Fact Friday 108 - The Original Four Wards - Second Ward
Second Ward was historically much more diverse less racially integrated than First. Its land lies lower than that of the other three wards, a health hazard in the years before indoor plumbing and storm sewers. Early maps identify the area as "Logtown," indicating that it was largely made up of rude homes. With emancipation in the 1860s, such an area of inexpensive housing was a logical settlement area for the newly freed slaves that flocked to the city.
Dr. Edward Perzel of the UNCC History Department has noted that the ward regularly elected black city councilmen throughout most of the late nineteenth century. By 1917, when the first known map of Charlotte's racial patterns was drawn, Second Ward was solidly black except for Trade, Tryon, College, and parts of Fourth Street. About this time, evidently, the nickname Logtown gave way to "Brooklyn" for reasons no longer remembered, though it is likely due to the awareness of the culture movement that had begun in the recently established New York borough.
Second Ward contained a broad spectrum of black residences and businesses. At one extreme was Blue Heaven, a poorly drained hollow crowded with shanties where Baxter Street now crosses McDowell. At the other extreme were elegant houses along Brevard Street, including that of J. T. Williams, a key business, medical, and political leader who served as U. S. Consul to Sierra Leone, West Africa, from 1898 to 1907, appointed by President McKinley. The area also contained Myers Street School, Charlotte's first black public school when it opened in 1882, and Second Ward High School, the city's only black high school for many decades. Here, too, were the city's black YMCA and black Carnegie Library, the first public library for blacks in North Carolina. There were many black businesses, led by the A.M.E. Zion Publishing House, which did all printing for that religion in America and issued the denomination's monthly newspaper, making Charlotte an A.M.E. Zion center second in importance only to New York City.
Almost all traces of this community were destroyed through urban renewal clearance and private demolition in the 1960s, replaced by Charlotte's Government Plaza, two hotel towers, some office buildings, and a pair of automobile dealerships. Two black historic landmarks do survive on Brevard Street. The 1902 Victorian Gothic style Grace A.M.E. Zion Church houses one of Charlotte's oldest black congregations. The Mecklenburg Investment Company Building nearby was financed by a group of black professionals in 1921 to provide the first office building open to blacks. The three story building, which had a third floor lodge hall where many black civic groups met, features handsome yellow and red patterned brickwork by black builder-architect W. W. Smith.
This photo, taken in the old Brooklyn neighborhood, was typical of the image often presented of Charlotte's historically black neighborhood near uptown. In reality, the area was made up of mixed-income residences and businesses. Poverty did exist, but so did spacious brick homes, movie theaters, corner stores, churches and professional buildings.
Mecklenburg Investment Company Building
"Over 11 years, Charlotte tore down 1,480 structures in Brooklyn, including numerous black churches. It then sold acreage to a historically white church – First Baptist – so its congregation could expand.
The city never built new housing for Brooklyn residents. And that’s why the Beatties Ford Road corridor, which included black neighborhoods, such as Biddleville and McCrorey Heights, and white neighborhoods – Smallwood, Seversville, Wesley Heights – saw an influx of black residents in the 1960s and ’70s. When blacks moved in, whites fled, and neighborhoods that had been white became predominantly black." – Pam Kelley, Charlotte Observer.
The homes of wealthy whites which once lined Trade, Tryon, and part of College in Second Ward have fared no better. Not a single mansion remains in the ward. St. Peters Catholic Church still stands proudly at North Tryon and East First Street, though it is no longer surrounded by houses as it was when it was built in 1893. On East Trade are City Hall and the (Old) County Courthouse, both built in the mid 1920s in the grand white-columned Neoclassical style. They are set back from the street to form a grassy "civic plaza" which owes much of its inspiration to the White City of the 1893 Chicago World Columbian Exposition, but part also to the fact that the buildings originally were part of a row of fine residences with front lawns.
A few Second Ward commercial landmarks may still be seen on South Tryon Street. The 1926 Wilder Building at 237 South Tryon, demolished in 1983, was a ten story Neoclassical skyscraper. It was long the home of WBT, one of the most important early radio stations and later television stations in the Southeast. At 342 South Tryon is architect C. C. Hook's 1913 Masonic Temple (demolished 1987) with its enormous stone globes balanced on pylons flanking the entrance, an outstanding example of Egyptian Revival style architecture. 65 The 1942 Federal Reserve Bank (demolished 1997) at 401, a crisply detailed blend of Art Deco and Neoclassical influences, was an important factor in Charlotte's growth after the Second World War into a major banking center in the Southeast. Ratcliffe Flowers at 431, built in 1930 with a two story stuccoed Mediterranean Revival facade and matching interior, has been called Charlotte's finest piece of early twentieth century commercial architecture. Nearby, off Tryon at College and Stonewall Streets, is downtown's last relic of the horse and buggy days. The Query-Spivey- McGee Hardware and Feed store building served as one of Charlotte's main livery stables in its early years.
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
How urban renewal destroyed Charlotte’s Brooklyn neighborhood; Pam Kelley CharlotteObserver.com, March 18, 2006.
Additional commentary added.
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass