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Historic Local Architecture

By Crissy Neville

Spires dot the skyline. Arches swell upwards. Columns punctuate sidewalks, inviting passersby to walk through. It’s a landscape woven with both new and old. Could it be a far-away country, an ancient province, a famed city? 

Try Fayetteville instead, and a preview of what you can see in her skies, streets and neighborhoods if you take a closer look. 

Architectural styles abound in both the historic residential district of the Haymount area and the downtown commercial district. Some of these properties are designated local landmarks. Some are on The National Registry of Historic Places. 

And one is among the 39 National Historic Landmarks in North Carolina. That’s the Market House, built in 1832 to replace the old State House which was incinerated in an 1831 fire. Built in a town hall-market style found in England – “market below and government above” – the Market House is not only architecturally unique in North Carolina, it’s one of only three structure of this fashion remaining in the entire country, according to local historian Bruce Daws. The Market House’s well-known edifice boasts both Gothic and Romanesque Revival style arches in addition to its cupola clock tower, an integration from English domestic architecture. 

Daws, director of the Fayetteville Area Transportation and Local History Museum, often conducts walking tours of the downtown area. The museum coordinates an annual public tour in conjunction with the Cumberland County Library.  The session includes a classroom component focusing on architectural styles and the walking tour to allow participants to see the design features first-hand along our city’s streets. If you missed this summer’s tour, held in June, stay tuned for next year’s date. Or visit the museum to discover other options.  

Daws sees the study of architecture and Fayetteville’s history as closely related.   

“Fayetteville was a colonial inland port located at the head of navigation on the Cape Fear River,” he explained. “Our history and architecture help us speak to that. The preservation of historical properties is a quality-of-life issue. Our old buildings and homes define our character and are a tangible link to the past.” 

Luckily for us, many structures in Fayetteville provide this bridge. Both the residential and historic districts reflect a wide range of architecture from the upright box shapes of the Federal period (late 1700s to early 1800s) to mid-20th century examples. 

What you won’t find, due to several fires, including the 1831 inferno that destroyed hundreds of downtown buildings, are many remaining structures from the Revolutionary War and colonial timeframe. But a few well-preserved examples can be seen on Dick Street, at a compound owned by the Heritage Square Historical Society. They include the Federal-style Sandford House; the Oval Ballroom, an example of Regency architecture; and the Baker-Haigh-Nimocks House, an example of Georgian architecture. 

There’s also Liberty Row, a group of 14 brick buildings on the north side of Person Street, so named due to events at Liberty Point in June of 1775. These buildings reflect vernacular Federal, Italianate and Romanesque Revival architecture. 

Finally, the Federal-style Cool Spring Tavern, erected in 1788, is believed to be the oldest existing structure in the city. 

With Fayetteville’s official charter date of 1762, such buildings, known both for their historical and architectural footprints, help tell the story of our city’s heritage. But from its charred remains, the city arose with both a nod to the classical designs of the past and with a new look too. 

One of downtown’s most prevalent architecture styles, seen in buildings erected after the 1831 fire through the late 1800s, is Greek Revival. Key elements of this style include classical tall columns and pediments, symmetrical features, horizontal transoms, moldings and embellishments. You can see more of these features in the 1840 Henry McLean House, the 1848 Taylor-Utley House, the former Waddill’s store of 1850, the 1853 Smith-Lauder home, the 1855 Kyle House (next to and now part of the St. John’s Episcopal Church complex), and the 1858 Phoenix Masonic Lodge. A number of the key details are commonly found on buildings of this style, although not all properties exhibit every characteristic. Structures may encompass other styles, too, which was another trend in this era referred to as eclecticism. For example, the Kyle House, with its decorative cornices, pedimented windows and doors and the balcony with the wrought-iron railing, also has characteristics of the Italianate form. 

Like Greek Revival, Romanesque Revival adheres to primarily classical rules. It is an architectural style of medieval Europe characterized by semi-circular arches, thick walls and pillars, large towers and symmetrical features. In England it is traditionally referred to as Norman architecture. You can see this type of architecture in the former Knights of Pythias Building, located on the southwest corner of Market Square, though some of the building’s prominent features were lost in the 1831 fire. Another commercial example of this style is the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railroad Depot built in 1890. Today this building is the Fayetteville Area Transportation and Local History Museum at 325 Franklin Street. 

Georgian-style homes were also popular in the mid-1850s. Fair Oaks at 1507 Morganton Road was constructed by the E.J. Lilly family in 1858 and typifies a Georgian house plan with Greek Revival and Italianate features. Likewise, the Devane-MacQueen House, circa 1855, found along N.C. Highway 87, is a two-story Georgian country house in our area. Identifiable attributes of this style include symmetrical form, multi-pane windows, a side-gabled or hipped roof, stone or brick walls, a transom window over a paneled front door, pediment at the front entry and cornice with dentils. 

A unique architectural form in this period was the Second Empire style, evidenced by the 1883 Mansard Roof House at 214 Mason Street and the 1841 Sedberry MacKethan Drugstore at the southeast corner of Market Square. The house and the store both have mansard roofs, particular features of Second Empire construction. Ornamentation is typical along these rooflines, including the likes of cast-iron railings, decorative metal work, gabled dormers and paired brackets. 

There are also many historical churches along the architectural trail in Fayetteville. Reminiscent of Romanesque Revival, the Gothic style, marked by pointed arches rather than rounded ones, developed in 12th century Europe and landed here in Fayetteville’s early days. The earliest example is that of St. John’s Episcopal Church, built in 1832 on Green Street to replace an earlier structure destroyed in the 1831 fire. The church’s parish hall and parsonage are a model of the Shingle style of architecture with Gothic and Spanish influence. 

Evans Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion, constructed in 1893-94 at 301 North Cool Spring Street, is another example, though the Gothic-style structure seen today was preceded by three earlier structures of the church, which was founded about 1796.  

Soon after the turn of the century, Hay Street United Methodist Church built its meeting house in the Gothic tradition at the corner of Old Street and Ray Avenue. The present-day First Baptist Church on Anderson and Old Streets was also built in this style in 1910. 

Also in the mid to late 19th century, Victorian architecture was making its debut. Victorian included interpretations and eclectic revivals of historic styles mixed with some Middle Eastern and Asian influences. The Sedberry-Holmes House, circa 1890, is a well-preserved Queen Anne-style house on Person Street that includes Victorian sunburst scrollwork and a polygonal corner turret with a pointed spire. It is a law office in current-day use. You should also see the 1855 John Davis House on Arsenal Avenue for further Victorian themes. The E.A. Poe House of 1897 is known for its Eastlake and “stick-built” exterior details and beautiful Victorian interior. Today it is a historic house museum that adjoins the Museum of the Cape Fear. 

As Cumberland County ushered in the 20th century, new – and familiar – architectural styles arrived. You can see signs of the late Victorian/Colonial Revival form in the 1897 Holt-Harrison house on Hay Street, with its symmetrical front façade and accented doorway. At the today’s Amtrak station – built in 1911 as the Atlantic Coastline Railroad Station – its gambrel roof is a sign of the Dutch Colonial Revival form. Observe Beaux Arts Style in the former U.S. Post Office built in 1911, home today to The Arts Council of Fayetteville-Cumberland County on Hay Street. View Mediterranean Revival in the Stein Building of 1916. Study Neoclassicism in the former Fayetteville City Hall of 1911 or the 1926 First Citizens Bank building – Fayetteville’s first true high-rise. 

Today, commercial and residential buildings constructed since the mid-1900s blend with the varied architecture styles of the past. They create a unique landscape giving us glimpses into the city’s past even as we move ever forward into our future.