The Heart of Elizabeth Walking Tour – Self Guided

Words and photos by Tom Hanchett

Elizabeth Neighborhood
A streetcar pauses at the top of Elizabeth Avenue with uptown Charlotte in the distance, 1910s. Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

The Elizabeth neighborhood opened in 1891, Charlotte’s second “streetcar suburb” after Dilworth. Trolley tracks ran from the center city out Elizabeth Avenue to Elizabeth College – today the site of Novant Presbyterian hospital. Eventually the streetcars continued along Hawthorne Lane through gracious Independence Park, the city’s first public park, and on out 7th Street.

Elizabeth bid fair to become the city’s elite district – but Myers Park eventually snagged that honor. Nonetheless, Elizabeth attracted such notables as department store founder William Henry Belk, bestselling author Harry Golden, big-band music star Hal Kemp and pathbreaking minister Rev. Carter Heyward.

What’s to see? Some of Charlotte’s best-preserved early-twentieth century residences, including five official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks. Four grand old churches. A tree-shaded park. And one of the city’s favorite taco-and-empanada joints.

Start outside the Hawthorne Recreation Center, 345 Hawthorne Lane         

If you’re arriving by car, you can usually find a spot in the public lot for Independence Park, tucked behind its Hawthorne Recreation Center. Please help our mom-n-pop stores — don’t park in a business’s lot unless you are buying something there.

Please stay on the public sidewalk. Except for Fig Tree bar and restaurant and Sabor Restaurant, none of these places are open to visitors.

Length: about 2 miles

If you are a brisk walker, that’s maybe 40 minutes. If you stroll, amble or dawdle (all are much encouraged), it’ll take longer.
 

To begin, walk down into Independence Park adjacent to the Rec Center

INDEPENDENCE PARK, ARHELGER MEMORIAL POOL – 355 Hawthorne Lane

Stroll under the stone-and-timber pergola of the 1931 Alhelger Memorial. It commemorates Charlotte teacher Lilian Arhelger who perished in a mountain waterfall as she tried to save a drowning student. Can you find three bronze plaques that tell its story and honor its pioneering female landscape architect Helen Hodge?
Stroll under the stone-and-timber pergola of the 1931 Alhelger Memorial. It commemorates Charlotte teacher Lilian Arhelger who perished in a mountain waterfall as she tried to save a drowning student. Can you find three bronze plaques that tell its story and honor its pioneering female landscape architect Helen Hodge?

The entire park is a Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark (designated in 1980 – one of the first city parks in the U.S. to be named an historic landmark). Here’s a recent in-depth history.

Climb the stairs up from Independence Park to 7th Street, turn left on 7th Street

JOHN PAUL LUCAS HOUSE – 1601 E. 7th Street

Lucas was a newspaper editor for the Charlotte Evening Chronicle in 1913 when he had this cottage constructed, one of Charlotte’s best Arts & Crafts Bungalows. While his home’s architecture looked back to a simpler time, Lucas ushered in the modern era at work; he spent much of his career as vice president for publicity with Duke Power. Today Chef Greg and Sara Zanitsch welcome diners to their Fig Tree Restaurant, opened in 2005.
Lucas was a newspaper editor for the Charlotte Evening Chronicle in 1913 when he had this cottage constructed, one of Charlotte’s best Arts & Crafts Bungalows. While his home’s architecture looked back to a simpler time, Lucas ushered in the modern era at work; he spent much of his career as vice president for publicity with Duke Power. Today Chef Greg and Sara Zanitsch welcome diners to their Fig Tree Restaurant, opened in 2005.

The Lucas house is an official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark.

ST. MARTIN’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH – 1710 E. 7th Street

Back in 1912 when Elizabeth was at Charlotte’s suburban periphery, St. Martin’s became one of the Queen City’s first suburban churches. Carter Heyward, who grew up in this congregation, co-led the feminist Philadelphia 11, the first women to win ordination as Episcopal Ministers. Ms. Magazine put her on its cover in 1974.
Back in 1912 when Elizabeth was at Charlotte’s suburban periphery, St. Martin’s became one of the Queen City’s first suburban churches. Carter Heyward, who grew up in this congregation, co-led the feminist Philadelphia 11, the first women to win ordination as Episcopal Ministers. Ms. Magazine put her on its cover in 1974.

Turn right on Louise Avenue. After one block, turn right again onto E. 8th Street

BING – KEMP HOUSE – 1604 E. 8th Street

One of a block of fine Bungalow style dwellings. Hal Kemp grew up here and went on to fame as a star of the Big Band Era of the 1930s. Music historian George T. Simon called the Hal Kemp Orchestra “one of the greatest sweet bands of all time.”(When Kemp died young in a car wreck, his bandmate John Scott Trotter – who’d grown up around the corner at 500 Jackson Av -- went on to lead pop singer Bing Crosby’s ensemble on the hit record “White Christmas.”)
One of a block of fine Bungalow style dwellings. Hal Kemp grew up here and went on to fame as a star of the Big Band Era of the 1930s. Music historian George T. Simon called the Hal Kemp Orchestra “one of the greatest sweet bands of all time.”(When Kemp died young in a car wreck, his bandmate John Scott Trotter – who’d grown up around the corner at 500 Jackson Av — went on to lead pop singer Bing Crosby’s ensemble on the hit record “White Christmas.”)

Click for more on Kemp and Trotter and their sound.

HAWTHORNE LANE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH – 501 Hawthorne Lane

Louis Asbury, Charlotte first professionally trained architect, designed the intricate brickwork. J.B. Ivey, founder of a long-time Charlotte-based department store chain (Ivey’s eventually merged with Dillards), provided the money to make Asbury’s drawings a reality in 1916.
Louis Asbury, Charlotte first professionally trained architect, designed the intricate brickwork. J.B. Ivey, founder of a long-time Charlotte-based department store chain (Ivey’s eventually merged with Dillards), provided the money to make Asbury’s drawings a reality in 1916.

Continue on E 8th Street, crossing Hawthorne Lane

COCKE – GOLDEN HOUSE – 1701 E. 8th Street

Harry Golden won national fame as a Jewish writer, humorist and Civil Rights ally. His best-selling 1958 book Only in America included his satirical Vertical Integration Plan poking fun at whites who said they would never sit next a black person at a restaurant or school. Simple solution – take out the seats. After his longtime home on Elizabeth Avenue was torn down, Golden spent his last years in this 1913 English Cottage style dwelling. An earlier resident, by the way, had been Duke Power executive Norman Cocke, for whom Lake Norman is named.
Harry Golden won national fame as a Jewish writer, humorist and Civil Rights ally. His best-selling 1958 book Only in America included his satirical Vertical Integration Plan poking fun at whites who said they would never sit next a black person at a restaurant or school. Simple solution – take out the seats. After his longtime home on Elizabeth Avenue was torn down, Golden spent his last years in this 1913 English Cottage style dwelling. An earlier resident, by the way, had been Duke Power executive Norman Cocke, for whom Lake Norman is named.

The house is an official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark.

Amy Bagwell, poetry professor at Central Piedmont Community College, and artist Graham Carew created this sculpture in 2016, part of the Wall Poems series throughout the city supported by the Arts & Science Council.
Amy Bagwell, poetry professor at Central Piedmont Community College, and artist Graham Carew created this sculpture in 2016, part of the Wall Poems series throughout the city supported by the Arts & Science Council.

Continue up the hill on E. 8th Street, crossing Lamar Avenue

HARRY ARTHUR ZEIM HOUSE – 1812 E. 8th Street

Zeim, a commercial artist, came to Charlotte from Chicago, where he had witnessed the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. He built his house here in 1910 with a new fireproof material – concrete block. Observe how all the blocks are cast to imitate stone.
Zeim, a commercial artist, came to Charlotte from Chicago, where he had witnessed the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. He built his house here in 1910 with a new fireproof material – concrete block. Observe how all the blocks are cast to imitate stone.

Do you know the song about the Chicago Fire?  

Turn left on broad Clement Avenue. Taking its right sidewalk, stroll one block to Clement’s intersection with E. 9th Street

THAD ADAMS HOUSE – 604 Clement Avenue

Constructed by a prominent attorney about 1908, this is believed to be the Elizabeth neighborhood’s oldest residence. The painstaking renovation shows off its Colonial flourishes, including fanlight windows, in a coat of vibrant Victorian color.
Constructed by a prominent attorney about 1908, this is believed to be the Elizabeth neighborhood’s oldest residence. The painstaking renovation shows off its Colonial flourishes, including fanlight windows, in a coat of vibrant Victorian color.

The Adams house is an official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark.

Cross Clement Avenue. Head back the way you came – but taking the other sidewalk. One your right you’ll pass three Alexander family houses, two on Clement and the third around the corner on 8th Street.

W.L. ALEXANDER HOUSE -- 523 Clement Av

One of three houses on this block built by family of W.S. Alexander, the real estate guy who laid out this part of Elizabeth. Son Walter L. Alexander, who lived here, created the Mayview Manor resort and neighborhood in the NC mountains at Blowing Rock. A subsequent owner, banker and textile man William C. Wilkinson, is the man for whom Charlotte’s Wilkinson Boulevard is named. The spacious house, dating to 1915, has an overall Victorian form but all the details are Bungalow style – especially that breezy wrap-around porch with rustic stone columns.
One of three houses on this block built by family of W.S. Alexander, the real estate guy who laid out this part of Elizabeth. Son Walter L. Alexander, who lived here, created the Mayview Manor resort and neighborhood in the NC mountains at Blowing Rock. A subsequent owner, banker and textile man William C. Wilkinson, is the man for whom Charlotte’s Wilkinson Boulevard is named. The spacious house, dating to 1915, has an overall Victorian form but all the details are Bungalow style – especially that breezy wrap-around porch with rustic stone columns.

J.B. ALEXANDER HOUSE -- 509 Clement Av

John Baxter Alexander was a brother of W.S. His exuberant 1913 house here mixes Colonial white columns with Bungalow wood-shingle siding and bracketed eaves in an elaborate composition that shows Victorian influence.
John Baxter Alexander was a brother of W.S. His exuberant 1913 house here mixes Colonial white columns with Bungalow wood-shingle siding and bracketed eaves in an elaborate composition that shows Victorian influence.

The house is an official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark.

Turn right on E 8th Street

JENNIE ALEXANDER DUPLEX – 1801 - 1803 E. 8th Street

Hidden in the trees is the 1921 residence of J.B. Alexander’s sister Jennie Alexander. It’s a duplex – a very big one. Jennie lived in one half and enjoyed life-long income renting out the other half.
Hidden in the trees is the 1921 residence of J.B. Alexander’s sister Jennie Alexander. It’s a duplex – a very big one. Jennie lived in one half and enjoyed life-long income renting out the other half.

Continue on E 8th Street, crossing Lamar Avenue. At the end of the block, turn left on Hawthorne Lane

SPOONS PHARMACY / SABOR – 415 Hawthorne Lane

Before zoning (introduced in Charlotte in 1947) sorted us out, there used to be neighborhood shops. Spoon's Pharmacy, opened in 1928, became beloved as Mrs. Spoon's Ice Cream run by the original owner’s widow. Years later in 2016 Dalton Espaillat from the Dominican Republic made it the very first store in his fast-growing Sabor chain of Latino streetfood eateries – Mexican tacos, South American empanadas, Venezuelan arepas….
Before zoning (introduced in Charlotte in 1947) sorted us out, there used to be neighborhood shops. Spoon’s Pharmacy, opened in 1928, became beloved as Mrs. Spoon’s Ice Cream run by the original owner’s widow. Years later in 2016 Dalton Espaillat from the Dominican Republic made it the very first store in his fast-growing Sabor chain of Latino streetfood eateries – Mexican tacos, South American empanadas, Venezuelan arepas….
Mrs. Spoon, about 1972, by Byron Baldwin
Mrs. Spoon, about 1972, by Byron Baldwin

Carefully cross busy E. 7th Street. On the left corner, look for the Wildcat Highway stone marker at the stair leading down into Independence Park

WILDCAT HIGHWAY MARKER – 380 Hawthorne Lane

After World War I, soldiers’ mothers came together to place stone memorials across North Carolina. The markers did double-duty as wayfinding for the first two cross-state highways: the Old Hickory route (roughly today’s US 40) and the Wildcat Highway (today’s US 74). Note that the inscription says “The World War.” Few imagined there might be a second one.
After World War I, soldiers’ mothers came together to place stone memorials across North Carolina. The markers did double-duty as wayfinding for the first two cross-state highways: the Old Hickory route (roughly today’s US 40) and the Wildcat Highway (today’s US 74). Note that the inscription says “The World War.” Few imagined there might be a second one.

Take the stairs down into the tree-shaded dell of Independence Park. Keep to your right and you’ll pop back onto Hawthorne Lane in one short block. Then turn left on Hawthorne Lane heading up the hill.

ST. JOHN’S BAPTIST CHURCH – 300 Hawthorne Lane

Architect J.M. McMichael, who designed many Carolina churches including what is now Spirit Square in uptown Charlotte, seems to have hated steeples. For St. John’s Baptist, 1925, he based his design on the temples of ancient Greece – no steeples!
Architect J.M. McMichael, who designed many Carolina churches including what is now Spirit Square in uptown Charlotte, seems to have hated steeples. For St. John’s Baptist, 1925, he based his design on the temples of ancient Greece – no steeples!

Continue on Hawthorne Lane, crossing E 5th Street. Look to your left on the hospital campus to see the Belk Mansion under the big oak trees.

BELK MANSION – 200 Hawthorne Lane

From a small start in Monroe, NC, William Henry Belk built the Belk Department Store chain into the South’s largest retailer, headquartered in Charlotte. C.C. Hook, the city’s leading architect, provided this elegant NeoClassical design in 1924. Back then upper Elizabeth Avenue was an elite residential address commanding a view of the uptown skyline.
From a small start in Monroe, NC, William Henry Belk built the Belk Department Store chain into the South’s largest retailer, headquartered in Charlotte. C.C. Hook, the city’s leading architect, provided this elegant NeoClassical design in 1924. Back then upper Elizabeth Avenue was an elite residential address commanding a view of the uptown skyline.

The Belk Mansion is an official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark.

NOVANT PRESBYTERIAN HOSPITAL – 200 Hawthorne Lane

Elizabeth College for Women stood here at the top of Elizabeth Avenue beginning in 1897. Its founders named the school for Anne Elizabeth Watts, matriarch of a family who had grown wealthy partnering with tobacco millionaire James B. Duke of Durham. When the college moved to Virginia in the 1910s, Presbyterian Hospital took over the land, gradually demolishing and replacing all of the college buildings. The Elizabeth name stuck, however, both for the neighborhood and the avenue.
Elizabeth College for Women stood here at the top of Elizabeth Avenue beginning in 1897. Its founders named the school for Anne Elizabeth Watts, matriarch of a family who had grown wealthy partnering with tobacco millionaire James B. Duke of Durham. When the college moved to Virginia in the 1910s, Presbyterian Hospital took over the land, gradually demolishing and replacing all of the college buildings. The Elizabeth name stuck, however, both for the neighborhood and the avenue.
Elizabeth College, named for Ann Elizabeth Watts, stood where Novant Presbyterian Hospital is today.

Photos from Nancy O. Albert and Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library
Elizabeth College, named for Ann Elizabeth Watts, stood where Novant Presbyterian Hospital is today. Photos from Nancy O. Albert and Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

Turn around and head back the way you came on Hawthorne Lane. Turn left on E. 5th Street and stroll down the gentle hill.

CALDWELL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH – 1609 E 5th Street

Begun in 1912 and greatly expanded in the 1920s, Caldwell harks back to the age when this was a posh residential district. Indeed the Belk department store family helped build this church. But as homeowners moved away and parking lots swallowed up the neighborhood, Caldwell shrunk to about a dozen members and almost closed its doors.
Begun in 1912 and greatly expanded in the 1920s, Caldwell harks back to the age when this was a posh residential district. Indeed the Belk department store family helped build this church. But as homeowners moved away and parking lots swallowed up the neighborhood, Caldwell shrunk to about a dozen members and almost closed its doors.

In 2006, a congregation known for commitment to social justice and diversity of all kinds began to take shape. Under the leadership of Rev. Dr. John Cleghorn, the flock is back up to about 300 members. Don’t miss its gospel choir on Sunday mornings.

Turn right on Park Drive and head around the curve back to the Independence Rec Center parking lot on the hillside about Independence Park

Want to learn more?

Click for an on-line study of Elizabeth’s early development.

Children frolic in the Arhelger Memorial pool when it was new in the 1930s.
Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library
Children frolic in the Arhelger Memorial pool when it was new in the 1930s. Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library