Old barns are rarely dubbed historic, but when an economically booming community such as Mecklenburg County gets down to the last of its kind, attitudes can change.
That’s the case with the Morris Barn in Matthews – the county’s only remaining “town barn” – which is one of two historic properties being put up for sale by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.
In both cases, restrictive covenants have been added to the deed to ensure buyers maintain the properties’ historic integrity. However, their eventual use remains up for debate. The Historic Landmarks Commission says a first offer on the Morris Barn property was received this week but declined to give details.
The barn sits adjacent to the historic Phillips House on an acre at 131 West Charles St. in Matthews. The Craftsman-style home, which is the second property up for sale, was built in 1925. It was once the home of Oscar Luther “Pete” Phillips, a former member of the Matthews Town Board and Mecklenburg County school board. He was the Matthews postmaster from 1933 to 1953.
Dan Morrill of the Historic Landmarks Commission says the barn is unique because it was built as part of a small town or urban setting, rather than a farm. Such “town barns” were common a century ago, but this is the last in the county, he says. As a result, the house and barn are “important artifacts for understanding the early 20th-century history of Matthews.”
“The intact lot, house and outbuildings physically demonstrate how daily life was conducted in Matthews when agriculture and working animals were prominent in the town, and when modern conveniences such as public water and electricity were not yet available,” he says.
“What happens to this property will profoundly impact the future character of downtown Matthews. That’s why the Historic Landmarks Commission is being very deliberate in determining the kind of development that will be allowed. … I don’t think the community understands the cultural importance of our outlying towns like Matthews.”
Morrill says the first step in determining the Phillips site’s future will occur Jan. 23, when the commission and consultants will meet with the Matthews Board of Commissioners. A report will be presented on the findings of two community workshops that met in October and November to consider development options for the property.
The report will address such issues as the possibility of allowing sensitively designed and placed infill development on the property, permitting nonresidential uses for the Phillips House, and determining the best uses for the Morris Barn.
This isn’t the first time the landmarks commission has stepped up to protect property in Matthews. It bought and restored the Funderburk Grist Mill and Blacksmith Shop. It also bought and assured the preservation of the Funderburk Plaxco House, and secured the listing of the town’s historic commercial core in the National Register of Historic Places. Outen Pottery was also saved by the commission, as the only historic pottery site remaining in Mecklenburg County.
“The future of properties like the Phillips House and Morris Barn is vital to the quality of life in Matthews,” Morrill said. “The meeting of the board of commissioners (on Jan. 23) will be a significant event in shaping the town’s future, not just in preserving its past.”