homeowners. The development offered black families that could afford it the chance to construct a new home on a large lot in a beautiful area. The spacious lots and house amenities such as air conditioning, whole-house intercoms, and carports gave Madonna Acres considerable class. Winters' daughters recalled their father's close involvement with every aspect of the creation of the subdivision. Winters sold a family one of the lots, then drew a preliminary design for their desired house on a drafting table in his basement. A design professional then took his sketches and created the final blueprints. Jerry Miller, who had attended the School of Design at North Carolina State University in the 1950s and left school early to establish a house design practice, drew the plans for at least 2 of the houses, and may have done more of them.[6]

One of the first families to construct a house in Madonna Acres were Clarence and Marguerite Lightner, who lived in the Washington Terrace apartment complex south of St. Augustine's College. Clarence Lightner (1921-2002) operated the Lightner Funeral Home, established by his father Calvin Lightner, a graduate of Shaw University in Raleigh and a local political leader. Clarence served in the army during World War II, then managed his father's funeral home for forty-five years, becoming a cornerstone of the black community. In 1961 the family selected the 717 Delany Drive lot in the center of Madonna Acres. Their son Bruce recalls the design process. "John Winters would come to our house and work on the design. They had a big board and would draw out how the rooms would interface. My mother had definite ideas about how she wanted it to be."[7] Bruce explains that the new subdivision was regarded in the black community as upper middle class, and his family was careful to maintain their connection to their old neighborhood. Jerry Miller clearly remembers working with the Lightner family on their house design. Miller worked more behind the scenes than did Winters, thus residents who were children when the houses were built do not recall him today.

Clarence Lightner's political career flourished after moving to Madonna Acres. He became one of Raleigh's most distinguished African American leaders. Lightner was elected to the City Council 2 years after passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. He served from 1967-1973, when he was elected as the first black mayor of a metropolitan southern city, and served until 1975. During his term he served as a charter member of the Southern Conference of Black Mayors. After his mayoral term, Governor Jim Hunt appointed him to replace State Senator John Winters, who had resigned.[8] Lightner's wife Marguerite remained in the house until her passing in 2008. Her daughter now owns the house.

Residents recall that John Winters constructed the beige masonry Ranch house at 724 Delany Drive in 1961 as a model. The corner contemporary Ranch had a number of progressive modern features, including beige brick-shaped stone veneer on the facade, a rear-entry carport with a lattice privacy screen of the same "stone brick," large picture windows, and, best of all — the distinction of being a "Gold Medallion" house, the term coined by Carolina Power and Light Company for an all-electric dwelling. The clean, cheap electric heat, including a Tappan electric kitchen range, is still remembered by older residents with delight.[9] In 1962 James Edward Stallings and his wife purchased the model house and still [2010] reside there.

The Colemans, Lewises, and Webbs built stylish custom modern houses in the early sixties. Clarence Coleman, druggist and co-owner of Hamlin Drug Store, a historic business on the "black main street" of East Hargett Street, and his wife Ola built a large contemporary Ranch at 810 Delany Drive. Ola worked in the St. Augustine's Hospital laboratory and later at Wake Memorial Hospital. They consulted with John Winters on their house design, which includes a dramatic sunken living room inspired by various magazines that Ola had collected.[10] J.D. Lewis, a pioneering African American radio announcer and later television announcer at Fred Fletcher's WRAL broadcasting station in Raleigh, built a house at 1505 Tierney Circle with his wife Louise in 1962. Harold Webb, a Tuskegee Airman during World War II, moved to Raleigh as a supervisor in the State Department of Public Instruction in the early 1960s. He and his wife Lucille, a teacher, built a house at 1509 Tierney Circle in 1962. Mrs. Webb recalls that Jerry Miller drew the plans, which included all of the modern conveniences they had enjoyed in their former house in Hillsborough.[11]

Nearly two-thirds of the original owners were in educational fields as professors, college staff, State Department of Public Instruction staff, public school principals, and public school teachers. Twenty-three of the thirty-eight homeowners in Madonna Acres were educators, a remarkable percentage. The neighborhood's proximity to St. Augustine's College partially explains this concentration, but the African American commitment to education as the path to progress is the primary factor. Those who worked at St. Augustine's included Igal Spraggings, 908 Delany Drive, the long-time college registrar, and Christopher Gray, 809 Delany Drive, the dean of men. School principals James Wilson had 901 Delany Drive built and Richard L. Barfield had 806 Delany Drive constructed. Clinton R. Downing, education professor at East Carolina University, had 713 Delany Drive built. Richard Ball, law professor at North Carolina Central University in Durham and his wife Dolores Edwinton Ball, a law professor at St. Augustine's College, had 1509 Summerville Circle built. Mrs. Ura Jones, on the faculty at Shaw University in Raleigh, had 705 Delany Drive built. George Stokes, who taught at the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, had 708 Delany Drive built. The public school teachers who had houses in Madonna Acres constructed include Ocie Taylor and his wife Dorothy, 701 Delany Drive; David Spaugh and his wife Leolia, 718 Delany Drive; Rosalie Peay, 621 Delany Drive; Francis Poole, 805 Delany Drive; James Whitley, 1508 Dillon Circle; and Sterling Perry, 1505 Summerville Circle. Hubert and Mary Poole, 801 Delany Drive, both taught at Ligon High School in Raleigh. Phenix Watson, 1515 Summerville Circle, and Wetonah Williams, 1508 Tierney Circle, taught at Ligon High School. Frank Weaver, 900 Delany Drive, was a supervisor with the State Department of Public Instruction.[12]

John Winters's involvement with the successful development of Madonna Acres did not end with the sales of the lots and construction of houses. On several occasions when houses were foreclosed by the bank, he stepped in to buy the properties and to resell them. For example the Evans, who lived at 601 Delany Drive, owned the adjacent house at 605 Delany Drive and rented it out. In 1966 when the rental house was foreclosed, Winters purchased it and sold it to a new family. [Wake County Deed Book 1744, 234; Deed Book 1768, 197]. He also purchased 625 Delany Drive in the 1960s and resold it.

Madonna Acres has been a close-knit community throughout its history. Mothers watched over each others' children. Children who grew up there became lifelong friends. Now that the children are grown, they take care of each others' parents. A number of the grown children have inherited their houses from the parents and make their homes in the neighborhood.

Community Development and Planning and Architecture for African Americans in Raleigh

Madonna Acres Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for Community Development and Planning and African American ethnic heritage as Raleigh's first black subdivision developed by a black developer. Raleigh's two historically black colleges, St. Augustine's and Shaw, founded in 1865 at the end of the Civil War, have remained strong institutions, creating a black middle class that has produced a number of distinguished and accomplished leaders. At the end of World War II, African American veterans, who had fought alongside white soldiers in the war, believed winning the war for democracy abroad would change segregation at home. Jim Crow segregation, however, continued in Raleigh and elsewhere. Although restrictive covenants enforcing racist housing had been outlawed by the Supreme Court in 1948, segregated suburbs remained in effect through the late 1960s through efforts by policy makers and real estate interests, keeping blacks in the inner cities.[13] Blacks responded by creating their own middle-class suburbs through a valiant effort. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, a determined struggle resulted in the first three black postwar residential suburbs in Raleigh, a full decade later than those created for whites.

The earliest black subdivision in the postwar era was Rochester Heights in south Raleigh, subdivided by white developer E.E. Phillips for middle-class blacks, primarily teachers who previously lived in a segregated inner-city Raleigh neighborhood. The streets were named for outstanding African American entertainers such as musicians Cab Calloway (from Rochester, New York) and Pearl Bailey. Streets are lined with typical middle-class brick Ranches and Split Levels built beginning in 1957. The houses in the core of the neighborhood were constructed by masonry contractor Millard Peebles, who built a brick Ranch for himself here in 1959. The standardized house plans, of popular style with modest contemporary features, may have been provided by the developer.[14]

In east Raleigh, an exclusive African American suburb developed in the Battery Heights area [see Battery Heights Historic District] from 1959 to about 1965. Although subdivided by wealthy white landowner John Gatling on his ancestral land, black mason and teacher George Exum (who taught brick masonry at Ligon High School in Raleigh) was the impetus. He convinced Gatling to subdivide and sell lots to himself and other middle-class blacks so that they could build houses. Exum recruited the families and acted as general contractor to build a number of their large Ranches and Split Levels. He used his best students in the high school shop classes to assist him, giving them apprenticeship opportunities and some earnings. The custom house blueprints came from various sources, including local house designer Jerry Miller and Standard Homes Plan Service, a nationally prominent house plan company that began in 1921 in Washington, D.C. and relocated near Raleigh, North Carolina in 1937. The plans were sometimes altered to reflect the clients' tastes, with extra features added or combined in unusual ways. The house built for the Lane sisters, both teachers, at 1617 E. Martin Street, is a sophisticated modern design with an asymmetrical front-gable and projecting living room with front and side picture windows. Dr. Debnam, a physician, constructed a distinctive contemporary at 311 Sherrybrook Drive from a mail-order plan, with a bold front gabled wing with full-height fixed and casement windows. The seven dramatic thin angled posts supporting the wide overhanging eaves of the entrance porch is probably an elaboration on the plan made by Dr. Debnam. Another physician, Dr. Hunt, constructed a large brick Split Foyer house in 1961 at 300 Sherrybrook Drive from a mail-order plan, with a complicated set of levels. The Colonial-style entrance and porch probably reflect the plan; the large free-floating sidelights of Modernist style were probably added by Dr. Hunt.[15]

Madonna Acres developed simultaneously with Battery Heights. No longer a joint effort between the two races, Madonna Acres was created entirely by the black community and reflects the coming of age of Raleigh's African American development community. Both Battery Heights and Madonna Acres demonstrate a divergence in taste between whites and blacks in Raleigh during the post World War II building boom. White subdivisions tended to be filled with traditional Ranches and Split Levels of Colonial design, while the dominant character of these black suburbs is modern. Madonna Acres Historic District contains small and medium-sized Ranches and Split Levels of archetypal modern design and custom contemporary style that clearly convey a distinct modern quality. In addition, three of the Split Level houses have custom front-to-back floor plans that reflect a contemporary approach to design. Designer Jerry Miller recalls that "The black people wanted something different, something that the white people didn't have." Madonna Acres residents explain their architectural taste with the statement "We'd been shotgunned. We weren't part of the American dream. We wanted the dream — big and new."[16]

Anecdotal evidence from elsewhere in the South tends to confirm this correlation between the black middle class and modernism. The black postwar subdivision where Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers lived, on the outskirts of Jackson, Mississippi, is full of Modernist Ranches like Evers' own dwelling. Collier Heights, an exclusive black subdivision in suburban Atlanta, Georgia where local civil rights leaders built homes in the 1950s and 1960s, has a dominant Modernist Split Level character. In a study of the African American settlement of Langston, Oklahoma, architectural historian Jeff Hardwick found the Colonial Revival style conspicuously absent, implying a strong decision not to use the style that was a symbol of slavery, instead selecting hopeful, progressive styles.[17] Only two subdivisions with custom Ranches and Split Levels of contemporary design were developed for Raleigh's white families during the postwar era — the Cameron Village houses and Forty Acres. Most white subdivisions of custom houses featured traditional design.

Madonna Acres is listed on the National Register for the architectural significance of its well-preserved contemporary Ranches and Split Level houses. These were designed largely through the collaboration of the homeowners and the highly involved "father" of the development, John Winters. Some of the plans came from white house designer Jerry Miller, others from mail-order plan books or magazines, but most reflect individualized taste. The owners reconfigured various levels to suit their specific lot topography. They sometimes placed their living rooms on the second floor overlooking their spacious back yards. They employed such modern features as the juxtaposition of sections of brick walls with stone and wood walls, large picture windows, carports, concrete block screens, and planters. Madonna Acres remains to this day a landmark in the creation of the American dream for blacks, and a distinctive collection of well-preserved postwar modern houses.

The common Ranch in Madonna Acres is 4 bays wide, with a side-gable roof, brick walls, and, in the bedroom bays, a combination of a brick wainscot and high bedroom windows set in vertical or horizontal wood siding. A 2- or 3-section picture window consisting of large upper fixed panes and small lower operable awning panes illuminates the living room. At the kitchen end of the house is a 1-car carport, usually integrated into the main roof, with a small storage closet at the rear. A good example is the George and Laura Stokes House, 708 Delany Drive, constructed in 1961. It has a brick wainscot beneath the picture window, flanked by stone veneer. The bedroom windows are pairs of 1-over-1 wooden sashes. The house has the modest, streamlined modern appearance that is the essence of the minimal archetypal Ranch.

The larger Ranches, the Model House, 724 Delany Drive and the Coleman House, 810 Delany Drive, both built in 1961, fit into the contemporary Ranch category. Both are larger than the minimal Ranch and break out of the rectangle. They feature innovative forms such as groupings of large windows and integration of the house into the sloping sites through terraces, porches, and carports. Although not as avant-garde as the contemporary Ranches designed by Raleigh's leading architects, these two houses go beyond the archetypal in their use of modern features. The design of the Model House has the well-proportioned design of a mail order plan. The central entrance is recessed. To the right is a projecting front-gabled main block containing a 3-part picture window and a ribbon window. Left of the entrance is a 2-car carport entered by a rear driveway. Set on a corner lot, the front and side walls have beige brick veneer textured to look like stone; other walls have common red brick veneer. The side wall of the carport has latticework beige textured brick. A brick privacy wall extends from the right corner of the main facade to screen an original patio.

The Coleman House, on a corner sloping lot, is a rambler contemporary Ranch design with a rectangular side-gabled main block and a gabled wing with a walk-out lower level. A large 2-car carport connects to this wing, with a deck on the upper level. The main entrance faces Summerville Circle. Walls are of brick, with a stone wall facing Delany Drive. Large picture windows illuminate the living room, dining room, and kitchen. The dramatic living room has a cathedral ceiling, a large stone fireplace, and a brick wall dividing it from the master bedroom to the rear. A continuous transom at the top of the brick wall allows light into the bedroom, which also has a cathedral ceiling. The transom would have functioned as a clerestory, allowing extra light into the living room, if the transom projected above the rear roof level. Instead the gable roof extends over the transom. The kitchen counter extends on the diagonal into the eating area and family room, illuminated by a large picture window. Behind the family room is an original screen porch, now enclosed as a sunroom.

A group of asymmetrical front-gabled contemporary Ranches, probably built from mail order plans, are a subcategory of the Ranch type: 605 Delany Drive, 701 Delany Drive, 1505 Dillon Circle, and 1508 Tierney Circle. Each of these has a front-facing gable roof with the ridge located off-center. Most have extending roof purlins that support wide eaves across the facade. The living room with picture window is set beneath the highest pitch of the roof, with an integral carport beneath the lower pitch of the roof. A shallow porch or walkway extends from the carport across to the front entrance in two of the houses. Mrs. Taylor, owner of 701 Delany Drive, recalled that her house was built from plans that she found in a magazine. Because of the size of her lot, the builder had to make the house slightly smaller.

Eleven of Madonna Acres's houses are Split Levels. Most of these are representative examples that feature a 1-story main level containing entrance, living room, dining room, and kitchen, with a split level side wing containing a half-stair up to the bedrooms and a half-stair down to the den or recreation room. For example 613 Delany Drive, built in 1962, follows this general plan. Yet like a number of Split Levels in Madonna Acres, there is a slight twist. The central entrance opens into the lower, den level rather than the middle living room level. In other respects the house is typical of late 1950s and early 1960s Split Levels in Raleigh, with brick walls, a two-section picture window in the living room, and wood siding on the upper level, now covered with vinyl siding. The 1963 Split Level at 617 Delany Drive has an entrance in the 1-story section, with a picture window, an integral carport, and a pent roof between the levels of the 2-story section that extends to shelter the entrance. The 1965 Split Level at 908 Delany Drive features a ground level entrance in the 2-story section with a built-in brick planter, a pent roof, and a rear recessed carport.

Two of the Split Levels are large, contemporary designs that are among the neighborhood showplaces. The Lightner House, 717 Delany Drive, was designed by Jerry Miller. The Lewis House, 1505 Tierney Circle, is attributed to Miller based on the sophistication of its design. Both houses are actually front-to-back Split Level houses, although they appear to be Ranches at the street level because their upper levels extend across the rear and are only visible from the side view. Clarence and Marguerite Lightner worked with Jerry Miller to create an unusual floor plan in which the living room, dining room, and kitchen extend across the front. A half-flight staircase in the living room rises to an upper level containing the bedrooms and descends to the lower level den. Sliding glass doors open into two outdoor spaces, a tiled patio between the living room and the one-car garage, and a patio adjacent to the den in the lower level. Picture windows illuminate the cathedral-ceilinged living room and the dining room. Windows in the upper bedroom level open to a metal balcony that extends across the rear. A louvered wood screen and a brick planter create privacy for the patio off the living room. The living room contains a dramatic full-height brick and stone fireplace. The Lewis House has the same front-to-back split level plan except that the front level contains a kitchen, dining room, bedrooms, and an integral 2-car carport. The upper rear level contains a large living room and a bedroom; the lower rear level contains a den. The living room overlooks the rear yard through two picture windows, and receives secondary light through a clerestory across the front. A third front-to-back Split Level, the Brown House, stands at 725 Delany Drive.

For the Webbs, Jerry Miller designed a contemporary 2-story house at 1509 Tierney Circle that is a distinctive house type in the Madonna Acres Historic District, with the entrance in the lower level, recessed beneath a jetty overhang of the upper level, and a large recessed carport at the right end. The living room is located in the upper level, with large windows around three sides and a cantilevered balcony accessed by a sliding glass door. Angled pipe brackets supporting the overhang are echoed by the angle of the wooden balcony railing. The vertical wood siding that covers the entire house creates a sleek unity.

Although each of the houses in Madonna Acres Historic District is slightly different, and some are dramatically different, the common elements of picture windows, brick, wood and stone wall surfaces, concrete block screens, planters, and carports are archetypal features that create a unified streetscape and an overall cohesive character to the district. The distinctive floor plans with one and two stories customized to take advantage of the sloping lots are another contemporary element that creates cohesion in the Madonna Acres Historic District. One house deviates from this character — the 2-story brick Colonial Revival style 1963 dwelling at 901 Delany Drive. Its representative Colonial Revival design is typical of most 1960s Raleigh subdivisions, but is out of the norm in the Madonna Acres Historic District.


[1]Obituary of Rev. Henry Beard Delany, The News and Observer, Raleigh, N.C., April 16, 1928, in the Lee Collection, Richard B. Harrison Library, Raleigh, N.C. Accessed online at web.co.wake.nc.us/lee/ncbios/ on March 3, 2010.

[2]Culture Town, 116-133; Wake County Book of Maps 1915, page 90.

[3]Biographical entry of John Winters, Raleigh Hall of Fame. www.raleighhalloffame.org/john_winters.htm. Accessed Oct. 6, 2009.

[4]Simmons-Henry and Edmisten, Culture Town: Life in Raleigh's African American Communities, 57; Simmons-Henry, The Heritage of Blacks in North Carolina, entry 519: John Wesley Winters Family.

[5]Madonna Acres subdivision covenants registered in Wake County Deed Book 1442, page 507, in the year 1960; Articles of Incorporation of Madonna Acres, Inc., North Carolina Secretary of State's Office, 1960.

[6]Donna Winters Laroche and Fran Winters, interview with Ruth Little, Raleigh, June 21, 2006. Notes in Raleigh Survey Update: 1945-1965 file, North Carolina Historic Preservation Office, Raleigh; Jerry Miller interview with Ruth Little, Cary, North Carolina, September 24, 2009.

[7]Bruce Lightner, interview with Ruth Little at Lightner Funeral Home, Raleigh, Sept. 18. 2009.

[8]"Clarence Lightner" article in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarence_Lightner, accessed 9/18/2009.

[9]Madonna Acres Community Association meeting at home of Yvonne Holley, 1505 Tierney Circle, August 29, 2009.

[10]Ola Coleman interview with Ruth Little and Anna Quinn, Sept. 1, 2009.

[11]Lucille Webb interview with Ruth Little, Raleigh, August 29, 2009.

[12]Raleigh City Directories from 1963 to 1966 supplied this information on the early owners and their occupations.

[13]Rosalyn Baxandall and Elizabeth Ewen, Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened (Basic Books, 2000), 174-175.

[14]Allie Muse Peebles, interview with Ruth Little, Rochester Heights, Raleigh, September 12, 2009. Directories from the earlier 1960s did not cover Madonna Acres as it was not considered a part of Raleigh's urban area.

[15]George Exum, interview with Ruth Little, Raleigh, September 22, 2009.

[16]Jerry Miller, interview with Ruth Little, Cary, N.C., September 24, 2009; Madonna Acres Community Association meeting, at 1505 Tierney Circle, August 29, 2009.

[17]Jeff Hardwick, "Homesteads and Bungalows: African American Architecture in Langston, Oklahoma," Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, Vol. VI, 1997, 21-32; Jeanne Cyriaque, "The Collier Heights Historic District: Atlanta's Premier African American Suburb," Reflections: Georgia African American Historic Preservation Network, December 2009.


Ballentine, Edna Rich. Former member of the Raleigh Historic Districts Commission. General historical information provided during review of draft National Register Nomination, 2009.

Baxandall, Rosalyn and Elizabeth Ewen, Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened. Basic Books, 2000.

Cyriaque, Jeanne. "The Collier Heights Historic District: Atlanta's Premier African American Suburb," Reflections: Georgia African American Historic Preservation Network, December 2009.

Delany, Rev. Henry Obituary, The News and Observer, Raleigh, N.C., April 16, 1928, in the Lee Collection, Richard B. Harrison Library, Raleigh, N.C. Accessed online at web.co.wake.nc.us/lee/ncbios/ on March 3, 2010.

Hardwick, Jeff. "Homesteads and Bungalows: African American Architecture in Langston, Oklahoma. Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, Vol. VI, 1997, 21-32.

Interviews by Ruth Little:
Coleman, Mrs. Ola, Raleigh, September 1, 2009
Exum, George, Raleigh, September 22, 2009
Laroche, Donna Winters and Fran Winters, Raleigh, June 21, 2006
Lightner, Bruce, Raleigh, N.C. September 18, 2009
Madonna Acres Community Association members, Raleigh, August 29, 2009
Miller, Jerry, Cary, N.C. September 24, 2009
Webb, Mrs. Lucille, Raleigh, August 29, 2009

Lightner, Clarence, biographical entry in Wikipedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarence_Lightner. Accessed September 18, 2009.

Raleigh City Directories, 1963-1966.

Simmons-Henry, Linda and Linda Edmisten. Culture Town: Life in Raleigh's African American Communities.

Simmons-Henry, Linda. The Heritage of Blacks in North Carolina.

Wake County Book of Maps

Wake County Deeds, Subdivision covenants, Incorporation Papers

Winters, John. Biographical entry, Raleigh Hall of Fame. www.raleighhalloffame.org/john_winters.htm. Accessed October 6, 2009.

‡ M. Ruth Little and Anna Quinn, Longleaf Historic Resources for the Raleigh Historic Districts Commission, Madonna Acres Historic District, Wake County, North Carolina, nomination document, 2010, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Delaney Drive • Dillon Circle • Summerville Circle • Tierney Circle