Myers Park Charlotte NC - A Planner's Vision, Now History
In my former life, I worked at Charlotte Memorial Hospital (which is now Carolinas Medical Center) as a registered nurse . A physician with whom I worked, (who is no longer living), knew how much I loved history so, he graciously gave me a mini-history lesson every time we spoke! There were so many lessons and I was able to do a little writing over the years to keep a tiny bit of what I learned from him. Oh, how I wish I had a blog back then--I would have been able to write enough to fill 4 or 5 books!
I was recently contacted by a family member of Earle Sumner Draper. I sent her the following information that I had and attached a photo of the home now. The information is a combination of what Dr. Thompson taught me and what I have gathered since then. There is a new lesson in each and every day - we just have to listen and learn!
In 1911, John Nolen (Charlotte City Planner) hired a young graduate of Massachusetts Agricultural College (now the University of Massachusetts), Earle Sumner Draper, to design and supervise the work, creating Myers Park Charlotte NC. The bright and talented young Draper, shared fellow planners' Nolen and Olmsted’s passion for nature and use of the natural curvature of the paths around which they were going to build an historic community, quite possibly the most prominent, beautiful area in Charlotte. Draper arrived by train to his newly adopted city in October of 1915. A landscape design by Earle Draper was a bonus to purchasing property in Myers Park. In addition to working and supervising the Myers Park development, Earle Draper spent one day per month supervising the construction of the new town of Kingsport, TN. In 1917, just two years after coming to Charlotte, Draper, with his mentor's (John Nolen) approval, hung his own shingle, going into business for himself.
Draper's firm was quite possibly the first firm owned by a professionally trained landscape architect in the Southeast. Draper was a participant in the boom times of the late 1910’s and 1920’s throughout the South. He later expanded his firm to service branch offices in Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and New York city, employing between 20 and 30 people. His firm, one of the five largest in the United States, designed over 100 suburbs, including parts of Myers Park and Eastover (which the two were formerly known simply as Myers Park) as well as many parks, a resort development at Lake Lure, cemeteries and college campuses, including a portion of both Davidson and Winthrop Colleges. Draper also designed about 150 mill villages or village extensions, quite possibly designing more mill villages than any firm in the U.S.
In 1918, Draper purchased a piece of land on Queens Road in Myers Park and held onto it until 1923, when he finally erected a house in the neighborhood that brought him to Charlotte. The property, just 3 blocks north of Queens College (now Queens University), was located on the main boulevard, through which the streetcar line ran right down the middle. Charlotte architect Franklin Gordon (1870-1930), one of the senior architects of the city, designed Draper’s new Charlotte home. Gordon had a passion for the English Tudor style, which is probably the reason that Draper selected him to design the home. Clement Construction Company (builders of Duke University’s gothic stone buildings) build the home in about 8 months at a cost of $40 - $45K. Of course, Draper provided his own landscape design of the property. The family crest, carved in stone, prominently rests on the face of the chimney. The gorgeous new English Tudor provided a showplace for his prospective clients.
Earle Draper, his wife Norma, and their three boys (another boy and a girl were born over next few years) moved into the handsome, angled Tudor home. The Drapers resided there for nine years and enjoyed a typical upper-middle-class life, employing a full time cook (for whom they built a small apartment addition with bath downstairs behind the kitchen), a maid and a chauffeur-handyman, as well as paid gardening help. The children, who played in the large attic on rainy days (and got into much mischief there, according to E. S. Draper, Jr.) were chauffeured to school in Elizabeth until 1928, when Myers Park Elementary was opened to serve that area. There were flower gardens in the back and sides of the house, as well as a backyard pool that boasted a gorgeous marble fountain. A stone cherub holding a goose which the Drapers had purchased on a trip to Italy in 1922 put the finishing touch on the lovely backyard retreat.
With the Great Depression affecting the nation’s economy, Draper’s reduced the staff of his firms and took a job offered him by Dr. Arthur Morgan, chairman of the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority). In 1932, Earle Sumner Draper was named the Director of Town Planning and Housing for the TVA. Draper left his businesses under the supervision of Harold Burdsley and moved to Tennessee. In 1940, he was offered a position with the FHA (Federal Housing Administration), which wanted him to be involved in new town development but, ultimately spent the next 5 years managing war housing throughout the U.S. In 1945, President Truman named Earle S. Draper the Acting Commissioner of the FHA. At the close of the War, Draper remained in DC for the remainder of his career as a consultant and in 1965, retired in Vero Beach, FL.
Earle Draper owned the Tudor house on Queens Road for its first 12 years, during which time it was rented to a series of tenants. In 1944, Thomas F. Kerr and his wife purchased the Draper home. The Kerrs rehabilitated the home, which remains a fine piece of Tudor architecture in Myers Park Charlotte, North Carolina.
Earle Sumner Draper launched a successful career which led to national recognition, living the part of the upper-middle-class lifestyle in Charlotte in the 1920’s. The Tudor house on Queens Road is, without question, a classic representation of a significant part of Charlotte’s history—the creation of Charlotte’s premier Myers Park community.
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