City News

Grier-Rea house is a tribute to the area's rural heritage

Easily overlooked by busy shoppers, the patina faded brass plaque on the base of the fountain at the Colony Place shopping plaza acknowledges that the site was once home to the Grier-Rea house. The house, a stunning example of early 19th century farmhouse design, stood on what is now the intersection of Colony and Rea roads for nearly 200 years.

Built in 1804 by early Mecklenburg County settler the Rev. Isaac Grier, the federal-style house was established halfway between the Providence and Sardis Presbyterian churches where he preached. In 1872, John Laney Rea Sr. acquired the house, and it remained in the Rea family until 2002.

That fall, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission bought the property and moved the house to avoid demolition and make way for retail development. It was relocated to the corner of Providence and Alexander roads.

One of the oldest plantation houses surviving in Mecklenburg County, the house stands in tribute to the rural heritage of this part of the county. The commission has designated the Grier-Rea house a local landmark. It's one of a number of historically significant properties in the county with such a designation.

When the house was built, Thomas Jefferson was president. The North Carolina gold rush was under way following the find by young Conrad Reed, who brought home a 17-pound yellow rock that he had found in Little Meadow Creek five years earlier.

Grier, after attending Dickinson College and completing two years of theological study, was ordained by the Second Presbytery. Besides preaching at the Sardis and Providence churches, he also was called to preach at the Tirzah Church in Union County.

Fast-forward to the mid-1800s. Confederate Army veteran Rea, now owning the property, planted and farmed over 175 acres of what was most likely cotton. Cotton was an important crop in the post-Civil War era, and Mecklenburg County was a statewide leader in its production until 1910. Rea and his wife, Sarah, had eight children and expanded the house through a two-story addition. The house passed on to two subsequent Rea descendents over the next generation.

Stabilizing and renovating the house with the watchful eye to preserving the architectural and historic integrity proved to be the greatest challenge, said Bryan Turner, a project manager with Mecklenburg County Real Estate.

Turner said that numerous renovations are done, including foundation, siding, roof, electrical, plumbing, air conditioning, lead paint abatement and significant structural upgrades to the building. Turner said he was impressed with many aspects of the craftsmanship exhibited by the original builders, including Roman numeral-numbered beams and columns that were meticulously placed. That practice was common for the time.

Stewart Gray, a preservation planner with the commission, indicated that with the exterior renovation complete and the interior work finished to a bare shell stage, the commission will look to sell the property. The buyer would need to maintain the property and undertake more renovation and remodeling in consideration of the property's historic designation.

Gray noted that with the major renovation now completed, the commission will likely seek to have the house listed in the National Registry of Historic Places.