Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission

Caldwell Station School

Survey and Research Report

On The

Caldwell Station School

  1. Name and location of the property: The property known as Caldwell Station School  is located at 17616 Caldwell Station School Rd, Huntersville, N.C.
  2. Name, address, and telephone number of the current owner of the property:

Preschool Inc.

17616 Caldwell Station School Rd.

Huntersville NC 28078

  1. Representative photographs of the property:  This report contains representative photographs of the property.
  2. A map depicting the location of the property:
  3. Current Tax Parcel Reference and Deed to the property:    The tax parcel number of the property is 01103203.  The most recent deed to this property is recorded in Mecklenburg County Deed Book 8782 page 595 (10/17/1996).  UTM coordinates are 514343.2 E and 3923113.7N
  4. A brief historical sketch of the property:  This report contains a brief historical sketch of the property prepared by Stewart Gray.
  5. A brief architectural description of the property:  This report contains a brief architectural description prepared by Stewart Gray.
  6. Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets the criteria for designation set forth in N.C.G.S 160A-400.5. 
  7. Special significance in terms of its history, architecture and/or cultural importance: The Commission judges that the property known as the Caldwell Station School  possesses special significance in terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg.  The Commission bases its judgment on the following considerations:

1) The Caldwell Station School is a well preserved example of early 20th century rural school architecture in Mecklenburg County.

2) The Caldwell Station School demonstrates the rapid evolution of rural schools in Mecklenburg County in the first half of the 20th Century from widely scattered small schoolhouses into larger “union” schools located in the county’s towns.

3) The Caldwell Station School is the most substantial surviving building associated with the place known as “Caldwell Station” a small rural commercial and transportation center with origins that can be traced to the 1850s.

4) The Caldwell Station School is important for understanding the history of Mecklenburg County in that it vividly demonstrates the nature of rural schools in the county during the first half of the 20th Century

  1. Integrity of design, setting, workmanship, materials, feeling and/or association: The Commission contends that the architectural description prepared by Stewart Gray demonstrates that the property known as the Caldwell Station School meets this criterion.
  2. Ad Valorem Tax Appraisal:  The Commission is aware that designation would allow the owner to apply for an automatic deferral of 50% of the Ad Valorem taxes on all or any portion of the property which becomes a “historic landmark.”  The current appraised value of the school building is $33,100.  The current appraised value of the 1.08 acres of land is $62,300.  The property is zoned R.  The property is exempt from the payment of Ad Valorem Taxes.
  3. Portion of the Property Recommended for Designation.  The school building and the 1.08 acres of land associated with tax parcel number 01103203.

 

A Brief History of the Caldwell Station School

Caldwell Station

Commercial and civic development in the area known as Caldwell Station predates the introduction of the railroad into northern Mecklenburg County.  Andrew Springs  built a fine plantation house there before the Civil War when the place was called “Hickory Grove.”  Chalmers Davidson describes Hickory Grove in his book The Plantation World Around Davidson and in this book notes that Springs operated a store and ran a post office.  Springs is listed as Post Master at “Hickory Grove” in Mecklenburg County in an 1842 listing of post offices. (1)

Above photograph of Hickory Grove was taken as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) in 1934

How the area came to be called Caldwell is unclear.  The place is less than two miles from another large plantation, Glenwood, which was owned by D.A. Caldwell.  Andrew Springs’s daughter Mary married D.A. Caldwell’s brother Major John Caldwell so it is possible that members of the Caldwell family lived at Hickory Grove.(2)  After the Civil War, the name Hickory Grove is no longer used, and the area is know as some version of the name Caldwell. The importance of the place surely increased with the completion of the Atlantic, Tennessee and Ohio Railroad between Charlotte and Davidson (then called Davidson College)  in 1861. While the railroad line was removed during the Civil War, service was restored to Davidson by 1873. (3) That same year a post office was reestablished at Caldwell. (4) The name “Caldwell’s” is listed as a train stop between Hunter’s (later Huntersville) and Davidson College in the 1878 “Hassan’s American and European Distance Tables”  A map dated 1881 of North Carolina and South Carolina identifies the place as “Caldwells.” (5) The Chas. Emerson & Co. Charlotte City Directory 1879-1880 lists “Caldwell” among the county’s villages and lists three men named Caldwell among the village’s “Business Men…and the Principal Farmers.”  Other villages listed include familiar names like Matthews, Paw Creek, and Huntersville, as well as now forgotten names like Hebron, Harrison, Irene, and Mutual Love.   By 1895 there was a one-teacher school in Caldwell.  The 1912 Rand-McNally “New Commercial Atlas Map of North Carolina” identifies “Caldwells” as a town with a population of thirty.

Page from Chas. Emerson & Co. Charlotte City Directory 1879-1880

Why Caldwell did not survive as a discernable community is unclear.  The emergence of the nearby town of Cornelius was the most likely cause.  Cornelius is located at an important crossroads connecting the Statesville Highway (now highway 115)  with Lincoln County and other places to the west.  The town began with cotton trading around 1888; and in 1891 Richard Stough and his brother-in-law, Mr. C. W. Johnston (who later built the Johnson Mill in Charlotte) incorporated a cotton mill at the location, naming it the Cornelius Cotton Mill after their largest investor Joe Cornelius. The town grew quickly.  In 1899 Cornelius opened a post office.  Until then, mail for Cornelius was picked up at the Caldwell Post Office.  The town of Cornelius was incorporated in 1905, and a school opened in Cornelius in 1906. (6) The post office in Caldwell closed in 1904.  Trains continued to stop at Caldwell for passengers and freight, and the area began to be referred to as Caldwell Station. By 1938 aerial photographs indicate minimal development around the Caldwell Station area.  A pre-war gas station was extant in the neighborhood until it was recently demolished.  A concrete railroad platform along with the school building are now the only indication that Caldwell Station was once a rural commercial and civic center.

View of the Caldwell Station area looking north

The Caldwell Station School

Mecklenburg County citizens voted in 1880 to establish a graded public school system.  This may have been in response to a high illiteracy rate in the 1880s.  North Carolina ranked lower in literacy than all of the other states in the Union except South Carolina. (7) The early products of this vote in northern Mecklenburg include the 1890 Croft Schoolhouse and the ca.1890 Rural Hill School.  The Caldwell Station School was established sometime before 1895.  An 1895 photograph shows a frame building with approximately thirty children posed before the building.

Beginning in 1885 the Mecklenburg County Board of Education was ultimately responsible for the education of the children in the unincorporated sections of the county, and for students in some of the small towns (the city of Charlotte and the town of Davidson both operated their own schools).  For the larger schools, such as the Huntersville School with 457 students in 1925, or the Cornelius School with 460 student, the board was directly involved in decisions concerning the development and operation of the schools. Among hundreds of decisions in 1925, the Board voted to purchase twelve railcar loads of Coal for the larger schools, to direct architect Louis Asbury to choose tile and brick for the new Steele Creek School, and they voted to oppose the teaching of evolution.  However, from the late 19th century through the 1920s, most of the decisions concerning the county’s small rural schools were delegated to local committees. These committees hired the teachers and built and maintained the schoolhouses.  The rural communities in Mecklenburg County had to petition the Board of Education before building a new school; but once completed, the school was operated by the local residents. (8)  This autonomy began to erode as the 20th century progressed.  State laws that provided funding and the power to tax for public schools were enacted in 1901 and 1907.  In 1913 a compulsory attendance law was passed that required all children between the ages of eight and twelve to attend at least four months of school.  In 1919 that was raised to six months.  As public education expanded in the state, educators began to push for the consolidation of schools.  Educators believed that one-room or one-teacher schools did not serve the students as well as “graded” schools.  A vote in 1911 allowed education tax money to be used for transportation, and by the 1920s buses in Mecklenburg County were enabling consolidation of the smaller schools. (9)

The consolidation movement was played out in northern Mecklenburg in July of 1924 when the Board of Education approved a twenty-five cent levy on every $100 of property value in the Caldwell Bradford School district and required that students from the one-teacher school be bused to the Caldwell Station School.  The school term for the school would be eight months, and students would be educated through the sixth grade.  Beyond the sixth grade students would be bused to the high school in Huntersville.  (10)  The action turned the Caldwell Station School into a “union” school.

The Board instructed the school superintendent, Plummer Stewart, to “confer with the local committees with reference to additional rooms at Caldwell Station.”  Apparently, additional rooms on the old building did not appear to be feasible. In March of 1925 the Board directed the superintendent to work with the local committee from Caldwell Station on the erection of a “new house.”  Will Knox is attributed with building the new schoolhouse. (11)  Knox was a builder, farmer, and a member of the Caldwell Station School Committee.  Knox probably led a community effort to build the building using volunteers and perhaps donated material.  The nearby Mallard Creek School was constructed quickly using the same approach in 1920. (12)   It appears that the new two-room Caldwell Station School building was ready for the beginning of the school year in the fall of 1925, because the Board of Education had approved in August of that year the use of the old Caldwell Bradford Schoolhouse by a women’s community club.   The new school featured two rooms separated by a removable partition.  The building had no electricity and the classrooms were illuminated by large banks of windows.  The building had no plumbing and was heated by two woodstoves.

When the Caldwell Station School opened in 1925 there were forty-eight students enrolled.  That was larger than the nearby schools at Fidler (31 students), Bethel (32), or Alex-Iredell (38).  But it was a much smaller enrollment than that of the Cornelius (460)  and Huntersville (457) schools, which featured classes for grades one through eleven. (13) Wilson Knox began attending the Caldwell Station School in 1929 when he was in the third grade.  He recalls that the two teachers were Miss Marie Vance and Miss Martha Millan.  Students in grades one through three were educated in one classroom, with grades four through six in the other room.  Knox remembers that an older student, Willie Nance, built the fires in the two woodstoves, and that one day as a prank someone stuffed the flue pipe full of newspaper.  When Nance lit the fire, smoke filled the building.  Water was drawn daily from a pump at the neighboring home of Chalmers Knox, and the boys were responsible for bringing the water to the classrooms.  Children brought their lunches.  While some students arrived by bus, many walked.  Nell Washam Caldwell only attended the school for one year but remembers a large boiler from a nearby abandoned mill or factory that the children played on. (14) Train traffic was busy in front of the school, and Wilson Knox remembers that there was a primitive passenger shelter near the school.

 

Ca. 1929 Photograph of Caldwell Station School

Even with the consolidation of the schools progressing, there was still considerable diversity among the rural schools, perhaps reflecting the continued autonomy of the local school committees.  While the school term at the Caldwell Station School lasted eight months, the nearby Gilead and McDowell schools kept a seven month calendar.   Unlike the six grades at Caldwell Station, the four-room Mallard Creek School offered classes through the seventh grade.  Caldwell Station students were bused to Huntersville for high school.  It was different at Mallard Creek.  In 1926 the Board of Education gave Mallard Creek parents the option of stopping education at the seventh grade, paying individually to attend Huntersville High School, or instituting a new tax levy of fifteen cents to cover the cost of attending the higher grades.  (15)

This diversity of rural elementary schooling in Mecklenburg County began to end as the Board of Education voted to close more of the rural schools.  In 1927, just two years after the Caldwell Station School was built, the Board voted to discontinue elementary education at both the Caldwell Station and Mallard Creek schools.  This process took until 1931 to complete, and the Caldwell Station School continued to operate.  Farmer J. W. Washam was selected as the Board’s committeeman in 1928.  He was replaced by W. M. Know in 1929, and the last committeeman was G. R. Mayes who was appointed in 1930.   During the 1930-31 school year the sixth grade students from Caldwell Station attended the unified Huntersville School.  Nell Caldwell remembers that with an odd number of grades, the third-graders would start with one teacher, and then move to the other classroom in the afternoon.  In the spring of 1931 no new committee appointments were made for the Caldwell Station School, and on August 1, 1931 it was reported to the board that “the people of Caldwell Station…voted to send their children to Huntersville School.” (16)

The American Legion was quick to make an offer on the Caldwell Station School building and property.  A price of $600 was agreed upon in March of 1932, and the site was sold to American Legion Post #86 in April. (17)  The American Legion expanded the building with a full-width rear shed addition which greatly enlarged the formerly shallow building.  This allowed the Post to hold square dances in the building. (18) The building was later sold into private hands and was used as a commercial space until it was purchased in 1991 by a preschool.  It is now known as the Children’s Schoolhouse, and is again functioning as an educational facility.

 

Architectural Context

The autonomy of the local committees and communities is reflected in the diversity of  the designs of the surviving schoolhouses in northern Mecklenburg County.

The side-gabled Caldwell Station Schoolhouse has little in common with the ca. 1920 Mallard Creek School, a four-teacher  frame schoolhouse, which was also built in northern Mecklenburg County.  The massed building is set on brick piers and features a center entrance sheltered by a shed roof. The building’s most distinguishing feature is a steeply pitched hipped roof pierced by two internal chimney at the ridge. Likewise, the nearby small  front-gabled Caldwell Bradford School (now remodeled as a home) shares little architecturally with the Caldwell Station Schoolhouse.

Architecturally the Caldwell Station Schoolhouse has much more in common with the African American  schools of  the 1920s built in Mecklenburg County, than with the county’s other rural white schools. The nearby Caldwell Rosenwald School was built in 1925 to serve the black children who lived along the Catawba River in northern Mecklenburg County.  The Caldwell Rosenwald School and the Caldwell Station School bear a strikingly similar appearance, especially if one considers that the Caldwell Station School’s central entrance was a later addition.  Both are side-gabled buildings that feature on the facade two banks of six tall sash windows that run uninterrupted to the roofline.  Both also feature a shallow gabled wing containing the entrance.  The buildings are not identical.  The Caldwell Rosenwald School is a four-classroom building and is much deeper that the Caldwell Station School, with less steeply pitched gables.

In contrast to the white rural schools in Mecklenburg County, the African American schools built in the county during the 1920s followed  professionally developed plans distributed by the  Julius Rosenwald Foundation throughout the South.  Julius Rosenwald was the President of Sears, Roebuck and Company.  His foundation distributed funding and plans for African-American schools that were cost-effective to build, and resulted in a orderly and well lit learning space.  One of the most recognizable features of the Rosenwald schools was the use of banks of tall sash windows like those found on the Caldwell School. These large banks of windows were especially important as many rural schools lacked electricity.   There were at least twenty-six Rosenwald schools built in Mecklenburg County.  It is not surprising that these practical, well designed plans inspired the building of white schools as well.

Caldwell Station School above.  Caldwell School (Rosenwald) below.

The above is a rendering of the #400 Rosenwald four-teacher school building published by the Rosenwald Foundation illustrates that the Caldwell School closely adhered to the published plans.  Below is the  #400 floor plan.

As built, the Caldwell Station School, in essence, used half of the floor plan for the #400 building (shown below), and replicated the façade.

The Caldwell Station School is a one-story, side-gabled  frame building, set on a continuous brick foundation.  The principal section of the building is one room deep. The building faces west, is located on a one acre lot, and is set back approximately 100 feet from a one lane paved Caldwell Station Road.  The road runs near a north-south rail line, the former Atlantic, Tennessee, and Ohio.  The small road is separated from the rail bed by approximately 150 feet.  To the west of the rail line runs NC Hwy 115, a busy two lane highway that connects Huntersville and Cornelius.  The area around the schoolhouse contains elements of typical of the school’s historic rural setting.  To the north and south of the school within a few hundred feet of the building are large open field.  Along Caldwell Station Road are several early 20th century houses.  There has also been significant late 20th century development around the schoolhouse, including a mobile home park to the south, and an industrial warehouse to the west across the highway.

View of Caldwell Station Road looking south

The fenestration of the facade of the Caldwell Station School is limited to three openings, a single doorway and two large window openings.

The Caldwell Station School features a doorway centered on the facade, bordered on each side by large banks of windows.  The doorway contains a Craftsman Style three-light two-panel door sheltered by a small gabled roof.  The doorway is not original, but may have been added during the 1930s.  The porch’s gabled roof is supported by two 4×4″ posts and features a plywood deck.  The porch roof and frame may be of recent construction.  A wooden porch floor and wooden steps cover an earlier brick stoop.

The most dominant architectural features of the Caldwell Station School are two banks of tall nine-over-nine double-hung windows.  Each bank of windows contains six windows that share a single wooden sill.  The windows rise to the top of the wall, with the roof’s exposed rafter tails extending slightly below the top rails of the upper sashes.

 

The building is covered with German siding, and features exposed rafter ends.  The continuous brick foundation runs uninterrupted without indication of piers.  The crawlspace is ventilated by cross-shaped openings left in the brickwork. The roof pitch is moderately steep and the roof is covered by asphalt shingles.

The north elevation features a shallow gabled wing with a recessed porch.  This porch sheltered one of the two original side entrances to the building.  The porch roof is supported by a single 4×6″ post.  German siding boxes the beams supporting the porch roof on the exterior and bottom of the beam, and beaded board is used on the interior side of the beam.  The porch ceiling is also covered with beaded board.   The porch walls are the same German siding found on the rest of the exterior.  An older six panel door appears to have replaced an older door.  The north elevation of the principal section features a louvered vent set high in the gable, and is otherwise blank.  Both original gables on the north elevation feature deep eaves supported by simple timber brackets.  The roof deck is visible in the eaves and is composed of tongue-and-groove boards.

 

Several additions have been made to the Caldwell Station School.  None of them exhibit the same high level of finish and workmanship found on the original section of the building.  A low-pitched gabled wing was added to the north elevation and now obscured some of the original gabled wing.  The later wing contains paired double-hung six-over-six windows, and is covered with German siding.   An odd gable extension was built above a portion of the original wing to bridge a valley between the wings.  The extension is sheathed with vertical boards and has no overhanging eave.

 

The rear elevation features a large full-width shed addition.  The design of the continuous brick foundation continues from the original principal section of the building.  The shed addition is covered with German siding and is pierced on the rear by six wide window openings, filled with replacement windows.  The roof overhang is minimal.  Eaves on the sides of the addition reveal simple board decking and small wooden brackets, much smaller than those found on the principal section.  A large crawlspace door  is located on the rear foundation wall.

 

The south elevation clearly demonstrates the lower roof pitch of the rear shed addition.  The addition joins the principal section at the location of a simple brick flue.  A door pierces the south elevation of the rear addition.  The gable of the south elevation of the principal section of the building contains a louvered vent.  Much of the remainder of the north elevation is obscured by a recent gabled wing, with a new textured brick foundation.  This wing appears to be completely new construction.  However, it is in the location of an original wing that would have contained a recessed porch and an additional entrance.

While significant additions have been made to the exterior, most of the additions were done early in the 20th century and contribute to the understanding of the building.  The building’s integrity, condition and setting all contribute to the significance of the property.

The interior of the Caldwell Station School has experienced considerable alteration, but important elements of the historic interior architecture have survived.  The 1925 building was expanded sometime in the 1930s when it became an American Legion post.  A large section of the original rear wall of the building was removed when a full-width shed addition was added to the building.  The high ceilings and open space of the original section has been maintained.  The shed addition is also largely open, but features a lower ceiling.  The spaces are connected through a large opening in what was the original back wall of the school.

The floors of the school are entirely tongue-and-groove pine board.  When the rear addition was added, a similar pine flooring was used.  It is likely that the entire interior of the original section was originally paneled with tongue-and-groove pine boards.  Wallboard now covers the woodwork of the ceiling and much of the walls, but it is likely that much of the original wall material survives behind wallboard.  Below the level of the window sills the original beaded boards are exposed as wainscoting.  Simple wood trim surround the windows and the original doorway on the north end of the building, as well as the door set in the center of the front wall.  The other doorways appear to be recent openings.

Despite the alterations to the interior, the much of the historic character of the interior remains.  The exposed original floors and the open classroom spaces help the visitor under stand the historic use of the building.  While covered by wallboard, the retention of the original wall paneling could allow for further restoration of the interior space.

NOTES

  1. Post Offices in the United States, Arranged in Alphabetical Order, (Washington: J&GS Gideon Printers,) 1842
  2. Chalmers Davidson describes Hickory Grove and Glenwood in his book The Plantation World Around Davidson (Davidson: Davidson Printing Company, 1969
  3. 3. “North Carolina Railroads – Passenger and Freight Lines”  Website:

http://www.carolana.com/NC/Transportation/railroads/nc_railroads.htm

  1. “Postal History” Website: http://www.postalhistory.com/index.htm
  2. “Gray’s new map of North Carolina and South Carolina,” (Philidelphia:O. W. Gray & Son, 1881)  Available at the Carolina Room of the PLCMC.
  3. LeGette Blythe and Charles R. Brockmann, Hornet’s Nest, (Charlotte: McNally, 1961) p. 419.
  4. Sarah A. Woodard and Sherry Joines Wyatt, “Industry, Transportation, and Education:The New South Development of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County,” 2001.  Part of a National Register Survey prepared for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.
  5. “Mecklenburg County Board of Education, The Minute Book 1885-1960”  Unpublished minutes in the J. Murrey Atkins Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina-Charlotte.
  6. Sarah A. Woodard and Sherry Joines Wyatt, “Industry, Transportation, and Education:The New South Development of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County,” 2001.  Part of a National Register Survey prepared for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.
  7. “Mecklenburg County Board of Education, The Minute Book 1885-1960”  Unpublished minutes in the J. Murrey Atkins Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina-Charlotte.
  8. Interview with Wilson Knox, October 2009, by the author.  Wilson Knox was born in 1919, and attended the Caldwell Station School in 1929.
  9. Emily D. Ramsey, “Survey and Research Report of the Mallard Creek School,” 2000.  Prepared for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.
  10. “Mecklenburg County Board of Education, The Minute Book 1885-1960”  Unpublished minutes in the J. Murrey Atkins Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina-Charlotte.
  11. Interview with Nell Washam Caldwell, September 2009, by the author.
  12. “Mecklenburg County Board of Education, The Minute Book 1885-1960”  Unpublished minutes in the J. Murrey Atkins Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina-Charlotte.
  13. Ibid
  14. Ibid
  15. Interview with Wilson Knox.