Historic West End / JCSU Campus Self-Guided Tour

by Tom Hanchett

BIDDLE MEMORIAL HALL – JCSU campusFor over a century and a half, what is now Johnson C. Smith University has been a beacon on a hilltop, a treasured symbol of Charlotte’s African American communities. Around what was originally Biddle Institute, founded in 1867, an African American village grew up called Biddleville. Whites lived in the vicinity, too, in a neighborhood along West Trade Street called Seversville.

The area has seen much change throughout the decades. Biddle Institute grew to become Johnson C. Smith University in 1923. Whites gradually departed the area around the 1960s but are now returning alongside African American professionals attracted by extensive new residential construction.

Installing streetcar track
Installing streetcar track, Beatties Ford Road

And during Summer and Fall of 2020, work crews will be finishing the LYNX Gold Line, a new electric streetcar track running along old West Trade Street and Beatties Ford Road.

What’s to see?

Seven official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks. A tree-shaded college campus
with Charlotte’s grandest Victorian building. Churches with deep Charlotte histories: Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, AME Zion, United House of Prayer.

Where to start? Mosaic Village, 1601 W. Trade Street

Public parking is available in the deck under Mosaic Village; use any space marked “retail.”

How long? about 1.5 miles.

If you are a brisk walker, that’s maybe 30-40 minutes. If you stroll, amble or dawdle (all are much encouraged), it’ll take longer.

Please stay on the public sidewalk. None of these places are open to visitors.

MOSAIC VILLAGE – 1601 W. Trade Street

The rhythms of jazz, the collage art of Charlotte’s renowned Romare Bearden – architect Darrel Williams (Neighboring Concepts) had those inspirations in mind when he designed this 2012 mixed-use project. A partnership between JCSU, Mecklenburg County and Beatties Ford Road’s longtime Griffin family, it provides student housing for JCSU and nearby Johnson & Wales University.
The rhythms of jazz, the collage art of Charlotte’s renowned Romare Bearden – architect Darrel Williams (Neighboring Concepts) had those inspirations in mind when he designed this 2012 mixed-use project. A partnership between JCSU, Mecklenburg County and Beatties Ford Road’s longtime Griffin family, it provides student housing for JCSU and nearby Johnson & Wales University.

Before leaving Mosaic Village, peek to your right around its side wall (the one that faces uptown Charlotte) to see the Historic West End mural.

HISTORIC WEST END MURAL – 1601 W. Trade Street

You’ll visit several of these places on your tour: JCSU’s Biddle Hall (top) and entrance gate (bottom); the tower of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church (top center right); the Grand Theater (center left). Designed in 2016 by JCSU student artist Christina Morrison and funded by Charlotte Center City Partners.
You’ll visit several of these places on your tour: JCSU’s Biddle Hall (top) and entrance gate (bottom); the tower of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church (top center right); the Grand Theater (center left). Designed in 2016 by JCSU student artist Christina Morrison and funded by Charlotte Center City Partners.

Across the street, look behind the former A & P supermarket for more murals – created in 2018 by League of Creative Interventionists artists Georgie Nakima and Sloane Siobhan under the leadership of Janelle Dunlap.  

Courtesy of Janelle Dunlap
Courtesy of Janelle Dunlap

Turn and head up the West Trade Street hill toward the Johnson C. Smith University campus. On your right you’ll see the red-brick church that is now home to the Jerusalem House of God.

SEVERSVILLE / SIMPSON CHURCH – 1704 W. Trade Street

Founded as Seversville Presbyterian in 1903, in the era when the Seversville neighborhood (behind today’s Mosaic Village) and most of W. Trade Street were white. When that congregation moved to a more suburban location in 1956, black Simpson Methodist found a home here – ancestor of today’s big Simpson-Gillespie Church now located further out Beatties Ford Road.
Founded as Seversville Presbyterian in 1903, in the era when the Seversville neighborhood (behind today’s Mosaic Village) and most of W. Trade Street were white. When that congregation moved to a more suburban location in 1956, black Simpson Methodist found a home here – ancestor of today’s big Simpson-Gillespie Church now located further out Beatties Ford Road.

At the end of this block is the Five Points intersection, where five streets once came together. Bear slightly right on Beatties Ford Road (JCSU campus will be on your right, M & F bank will be on your left).

MECHANICS & FARMERS BANK – 101 Beatties Ford Road

This sleek International Style building designed by Atlanta-based African American architect Edward Miller opened March 1, 1962. Mechanics and Farmers, headquartered in Durham, NC, ranked among the world’s largest black-owned businesses for much of the twentieth century.

By the way, Beatties Ford Road is much older – a Colonial path which led to a shallow spot, a “ford,” in the Catawba River where settlers could cross without a boat.
This sleek International Style building designed by Atlanta-based African American architect Edward Miller opened March 1, 1962. Mechanics and Farmers, headquartered in Durham, NC, ranked among the world’s largest black-owned businesses for much of the twentieth century.

By the way, Beatties Ford Road is much older – a Colonial path which led to a shallow spot, a “ford,” in the Catawba River where settlers could cross without a boat.

JOHNSON C. SMITH UNIVERSITY GATE – 100 Beatties Ford Road

Biddle Institute started right after the Civil War to train “teachers and preachers” – leaders among the newly freed African American population of the South. Its success attracted the Johnson C. Smith family as funders and the college was renamed in their honor in 1923, the year this stone gateway was built.

In the photo, can you glimpse the bright yellow cut-out? It’s the Golden Bull, JCSU’s mascot, placed as part of the University’s 150th birthday celebration in 2017.
Biddle Institute started right after the Civil War to train “teachers and preachers” – leaders among the newly freed African American population of the South. Its success attracted the Johnson C. Smith family as funders and the college was renamed in their honor in 1923, the year this stone gateway was built. In the photo, can you glimpse the bright yellow cut-out? It’s the Golden Bull, JCSU’s mascot, placed as part of the University’s 150th birthday celebration in 2017.

The JCSU gate is an official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark

Continue walking on Beatties Ford Road. Most of the JCSU campus is to your right. It is currently closed to visitors during the Covid-19 quarantine. Three prominent structures, however, are clearly visible from Beatties Ford Road: the university chapel, the new Science Center, and the soaring red-brick tower of Biddle Hall.

NEW SCIENCE BUILDING, PRESBYTERIAN CHAPEL – JCSU campus

The stone-columned NeoClassical style chapel, constructed in 1923, marked JCSU as a Presbyterian stronghold in the era when its theological school trained many of the South’s African American ministers. Next to it, the university’s newest building rose in 2015, home to labs and classrooms for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students.
The stone-columned NeoClassical style chapel, constructed in 1923, marked JCSU as a Presbyterian stronghold in the era when its theological school trained many of the South’s African American ministers. Next to it, the university’s newest building rose in 2015, home to labs and classrooms for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students.

BIDDLE MEMORIAL HALL – JCSU campus

Dedicated in 1884, this is the grandest Victorian-era structure ever built in Charlotte. Its name recalls the original name of JCSU: Biddle Institute. Pennsylvania soldier Henry J. Biddle fought and died on the Union side in the Civil War. His widow donated money to support the education of formerly enslaved people. The hill-top clocktower is visible from many of Charlotte’s oldest neighborhoods, a proud beacon of education.
Dedicated in 1884, this is the grandest Victorian-era structure ever built in Charlotte. Its name recalls the original name of JCSU: Biddle Institute. Pennsylvania soldier Henry J. Biddle fought and died on the Union side in the Civil War. His widow donated money to support the education of formerly enslaved people. The hill-top clocktower is visible from many of Charlotte’s oldest neighborhoods, a proud beacon of education.

Biddle Memorial Hall is an official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

DAVIS SCIENCE HALL, CARNEGIE LIBRARY, CARTER HALL, STUDENT UNION – JCSU campus

DAVIS SCIENCE HALL, CARNEGIE LIBRARY, CARTER HALL, STUDENT UNION – JCSU campus

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, it is not possible to walk onto the JCSU campus during summer 2020. Plan a future visit to see (clockwise from upper left) the 1923 George E. Davis Science Hall, 1912 Carnegie Library, 1965 Student Union by noted modernist architect A.G. Odell, 1895 Carter Hall built by students under the direction of regionally important African American artisan William Houser.

The former Carnegie Library and Carter Hall are both official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks.

At the end of this long block, Dixon Street veers off to your left. Turn left on Dixon Street one short block, then turn right on Campus Street – stopping to admire the Davis House.

DR. GEORGE E. AND MARIE G. DAVIS HOUSE – 301 Campus Street

DR. GEORGE E. AND MARIE G. DAVIS HOUSE – 301 Campus Street

Born in slavery times, George E. Davis rose to be JCSU’s first African American professor. When he retired, he led fund-raising across North Carolina for the Rosenwald Fund, a match-grant philanthropy that helped African Americans build 813 rural school buildings in the state during the 1910s – 1930s. Wife Marie G. Davis was a school principal; today’s Marie G. Davis Elementary School honors her memory. In 2014 Charlotte Mecklenburg History Landmarks Commission partnered with JCSU to restore this Victorian home, now offices for a program that helps foster children succeed at college.

The Davis House is an official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark

Continue walking along Campus Street. Turn left on Mill Road.

ELIZABETH SMALLS BAMPFIELD HOUSE – 304 Mill Road

Biddleville, as these streets near the university became known, attracted not only professors but other African Americans who wished to live near that center of learning. The houses may seem modest by today’s standards, but they often held people of considerable achievement. 

Elizabeth Smalls Bampfield resided here in her final years. As a child, she accompanied her father Robert Smalls as he “stole” himself and his family during the Civil War, commandeering a boat in Charleston harbor and sailing through Confederate lines to safety. She grew up to be an educator and President Teddy Roosevelt appointed her postmistress of Beaufort, SC. Many family members earned degrees at JCSU; she was living with a daughter when she passed away at age 101. (Thanks to historian Michael Turner Webb for this discovery.)
Biddleville, as these streets near the university became known, attracted not only professors but other African Americans who wished to live near that center of learning. The houses may seem modest by today’s standards, but they often held people of considerable achievement. Elizabeth Smalls Bampfield resided here in her final years. As a child, she accompanied her father Robert Smalls as he “stole” himself and his family during the Civil War, commandeering a boat in Charleston harbor and sailing through Confederate lines to safety. She grew up to be an educator and President Teddy Roosevelt appointed her postmistress of Beaufort, SC. Many family members earned degrees at JCSU; she was living with a daughter when she passed away at age 101. (Thanks to historian Michael Turner Webb for this discovery.)
Drawing by Charlotte artist Charles Alston tells the story of South Carolina’s Civil War hero Robert Smalls.
Drawing by Charlotte artist Charles Alston tells the story of South Carolina’s Civil War hero Robert Smalls.
Elizabeth Smalls Bampfield surrounded by family on the porch on Mill Road, courtesy of historian Michael Turner Webb.
Elizabeth Smalls Bampfield surrounded by family on the porch on Mill Road, courtesy of historian Michael Turner Webb.

Now retrace your steps back to Campus Street. Turn left on Campus Street.

OLD MT. CARMEL BAPTIST CHURCH – 408 Campus Street

OLD MT. CARMEL BAPTIST CHURCH – 408 Campus Street

Presbyterians may have dominated the JCSU campus but – this being the South — there were plenty of Baptists around, too. In 1921 Baptist worshipers dedicated this handsome brick structure designed by leading Charlotte architect Louis Asbury. When the congregation left for larger quarters in 1977, they donated the building to JCSU. Today the University and Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission are seeking funds to renovate it.

The old Mt. Carmel Baptist Church is an official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark.

Turn left on Mill Road and walk almost to the end of the block, where you will see 304 Mill Road on your left.

DOROTHY COUNTS SCOGGINS HOME – Campus Street

Photo courtesy of Earnest Winston
Photo courtesy of Earnest Winston

Also on Campus Street is the current home of Dorothy Counts, one of four black students to integrate Charlotte’s white schools in 1957. The famous essayist James Baldwin wrote about a photo of Counts walking into what is now Irwin School: “There was unutterable pride, tension and anguish in that girl’s face as she approached the halls of learning, with history jeering at her back.” In 2019 a new generation of Irwin students, led by 5th graders Maya McClain and Morgan Winston, gave her a hero’s welcome and dedicated a bench in her honor.

Continue on Campus Street, crossing French Street, until you see Gethsemane AME Zion on your left.

GETHSEMANE AME ZION CHURCH – 531 Campus Street

The African Methodist Episcopal Zion denomination began in New York before the Civil War, attracting important black activists as members, including Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. AME Zion missionaries had great success among newly freed African Americans here in North Carolina after the Civil War. This congregation dates to 1873. Its long-time pastor, Rev. George Battle, Jr., became an influential Bishop. When rising prices pushed the denomination out of New York City in 2001, Battle help arrange for AME Zion national headquarters to move to its current campus on Sugar Creek Road in Charlotte.
The African Methodist Episcopal Zion denomination began in New York before the Civil War, attracting important black activists as members, including Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. AME Zion missionaries had great success among newly freed African Americans here in North Carolina after the Civil War. This congregation dates to 1873. Its long-time pastor, Rev. George Battle, Jr., became an influential Bishop. When rising prices pushed the denomination out of New York City in 2001, Battle help arrange for AME Zion national headquarters to move to its current campus on Sugar Creek Road in Charlotte.

Turn right on Cemetery Street, then right again on Beatties Ford Road (heading in-bound toward JCSU)

UNITED HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL PEOPLE – 537 Beatties Ford Road

Charles Manuel “Sweet Daddy” Grace from Cape Verde, Africa, launched the United House of Prayer in New England, but it first really caught on in Charlotte. A summer-long revival in 1926 attracted as many 20,000 participants nightly. Today there are some 130 Houses of Prayer nationwide, with over a dozen in the Charlotte area.
Charles Manuel “Sweet Daddy” Grace from Cape Verde, Africa, launched the United House of Prayer in New England, but it first really caught on in Charlotte. A summer-long revival in 1926 attracted as many 20,000 participants nightly. Today there are some 130 Houses of Prayer nationwide, with over a dozen in the Charlotte area.

Continue walking along Beatties Ford Road in the direction of JCSU.

BUSY BEE CARRY-OUT / MAMA GEE’S – 509 Beatties Ford Road

African American entrepreneur Charles “Bubba” McClure built a chain of Busy Bee convenience stores around Charlotte during the 1960s. He expanded into fast food with his Busy Bee Carry-Out, chartered 1976. In recent years it’s home to Mama Gee’s, African soul food prepared by a family from Ghana.
African American entrepreneur Charles “Bubba” McClure built a chain of Busy Bee convenience stores around Charlotte during the 1960s. He expanded into fast food with his Busy Bee Carry-Out, chartered 1976. In recent years it’s home to Mama Gee’s, African soul food prepared by a family from Ghana.

At French Street, carefully cross Beatties Ford Road to take a close look at the Biddleville history mural.

BIDDLEVILLE HISTORY MURAL – 508 Beatties Ford Road

Jimmy McKee, the much-loved proprietor of the elite Excelsior Club up the street, operated McKee’s Charcoal Steakhouse here in the late 1960s. Beth Marlin (find her in the mural near the U.S. flag) opened the Primary Health Care clinic in the 1980s. Jamil Steele, a CMS art teacher, rounded up friends including DeVaughn Johnson and Kyle Holbrook to paint the 2010 mural depicting Biddleville history.
Jimmy McKee, the much-loved proprietor of the elite Excelsior Club up the street, operated McKee’s Charcoal Steakhouse here in the late 1960s. Beth Marlin (find her in the mural near the U.S. flag) opened the Primary Health Care clinic in the 1980s. Jamil Steele, a CMS art teacher, rounded up friends including DeVaughn Johnson and Kyle Holbrook to paint the 2010 mural depicting Biddleville history.
BIDDLEVILLE HISTORY MURAL

Cross Mill Road (careful – cars go fast here) and continue walking in-bound on Beatties Ford Road. You’ll see the Grand Theater on your right as Beatties Ford Road begins to climb a small hill.

FORMER GRAND THEATER – 333 Beatties Ford Road

FORMER GRAND THEATER

Neighborhood movie theaters were a thing from the 1930s into the 1960s, including The Manor which which operated until recently in Myers Park. The Grand served African American patrons from 1937 to 1967.

The former Grand Theater is an official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark.

Courtesy of Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library
Courtesy of Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

JCSU TEACHERS HOUSES – 301 and 305 Beatties Ford Road

Small liberal arts colleges, especially African American ones, often had scant cash to pay the salaries of teachers back in the day. So sometimes they provided housing. These two sturdy brick dwellings for JCSU instructors date from the 1920s.
Small liberal arts colleges, especially African American ones, often had scant cash to pay the salaries of teachers back in the day. So sometimes they provided housing. These two sturdy brick dwellings for JCSU instructors date from the 1920s.

Continue walking in-bound along Beatties Ford Road (passing Mechanics & Farmers Bank again). Then turn right on Rozelles Ferry Road for one block.

ATRIUM HEALTH CLINIC – 1801 Rozelles Ferry Road

Planner Ike Heard, who grew up along Beatties Ford Road, helped neighbors organize the Northwest Community Development Corporation, active from 1991 to 2011. One of its first successes: constructing this office structure and luring Charlotte’s biggest hospital, today known as Atrium Healthcare, to operate a clinic here.
Planner Ike Heard, who grew up along Beatties Ford Road, helped neighbors organize the Northwest Community Development Corporation, active from 1991 to 2011. One of its first successes: constructing this office structure and luring Charlotte’s biggest hospital, today known as Atrium Healthcare, to operate a clinic here.

ROZELLES FERRY ROAD SHOPS – 1806-1816 Rozelles Ferry Road

James G. Peeler Collection, Inez Moore Parker Archives at Johnson C. Smith University archives.

These one-story brick shopfronts date mostly from the 1920s. Note P.C. Godfrey Plumbing, a mainstay business here since 1948.
James G. Peeler Collection, Inez Moore Parker Archives at Johnson C. Smith University archives.

These one-story brick shopfronts date mostly from the 1920s. Note P.C. Godfrey Plumbing, a mainstay business here since 1948.

Turn left on Whitehaven Avenue

DURHAM MEMORIAL BAPTIST / CLINTON CHAPEL AME ZION – 319 Whitehaven Street

Clinton Chapel was Charlotte’s first AME Zion Congregation, the “mother church” from which all of the city’s many other AME Zion churches sprang. It’s named for Bishop Joseph J. Clinton who sent AMEZ missionaries throughout the South as Union troops won freedom during the Civil War: African Americans “flocked to her standard as it was unfurled by Bishop J.J. Clinton amidst shot and shell, fire and smoke, gleam of sabre and shout of war,” wrote a biographer. Clinton Chapel moved from Charlotte’s center city to this building in 1966 as the Seversville neighborhood was shifting from white to black. Durham Memorial Baptist Church, a white congregation, had originally constructed the sanctuary in 1951.
Clinton Chapel was Charlotte’s first AME Zion Congregation, the “mother church” from which all of the city’s many other AME Zion churches sprang. It’s named for Bishop Joseph J. Clinton who sent AMEZ missionaries throughout the South as Union troops won freedom during the Civil War: African Americans “flocked to her standard as it was unfurled by Bishop J.J. Clinton amidst shot and shell, fire and smoke, gleam of sabre and shout of war,” wrote a biographer. Clinton Chapel moved from Charlotte’s center city to this building in 1966 as the Seversville neighborhood was shifting from white to black. Durham Memorial Baptist Church, a white congregation, had originally constructed the sanctuary in 1951.

Retrace your steps back along Rozelles Ferry Road. At West Trade Street, turn right to return to Mosaic Village -- the end of our tour.

A few additional special places in Historic West End

We’ve made this walking tour quick and compact, but you can add other sights if you like:

Jone's house
Charles Jones House

Attorney J. Charles Jones Home and Office — 2014 W. Trade Street. As a JCSU student, Jones co-led Charlotte’s 1960 sit-ins. He went on to national activism: helped start SNCC, got jailed on the Freedom Ride, desegregated housing in Washington DC’s suburbs and more. The New York Times and Washington Post wrote obituaries after his 2019 death. Note the additions completely surrounding his house – covering his passive-solar water tank system.

Spanish American War
Spanish American War soldier

Biddleville Cemetery – 271 Cemetery Street. At the end of Cemetery Street, a block behind Gethsemane AME Zion, you’ll find quiet, green Biddleville Cemetery, founded by African Americans in 1873.

 

Westside MeatsWestside Meats — 1414 W. Trade Street. Tommie Lee “Pop” Coleman moved his Westside Meats into this spot in the 1970s. Today it’s Charlotte’s oldest butcher shop. 

SMALLWOOD PRESBYTERIAN
Smallwood Presbyterian Church
Smallwood Presbyterian Church — 101 S. Gardner Avenue
This part of the West End is known as Smallwood. Streets of small, wooden houses built right after World War II, many for returning veterans, surround this 1948 church. The Biddleville Smallwood Community Organization holds its meetings here.
 
Savona Mill
Savona Mill

Savona Mill / Blue Blaze Brewing — 500 S. Turner Avenue. The 1915 Savona Mill is a reminder of Charlotte’s heyday as a textile manufacturing center. Check out Blue Blaze Brewing, opened in a corner of the complex in 2016 – overlooking Stewart Creek Greenway and the iron track of the old Piedmont & Northern electric interurban railway.     

Want to learn more?

Check out the activities of the busy neighborhood group Historic West End.

Read the West Side Connect blog, a regular supplement to the on-line news source QCityMetro.com.  

Delve into the on-line treasure trove of photos, maps and oral histories complied by archivist Brandon Lunsford of JCSU’s Duke Library.  

Read a history the development of the neighborhoods along the West Trade / Beatties Ford Road Corridor.