Historian begins review of downtown Mount Holly

by Andrew Batten

The Top of the Line cleaners building, which formerly housed a bank, is one out of 19 structures that architectural historian Laura A.W. Phillips is researching.

The Mount Holly Community Development Foundation has hired an architectural historian to investigate the significance of more than a dozen downtown buildings.

Laura A.W. Phillips of Winston-Salem will review 19 commercial buildings in the 100 block of South Main Street and Central Avenue in the city’s downtown. The study is part of the foundation’s push to nominate the Mount Holly Downtown Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places.

Phillips will study buildings such as First Presbyterian Church, Mount Holly’s former town hall, the City Café restaurant, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and Top of the Line drycleaners, which operates in a former bank building.

Phillips, who has performed historical architecture investigations for more 30 years, has photographed the buildings’ exteriors and is beginning background research on each of the buildings.

Phillips will study the buildings outlined in red on the map above.

One particular tool she will use are maps of Mount Holly that contain detailed information on the buildings throughout time. The maps, known as Sanborn Maps, were created to assess fire insurance liability across the United States from the mid-1800s to 1970 and were updated every five years, according to the U.S. Library of Congress.

“They are very descriptive visually,” Phillips said. “So you can look at those sometimes and tell when things were built and often tell when changes were made to buildings.”

Her research will take her to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg library and state archives at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

But she won’t confine her research to books. “The foundation is in the process of identifying people who might be able to tell me something about the history of these buildings,” Phillips said.

She expects to complete her study by early spring.

Established by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register of Historic Places is the nation’s official list of buildings, structures, objects, sites and districts worthy of preservation for their significance in American history, architecture, archaeology and culture.

“It says that not only just local people think that this area is significant and should be preserved but also recognized at the state and national level,” Phillips said.

Listing a property in the National Register does not obligate or restrict the owner from altering the building. But the federal government does offer various incentives to assist private preservation.

Because these properties are businesses, owners can take a 20 percent credit on federal taxes and 20 percent credit on state taxes with the money they invest in rehabilitating the property.

“That is something that has been done all over North Carolina and has been tremendously helpful in many cases,” Phillips said.

The designation also would offer some protection against future government actions, such as road widening. A National Register listing does not provide absolute protection from federal actions that may affect the property, but if a federal initiative threatens preservation of a registered property, the N.C. Historic Preservation Office will negotiate with the responsible federal agency to eliminate or minimize the effect on the historic property.

The National Register, however, should not be confused with local historic property and historic district designations. Local governing boards, like the Gaston County Commission, make those designations based on the recommendation of local historic preservation commissions.

The National Register designation also could help in revitalizing Mount Holly’s downtown by raising public awareness, Barbara Lawrence, of the foundations’ Downtown Revitalization Committee, said. But in the end, the credit goes to people who took risks to open businesses in Mount Holly and get the town on the path it is pursuing today.

The National Register would “provide some promotion aspect, and it helps to bring together the history of the community, but it’s not just about the buildings themselves,” she said. “It’s about the history that went into businesses that established here early on in Mount Holly’s history.”

Did you like this? Share it:

Leave a Reply