Grier, Sidney and Ethel House
SURVEY AND RESEARCH REPORT
The Sidney and Ethel Grier House
- Name and location of the property: The property known as the Sidney and Ethel Grier House is located at 4647 McKee Road in Charlotte, North Carolina.
- Name, address and telephone number of the present owner of the property: The present owner of the property is:
Nancy Grier Miller & Florence Simpson Grier
933 Hemlock Dr NE
Lenoir, NC 28645
- Representative photographs of the property: This report contains representative photographs of the property.
- Maps depicting the location of the property: This report contains a map depicting the location of the property.
- Current deed book reference to the property: The most recent deed to this property is recorded in Mecklenburg County Deed Book 02380 on page 382. The tax parcel number of the property is 231-045-03.
- A brief historical sketch of the property: This report contains a brief historical sketch of the property.
- A brief architectural description of the property: This report contains a brief architectural description of the property.
- Documentation of why and in what ways the property meets criteria for designation set forth in N. C. G. S. 160A-400.5:
Special significance in terms of its history, architecture, and/or cultural importance: The Commission judges that the property known as the Sidney and Ethel Grier House does possess special significance in terms of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases its judgment on the following considerations:
1) The Grier family farms were economically and socially integral to the Providence community of southern Mecklenburg County. As large landowners, members of the Grier family were able to produce cotton and other crops as well as to function as creditors for the poor farmers of the community — practices that place the Grier family farms firmly within the agricultural trends prevalent in the post Civil War South as a whole as well as in Mecklenburg County. Also, members of the Grier family established the first building in Mecklenburg County that was exclusively devoted to the spinning of cotton.
2) As part of the Providence Township the Sidney and Ethel Grier House retains the qualities of a rural farmhouse. Such places are becoming increasingly rare in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and serve as valuable reminders of the agricultural history of Mecklenburg County
3) The Sidney and Ethel Grier House is a well-preserved, pyramidal hipped roofed farmhouse of which there are relatively few examples in rural Mecklenburg County.
4) The Sidney and Ethel Grier House features elements of the Craftsman and Queen Anne Styles, illustrating how popular styles could co-exist in the vernacular architecture of early 20th century Mecklenburg County.
- Integrity of design, setting, workmanship, materials, feeling and/or association: The Commission contends that the physical and architectural description which is included in this report demonstrates that the Sidney and Ethel Grier House meets this criterion.
- 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 designated “historic landmark.” The current total appraised value of the improvements is $99,760. The current total appraised value of the lot is $1,022,080. The current total value is $1,121,840. The property is zoned R-3 and O-15 (CD). The Commission is aware that only a two-acre tract will surround the Sidney and Ethel Grier House when the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission buys it.
- Portion of property recommended for designation: The exterior and interior of the Sidney and Ethel Grier House, the outbuildings that form the farm complex, and a two-acre tract surrounding the house are recommended for historic designation.
Date of preparation of this report: April 2002.
Prepared by: Stewart Gray and Dr. Paula M. Stathakis, assisted by Dr. Dan L. Morrill
The Sidney and Ethel Grier House was built in 1916 by Sidney Fitzgerald Grier, the youngest son of Julius Solomon Grier (1851-1910) and the grandson of Eli Clinton Grier (1820-1885). The Sidney and Ethel Grier House is intimately bound up with the history of the Grier family, a prominent farming clan in the Providence community and, even more significantly, the founders of the first building in Mecklenburg County devoted exclusively to the spinning of cotton. Founded by Eli Clinton Grier, the mill was located about half way between Matthews, N.C., and Providence Presbyterian Church in southern Mecklenburg County. It contained 350 spindles and produced bale yarn. It was established in 1874 and operated for approximately eighteen months. The building was demolished in 1899.1 The Sidney and Ethel Grier House is one of the few remaining residences associated with this locally successful agrarian and early industrial family. It therefore stands as a symbol of a rural way of life that once was predominant in what is now a rapidly developing suburban district of southern Mecklenburg County.
The Griers owned and farmed large tracts of land in the Providence community of southern Mecklenburg County both before and after the Civil War. They grew cotton and corn, and raised swine and some dairy cattle. E. C. Grier actively dealt in slaves from 1848-1859, and in land during most of his life. Transactions recorded at the Mecklenburg County Court House show ten slave purchases, and a number of real estate transactions through which he acquired over 875 acres in the Four Mile Creek, Six Mile Creek, and Twelve Mile Creek areas, as well as in Matthews, Clear Creek, and along the Catawba River.2 By 1870, the fifty-year-old father of eight had a personal estate valued at $2000 and real estate worth $10,000.3
After the Civil War, the Griers employed tenant farm labor and operated as local creditors for small farmers. E. C. Grier owned a 480-acre farm in the Providence community, of which 150 acres were under cultivation.4 As did many of his neighbors, he grew corn, oats, and cotton, sweet and Irish potatoes. He raised swine and a few head of dairy cattle, and raised enough fodder to keep three horses and five mules. Tenant labor was necessary to maintain agricultural operations on this scale, and records show that E. C. Grier paid $2600 in annual wages to his tenants in 1870.5 E. C. Grier’s circumstances were also stable enough for him to enter into crop liens and chattel mortgages, either as an individual creditor, or through various business combinations, such as the E. C. Grier and Robert Grier and Company [active 1856], and E.C. Grier and Sons [active 1880].6 E. C. Grier still ran a prosperous farm in the Providence community in 1880, just five years before his death. On his 560 acre farm, valued at $13,650, 110 acres were cultivated to grow 600 bushels of corn and 68 bales of cotton, as well as 6 bushels of Irish potatoes and 25 bushels of sweet potatoes, and 50 bushels of apples. He kept 2 horses, 4 mules, 1 cow and 4 hogs. He also employed 47 black tenant farm laborers, and paid $965.00 in annual wages.7
Julius Solomon Grier, the eldest son of E. C. Grier, was also intensely active in land acquisition and as a local creditor in the Providence community. There are nearly 50 recorded transactions involving J. S. Grier at the Mecklenburg County Court House; nearly all of them are crop liens. He purchased 50 acres from his parents in 1876 for $2600.8 He bought an additional 98 acres in the Providence community in 1888; and between 1898 and 1903, he purchased over 213 acres at public auctions.9 His resources as a landed farmer with a vested interest in the land impelled J. S. Grier to enter into numerous crop liens contracts with area farmers. These agreements usually specified that he provide money for fertilizer, and other advances, but there were no other conditions in the contracts that required the farmers to grow specific crops. The farmer’s land was offered as security, and it was always stipulated that if the debt were not paid on time, the land would be seized and sold at public auction, sometimes with 8% interest charged on the principal..10
Crop liens became the preferred method of credit for small farmers with little or no capital and only their good name to start a crop. The general trend in the post-bellum South was for poor farmers to draw upon the resources of local merchants and landowners to get a crop in the ground, since many farmers did not live near towns with banks, and may not have been able to get credit there if they did. Interestingly, the public records of Mecklenburg County show an aberration in the pattern of post-bellum rural credit systems. In many Southern rural areas, small farmers seeking loans and entering onto crop lien agreements were generally required to grow cotton or other regionally appropriate cash crops as a condition of the loan. The majority of crop lien agreements for Mecklenburg County, including those held by the Griers, do not show that farmers were obligated to grow cotton, although most of them did. The lien agreements also show that small farmers in Mecklenburg County relied on banks as well as on landowners and merchants for credit.11 None of the crop lien agreements on record for E. C. Grier or by his son J. S. Grier stipulates that cotton cultivation was a requirement for the loan.
Agricultural trends in Mecklenburg County did correspond to regional practices of increasing cotton production at the expense of more diverse crops. Cotton production in Mecklenburg County, for example, increased from 6112 bales in 1860 to 27, 466 bales in 1910. The increased yield per acre in the late nineteenth century certainly demonstrates the effects of improved agricultural techniques, especially the use of fertilizer, which was often itemized in more detailed crop lien agreements. However, the dramatic increases in crop yields corresponded with the steady decline of cotton prices between 1870 and 1880.12 Once small farmers, most of whom would had been independent, subsistence farmers in the ante-bellum period, made the initial commitment to grow cotton and to switch to cash crop agriculture, it was nearly impossible to extricate themselves from creditors, debt, and the caprices of the global cotton market to which they were connected. The subsequent over-production of cotton, biases in lien laws, and the costs of ginning and transportation kept many small farmers cotton rich, but cash poor. The Griers benefited from their position as creditors.
Julius Solomon Grier was a successful farmer. The 1880 Agricultural Census shows him on a 162 acre farm valued at $4000. He paid $1200 for 47 black tenants who labored in the production of 3 tons of hay, 500 bushels of corn, 25 bushels of rye, 25 bushels of Irish potatoes, 75 bushels of sweet potatoes, 20 bushels of apples and 15 bushels of peaches. He devoted 75 acres to cotton, from which he produced 50 bales. His general farm output was more diverse than many Mecklenburg farmers, and is indicative of a prosperous farmer who could afford to devote time and land to crops other than cotton. His cotton yield, approximately 1.5 bales per acre, mirrors the average produced in the Providence community. Extracting more than a bale an acre, especially at a time when pressed bales averaged 450 pounds, from heavily used farm land shows the advantages of fertilizer, which for him was $152 well spent. His farm also supported 2 horses, 3 mules, 3 cows, 3 hogs, and 30 hens and roosters.13
After J.S. Grier’s death in 1910, some of his land passed to his youngest son Sidney, who built the Bungalow-style farmhouse with a pyramidal hipped roof, a full width wrap-around porch, and decorative style elements from both the Queen Anne and Craftsman periods. Sidney continued the Grier tradition of farming on the family land, and was assisted in his later years by his son Michael. After Michael’s untimely death from an automobile accident on August 25, 1940, Sidney’s son Gerald and his wife Florence moved into a smaller house on the property to help with the farm. After Sidney’s death in 1944, Gerald and his family moved into the main house and continued to farm on the property. Gerald Grier continued to use tenant labor to grow corn wheat, oats, barley, and some cotton, but in later years shifted his emphasis to truck farming, growing vegetables, strawberries, cantaloupes, and watermelons. He also raised calves for a nearby dairy farm. The house has been recently vacated and the land around remains undeveloped. Rezoning of the property for a large, multi-family development is pending.
One can fully appreciate the historic significance of the Sidney and Ethel Grier House only by taking into account its place within the present built environment of the Providence community of southern Mecklenburg County. The house and its outbuildings are the only extant farm structures once owned by the locally prominent Grier family. Even more importantly, they are the sole reminder of the immediate neighborhood’s agricultural heritage. The closest farm to the east is the Fincher Farm, over one mile away. No farms exist to the immediate west. The closest significant farmhouse to the west is the James Blakeney House, also over a mile distant.
|James Blakeney House|
Otherwise the neighborhood is characterized by rapid suburbanization, replete with residential subdivisions, multi-family complexes, strip shopping centers, convenience stores, and service stations. Admittedly, the preservation of more than two acres with the house would be preferable to the arrangement the Historic Landmarks Commission has been able to work out with the prospective developer. But the two acres will contain the house and most of the agricultural outbuildings and will provide a glimpse into the rural heritage of the Providence community.
Built in 1916 by a Mr. Fincher, the Sidney and Ethel Grier House is a well-preserved rural farmhouse.14 The hipped-roof, one-story, Bungalow form, frame house resembles a large pyramidal cottage. The house is part of a farm complex, typical for Mecklenburg County’s more successful farmers, consisting of numerous small outbuildings as well as a substantial barn. The house sits at the end of a long drive that is bordered on both sides by open fields. It faces north and is situated among hardwood trees that form a small grove around the house. The house is in good condition, and retains a very high degree of integrity in regards to its original design and materials.
By far the most notable architectural feature of the house is its wrap-around engaged porch. The porch is supported by eight Craftsman Style tapered half-posts, sitting on tall brick piers. The posts are crowned with molding, and molded trim also decorates the porch beams. The porch is now screened, but originally it was bounded by a handrail with square pickets.15 Below the level of the wooden porch floor, the brick piers have been infilled with masonry blocks. The front elevation is three bays wide, with the original front door centered between 3/2 double-hung sash windows. These 3/2 windows are also found on the east and west elevations and appear to be a merger of the 3/1 style window that might have been typical on a Craftsman Style Bungalow, with a 2/2 or 1/1 window typical for the Queen Anne Style. The front door contains a single large plate-glass light, stylish for a farmhouse and typical of the Queen Anne Style. The front door’s architrave trim is fluted, with decorative starter blocks and rosettes; this same door trim is used in the interior of the house. Window trim is limited to a decorative drip edge crowning the head trim. Other architectural elements of the front porch include a beaded-board ceiling, decorative crown trim, and molded corner boards.
The east and west sections of the wrap-around porch originally terminated in two additional door openings, set back from the front of the house, giving the house a total width of five bays. On the east side, part of the porch has been enclosed for storage. On the west side the original fenestration is intact. The door here has the same architrave trim found around the front door and features dental trim under a single plate-glass light. In keeping with its less prominent position, the glass in this door is smaller than the glass in the front door.
The principal section of the house is two rooms deep with the porch surrounding the front rooms. The house’s foundation originally consisted of brick piers, which have now been infilled with masonry blocks. The house’s clapboard siding was nailed directly to the studs, without employing any type of sheathing. On the front section of the house, the hipped roof has a very short ridgeline parallel to the front elevation. A generous eave overhang protects the house, which may be partly responsible for the generally good condition of the Grier house’s woodwork. Supporting the overhangs are exposed rafter tails that were cut with a decorative cove and rounded on the ends. The edge of the exposed roof sheathing is capped with copper.
A low but prominent hipped-roof dormer protrudes from the roof, centered over the engaged porch. Wooden louvered vents flank a long rectangular window opening, now filled by a piece of painted plywood. Originally, four small windows, or perhaps a single 4-light sash, sat between the vents, illuminating the attic.16 Two interior chimneys rise near the very short front roof ridge.
Another significant feature of the house is a shallow three sided cut-away bay covered by a small gable, located on the west side of the house adjacent to the west section of the wrap-around porch. The small gable is decorated with curved-cut bargeboards and small brackets. Though subtle, the bay disrupts the generally symmetrical layout of the house, and contrasts with the strictly symmetrical porch and front fenestration.
On the east side of the house, opposite the bay, two 3/2 windows are paired. Just past these windows, and just beyond the bay on the east side, the front section of the house ends. Set back slightly from the east and west elevations, a hipped-roof wing, one room deep, extends from the rear of the house.
Attached to the rear wing is a hipped-roof addition that may incorporate an earlier rear porch. The many windows on this small rear addition are not original to the house. On the west elevation it appears that one of the original and unique 3/2 windows was moved from the rear wing to the rear addition, and replaced with a much smaller window. The house’s owner indicates that this was an early change made to accommodate kitchen cabinets, as the kitchen was up-fitted.
The interior of the house retains a high degree of integrity. The original plaster walls are intact. The many interior doorways retain their decorative trim and horizontal panel doors with original hardware. Generous base and crown trim is still intact. Perhaps the most interesting interior features are the house’s two elaborate mantles. The elegant painted mantles each contain a large mirror panel, and both feature small elegant decorative classical columns.
A front gabled well house sits extremely close to the southwest corner of the rear addition. This very rustic small building may predate the house. Cedar tree trunks were used as posts to support a small porch that protects the wooden well-surround.
Various buildings, such as a chicken house, tools sheds, garages, equipment sheds, a corncrib, and perhaps a cotton house, were built near the rear of the house. A small ca. 1935 side-gabled frame house, covered with German siding, sits just to the west of the Grier House. This small house was built by Sidney Grier for one of his children.17 Set back on the edge of a field behind the Grier House, is a substantial front-gabled early 20th century barn. The barn features an extremely well ventilated loft. The top two courses of siding under the eaves were spaced far apart, to allow for cooler air to be drawn into the hot hayloft. Hot air could exit out simple vents in the gables, or through a large square cupola.
Significance of the architectural features
The most distinctive architectural feature of the Grier House is the engaged wrap-around front porch. Its size and degree of finish with decorative millwork is indicative of the importance placed on that part of a house before WWII, before the advent of home air conditioning and television. A porch closely integrated into the design of the house is an identifying characteristic of both the Bungalow Form and the Craftsman Style. Other Craftsman/Bungalow elements found on the Grier House include the tapered half-height posts set on tall brick piers, the exposed rafter ends, the 3-light upper sashes, and the low but broad dormer.
The Bungalow form emphasized the horizontal and a general symmetry, unlike the verticality and asymmetrical massing of the Queen Anne Style. And while the Victorians relied on elaborate scroll-sawn woodwork, the Craftsman Style often employed simple, understated, sometimes rustic decoration. According to Catherine Bisher:
“Bungalows suited North Carolina’s needs and habits. They were cheaply and easily built. They ranged in size and elaboration to accommodate all economic levels, and they communicated a message of simplicity, unpretentious coziness, and modernity. Their characteristic broad eaves and deep porch fit the climate…”18
So it is not surprising that the City of Charlotte contains large numbers of bungalows in the Dilworth, Third Ward, and Elizabeth Neighborhoods.19 The Bungalow Form transcended racial and economic divisions, with examples also found as mill houses20 and in the historically blue-collar African American Cherry Neighborhood.21 In the affluent Myers Park Neighborhood, the effects of the Bungalow Form and the Craftsman Style can be seen in the 1915 George Stephens House. Perhaps Charlotte’s best known example is the 1914 Van Landingham Estate or Harwood, designed by Architect C. C. Hook for Susie Harwood and Ralph Van Landingham in the Plaza-Midwood Neighborhood.22 Good collections of bungalows can also be found in the small towns of Mecklenburg County. In Cornelius the bungalow is the prominent house type found lining Old Statesville Road as it runs toward Davidson.
In rural Mecklenburg County, however, bungalow farmhouses are not common. Most of the county’s farmhouses were constructed from 1865 to 1900 during the post-Civil War cotton boom and before the Bungalow Form and the Craftsman Style became popular.23 One example of a surviving bungalow farmhouse is the Jesse Washam House, near Huntersville. In 1910 influential designer Gustav Stickly declared that a bungalow should be “a house reduced to its simplest form,” and indeed the builder of the Washam House avoided unnecessary decoration.24 The Washam House, with its wide eaves, exposed rafter tails and tapered porch columns, could be called a “typical” Craftsman bungalow. The Grier House, while sharing all of those architectural elements, is far from a typical bungalow.
As with many vernacular houses, the Grier House is a hybrid. The influence of the Queen Anne Style can be clearly seen in the decorative moldings on the front porch, with the very same trim details, (fluted trim, rosette corner blocks, and decorative starter-blocks,) found on the earlier 1903 Thomas Alexander Farmhouse, located on Sharon Lane in Charlotte, which is itself a hybrid of the Queen Anne and Neo-classical.25 And while the Grier House’s form is bungaloid, the three-window bay located on the west elevation and the slight asymmetry the bay gives the house, are both elements of the Queen Anne Style.
One cannot say why the Grier House is a hybrid. It is possible that the mixing of the Queen Anne and Craftsman Styles was a result of a slow diffusion of popular ideas from urban to rural areas. Perhaps in the countryside, the Victorian aesthetic came late and stayed later, even as popular new house forms such as the bungalow were adapted. Perhaps personal taste or even availability of materials played a part. Regardless, the Grier House provides an important glimpse of how and when these different architectural styles influenced rural buildings in Mecklenburg County.
1 The first facility in Mecklenburg County devoted exclusively to the spinning of cotton fiber was the Glenroy Cotton Mill. See Dan L. Morrill, “A Survey Of Cotton Mills In Charlotte And Mecklenburg County For The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, July 1997. The supporting evidence for the establishment of the Glenroy Cotton mill is found in an article that appeared in the Charlotte Daily Observer on January 16, 1900. It identifies “G. S.” Grier as a co-founder with his father, E. C. Grier. This was most likely Julius Solomon Grier. Leaders of Mecklenburg County were eager to see a cotton mill established. For articles dealing with this subject, see Charlotte Daily Observer (February 21, March 4, April 2, July 16, 26, September 5, October 18, 25, 1874). For an obituary article on E. C. Grier, see Charlotte Daily Observer (April 9, 1885). In commenting on the death of E. C. Grier, the newspaper stated that “in his death our county loses a good man.”
- 2. Slave transactions were recorded in Deed Book 3, pgs: 26, 565. 569, 662, 751, 824, 868; Book 4, pgs: 73,328; Book 8-370. Real Estate transactions were recorded in Deed Book 3, pgs: 584, 754, Book 4-74, Book 6, pgs: 10, 289, 371, 323, 370, Book 28-553, and Book 48, pgs: 554, 555,560, 561. Mecklenburg County Court House.
- U.S. Census of the Population, 1870. Mecklenburg County. E. C. Grier was the sheriff of Mecklenburg County from 1854 until 1860 and was a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives during the Civil War.
- Nancy Grier Miller, daughter of Gerald and Florence Grier, states that information about the genealogy of the family is found in Dellman O. Hood, The Tunis Hood Family, Its Lineage and Traditions. Portland Oregon: Metropolitan Press, 1960. John Grier (c.1750-1841), E. C. Grier’s grandfather, was the patriarch of the Mecklenburg line of the Grier family, and was probably a descendant of James Grier who emigrated to Virginia from Scotland in the early eighteenth century. The 1790 census of Mecklenburg County lists John Grier as a resident of District 18. He owned the Grier Mine in Mecklenburg County.
- U.S. Census. Agricultural Schedules, 1870. Mecklenburg County.
- Mecklenburg County Court House.
- Deed Book 14-365. Mecklenburg County Court House.
- Deeds 60-116; 62-2; 132-109; 156-667; 173-546; 174-614. Mecklenburg County Court House.
- Deed Book 44 pgs: 29, 31, 32, 33, 26, 39, 43, 118, 119, 160, 161. J.S. Grier sometimes operated through the auspices of J.S. Grier and Brother, which in April and May of 1885 issued 11 crop liens, and in1891-1892, J.S. Grier operated through J.S. Grier and Company, issuing mortgage deeds and crop liens. According to public record, he conducted most of his credit activities as an individual, and the loans he extended ranged from $40.00 to $700.00.
- Carolyn Frances Hoffman, The Development of Town and Country: Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, 1850-1880. Ph. D. Dissertation, 1988, pp. 155-161.
- ibid., p. 159. In Mecklenburg County in 1871, cotton sold for 21.5 cents per pound, but by 1880, local cotton buyers paid 11 cents per pound.
- U.S. Census. Agricultural Schedules, 1880. Mecklenburg County
- Interview with Nancy Grier Miller, 3-28-02.
- Catherine Bishir, North Carolina Architecture, University of North Carolina Press, 1990, p. 426.
- Dr. Thomas W. Hanchett, “Charlotte Architecture: Design Through Time,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Landmarks Commission.
- Christina Wright and Dr. Dan Morrill, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Tours, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Preservation Fund, 1994, p. 14.
- ibid, p.18.
- Emily Ramsey and Lara Ramsey, “Survey and Research Report on the Jesse and Mary K. Washam Farm,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, 2002. For a comprehensive overview of rural historic places in Mecklenburg County, see Sherry J. Joines and Dr. Dan L. Morrill, “Historic Rural Resources in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina,” an unpublished manuscript prepared in 1998 for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.
- John C. Poppeliers, S. Allen Chamber, Jr. and Nancy B. Schwartz, What Style is it? A Guide to American Architecture, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1983, p. 76.
- Mary Beth Gatza, “Survey and Research Report on the Thomas Alexander House,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, 1997.