Fact Friday 350 - More influential names behind the founding of UNC Charlotte

Fact Friday 350 - More influential names behind the founding of UNC Charlotte

Happy Friday!

The Buildings and Grounds Committee of the Charlotte Community College System was directed to conduct a comprehensive study of the quadrants of Mecklenburg County to determine the most suitable location for the campus. Thomas M. Belk, John Paul Lucas, Dr. Thomas Watkins, and Committee Chairman W.A. Kennedy were Committee members in 1957, the critical year of site selection. In order to determine the location that best fit the needs of a growing institution, the Building and Grounds Committee consulted data such as geographical distribution of presently enrolled students, transportation studies, accessibility to Charlotte and other population centers, modern highways and the secondary road network, the availability of land for future expansion, acquisition and development costs.

The Building and Grounds Committee, using the data enumerated above, established a list of criteria against which to measure the suitability of potential sites. Among the determining factors were such items as ―possible expansion to about 600 acres, room for single or two-story buildings to spread out rather than be forced into more expensive multi-story construction, access to major well-established highways, good drainage of the land, and land that lends itself to the planning of beautiful buildings.‖66 Realtor W. Cleve Davis of Davis and Davis Realty Company conducted an extensive survey of available land from March until August, 1957. The Committee examined several locations in its investigation of the most practical and ideal site for the college. According to the minutes of the Board of Trustees of the Charlotte Community College System, four prospective sites were seriously considered. They were: Morrocroft, the estate of former N.C. Governor Cameron Morrison, the previous Naval Ammunition Depot in southwestern Mecklenburg County, a tract of land cleared for urban renewal in Charlotte‘s Second Ward or Brooklyn neighborhood, and a 248-acre tract of land wedged between Highway 29 and Highway 49. Addison Reese, Chairman of the Board‘s Buildings and Grounds Committee from 1958 until 1963, and Chairman W.A. Kennedy in 1957-58, were both heavily involved in this process, although Kennedy was more important. As the Chairs of the Committee, both men were responsible for presenting site options and the advantages and disadvantages of each to the Board of Trustees of the Charlotte Community College System.

As early as 1957, the Board of Trustees and Charlotte city planners anticipated that the school would increase substantially in the size of its student body. It is clear from the minutes that even in these early planning stages, the members of the Board of Trustees expected that the school would eventually become a four-year college. The North Carolina Board of Higher Education, involved in the site selection due to the passage in 1957 of the North Carolina Community College Act, stressed that community colleges should be located on expandable sites and insisted that this attribute was essential for Charlotte College since demographic projections for 1958 estimated that more than 20% of all the high school graduates in North Carolina would live within a 50- mile radius of Charlotte.

The Board of Higher Education also wanted to ensure that the campus of Charlotte College would be readily accessible to the largest possible number of enrollees. Since Charlotte College was to be a commuter college, it obviously would also need a significant amount of space for parking. Dr. Stanton Leggett of the nationally known educational planning firm of Engelhardt, Engelhardt, Leggett and Cornell, affirmed this need when he advised J. Murrey Atkins, Chairman of the Advisory Board, and members of the Site Committee that the new location of the college campus should contain at least 600 acres.

Three of the four prospective sites for the campus, Morrocroft, Second Ward, and the location of the former Naval Ammunition Depot, were eliminated due to the incompatibility of land uses contiguous to each. The majority of the dairy and crop farmland in the immediate area of Highway 49, however, was still owned by local families, thereby increasing the likelihood of affordably acquiring additional land and allowing the Board of Trustees to accumulate substantial acreage.

In September 1957, Mary Alexander, a champion of higher education and former teacher in the nearby Newell Community, donated roughly five acres of land to the Board of Trustees of the Charlotte Community College System even before the final deeds for the site had been filed. "It‘s important that the base of anything be strong," she declared. "And I don‘t ever want this land near the base of the college to ever be cluttered up with unsightly business places." Mrs. Alexander‘s gift provided for a 100-foot thoroughfare which led from Mallard Creek Church Road through her property, feeding directly into the 248-acre tract of land wedged between Highway 29 and Highway 49.

Mrs. Alexander was not the sole owner of adjoining land who donated property to the fledgling college. Other residents of the neighborhood generously gave what they could afford to aid the college, which they anticipated would enrich educational opportunities for residents of Charlotte and its environs. They included Ruth Boyte, John A. Kirk, Mr. and Mrs. C. B. Kimbrell and Tom Mattox. The total land donated was approximately ten acres, collectively valued at approximately $20,000.

The Highway 49 site did provide ample room for growth. In addition to the donated land, to the immediate west of the 248-acre parcel was land owned by Mecklenburg County, the site of the Mecklenburg County Home, a residential facility for the indigent elderly. One could reasonably assume that Charlotte College could acquire this land by purchase or donation at some point in the near future. Furthermore, there were no industrial or low cost housing developments in the vicinity of the Highway 49 property, and students could readily commute to the site from Concord, Salisbury, Kannapolis, Mooresville, Shelby, Gastonia, Monroe and other neighboring towns. These factors were among many that prompted Buildings and Grounds Committee Chairman W.A. Kennedy to be a strong advocate for the purchase of the Highway 49 site.

In his essay The University of North Carolina in Charlotte, 1946-1965, Elmer Garinger, superintendent of the Charlotte City Schools, commented on Kennedy‘s vigorous spirit and ever present determination, ―Woodie had a drive that was unmatched . . . ." Kennedy believed that the selection of the Highway 49 site made the most sense geographically and economically. In a summation of the Site Committee‘s findings, Kennedy wrote:

"All proposed sites have been carefully and prayerfully considered. The writer along with groups of interested peopleschool officials, engineers, and laymen have spent many hours and many Sundays traveling all over Mecklenburg in the quest of the best available site. We believe the proposed site on Highway 49 is the choice location in all of Mecklenburg."

Kennedy died on May 11, 1958, just before the appointment of the first Board of Trustees of the Charlotte Community College System and prior to the closing on the 248 acres of land that would serve as the new campus. Therefore he did not live to see the completion of the project for which he had so tirelessly labored. Clearly, W. A. "Woody" Kennedy was instrumental in the development of Charlotte College. In honor of "Woody" Kennedy, one of the campus‘s first buildings and the most architecturally distinctive bears his name.

The Site Committee was convinced that the tract located just off N.C. Highway 49 met all the desired criteria. The trustees therefore unanimously agreed on August 12, 1957, to purchase the 248-acre parcel of land for $186,200 for the new site of Charlotte College. The real estate closing on the plot of land was not made official until funding from the North Carolina Community College Act became available. On September 16, 1958, Addison Reese, Building and Grounds Committee Chair, presented the Board of Trustees of the Charlotte Community College System and journalists from the Charlotte Observer a detailed report of the committee‘s findings—that ―the Highway 29/49 land was the finest available at the most affordable price and offered the best prospects for expansion as the college grows in the future.

Now that Charlotte College had a site, it needed buildings. Planning for the first two structures was well underway in 1959. The Liberal Arts and Administration building (later Macy) and the Science and Engineering building (later Kennedy), were scheduled to be completed by 1961.

Until next week!



"The Original Concept and Design of Charlotte College: 1957-1965," by Mary Carolyn Dominick (2013); published by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission. Further works cited therein. 


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