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Homeless fed where luxurious estate stood 

Dannye Romine Powell
Dannye Romine Powell
Dannye Romine Powell writes on life in Charlotte and the Carolinas for the Local section of The Charlotte Observer.

Phifer Avenue, once the center of an elaborate 4,000-acre estate, went the last 100 or so years barely making a peep.

Now, thanks to “The Wall,” Phifer, between Tryon and College, is the stuff of headlines.

The Wall is where five years ago Eva Walker and her son Bryan planted their mission to feed the homeless – and feed them they do, sometimes 250 at a time.

But with uptown growing more uppity and nearby business owners growing more agitated, police are trying to nudge the mission elsewhere.

Once again we're reminded what a queenly city Charlotte is, forever struggling with how to keep our crown on straight and gleaming – and still care for the less fortunate.

When the mission moves on – and it will eventually as developers take over the property – The Wall will slip from memory, as will the controversy.

Gone again, another chapter in Charlotte history that could help us grasp what makes us tick.

It's difficult today even to imagine the vastness of the William Phifer estate. The two-story columned house itself was bounded by North Tryon and College streets and Phifer and Eleventh.

“A small village in itself,” writes Mary Kratt in her “Charlotte: Spirit of the New South.” The residence included an elaborate circular front garden, a 60-foot well, a springhouse, carriage house, garden house and smoke house, along with slave quarters for the servants.

The house made history when the last full Confederate Cabinet met there April 24, 1865. The location made sense because Secretary of the Treasury George Trenholm was a guest at Phifer's and lay sick in bed, the blinds closed.

The mission of the meeting: To decide the fate of the dying Confederacy.

Of course the Confederacy could not survive. And neither for many more years could the vast estate. Phifer's fortune lay in Confederate bonds, worthless after the war. And such an elaborate household could not be maintained without slave labor.

Phifer sold off several acres on North College Street to the Charlotte Female Institute, which would evolve into Queens University in Myers Park.

The house was eventually sold and, in the late 1940s, torn down to make way for a Sears store.

It seems fitting that “The Wall” – knowingly or unknowingly – was established at the former site of such lavish, unwieldy luxury.

Investment in appearances

What happens to a city if we continue to push the have-nots farther and farther to the edge, first to the smokehouse, then to the springhouse and finally off the estate altogether?

Will we one day discover that our investment in appearances has been as futile as an investment in Confederate bonds?

I, for one, don't want us to become the kind of city where our columns still stand but our house has gone to rubble.

Dannye Romine Powell; 704-334-0902; dpowell@charlotteobserver.com
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