Theoden Janes

Google Earth helps woman find her grandmother’s childhood home – on East Boulevard

A then-and-now juxtaposition of the house at 501 East Blvd.
A then-and-now juxtaposition of the house at 501 East Blvd.

On the four-mile loop Molly Thompson likes to run from her office in the Dowd YMCA building, she passes – among many, many other things – a Dutch Colonial Revival-style home at East Boulevard and Lyndhurst Avenue.

“I’ve run by this house a hundred-thousand times,” said Thompson, who works as vice president of public relations and communications at the YMCA of Greater Charlotte. But she never knew it was the same house her great-grandfather, Frank Garrett, paid $5,841.71 for in 1908, where her beloved grandmother, Margaret, lived in when she was little.

Until just last week, that is.

Here’s how she told me she made the discovery, with help in the form of both high-tech sleuthing and old-fashioned good luck:

When Thompson and her husband Michael moved to Charlotte in 2000, her father – Garrett Briggs of Raleigh – mentioned that his mother lived in Charlotte when she was a young girl. But he couldn’t remember where, exactly.

 ‘I think she lived somewhere over on South Boulevard,’ ” Molly Thompson recalls her dad saying. “He had been by the house, but it’s been decades. And Charlotte has changed, he’s from Raleigh, he doesn’t know that much about Charlotte, so he couldn’t remember where it was.

“But (during a recent conversation), I said, ‘Dad ... if this house still exists, I’d really like to hunt it down. Do you have any information on it at all?’ 

Garrett Briggs dug through old photos that were stored in an old trunk that had belonged to his mother (who died in 2002, just shy of 100) and unearthed the two of her childhood home.

A photograph of 501 East Blvd. believed to have been taken in June of 1909.

He brought them with him from Raleigh during a visit to Charlotte last week, and on the back of the one photograph, Molly Thompson says, there was all sorts of information: “1909.” “E.E.G. (for Estelle Edwards Garrett, her great-grandmother).” “Margaret (for her grandmother, Margaret Garrett, who later in life became Margaret Briggs).” “And R. W. (for her great-uncle, Robert).” “Our Dutch Colonial home,” “Charlotte, N.C.,” “Went in when R. W. one month old,” and “We built it.”

And, as you can see, in the corner of the photograph shown at left, someone scrawled: “Charlotte, E. Boulevard.”

“So I basically got on Google Earth and went house by house until I found the house that looked like it,” Thompson says. After she was certain she’d come up with a positive I.D., “We went down there last Saturday morning and walked all the way around it, comparing the picture to the actual thing, and, I mean, it’s almost exactly the same.”

Here’s how it looks today:

A photograph of 501 East Blvd. taken last weekend.

“I was just amazed that they haven’t really added on anything more than that little railing above the front door, and landscaping, and new siding,” Thompson says. “Everything else is the same.”

501 East Blvd. is no longer a private residence; it’s now a commercial property owned by Scott and Jennifer Rea, who bought it from Gayle Fox in March. Fox, who continues to run her CPA business out of the building, purchased it in 2006 for a little more than what Molly Thompson’s great-grandfather paid to have the place built: $617,000.

Jennifer Rea told me they re-painted the house this spring (it previously was yellow), and that they are “so proud” to be the new owners.

“We were immediately struck by the beautiful, authentic details of the front porch and the interior of the home. We both knew within the first two minutes of the showing that we were going to buy it,” says Rea, who is now leasing space to Fox on the first floor and will move her and her husband’s Redwood Development Group into the building later this year, along with her Dilworth Realty company.

Upon hearing about Thompson’s discovery, Rea shared with me a document detailing the history of the house, which says Frank W. Garrett and his wife Estelle (Thompson’s great-grandparents) lived in the home from 1907-1909.

It provides some Dilworth history, too: “When the Garretts moved into their new home, East Boulevard was in its earliest stages of development. According to the Sanborn Map of 1905, only the first two blocks of East Boulevard, that is from South Boulevard to Euclid Avenue, had dense housing. A few other houses were scattered along the Boulevard, most notably Edward Dilworth Latta’s home, constructed in 1902-03 in the 600 block.”

Garrett Briggs and daughter Molly Thompson stand in front of the East Boulevard house that his grandmother, Margaret Briggs, grew up in in the early 20th century. Sarah Thompson

Anyway, Rea also encouraged me to share the document with Thompson (which I did) and said she’d be happy to let Thompson and her father come visit again, and tour the inside of the house (which they are both very eager to do, as soon as he can get back to Charlotte).

“This has been a fun adventure for me,” Molly Thompson says, “but it’s been really exciting for my dad. You know, for him, at 82 – his parents are gone and of course his grandparents long gone ... so it was a special moment for him to stand in the yard and feel that connection for a minute, and to kind of go back into his own family history.”

Janes: 704-358-5897;

Twitter: @theodenjanes