This stylish Victorian residence is among the oldest surviving African American upper-middle-class dwellings in Charlotte. City directory evidence indicates that it was built about 1915 by Robert H. Caldwell. He was listed in the 1916 city directory as a laborer, and later in 1921 as a chair maker, but for most of his life he was a plasterer. African Americans dominated the building trades in the generations following the Civil War, especially brickmaking and the allied art of plastering. This was a legacy of slavery times when African American artisans did most of hands-on skilled work for the South’s economic leaders. Black builders, such as William Houser and W.W. Smith in Charlotte, were often defacto architects, in charge not just of particular trades but of every aspect of design and construction.
Caldwell and wife Azilee lived here for some four decades, both listed at this address as late as the 1951 city directory. Azilee Caldwell, wife of Robert H. Caldwell, died August 3, 1951 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and is buried at York Memorial Park in Charlotte.
The Caldwell name is among the most common in Mecklenburg County, making Robert H. Caldwell difficult to trace. He may be related to African American building craftman Robert Caldwell who owned land in the Shuffletown area northwest of Charlotte in the early 1900s. According to a survey of African American historic sites by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission:
“Robert Caldwell purchased 120 acres for $3900.00 in 1911; part of a tract owned by the Dunn Gold Mine. In addition to his work as a brick mason, he farmed with the help of his wife Molly and their twelve children. The Robert Caldwell House, built c. 1915, is a one-and-one-half story side gabled bungalow built in a rural setting. Like other Piedmont farmers, Caldwell planted cotton and corn, and vegetables. His children took the vegetables to Charlotte in an A-Model Ford, and sold them door-to-door in the Dilworth neighborhood. Caldwell also pumped sand from Long Creek, which cut through his property, to make plaster for houses.”
[Note: Oaklawn Avenue was known as Double Oaks Avenue until about 1930. Because it was at the edge of the city, street listings in the directory seem to be haphazard. To get the date that Caldwell first appeared, I consulted the alphabetically listings in each directory working backward from 1932.]
Constructed about 1915, this is an excellent example of the one-story Victorian dwellings built throughout the Carolinas during the 1890s – 1910s. There is a main gable roofed block with a projecting gable-roofed front wing. A smaller front gable adds interest to the main block of the house. A hip-roofed, broad porch still wraps across the front of the house. A hip-roofed wing extends at the rear.
The house retains its large two-over-two pane double-hung wooden-sash windows. The original wooden siding has been covered with aluminum “clapboards.” The slender turned porch columns and the balustrades may not be original, but keep the Victorian character of the house.
Date issued: September 27, 1971
Owner: Elliot H. Caldwell
Estimated cost: $200
Other permit info: Bring up to meet min. housing code
Date issued: October 29, 1976
Owner: Joseph and Joanne Williams
Contractor: Charles S. Beasley Const. Co.
Estimated cost: $3,000
Other permit info: reroof house and general repairs
Date issued: August 11, 1955
Owner: Robert Caldwell
Contractor: Interstate Electric Company
Building permit files, Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.
First appeared in city directory
1916 – Robert Caldwell, laborer, Washington Heights. [previous directory, 1914, lists Robert Caldwell, laborer, Biddleville ]
1921 – Robert Caldwell & Azalee, chair maker, Double Oaks Avenue, Washington Heights
1926- Robert Caldwell & Azalee, plasterer, Double Oaks Avenue
1934 – Robert H. Caldwell & Azilee. He: Helper, Interstate Milling. She: no occupation listed.
1937 – Robert H. Caldwell & Azilee. He: Plasterer. She: no occupation listed.
1938 – Robert H. Caldwell & Azalee. He: Plasterer. She: no occupation listed.
1940 – Robert H. Caldwell & Azilee. He: Plasterer. She: no occupation listed.
1951 – Robert H. Caldwell & Azilee R. He: Plasterer. She: no occupation listed.
1981 – William L. Brown (renter). Mixer, American Bakeries, 301 I85 South
City directory collection, Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.
Caldwell, Azilee, webpage on the FindAGrave.com website. On-line at https://findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Caldwell&GSiman=1&GScid=49189&GRid=45125413&
“Survey of African American Buildings and Sites in Mecklenburg County,” (Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission). On-line at: http://www.cmhpf.org/Surveys/surveyafricancontext.htm