Lake Norman & Mooresville

Historic farmhouse preserves the past

In many ways, a drive down Neck Road in Huntersville is a trip back in time.

Many of the buildings along the rural stretch date back to the early 1900s and some even before that. They tell the story of a slower time in Mecklenburg County, when cotton farming was a common profession and more people lived in the rural part of the county than the urban center.

"As we've become more urbanized, it's become increasingly important to preserve our historical properties," said Zac Gordon, principal planner with the town of Huntersville.

To that extent, town officials and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission are expected to award the highest level of protection to one of the area's most well preserved historical homes in February: the Lawing Farmhouse at 6100 Neck Road.

Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church, which owns the property, requested the designation. The church plans to make the home into a museum about African American churches once they receive the designation, said church member Pearlie Cureton-Borders.

At a meeting last week, Huntersville town commissioners held a public hearing on whether the property should be designated a historical landmark.

Built around 1924 by a well-known family in the Hopewell section of the county, the Lawing Farmhouse is a well preserved, early 20th century farmhouse and is a good example of the kind of home that yeoman farmers in the county lived in, said Stewart Gray, a preservation planner with the county commission.

Harry Campbell Lawing's family first came to the United States from Wales in the 1700s. Ultimately, they settled along Neck Road, not far from Beatties Ford Road, and became members of Hopewell Presbyterian Church in Huntersville.

When Harry Campbell Lawing had his home built about 1924 on a parcel of family land, agriculture was already on the decline in the area.

Although the post Civil-War years proved to be a prosperous time for Mecklenburg County farmers, the turn of the 20th century signaled the end of agricultural dominance.

By 1910, the urban population surpassed the rural population in the county for the first time in its history.

"Huntersville is a very historically rich area because it was the location of many important plantation houses," said Dan Morrill, consulting director for the Historic Landmarks Commission. "A local landmark designation will offer the highest level of protection to the Lawing Farmhouse."

Under state law, a historic landmark designation means that the property owner cannot make any alterations to the home without approval from the historic landmarks commission. This is in order to protect the historical integrity of the home.

"A well preserved rural farmhouse in a rural setting is atypical in Mecklenburg County," said Gray, adding that, unlike urban properties, those in rural settings tend to display vernacular architecture.

For example, experts believe it was Harry Campbell Lawing's cousin, Frank Lawing, and other town members who built the Lawing Farm House in the 1920s, not an actual architecture company.

"This house is incredibly well preserved. It has such a high degree of integrity that if Mr. Lawing would go back, he would recognize the house," said Gray.

The designation also means if the property owner wants to demolish the house, the commission can delay that for up to a year, and the town board in Huntersville could acquire the house through eminent domain.

There are 19 other properties that hold a historic landmark designation within the town's jurisdiction.

Once the home is designated and restored, Cureton-Borders said it will be turned into a museum to help explain how black churches emerged from white churches.

Cureton-Borders said many slaves attended the nearby, predominantly white Hopewell Presbyterian Church, which is where the Lawings were members.

"Once the Africans came over, they became a part of the white church and learned the Christian religion," said Cureton-Borders. "We would certainly want to include Hopewell as a part of the story. It would be impossible to tell the story without mentioning the white church, because one emerged from the other."

Cureton-Borders said the museum would include church artifacts, touch on the influence religion had on every aspect of life in the black community and point to other churches in the area that have historical roots.

In order to receive the historic landmark designation, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission and the Huntersville town board will have public hearings. The commission will hold its public hearing Feb. 7, and the town will vote on the designation at its Feb. 21 meeting.

"It's a great thing for the community to come together and identify a historic resource that they value and want to save," said Gray. "These historic buildings are artifacts that help tell the story of Mecklenburg County."