Queen Anne

Queen Anne

The complex roof, fish-scale shingles, circular two-and-a-half story tower, large wrap-around porch with detailed spindle work, and two-paneled glass windows make this one of the finest Queen Anne houses in America.

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Although Victorian manners may have been rigid, Victorian architecture in the Queen Anne style certainly was not.  As the 19th century came to a close, architects and designers began to rebel against the same, staid rules. They set out to create something fresh and romantic, in keeping with the Victorian taste for melodrama in music, plays and literature. Ornate stenciling decorates the walls. The metal doors on the fireplaces are miniature works of art. The house features fine woodworking and exotic woods. 

Why the style is named after Queen Anne, who lived from 1665 to 1714, no one knows. There's certainly nothing in common between the English architecture of that time and the unabashedly excessive Queen Anne style, which dominated residential architecture between 1880 and 1910.

In Charlotte, one outstanding example is "Victoria," the two-story, yellow frame house in Plaza Midwood.

A Moving Story

The story behind this particular house began in 1889, when Charlotte industrialist Robert M. Miller built twin houses at the corner of North Tryon and East Seventh Streets. Historians generally agree he built one of the houses as a wedding gift for his son, Robert. In any case, Miller and his family lived in the twin Queen Anne houses for 15 or so years.

At that time, many business owners provided lodging for some of their workers in their own homes or neighboring houses, and Miller found space for his clerk and two laborers in his Victorian home.

It's surprising that Victoria is still around to remind us of that innovative period of Charlotte's architectural history.metal doors on the fireplaces are miniature works of art at Queen Anne houses

Miller, a typical Victorian who liked his home to reflect his status, apparently got the itch for a new house when the Colonial Revival style took hold. He decided to clear his lot of the Queen Anne houses to make room for a house in the new modern style, introduced to Charlotte in 1894 by architect C.C. Hook.

Miller certainly had the money to do it. He and his sons were substantial members of the Charlotte business community, and Miller ranked among Charlotte's wealthiest citizens.

Miller was a busy man. He and his sons ran a wholesale business in groceries, grains, cotton, and tobacco. At the same time, he was intimately involved in the city's political and business life. He helped govern the city as alderman for First Ward, served on the board of directors of the Commercial National Bank and was elected president of the prestigious North State Club.

D.A. Tompkins Enters the Scene

Then along came Daniel Augustus Tompkins, an engineer and energetic entrepreneur who arrived in Charlotte in the early 1880s. He sought out Miller, who was obviously well-connected and influential in the community.

Miller became president of the D.A. Tomkins Co., which designed more than 100 cotton mills across the region. The company also pioneered a method of pressing discarded cottonseed into vegetable oil, creating a new textile-related industry. People traveling along South Boulevard could easily recognize the pungent scent of cottonseed oil being processed.

When Miller decided to build a newer mansion, he made space for it on the property by moving one of the twin houses across the street and Victoria to its present location on the Plaza.

With the exception of Rosedale, the grand houses that once graced the North Tryon corridor gave way to commercial development as the uptown area spread. Victoria escaped demolition, thanks to the owner's decision to move it to Plaza Hills. The other house was torn down.

The plan to relocate the house all the way across town was a big risk. The developing neighborhood lay at the end of the streetcar line, way out in the country.

The move, which took place sometime between 1910 and 1920, would impress even modern professionals. Horses pulled the two-story house intact, rolling it over logs for about 10 miles to its new site.

"It was done in such a way very little damage was done to the house," said Charlotte architect Jack Boyte, who included the elegant Victoria in his book, "Houses of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County."

A Mansion Fit For a Rich Man

At the time Victoria was moved to her present location, Plaza Hills was being promoted as the up-and-coming suburb for the wealthy. (It's now commonly known as Plaza-Midwood.)

It took a brave—or possibly brash—visionary to talk about mansions lining what was then a narrow dirt road bordered by nothing but strawberry farms. But developer Paul Chatham forged ahead, hiring Leigh Colyer, a landscape gardener, to turn the dirt road into a grand mile-long boulevard with a central median for a streetcar.

woodworking and exotic woods at Queen Anne houses in Charlotte, NCVictoria's design was a significant departure from the staid architectural of the day. The Queen Anne style came along at a time when innovations in technology made fancy fretwork and large plate-glass windows possible.

Houses looked like fanciful wedding cakes, with fish-scale shingles and slate roofs, stained-glass windows and eyebrow dormers. They were spacious, with large bays, wrap-around porches, two-story towers and wings. Even the design of the chimneys was decorative. And Victoria was no exception.

 Set on a narrow lot behind a wrought-iron fence, the asymmetrical structure appears strongly vertical. It has slate roof with a tall front end gable and a circular, two-and-one-half story tower with a conical roof. The exterior wall covering is narrow horizontal siding, except on the tower and attic gables covered with fish-scale shingles.

Behind the two-story section in front are the kitchen and bedroom wings. A one-story shed porch has a low rail, a geometric screen-like balustrade, turned posts, and sawn sunburst brackets supporting a row of spindles. The porch wraps around the advanced bay starting at the recessed entry on the left and curving around the base of the tower.

Beneath the beveled glass transom, which replaces the original, are nicely carved natural oak double screen doors, now filled in with glass. The corner tower has three windows at each level. The third level, slightly narrower than the first two, has single pane casement windows.

One of Victoria's most interesting features is the extensive use of ornamental tiles. The main stair has square cream-colored tiles set in the square carved newel on the exposed sides of the cap and base. Tiles also are used to decorate the fireplace hearths and surrounds.

Developing The Plaza

Victoria was among the first house to grace the new boulevard. Several other mansions joined it along The Plaza, but not many.

"They thought it would become an affluent neighborhood. But it didn't turn out that way," Boyte said. "They thought the Charlotte Country Club (on Mecklenburg Avenue) would draw wealth, but except for a few other houses, it didn't happen."

Originally founded as the Mecklenburg Country Club in 1910, the club attracted Charlotte's wealthy and prestigious business leaders. But not enough moved to the area to turn Plaza Hills into the glittering suburb that Chatham had promoted.

The golf course helped draw some people to the neighborhood, but the awkward streetcar service kept sales from ever taking off.

The main problem was the busy Seaboard Railway line, which crossed the area's major artery, Central Avenue. Streetcar passengers had to transfer at the railroad crossing on Central to a separate trolley line.

That proved too much of a bother, apparently, so those who could afford to build mansions gravitated to the more accessible neighborhoods of Dilworth or Myers Park. And, as the hope faded for Plaza Hills, the house that became Victoria served a series of families, and for a while was a boarding house.

The times turned around, as they will if you wait long enough, and the current owners came along to save the Queen Anne house from further decay.

Years of careful restoration paid off, and Victoria became one of the first houses in Charlotte to be designated by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission. It is also on the state and national historic lists.

The median where the streetcar tracks once ran along The Plaza has long since been filled in, grassed and planted, preserving a classy look for the neighborhood's main artery.

Other Queen Annes Around Town

Other Queen Anne houses are scattered around Charlotte. Fourth Ward, which staged a comeback in the early 1970s, is known for its Victorian houses. Among the better known are the massive pink Overcarsh house at West Eighth Street and the brown shingle McNinch house on North Church Street, between Eighth and Ninth streets.

Built in 1890 and owned by former Charlotte mayor Sam McNinch, it is now a restaurant run by Ellen Davis. The house, which has colorful accents of pink and blue, is a rare example of the Shingle style, a Queen Anne variation built between 1880 and 1900. Distinguishing features are the shingles that cover almost every square inch—even including the porch pillars, in some cases. A Shingle house has roomy porches, a complex roofline and little or no decoration on the exterior.

An earlier variation on the Victorian theme is the "Stick Style" Victorian house, such as the Johnson house at Tenth and Poplar streets, where Boyte was born in 1920. The style, popular from about 1860 to 1890, gets its name from the small vertical, horizontal or diagonal planks on the exterior walls.

The Carr House on North McDowell Street, another Queen Anne example in Charlotte, has been restored and adapted for office use by a legal firm. John Carr, who operated a fleet of horse-drawn dray wagons from the depot to downtown stores, built the house in 1903.

NOTES ON VICTORIAN CHARLOTTE

TRANSPORTATION:

A streetcar system began with horse-drawn service on Jan. 3, 1887, and lasted until March 21, 1891. In its place Charlotte's first electric streetcar left the Square at 3 p.m., on May 18, 1891, on its way to Dilworth. By 1917, nine streetcar lines criss-crossed Charlotte to serve the suburbs of Dilworth, Elizabeth, Myers Park, Washington heights, Belmont-Villa heights and Plaza Midwood.

At its height, the streetcar service had 20 miles of track, used by 38 cars. Only 14 of them were in operation when buses replaced streetcars in 1938.

LABOR DISASTER:

Charlotte's most serious labor disturbance took place near midnight on Aug. 25, 1919. Streetcar workers had been striking since Aug. 10 for higher wages and union recognition. The situation reached a climax that night when a crowd assembled at the car barns at South Boulevard and Bland Street. A police guard stood behind a rope to protect the car barns from damage from the strikers.

The protective rope collapsed as the crowd surged forward, and police were ordered to fire. People in the crowd fired back, and within a few minutes three men were dead and more than a dozen were wounded. Two more died later on from their wounds, bringing the total to five.

POPULATION:

The arrival of textile mills in Charlotte created a boom in neighborhood building. Charlotte grew from just over 7,000 people in 1880 to more than 82,000 in 1930. By 1891, some 20,000 people made their homes in what is now the uptown area. Only farmland lay beyond, except for the exciting new suburb of Dilworth.

OUTDOOR ENTERTAINMENT:

Latta Park in Dilworth became the popular destination for Charlotte residents in search of fun. The 90-acre park built around Lake Forsyth, named for landscape architect Joseph Forsyth Johnston, eventually included a baseball grandstand, horse race tracks, a bowling alley, pavilion and boathouse.

Latta Park still exists, but the lake is long gone. Instead, there is a grassy ravine with a wandering creek down the middle and a playground at one end. It's a popular spot for picnics and strolls, shaded by the willow oaks planted when Dilworth was first established. Regular volleyball games take place in the recreation center on the other side of East Park Avenue.

SHOPPING:

William Henry Belk opened the first Belk Department Store in 1895, near the corner of Trade and Tryon Streets.

ARCHITECTURAL LOSS:

The Good Samaritan Hospital, built in 1888 in Third Ward by the Charlotte Episcopal congregation, is believed to be the first private hospital in the United States developed for black patients. It went through several uses over the decades and eventually was torn down to make way for Ericcson Stadium.

Charlotte's Historic Homes

Acknowledgements:
# Architect Jack Boyte and his book, "Houses of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County," the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission, "More Tales from the Hornet's Nest," by W. Hugh Harkey, Jr.; "Charlotte: Its Historic Neighborhoods," by John R. Rogers and Amy T. Rogers; and "Sorting Out the New South City, Race, Class, and Urban Development in Charlotte, 1875-1975," by Thomas W. Hanchett.
# http://www.cmhpf.org
# http://docsouth.unc.edu

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