Aquarium Zoo Wing Haven Garden & Bird In Charlotte, NC

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The Story of Wing Haven Gardens - A Bird in the House


Elizabeth Barnhill knew she would have a garden. As a child in Texas, she had watched her father, a banker, grow vegetables.

She watched her mother and the gardener plant and prune roses and scatter larkspur and poppy seeds along barren Texas roadsides.

She knew she would probably raise small animals. She always had. As a young girl she raised a raccoon, a pig, and squirrels. Her brothers kept a coyote.

Elizabeth told Eddie Clarkson on their first date in Boston, where he was working and she was attending the New England Conservatory of Music, how she and her mother had raised white-winged doves.

After five years of courtship in seven states and one foreign country, Eddie and Elizabeth became engaged. Eddies father urged, "Don't let that pretty, little auburn-haired girl get away." Eddie proposed and drove his Essex auto to Uvalde, Texas in 1925 to give her an engagement ring.

But before Elizabeth came to Charlotte, North Carolina in 1927 as Eddie Clarksons bride, she mailed him her own design for the home she envisioned to complement their garden.

It would be a simple two-story frame house with large windowed rooms which drew the outdoors in. It would have a linear, wide-windowed kitchen where a servant could efficiently prepare meals and carry them to serve in the garden.

Elizabeth planned a raised brick terrace off the double glass-doored living room where her piano could be moved outside for entertainments at candlelit garden parties. And when they had children, they would add rooms in flanking wings which would balance the vertical house.

During the fall before their marriage, Eddie received a tide of letters from Elizabeth in Texas which contained sketches and building instructions. With a Charlotte builder, Eddie carefully followed them. They included graceful details: a fan light with tracery over the side lit front door and a newel post and stair exactly like hers in Texas. The house rose on a barren lot at the eastern edge of Myers Park, an elegant subdivision with gardens and wide curving streets begun in 1911. The early part of the neighborhood was designed by an eminent town planner, John Nolen of Boston. The land had once been the bare fields of a 1000-acre cotton farm.

By 1927 the new, developing edges of the early, spacious curves of Myers Park reverted to a standard grid pattern of streets. The Clarkson's lot at 248 Ridgewood Avenue was a flat rectangle of broom sage with a straightforward house close to the street. There was hardly another house in sight.

When Elizabeth and Eddie arrived at the Charlotte train depot after their honeymoon in the spring of 1927, Elizabeth insisted on going immediately to the house and lot she had seen only in her imagination.

Eddie slowed the car and stopped in front. Elizabeth gasped. The house stood stark and solitary in a field of hard, red mud with nothing green except a few waist-high pine seedlings. Eddie led her around back to the single tree, a spindly willow oak.

Since Eddie did not have the door key to the house, they climbed in a window. He led her into the living room where his wedding present waited, a mahogany Steinway baby grand piano.

248 Ridgewood Ave
North Carolina (NC)
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