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Catherine W. Bishir, architectural survey coordinator for the North Carolina Division of Archives and History, is author of the award-winning series, North Carolina Architecture. Michael T. Southern is research historian with the North Carolina Division of Archives and History.
A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996)
A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999)
A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003)
This book, a guide to historic architecture in Piedmont North Carolina, is the third in a three-volume series that also includes volumes on Eastern North Carolina (1996) and Western North Carolina (1999). The series is part of the educational and outreach program of the State Historic Preservation Office, North Carolina Division of Archives and History. Each book is intended as a field guide and reference for the traveler, resident, student, and preservationist with an interest in North Carolina's historic architecture. Although too large for a coat pocket, it is meant to fit in a knapsack, glove compartment, or bike basket, for it is intended to accompany the traveler and visitor in the field as well as resting on a bookshelf.
Originally the guide was envisioned as a single volume to cover the entire state, but at the suggestion of the University of North Carolina Press, the three-volume format was adopted as offering a more convenient and portable size for region-by-region use. This approach has also proved to offer a greater opportunity for focusing on the regions that delineate the state's varied landscape and shape its architectural, cultural, economic, and social history. For it is not so much the grandeur or fame of its individual landmarks that defines North Carolina's architectural heritage, but its intensely regional and local character, the sense of place, which captivates the traveler and sustains the residents in this old state. And it is that same sense of localism and regionalism that seems increasingly at risk in the twenty-first century. At a pace and scale unimaginable when we began this series, urban conglomerations are spreading into the traditional small-town and rural landscapes, and familiar patterns of farming, century-old bastions of manufacturing, and customary trading and political centers are vanishing in a blink of the eye. Although both the East and the West are changing fast, the speed and extent of change are most startling in the Piedmont, where population growth and economic transformations have concentrated in the last decades.
The three regional guides follow a familiar division of the state that reflects differences in topography, history, and architectural patterns. North Carolina is a large state, some 500 miles wide. Its three principal regions run roughly parallel to the diagonal line of the coast. The eastern 40 percent of the state is a gently rising, level land of tidewater and coastal plain dominated by sandy or loam soils and predominantly pine forests. This section was the first to be settled by Europeans. Beginning in the late seventeenth century, people of mainly British and African stock developed a maritime commercial agriculture and small port towns. The Piedmont-"foot of the mountain"-is a rolling country across the central portion with chiefly clay soils and mixed hardwood and pine forests. In the mid-eighteenth century a tide of settlers came from the mid-Atlantic area and Virginia and created a society of smaller farms distant from markets, where in the nineteenth century waterpower and railroad networks supported industrial and urban development. In the west the mountains rise against and beyond the Blue Ridge, the Eastern Continental Divide; the timeworn slopes are cloaked in hardwood and evergreen forests. Much of this zone remained the domain of the Cherokees until after the American Revolution. Difficulties of transportation kept the region one of isolated rural communities and small towns until railroads and highways spurred industrial and resort development in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
North Carolina's topography intensified the economic and cultural differences among the regions. The coastline is a treacherous one, and barrier islands known as the Outer Banks hampered oceangoing trade and prevented the development of a port metropolis. Without a principal city, and with rivers and other natural arteries of trade leading from the backcountry into neighboring states rather than into a North Carolina port, the sections of the state remained distinct and isolated from one another. By 1810 a Raleigh journalist had found that "between the Eastern and Western parts of this State is as great dissimilarity in the face of the country, productions, and means of subsistence as usually exists between different and widely separated nations."
Even after rail networks developed and industrialization worked its changes, the population remained predominantly rural and dispersed, and regional differences persisted. Amid the urban growth of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, little towns and cities combined intense localism with spirited competition for growth. The makeup of the population also strengthened the sense of localism, for the state received scant in-migration after the eighteenth century. While thousands of people left the state, few came in, so that for many years the proportion of native-born residents was among the highest in the nation. The late twentieth century brought a transforming infusion of immigration from other states and countries, a pattern that intensified with the turn of the twenty-first century. Although North Carolina ranks tenth among the states in population, it is still one of the least urbanized. Only toward the end of the twentieth century did a majority of its people live in urban areas. This recent and rapid urbanization, which concentrated in the Piedmont, continued a dispersed pattern among many small towns and cities until the late twentieth century. Toward the end of the century, the trend shifted toward coalescing urban zones of people and wealth around the principal Piedmont cities. Unprecedented immigration and urbanization are blurring old boundaries. Nevertheless, in the Piedmont as well as the coastal and mountain regions, many communities retain their long-standing sense of localism and regional identity, including growing respect for the architectural heritage of the distant and not so distant past.
We imagine this guide serving as a friend might when introducing a visitor to the region and its communities: sketching a brief history of the place and outlining the human saga the architecture depicts, then pointing out and relating a story or two about the famous landmarks, strolling through the oldest neighborhoods, and discovering some of the special places that make each community itself. Our purpose is to present examples of common and uncommon architectural traditions, styles, and forms that define the character of each place and that compose broader regional and state patterns. This field guide is meant to complement existing studies. For fuller treatment of localities, the reader is encouraged to refer to the several published local surveys; for analysis of architectural practice and the state's architectural development, the reader may turn to Architects and Builders in North Carolina, North Carolina Architecture, and other works cited in the bibliography.
No guidebook can include every important landmark in each community and county. Selection and presentation of entries have followed several rules of thumb. Because the guide is aimed at the traveling public, we have generally selected properties that may be seen reasonably well from a public thoroughfare. In a few instances of exceptionally important buildings, descriptions but no locational information are provided for properties not visible or accessible to the public-chiefly when understanding of the region's architecture would be incomplete without acknowledging these places.
In choosing examples of representative local building types, we have focused on those on readily accessible rather than remote roads and on those that are convenient to other properties mentioned in the text. (The selections are not intended to represent a list of properties worthy of preservation, which are far more numerous than can be included here.) We have also given preference to buildings that are occupied and in reasonably good condition. Many important properties have been omitted because they are in ruinous or vulnerable condition, drastic alterations have taken place, or vegetation or distance shields them from public view. Over the period of this project, conditions have changed for many properties. Some originally included have fallen into disuse or decay, while others that were in dire straits have been rescued for new life. In this respect, we have tried to make the book as up to date as possible; however, circumstances are always changing, and we welcome updated information.
Several other factors affected the choice of properties. Different levels of architectural survey fieldwork and research from town to town and county to county are reflected by more or less complete representation and information for various towns and counties. So, too, we chose some individual properties over others when a strong history was available that illustrated trends in the region, or where a good story captured the mood of the time or place. We have also focused attention on those communities and areas with unusually rewarding concentrations of historic architecture accessible to public view.
On the other hand, it has not been feasible to treat some kinds of buildings as fully as they deserve within the entries. Much of the architecture in the Piedmont dates from the second half of the twentieth century; in the last few years architectural historians have just begun to record and analyze the landmarks and general patterns of this era. We have cited only a few outstanding landmarks of the era and hope that future studies will address the heritage of the recent past more broadly. In addition, over the long span of the state's architectural history, its character has been defined by the prevalence of very simple, often rudimentary and short-lived buildings that have stood by the thousands, from the log and earthfast frame houses and barns of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to the log and frame tobacco barns, sheds and outbuildings, and modest workers' and tenant houses of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Today, because of the late twentieth-century revolution in agriculture and the spread of urbanization, coupled with the stunning decline in manufacturing of textiles, tobacco, and other goods, many of these are vanishing; particular examples are too fragile to cite reliably. Hence we have discussed these as important types in the introduction and mentioned their previous or continued presence in the landscape. Travelers who keep an eye open for them will see scores of small farmhouses, barns, and other outbuildings along the back roads-and even in view of interstate highways-and clusters of workers' houses and mills in dozens of towns.
Private and Public Places
In using this guide, especially in rural areas, the reader is urged to remember that unless otherwise specified, the properties presented are private and not open to the public. Where private properties are easily visible from a public thoroughfare, attention is called to them as parts of the architectural landscape. This does not constitute an invitation to visit or trespass! Users of this book are strictly enjoined to respect the privacy of residents and owners-to remain on the public right-of-way, not to set foot or wheel on private property uninvited, and to admire and learn from afar.
Where places are open to the public, this status is indicated. For the most part, detailed descriptions of interior features are restricted to properties that are open to the public in some fashion. As opening hours vary, visitors are advised to contact local chambers of commerce for information on local sites open to the public, bed and breakfast inns, and other businesses operating in historic buildings. The North Carolina Department of Travel and Tourism and state visitors' centers on principal highways offer information about places open to the public. Local and regional guides are also available, and many regions and communities have informative web sites.
Organization of the Guide
The guidebook is organized by regional clusters of counties, an arrangement meant to assist in organizing a visit and in understanding regional architectural patterns. As in most southern states, North Carolina's principal geographical and political unit traditionally has been the county, which encompasses rural as well as urban places. The county unit is the building block for this guide. Map and entry codes (such as am 1, wk 2, etc.) employ the county code system used for the statewide architectural survey program.
For the Piedmont, the order of county presentation is more complex than in the other two volumes, and it proceeds in a geographical order that necessarily leaps occasionally from one zone to another. It begins with Raleigh, the capital, and ends with Charlotte, the biggest city, with a circuitous path between. This order is meant to accommodate both geographical contiguity and cultural patterns in as balanced a fashion as possible.
Each county unit typically begins with the county seat. Subsequent entries are arranged in geographical order-typically clockwise from the north, thence east, south, and west-around the county, though in some cases geography or history requires a different order. Within towns, the presentation usually begins with the courthouse or the town center, then proceeds around the town core and then outward to outlying properties-in clockwise, linear, or radiating order, depending on the layout of the community. Properties are treated either as individual entries or as components of group entries, according to the density of the area and relationships among buildings in a community or neighborhood. Cross-references to properties treated elsewhere in this volume are denoted with an asterisk; those cited in the Eastern or Western volumes are denoted by a # sign.
From A GUIDE TO THE HISTORIC ARCHITECTURE OF PIEDMONT NORTH CAROLINA by Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern. Copyright (c) 2003 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.