Putting Davis House in Order

Article excerpt

PUTTING DAVIS HOUSE IN ORDER

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The two-story Queen Anne-style dwelling, once the home of the first Black professor at Johnson C. Smith University here, was the most impressive house on the block in its day.

But 105 years of wear has stolen the grandeur from the structure known as the Davis House. Now, it is boarded up, its roof ready to cave in and its interior vandalized.

The nonprofit Historic Charlotte group led a lobbying effort earlier this year to persuade the General Assembly to ante up $500,000 to restore the home. But after Hurricane Floyd left much of the state in need of reconstruction, the state Legislature decided against giving the group the money.

However, school officials did manage to snag a small $25,000 grant from the state to finance the redesign of the Davis House.

"The house shows the success of African Americans early on and needs to be saved," says David Ritch, immediate past president of Historic Charlotte. "I'm not sure people realize there was an African American middle class during that time period."

The effort is the latest evidence of growing interest in preserving historic Black buildings.

"Our understanding and appreciation of history has gone from preserving houses owned by generals and plantation owners to one that looks at what all people have done," says David Brook, the state's historic preservation officer.

In many communities, Black historic buildings have been overlooked in the past because preservation favored more architecturally impressive buildings, officials say.

"The reality is -- particularly when you look back to the days of slavery and Jim Crow -- that many African Americans didn't have the money to buy significant property," says Dan Morrill, consulting director for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmark Commission. "That doesn't mean those buildings are any less important."

In Gaston County and Hickory, historic preservation commissions have applied for state money to inventory Black historic sites in their communities, a necessary first step to someday restoring those structures. In Raleigh, officials have refurbished an old Black neighborhood near Shaw University.

Two years ago, the state created the North Carolina African American Network on Historic Preservation to advise communities how to identify and save Black landmarks. …