Social Division in Town

Changes in the west side of Davidson

View of Griffith St, Circa 1985

Historically, the west side of Davidson has been home to African Americans and people of lower socioeconomic classes. When Griffith Street became the entrance for I-77 in the late 60s, the street was repurposed. Since, Griffith Street is the first image many people see when they driving into Davidson, it must reflect Davidson’s identity. With increased traffic and lakeside development, Griffith Street changed from being a relatively secluded, mainly residential area to being a busy thoroughfare. In addition, in the last couples decades the Charlotte metropolitan area has experienced a banking and population boom. This has brought more middle to upper class people to the area who see Davidson as an ideal place to raise a family or retire. Davidson’s changing image has had social, economic, and cultural impacts on the community, which we will discuss further on this website.

 

Evelyn Carr

Evelyn Carr Photo courtesy of Bill Giduz

Evelyn Carr
Photo courtesy of Bill Giduz

Evelyn Carr is an extraordinary woman who has lived in Davidson her entire life.  Born in Davidson in 1931, she attended the Davidson Colored School, now called Ada Jenkins school, until 9th grade, the last grade offered at the time.  First Carr lived on Brady Alley, a predominantly Black area.  Then she moved to Griffith Street, where she raised her ten children.  In an interview with Davidson student Amanda Lehnberg, Carr spoke lovingly of the supportive community on Griffith.  Carr recounted always feeling confidence that her children would be safe in the neighborhood while she was at work.  She spoke of an older White man up the street who would watch over her children as they went to and from school.

Carr has lived on Griffith Street for decades and has witnessed many changes in the Black community as housing prices have skyrocketed as Davidson has become a popular lakeside town.  Davidson’s identity and demographics changed with the formation of Lake Norman as it became a destination for middle to upper class families who wanted to live near Charlotte.  This change has put pressure on minority community like the Black community that used to live on Griffith Street.  In an interview, Carr expressed mixed feelings about the lake.  She said, “I love the lake.  I never go in it but I love the lake… It helped some people to get better houses….”  Even so, the increase in property values has also had detrimental effect own her community as many people who lived in her neighborhood can no longer afford to live in this area.

Carr expressed that people of a lower socioeconomic class have no place socially or economically in Davidson.  She described the feeling of displacement saying,

“We really don’t have any [area, history] anymore.  In Brady Alley, we were all a happy family.  And then we were over here and thought we were a happy family here and then they uprooted us from Griffith Street.  Now there’s nowhere to put us.”

Carr was uprooted when she was forced to move her house up the street to make room for Roosevelt Wilson pond, a part of Lake Norman.  Carr and her husband, Orlando, had just finished the flooring and walls of their house, when Duke Power informed them they would have to relocate.  Fortunately, the company paid off the rest of their mortgage and moved their house a few blocks east of where is was originally.  Many of Carr’s friends sold their houses and moved away as Davidson repurposed Griffith to be an aesthetically pleasing polished town entrance.  Even with the challenges of moving, dealing with increased property prices, and a dwindling Black community, Carr has chosen to stay on Griffith Street.  Her little blue house has almost become a landmark as it is one of the only houses that still remains on the street, which has been taken over by grocery stores, schools, and small businesses.

Carr in front of her current house on Griffith St. Photo courtesy of Amanda Lehnberg

Carr in front of her current house on Griffith St.
Photo courtesy of Amanda Lehnberg

 

Carr continues to campaign for more affordable housing as she believes that more young Blacks would stay in Davidson if property prices were lower.  In the 1980s, Carr co-created the Lakeside Housing Development, which was the first organizations of it’s kind for African Americans in Davidson.  In addition, she helped raise money to construct rental units for low-income local families.  Very active, Carr has served on many town committees such as the Common Ground Community Committee, the West Davidson Stakeholder Committee, and the Police Advisory committee (Lehnberg).

In 2006, Evelyn Carr was awarded with the G. Jack Burney Community Service Award for her generous contributions to the Davidson community.

If you would like to learn more about Evelyn Carr’s life, look here.

Sources:

Carr, Evelyn. “Davidson Oral History,” interviews by Jan Blodgett (Sept. 4, 2002). Transcribed by Emily Hammock, July 2008, 1-5.

Carr, Evelyn. Jack Burney Award Citation, Town of Davidson website, http://www.ci.davidson.nc.us/DocumentCenter/Home/View/1743

Lehnberg, Amanda. “From the Kitchen of Evelyn Carr.” From the Kitchen of Evelyn Carr. Davidson College Psychology Department, 2007. Web. 30 Mar. 2014. http://public.davidson.edu/psychology/krmulthaup/reminiscencef07/amlehnberg/index.html.

 

 

Economic Development of Griffith Street

1970s – Beginning of the Economic Development

In the foreground is Griffith Street. On the other side of Griffith Street is a brown house withe a brown roof. The porch pillars and window/door trim are white. Number: 2_1_16_3

In the foreground is Griffith Street. On the other side of Griffith Street is a brown house withe a brown roof. The porch pillars and window/door trim are white.
Number: 2_1_16_3

In the 1970s and 80s Davidson College became increasingly interested in acquiring more property along Griffith Street, and more generally between the campus and I-77. In 1972 the college purchased five acres from the Gamble family with the hopes of building a motel around the I-77 Griffith intersection. C. David Cornell, the Vice President of Finance and Development at the time, reported to the Davidsonian that  the college “wanted to control the sight and have a say so as to the quality of motel constructed.” (Phipps, “College Buys Land, Seeks Motel Builder for I77 Location”) This five-acre plot was the first piece of property the college purchased as part of the “Griffith Street Development Project,” which they continued for the next couple decades (Griffith St. Development Project Activity File).

Just five years later, in 1977, the Lake Norman Company was formed as an affiliation of Synco Inc., a Charlotte-based real estate firm. This company was formed to develop property around Lake Norman, specifically around Exit 30 (VP for Business and Finance, Lake Norman Company). Through the 1980s, the Lake Norman Company consolidated much of the property around Griffith Street and in the quadrants surrounding Exit 30. In addition, Lake Norman Company developed properties such as Spinnaker Cove and Davidson Landing. One of their first developments was a small shopping center in downtown Davidson, located just off of Griffith Street near Watson Street. This property was readily accepted by the Inspector of the town and by Davidson residents (Siman, “Construction of local shopping center to begin soon”). While this small shopping center did not lead to any controversy, the following housing development plans did. Lake Norman Company proposed that Synco build a  150 residential unit project on their land. However, some town residents were “concerned that such a housing development could destroy Davidson’s small-town identity and create too great a demand for the use of the small lake adjoining the development site” (Kiss, “Davidson Town Board Ponders Housing Development”). With that in mind, the town board approved the housing developments, but only built twenty houses on lakefront land off of Griffith Street in 1982 (Gulyn, “Synco starts development: $100,000 homes to be built north of Griffith Street”).

Davidsonian Article 1982

Early 80s – Revitalization Program 

In 1982 the Mayor of Davidson, Nancy MacCormac, supported an extensive development project for downtown, which she claimed was unopposed. She stated that “What most people have in mind is Davidson as a village,” and believed that a development project supporting the growth of businesses and housing developments would continue to encompass this vision for the town. The plan itself included building a new post office, creating a pedestrian mall to attract new businesses and offices, and expanding the water treatment plant with a $400,000 Urban Development Action Grant “Development in the Town of Davidson”). In addition, the plan included the development of Davidson Landing which included 151 unites of “unified housing” west of Davidson. Again, there were motives driving the college and their investment in the Lake Norman Company doing the developing, mainly creating an aesthetically pleasing entrance to the college and revitalizing downtown.

In the foreground there are weeds and then Griffith Street. On the far side of Griffith Street there are two white houses. In left-hand side of the photo is an orange sports car with a black stripe down its side. Number: RG 2/1.16-2

In the foreground there are weeds and then Griffith Street. On the far side of Griffith Street there are two white houses. In left-hand side of the photo is an orange sports car with a black stripe down its side.
Number: RG 2/1.16-2

The objective of the this new development was also made clear by the Vice President of the Lake Norman Co., who said “the company plans to build condominiums which are “basically recreation-oriented because of the water. They aren’t primarily going to appeal to large families.”” So essentially, the housing was meant for the weekend, retirement, or leisure, possibly for long-term residents, but mostly for the new population growth that the town and realtors were expecting. While he did acknowledge that town members were worried about the area growing too quickly, he cast it off as something “that doesn’t just happen.” (Mann, “Second Phase Underway: Lake Norman Co. Requests Change”). Before engaging in the construction of the  housing, however, the Davidson Town Council decided to change the zoning laws in order to allow more commercial development, rather than just residential use. In 1984 and 1985 plans were drawn up for a hotel which would serve the college as a nearby accommodation in the northwest quadrant at the intersection of I-77 and Griffith (Pelt, “Investor Plans Griffith Street Hotel”). Thus, it is clear that the town members, the college, and the developers were becoming well aware of the various options for the development of the area, which would affect many residents on Griffith Street and the surrounding area between I-77 and the campus for years to come.

1990s – Development

Once initial development projects began to be implemented in the 1980s, more projects were proposed for continued development. When Lake Norman Company declared bankruptcy in early 90s, Davidson took advantage of the ability to buy up more land at a cheaper price. Writing for the Davidsonian in 1993, student Katherine Hash reports that the College hopes to “cash in on Charlotte’s movement north by planning a new, profitable development, an upscale hotel, day care center, apartments, and retail shops. At the same time, the college can maintain control over its surroundings.”  In addition, Bob Sutton, Vice President for Business and Finance, explains the college’s interests in the land as an opportunity to exercise some “control over the appropriateness and attractiveness of the entrance to both the town and the college” as well as “an opportunity to make a long term investment in an endeavor which promises to be profitable for the college endowment” (Hash, “College to develop I77 lot”).  As a result of these various plans, several site analyses of property were conducted, illustrating that the town was serious about careful development of the land. These analyses looked at topography, access roads, travel time from Davidson to the Central Business District in Charlotte, utilities, legal issues, and zoning. In addition, the Lake Norman Company had placed restrictions on what can be developed and how, although Exxon was an exception to the original zoning laws in place (Site analysis of property in memo from Bart Landess to Bob Sutton).

A letter from T.B. Harris to Barton Landess (Davidson VP), regarding the Lake Norman Project in 1994 addresses Mr. Landon’s request for a report of the land values “that would impact possible acquisition and future sales of the property located at the northeast and southeast corners of I-77 and Griffith” (Lake Davidson Project File). Following these assessments, Davidson College Development Foundation acquired more land on Griffith St. About 14.5 acres were purchased in 1994-1995, ranging from $125,000-757,150. Davidson also decided to sell some of the plots it originally purchased, including a vacant plot that it sold to Habitat for Humanity. Detailed records printed in the spring of 1995 show exactly who owns which plots of land, who is or is not interested in selling, and which areas are vacant “(Real Estate Updates 1990-1996”). Finally, since the Lake Norman Company went bankrupt, Davidson was able to acquire about 35 acres to build and lease with the help of a developer– Spectrum properties (1995 memo from Bart Landess to Bob Sutton, “Real Estate Updates”).  Starting in 1996, meetings regarding The Village at Davidson Master Plan began, which would involved Davidson College in the landscaping, paving, lighting, utilities, tree planting, etc., in the main areas of downtown Davidson. While the Davidson College Development Foundation sold many houses at this time, some of these were reserved for college employees (Griffith St Development Project Activity File). As a result of this control of land and housing by the college, both the people and physical landscapes surrounding Griffith St. were affected as the look of the town changed.

Sources:

Bart Landess. Letter to Bob Sutton. 1994. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Bart Landess. Letter to Bob Sutton. 17 May 1995. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Correspondence between 1994-1996. RG 4/1.10 VP for Business and Finance. I-77/Griffith Street Development Project Activity File. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Correspondence between 1990-1996. RG 4/1.10. Real Estate Updates 1990-1996. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Gulyn, Pete. “Synco starts development: $100,000 homes to be built north of Griffith Street.” Davidsonian. 11 December 1981.

Harris Report-Lake Davidson Project & Hotel Feasibility 1994. RG 4/1.10. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Kiss, Elizabeth. “Davidson Town Board Ponders Housing Development.” Davidsonian. 17 October 1980.

Mann, Jeffrey. “Second Phase Underway: Lake Norman Co. Requests Change.” Davidsonian. 7 January 1983.

Phipps, John. “Davidson College Buys Land, Seeks Motel Builder for I77 Location.” Davidsonian. 20 October 1972.

Richards, John. “Development in the Town of Davidson.” Davidsonian. 16 April 1982.

Siman, John. “Construction of local shopping center to begin soon.” Davidsonian. 11 May 1979.

Griffith Street Development

Introduction

The Duke Power Company, now known as Duke Energy, created Lake Norman in 1963 to harness hydroelectric power. Since then, they have built the Marshall Steam Station and the McGuire Nuclear Plant. Lake Norman has not only changed the geography of the Piedmont, but has also influenced the area’s development, demographics, and identity.

If you look at the Davidson town website, you will see images of happy, healthy people doing wholesome activities like biking and jogging. You might even see a couple photos of happy beautiful people drinking lattes from Summit or going to the farmers market. Although this reflects parts of Davidson’s identity now, the town did not always look this way.  Davidson was a small rural town before Lake Norman covered much of the farmland and made the town a lakeside destination.

In this project, we will look at Davidson’s development and subsequent identity changes, focusing in on  the development of Griffith Street, the major thoroughfare connecting the town to Interstate-77.

Map of Davidson, NC.

I-77 crossing Lake Norman, exit 30 leading into Davidson

I-77 crossing Lake Norman, exit 30 leading into Davidson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We will follow four different development themes:

Economic Development

 

Major Town and College Projects

 

Social Division in Town 

 

Demographic Changes

Griffith St. Development Timeline