Historic ‘feminine Paul Revere’ house could be demolished for townhouses

The McDowell House
The McDowell House

You probably don’t know the story of Jane Parks McDowell, a Mecklenburg County patriot who rode 10 miles, with a baby, to tell her husband and his military unit that the British were evacuating Charlotte during the Revolutionary War.

But a group of Charlotteans wants to change that, and they’re hoping to preserve what’s left of her house on South Tryon Street in the face of a planned townhouse development. They’ve launched a “Save the McDowell House” effort, and they’re organizing to raise funds to restore the house.

Builder BNA Homes is trying to rezone almost 16 acres on South Tryon Street, just south of Shopton Road, a site that includes the house. The plans call for up to 124 townhouses on the site, which largely wooded and vacant. The site is across from Adare, another townhouse development by BNA Homes where a two-bedroom starts at $146,900.

The proposed development would include a pool and amenity area, with access to a network of private streets from Tryon and Culloden More Court. As currently zoned, a builder could construct up to 85 single-family houses on the land.

A previous development plan called for preserving the McDowell House, which attorney Keith McVean, representing the developers, said has deteriorated and is exposed to the elements. The current rezoning plan calls for preserving a historic marker placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1916 to commemorate the ride, which an Observer article from 100 years ago called “The Midnight Ride of Carolina’s Feminine Paul Revere.”

The house, which has been rebuilt but still includes parts of the original log cabin structure, is in poor shape.

“The home has been in disrepair for a number of years,” said Mark Blythe, of BNA. “It’s not even sitting on most of the structural foundation that it was designed for originally.”

Blythe said a structural engineer has visited the site and is preparing a report. He said BNA is willing to work with the neighbors and others who want to preserve the structure – if they can renovate and maintain the house. BNA would donate the property and leave it for perpeuity, if that could be arranged.

“If it wasn’t of any value, there wouldn’t be a marker there,” said Jonathan Osman, a neighbor and Realtor who’s leading preservation efforts. “We’ve lost a lot of history in Charlotte, and it would be a shame to lose another piece.”

Council members appeared receptive to the idea. They’ll vote on the rezoning request next month, including the provisions related to the McDowell House.

“I think it’s worthy,” said council member Patsy Kinsey, who said she supports saving the structure. “I wish I had the money to take you up on it.”

But the preservation would still rely on a local group raising the money within a set time frame – perhaps a year. If they don’t, the house’s fate would be sealed.

“If that hasn’t happened, the home would be removed,” said McVean. “The home unfortunately is not in good shape, so it would not lend itself to trying to sell and market new would have a negative impact.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo