Fact Friday 93 – Boomtown Beginnings - Tinkers and Traders
Happy Friday everyone!
We’ve touched on the intersections of the Belk, Ivey’s, and Efird’s franchises in the past, but this particular reflection by Mary Kratt provides a new lens on a familiar topic… an interesting layout on a topic we’re all familiar with: retail in Uptown (or the lack thereof) and how the early to mid-1900s had us beat…
Rozzelle's Ferry. Before there was a bridge across the Catawba, Rozzelle answered a bell or a loud "you-hoo!" and came to ferry people across. The Faden map of 1785 marks crossing places along the Catawba: "Beatys Ford, Tools Ford, Tuckaseegee Ford, Biggers Ferry, Nations Ford, and Lands Ford."
Into the same post-Civil War town came peddlers or “drummers,” itinerant traders and some farm-boy merchants with a penchant for long hours and honest profit.
Young J.B. Ivey rode to Charlotte in 1879 and stopped at Rozzelle’s Ferry. He loudly hallo’d Rozzelle, who lived on the eastern bank, and asked him to ferry him across. Ivey planned to be a carpenter near Shelby, but he was to remember Charlotte later as the managed and bought goods for a small store in Caroleen. When he had saved enough, he chose Charlotte to set up a store of his own, two blocks from the square. When Ivey came in 1900, William Henry Belk’s Charlotte store had been open five years. It was Belk’s fourth store, part of a unique experiment that led to four hundred stores throughout the Southeast. It insisted on cash-only sales and made promising young men part owners in new stores. “The cheapest store on earth,” he advertised. Belk, a Presbyterian, was a bachelor until he was fifty-two. Married to his store in Charlotte, he slept upstairs and ate nearby at the Central Hotel (formerly the Mansion House). Ivey, a Methodist, had a family and also the acumen to hire an affable, outspoken Canadian, David Ovens, to help run his stores. Ovens once mad the acerbic remark that the number of churches in Charlotte was matched only by the hypocrisy of some of their members. Among so many serious local sons, Ovens was a witty and welcome addition. Ovens Auditorium is named for this cultural and civic leader.
Ivey was long known in Charlotte for his home’s elegant tulips, which in springtime attracted hundreds of Sunday afternoon admirers. Belk married and moved into a house on Hawthorne Lane at Elizabeth Avenue, adjacent to the financially troubled Elizabeth College. It had been a college for young women and particularly emphasized music. Belk helped the Presbyterians buy the college and half of its tract of land for Presbyterian Hospital. He then moved the old house. For his growing family of six children, he built a large, elegant home beside the hospital. The house remains. The last hospital-surrounded remnant of the old college was torn down in 1980. The Belks gave funds to help construct buildings at Queens and Davidson Colleges and other institutions.
The Belk House in its original state. Built in 1924 by William Henry (1862-1952) and Mary Irwin Belk (d. 1968), it was designed by one of the city's greatest architects, C. C. Hook.
For many Charlotteans, it seems not so long ago when town shoppers at Ivey’s and Belk’s would not dream of carrying packages home. Folks said, “If you buy just a handkerchief, they’ll deliver.” Efird’s, home of Charlotte’s first escalator, was a strong uptown competitor.
Efird's Department Store in Charlotte circa 1949.
Belk, Ivey, and Efird were a formidable uptown merchant trio – the Presbyterian, the Methodist and the Baptist. The three stores, within one block of one another near the square, drew shoppers daily from local neighborhoods and by rail from nearby towns whose only shops were one-room corner groceries.
Until next week!
Email me at chris@704Shop.com if you have interesting Charlotte facts you’d like to share or just to provide feedback!
Information taken from:
Charlotte North Carolina: A Brief History, Mary Kratt, 2009
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass