Plaza Midwood Historic District Walking Tour

Words and photographs by Tom Hanchett

Midwood buildingsA Bit of History

Plaza Midwood started in 1903 with a handful of blocks in the vicinity of today’s Fuel Pizza (1501 Central Avenue). In 1912, British-born landscape architect Leigh Colyer laid out The Plaza with its elegant median, and also the parallel avenues of Thomas and Nassau. Developers added more streets through the 1930s, many in a subdivision called “Midwood.”

The neighborhood lay far from downtown and took decades to fill out, resulting in a rich variety of architectural styles — Victorian, Bungalow, Colonial, Tudor and more. This tour explores The Plaza and Thomas Avenue, whose well-preserved 1910s and 1920s dwellings form the heart of the Charlotte’s official Plaza Midwood Historic District

What You’ll See

A bookstore with an airplane inside. One of the South’s best-preserved Victorian houses. The gracious, tree-shaded VanLandingham Estate. Lotsa bungalows and colonials and tudor revival houses – intermingled with duplexes and quadraplexes.

The tour begins at Plaza Midwood Library, 1000 Central Avenue at The Plaza.

If you’re arriving by car, you can usually find parking at Plaza Midwood’s Charlotte Mecklenburg Library branch (1000 Central Av). 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 Book Buyers and the (temporarily closed by COVID-19) Plaza Midwood Library, none of these places are open to visitors.

Length?  About 1.5 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.

 

1000 Central Avenue - Plaza Midwood Branch of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library

Architecturally, this is 
one of the county's most delightful 
branch libraries. The main brick section 
honors the corner, while the rear 
portion has wood siding and gable 
roofs to blend with the houses of 
The Plaza. Charlotte architect Pat Campbell 
of LS3P Associates designed it in 1996.
Architecturally, this is one of the county’s most delightful branch libraries. The main brick section honors the corner, while the rear portion has wood siding and gable roofs to blend with the houses of The Plaza. Charlotte architect Pat Campbell of LS3P Associates designed it in 1996.

Look across the intersection at the Harris Teeter.

W.T. Harris (a major Charlotte 
boulevard is named after him) opened his first little 
grocery store at 1504 Central Avenue in 1936 (now
Mama’s Caribbean restaurant). In 1951 he built a 
much bigger store here as his initial “supermarket.”
In 1960 Harris merged with a competitor to form 
Harris-Teeter, which became a major food force across the 
southeastern US. In 2013 Harris-Teeter tore down 
the 1951 building and erected what you see today. 
Check out the Starbucks coffeeshop and also the 
roof-garden seating area upstairs.
W.T. Harris (a major Charlotte boulevard is named after him) opened his first little grocery store at 1504 Central Avenue in 1936 (now Mama’s Caribbean restaurant). In 1951 he built a much bigger store here as his initial “supermarket.” In 1960 Harris merged with a competitor to form Harris-Teeter, which became a major food force across the southeastern US. In 2013 Harris-Teeter tore down the 1951 building and erected what you see today. Check out the Starbucks coffeeshop and also the roof-garden seating area upstairs.

Cross The Plaza, then turn left and walk north up The Plaza away from Central Avenue.

1308-F The Plaza - BOOK BUYERS

This little shopping center came into existence about 1952 with Dixie Home Supermarket as its main tenant, then later Ledford’s, a longtime mainstay of fashion retail in the Queen City. Since 1999 it’s been home to Charlotte’s best used bookstore. Quiet, friendly owner Richard Rathers mined coal, worked on the railroad, and taught in England before returning to his native NC. Right now he’s rebuilding a 1941 Piper Cub airplane … right in the bookstore! Daughter Lee Rathers’s Greener Apple shop shares the space, selling vegan provisions.

Continue north on The Plaza

1324 The Plaza - Baptist Church

Built in 1952, this elegant example of Colonial Revival architecture was known as Green Memorial for many years. Today it is the Great Commission Center, an “incubator” for new Baptist congregations – many of them rooted in the communities of immigrants who now call Charlotte home. Look for the stone tablet on the front lawn, inscribed with the Bible verse that describes the Great Commission.
Built in 1952, this elegant example of Colonial Revival architecture was known as Green Memorial for many years. Today it is the Great Commission Center, an “incubator” for new Baptist congregations – many of them rooted in the communities of immigrants who now call Charlotte home. Look for the stone tablet on the front lawn, inscribed with the Bible verse that describes the Great Commission.

Continue out The Plaza, staying on the right-hand sidewalk. Cross Hamorton Street, then watch as a hill rises on your right. At its top is -

1426 The Plaza - Farmhouse?

Before The Plaza became 
"The Plaza" in 1912, it was a dirt farm road 
through strawberry fields. Perhaps this was 
the farmhouse. It certainly looks the part – 
sited on a hilltop, spacious under its 
late-Victorian gables. The earliest known 
resident was W.H. Hall, who listed his 
occupation as "farmer."
Before The Plaza became “The Plaza” in 1912, it was a dirt farm road through strawberry fields. Perhaps this was the farmhouse. It certainly looks the part – sited on a hilltop, spacious under its late-Victorian gables. The earliest known resident was W.H. Hall, who listed his occupation as “farmer.”

1501 The Plaza - JOHN L. SCOTT HOUSE

The Plaza might have become Charlotte’s prestige address … but Myers Park won the game. This stately home dates from that early rivalry. Its dark-red brick has Prairie Style touches that recall the ideas of Chicago master architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Note especially the very broad eaves. It was built about 1916 for the proprietor of a downtown feed store.
The Plaza might have become Charlotte’s prestige address … but Myers Park won the game. This stately home dates from that early rivalry. Its dark-red brick has Prairie Style touches that recall the ideas of Chicago master architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Note especially the very broad eaves. It was built about 1916 for the proprietor of a downtown feed store.

1600 The Plaza - VICTORIA

One of the most-photographed 
Victorian Era houses in the Southeast, thanks 
to loving restoration by Fran and Bill Gay, 
who began in 1973 when this was a 
run-down rooming house. It started life in the
1890s on North Tryon Street, one of two 
identical houses built for the sons of merchant 
R.M. Miller. In 1915 mule teams pulled it out 
here to Charlotte's fashionable new suburb.
One of the most-photographed Victorian Era houses in the Southeast, thanks to loving restoration by Fran and Bill Gay, who began in 1973 when this was a run-down rooming house. It started life in the 1890s on North Tryon Street, one of two identical houses built for the sons of merchant R.M. Miller. In 1915 mule teams pulled it out here to Charlotte’s fashionable new suburb.

Victoria is an official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark.

BUNGALOW ROW - 1519, 1525, 1531, 1601, 1609, 1615, 1621, 1627 The Plaza

Compare Victoria 
with the Bungalows across the street. Where 
Victorian houses reached for the clouds, 
Bungalows hugged the ground. Observe the 
sweeping roofs with eaves supported by brackets, 
the rustic wood-shingle siding, the solid looking 
porch columns that are broad at the base. 
How many other Bungalows can you count 
on your walk?
Compare Victoria with the Bungalows across the street. Where Victorian houses reached for the clouds, Bungalows hugged the ground. Observe the sweeping roofs with eaves supported by brackets, the rustic wood-shingle siding, the solid looking porch columns that are broad at the base. How many other Bungalows can you count on your walk?

1726 & 1724 The Plaza - COLONIAL REVIVAL / DUTCH COLONIAL REVIVAL

Symmetrical, with small-paned windows and a front entrance set smack in the middle of the 2-story façade – these are characteristics of the Colonial Revival. 1726 The Plaza is your basic Colonial Revival. 1724 is quite similar, but it is capped with a barn-like "Dutch Gambrel" roof.
Symmetrical, with small-paned windows and a front entrance set smack in the middle of the 2-story façade – these are characteristics of the Colonial Revival. 1726 The Plaza is your basic Colonial Revival. 1724 is quite similar, but it is capped with a barn-like “Dutch Gambrel” roof.

1900 The Plaza - HOLY TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN

This congregation celebrated its 100th 
Anniversary in 2016. The church began on
Central Avenue (Workmen’s Friend Pub is
on that site now). It moved here about 1951.
This congregation celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 2016. The church began on Central Avenue (Workmen’s Friend Pub is on that site now). It moved here about 1951.

2010 The Plaza - VAN LANDINGHAM ESTATE

Ralph VanLandingham was a cotton broker, 
a big man in the days when cotton farms and 
textile mills drove Charlotte's economy. 
He moved out here to the edge of town in 
1915. Architects Hook
Ralph VanLandingham was a cotton broker, a big man in the days when cotton farms and textile mills drove Charlotte’s economy. He moved out here to the edge of town in 1915. Architects Hook & Rogers did the rustic-looking Arts & Crafts mansion with wood shingle siding, the chimneys and porches of water-rounded stones. Leigh Colyer created the gardens. It became UNC Charlotte’s in-town retreat site in the 1980s, a bed-and-breakfast in the 2000s-10s, and is undergoing renovation today.

The VanLandingham Estate is an official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark.

2100 The Plaza - BISHOP KILGO HOUSE

High, wide and handsome at The Plaza and Belvedere Avenue is the house built for John C. Kilgo, a Methodist Bishop of North Carolina and president of Trinity College (later Duke University).  He retired to Charlotte and had architect Louis Asbury design this large, elegantly simple residence in 1914. Kilgo United Methodist Church (now The Vine), about a half mile down Belvedere Avenue, honored his name.
High, wide and handsome at The Plaza and Belvedere Avenue is the house built for John C. Kilgo, a Methodist Bishop of North Carolina and president of Trinity College (later Duke University). He retired to Charlotte and had architect Louis Asbury design this large, elegantly simple residence in 1914. Kilgo United Methodist Church (now The Vine), about a half mile down Belvedere Avenue, honored his name.

The Kilgo House is a an official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark.

At Belvedere Avenue, cross The Plaza. Then head back south on The Plaza toward Central Avenue.

1801 The Plaza - J.D. WOODSIDE HOUSE

Here is one of The Plaza's 
earliest residences, created for automobile dealer 
J.D. Woodside about 1916. Initially, developers 
hoped The Plaza would be a posh avenue lined 
with large houses like this one. But few moneyed 
folks chose to live so far from town. So during the 
'20s the street filled out with humbler dwellings.
Here is one of The Plaza’s earliest residences, created for automobile dealer J.D. Woodside about 1916. Initially, developers hoped The Plaza would be a posh avenue lined with large houses like this one. But few moneyed folks chose to live so far from town. So during the ’20s the street filled out with humbler dwellings.

Turn right on Belle Terre ("beautiful land") Avenue. Then turn left down Thomas Avenue – one of Charlotte's finest Bungalow streets

StreetSign

1815- 1817 Thomas - TUDOR REVIVAL DUPLEX

The steep-pitched roof, the wood and plaster "half-timbering” in the end gables, and the round arched entrances mark this as an example of the Tudor Revival, harking back to Olde England. This is one of many 1920s duplexes along Thomas -- so nicely designed that you have to look close to realize they are not single-family houses. Back before Charlotte instituted zoning in 1947, neighborhoods had a much greater mix of land uses -- an idea whose time has come again today.
The steep-pitched roof, the wood and plaster “half-timbering” in the end gables, and the round arched entrances mark this as an example of the Tudor Revival, harking back to Olde England. This is one of many 1920s duplexes along Thomas — so nicely designed that you have to look close to realize they are not single-family houses. Back before Charlotte instituted zoning in 1947, neighborhoods had a much greater mix of land uses — an idea whose time has come again today.

1716 Thomas - QUADRAPLEX

These 4-unit dwellings, 2 up and 2 down 
with individual front porches, are common in the 
streetcar suburbs of Charlotte and surrounding cities.  
The "quadraplex" is part of our characteristic 
architecture -- just as the "triple decker" apartment 
is characteristic in New England. This one went up in 
1928, high point of Charlotte’s pre-Depression 
“housing bubble.” First tenants included George 
Avant, engineer at the massive Ford plant on 
Statesville Avenue that assembled Model A 
automobiles (now CAMP North End).
These 4-unit dwellings, 2 up and 2 down with individual front porches, are common in the streetcar suburbs of Charlotte and surrounding cities. The “quadraplex” is part of our characteristic architecture — just as the “triple decker” apartment is characteristic in New England. This one went up in 1928, high point of Charlotte’s pre-Depression “housing bubble.” First tenants included George Avant, engineer at the massive Ford plant on Statesville Avenue that assembled Model A automobiles (now CAMP North End).

1600 Thomas Avenue - SPANISH REVIVAL

Rare around here but common in the southwestern U.S., the flat roof, stucco walls and arches recall the Spanish adobe haciendas of Mexican-era California. "My Adobe Hacienda" became a popular love song on the new-fangled radio shortly after this house was built in the late 1920s.
Rare around here but common in the southwestern U.S., the flat roof, stucco walls and arches recall the Spanish adobe haciendas of Mexican-era California. “My Adobe Hacienda” became a popular love song on the new-fangled radio shortly after this house was built in the late 1920s.

THE JOG

Whoops! All of a sudden Thomas Avenue does a graceful but unexpected curve. You are leaving the part of Thomas Avenue designed in 1912 by Mr. Leigh Colyer – he planned for it to have its own name, Surrey Road – and you are returning to the earlier plat that laid out blocks along Central Avenue in 1903.

This drawing is a portion of 1912 plat map, Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office, map book 230, pages 206 – 07
Whoops! All of a sudden Thomas Avenue does a graceful but unexpected curve. You are leaving the part of Thomas Avenue designed in 1912 by Mr. Leigh Colyer – he planned for it to have its own name, Surrey Road – and you are returning to the earlier plat that laid out blocks along Central Avenue in 1903.

This drawing is a portion of 1912 plat map, Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office, map book 230, pages 206 – 07

1331 & 1401 Thomas - VICTORIAN COTTAGES

On Thomas Avenue flanking Hamorton Avenue, 
you'll see two venerable Victorians amid all the 
later Bungalows. Both went up around 1910. 
Note the spindle-turned porch columns, picked 
out in lively colors -- a hallmark of Victorian 
architecture.
On Thomas Avenue flanking Hamorton Avenue, you’ll see two venerable Victorians amid all the later Bungalows. Both went up around 1910. Note the spindle-turned porch columns, picked out in lively colors — a hallmark of Victorian architecture.

ART-WRAPPED SIGNAL BOX 1301 Thomas next to Workman’s Friend

Maybe you’ve seen art springing up on traffic signal boxes around Charlotte? This is the very first one that inspired all the rest — invented by Plaza Midwood artist Laurie Smithwick with support from ArtPOP.org and a City of Charlotte Placemaking Grant.
Maybe you’ve seen art springing up on traffic signal boxes around Charlotte? This is the very first one that inspired all the rest — invented by Plaza Midwood artist Laurie Smithwick with support from ArtPOP.org and a City of Charlotte Placemaking Grant.

Turn left on Central Avenue and walk a block back to the Plaza Midwood Library

Want to dig deeper?

Find the 2004 book by Jeff Byers, Plaza Midwood Neighborhood of Charlotte (it’s at the Library, also sold at Common Market) or read this on-line study of Plaza Midwood’s early development.