First Ward has historically been the Center City's most racially and economically integrated area. It has been the home of rich and poor, black and white, including some of the city's finest homes and businesses. Though hard hit by urban renewal, a surprising amount still remains of the area's heritage.
In the years after the Civil War, First Ward was known as Mechanicsville because of the large number of workers from the Confederate Naval Yard across Trade Street who settled there. The James B. Galloway house at 702 North Brevard is a reminder of the era, a cottage built in 1870 by a man who had come to the city to work at the Naval Yard. A later remnant of First Ward's working-class past is the former Advent Christian Church, 115 N. McDowell, now the centerpiece of an imaginative office condominium project. It was built in 1919 by a congregation of such modest means that architect Louis Asbury donated a set of plans he had already developed for a chapel at the Andrew Jackson Training School in Concord.
First Ward's white working-class residents were evidently amicable toward the idea of black neighbors. By 1897, and probably much earlier, city directories showed the neighborhood was a mixture of black and white. There were some all-black blocks, particularly on Alexander and Sixth streets, but on many blockfronts black and white residents lived side by side. Though patterns did shift over the decades, this integration was no transitional phenomenon. Researcher Janette Greenwood has found that integrated block-fronts persisted into the 1930s and that whites did not leave the ward until demolition of adjacent Brooklyn in the 1960s created a sudden, intense black demand for housing elsewhere in the Center City. Greenwood's mapping of directory data is corroborated by elderly former residents like Aurelia Tate Henderson, who remembers, "The neighborhood was white and colored, and I must say we got along very nice together. We didn't know what it was to lock our house, on Seventh Street. We didn't even have a key to the house. It stayed unlocked all the time."
Most black landmarks of First Ward succumbed to Urban Renewal, including the imposing residence of the A.M.E. Zion bishop G. W. Clinton on North Myers Street and the Hotel Alexander on North McDowell where Louis Armstrong stayed when he played in Charlotte. Two churches remain as a reminder of the neighborhood's black heritage. The Neoclassical style Old Little Rock A.M.E. Zion church stands at Seventh and North Myers. Its membership when the building was erected in 1911 was primarily black working-class. Further up East Seventh at North College is the Victorian Gothic First United Presbyterian church. Dating from 1893, it "was the church of professional black residents of First Ward," according to Greenwood.
While the heart of First Ward seems to have been working-class black and white, the fine residences of middle and upper-class whites lined the major streets closest to the Square. A good middle-class example is the William Treloar double house, built for a local businessman in the late 1880s at the corner of Brevard and Seventh. The grandest mansions of the day were first on Trade, Tryon and College Streets, then on McDowell at the turn of the century when the edge of town was becoming the new fashionable location. Only two of these upper-class residences remain in the ward today. The renovated J. P. Carr house at 200 North McDowell is one of the city's finest Queen Anne style homes, once part of several blocks of similar dwellings built on the street at the turn of the century as the city went through a boom period. Not far away at 923 Elizabeth Avenue, the point where East Trade changes its name to Elizabeth, was the grand, white-columned Neoclassical F. O. Hawley house. It is the last of the mansions that once lined Trade and Tryon to remain in the Center City. A former First Ward mansion can be seen today in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood at 1600 The Plaza, the 1890 J. W. Miller residence that was moved from North Tryon Street to the fashionable suburbs in 1915.
First Ward's leading churches faced Trade and Tryon side by side with the homes of their wealthier congregants. Two well-preserved examples remain, both Neoclassical designs by architect J. M. McMichael. One is the East Avenue Tabernacle across from the Hawley house, the other is (Old) First Baptist, now Spirit Square, at 318 North Tryon.
Trade and Tryon were also the major business streets. First Ward commercial landmarks include the 1939 Woolworth building at 112 North Tryon, the city's finest Art Deco storefront, and the 1927 Carolina Theatre, the area's only remaining "movie palace."
Carolina Theater, 1946
At 516 North Tryon stood the former Hovis Mortuary, a William Peeps design that was a rare example of use of the Tudor Revival style for a commercial structure. Walking from the Square down East Trade one passed the ornately sculptured Belk facade at 115, the 1871-72 Italianate style Merchants and Farmers Bank building at 123, which was at one point the city's oldest surviving commercial structure, and architect William Peeps' sky-lit Court Arcade at 725 across from the old County Courthouse.
Also of importance on East Trade, though less imposing, was a cluster of two and three story brick buildings at Trade and Brevard. The area, previously residential, was redeveloped for commercial use around 1910 when the city's second textile boom pushed downtown expansion. Much of the property was assembled and resold by the Mutual Trust Company with deeds stipulating, "Any building erected on the lot shall be of brick, at least two stories high, with sidewalls extending back at least thirty feet." Perhaps the best building of the group was the 1915 Blair Building at 405 East Trade, with carefully detailed cream-colored brickwork and an elegant bronze cornice of unusual design. The group as a whole was more important than any single building, however, because this was the last place that one can experience a bit of the concentration of low-rise commercial buildings that made up all of downtown Charlotte at the beginning of this century.
The railroad between Brevard and College in First Ward is the old Columbia and Charlotte, the city's first line. A number of warehouse and factory buildings dating back to the early twentieth century may still be seen along the track. The most notable is the Philip Carey Warehouse (now Google Fiber) at 301 East Seventh, built in 1908-09 with fine Victorian brickwork. Another notable First Ward industrial building, the Southern Bell Building (now AT&T), is not on the railroad. It was built at 208 North Caldwell Street in 1929, and today despite several later additions one can still see the exuberant Art Deco stone carvings that decorate its facade.
Until next week!
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Information taken from:
The Center City: The Business District and the Original Four Wards; Dr. Thomas W. Hanchett
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass