Biddleville
By Brandon Lunsford

The Biddleville neighborhood emerged two miles northwest of center Charlotte in 1871 on land purchased by the Reverend Stephen Mattoon, first president of what was then called Biddle University. The university was founded in 1867 by white Presbyterian ministers as one of the oldest historically African American colleges in the South, and became the center of a thriving African American community. Colonel William R. Myers offered the ministers a prominent hilltop site on Beatties Ford Road that finally became the permanent home of Biddle University, named after a local Union major killed in the Civil War. The founders’ vision was to educate young African Americans to become “teachers and preachers,” and its first president bought the land adjacent to the college so that his teachers could build homes close to their work.

Around the turn of the century, electric streetcar service was extended to the college, and many prosperous African Americans resided there and commuted into town so that their children could benefit from the environment of the university. The suburbs of Western Heights and Roslyn Heights were built, followed closely by Washington Heights, Wesley Heights, and Seversville. Whites as well as prominent African Americans populated many of the early neighborhoods, and Biddle’s presidents and faculty were all white until the 1890s. By the 1920s, the area was almost entirely African American, and a collection of businesses owned and patronized by black citizens clustered on Beatties Ford along the trolley line. These included two landmarks that are still there today: the Excelsior Club, one of the city’s first elite African American social clubs, and the building that housed the Grand Theater, Biddleville’s movie house.

Biddle University grew in the 1920s under the leadership of President Henry McCrorey, and received funding from The Duke Endowment as well as from other benefactors such as Andrew Carnegie. The school changed its name to Johnson C. Smith University in 1923 after the widow of Johnson Crayne Smith of Pennsylvania donated funds to build several new buildings on campus. McCrorey also created the prestigious neighborhood of McCrorey Heights along the north side of Beatties Ford Road beyond the campus, which became home to many prestigious residents, including civil rights activists Rev. J.A. DeLaine and Reginald Hawkins in the 1940s.

Around the same time, African American barber and civic leader Thad Tate opened streets into farmland he owned along the left side of Beatties Ford, and donated land for what became West Charlotte High School in 1938. After World War II the University Park, Smallwood Homes, and Crestview subdivisions also emerged, and despite the Brookshire Freeway project wiping out most of the black businesses on the edge of the city in the 1960s, Biddleville survived mostly intact from the devastation that urban renewal brought to many of the city’s African American areas.

In the 2000s, people again were attracted to Biddleville’s proximity to downtown, and new development spread across the Northwest Corridor. Dr. Ronald Carter took the helm at Johnson C. Smith University in 2008, bringing a fresh vision of community engagement and a determination to spark development along West Trade Street and to link the University firmly to downtown. Today the mixed-use Mosaic Village project and the JCSU Arts Center close to the skyline are two of the university’s signature construction projects, and a new streetcar line scheduled to open by 2025 will once again bring prominence and investment to an area that has long been a showcase for African American prosperity in Charlotte.


Sources:

Hanchett, Thomas. “Biddleville-Five Points Neighborhood Guide.” Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission. http://www.cmhpf.org/kids/neighborhoods/Biddleville.html

Inez Moore Parker Archives at Johnson C. Smith University.

Parker, Inez Moore. The Biddle-Johnson C. Smith University Story, 1975.

Biddleville