Fact Friday 415 - Tank Town - A Town Created by Freed Enslaved People

Fact Friday 415 - Tank Town - A Town Created by Freed Enslaved People

Happy Friday!

This week's Fact Friday comes to you from the Charlotte Observer. 


The Greater Matthews Habitat for Humanity is working to save an historic 94-year-old home in Tank Town, an area settled by freed slaves.

Repairs and preservation work on the Rowland-Clay house began on Wednesday in downtown Matthews on East Charles Street. It’s one of four homes left representing architecture of the rural community built in the 1860s, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Landmark Commission.

Jeffrey Elam, senior manager for housing programs at Habitat, said the house is an important part of the town’s history. “As the area has started to gentrify, just keeping a piece of the history there is what we’re going to be the most happy about,” Elam said.

Landmark Commissioners said the home was built in a Craftsman style, “which demonstrates the striving of rural African American workers in the first half century after emancipation” and is “an important remnant of a rural community, and way of life, that no longer exists in Mecklenburg County.”

The Rowland-Clay House is in what is now Crestdale. The area was known as Tank Town going back to the 1870s because a railroad water tank stood near the railroad tracks that bisected the district, the Landmark Commission reported.

The project is part of Matthews Habitat’s Home Preservation and Aging in Place Initiatives. The goals for preservation are to support affordable homeownership, prevent homeowner displacement and help people live in safe and healthy homes.

James Clay, 71, is one of the the last surviving heirs of the property, according to county records. Clay came to Matthews Habitat in the spring of 2022 about making repairs. Elam said Clay lives in tough conditions. His grandparents built the home and it’s been in his family for more than 90 years.

“There are holes in the roof when it rains,” Elam said. 

Greater Matthews Habitat for Humanity is making repairs and helping preserve the historic Rowland-Clay house, which was built in 1929. Jeffrey Elam Greater Matthews Habitat for Humanity


Habitat’s Aging in Place Initiatives helps older adults make repairs and changes to their homes.

Some of the work for the Rowland-Clay property includes repairing the roof, adding piers to lift falling sections of the house, installing an accessible shower and repairing floors.

“I go into homes every week that don’t have lights, don’t have water and don’t have heat, especially after the weather gets colder and their units conk out,” Elam said. “We’re just happy to be able to support them, especially our seniors.” The estimated cost for the home to be restored is between $60,000 and $70,000.

The Home Repair Program is paying for all of the repairs, at no-cost to the homeowner. Funding for the program is provided by the town of Matthews, a Community Development Block Grant, Mecklenburg County and Habitat supporters.

Work is scheduled to be complete by early February.


"Freed enslaved people created this NC community. Now works starts to preserve its history," by Chase Jordan, December 20, 2023. The Charlotte Observer. 


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“History is not the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.” - James Baldwin

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