1016 Fairmont Street

 

This is a draft, now being reviewed by members of the McCrorey Heights Neighborhood Association. Please share comments with Tom@HistorySouth.org 

Fairfield-1016-c-webThis house and the one next door at 1012 Fairmont are among the oldest in McCrorey Heights, dating to the late 1920s or perhaps the 1910s. The earliest known resident here was Annie M. Wheeler, who first appeared in the city directory at this address in 1930. She was registered nurse who worked at Charlotte’s prestigious Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital, founded in 1923 as one of the first medical specialty hospitals in this region. Her skilled position in a white healthcare institution was a rare achievement for an African American in that era.

Though the 1930 directory listed only her, the 1931 volume also listed her husband Robert Wheeler, a laborer. In later directories, chosen at random, the occupants here at 1016 Fairmont were:

  • 1947 – William H. Wheeler, wife Frances H. He: porter. She: teacher, Biddleville School
  • 1953 – William E. Wheeler, wife Frances. He: freight collector, Central Motor Lines. She: teacher, Biddleville School
  • 1960 – Mrs. Frances H. Wheeler

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Johnson C. Smith University President Rev. H.L. McCrorey bought this land and platted McCrorey Heights in 1912. His plat map laid out all of the neighborhood’s avenues that exist today, including Fairmont Street. By the time that the area was first included in the city directory in 1931, about two dozen houses stood on Fairmont and nearby blocks of Oaklawn and Washington streets. Most are now gone. Today the neighborhood is largely made up of Ranch style houses and thus appears to date from after World War II. But these few remaining older houses are a reminder of McCrorey Heights’ deeper history.

In 1922 the City purchased part of Rev. McCrorey’s property for its new water treatment plant. The technology of that era required high ground. Water would be treated for purity, then pumped into a huge elevated tank from whence it would run by gravity into the city’s water pipes. The McCrorey Heights land on Beatties Ford Road was one of the highest spots in Charlotte. The city acquired two blocks by eminent domain, bordered on the west by Beatties Ford Road and on the east by Fairmont Street, extending from Oaklawn Avenue across Washington Avenue to what is now Patton Avenue. Construction was completed in 1924 on the Vest Water Works, named for a beloved city official, and expansions were made in 1939 and 1949. Today the Art Deco style concrete complex is a Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark.

The Vest Water Works in some ways disrupted the suburban character of McCrorey Heights, but in some ways it protected the neighborhood. The complex shielded McCrorey Heights from traffic, making it a secluded area where children could play in the streets. It also kept the suburb out of the public eye, invisible to passersby on busy Beatties Ford Road. That was a positive attribute in the early and mid twentieth century. Black wealth invited white reprisals. It could be dangerous for African Americans to appear too prosperous.

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Might Fairmont Street have been part of the proposed neighborhood known as Douglassville? In the 1915 book Colored Charlotte, a survey of Charlotte’s black community published in the fiftieth anniversary of the end of slavery, African American real estate promoter C.H. Watson noted that he was developing Douglassville. The neighborhood would be at the end of the streetcar line the west side of Beatties Ford Road, opposite Washington Heights which was already underway on the west side. Washington Heights was named for the famed African American educator and proponent of black economic advancement Booker T. Washington; Douglassville likely took its name from another black hero, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Colored Charlotte also carried a half-page photograph titled “Watson Park, Washington Heights — The Only Park Around Charlotte for Colored People. Owned by C.H. Watson.” The photo included a streetcar on a tight curve, perhaps the turn-around loop at the end of the streetcar line in the Douglassville vicinity.

There is no evidence that Watson ever actually developed Douglassville. If he did, it seems unlikely it was on this site. In 1915 the land was in the hands of JCSU President Dr. H.L. McCrorey who had already filed the plat to create McCrorey Heights in 1912.

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Architecture

This one-story dwelling is a simple rectangle under a hip roof. The roof extends at the front to shelter a welcoming porch; part of the porch may have been filled in to create an additional room sometime early in the dwelling’s history. There is substantial brick chimney on the exterior of the west side of the house. Walls are sheathed in wooden clapboards. The proportions, especially the height of the roof and the shape of the chimney and the verticality of the double-hung windows, suggest the Bungalow era of the 1910s and 20s.

First appeared in city directory

1926 – no listings on this street, but in the alphabetical section there is a listing for Annie M. Wheeler (colored), registered nurse, Charlotte Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital, residing at 301 W. Stonewall.

1930 – no listings on this street, but in the alphabetical section there is a listing for Annie M. Wheeler (colored), “tr nurse” Charlotte Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital, residing in Washington Heights.

1931  (shows that 1016 was previously 1216) – Wheeler, Robert, colored. Laborer. Wife Annie M. No occupation listed for her.

1947 – William H. Wheeler, wife Frances H.  He: porter.  She: teacher, Biddleville School

1953 – William E. Wheeler, wife Frances.

He: freight collector, Central Motor Lines.  She: teacher, Biddleville School

1960 – Mrs. Frances H. Wheeler

Resources

Hanchett, Thomas W., “Washington Heights,” on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission website. On-line at: http://www.cmhpf.org/kids/neighborhoods/WashHts.html

Loken, Lorrain V., “Charlotte Water Works – Vest Station: Survey & Research Report,” Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, 1990.  On-line at: http://www.cmhpf.org/Properties%20Foundation%20Reports/water.html

Watson, C.H., editor, Colored Charlotte: Published in Connection with the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Freedom of the Negro in the County of Mecklenburg and the City of Charlotte (AME Zion Job Print, 1915).

“Water Purification,” Fire and Water Engineering, August 2, 1922, p. 236. On-line at: https://books.google.com/books?id=y_Q9AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA236&lpg=PA236&dq=McCrorey+%22Fire+and+Water+Engineering%22+1922&source=bl&ots=CBURmJaDhN&sig=cDEGh1VMVIgeaSnkObmdKgmopdo&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiw5taB6t7XAhXBS98KHXIZDxYQ6AEIJjAA#v=onepage&q=McCrorey%20%22Fire%20and%20Water%20Engineering%22%201922&f=false