Antebellum White Collar Workplace Architecture and Design

Antebellum White Collar Workplace Architecture and Design

Does anyone know what offices would have looked like in the U.S. roughly between 1830-1860? In particular, did clerks and others work in a more open plan environment, or did people tend to have their own rooms in a building? If the former, I'm curious about what divided work spaces, and, if the latter, what the doors would have looked like (would names of positions be on plaques, absent, or on signs… etc.).

(FYI: I know the term White Collar didn't come into play until later in the century but I couldn't think of a better word!)

The Open Office and the Spirit of Capitalism

I t would be too much to say that the office is the prime locus of utopian aspirations in American life. But the claim wouldn’t be entirely misleading, either, and it might even shed some light on what the office actually is. From their earliest days as dingy counting houses in Boston and Manhattan, American offices have adapted to the flux of capitalism. Or capitalisms, really. Each new management technique or architectural fad, if not the direct result of some larger shift in modes of production, at least isomorphically reflects the evolution of capitalism’s spirit. From Taylorism to the open-plan design, the office is a stage on which we act out capitalism’s fantasies of itself. Set changes are necessary as the spirit shifts and the plot develops.

But does capitalism actually have a spirit? And what does it mean to claim that it does? Language that flirts so casually with poetic analogy demands a basis in some kind of formal definition. One can find worse sources for that clarity than Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, who in their book The New Spirit of Capitalism (Verso, 2018) provide brief and maximally efficient definitions of both “capitalism” and “the spirit of capitalism.”

Capitalism, they write, is “an imperative to unlimited accumulation of capital by formally peaceful means.” 1 They elaborate that capitalism, as an economic and social imperative, is something more than the mere existence of a market economy: “capitalism is to be distinguished from market self-regulation based upon conventions and institutions, particularly of a legal and political character, aimed at ensuring equal terms between traders (pure, perfect competition), transparency, symmetry of information, a central bank guaranteeing a stable exchange rate for credit money, and so on.” 2 The spirit of capitalism, meanwhile, is simply “the ideology that justifies engagement with capitalism.” 3

Of course, the phrase “spirit of capitalism” invokes Max Weber, who, with more specificity than Boltanski and Chiapello, took it to mean the moral and ethical stories we tell ourselves in order to justify acquisition, if not outright avarice. But notice how broad the more recent definition is. It’s generous enough, in fact, to include even the current critiques of capitalism, in some ways artifacts of the system they’re responding to. And so the spirit of capitalism, in this larger sense, encompasses both the methods available for unlimited accumulation of capital and the changing ways we address the social and psychological anxieties which these methods produce. The spirit of capitalism is not false consciousness or alienation, but rather the economic and social cosmology that we inevitably inhabit.

Perhaps the office itself is simply the most immediate and concrete representation of this cosmology, in which the seemingly contradictory forces of capitalism play off of and synthesize with one another. The currently fashionable open-office plan—a design which attempts to incorporate the creative fluidity of a tech start-up with the stability of the “traditional” office—is only the most recent example of conflicting motivations inhabiting the workplace (or workspace, as they’re now called). The layout of such an office isn’t new, nor are the general conceptual arrangements associated with it. But the context has changed. Technology is shifting. New management styles have developed. The notion of the company itself is already different from what it was even a generation ago. To understand where we are and how we got here requires rummaging through office spaces of the past and reading them like hieroglyphics. It requires an archeology of the present.

The Tribe of Clerks

I should have stated before that ground glass folding-doors divided my premises into two parts, one of which was occupied by my scriveners, the other by myself. According to my humor I threw open these doors, or closed them. I resolved to assign Bartleby a corner by the folding-doors, but on my side of them, so as to have this quiet man within easy call, in case any trifling thing was to be done. I placed his desk close up to a small side-window in that part of the room, a window which originally had afforded a lateral view of certain grimy back-yards and bricks, but which, owing to subsequent erections, commanded at present no view at all, though it gave some light. Within three feet of the panes was a wall, and the light came down from far above, between two lofty buildings, as from a very small opening in a dome. Still further to a satisfactory arrangement, I procured a high green folding screen, which might entirely isolate Bartleby from my sight, though not remove him from my voice. And thus, in a manner, privacy and society were conjoined. 4

Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” is the urtext of American work literature, at least superficially familiar to anyone who has taken an undergraduate American literature course. A lawyer officed on Wall Street hires a clerk, Bartleby, who after initially doing commendable work begins to refuse assignments with the cryptic phrase “I would prefer not to.” Bartleby’s refusal seems to take on cosmic proportions and eventually culminates in his quasi-sacrificial death by starvation in The Tombs. Putting aside the obvious metaphysical readings of the story, let us focus instead on Melville’s rendering of an antebellum office. Containing the same basic accoutrements of our contemporary offices, most notably desks and seated employees gainfully employed in interpreting and organizing abstract symbols, Bartleby’s work space would have been instantly familiar to us.

But what might have struck us about the space? The heaviness and the intimacy. Including an office boy called Ginger Nut, only five people work in the office, and there’s constant interaction between the employees and their one single boss. The room is dark, graced only by indirect sunlight, and even the window faces yet another wall. Ad hoc partitions are raised in order to achieve some sort of “privacy,” but the divisions between things—between employees, between employees and the boss, between their enterprise and the outside world—feel invariably “weighty,” to use a Melville word. This is a proto-office, not entirely focused on efficiency but instead trying for a sort of reluctant détente between the idiosyncratic personalities of the employees and the industriousness necessitated by the work. Fitting with the spirit of capitalism of the time, the walls were really to separate the clerks from the laborers.

When “Bartleby” was published in 1853, not many Americans worked in an office. Even as late as the 1880s, fewer than 5 percent of Americans were involved in clerical work. During the nineteenth century, most Americans were, of course, farmers. But the steady rise in the number of clerks towards the turn of the century, and hence the development of the office, would come as a response to the Industrial Revolution. Nikil Saval writes of this shift in his exhaustive study of the office, Cubed (Doubleday, 2014):

Industrialization in Britain and America was producing more and more administrative work, and alongside it a need for a rational approach to managing accounts, bills, ledgers: in short, paperwork. Rising to take these positions were clerks, who, looking around, began to see themselves growing in number, and to feel themselves as belonging vaguely to a special group. One finds the evolution of the office coinciding, then, with a change in the position of the clerks themselves—a new restiveness on their part, a new sense of power. 5

Thus clerks—a category of workers who since the invention of bureaucracy had been a toiling class defined in large part by long hours hunched over correspondence or ledgers—began to perceive themselves as distinct from both the laborers (outside of the office) and the boss (usually only in the singular at this point). This new sense of power that Saval describes expressed itself, among other ways, in the dapper clothes of the clerk, setting them apart visually and symbolically from the men toiling away on the factory floor. In his short story “The Man of the Crowd,” Edgar Allan Poe describes younger clerks as

young gentlemen with tight coats, bright boots, well-oiled hair, and supercilious lips. Setting aside a certain dapperness of carriage, which may be termed deskism for want of a better word, the manner of these persons seemed to me an exact facsimile of what had been the perfection of bon ton about twelve or eighteen months before. They wore the cast-off graces of the gentry—and this, I believe, involves the best definition of the class. 6

One of these “cast-off graces” was the white collar itself—often raised, starched stiff, and sold as detachable from the shirt it was connected to. Saval writes of the white collar that it was “an essential status marker . . . the perfect symbol of the pseudo-genteel, dual nature of office work.” 7

“Dual nature” is right. For as highly as the clerks regarded themselves, their professional success was precariously dependent on the personal whims of the bosses they worked next to, cheek to jowl, in the closed confines of a relatively small work space. The intimacy must have provided the thrilling illusion that Melville’s partitions could be scaled through sheer drudgery alone.

But penetrating that comfortable semblance of informality were technological and managerial changes which revolutionized the office as it entered the twentieth century. The buildings which clerks worked in began to be built taller, and with elevators. Office-specific objects such as the typewriter and file cabinet were invented. But, perhaps most important, the railroads were built. With the coming of rail lines, time and space itself were organized and systematized on a radically unprecedented scale. As Alfred D. Chandler Jr. explained in The Visible Hand (Harvard University Press, 1977):

The swift victory of the railway over the waterway resulted from organizational as well as technological innovation. Technology made possible fast, all-weather transportation but safe, regular, reliable movement of goods and passengers, as well as the continuing maintenance and repair of locomotives, rolling stock, and track, roadbed, stations, roundhouses and other equipment, required the creation of a sizable administrative organization. It meant the employment of an administrative command of middle and top executives to monitor, evaluate, and coordinate the work of managers responsible for the day-to-day operations. It meant, too, the formulation of brand new types of internal administrative procedures and accounting and statistical controls. Hence, the operational requirements of the railroads demanded the creation of the first administrative hierarchies in American business. 8

It was inevitable that the simultaneous expansion of bureaucracy and the Gilded Age consolidation of firms into monopolies would be expressed in managerial methodology. This new system was pioneered and implemented by Frederick “Speedy” Taylor, the prickly visionary who sought to break labor down to its bare essentials by separating it from skill or knowledge. By dissecting tasks into their component steps, and then assigning an employee a single step, Taylor sought to completely rationalize office management. Gone were the days of jocular lunches with the boss in an office with only a handful of employees. Once Taylorized, office life became less communal and more anonymous. Personality mattered less than the number of seconds it took to walk a paper to a file cabinet. And office spaces themselves changed physically in response to the new management methods. The new offices were larger, occupying multiple floors, and wide open, in order to accommodate the growing legions of white-collar workers staffing a modern business. There was also less privacy. As Saval writes, “Offices became massive overheads for Taylorist operations, with organizational charts to designate, down to the minutest detail, the labor process that workers once carried within their own heads. Offices grew enormous simply to house all the new white shirts, with their stopwatches and charts. Even where Taylorism in its strictest form wasn’t adopted—and, indeed, this was true of most offices—its spirit of management spread far and wide.” 9 And here enters into the American mythos the imposing character of the efficiency expert, the outsider who descends from another world to level the phrase—as much an accusation as it is a question—“What is it you’d say you actually do here?”

This nascent field of scientific management balanced Taylorism against another and more insidious form of control. What might be mistaken as an innocuous concern for the “whole person” outside of their role as an employee could just as easily be read as an attempt at a more total colonization of the individual. Days might have been long in the old counting house, but work and home were distinct. Melville’s allegorical barriers between office and street, between employees and boss, and between work and life felt insurmountable. But jump sixty years into the future and glimpse into the new cathedral of American industry, the Larkin Building, and the barricades have all vanished. The number of clerks has metastasized and their jobs have been subdivided into discrete tasks. The unavoidable intimacy of Bartleby’s office had been replaced by a bland anonymity, an atomization that was only amplified by banal corporate team-building activities. There’s a YWCA on-site, as well as the opportunity to write for the employee-run newspaper. There are places in the building for employees to relax and rejuvenate. And the building itself, with its open central atrium rich with natural light, is as conducive to worker morale as it is useful for employers to observe and measure their employees’ every move. Every major aspect of the burgeoning spirit of twentieth-century capitalism coalesced in the Larkin Building, including the fact that it was more than a building. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it was also a work of art, and an integral part of Larkin’s brand. The counting house hadn’t just been rationalized and expanded, it was also in the process of turning itself inside out. It would unfold its inner logic to the world.

Starting from Zero

The quasi-Victorianism of Taylor’s revolutionary management methods—its abstraction of office work into rational and measurable components—required a centralization of administrative power which grew relatively unabated through the Second World War. The chasm between executives, managers, and the innumerable ranks of lower-level functionaries seemed to grow wider than ever. And, in addition to that, barriers between white-collar office workers and factory floor laborers solidified even further during the 1920s and 1930s. As these formal partitions strengthened, the no-longer-nascent science of industrial management developed in kind.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the proliferation of both Taylorism and novel office technologies didn’t do all that much to reduce the drudgery of white-collar work. Instead, the study of office-worker morale became a field in its own right. Industrial sociologists, usually with a good-faith belief that the contentment of the employee is symbiotically related to a total increase in firm productivity, conducted experiments on how the psychological states of workers contributed to the health of the firm. It wasn’t just the movements of office workers that were tracked, measured, and manipulated—their thoughts and feelings became the prime focus of corporate exploitation in what might be called “Taylorism 2.0.” And what was learned from this new level of invasive management? The most representative case has to be Elton Mayo’s “Hawthorne Experiment,” his study of how different kinds of lighting affected employees. 10 The shocking takeaway, which in some ways echoed contemporary developments in particle physics, was that the only thing really affecting employee performance was the act of being observed itself.

This breach into the bare interiority of employees was reflected in the changing architecture of the office itself. It was no longer enough to simply provide a desk within earshot of the boss, as in the old counting houses, or to rationalize and control each movement of the employee, as in the Taylorized workplace. By the mid-twentieth century, the spirit of American capitalism, having confronted the specters of both the Great Depression and fascism, required a more expansive raison d’être than simple faith in material progress or individual achievement. It required an ideology of the whole man. And, just as important, it required a way of symbolically conveying this ideology to a growing consumer public. Cutting-edge management techniques and faux-radical chic had to be expressed by the exterior of the office as well as on the inside. It wasn’t enough that the products being sold to a country of growing middle-class consumers were advertised to address their most profound existential desires. The corporate ethos had to maintain the illusion as well. And what better way to convey these lofty ambitions than with an ideologically charged architecture that simultaneously presented the illusions of optimism and transparency?

The mid-century glass skyscraper that we associate with the International Style finds its roots in the comically tragic fecundity of competing ideologies in interwar Germany, specifically in the Bauhaus Group in Weimar. Bauhaus was just one of many “schools” of utopian thought in European architecture at the time. As Tom Wolfe sarcastically described it, “It was more than a school it was a commune, a spiritual movement, a radical approach to art in all its forms, a philosophical center comparable to the Garden of Epicurus.” 11 The defining phrase of the Bauhaus “leader” (these movements all had leaders as surely as they had manifestos), Walter Gropius, was “starting from zero,” which in practice meant throwing out thousands of years of hard-earned architectural wisdom from Vitruvius onward in favor of “anti-bourgeois” political gesticulations. What this produced in practice was buildings which were meant to be thought about rather than lived in, “anti-bourgeois” having come to signify machine precision, zero decorative flair, and a minimalism so weighted with intellectual pretension that it made baroque whimsy and the Gothic yearning for transcendence seem humble by comparison.

Yet at the beginning of the twentieth century, America was in many ways more industrially sophisticated than Germany. As James Howard Kunstler explains in The Geography of Nowhere (Simon & Schuster, 1993), the basic form inspiring European architects was a copy of a wooden shoe factory building in Beverly, Massachusetts. It was rebuilt verbatim at Alfeld-an-der-Leine in Germany in 1910, with the “skin job,” or outer edifice, contrived by a young Gropius. 12 “The result was a building that looks like the prototypical American junior high school: three stories of beige brick, big steel-sash windows, and the soon-to-be canonical flat roof,” writes Kunstler. 13 Le Corbusier, the apogee of modernist architectural vapidity, was himself “one of the earliest advocates for Taylorism in France.” 14 European intellectuals abstracted these utilitarian buildings and concepts from the native specificity of their American context, and then agitated for the world to conform to their freshly theorized ideal. But it was America that pioneered the commodification of these ideals in the guise of the prestige office building.

New York’s Seagram Building, designed by Mies van der Rohe and completed in 1958, is a synecdoche for the failed ambitions of the International Style in office architecture. Wolfe pithily captions a photo of the building: “The Seagram Building. Mies pitches worker housing up thirty-eight stories, and capitalists use it as a corporate headquarters.” It offered an aesthetic of functionality not to be confused with the real thing. For example, in order to maintain a visual sense of uniformity, van der Rohe designed the blinds in his glass building to only have three settings. Wolfe describes the result: “In the great corporate towers, the office workers shoved filing cabinets, desks, wastepaper baskets, potted plants up against the floor-to-ceiling sheets of glass, anything to build a barrier against the panicked feeling that they were about to pitch headlong into the streets below. Above these jerry-built walls they strung up makeshift curtains that looked like laundry lines from the slums of Naples, anything to keep out that brain-boiling, poached-eye sunlight that came blazing in every afternoon.” 15 This impractical symbolic dialogue at the expense of office workers’ comfort belied both the ideological pretensions and the illusion of transparency that the buildings projected.

The same dynamic was echoed inside of these modernist offices: Machine-crafted objects, sleek with minimal lines, embodied an ethos of modularity. Drop ceilings, developed to hide the raw innards of wires and beams, were industrial Mondrian. Cheap fluorescent lights flickered over cubicles deep within the windowless center of the building. And the file cabinet was itself a kind of office building in miniature. “Each office within the skyscraper is a segment of the enormous file, a part of the symbolic factory that produces the billions of slips of paper that gear modern society into its daily shape,” wrote C. Wright Mills. 16 The modularity and order imposed on the office by the grand architectural minds of Europe perfectly suited the mid-century zeitgeist, and the new orthodoxy of office architecture theory proliferated in only slightly modified form in a million American office parks. But the modernist ideology still remained rooted in the specificity of place. In its next transformation, the counting house wouldn’t just turn into a tower of glass, it would relocate within the human mind itself.

The Office Opened and Dematerialized

By the sixties, the grand paranoia of the Cold War and the stifling conformity of contemporary office life blurred nebulously in the public mind, and rightfully so. Books about the corporate colonization of the total man proliferated: The Lonely Crowd, The Organization Man, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Gestures at office democratization, such as excluding an executive wing from the Connecticut General Life Insurance building, 17 were mostly empty, the corporate power structure being obvious no matter where the bosses were physically located. As Thomas Frank writes in The Conquest of Cool, “What happened in the sixties is that hip became central to the way American capitalism understood itself and explained itself to the public.” 18 What Frank means by “hip” is that Taylorist work ethic and mid-century organizational loyalty were disregarded as narratives of white-collar identity, replaced by an au courant sense of personal liberty. This emphatic shift, along with advances in communications technology, would first crack the office open before dematerializing it.

According to one account, the genesis of the open office can be traced to the day when Jay Chiat, CEO of the advertising agency ChiatDay, “had a vision on the ski slopes of Telluride.” 19 That the peak experiences of corporate executives can result in the restructuring of our daily lives in the most intimate and subtle ways is a popular if disturbing notion, but it isn’t entirely accurate to say that the open office plan began in the mind of Chiat. In addition to Hamburg industrialists experimenting with proto-open offices in the fifties, 20 there was also Herman Miller’s “Action Office” 21 design system meant to facilitate the free movement of individual employees. Yet none of these designs entirely did away with privacy, and each at least nominally gestured towards the same general workstations as clerks had in counting houses. What Chiat enlisted designer Gaetano Pesce to build in 1994, however, was quietly revolutionary: an office without paper. NPR’s Stacey Vanek Smith explains:

So this sounds kind of mundane. But if you think about it, this was profound. I mean, most of the things we think of as being associated with an office are essentially paper-management devices—staplers, hole punches, file folders, file cabinets. And, if you think about it, even desks are pretty much just there to hold paper. But this was 1994. You didn’t really need paper all that much anymore. There were laptops. There was email. 22

The result was something that resembled a cross between a warehouse, a conference room, and a college rec center. Without a need for walls, desks, offices, or file cabinets, employees seemed to “move through an improved dimension in a radically fluid arrangement of space” designed to keep the firm in a “state of creative unrest,” the New York Times reported. 23

Open offices proliferated with the same abandon as Taylorism and the International Style did previously. According to the New Yorker, 70 percent of American offices now have an open plan of some sort. 24 Gone are the creativity-stifling partitions between workers, the redundant file cabinets, and outmoded modular design.

The borderless fluidity of open offices seems perfectly suited to the ambitions of the internet age—while also replicating its failed aspirations toward “connectivity.” Just as hyper-modulated online interactions, contrary to the promise of their conceptual foundations, cordon people into niche micro experiences, 25 so the open office counterintuitively isolates office workers. A recent study from Harvard Business School confirms this deterioration of face-to-face interaction. 26 The head researcher for the study, Ethan Bernstein, told Forbes:

in general, I do think the open office space “revolution” has gone too far. If you’re sitting in a sea of people, for instance, you might not only work hard to avoid distraction (by, for example, putting on big headphones) but—because you have an audience at all times—also feel pressure to look really busy. Indeed, all of the cues in open offices that we give off to get focused work done also make us less, not more, likely to interact with others. That’s counterproductive, at least given the rhetoric of open offices. 27

This sort of counterproductivity can be particularly anxiety-inducing. A constant din of sound serves as the backdrop to conditions in which workers are observed more intrusively than even the Taylorists could have imagined. And yet, contrary to what the Taylorists might have predicted, these panopticon offices are actually counterproductive in the literal, economic sense of the term as well. A growing body of research describes their deleterious effects on workers’ efficiency, with one study estimating that open offices cause a 15 percent reduction in productivity. 28

Fittingly, the philosopher Byung-Chul Han classifies the signature affliction of our current age as neuronal violence, as opposed to the “immunological” violence of last century, which took place along clearly demarcated borders. With barriers literally down, the paranoid totalizing of the corporate office space comes to embody the ethos of Foucault’s disciplinary society, with one important twist. What replaces the disciplinary society, Han tells us, is the “achievement society.” Now the question is no longer, “What am I allowed to do?” but “What can I do?” This shift is profound. It takes us from the firmly hierarchical paranoia and conformity of the skyscraper to the depressed, ADHD-afflicted chaos of the open office space. The company man was never allowed to be himself. The unpaid intern, by contrast, must always be performing himself. The result of the now largely dematerialized office is that this very performance of self becomes the office. Han is worth quoting at length on this:

The society of laboring and achievement is not a free society. It generates new constraints. Ultimately, the dialectic of master and slave does not yield a society where everyone is free and capable of leisure, too. Rather, it leads to a society of work in which the master himself has become a laboring slave. In this society of compulsion, everyone carries a work camp inside. This labor camp is defined by the fact that one is simultaneously prisoner and guard, victim and perpetrator. One exploits oneself. It means that exploitation is possible even without domination. 29

The purpose of the open office was always self-exploitation. It exists like some evolutionary link between the confined counting houses of the past and the dematerialized configurations of “the office” yet to come. Tracing the arc of the office’s development through time, and then anticipating its curve beyond, we could do worse than to extrapolate from existing data points like the shared workspace, working remotely, and the commodification of daily life into internet content (think here of unboxing videos or the selling of consumer preference data). Jonathan Crary writes in 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (Verso, 2013): “As the opportunity for electronic transactions of all kinds becomes omnipresent, there is no vestige of what used to be everyday life beyond the reach of corporate intrusion. An attention economy dissolves the separation between the personal and professional, between entertainment and information, all overridden by a compulsory functionality that is inherently and inescapably 24/7.” 30 What this suggests is that as the office walls come down, so will the temporal and ideological barriers separating work from nonwork. The office of the future, in other words, won’t be a place, but an identity. The office of the future will be your most intimate conceptions of self, somehow put to work.

I imagine a character like Eddie Morra from the film Limitless as the Bartleby of the future. In Limitless, Morra is a blocked writer who takes a nootropic, “mind-enhancing” drug which allows him to not only write a book that his publishers are happy with, but to become an expert investor. He also dresses nicer and acts more urbane.

The title of the film is revealing here, not so much as a hyperbolic reference to Morra’s cognitive abilities but as a signifier of the liberation of the office from physical space into the neural web of the brain itself. “Limitless” does not denote a liberation from constraints, but confinement within a near infinity of accelerated “sameness”—what Han identifies as the inability to escape the self. The emancipatory promise of the drug in Limitless, an amplified version of students taking Ritalin to study, is predicated upon the maximization of the achievement society into the core of self-identity. “Not many of us know what it’s like to become the perfect version of ourselves,” Morra says at one point. 31 And yet how banal that the highest function of the human mind culminates in day-trading. How banal that the highest purpose of the human mind is an instrumental function at all.

If the failure of the open office concept is any indication, the total internalization of the spirit of capitalism will not represent an escape from its contradictions. It is only an advanced stage of its afflictions.

This article originally appeared in American Affairs Volume II, Number 4 (Winter 2018): 202–16.

2 Boltanski and Chiapello, 5.

3 Boltanski and Chiapello, 8.

4 Herman Melville, The Piazza Tales (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1987), 19.

5 Nikil Saval, Cubed (New York: Anchor Books, 2014), 13.

6 Edgar Allan Poe, Poems, Tales, and Selected Essays (New York: Library of America, 1996), 389.

8 Alfred D. Chandler Jr., The Visible Hand (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977), 87.

10 “The Hawthorne Effect,” Economist, November 3, 2008.

11 Tom Wolfe, From Bauhaus to Our House (New York: Picador, 1981), 8.

12 James Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere (New York: Touchstone, 1994), 68.

16 C. Wright Mills, White Collar (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 189.

18 Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 26.

19 Planet Money, “Open Office,” episode 704 (transcript), NPR, Aug. 8, 2018.

20 Maria Konnikova, “The Open-Office Trap,” New Yorker, Jan. 7, 2014.

23 Herbert Muschamp, “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Ad World,” New York Times, Oct. 16, 1994.

26 Ethan S. Bernstein and Stephen Turban, “The Impact of the ‘Open’ Workspace on Human Collaboration,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 373, no. 1753 (August 19, 2018): 20170239.

27 Christian Camerota, “The Open Office Revolution Has Gone Too Far,” Forbes, July 26, 2018.

29 Byung-Chul Han, The Burnout Society (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015), 19.

30 Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (London: Verso, 2013), 75–76.

31 Limitless (film), dir. Neil Burger (Beverly Hills: Relativity), 2011.

About the Author

Scott Beauchamp’s writing has appeared in the Paris Review, the Atlantic, the Dublin Review of Books, and the New Criterion. His book Did You Kill Anyone? is forthcoming from Zero Books.

Also by Scott Beauchamp

Nikil Saval (The Bat Segundo Show #544)

Was there ever an age in which the office provided reasonable security for the worker? Is it possible for the office worker to be given respect and adequate compensation in the 21st century? We talk with Nikil Saval, author of CUBED, to figure out how a system designed to pit office workers against each other went wrong. It turns out that misguided philosophy, austere architectural developments, and a carefully manufactured belief culture against organized labor are all part of a very complicated narrative we all take for granted.

Nikil Saval is the author of Cubed and an editor at n+1.

Subjects Discussed: Karen Nussbaum and the Nine to Five movement, 9 to 5 as the template for the office comedy, whether the office workplace is permanently stacked against the worker (and attempts to find hope), the beginnings of human resources, the Hawthorne effect, efforts to control workers through close supervision, attention to light and the beginnings of office architecture, the National Labor Relations Act, attempts to organize office workers in the 1930s, anti-immigrant sentiments and racism among white collar workers, unions and white collar workers, why workers feel empowered when they have nothing, the rise of freelancing culture, Richard Greenwald, how office work creates the illusion of giving the worker mastery over his fate, the Bürolandschaft ideal, Robert Propst, Action Office, the historical beginnings of the cubicle, attempts to track down the guy who first closed partitions into the cubicle, Norbert Wiener and cybernetics, King Vidor’s The Crowd, Jacques Tati’s Play Time, futile attempts to photograph “action” in offices, sitting up and standing down, healthy activities in the workplace, Propst’s failed three wall ideal, Herman Miller propaganda and Action Office possibilities, when George Nelson was jilted from the office furniture plans, how changes in the broader culture influenced changes in office culture, managers pulled from offices and deposited in cubes, Barry Lyndon, the impact of mass layoffs, the recession of the 1980s and its impact on white collar culture, when the cubicle became associated with transience, the lack of privacy in the workplace, why European countries revolted against office layout while Americans stayed silent, Frederick Taylor and Taylorism, Taylorism’s rise and fall and second rise, Louis Brandeis’s popularization of Taylorism through “scientific management” (used in his argument of the Eastern Rate Case of 1910), Taylorized families, Harry Braverman, the beginnings of human resources, Taylorism vs. eugenics, Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man, Douglas McGregor’s The Human Side of Enterprise as an anti-Taylorist tract, Andy Grove’s Only the Paranoid Survive as a return to Taylorism, Robert Waterman’s In Search of Excellence, perpetuating familial attitudes in the workplace, advertising and irony (and parallels to Taylorism), Taylorism vs. Taylor in Planet of the Apes, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Larkin Building, natural light and the early forms of air conditioning, surveillance by overseers that is perpetuated in workplace architecture, zombie-like accountants, the ethical question of happy workers, the beginnings of glass buildings, Le Corbusier and urban planning, the Lever House, when glass curtains won over Lewis Mumford, Vico cycles, how offices may be returning to their original counting house forms, the Sony Tower’s transformation from work units to residential units in the next few years, the question of workplace architecture becoming an ineluctable and oppressive threat on the way we live, mistaken impressions of Marxism spouted by philosophers, companies spending less on office space, developments in living space and workspace, laptops in cafes, freelancers and co-working facilities, the upward presumptions of clerks, and how once stable labor conditions have become a fantasy.

Correspondent: We are, in fact, talking in an office. So I’m not sure what that does to this conversation. But we’ll, I suppose, make amends.

Saval: I know. Well, at least it’s a private office and not a cubicle. Because that could be a…

Correspondent: Or an open office for that matter.

Saval: Or an open office. God.

Correspondent: Well, let’s get right into it. Back in the late 1970s, Jane Fonda met Karen Nussbaum, a remarkable figure who organized women clerical workers in this Nine to Five movement. And Fonda and a screenwriter spent an entire evening talking with 40 office workers. This became the basis for the wildly popular movie 9 to 5, which arguably set the template, comic wise, for Office Space, The Office, and, of course, most recently Silicon Valley. As you point out in the book, some of the proposed remedies at the end of that film — plants, rearranged desks, flextime, day care at work — they actually reflect what’s know as the Bürolandschaft ideal. And we’ll get to that in a bit. But, you know, this has me wondering if there is something permanently broken about the office. Is it possible that any attempt to remedy it or improve it is almost this kind of neoliberal trap? What hopes do we have for the worker? Or is the deck permanently stacked against her?

Correspondent: Just to start off here.

Correspondent: It was such a wonderfully bleak book that I had to have a vivaciously bleak opener.

Saval: Gosh. I wish I could just say, “No no no. The story’s happy. It has a happy ending.” You know, I don’t really mean to say that the workplace is permanently broken. I guess I do want to say that the kind of repeated — as you pointed out, there’s a repeated attempt to make work better, usually through design but also through other kind of arrangements in the workplace. Architecturally and what have you. And a lot of these go wrong. And some of them go spectacularly wrong the most famous being the office cubicle. And I think the point there is not just that the office seems to be broken, but that there is some sense of an idea of how work might be better and there is an idea of somehow you might be able to organize it better, somehow work might be more free, workers might have more control over their work. Things like that. And usually these are sort of fatally disabled by — I mean, it’s not always the case, but usually, roughly, it’s a presumption that these designers or planners know what’s best for an office worker. And there’s usually something imposed on an office worker. Or there’s a plan that starts out really well and then when it’s replicated ad nauseam, it goes wrong or it doesn’t even strike at the heart of what’s wrong at work and they try to design a way things are more fundamental to the issue of the workplace.

Correspondent: But as you also point out in the book, there is this brief moment for the worker — and perhaps it’s an illusional one or a delusional one — where you have a situation when suddenly there is care about what the worker thinks and how the worker can behave, as opposed to how the worker should behave. And I’ll get into Mr. [Frederick] Taylor in a bit. But what accounted for that particular moment, which was roughly around 1929 and up through about the 1950s, before yet another ideologue came in and had ideas about what to do for the worker and for the workplace?

Saval: Well, yeah, that’s, I guess you could call it, the human relations movement. That was the idea that…

Correspondent: That’s the 1960s of the office. (laughs)

Correspondent: That’s the hippie idealism, I suppose. That period.

Saval: Yeah. And it comes out of a lot of different sources. And one was just the office, but it was also the workplace. It took hold on factory floors as well. And the idea was just that workers needed to be in corporations that somehow ostensibly cared for them. It came out of what was known as the Hawthorne experiments, which are a famous social science experiment where they tried in the Hawthorne Works to experiment with different lighting levels and to see how this affected the way people worked. And what they realized was that actually there wasn’t a direct connection. It wasn’t that the light got better and workers worked better or got worse and workers worked better. It was just that when workers thought they were being watched — at least this was the conclusion — they felt like the company cared about them. And therefore they worked better. And so, especially at a time — this was not so true in the 󈧘s, but certainly in the 󈧢s this was true — when there were union movements, when there were the high points of the American labor movement, corporations and companies just felt that things were not going their way and they did not want unions in their workplaces. And so they thought, “Well, we just need to become more familial. We need to care more. We need to manage more lightly. We need to think of our workers’ psychology, not just their efficiency and their productivity.” And I think this results in all kinds of changes in the workplace. I sort of argue that even the architecture of the workplace somehow reflects this desire to make work better, to make workers feel more at home. Maybe with the mid-century corporation, I think I suggest that with things like the Lever House, the Seagram Building, the attention to light and to design and the explosion of design at that time in the workplace — even the idea that a workplace interior should be thoroughly planned and designed — I think reflects this attempt to make workers happy.

Correspondent: Do you think that many of the behavioral psychologists and these people who were looking into lighting were thinking very much about unions? I mean, we often forget from our — well, to get into the decline of labor in the 21st century is another can of worms, but we often forget from our vantage point now how much pull labor had in the early 20th century. And I’m wondering, in the attempt to determine how workers were feeling, how much was that a presence? How much was that a motivation? Or was it simply just innate curiosity? Or the kind of touchy-feely vibe we were implying earlier?

Saval: You know, certainly with industrial workplaces, it was definitely, absolutely a fear. Partly because union organizing, it just spiked, especially after the passage of the Wagner Act, the National Labor Relations Act. With the office, I don’t think there was a huge worry about it. I did some, to me, very fascinating but probably to other people very tedious archival work where I looked into the proceedings of the International Association of Office Managers, or rather I think it’s the National Association, and there’s a point in the 󈧢s when they really express worries about this and they think, “Well, it’s really taken a hold on factories and even some offices are starting to unionize.” And there actually is, more than there used to be, in certain publishing houses. The New Republic organizes at the time, with something affiliated with the Communist Party. And so you have people talking about how the last redoubt of capitalism, the place where individualism thrives. The office. Even this is under threat. And so we really need it. I mean, once this goes, I think there’s a little bit of a sense that — and again it was not so widespread, but they were definitely afraid, I think.

Correspondent: Well, you do in fact quote the possibly apocryphal Samuel Gompers line, “Show me two white collar workers on a picket line and I’ll organize the entire working class.” Why didn’t office workers latch onto labor? You suggest that there is this assumption that their talents and their skills could in fact give them an independent shot. And I suppose, I guess we see the natural offshoots of this kind of libertarian impulse with some of the tech entrepreneurs that came later. But I’m wondering. Why couldn’t there be some sort of confluence here? Because it seems to me that everybody here had the same interests in mind.

Saval: Yeah. This is sort of the central contradiction of the white collar workplace. I mean, it’s just that there is, on the one hand, you have this ideal of this perfect meritocracy, that certainly the managers talk about this in their association, that you can rise — and this was true in the early antebellum offices especially. And it made more sense then. If you were a clerk, you would become the partner of that firm. And that lasted even past the point that that was true. When some offices became much larger, business became bigger and there were only so many places at the top and many more places at the bottom. So it was just less and less likely.

Correspondent: Toil long enough at the firm and you will ascend to heaven when you’re dead.

Saval: (laughs) Right.

Correspondent: It’s a very familiar promise.

Saval: Right. Exactly. So the way that persists is partly that there’s just a lot of — that it makes sense. It was true for some people. And that had some effect. It made people think that it was true in the office. There’s something about the prestige and status of white collar work that has made it different from blue collar work, especially in the U.S. politically. It just seems like it’s cleaner. The work often required a high command of English. So when there were a lot of high waves of immigration into the United States, there weren’t a lot of immigrants working in white collar workplaces. So there was a kind of homogeneity. And then, of course, also it was very male up to a point. And then when women entered the office, they often entered into the steno pool, a typing pool, to jobs that didn’t have high levels of prestige so that men could feel themselves above in a way, could still feel like they were middle class even when they maybe weren’t. And the other thing — and I talk about this a little bit in a chapter about the skyscrapers — was that there were not a lot of appeals on the part of unions or political parties in the U.S. to white collar workers. It was not clear how to organize them.

Correspondent: It was not clear how to get through to them.

Saval: Yeah. Exactly. The whole model was predicated on industrial organizing. And this doesn’t mean that it didn’t work in a number of cases, a can of worms which I don’t deal with which is the public sector. Because I think it’s a different animal. Can of worms. Animal. Anyway.

Correspondent: Let’s mix as many metaphors as you like. ( laughs) But this leads me to wonder. Why couldn’t these very dedicated labor unions get through to the white collar worker? I mean, they had — and again I cannot understate this — they had incredible power at the time.

Correspondent: How could they not actually have the communication skills or the fortitude or even the ability to massage their message? Why couldn’t they get through? I mean, they did try. There’s an AFL magazine article you quote, addressed to the white collar workers, where essentially the author says, “Hey. Look after yourselves. You want to think about the future.” But it seems to me that they needed to go further. I mean, what was the disconnect here?

Saval: You know, it just seems like a number of things. One was just the persistence of the idea that upward mobility was a given. And in periods where there are high levels, it’s mainly growth. I think of times like the 1920s, even when inequality widens, union influence starts to dip after a kind of high point in the late 1910s. And then in the 󈧢s, the union influence in the office increases. Because white collar unemployment becomes a real thing. But then it dips again in the 󈧶s and then it starts to spike up in the 󈨊s. And then actually in the 󈨔s, when things really actually go wrong for a little bit.

Correspondent: With Reagan and the air traffic controllers.

Saval: Yeah. And then it hasn’t really — I mean, you would think that and you would think now in the last four years that it would increase. I feel like I’ve read of isolated cases. But it’s not a trend. There’s a union organizer who I quote, writing in Harper’s in the 󈧶s — he’s an anonymous organizer — about why white collar workers can’t be organized. And he seems to think that there’s a way in which white collar workers see themselves, even though they are exploited. He says they are the most exploited workers in a certain way. But they see themselves as possessing certain skills, whereas an assembly line worker will talk about the industry that he works in. “I work in the auto industry.” Whereas a white collar worker will refer to his or her profession. “I’m a stenographer” or “I’m a typist.” “I’m a bookkeeper.” And that way of talking indicates that you’re able to move. That you have a skill that other people prize. And I don’t know if that’s a sufficient reason for people not to organize. But it sort of means that you need to talk about different things. And it’s not always the case. People do organize. It has happened. But this was his reason anyway.

Correspondent: In other words, with this particular notion, the suggestion is that one had a kind of linguistic independent identity. One had a label to hold as his own, whereas the organized worker would relate to an industry. This leads me to wonder why that notion of independence was, number one, so appealing to the worker and, number two, why they didn’t see, especially after toiling for many decades and not getting anywhere, that it was all a sham.

Saval: Yeah. It remains a sort of intractable question. But the notion of independence is powerful. And you even see that now in the rise of freelancing or contract work, which I do not want to attribute that too much to people choosing to do that all the time. I mean, there is a lot of it.

Correspondent: The sexiness of having to go ahead and pay for your own health care. Having to look for pennies under the couch. It’s just such a remarkably romantic ideal, isn’t it?

Saval: It’s so freeing. It’s liberating. But on the other hand, there are people who choose to do it. And what they’re seeking is a certain kind of freedom and autonomy over their work.

Thank to the negligent conditions of slave barracks, child mortality was high on slave plantations. Most scholars estimate the rate to be about 66% but on one rice plantation, this rate was estimated to be as high as 90%.

Much of the demand for Southern US cotton came from England, where it was exported on masse. Although the South would end up warring with Northern territories over the right to own slaves, England, which remained neutral during the Civil War, had previously had significant demand for slave-produced goods.


The European roots of the United States originate with the English settlers of colonial America during British rule. The varieties of English people, as opposed to the other peoples on the British Isles, were the overwhelming majority ethnic group in the 17th century (population of the colonies in 1700 was 250,000) and were 47.9% of percent of the total population of 3. 9 million. They constituted 60% of the whites at the first census in 1790 (%: 3.5 Welsh, 8.5 Scotch Irish, 4.3 Scots, 4.7 Irish, 7.2 German, 2.7 Dutch, 1.7 French and 2 Swedish). [2] The English ethnic group contributed to the major cultural and social mindset and attitudes that evolved into the American character. Of the total population in each colony, they numbered from 30% in Pennsylvania to 85% in Massachusetts. [3] Large non-English immigrant populations from the 1720s to 1775, such as the Germans (100,000 or more), Scotch Irish (250,000), added enriched and modified the English cultural substrate. [4] The religious outlook was some versions of Protestantism (1.6% of the population were English, German and Irish Catholics).

Jeffersonian democracy was a foundational American cultural innovation, which is still a core part of the country's identity. [5] Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia was perhaps the first influential domestic cultural critique by an American and was written in reaction to the views of some influential Europeans that America's native flora, fauna, including humans, were degenerate. [5]

Major cultural influences have been brought by historical immigration, especially from Germany in much of the country, [6] Ireland and Italy in the Northeast, Japan in Hawaii. Latin American culture is especially pronounced in former Spanish areas but has also been introduced by immigration, as has Asian American cultures (especially on the West Coast).

Native culture remains strong in areas with large undisturbed or relocated populations, including traditional government and communal organization of property now legally managed by Indian reservations (large reservations are mostly in the West, especially Arizona and South Dakota). The fate of native culture after contact with Europeans is quite varied. For example, Taíno culture in U.S. Caribbean territories is nearly extinct and like most Native American languages, the Taíno language is no longer spoken. In contrast, the Hawaiian language and culture of the Native Hawaiians has survived in Hawaii and mixed with that of immigrants from the mainland U.S. (starting before the 1898 annexation) and to some degree Japanese immigrants. It occasionally influences mainstream American culture with notable exports like surfing and Hawaiian shirts. Most languages native to what is now U.S. territory have gone extinct, [ citation needed ] and the economic and mainstream cultural dominance of English threatens the surviving ones in most places. The most common native languages include Samoan, Hawaiian, Navajo language, Cherokee, Sioux, and a spectrum of Inuit languages. (See Indigenous languages of the Americas for a fuller listing, plus Chamorro, and Carolinian in the Pacific territories.) [7] [ better source needed ] Ethnic Samoans are a majority in American Samoa Chamorro are still the largest ethnic group in Guam (though a minority), and along with Refaluwasch are smaller minorities in the Northern Mariana Islands.

American culture includes both conservative and liberal elements, scientific and religious competitiveness, political structures, risk taking and free expression, materialist and moral elements. Despite certain consistent ideological principles (e.g. individualism, egalitarianism, and faith in freedom and democracy), American culture has a variety of expressions due to its geographical scale and demographic diversity. The flexibility of U.S. culture and its highly symbolic nature lead some researchers to categorize American culture as a mythic identity. [8]

The United States has traditionally been thought of as a melting pot, with immigrants contributing to but eventually assimilating with mainstream American culture. However, beginning in the 1960s and continuing on in the present day, the country trends towards cultural diversity, pluralism, and the image of a salad bowl instead. [9] [10] [11] Throughout the country's history, certain subcultures (whether based on ethnicity or other commonality, such as the gay village) have dominated certain neighborhoods, only partially melded with the broader culture. Due to the extent of American culture, there are many integrated but unique social subcultures within the United States, some not tied to any particular geography. The cultural affiliations an individual in the United States may have commonly depended on social class, political orientation and a multitude of demographic characteristics such as religious background, occupation, and ethnic group membership. [1]

Colonists from the United States formed the now-independent country of Liberia.

Semi-distinct cultural regions of the United States include New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the South, the Midwest, the Southwest, and the West—an area that can be further subdivided into the Pacific States and the Mountain States.

The west coast of the continental United States, consisting of California, Oregon, and Washington state, is also sometimes referred to as the Left Coast, indicating its left-leaning political orientation and tendency towards social liberalism.

The South is sometimes informally called the "Bible Belt" due to socially conservative evangelical Protestantism, which is a significant part of the region's culture. Christian church attendance across all denominations is generally higher there than the national average. This region is usually contrasted with the mainline Protestantism and Catholicism of the Northeast, the religiously diverse Midwest and Great Lakes, the Mormon Corridor in Utah and southern Idaho, and the relatively secular West. The percentage of non-religious people is the highest in the northeastern state of Vermont at 34%, compared to 6% in the Bible Belt state of Alabama. [12]

Strong cultural differences have a long history in the U.S., with the southern slave society in the antebellum period serving as a prime example. Social and economic tensions between the Northern and Southern states were so severe that they eventually caused the South to declare itself an independent nation, the Confederate States of America thus initiating the American Civil War. [13]

Although the United States has no official language at the federal level, 28 states have passed legislation making English the official language, and it is considered to be the de facto national language. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, more than 97% of Americans can speak English well, and for 81%, it is the only language spoken at home. The national dialect is known as American English, which itself consists of numerous regional dialects, but has some shared unifying features that distinguish it from other national varieties of English. There are four large dialect regions in the United States—the North, the Midland, the South, and the West—and several smaller dialects such as those of New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston. A standard dialect called "General American" (analogous in some respects to the received pronunciation elsewhere in the English-speaking world), lacking the distinctive noticeable features of any particular region, is believed by some to exist as well it is sometimes regionally associated with the Midwest. American Sign Language, used mainly by the deaf, is also native to the United States.

More than 300 languages besides English have native speakers in the United States—some are spoken by indigenous peoples (about 150 living languages) and others imported by immigrants. In fact, English is not the first language of most immigrants in the US, though many do arrive knowing how to speak it, especially from countries where English is broadly used. [14] This not only includes immigrants from countries such as Canada, Jamaica, and the UK, where English is the primary language, but also countries where English is an official language, such as India, Nigeria, and the Philippines. [14]

According to the 2000 census, there are nearly 30 million native speakers of Spanish in the United States. Spanish has official status in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, where it is the primary language spoken, and the state of New Mexico various smaller Spanish enclaves exist around the country as well. [15] Bilingual speakers may use both English and Spanish reasonably well and may code-switch according to their dialog partner or context, a phenomenon known as Spanglish.

Indigenous languages of the United States include the Native-American languages (including Navajo, Yupik, Dakota, and Apache), which are spoken on the country's numerous Indian reservations and at cultural events such as pow wows Hawaiian, which has official status in the state of Hawaii Chamorro, which has official status in the commonwealths of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands Carolinian, which has official status in the commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Samoan, which has official status in the commonwealth of American Samoa.

Languages spoken at home in the United States, 2017 [16]
Language Percentage of the total population
English only 78.2%
Spanish 13.4%
Chinese 1.1%
Other 7.3%

In the late-18th and early-19th centuries, American artists primarily painted landscapes and portraits in a realistic style or that which looked to Europe for answers on technique: for example, John Singleton Copley was born in Boston, but most of his portraiture for which he is famous follow the trends of British painters like Thomas Gainsborough and the transitional period between Rococo and Neoclassicism. The later 18th century was a time when the United States was just an infant as a nation and as far away from the phenomenon where artists would receive training as craftsmen by apprenticeship and later seeking a fortune as a professional, ideally getting a patron: Many artists benefited from the patronage of Grand Tourists eager to procure mementos of their travels. There were no temples of Rome or grand nobility to be found in the Thirteen Colonies. Later developments of the 19th century brought America one of its earliest native homegrown movements, like the Hudson River School and portrait artists with a uniquely American flavor like Winslow Homer.

A parallel development taking shape in rural America was the American craft movement, which began as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution. As the nation grew wealthier, it had patrons able to buy the works of European painters and attract foreign talent willing to teach methods and techniques from Europe to willing students as well as artists themselves photography became a very popular medium for both journalism and in time as a medium in its own right with America having plenty of open spaces of natural beauty and growing cities in the East teeming with new arrivals and new buildings. Museums in Chicago, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. began to have a booming business in acquisitions, competing for works as diverse as the then more recent work of the Impressionists to pieces from Ancient Egypt, all of which captured the public imaginations and further influenced fashion and architecture. Developments in modern art in Europe came to America from exhibitions in New York City such as the Armory Show in 1913. After World War II, New York emerged as a center of the art world. Painting in the United States today covers a vast range of styles. American painting includes works by Jackson Pollock, John Singer Sargent, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Norman Rockwell, among many others.


Architecture in the United States is regionally diverse and has been shaped by many external forces. U.S. architecture can therefore be said to be eclectic, something unsurprising in such a multicultural society. [17] In the absence of a single large-scale architectural influence from indigenous peoples such as those in Mexico or Peru, generations of designers have incorporated influences from around the world. Currently, the overriding theme of American Architecture is modernity, as manifest in the skyscrapers of the 20th century, with domestic and residential architecture greatly varying according to local tastes and climate.


Theater of the United States is based in the Western tradition and did not take on a unique dramatic identity until the emergence of Eugene O'Neill in the early twentieth century, now considered by many to be the father of American drama. O'Neill is a four-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the only American playwright to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. After O'Neill, American drama came of age and flourished with the likes of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Lillian Hellman, William Inge, and Clifford Odets during the first half of the 20th century. After this fertile period, American theater broke new ground, artistically, with the absurdist forms of Edward Albee in the 1960s.

Social commentary has also been a preoccupation of American theater, often addressing issues not discussed in the mainstream. Writers such as Lorraine Hansbury, August Wilson, David Mamet and Tony Kushner have all won Pulitzer Prizes for their polemical plays on American society.

The United States is also the home and largest exporter of modern musical theater, producing such musical talents as Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, George and Ira Gershwin, Kander and Ebb, and Stephen Sondheim. Broadway is one of the largest theater communities in the world and is the epicenter of American commercial theater.


American music styles and influences (such as rock and roll, jazz, rock, techno, soul, country, hip-hop, blues) and music based on them can be heard all over the world. Music in the U.S. is diverse. It includes African-American influence in the 20th century. The first half of this century is famous for jazz, introduced by African-Americans. According to music journalist Robert Christgau, "pop music is more African than any other facet of American culture." [18]


Television is a major mass media of the United States. Household ownership of television sets in the country is 96.7%, [19] and the majority of households have more than one set. The peak ownership percentage of households with at least one television set occurred during the 1996–97 season, with 98.4% ownership. [20] As a whole, the television networks of the United States is the largest and most syndicated in the world. [21]

As of August 2013, approximately 114,200,000 American households own at least one television set. [22]

Due to a recent surge in the number and popularity of critically acclaimed television series, many critics have said that American television is currently enjoying a golden age. [23] [24]

There is a regard for scientific advancement and technological innovation in American culture, resulting in the creation of many modern innovations. The great American inventors include Robert Fulton (the steamboat) Samuel Morse (the telegraph) Eli Whitney (the cotton gin, interchangeable parts) Cyrus McCormick (the reaper) and Thomas Edison (with more than a thousand inventions credited to his name). Most of the new technological innovations over the 20th and 21st centuries were either first invented in the United States, first widely adopted by Americans, or both. Examples include the lightbulb, the airplane, the transistor, the atomic bomb, nuclear power, the personal computer, the iPod, video games, online shopping, and the development of the Internet.

This propensity for application of scientific ideas continued throughout the 20th century with innovations that held strong international benefits. The twentieth century saw the arrival of the Space Age, the Information Age, and a renaissance in the health sciences. This culminated in cultural milestones such as the Apollo moon landings, the creation of the Personal Computer, and the sequencing effort called the Human Genome Project.

Throughout its history, American culture has made significant gains through the open immigration of accomplished scientists. Accomplished scientists include Scottish-American scientist Alexander Graham Bell, who developed and patented the telephone and other devices German scientist Charles Steinmetz, who developed new alternating-current electrical systems in 1889 Russian scientist Vladimir Zworykin, who invented the motion camera in 1919 Serb scientist Nikola Tesla who patented a brushless electrical induction motor based on rotating magnetic fields in 1888. With the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, a large number of Jewish scientists fled Germany and immigrated to the country, including theoretical physicist Albert Einstein in 1933.

Education in the United States is and has historically been provided mainly by the government. Control and funding come from three levels: federal, state, and local. School attendance is mandatory and nearly universal at the elementary and high school levels (often known outside the United States as the primary and secondary levels).

Students have the option of having their education held in public schools, private schools, or home school. In most public and private schools, education is divided into three levels: elementary school, junior high school (also often called middle school), and high school. In almost all schools at these levels, children are divided by age groups into grades. Post-secondary education, better known as "college" in the United States, is generally governed separately from the elementary and high school system.

In the year 2000, there were 76.6 million students enrolled in schools from kindergarten through graduate schools. Of these, 72 percent aged 12 to 17 were judged academically "on track" for their age (enrolled in school at or above grade level). Of those enrolled in compulsory education, 5.2 million (10.4 percent) were attending private schools. Among the country's adult population, over 85 percent have completed high school and 27 percent have received a bachelor's degree or higher. [25]

Among developed countries, the U.S. is one of the most religious in terms of its demographics. According to a 2002 study by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, the U.S. was the only developed nation in the survey where a majority of citizens reported that religion played a "very important" role in their lives, an opinion similar to that found in Latin America. [26] Today, governments at the national, state, and local levels are secular institutions, with what is often called the "separation of church and state". The most popular religion in the U.S. is Christianity, comprising the majority of the population (73.7% of adults in 2016). [27] [28]

Although participation in organized religion has been diminishing, the public life and popular culture of the United States incorporates many Christian ideals specifically about redemption, salvation, conscience, and morality. Examples are popular culture obsessions with confession and forgiveness, which extends from reality television to twelve-step meetings. Americans expect public figures to confess and have public penitence for any sins or moral wrongdoings they may have caused. According to Salon, examples of inadequate public penitence may include the scandals and fallout regarding Tiger Woods, Alex Rodriguez, Mel Gibson, Larry Craig, and Lance Armstrong. [29]

Several of the original Thirteen Colonies were established by English settlers who wished to practice their own religion without discrimination or persecution: Pennsylvania was established by Quakers, Maryland by Roman Catholics, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony by Puritans. Separatist Congregationalists (Pilgrim Fathers) founded Plymouth Colony in 1620. They were convinced that the democratic form of government was the will of God. [30] They and the other Protestant groups applied the representative democratic organization of their congregations also to the administration of their communities in worldly matters. [31] [32] Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania added religious freedom to their democratic constitutions, becoming safe havens for persecuted religious minorities. [33] [34] [35] The first Bible printed in a European language in the Colonies was by German immigrant Christopher Sauer. [36]

Modeling the provisions concerning religion within the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the framers of the United States Constitution rejected any religious test for office, and the First Amendment specifically denied the central government any power to enact any law respecting either an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise. In the following decades, the animating spirit behind the constitution's Establishment Clause led to the disestablishment of the official religions within the member states. The framers were mainly influenced by secular, Enlightenment ideals, but they also considered the pragmatic concerns of minority religious groups who did not want to be under the power or influence of a state religion that did not represent them. [37] Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence said: "The priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot." [38]

The United States observes holidays derived from events in American history, Christian traditions, and national patriarchs. Thanksgiving is the principal traditionally-American holiday, evolving from the English Pilgrim's custom of giving thanks for one's welfare. Thanksgiving is generally celebrated as a family reunion with a large afternoon feast. Independence Day (or the Fourth of July) celebrates the anniversary of the country's Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, and is generally observed by parades throughout the day and the shooting of fireworks at night.

Christmas Day, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, is widely celebrated and a federal holiday, though a fair amount of its current cultural importance is due to secular reasons. European colonization has led to some other Christian holidays such as Easter and St. Patrick's Day to be observed, though with varying degrees of religious fidelity.

Halloween is thought to have evolved from the ancient Celtic/Gaelic festival of Samhain, which was introduced in the American colonies by Irish settlers. It has become a holiday that is celebrated by children and teens who traditionally dress up in costumes and go door to door trick-or-treating for candy. It also brings about an emphasis on eerie and frightening urban legends and movies. Additionally, Mardi Gras, which evolved from the Catholic tradition of Carnival, is observed in New Orleans, St. Louis, Mobile, Alabama, and numerous other towns.

Federally recognized holidays of the United States [39]
Date Official Name Remarks
January 1 New Year's Day Celebrates beginning of the Gregorian calendar year. Festivities include counting down to midnight (12:00 am) on a preceding night, New Year's Eve. The traditional end of the holiday season.
Third Monday of January Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., or Martin Luther King Jr. Day Honors Martin Luther King Jr., Civil Rights leader, who was actually born on January 15, 1929 combined with other holidays in several states.
First January 20 following a Presidential election Inauguration Day Observed only by federal government employees in Washington D.C., and the border counties of Maryland and Virginia to relieve traffic congestion that occurs with this major event. Swearing-in of President of the United States and Vice President of the United States. Celebrated every fourth year. Note: Takes place on January 21 if the 20th is a Sunday (although the President is still privately inaugurated on the 20th). If Inauguration Day falls on a Saturday or a Sunday, the preceding Friday or following Monday is not a Federal Holiday
Third Monday of February Washington's Birthday Washington's Birthday was first declared a federal holiday by an 1879 act of Congress. The Uniform Holidays Act, 1968, shifted the date of the commemoration of Washington's Birthday from February 22 to the third Monday in February. Many people now refer to this holiday as "Presidents' Day" and consider it a day honoring all American presidents. However, neither the Uniform Holidays Act nor any subsequent law changed the name of the holiday from Washington's Birthday to Presidents' Day. [40]
Last Monday of May Memorial Day Honors the nation's war dead from the Civil War onwards marks the unofficial beginning of the summer season. (traditionally May 30, shifted by the Uniform Holidays Act 1968)
July 4 Independence Day Celebrates Declaration of Independence, also called the Fourth of July.
First Monday of September Labor Day Celebrates the achievements of workers and the labor movement marks the unofficial end of the summer season.
Second Monday of October Columbus Day Honors Christopher Columbus, traditional discoverer of the Americas. In some areas it is also a celebration of Italian culture and heritage. (traditionally October 12) celebrated as American Indian Heritage Day and Fraternal Day in Alabama [41] celebrated as Native American Day in South Dakota. [42] In Hawaii, it is celebrated as Discoverer's Day, though is not an official state holiday. [43]
November 11 Veterans Day Honors all veterans of the United States armed forces. A traditional observation is a moment of silence at 11:00 am remembering those killed in the war. (Commemorates the 1918 armistice, which began at "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.")
Fourth Thursday of November Thanksgiving Day Traditionally celebrates the giving of thanks for the autumn harvest. Traditionally includes the consumption of a turkey dinner. The traditional start of the holiday season.
December 25 Christmas Celebrates the Nativity of Jesus.

The United States has few laws governing given names. Traditionally, the right to name your child or yourself as you choose has been upheld by court rulings and is rooted in the Due Process Clause of the fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. This freedom, along with the cultural diversity within the United States has given rise to a wide variety of names and naming trends.

Creativity has also long been a part of American naming traditions and names have been used to express personality, cultural identity, and values. [44] [45] Naming trends vary by race, geographic area, and socioeconomic status. African-Americans, for instance, have developed a very distinct naming culture. [45] Both religious names and those inspired by popular culture are common. [46]

A few restrictions do exist, varying by state, mostly for the sake of practicality (e.g., limiting the number of characters due to limitations in record-keeping software).

Fashion in the United States is eclectic and predominantly informal. While the diverse cultural roots of Americans are reflected in their clothing, particularly those of recent immigrants, cowboy hats and boots, and leather motorcycle jackets are emblematic of specifically-American styles.

Blue jeans were popularized as work clothes in the 1850s by merchant Levi Strauss, a German-Jewish immigrant in San Francisco, and adopted by many American teenagers a century later. They are worn in every state by people of all ages and social classes. Along with mass-marketed informal wear in general, blue jeans are arguably one of US culture's primary contributions to global fashion. [47]

Though the informal dress is more common, certain professionals, such as bankers and lawyers, traditionally dress formally for work, and some occasions, such as weddings, funerals, dances, and some parties, typically call for formal wear.

Some cities and regions have specialties in certain areas. For example, Miami for swimwear, Boston and the general New England area for formal menswear, Los Angeles for casual attire and womenswear, and cities like Seattle and Portland for eco-conscious fashion. Chicago is known for its sportswear, and is the premier fashion destination in the middle American market. Dallas, Houston, Austin, Nashville, and Atlanta are big markets for the fast-fashion and cosmetics industries, alongside having their own distinct fashion sense that mainly incorporates cowboy boots and workwear, greater usage of makeup, lighter colors and pastels, “college prep” style, sandals, bigger hairstyles, and thinner, airier fabrics due to the heat and humidity of the region.

In the 1800s, colleges were encouraged to focus on intramural sports, particularly track, field, and, in the late 1800s, American football. Physical education was incorporated into primary school curriculums in the 20th century. [48]

Baseball is the oldest of the major American team sports. Professional baseball dates from 1869 and had no close rivals in popularity until the 1960s. Though baseball is no longer the most popular sport, [49] it is still referred to as "the national pastime." Also unlike the professional levels of the other popular spectator sports in the U.S., Major League Baseball teams play almost every day. The Major League Baseball regular season consists of each of the 30 teams playing 162 games from April to September. The season ends with the postseason and World Series in October. Unlike most other major sports in the country, professional baseball draws most of its players from a "minor league" system, rather than from university athletics.

American football, known in the United States as simply "football," now attracts more television viewers than any other sport and is considered to be the most popular sport in the United States. [50] The 32-team National Football League (NFL) is the most popular professional American football league. The National Football League differs from the other three major pro sports leagues in that each of its 32 teams plays one game a week over 17 weeks, for a total of 16 games with one bye week for each team. The NFL season lasts from September to December, ending with the playoffs and Super Bowl in January and February. Its championship game, the Super Bowl, has often been the highest rated television show, and it has an audience of over 100 million viewers annually. [ citation needed ]

College football also attracts audiences of millions. Some communities, particularly in rural areas, place great emphasis on their local high school football team. American football games usually include cheerleaders and marching bands, which aim to raise school spirit and entertain the crowd at halftime.

Basketball is another major sport, represented professionally by the National Basketball Association. It was invented in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891, by Canadian-born physical education teacher James Naismith. College basketball is also popular, due in large part to the NCAA men's Division I basketball tournament in March, also known as "March Madness."

Ice hockey is the fourth leading professional team sport. Always a mainstay of Great Lakes and New England-area culture, the sport gained tenuous footholds in regions like the American South since the early 1990s, as the National Hockey League pursued a policy of expansion. [51]

Lacrosse is a team sport of American and Canadian Native American origin and is the fastest growing sport in the United States. [52] Lacrosse is most popular in the East Coast area. NLL and MLL are the national box and outdoor lacrosse leagues, respectively, and have increased their following in recent years. Also, many of the top Division I college lacrosse teams draw upwards of 7–10,000 for a game, especially in the Mid-Atlantic and New England areas.

Soccer is very popular as a participation sport, particularly among youth, and the US national teams are competitive internationally. A twenty-six-team (with four more confirmed to be added within the next few years) professional league, Major League Soccer, plays from March to October, but its television audience and overall popularity lag behind other American professional sports. [53]

Relative to other parts of the world, the United States is unusually competitive in women's sports, a fact usually attributed to the Title IX antidiscrimination law, which requires most American colleges to give equal funding to men's and women's sports. [54] Despite that, however, women's sports are not nearly as popular among spectators as men's sports.

The United States enjoys a great deal of success both in the Summer Olympics and Winter Olympics, constantly finishing among the top medal winners.

Sports and community culture

Homecoming is an annual tradition of the United States. People, towns, high schools and colleges come together, usually in late September or early October, to welcome back former residents and alumni. It is built around a central event, such as a banquet, a parade, and most often, a game of American football, or, on occasion, basketball, wrestling or ice hockey. When celebrated by schools, the activities vary. However, they usually consist of a football game, played on the school's home football field, activities for students and alumni, a parade featuring the school's marching band and sports teams, and the coronation of a Homecoming Queen.

American high schools commonly field football, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, soccer, golf, swimming, track and field, and cross-country teams as well.

The cuisine of the United States is extremely diverse, owing to the vastness of the continent, the relatively large population (1/3 of a billion people) and the number of native and immigrant influences. Mainstream American culinary arts are similar to those in other Western countries. Wheat and corn are the primary cereal grains. Traditional American cuisine uses ingredients such as turkey, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn (maize), squash, and maple syrup, as well as indigenous foods employed by American Indians and early European settlers, African slaves, and their descendants.

Iconic American dishes such as apple pie, donuts, fried chicken, pizza, hamburgers, and hot dogs derive from the recipes of various immigrants and domestic innovations. [55] [56] French fries, Mexican dishes such as burritos and tacos, and pasta dishes freely adapted from Italian sources are consumed. [57]

The types of food served at home vary greatly and depend upon the region of the country and the family's own cultural heritage. Recent immigrants tend to eat food similar to that of their country of origin, and Americanized versions of these cultural foods, such as American Chinese cuisine or Italian-American cuisine often eventually appear. Vietnamese cuisine, Korean cuisine and Thai cuisine in authentic forms are often readily available in large cities. German cuisine has a profound impact on American cuisine, especially mid-western cuisine potatoes, noodles, roasts, stews, cakes, and other pastries are the most iconic ingredients in both cuisines. [11] Dishes such as the hamburger, pot roast, baked ham, and hot dogs are examples of American dishes derived from German cuisine. [58] [59]

Different regions of the United States have their own cuisine and styles of cooking. The states of Louisiana and Mississippi, for example, are known for their Cajun and Creole cooking. Cajun and Creole cooking are influenced by French, Acadian, and Haitian cooking, although the dishes themselves are original and unique. Examples include Crawfish Étouffée, Red beans and rice, seafood or chicken gumbo, jambalaya, and boudin. Italian, German, Hungarian, and Chinese influences, traditional Native American, Caribbean, Mexican, and Greek dishes have also diffused into the general American repertoire. It is not uncommon for a "middle-class" family from "middle America" to eat, for example, restaurant pizza, home-made pizza, enchiladas con carne, chicken paprikash, beef stroganoff, and bratwurst with sauerkraut for dinner throughout a single week.

Soul food, mostly the same as food eaten by white southerners, developed by southern African slaves, and their free descendants, is popular around the South and among many African-Americans elsewhere. Syncretic cuisines such as Louisiana Creole, Cajun, Pennsylvania Dutch, and Tex-Mex are regionally important.

Americans generally prefer coffee to tea, and more than half the adult population drinks at least one cup a day. [60] Marketing by U.S. industries is largely responsible for making orange juice and milk (now often fat-reduced) ubiquitous breakfast beverages. [61] During the 1980s and 1990s, the caloric intake of Americans rose by 24% [57] and frequent dining at fast food outlets is associated with what health officials call the American "obesity epidemic." Highly sweetened soft drinks are popular sugared beverages account for 9% of the average American's daily caloric intake. [62]

Traditional Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce.

A chef reclaims his Southern culinary history

To chef and blogger Michael Twitty, a plate of stewed okra is much more than a popular soul-food dish — it’s a form of African American history. For many years, people in New Orleans referred to okra as salade du fevi, and it was thought that fevi was a corruption of French for fava beans. “I was like, I know this ain’t right,” says Twitty. For starters, fava beans and okra are different vegetables. “I researched it, and fevi is the word for okra in Fon, the main language of Dahomey,” an ancient African kingdom that is now part of Benin. The first shipment of Africans brought to New Orleans came directly from the Dahomey slave port of Ouidah, from which a million Africans were dispatched to the New World between the 17th and 19th centuries. In one dish, he says, “you can see a story of the movement of people and culture from one place to the next.”

Twitty, a TED Fellow, is an active practitioner of the traditions of antebellum, or pre-Civil War, cooking. He is striving to reclaim and revive this lost heritage with The Cooking Gene, a project that connects African Americans with their ancestral food ways in order to remember the importance of the lives of enslaved people. It also represents his attempt at culinary justice.

Culinary justice is the idea that people who have been traditionally oppressed possess a right to be recognized for their cooking contributions — and they have a right to the value of those contributions. As Twitty points out, the term doesn’t only refer to enslaved African Americans the disrespect of and disenfranchisement of any group’s culinary history, ingredients and food culture is a global phenomenon. “It’s critical that we respect the people and the tenets by which they created their culture and their food,” he says.

Much of Southern cuisine is based on the fruits of the slave trade. As an example, he points to the region known as the Carolina-Georgia Lowcountry, which encompasses the cities of Charleston and Savannah, both known today for their restaurants specializing in Southern food. “This cuisine is based on rice, which was brought from West Africa and cultivated by enslaved people in the 18th century, from Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia and beyond,” says Twitty. “Rice made millionaires out of slaveholders, and it was responsible for bringing just about 50,000 Africans to the South alone for their expertise in growing it. Men cleared the fields and planted rice, and women cultivated and processed it.” Twitty investigates the African ancestry of modern soul food — “the granddaddy of soul food”, as he calls it. “My scope of references are pre-colonial Africa in the 16th and 17th centuries, onward to the 19th century in America and the West Indies and Brazil and Haiti.” He studies the wild game, wild fish and domesticated animals of the region and period, as well as the flavor profiles of heirloom varieties of plants that are available today. He goe s to Southern plantations and other historic sites, where he cooks antebellum cuisine for visitors and teaches them about what they’re eating — providing a full taste of African American history.

In the latter half of the 20th century, the culinary value of Southern cooking began being adopted by white chefs. “There was a movement by Black people to leave behind cooking, which was considered demeaning, to seek white-collar jobs,” says Twitty. A number of factions in the Black liberation movement opposed soul food because they considered it the imposed foods of the slavemaster. For instance, Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, told his followers not to eat it, and some Black Muslims to this day eschew such dishes as sweet potato pie. In addition, “those of us who did go to culinary school wanted to prove ourselves,” he says. “We wanted to make French food and gourmet food so we could say we did more than just soul food. Meanwhile, some white chefs legitimized food with African origins and they rose in popularity.”

In itself, cooking soul food is not a bad thing, says Twitty. “This is not about whether a white person makes collard greens,” he points out. But he really wants chefs to know and consider the origins and implications of what they’re serving. He considers it exploitative when chefs ignore history and just think about what they’re doing as exotic or trendy.

He wants the Southern communities where these foods originated to benefit from the cuisine’s popularity. “There are Southern fast food chains, mid-level restaurants, high-end restaurants. Many of the recipes, by and large, have the touch and the feel of African people, but how many of these businesses is owned by a Black person, or has a Black cooking staff?” Twitty asks. One of the goals of his Cooking Gene project is to encourage African American farmers, fisherfolk, community farmers and restaurant owners to produce and promote sustainable, local healthy fare for their neighborhoods and for the world at large. “How can we build opportunities for our young people to be agronomists and grow the food, and market those heirloom crops that were unique to our local, Black Southern communities?” says Twitty. “When that white chef buys his produce from an African American producer growing an African American heirloom and employing African American kids, taking them off the street, teaching them how to cook and eat and their history — that’s culinary injustices being reversed.”

Twitty’s ultimate aim: to teach the world, through food, that his people’s lives meant something. “We need to get over our fear of the plantation and slavery and the old South. It happened, and it was real,” he says. “And everybody who sets foot on American soil after those people lived and died, from their descendants to the slaveholders’ descendants, to those who were deputized to keep them in check, to those who were immigrants who came after them, are beneficiaries of their legacy, and a lot of that is through food,” he says. “What do you have left in the South? History, music, art and food. Who built those antebellum mansions? Who showed the South how to dance, how to play a fiddle with soul, how to make trumpets talk in African tongues? And who cooked the food that fed this whole enterprise? Black people.”

“These people were not the background. You visit some plantations, and they’ll tell you about the architecture and decor and never once mention the name of a single Black person that built the house, or farmed or cooked the food,” he continues. “We have to change this — we have to change our relationship to our history, change our relationship to the present and change our relationship to the future so that we can grow beyond this angst and this negative energy.” Declares Twitty, “I’m doing it by cooking. That’s all I want to do.”

A Young Woman Shows That You Can Sit Down While Wearing a Crinoline Cage (Hoop Skirt)

Lower class women did not wear wide hoop skirts, though less expensive crinoline cages (with fewer hoops) were available for those who could afford the style. The lower classes wore coarser fabrics.

Coarser Fabrics Worn by Lower Classes

  • Osnaburg𠅊 coarse, inexpensive linen
  • Fustian𠅊 cotton and linen blend
  • Linsey-woolsey𠅊 coarse linen, and wool blend, later cotton and wool.
  • Calico𠅊 cheap cotton fabric printed with a design featuring tiny flowers

Most women of the day wore solid fabrics. Stripes and plaids were limited to the wealthy as matching pieces of fabric use more material. Small prints, like calico, were easier to match and mend. Calico prints were usually dark to hide stains. Black was a common color for all classes and worn for mourning dress. Many photographs of the time depict women dressed in black, as many suffered the loss of loved ones, so dressed in mourning attire.

Homespun fabric was not frequently used before the Civil War, but became somewhat popular during the war due to fabric shortages. Contrary to popular conceptions, enslaved women did not wear homespun as the work involved in the creation of that fabric was labor intensive and not seen as an economical use of a a worker&aposs time. Slaves usually wore inexpensive manufactured fabrics. However, large plantations often employed spinners, weavers, seamstresses, and tailors in order to clothe the many people who worked there.

Enslaved people were issued a few sets of clothing each year. Poor people, laborers, the lower class, and enslaved people generally wore clothing made of tough, durable fabric. Their clothing was less tailored and embellished than the garments of the elite. Enslaved women who worked inside the home dressed in more up-to-date, more tailored and embellished garments than those who worked outdoors.

Antebellum White Collar Workplace Architecture and Design - History

In writing today's post I tried to bring you one side of the story first and see how Christmas was celebrated among the white Southern nobility. Tomorrow we will look at the way slaves themselves celebrated Christmas and try to see how and why Christmas became a central element in establishing the myth of the Old South as an untroubled world of chivalrous masters and happy slaves. To bring you a taste of 19th century Christmas celebrations, I've relied on a handful of period sources, as well as on Penne L. Restad's excellent Christmas in America. A History. You will find all of them listed at the end.

A Holiday for the Nation?

In the first half of the 19th century, very few holidays were observed across the nation and Christmas was not one of them. Though the ban on Christmas had been repealed in the 17th century, New England Puritans continued to frown upon most forms of celebration or even upon interrupting activity on Christmas day. K.A. Marling's Merry Christmas!: Celebrating America's Greatest Holiday records that as late as 1870 public schools in Boston were functioning on Christmas day and pupils who dared to skip class for the sake of the holiday were punished.

By contrast, Christmas was largely observed in the South, owing to the area's Episcopalian tradition and to the high degree to which Southerners had adapted and preserved old English customs. Christmas was the time for fox-hunting, for parties and balls. and for making noise. Harvard student Jacob Rhett Motte, writing in the 1830s, compares "the ringing of bells and firing of guns" on the Fourth of July in the North to Christmas celebrations back home, in South Carolina.

In the agrarian South, Christmas also had one very important function: it was a much-needed period of leisure after a hard year of work. It allowed workers to rest, neighbors to interact with each other and planters to settle their financial affairs. Traditionally, this was the time of the year when the plantation registries were reviewed, profits and losses calculated and new slaves bought or leased out accordingly. It is not surprising that the first states to make Christmas an official holiday were Southern: Alabama in 1836, followed closely by Louisiana and Arkansas in 1838.

Christmas is near! Holiday Preparations

Houses and churches had to be decorated with evergreens and mistletoe. This activity was usually reserved to white Southerners, as an occasion for social bonding. In William Gilmore Simms's Maize in Milk. A Christmas Story of the South (set in South Carolina), the lady guests help decorate the Openheart mansion with myrtle, bamboo, cassina and holly, "giving to the spacious walls and rooms a charming aspect of the English Gothic." In his Social Life in Old Virginia, Thomas Nelson Page recalls that dressing the church was one of the most important events of the year - and a collective effort par excellence. All the young men of the neighborhood would ride out together to "help" dress the church and didn't return home again until it was time for the festivities (conveniently skipping, I might add, all the intermediary work).

Unlike Puritan Boston, Southern schools generally allowed their pupils a break during the winter holidays. The plantations received their young masters & mistresses home, along with various family members that fancied to spend their holidays there. As Margaret Mitchell observes at one point, there were no fixed limits for the length of their stay, for unbounded hospitality was one of the chief Southern values, and special emphasis was laid on it during the Christmas season.

Large parties of guests generally started to arrive on Christmas Eve and stayed throughout the holidays. The most evocative description of such an arrival you find in Thomas Nelson Page's Social Life in Old Virginia. I will quote it in its entirety, although the fragment is a bit long, because it gives a particularly nice feel of the era and of how such festivities must have looked like, even in Clayton County:

Christmas Day and Christmas Parties

Christmas day was divided between hunting and other leisure activities and going to the church, "where the service was read, and the anthems and hymns were sung by every one, for every one was happy," says Thomas Page. But the focal point of the day was the Christmas dinner, followed by the Christmas party. I won't insist on the richness of Southern Christmas dinners - that all of our period sources mention with nostalgia - because I happen to know that iso is preparing an edition of Southern Cookin' on precisely that topic. Instead, we'll jump directly to the party!

Music to the parties was provided by plantation musicians or by skilled pianists from among the guests. At the Christmas party of 1859 that Eliza Ripley describes in her memoir, they had managed to assemble two violins, a flute, a triangle and a tambourine, and this small orchestra was sitting on a platform erected for it at one end of the room. Dancing would go on till dawn, when people who lived nearby would retire to their own houses. Here's a lively description of a Christmas party at a Virginia plantation, from Thomas Page:

Interestingly enough, while in Gone with the Wind the Christmas of 1860 is mentioned as the happy Christmas before the war, Eliza Ripley claims that by 1860 things at her plantation had severely deteriorated and the slaves had become "restless and discontent." The Christmas of 1859 was the one of the last celebrations of a lifestyle that was soon meant to be gone. We'll see how Christmas in the antebellum South contained within it the seeds of its demise tomorrow, when we'll examine how Christmas was like for the black inhabitants of the plantations.

Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District

Photo: Home in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District, Greenville, SC. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Photographed by User:Tradewinds (own work), 2014, [cc-by-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed September, 2016.

The Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [&Dagger]

The Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District is located just west of downtown Greenville and north of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive (formerly Fifth Street), the locally-significant district contains a mix of nationally popular architectural styles and vernacular house forms common to suburbs that developed in North Carolina in the first half of the twentieth century. Although the period of significance begins with the earliest marker in Cherry Hill Cemetery, the circa 1882 Glenn-Pender-Moore House (510 West Fourth Street), a weatherboard I-house with vernacular references to Italianate design, is the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District's oldest dwelling. More than three quarters of the resources date from around 1900 through 1940 with some post-World War II houses interspersed. Dwellings executed in the Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Craftsman, Period Cottage, and Minimal Traditional styles is the predominant property type.

The Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District also meets criterion in the area of community planning and development. The district encompasses Skinnerville, platted in 1882 as Greenville's first suburban development and Greenville Heights, a subdivision laid out in 1907. While development of Skinnerville started in the 1880s, both suburbs were built-out gradually. By the mid-1940s, only infill lots and lots on the district's far northwest streets were left open for Minimal Traditional dwellings, apartment buildings, and a few Ranch houses which illustrate the neighborhood's continued viability. Skinnerville was developed by local attorney, politician, and businessman Harry Skinner within an easy walk of Greenville's central business district. Greenville Heights is considerably farther away from downtown, making the suburb's development nearly dependent on car ownership, and as a result, the development did not see many new homes until the 1920s. The Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District owes much of its growth to Greenville's tobacco market which generated economic prosperity from the early 1890s into the mid-twentieth century and to East Carolina University, which was established in 1907 as the East Carolina Teachers Training School. In fact, Greenville Heights' developers waited to advertise their plans until after the city had secured the college. The Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District encompasses 272 primary buildings, structures, sites, and objects, of which eighty-three percent are contributing resources. The E.B. Ficklen House (508 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive NR, 1980) and the Jesse Moye House (408 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive NR, 1997) are already listed in the National Register.

Historical Background: A Brief History of Greenville

In 1761, North Carolina's legislators created Pitt County from Beaufort County and named the new county in honor of William Pitt, the British secretary of state. In 1774, a courthouse, jail, and stocks were built on land granted to the county by the widow of local landowner Richard Evans who was a member of the General Assembly from 1768 to 1769 and again in 1771. County leaders established a town called Martinsborough in honor of the colony's royal governor, Josiah Martin. After the Revolution, the town adopted the more patriotic name of Greenesville, honoring the American war hero General Nathaniel Greene. Eventually, Greenville became the preferred spelling.[1]

Initially, the county's governmental operations did not have a great impact on Greenville's development. Attorneys and judges rarely established homes and offices in the town and businesses catering to visitors were few. By the 1850s, however, during North Carolina's agricultural boom years, Greenville's commercial importance expanded as area farmers prospered. On the eve of the Civil War, doctors, lawyers, merchants, builders, a silversmith, and even two architects called Greenville home.[2]

Following a post-Civil War decline, Greenville's population rebounded to almost two thousand by 1890 and continued climbing in the early twentieth century, reaching 5,772 by 1920.[3] As in other North Carolina locales, industrialization and the railroad fueled much of this expansion. Greenville's first train crossed the Tar River in 1890, and, according to one observer, "Greenville awoke to a new era of progress, thirst, and energy."[4] The line, a branch of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, linked Halifax and Kinston.[5] Meanwhile, nationwide demand for tobacco and farmers' increasing desires to diversify prompted Pitt County farmers to trade their cotton seeds for tobacco plants, and Greenville became a tobacco trading center with warehouses and prizeries or prizehouses where tobacco was packed, or "prized," into hogsheads for transport.[6] In 1891, the city's first tobacco market opened and sold 225,000 pounds of tobacco. The following year, the market sold one million additional pounds. By the early twentieth century, Greenville was the third largest tobacco market in the world.[7]

During the first decade of the twentieth century, Greenville evolved rapidly. Entrepreneurs opened a bank, an opera house, and a horse racing track. Subscription to the telephone company, established in 1897, expanded, and in 1905, the city created public utilities to supply residents with water, electricity, and sewage disposal. Citizens formed a graded school system and built schools for white children (at the present site of Sheppard Memorial Library) and African American pupils (on Fleming Street). In 1907, Greenville won a bid to become the home of the new East Carolina Teachers Training School by earmarking tax dollars to supplement the state's appropriation for the institution's construction.[8] By that same year, the city could boast of graded streets, "unusually good sewerage equipment," electrical service for both commercial and residential use, and a modern water-works.[9]

Greenville's economy continued expanding in the 1910s. The Cabinet Veneer Company opened between 1905 and 1911 on land flanked by the Atlantic Coastline Railroad tracts and Cherry Hill Cemetery, while several other industries opened their doors before 1920. Those included the Export Leaf Tobacco Company, Farmville Oil and Fertilizer Company, Pitt Lumber Company, W.H. Dail Jr. Brick Yard, Greenville Cooperage and Lumber Company, Greenville Oil and Fertilizer Factory, Greenville Cotton Mills, several machine shops, and an ever-increasing number of tobacco factories and warehouses.[10]

At the beginning of the 1920s, the East Carolina Teachers Training School became East Carolina Teachers College, and during the 1920s, one third of the dwellings in Skinnerville-Greenville Heights were constructed. But most of the 1920s were not pleasant years for Greenville. By 1923, the four railroads serving the town put an end to the local river-based shipping industry, and the last freight shipment steamed out of Greenville bound for Tarboro. In addition, falling agricultural prices plagued Pitt County farmers and Greenville merchants throughout the 1920s. The Great Depression worsened conditions.[11]

Because the financial solvency of many residents of Pitt County and Greenville already stood on shaky ground before the market's crash in 1929, economic development nearly halted in Greenville during the Depression. Destitute families could come to the courthouse once a week for food distribution and the Carolina Shippers Association, an organization founded in Wilson in 1925, moved its headquarters to Greenville in 1933 with an aim to reinvigorate trade on the Tar River. The group dredged the river and built a new landing called Port Terminal near Hardee's Creek, and although their efforts created short-term jobs, shipping did not return to the Tar.[12]

Meanwhile, building in Skinnerville-Greenville Heights nearly ceased. Only three houses went up in Skinnerville-Greenville Heights between 1930 and 1935. Nineteen more were constructed as recovery began in the late 1930s, but when compared with the 1920s when about seventy new buildings went up in the district and the fifteen years between 1940 and 1955 when nearly one hundred houses and outbuildings were built, construction was almost negligible.

After World War II, Greenville, like other municipalities, enjoyed renewed prosperity as the post-war economy sparked industrial expansion and a nationwide economic upturn. Construction on a new hospital, Pitt Memorial Hospital, to replace Pitt Community, started in 1947. As car ownership became more common and roads improved, passenger trains stopped in Greenville less frequently and service ended completely in 1958. Commerce, stymied by wartime conservation, grew once again and manufacturers established industries in Greenville that made or packed pharmaceuticals, eggs, meat, boats, fertilizer, and batteries. Business leaders also recognized the need to diversify the city's tobacco-based economy and as early as the late 1950s took steps to recruit replacement industries. The state created the Pitt County Industrial Development Commission which created three thousand new jobs and landed Union Carbide and Fieldcrest plants in the county.[13]

In 1965, passage of the Voting Rights Act brought racial hostility in Greenville to the forefront of local events and politics. Greenville and Pitt County schools began the process of integration in the 1960s, but protests, boycotts, and underlying tension plagued Greenville through the late 1960s and into the early 1970s. In 1972, a plain-clothes police officer shot an African American man who resisted arrest on West Fifth Street, now called Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The incident nearly sparked a riot, but it also marked the end of the turmoil of the previous seven years.[14]

Also during the 1960s, businesses began moving out of downtown Greenville as did whites living in central Greenville's older neighborhoods, including Skinnerville-Greenville Heights. Suburbs spread new residential and commercial buildings into previously undeveloped countryside while urban renewal projects removed many historic buildings from the city's center. Urban renewal in Greenville began in 1961 with the Shore Drive Area Project which cleared substandard houses and other buildings from almost fifty-eight acres between the city's downtown and the Tar River. Other urban renewal and demolition activities removed the first Pitt Community Hospital, several large homes on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, the late 1920s First Presbyterian Church, and the State Bank and Trust Building, a flatiron building constructed at the city's five points intersection in 1914.[15]

Meanwhile, the teacher's college, renamed East Carolina College in 1951, emerged as North Carolina's third largest institute of higher education by 1960. As a result, the school's physical plant expanded with the construction of ten new buildings and the renovation of eight older buildings between 1940 and 1960. The college became East Carolina University in 1967 and merged into the University of North Carolina system in 1971. By 1991, over 16,500 students, faculty, and staff populated the campus.[16]

Today, 60,476 people live in Greenville. The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University graduated its first class in 1981. It is Pitt County's largest employer and operates one of the best hospitals in the state, which, in addition to providing better health care for the state's eastern region, fosters continued economic growth in the city. Education and health care, rather than tobacco sales and manufacturing dominate the city's economy and many current downtown development projects are focused on preserving historic buildings rather than clearing land.[17]

The History and Growth of Skinnerville and Greenville Heights

In 1833, Greenville's Methodists purchased half an acre of land from Tillman R. Cherry for the construction of a church and cemetery on the south side of West Second Street, just west of Pitt Street. Five years later, the Episcopalians built a church with a cemetery on Pitt Street near the Methodists. Both stood on land that now constitutes Cherry Hill Cemetery which is one of the city's oldest extant burial grounds and the oldest historic resource in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District. The earliest marked burial in the cemetery dates from 1845.[18]

Throughout the antebellum period and into Reconstruction, land in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District, aside from that occupied by the churches, was improved and unimproved farmland, much of which belonged to Tillman R. Cherry. In 1872, Cherry donated a tract of land west and north of the Episcopal and Methodist churches on Pitt and Second Streets to the city of Greenville for use as a cemetery for whites and African Americans.[19]

Also during this period, Harry Skinner, a Perquimans County native, completed law school at the University of Kentucky. After graduating in 1875, Skinner moved to Greenville and established himself as a business and law partner with L.C. Latham.[20] In 1878, Skinner won a seat on the town council and married Lottie Monteiro from Roanoke, Virginia. Before Mrs. Skinner's death in 1888, the couple had four children: Winifred, Harry Jr., Ella, and Lottie.[21]

In 1879, a year after Harry and Lottie wed, Skinner and Latham purchased a fifteen-acre tract on the western edge of Greenville's city limit, south of Cherry Hill Cemetery, from Tillman R. and Sallie Ann Cherry.[22] On January 26, 1882, the Eastern Reflector reported that Captain H.F. Price was surveying and laying off lots on Skinner's land and that some lots had been sold.[23] The newly platted subdivision, called Skinnerville, occupied ten city blocks bounded by Third, Fifth, Vance, and Pitt Streets. Skinner's brother, Charles, purchased one of the lots and completed a house in 1883.[24]

It is not clear if Harry Skinner lived in the neighborhood from its earliest stages or not. The Eastern Reflector reported the destruction of Skinner's home by fire in February 1884, but it does not say where the dwelling stood. The next year, the Reflector noted that Skinner was rebuilding, but again it does not indicate the house's location. However, city directories, Sanborn maps, and a 1907 photograph of the house reveal that Skinner's rambling picturesque cottage with steep gables with decorative vergeboards and a square three-story tower stood in Skinnerville on West Fourth Street.[25] Several other homes went up while Harry Skinner practiced law, served on the staff of Governor Thomas J. Jarvis, and began considering runs for state and federal political offices. In 1891, following in his father's and grandfather's footsteps, Skinner ran for and won a seat in the state house of representatives. As a Populist, he represented the first legislative district from 1894 to 1898.[26]

Meanwhile, north of Skinnerville, Cherry Hill Cemetery underwent a few changes. During the 1880s, both churches on the property sold their buildings to other congregations that moved the sanctuaries to new sites. In 1898, the churches transferred their cemeteries to the city, which incorporated that property into the municipal cemetery created from Cherry's 1872 donation.[27]

Since it was platted in 1882, lots in Skinnerville had been selling slowly, but in 1899, a court order forced Skinner to auction the remaining lots. The legal notice announcing the sale described the lots as being in "West Greenville or Skinnerville" and went on to describe them as the "most desirable and practically the only residence lots on the market within the corporate limits of Greenville."[28] The auction and Greenville's growing professional and executive classes spurred further development in west Greenville and fostered a building boom in the neighborhood that lasted until the Great Depression.

Skinnerville contained a long rectangular block east of the railroad tracks and square blocks, each divided into four square lots, west of the tracks between Elizabeth, Vance, Third, and Fifth Streets. Skinner continued the city's east-west numbered streets into his subdivision and added Ward Street between Fifth and Fourth Streets. Ward Street may take its name from the division of the city into wards, but it is likely a reference to Skinner's mother, Elmira, whose maiden name was Ward. Contentnea Street was originally named Jarvis, presumably in honor of Thomas Jordan Jarvis for whom Skinner had worked while Jarvis served as Lieutenant Governor under Z.B. Vance. Vance Street is likely named for Governor Vance.[29]

In June 1907, J.L. Bunting of Norfolk, Virginia, and his partners in the United Development Corporation, also based in Norfolk, purchased property to the west of Skinnerville and started preparing the tract for sale as Greenville Heights.[30] In "Greater Greenville," a July 1907 supplement to Greenville's local newspaper, the Eastern Reflector, the United Development Corporation ran a full-page ad that introduced the Norfolk real estate dealers and presented a plat of the subdivision that included a park along the Tar River. Davis Street, one block west of Skinnerville's western edge, served as the subdivision's eastern boundary. The Tar River to the north, Tyson Street to the west, and Ward Street to the south formed the other edges. Greenville Heights contained rectangular blocks with narrow rectangular lots addressing the east-west streets.[31] While spectacular dwellings such as the Ficklen House on Fifth Street, were not built in Greenville Heights, several imposing Queen Anne houses along with many Craftsman Bungalows and substantial transitional Craftsman-Colonial Revival dwellings line its thoroughfares.

The success of Greenville Heights and Skinnerville directly reflected the city's growth as a tobacco market and regional educational center and illustrated a national increase in urban population and a trend towards suburban development that began in the mid-1800s when Frederick Law Olmsted emerged as the country's preeminent landscape architect. His designs for Central Park in Manhattan (1857), Prospect Park in Brooklyn (1866), and a suburban town plan near Chicago called Riverside (1869) promoted the use of curvilinear streets, naturalistic landscapes, and the use of land that was too hilly or rugged to be considered desirable previously. Additionally, in 1893, the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition (for which Olmsted was the landscape architect) showcased classically inspired architecture and Beaux Arts design that precipitated the City Beautiful Movement. Together, City Beautiful and Olmsted's landscape ideals advanced urban planning as a method of creating cleaner, well-organized cities with parks, grand boulevards, and suburbs.[32] Although Skinnerville-Greenville Heights is laid out on a relatively flat grid, its primary design principles of large lots in a formally subdivided tract set apart from downtown are local interpretations of national suburban design trends.

This new interest in planning and beautification coincided with population growth particularly in industrializing New South towns and cities. In Greenville, the 1880 population stood at just over 900, but by 1900, it reached 2,565, an increase of about 180%, prompting the Eastern Reflector to cite the city in 1907 as "a striking example of the rapid development of small cities in North Carolina during the past fifteen years."[33] Over the next two decades the population more than doubled to 5,772 in 1920.[34]

Greenville, however, was not the only North Carolina town experiencing such expeditious growth. The majority of North Carolina's cities saw their populations expand rapidly during the late nineteenth century and double or triple between 1900 and 1930. As people moved to Charlotte and Greensboro to work in the textile mills, to Winston-Salem and Durham for textile and tobacco manufacturing jobs, and to Wilmington for shipping and railroad work, many newcomers made their homes in freshly platted suburbs and mill villages in or adjacent to these municipalities. In Greenville, the major employers were tobacco warehouses and tobacco factories, and after its opening in 1907, the East Carolina Teachers Training School, which eventually became East Carolina University. Banks, construction firms, restaurants, county government, and retail outlets also created even more opportunities for a regular paycheck.[35]

Most people inundating towns and cities during this time were from rural areas: farmers and farm laborers tired of scratching a living from poor land. Newcomers had to adjust to the noise, pollution, and rigid working hours that accompanied urbanity. Furthermore, the ancient notion of the city as a "den of iniquity" and the countryside as healthy became more firmly entrenched every time a technological advance increased the pace of city life. In reaction, urban planning that idealized separation of commercial and residential uses &mdash as well as the separation of classes and races &mdash took on an unprecedented importance, particularly once it was facilitated by transportation improvements. Industry, commerce, and homemaking were each given their own sector of town, with homes preferably built along tree-lined streets. Suburban lawns and shade were meant to create a sanctuary for the urbanite and bring a bit of the country to those with memories of a farm or crossroads town. Planners based "rural" residential retreats that were within or close to a city in large part on nineteenth century cemeteries and parks: their curving drives, trees, flowers, planned vistas, and sculpture were meant to provide relief from the city's gray stone, steel, and concrete. Towards the end of the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth century, the advent of streetcars and better transportation made it possible for developers to build houses in similar park-like settings carved from outlying open land previously inconveniently distant from downtown.[36]

In Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District, trees and commodious lawns contribute to the developments' suburban character despite the area's straight streets. The park laid out along the Tar River as part of the Greenville Heights plan has been lost through flooding and neglect, but its presence in the original design descends directly from the ideals driving garden suburbs and the City Beautiful Movement. Although Cherry Hill Cemetery incorporated a grid-plan rather than curving Olmstedian drives, its open space creates a parklike buffer between the district's northeast corner and downtown. Additionally, the cemetery's close proximity and the park in Greenville Heights provided residents with green oases.

During the first two decades of the twentieth century, Skinnerville and Greenville Heights saw their most rapid development. By 1910, commodious and rambling Queen Anne and Colonial Revival homes for some of Greenville's most prominent business leaders lined Fifth Street (now Martin Luther King Jr. Drive) between Pitt and Elizabeth Streets. Sanborn maps for the Skinnerville area and city directories for the entire city were not produced before 1916, but the Sanborn map from that year shows a few shotguns and smaller rental houses on Third Street between Pitt Street and the railroad four larger houses on Third Street to the west of the railroad a small number of substantial dwellings on Fourth Street and the four blocks bounded by Fifth Street, Jarvis (Contentnea Street), Fourth Street, and Elizabeth Street as being nearly built-out. A small number of houses had been constructed to the west of Jarvis (Contentnea Street).[37]

By 1923, new houses had been constructed on Fourth and Ward Streets to the west of Vance Street in the area platted as Greenville Heights, and a few additional small rental houses had been built on Third Street. The 1929 Sanborn map shows construction occurring between older homes on the east-west streets in Skinnerville and Greenville Heights with a few houses going up on the north-south streets.[38]

By the time the 1929 Sanborn map was updated in 1946, the original lots of Skinnerville and the smaller lots subdivided from those initial four-lot blocks were nearly full. In Greenville Heights, more dwellings stood along the streets south of Colonial Avenue, which had been extended one block east to meet a one-block extension of Contentnea Street. These street extensions occurred on former farm land, much of which became part of the Third Street School property. Development in Greenville Heights had not yet reached Fairfax Avenue, the subdivision's northernmost street, but as the post-war era progressed, more homes were built along that street as well. By the mid-1950s, most of the lots in Skinnerville-Greenville Heights were occupied with older houses standing closer to downtown and Fifth Street (Martin Luther King Jr. Drive), new houses clustered on the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District's western edge, and new houses standing as infill among earlier dwellings.[39]

Skinnerville-Greenville Heights residents who lived in the neighborhood throughout the district's period of significance came from a variety of backgrounds. In addition to Skinnerville's developer, Harry Skinner, prominent homeowners included Edwin B. Ficklen, Charles Laughinghouse, and Albion Dunn. Ficklen, a native of Danville, Virginia, where he had been involved in the tobacco business, came to Greenville in the 1890s. He emerged as one of the town's principal tobacconists and established E.B. Ficklen Tobacco Company, which survived into the 1960s. The residence of physician Charles Laughinghouse, who was instrumental in organizing and building Pitt Community Hospital, stood at the corner of Pitt Street and Fourth Street until fire destroyed it in 1996.[40] Laughinghouse's ownership of a 1916 Haynes roadster reflected the association of car-ownership with suburban living.[41] In 1915, attorney Albion Dunn and his wife built the house at 707 West Fourth Street. Dunn was an attorney and served two terms as Greenville's mayor in 1915 and 1917.[42]

Most Skinnerville residents, however, were not elected officials, prominent business owners, doctors, or lawyers. In the 1910s, a mother and daughter, both named Fannie More, lived at 210 Pitt Street where Miss More was a dressmaker. Around 1920, John F. Stokes, an insurance agent, and his wife, Jessie, lived at 507 West Fourth Street while their next door neighbors, Frank and Eunice Diener at 509 West Fourth Street, owned People's Bakery. Robert Hill of 205 Davis Street worked at W and L Department store in the late 1920s. Also during the 1920s, African Americans lived in rental property along West Third Street, between Pitt Street and the railroad corridor. This African American enclave included a Primitive Baptist Church, but in the late 1940s and early 1950s, landlords replaced these dwellings with new rental housing occupied mostly by whites, although a few African Americans remained on the block. By around 1960, however, African American tobacco workers, laborers, cooks, and domestics reoccupied the entire block.[43]

Most home buyers in the district after World War II were blue- and white-collar white employees occasionally, the woman of the house also worked outside the home. Just after the war concluded, Nimon and Dorothy Hatem moved into their Minimal Traditional house at 100 Davis Street. Mrs. Hatem was a sales clerk at Blount-Harvey Department Store while her husband was an agent at the Union Bus Station. Farther south on Davis Street, machine operators, a beautician, and a mechanic occupied rental property built in the early 1950s. Vernon Grove, a superintendent with National Carbon Company, and his wife Doris lived next door to fellow National Carbon Company employee, Kenneth Whiteley, and his wife Jessie. The Whiteley and Grove houses, nearly identical Minimal Traditional cottages, were built about 1946 in the 700 block of West Third Street.[44]

As early as the 1950s, however, the socioeconomic and racial composition of Skinnerville-Greenville Heights began shifting as home ownership decreased, white residents moved to newer suburbs, and African Americans moved into previously white-owned dwellings. Historically, rental properties and African American residents were not foreign to Skinnerville-Greenville Heights. A small number of rental properties stood in the neighborhood from as early as the 1910s, including a two-story Craftsman duplex built around 1927 at 408 West Fourth Street. New duplexes replaced earlier rental property in the 1950s on West Third Street between Pitt Street and the railroad corridor, but throughout the district, larger apartments sprang up and previously white-owned, single-family dwellings were subdivided and usually rented by African American tenants. The John W. and Emily Turnage House, a one-story cottage built around 1910 at 903 West Third Street, was split into two apartments in the early 1950s. During the 1960s and 1970s, developers erected apartment buildings and duplexes, usually on vacant lots, throughout the district. On Martin Luther King Jr. Drive the rambling Queen Anne and Colonial Revival houses had become derelict. In 1960, the Latham-Skinner House at 418 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive was demolished for a two-story, brick apartment building. Two doors down, a one-story brick apartment building replaced another sizeable early twentieth century dwelling.[45]

East Carolina University's growth also affected Skinnerville-Greenville Heights. In 1971, the Blount family sold the 1933 Judson H. Blount House at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Elizabeth Street to the Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity. By the early 1980s, the Sigma Tau Gamma Fraternity had leased the E.B. Ficklen House, and the Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity now occupies the James and Lucy Ficklen house at 409 Elizabeth Street.[46]

Meanwhile, the neighborhood's upper income white residents continued leaving so that the neighborhood was predominantly African American by the mid-1960s. A 1966 Neighborhood Analysis Report penned by the State Department of Conservation and Development for the city's planning and zoning commission found that the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights area, as well as numerous other African American neighborhoods, was blighted. In the report, Skinnerville-Greenville Heights was included in an area called Biltmore-Greenville Heights that encompassed nearly 400 housing units of which over 300 were found to be in a state of major deterioration or dilapidation. Rental property made up sixty-two percent of Biltmore-Greenville Heights' housing units and incidents of crime and major fires in Biltmore-Greenville Heights were among the highest in Greenville. The neighborhood also had one of the highest numbers of residents on welfare or other public assistance.[47]

In the last few years, the city of Greenville has taken a greater interest in the West Greenville area, including Skinnerville-Greenville Heights. The city created a Redevelopment Commission in 2002 "to promote redevelopment of the blighted areas within the territorial limits of the City of Greenville in the interest of the public health, safety, morals or welfare of the residents of the City of Greenville."[48] In November 2004, Greenville's electorate voted in favor of $20.8 million in bonds to improve the city's streets and storm water drainage and revitalize the City Center and Skinnerville-Greenville Heights. Revitalization plans include acquiring and demolishing or renovating deteriorated buildings while planned street improvements will widen and, in some places, realign West Third Street.[49]

The Architecture of Skinnerville and Greenville Heights

The dwellings, small outbuildings, cemetery, and school in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District represent the artistic and architectural styles and building forms that occurred in Greenville and throughout North Carolina from the late nineteenth century to the post-World War II period. During this period, architecture reflected the social and economic changes occurring as Greenville transformed from a quiet courthouse town, to a tobacco trading and manufacturing hub, and then to a regional educational center.

In the late-nineteenth century neighborhood of South Greenville, some of the city's most prominent professionals and capitalists built fashionable Victorian-era, Italianate, and Classical Revival houses befitting their status. In the city's other turn-of-the-twentieth-century neighborhoods, however, homes were modest in scale and decoration. In Cherry Hill and Perkins Town, African American neighborhoods immediately south of Fifth Street, homeowners and landlords built modest one-story houses and duplexes, some with almost no stylistic references and some with one or two decorative elements such as restrained gingerbread or simple knee braces. South of Cherry Hill and Perkins Town, the white neighborhood of Higgs developed primarily during the early twentieth century with Bungalows and some Queen Anne cottages with limited ornamentation. College View opened in 1910 adjacent to the campus of the East Carolina Teachers Training School, and contains both humble and urbane Colonial Revival and Craftsman Bungalow designs.[50]

While a few exceptional transitional Queen Anne-Colonial Revival houses in Skinnerville-Greenville Heights, the proportion of high-style houses, modest dwellings, and houses with little or no stylistic references in the historic district is similar to that in Higgs and College View: a few sophisticated and fashionable examples of nationally-popular styles are mixed with a great number of ordinary, simple, and nearly style-less dwellings. Generally, such houses were constructed in the twentieth century as car ownership became more common and even homeowners who could not afford a high-style house had a car and could live farther from the city's commercial and industrial core.

The earliest homes in Skinnerville-Greenville Heights incorporate modest Italianate references. The Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District's oldest dwelling is the circa 1882 Glenn-Pender-Moore House located at 510 West Fourth Street. This two-story I-house features a two-story rear ell, a wide flat frieze, corner boards, and heavily molded peaked window hoods. To the south is the Foley House at 703 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. This two-story, gable-front dwelling has bracketed eaves and half-round attic vents, and although it does not appear at this location until the late 1920s, it is likely a turn-of-the-twentieth century house moved to this site.

In Skinnerville-Greenville Heights, as in South Greenville, Higgs, and College View, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and transitional designs incorporating both Queen Anne and Colonial Revival characteristics dominated taste in Greenville from the late 1800s into the 1910s and influenced designs for mansions and cottages alike. In 1903, Jesse R. and Novella Moye built a house designed for them by New Bern architect H.W. Simpson. The two-story building located at 408 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive features the projecting gables and dormers typical of Queen Anne designs combined with Palladian windows and classically inspired columns on the front porch. An imposing, but less intact example is the home George W. and Lina Baker completed in 1907 (422 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive). As originally executed, the design combined decorative Queen Anne shingles in the gable ends and turned balustrades (no longer extent) with Ionic columns (no longer extant) and a grand, imposing Colonial Revival portico with a Palladian attic window.

Queen Anne and the transitional combination of Queen Anne and Colonial Revival also made its mark on less elaborate dwellings. One-story cottages, often with side-gable roofs sometimes punctuated by a gable on the front roof slope, are found throughout the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District. The simplest examples include only a decorative gable on the front roof slope, like the circa 1910 house at 412 Latham Street, while others incorporate shingled gable ends, classically-inspired columns on the front porch, or turned porch posts and small brackets. The Fannie More House at 210 South Pitt Street was built around 1900. The one-story, transitional Queen Anne-Colonial Revival cottage features a hipped standing seam metal roof with front-facing and side-facing gable projections, two-over-two sash, and a partial-width front porch with a hipped roof, Doric columns, and pediment over central entry bay.

As Queen Anne fell out of favor, Colonial Revival emerged as the style of choice nationally during the early 1900s. New methods of mass printing developed in the early part of the century allowed for the distribution of magazines that featured photographs of Colonial Revival dwellings and helped to popularize the style. Massing and details often harkened back to the Georgian and Adam styles of early America, particularly by the 1920s and 1930s as reproduction of historic prototypes became more academic and accurate. The style became popular in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights neighborhood during the 1910s and lingered well into the post-World War II period.

Just as Colonial Revival elements blended with Queen Anne designs earlier, builders and architects also mixed Craftsman components into Colonial Revival plans. The Colonial Revival Moore-Hodges House (801 West Fourth Street) uses some Craftsman elements, such as six-over-one sash and paired porch posts, in its design. Constructed around 1919, the one-story frame house has a sunroom with wooden casement windows. Sidelights flank the front door, which is capped by an arched panel, and the shed porch features a gable with an arched ceiling over the entry bay.

About six years later, William and Zula Cowell built their house at 112 South Pitt Street. The two-story, brick, Colonial Revival dwelling has a side-gabled roof with pedimented gable ends. A one-story, gabled portico with Tuscan columns shelters the entrance while six-over-six sash illuminate the interior spaces. Its use of more classical elements such as columns and pediments shows the move towards more accurate interpretations of earlier architecture.

One of the largest examples of Colonial Revival in the neighborhood is the 1933 Judson H. Blount House at 500 Elizabeth Street. The symmetrical two-story brick house displays lower two-story wings flanking the house's main block. Three gabled dormers punctuate the side-gabled slate roof. Fluted Corinthian pilasters and a scrolled broken pediment enrich the front entrance while side porches feature Doric columns.

Just a half-block north of the Blount House is the James and Lucy Ficklen House at 409 Elizabeth Street. Built around 1935, the substantial two-and-a-half-story, Colonial Revival house has six-over-six sash with flat arches with keystones, three gable-front dormers, and a classical front-gabled portico supported by slender Tuscan columns. The entrance consists of a semi-elliptical fanlight transom and half-glazed sidelights. Original one-story side wings, with the southern wing functioning as a sun porch, complete the composition.

Other revival styles also acquired favor in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District during the 1920s and 1930s. Aspects of the Italian Renaissance Revival and Mediterranean Revival achieved fame in Greenville when former governor Thomas J. Jarvis urged architects to install red tile roofs on the Spanish-influenced buildings at the new East Carolina Teachers Training School in 1907. In the 1920s, six buildings added to the campus continued the Italian Renaissance theme with George R. Berryman as one of the architects.[51]

The style proved particularly popular in the College View neighborhood, and in Skinnerville-Greenville Heights, the school board chose a Spanish Colonial Revival design by George R. Berryman for the new Third Street School (700 West Third Street) completed in 1929. The one-story building's exterior is yellow brick while red clay tiles finish the low-pitched gabled and hipped roofs. Tile pilasters and lintels with low-relief ornament frame the recessed entrance, and a semi-hexagonal bay projects at the west end of the facade. Additions made in 1949 and 1953 and designed by James Griffith continue the stylistic theme of the 1929 plan by incorporating low-relief ornament and decorative tiles.

The Dutch Colonial Revival style with its characteristic gambrel roof proved popular nationally in the late 1920s through the 1940s, but only two stand in Skinnerville-Greenville Heights today. Tobacconist Earle Hellen and his wife Christine purchased the lot at 302 Elizabeth Street in 1922 and likely built their Dutch Colonial Revival dwelling shortly thereafter. The two-story, frame house features a gambrel roof with a large shed dormer on the front slope, a south gable-end brick chimney, and a one-story south gable-end wing. The James and Mamie Perkins House at 1001 West Fourth Street is a later incarnation built around 1946. The two-story Perkins House is brick with a gambrel roof and large shed dormer and has a gabled portico with an arched ceiling.

During the 1920s, Tudor Revival also emerged as a nationally-popular style, but it did not have the appeal in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights neighborhood that it did in other Greenville neighborhoods such as College View [see College View Historic District] where a significant number stand. No examples exist in Skinnerville-Greenville Heights, but Period Cottages, scaled-down versions of Tudor Revival houses, appealed somewhat, although they were not built in great profusion as they were in many early twentieth century neighborhoods in North Carolina and the extant representatives generally lack architectural enrichment. The rental house at 907 West Third Street, built around 1939, is a one-and-a-half-story dwelling with a tapered chimney on the facade. The side-gable roof incorporates a gable front projection and a gable over the entry bay, which contains an arched paneled front door. The circa 1948 Willie H. and Blanche F. Tripp House at 1016 Colonial Avenue features typical architectural elements including a steeply pitched gable roof and dormers, a brick exterior, and a fanlight over the front entrance.

During the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s, middle-class families built Bungalows throughout the district, while residents of greater means erected substantial Craftsman houses. The Bungalow enjoyed national popularity in the late 1910s and 1920s and architects designed fine examples for clients from coast to coast. The style, both in high-style form and in scaled down versions, proved immensely popular in towns and suburbs across North Carolina into the early 1930s. Building plans for these houses, with their wide overhanging eaves, open arrangement of rooms, and inviting porches, appeared in national magazines and catalogs. The Bungalow was inexpensive and easy to build and appealed to families' desires for a modern house.

The Alfred M. and Nell Moseley House at 402 West Fourth Street stands as the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District's most fully realized and most well-executed Craftsman dwelling. Built around 1915, the two-story house is brick with a shingle-clad second floor exterior. Low hip dormers punctuate the low-pitched slate hip roof. Sixteen-over-one sash and wooden casement windows light the interior. The Craftsman entry includes a segmental arch transom and sidelights.

The Albion and Irma Dunn House, also built around 1915, combines Colonial Revival massing and scale with Craftsman styling. The dwelling stands at 707 West Fourth Street and like the Moseley House, features shingles on the second level above a brick lower level. Windows contain twelve-over-one sash and the eaves feature exposed rafter tails. Small, separate porches on the north and west elevations were originally connected into a larger wraparound porch, but they retain original paired posts on brick piers. Benton and Benton of Wilson designed the house for the Dunn family.

Other Craftsman dwellings in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District were smaller with less elaborate detailing. Two blocks west of the Dunn House is the Jarvis Harding House (901 West Fourth Street), probably built around 1919. The one-story, frame Craftsman Bungalow retains weatherboard siding, three-over-one sash, and sidelights and a transom at the front entry. Windows on the facade contain leaded glass in their upper sash while large shed dormers dominate the front roof slope. Battered posts on brick piers support the shed-roof, wrap-around porch.

Bungalows with varying degrees of Craftsman influence were built throughout the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District from the 1910s through the early 1950s. Some have almost no architectural detailing and are called bungalows as a reference to their size, forms, and the era of their construction. The Robert and Grace Hill House typifies such dwellings. The Hills built their house at 205 Davis Street around 1928, and aside from four-over-one sash, the one-story, gable-front dwelling features no other architectural expression. Similarly, the two 1950s duplexes at 204 and 206 New Street, clad in weatherboard siding, only display exposed rafter tails. Other modest bungalows, such as the circa 1920 Frank J. and Eunice Diener House at 509 West Third Street and the circa 1925 Roy C. Jr. and Beatrice Flanagan House at 406 Davis Street, feature more Craftsman elements such as knee braces, exposed rafter tails, porch posts on brick piers, and Craftsman windows with various light configurations in the upper sash.

During the 1930s, despite the Great Depression, some construction occurred in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District. Twenty-two extant resources were built during the decade, although all but three of those occurred during the recovery era of the late 1930s. The three built in the thick of the Depression (the ca.1933 Judson H. Blount House (500 Elizabeth Street), the circa 1935 James and Lucy Ficklen House (409 Elizabeth Street), and the circa 1932 Kinchen and Dorothy Cobb House (300 South Pitt Street)) continued classically-based Colonial Revival idioms popular in the 1920s. These families may have selected Colonial Revival designs because fewer new styles emerged during the economic crisis or because the stimuli behind the Colonial Revival's initial development in the late nineteenth century &mdash namely an interest in and respect for American history fostered by the 1876 Centennial, the 1893 Columbian Exposition, and the circulation of photographs of colonial and early American dwellings via magazines and newspapers &mdash continued influencing architecture.

Houses built in the recovery era were considerably simpler than earlier manifestations and usually featured modest Colonial Revival or Craftsman treatments. Mason and Annie Yates built their bungalow around 1937 at 307 Vance Street. The one-story, frame, gable-front dwelling has weatherboard siding, knee braces, and a recessed front-gable porch with original tapered posts topped by simple caps. Dewitt and Kate Phillips built a one-story, L-plan residence at 407 Contentnea Street around 1939. The house's partial-width front porch has square posts while Colonial Revival-style six-over-six sash punctuate the walls. The W. Chester and Eva B. Harris House stands at 708 West Third Street and is a more sophisticated Colonial Revival dwelling than most built during the recovery era. Constructed in 1941, this one-and-a-half-story, gable-roofed house features projecting front-gabled wings at its east and west ends with a pair of gabled dormers on the front roof slope and a cupola centered on the roof ridgeline.

When World War II ended, construction revived as wartime rationing was lifted and veterans flooded home. Many families in North Carolina and Greenville sought the comfort and reassurance of building in styles of the past such as the Colonial Revival. This held true in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights neighborhood. The modest houses built after World War II were similar to those built during the recovery period of the late 1930s: compact dwellings usually absent of architectural embellishment but occasionally displaying restrained detailing derived from Colonial Revival patterns. Most were constructed as infill among older homes, but some concentrations of post-war housing occurred in the northwest corner of the district and along Fairfax and Colonial Avenues where open lots were still available. Representing the staying power of Colonial Revival design is the C. Stuart and Elizabeth Carr House at 421 West Fourth Street. Constructed around 1945, the two-story frame dwelling is three bays wide with a centered front door and exhibits pilasters and an open pediment at the front entry, and weatherboard siding with mitered corners.

While Colonial Revival remained popular, most new houses struck a balance between modern and traditional by incorporating Colonial Revival elements in more up-to-date designs resulting in a simple, one-story dwellings with stripped-down classical elements that could be constructed quickly. The style has been termed Minimal Traditional because it uses a minimal amount of decorative elements to communicate traditional design values. The style began appearing just before the war, but proved more popular in the last half of the 1940s and into the 1950s. The circa 1949 Vance and Mary Overton House at 902 Colonial Avenue is a one-story, Minimal Traditional house with a side-gabled roof and projecting gabled bay at the east end of the facade. Six-over-six sash and a multi-light picture window illuminate the interior.

Even simpler versions of Colonial Revival-inspired Minimal Traditional dwellings were the "small houses" constructed under the influence of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Emphasis on well-designed small and affordable housing began in the 1920s and gained government support in the 1930s as the FHA sought to foster new home construction as an economic stimulus while promoting houses that people could afford during the Depression. With post-World War II demands for new houses, the same principles that made these small houses popular in the 1930s provided quickly-constructed affordable dwellings in the 1940s and 1950s.[52] The A.G. and Pattie W. Witherington House at 1012 Colonial Avenue was constructed around 1948 and typifies the basic one-story, side-gable small house.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, the Ranch house, with its low-pitched roof and open floor plan, enjoyed popularity in the city, but with limited open lots in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights area by the mid-1950s, only a handful stand within the district. The Ranch style originated in California in the 1930s and by the middle of the century it had been adapted to meet the needs of families who desired a low-cost dwelling with a living area on one level and enough space for all its members to enjoy their privacy. Ranch houses in the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District are generally side-gable dwellings with large picture windows lighting family spaces and ribbon windows, placed high on the exterior walls, punctuating the private spaces such as bedrooms and bathrooms. Most of the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District's Ranches were built along Colonial and Fairfax Avenues and on Vance Street north of Colonial Avenue where the greatest concentration of post-World War II building occurred or on infill lots among older buildings. Mack and Hortence Proctor built their Ranch around 1948 at 1016 Fairfax Avenue. The one-story house is clad with asbestos siding and sheltered with a side-gable roof. The circa 1960 dwelling at 802 Colonial Avenue features a side-gable roof and inset stoop entry.

In addition to single-family homes, developers added duplexes to Skinnerville-Greenville Heights's architectural composition during its period of significance. The circa 1927 duplex at 408 West Fourth Street is a two-story, Craftsman dwelling with two front doors and a hip-roof porch with battered posts on brick piers. On the next block to the north, duplexes lined both sides of Third Street in the early 1900s. New duplexes replaced these in the early 1950s and those on the north side of the street were torn down in the late twentieth century. The extant buildings (411, 413 and 415 West Third Street 423, 425 and 427 West Third Street) are simple one-story, gable-front houses with full-width front porches, exposed rafter tails, and six-over-six sash.

Garages constitute the majority of the district's outbuildings. Most are one-story, gable-front, weatherboard buildings. Older garages house one narrow bay for a single car, while later examples dating from the 1940s and 1950s contain wider bays, often with space for two vehicles. Some of the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District's finest residences, particularly those built during the 1920s, came complete with matching garages to complement the dwelling. At the circa 1928 Lawrence A. Stroud House at 410 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, the two-story, hipped roof, Colonial Revival-Craftsman brick house features a one-story, brick, hipped-roof garage with one narrow bay. When Alfred and Nell Moseley built their commodious Craftsman home at 402 West Fourth Street around 1915, they also built a one-story frame garage with a gable-on-hip roof, shingled exterior, and wooden casement windows to match the main dwelling.

The Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District also contains Greenville's nineteenth century municipal cemetery, Cherry Hill Cemetery, located on the west side of Pitt Street at First and Second Streets. Cherry Hill is the city's oldest extant burying ground and its largest and most elaborate nineteenth-century cemetery.[53] The earliest markers are in the southeast corner near the location of two antebellum churches. A section reserved for African American burials is located in the cemetery's northwest corner and is loosely divided from the white section by sparse shrubs. Cherry Hill Cemetery is significant for its funerary art, which is Greenville's best and largest collection of nineteenth and twentieth century grave markers. Elegant obelisks, delicate angels, some weeping and some with more hopeful expressions, and fabric-draped urns, all executed in marble, mark the final resting places for many prominent members of Greenville society. Granite tablets raised up on low pillars, flat granite tablets on the ground, marble and stone standing tablets, and fanciful concrete tree trunks also memorialize people from various walks of life in the section reserved for Caucasians. In the African American section, marbles, seashells, and glass enrich a collection of less elaborated but equally artistic concrete tablets.

The Spanish Colonial Revival Third Street School represents the Skinnerville-Greenville Heights Historic District's only other property type. Third Street School is significant as one of only two remaining early-twentieth century school buildings in Greenville. As such it is a representative of educational trends and theory of the 1920s and of Greenville's prosperity during that era. Additionally, its Spanish Colonial Revival architecture is unique in Greenville and is directly related to the Renaissance Revival buildings constructed on the East Carolina University campus in the early twentieth century. Greenville's only other early twentieth century school building, the former West Greenville Grammar School, now known as the Agnes Fullilove School, is used as a community center. The 1924 Colonial Revival school stands at the corner of Chestnut Street and Manhattan Avenue in the Higgs neighborhood.[54]

  1. Scott Power, ed. The Historic Architecture of Pitt County, North Carolina (Greenville: Pitt County Historical Society, Inc., 1991), 7.
  2. Michael Cotter, ed. The Architectural Heritage of Greenville, North Carolina (Greenville: Greenville Area Preservation Association, 1988), 6.
  3. Pitt County Club, Pitt County Economic and Social (Greenville: Greenville Publishing Company, 1921), 12.
  4. "Greater Greenville," supplement to The Eastern Reflector, July 1907.
  5. The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad later absorbed this branch of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad. In 1967, Atlantic Coast Line merged with Seaboard Air Line Railroad to become Seaboard Coast Line, which eventually became Seaboard System and is today known as CSX Transportation.
  6. Cotter, 7, 10-11 Power, 109-111, 173-174.
  7. Sallie Southall Cotten, "Greenville on the Tar," unpublished manuscript, n.d., Cotten Collection, Wilson Library, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 14.
  8. Cotter, 13 Cotten, 28.
  9. "Greater Greenville," supplement in The Easter Reflector, July 1907.
  10. Cotter, 15 Power, 111 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Greenville, North Carolina, 1916 and 1923 The University of North Carolina Board of Governors website, campus profiles accessed via on December 7, 2004.
  11. Cotter, 15 Power, 111 The University of North Carolina Board of Governors website, campus profiles accessed via on December 7, 2004.
  12. Elizabeth H. Copeland, ed., Chronicles of Pitt County North Carolina (Winston-Salem: Hunter Publishing Company, 1982), 43.
  13. Mary Jo Jackson Bratton, Greenville: Heart of the East (Chatsworth, CA: Windsor Publications, Inc., 1991), 78.
  14. Bratton, 90 Daily Reflector, February 19, 1965.
  15. Roger Kammerer and Candace Pearce, Greenville (Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2001), 51 Mrs. Herman Neal, interview by Kate M. Ohno, 1985, notes in State Historic Preservation Office Skinnerville File, Raleigh
  16. The University of North Carolina Board of Governors website, accessed via on December 7, 2004.
  17. Cotter, 15 Power, 188 Greenville Chamber of Commerce website,, accessed November 9, 2004, and Brody School of Medicine website,, accessed December 7, 2004.
  18. Daily Reflector, December 1, 1960 Copeland, 71.
  19. Roger Kammerer, telephone interview with the author, January 26, 2005.
  20. Latham and Skinner advertised in the Eastern Reflector as Attorneys at Law, conducting their practice in the state and federal courts. In the 1880s, A.L. Blow joined the firm, but by 1888, Blow had his own practice. By early 1897, Skinner was a partner with Harry Whedbee, and they advertised themselves in the Eastern Reflector as successors to Latham and Skinner.
  21. Cotter, 39 Henry T. King, Sketches of Pitt County (Raleigh: Edwards and Broughton Printing Company, 1911 reprint, Greenville: Era Press, 1976), 259 (page references are to reprint edition).
  22. Tilman R. and Sallie Ann Cherry to L.C. Latham and Harry Skinner, June 19, 1879, Pitt County Deed Book L4, page 38.
  23. Eastern Reflector, January 26, 1882.
  24. Eastern Reflector, August 2, 1882 and May 23, 1883.
  25. Eastern Reflector, February 24, 1884 and October 21, 1885 "Greater Greenville," supplement in The Eastern Reflector, July 1907. Based on city directories and Sanborn maps the Skinner House was demolished in the late 1940s.
  26. Cotter, 39 King, 259.
  27. Daily Reflector, December 1, 1960 Kammerer interview Copeland, 71.
  28. Daily Reflector, November 9, 1899.
  29. Cotter, 39 King, 258-259.
  30. Eastern Reflector, June 7, 1907.
  31. "Greater Greenville," supplement to the Eastern Reflector, July 1907.
  32. David R. Goldfield, "North Carolina's Early Twentieth-Century Suburbs and the Urbanizing South," in Early Twentieth-Century Suburbs in North Carolina, edited by Catherine W. Bishir and Lawrence S. Earley (Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1985), 10-11 Geoffrey and Susan Jellicoe, The Landscape of Man (New York: Thames and Hudson, Inc., 1995), 280-281.
  33. King, 183 and 196 "Greater Greenville," supplement to The Eastern Reflector, July 1907.
  34. Pitt County Club, 12.
  35. Catherine W. Bishir and Lawrence S. Earley, eds., introduction to Early Twentieth-Century Suburbs in North Carolina (Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1985), 3 Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 354.
  36. Margaret Supplee Smith, "The American Idyll in North Carolina's First Suburbs: Landscape and Architecture," in Early Twentieth-Century Suburbs in North Carolina, edited by Catherine W. Bishir and Lawrence S. Earley (Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1985), 21-22.
  37. Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Greenville, North Carolina, 1916.
  38. Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Greenville, North Carolina, 1923 and 1929.
  39. Greenville City Directories, 1944/1945, 1947/1948, 1949/1950, 19551/1952, 1954/1955, 1956/1957, 1960/1961 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Greenville, North Carolina, 1929/1946.
  40. Kammerer and Pearce, 23.
  41. Charles O'Hagan Laughinghouse to Mr. J. C. Tyson, Greenville City Clerk, letter dated July 10, 1916, Charles O'Hagan Laughinghouse Papers, Joyner Manuscript Collection, Joyner Library, East Carolina University.
  42. Cotter, 46.
  43. Greenville City Directories, 1916/1917, 1926/1927, 1936/1937, 1944/1945, 1947/1948, 1949/1950, 19551/1952, 1954/1955, 1956/1957, 1960/1961.
  44. Greenville City Directories, 1944/1945, 1947/1948, 1949/1950, 19551/1952, 1954/1955, 1956/1957.
  45. Neal, interview Greenville City Directories Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.
  46. Judson H. Blount House Survey File, State Historic Preservation Office, Raleigh Drucilla G. Haley and Maurice C. York, "E. B. Ficklen House," Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, 1984.
  47. North Carolina Department of Conservation, and Development, Division of Community Planning, Neighborhood Analysis Report (Greenville: Greenville City Planning and Zoning Commission, 1966), no page numbers.
  48. City of Greenville website accessed via on December 6, 2004.
  49. Bond Information Pamphlet, City of Greenville website accessed via on December 6, 2004.
  50. Scott Power, "College View Historic District," National Register Nomination, 1991, section 8, page 10 Edwards-Pitman Environmental, Inc., "City of Greenville Revitalization Area: Historic and Architectural Evaluation," 2004, 10-11.
  51. Power, "College View," section 8, page 11.
  52. David L. Ames and Linda Flint McClelland, Historic Residential Suburbs: Guidelines for Evaluation and Documentation for the National Register of Historic Places (Washington D.C.: Department of the Interior, National Parks Service, 2002), 60-61.
  53. An eighteenth century cemetery existed on Evans Street in downtown Greenville but its burials were moved to Cherry Hill in the late nineteenth century as Greenville's commercial district expanded. Kammerer interview.
  54. Cotter, 81 Scott Power, email to the author, February 11, 2005.

Ames, David L. and Linda Flint McClelland. Historic Residential Suburbs: Guidelines for Evaluation and Documentation for the National Register of Historic Places. Washington D.C.: Department of the Interior, National Parks Service, 2002.

Bishir, Catherine W. and Lawrence S. Earley, eds. Early Twentieth-Century Suburbs in North Carolina. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1985.

Bishir, Catherine W. and Michael T. Southern. A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

Bratton, Mary Jo Jackson. Greenville: Heart of the East. Chatsworth, CA: Windsor Publications, Inc., 1991.

City of Greenville website,

Copeland, Elizabeth H. Chronicles of Pitt County, North Carolina. Winston-Salem: Hunter Publishing Company, 1982.

Cotten, Sallie Southall. "Greenville on the Tar." Undated manuscript. Cotten Collection. Wilson Library. North Carolina Collection. University of North Carolina.

Cotter, Michael, ed. The Architectural Heritage of Greenville, North Carolina. Greenville: Greenville Area Preservation Association, 1988.

Goldfield, David R. "North Carolina's Early Twentieth-Century Suburbs and the Urbanizing South." In Early Twentieth-Century Suburbs in North Carolina, ed. Catherine W. Bishir and Lawrence Early, 9-19. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1985.

Greenville Chamber of Commerce website,

Greenville City Directory. Loveland, CO: Johnson Publishing Company, 1916-1955. Available in the local history room at Sheppard Memorial Library, Greenville.

Haley, Drucilla G. and Maurice C. York. "E. B. Ficklen House." Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, 1984.

Jellicoe, Geoffrey and Susan. The Landscape of Man: Shaping the Environment from Prehistory to the Present Day. 3rd ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

Kammerer, Roger. Telephone interview with the author. January 26, 2005.

Kammerer, Roger and Candace Pearce. Greenville. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing Company, 2001. King, Henry. Sketches of Pitt County. Raleigh: Edwards and Broughton Printing Company, 1911 reprint, Greenville.: Era Press, 1976.

Laughinghouse, Charles O'Hagan to J. C. Tyson, July 10, 1916. Charles O'Hagan Laughinghouse Papers, Joyner Manuscript Collection, Joyner Library, East Carolina University.

Neal, Mrs. Herman. Interview by Kate M. Ohno. 1985. State Historic Preservation Office.

North Carolina Department of Conservation and Development, Division of Community Planning. Neighborhood Analysis Report. Greenville: Greenville City Planning and Zoning Commission, 1966.

Pitt County Club. Pitt County Economic and Social. Greenville: Greenville Publishing Company, 1921.

Power, Scott. "College View Historic District." National Register Nomination, 1991.

Power, Scott, ed. The Historic Architecture of Pitt County, North Carolina. Greenville: Pitt County Historical Society, Inc., 1991.

Sanborn Map Company maps, 1905. 1916, 1923, 1929, and 1946. Accessed in February 2004 via

Smith, Margaret Supplee. "The American Idyll in North Carolina's First Suburbs: Landscape and Architecture." In Early Twentieth-Century Suburbs in North Carolina, ed. Catherine W. Bishir and Lawrence Early, 21-30. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1985.

Antebellum White Collar Workplace Architecture and Design - History

Please note that this text-only version, provided for ease of printing and reading, includes approximately 70 pages and may take up to 20 minutes to print. By clicking on one of these links, you may go directly to a particular text-only section:

The National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places and Southeast Regional Office, in conjunction with the Atlanta History Center, the Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers (NCSHPO), proudly invite you to explore Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta began as the terminal point of the Western and Atlantic Railroad, a project authorized by the State of Georgia in 1836. Originally known as Terminus, and later Marthasville, by the Civil War Atlanta was a bustling city. Crippled by the burning of the city during the war, Atlanta rebounded during the last part of the century. Today it is home to more than 4 million people and is considered the entertainment and cultural center of the South, attracting more than 17 million travelers each year. This latest National Register of Historic Places travel itinerary highlights 70 historic places that tell the story of this capital city--from its picturesque homes to its reaching skyscrapers--tales of former slaves, educators, authors, and millionaires who have shaped the development of Atlanta over the past two centuries.

Union General William T. Sherman's occupation of Atlanta during the Civil War left much of the city in ruin, and antebellum era buildings such as the Tullie Smith House are today a rarity. Yet Atlantans rebuilt quickly as the city became the junction of three of the region's most important railroad lines, and the location for the Georgia State Capitol in 1868. The end of the 19th century brought great industrial development, with factories such as E. Van Winkle's Gin and Machine Works, lining the railroad corridors radiating from downtown. By the turn of the century, skyscrapers such as the English-American Building were dotting the city's skyline, and the dense redevelopment of downtown Atlanta had pushed residents to the edges of the city. Numerous suburban developments emerged such as West End, Inman Park, Druid Hills and Ansley Park. African Americans were establishing their own neighborhoods of Washington Park and Sweet Auburn, and institutions such as Atlanta University. Atlanta became the birthplace of the Coca-Cola empire--home to the company's founder, Asa Candler, who erected the Candler Building as a monument to himself, and the location of the early Dixie Coca-Cola Bottling Company Plant. Popular authors Margaret Mitchell (Gone With the Wind) and Joel Chandler Harris (Uncle Remus Tales) called Atlanta home, as well as major leaders in the black community such as Alonzo Herndon, a former slave who founded the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, and Civil Rights movement leader, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Atlanta, Georgia offers several ways to discover these places that reflect the history of this southern city. Each highlighted site features a brief description of the place's historic significance, color and, where available, historic photographs, and public accessibility information. At the bottom of each page the visitor will find a navigation bar containing links to four essays that explain more about Antebellum Atlanta, Industrial Atlanta, the African American Experience, and Growth and Preservation. These essays provide historic background, or "contexts," for many of the places included in the itinerary. In the Learn More section, the itineraries link to regional and local web sites that provide visitors with further information regarding cultural events, special activities, and lodging and dining possibilities. The itinerary can be viewed online, or printed out if you plan to visit Atlanta in person.

Created through a partnership between the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places and Southeast Regional Office, in cooperation with the Atlanta History Center, the Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and NCSHPO, Atlanta, Georgia is the latest example of a new and exciting cooperative project. As part of the Department of the Interior's strategy to promote public awareness of history and encourage tourists to visit historic places throughout the nation, the National Register of Historic Places is cooperating with communities, regions, and Heritage Areas throughout the United States to create online travel itineraries. Using places nominated by State, Federal and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the itineraries help potential visitors plan their next trip by highlighting the amazing diversity of this country's historic places and supplying accessibility information for each featured site. Atlanta, Georgia is the 25th National Register travel itinerary successfully created through such partnerships. Additional itineraries will debut online in the future. The National Register of Historic Places and Southeast Regional Office hope you enjoy this virtual travel itinerary of Atlanta's heritage. If you have any comments or questions, please just click on the provided e-mail address, "comments or questions" located at the bottom of each page.

Today, Atlanta is often identified with its major air transportation hub and automobile-oriented culture. This association is only fitting, since antebellum Atlanta quickly grew from a frontier outpost to a bustling city largely due to the rise of transportation. From old Indian trails to ferries to railroads, Atlanta's early history is intertwined with the movement of people and goods. Atlanta's economy and its youth--it was founded in 1837--made it vastly different from the plantation South and older eastern seaboard cities like Savannah and Charleston. Instead of a planter aristocracy, the leaders of pre-Civil War Atlanta were more likely to be merchants or railroad men.

The original inhabitants of the north Georgia locale that would one day become the Atlanta metropolitan area were the Cherokee and Creek nations, with the Chattahoochee River separating the two. Despite treaties and other official policies prohibiting white encroachment, white settlers moved into the region. In 1830 the United States Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which called for the relocation of all southeastern Indians to western territories. The Cherokee Nation contested the act in court, but the discovery of gold on Cherokee lands near Dahlonega in 1832 brought an influx of white squatters and gold hunters, and the state of Georgia illegally surveyed and parceled out the Indian lands. In 1838 General Winfield Scott and his troops rounded up the Indians and began the forced march west to Arkansas and Oklahoma. Some 18,000 Indians were forced to leave their homes and lands in Georgia on a journey known as the "Trail of Tears." Almost 4,000 died en route. The lands they formerly occupied were opened to white development, but evidence of the first inhabitants abounds in geographic names still used today: Chattahoochee and Oconee from the Creeks, and Kennesaw, Tallulah, and Dahlonega from the Cherokees.

In 1837 the Western and Atlantic Railroad, a state-sponsored project, established a town at the termination point for the railroad, calling that location "Terminus." You can see that railroad's historic Western and Atlantic Railroad Zero Milepost just north of Underground Atlanta, a shopping and entertainment area. In 1843 the town was named Marthasville in honor of the daughter of former Governor Wilson Lumpkin, who had been instrumental in bringing railroads to the area. Two years later, the town was incorporated as Atlanta. The origin of this name is the subject of some debate, with some people saying that it is the feminine version of the "Atlantic" part of the railroad's name, while others believe it is a variation of Martha Lumpkin's middle name, Atalanta. Some cities in the metropolitan area were founded earlier than Atlanta: Lawrenceville (1821), Decatur (1823), and Fayetteville (1827).

Because of the Chattahoochee River, some of the earliest businesses in Atlanta were ferries and mills. The road named after Hardy Pace's ferry--Paces Ferry--winds its way in front of the governor's mansion and other prestigious addresses in the upscale Buckhead section of Atlanta. The site of James Power's ferry, and the road named after it (Powers Ferry), is now the location of numerous office parks and apartment complexes. Some of these ferry services survived well into the 20th century. Antebellum gristmills and sawmills also left behind traces through such names as Moores Mill Road and Howell Mill Road.

Railroads, however, were the key to Atlanta's rapid growth. In 1836, only 35 families occupied the area. The population expanded to 2,572 residents by 1850. At the beginning of the Civil War, Atlanta, with a population of more than 9,000, was the connecting point for several rail lines, including the Georgia Railroad from Augusta, Georgia the Macon and Western, from Macon, Georgia the Atlanta and West Point to West Point, Georgia and the original railroad that created Atlanta, the Western and Atlantic to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Railroad-related industries thrived, including the Atlanta Rolling Mill, the second largest manufacturer of railroad tracks in the Southeast. These businesses and railroads centered on the area that Underground Atlanta occupies today.

Another antebellum landmark is Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta's first municipal cemetery, established in 1850. If you are looking for an antebellum Georgia plantation, Tullie Smith Farm at the Atlanta History Center on West Paces Ferry Road demonstrates how some north Georgia farmers lived and worked. This plantation-plain-style house was built just outside the present-day city by the Robert Smith family in the 1840s. Smith was a yeoman farmer who owned 11 slaves and cultivated about two hundred acres in DeKalb County. Hogs and cattle ranged freely on the other 600 acres. Despite popular belief to the contrary, the large, extravagant plantations of Hollywood and romantic novels were more the exception than the rule in the Upper Piedmont portion of the South. Tullie Smith Farm consists of a farmhouse, a separate open-hearth kitchen, vegetable, herb, and flower gardens, a blacksmith shop, a smokehouse, and a barn complete with animals. Living history interpreters lead tours and demonstrate the crafts and everyday activities.

While some enslaved persons in antebellum Atlanta were agricultural laborers, most worked as general laborers and domestic servants or else pursued skilled trades as brickmasons, carpenters, and blacksmiths. Many of these slaves were hired out and sometimes were allowed to keep a portion of their wages. These men and women often went about their daily lives with little or no interference from their owners, but the city passed numerous ordinances restricting their movement and assigned much harsher penalties for slaves and free blacks found guilty of infractions than whites guilty of the same offense.

While at the Atlanta History Center, visit the permanent exhibition Metropolitan Frontiers. This exhibition presents the story of Atlanta, from the original Indian inhabitants through its emergence as a major transportation and global communications hub, told through photographs, rare artifacts, and video and audio clips.

Essay by Andy Ambrose, Karen Leathem and Charles Smith of the Atlanta History Center. For more on Atlanta's history, see: Andy Ambrose, Atlanta: An Illustrated History. Athens, Ga.: Hill Street Press, 2003.

When General William T. Sherman and his 98,000 Union soldiers marched out of Chattanooga in early May 1864, few Atlantans felt threatened, confident in General Joseph E. Johnston's ability to keep the Yankee intruders at bay. Outgunned and out-manned, however, Johnston could only feint and parry with his enemy and, in spite of significant Confederate victories at Resaca, New Hope Church, and Kennesaw Mountain, the 50,000-man Confederate army was forced to withdraw to the south side of the Chattahoochee River by early July, burning the bridges at their rear as they took up positions in the heavy fortifications that ringed Atlanta. Two weeks later, the entire Union army had crossed the river as well and even the Confederates' new general, John Bell Hood, could not stave off the inevitable.

Fierce fighting north of the city at Peachtree Creek cost the Confederates nearly 5,000 casualties on July 20. Two days later, another 7,000 were lost east of the city at what became known as the Battle of Atlanta, an engagement immortalized in the Cyclorama at Grant Park. As the city was subjected to a month-long bombardment by Union gunners, the battles at Ezra Church on July 28 and at Jonesboro on August 31 cost the Confederates another 10,000 casualties and finally forced the city's capitulation on September 2. Residents who had not already fled were forcibly evacuated on September 20 as the city became an armed camp for Sherman's army. On November 14, with his army rested and re-supplied, Sherman ordered the city burned and, the next morning, set out on his "March to the Sea," determined to "make Georgia howl."

Sherman's campaign and occupation left Atlanta's business district, most of its industrial base, and many residences in ruins. By some estimates, two-thirds of the city's buildings were destroyed when the Union army departed in November 1864, and hardship followed for many residents. Yet even before the war ended the following spring, Atlanta was rapidly rebuilding, and by the end of 1865 at least 150 stores were open for business. The city's location at the junction of three of the region's most important railroad lines insured its renaissance, and building on the promise of the railroads, city boosters wasted little time grieving the "Lost Cause." "A new city is springing up with marvelous rapidity," one contemporary observer noted, and many saw a city that was already more northern than southern, both in the pace of civic life and in its faith in industry and commerce. "Atlanta is a devil of a place," one rural visitor wrote, " . . . The men rush about like mad, and keep up such a bustle, worry, and chatter, that it runs me crazy." Removal of the capital from Milledgeville to Atlanta in 1868 confirmed the shift in political and economic power that occurred as a result of the Civil War and as Savannah and Charleston stagnated, Atlanta boomed.

Atlanta was already looming large over the region, and by 1870 was the fourth-largest inland port for cotton in the Southeast. Its wholesale "drummers" dominated the State's retail supply markets, and with excellent railroad and communication connections, Atlanta was a natural center for banking and commerce of all sorts. Downtown merchants and grocers alone generated more than $35 million in trade annually by the early 1870s, and the opening of the Kimball House hotel in 1872 signaled the growing importance of the city's hospitality industry.

Although Atlanta's population was only 37,500 in 1880, it ranked among the 50 largest cities in the United States and the largest city between Richmond and New Orleans. Henry Grady's campaign for a "New South" of industrial development, regional cooperation, and tolerant race relations was not entirely successful but much of what he did benefited Atlanta and set the tone for the next 50 years. In 1881, city boosters held the first in a series of "international" expositions to promote the city's textile and industrial development, culminating in the ambitious Cotton States and International Exposition, which drew a million visitors to Piedmont Park in the fall of 1895. Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill, E. Van Winkle Gin and Machine Works, Atlantic Steel, and Ford Motor Company's first Atlanta assembly plant were only the most prominent of dozens of cotton and mercantile warehouses, factories, and textile mills that lined the railroad corridors radiating from downtown.

Atlanta's population rose above 65,000 in 1890, soared to over 150,000 in 1910, and surpassed 200,000 in 1920. By then, the dense redevelopment of much of downtown Atlanta had crowded out most of the old residential buildings, some of which had survived Sherman's fires in 1864, and new construction was replacing them with larger and larger office buildings, hotels, factories, and warehouses. When it was completed in 1892, the South's first "skyscraper," the eight-story Equitable Building, loomed large on the skyline of Atlanta but by World War I, it was overshadowed by taller buildings, including the English-American, Candler, and Hurt buildings.

In the 1870s and 1880s, mule-drawn and steam-powered streetcar lines as well as commuter train service sparked suburban development, and with electric streetcars fanning growth after 1889, residential real estate became a major industry in the city. Older neighborhoods continued to grow, especially around West End and Grant Park and the expositions at Piedmont Park in 1887, 1889, and 1895 were a tremendous catalyst for residential development in unincorporated "North Atlanta" along Peachtree Street and Piedmont Avenue north of Ponce de Leon Avenue. In the 1890s and early 1900s, new residential districts emerged as old farms on the outskirts of the city were rapidly carved up into fashionable "garden suburbs." Beginning with Joel Hurt's Inman Park in 1889, streetcars drove suburban development in Ansley Park, Druid Hills, Candler Park, Adair Park, and dozens of others that followed in the first quarter of the 20th century.

Widespread automobile ownership after World War I helped expand Atlanta's suburbs and at the same time brought downtown traffic to a near standstill as automobiles competed with streetcars and pedestrians for a place on the city's crowded streets. By the end of World War I, thriving neighborhood business districts with grocery stores, drugs stores, laundries, and hardware stores had evolved all around the city, most notably around Peachtree and Tenth, Little Five Points, and West End.

With segregation, especially after the 1906 race riots shattered the carefully-crafted veneer of the "New South," Atlanta's black communities coalesced around the famous religious and educational institutions that emerged after the Civil War, including Gammon Theological Seminary southeast of downtown and Atlanta University and the Washington Park neighborhood on the west. By World War I, black-owned businesses, churches, and other institutions prospered and gave support to a community that was, perhaps, better prepared than some to endure and resist the rule of Jim Crow. In May 1917, fire burned across 300 acres of northeast Atlanta, destroying nearly 2,000 buildings and leaving 10,000 people homeless, most of them African Americans in the overcrowded Fourth Ward. The fire accelerated the northward exodus, known as the Great Migration, of the city's African Americans already underway as the burgeoning auto and defense industries in Chicago, Detroit, and other big northern cities offered new economic opportunities and, it was hoped, better living conditions in general.

As the boll weevil ruined the South's agricultural economy after World War I, the great real estate boom in Florida provoked Atlanta, Columbus, and other cities to mount advertising campaigns to stem the flow of investment out of Georgia. In 1926, just months before a hurricane put an end to the Florida boom, the city embarked on its first "Forward Atlanta" campaign that, in three years, generated 20,000 new jobs worth an additional $34.5 million annually to the city's economy.

In addition, the city, urged on by Alderman and later mayor William B. Hartsfield, established a municipal airport on Asa Candler's old motor speedway south of town in 1929 and by the end of 1930, only New York and Chicago had more regularly-scheduled flights than Atlanta's Candler Field. In 1931, the nation's first passenger terminal was constructed at the airport, followed by the nation's first air-traffic control tower in 1938. Now named Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Atlanta's municipal airport insured that the city would remain a major transportation hub, a position that was reinforced by the three interstate highways that were built through the city after World War II.

As the national economy slid into depression, building activity virtually ceased in Atlanta in the early 1930s. Works Progress Administration and other New Deal programs made possible significant improvements to the city's infrastructure in the last half of the decade, and the city saw a resumption of some private residential development as well as construction of its first civic center, its first downtown park since the 1860s, and the nation's first Federally-funded housing project. In addition to improvements at the municipal airport, the city benefited from construction of the State's first, four-lane, super highway to Marietta in 1938. In the 1930s and 1940s, the city's growth slowed dramatically from the astounding double-digit rates that were typical in previous decades, but with the end of World War II, suburban development skyrocketed.

A comprehensive plan for the city's development was laid out in 1946 and included a major focus on "urban renewal" and on a new system of "expressways" that would eventually be incorporated into the nation's interstate highway system. In 1952, annexation of Buckhead and residential neighborhoods north and west of the city tripled the city's land area and added 100,000 new residents and although the city's population would peak at just under 500,000 in 1970, there were already a million residents in a five-county metropolitan area by 1960. "The city too busy to hate," as the city's leadership proclaimed in the 1950s, Atlanta would soon be not just a regional powerhouse, but one of the leaders of the "Sun Belt" that rearranged American politics, business, and culture in the late 20th century.

Essay by Tommy Jones, Architectural Historian with the National Park Service's Southeast Regional Office.

African American Experience

he history of African Americans in Atlanta is synonymous with the history of Atlanta itself, and is one of progress and perseverance. From the early days of slaveholding until today, when the last five mayors of Atlanta have been African Americans, the story of the largest southern city can be told through the experiences of its largest ethnic minority.

The majority of African Americans were originally brought over from Western Africa and Madagascar as part of the slave trade between 1760 and 1810. Charleston, South Carolina, became the major southern port where African Americans were introduced to the lower south. By 1750 an estimated 240,000 Africans or people of African descent lived in British North America, comprising nearly 20 percent of the total colonial population, mostly concentrated in the southern colonies. In Georgia and South Carolina the wealthy planters drew upon the skills and knowledge of African Americans brought from Senegambia to aid in the cultivation of rice, which was the first major export crop of these southern colonies. The slave trade from Africa was halted by the U.S. Congress after January 1, 1808, and in the North the gradual abolition of slavery took place. In the South, economic factors, notably the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, kept the institution alive.

The city of Atlanta originated in the 19th century. Starting out as Terminus in 1837, and later named Marthasville in 1843, the rapidly growing town incorporated under the present day name of Atlanta in 1845. Already by 1850, Atlanta had a population which included 493 African slaves, 18 free blacks, and 2,058 whites. This small population would grow, and by 1870, the black population of Atlanta comprised 46 percent of 21,700 residents, a proportion roughly maintained to the end of the 19th century.

The Civil War: The early history of African Americans in Atlanta was forever altered by the Civil War. Georgia banded together with other southern states to create the Confederate States of America, fearing that the election of Abraham Lincoln to the American Presidency in 1860 election would usher in a strong Federal government opposed to slavery. Overall, as Peter Kolchin wrote about African Americans in American Slavery 1619-1877, although "some stood loyally by their masters and mistresses through thick and thin," when Union troops approached, "the transformation of master-slave relations became unmistakable as slaves sensed their impending liberation." General William T. Sherman invaded Georgia from the northwest in May 1864. Later that year he took control of the city of Atlanta and forced evacuation of the citizenry when his armies burned the city before leaving to continue their march to the sea.

Many slaves escaped to follow Sherman's armies. Burke Davis recorded in his book, Sherman's March, that, concerned about the mobility of his army, "Sherman issued orders in Atlanta barring the elderly, the infirm and mothers with young children from joining the march." Under political pressure, Sherman in January of 1865 ordered thousands of acres of abandoned land in the Sea Islands and low country of Georgia and South Carolina to be made available to the freed slaves for homesteading. This order was later rescinded by President Andrew Johnson. Congress, violently opposed to President Johnson, later passed the Southern Homestead Act in 1866, which allowed for homesteading on public lands in five deep southern states, although enforcing this later proved difficult.

Reconstruction in Atlanta: In the spring of 1865 the exhausted Confederacy collapsed and Union control was exerted over the entire South. The Atlanta City Council later that year vowed equal application of laws to whites and blacks, and a school for black children, the first in the city, opened in an old church building on Armstrong Street. In 1867, General John Pope, the U.S. General in charge of Atlanta, issued orders allowing African Americans to serve on juries. In 1868, the State legislature, in defiance of Georgia's Governor Bullock, expelled 28 newly elected African Americans from the legislature. The State Supreme Court reinstated the legislators the following year.

In 1869, the State legislature voted against ratifying the 15th Amendment, which guarantees that the right to vote will not be abridged based on "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." The Federal government returned Atlanta to military rule that December, stating that Georgia would not be readmitted to the Union until the 15th Amendment was passed. The same year a positive step for African Americans was taken when the Methodist Episcopal Church's Freedman Aid Society founded a coeducational school for African American legislators that would later become Clark College in Atlanta. In 1870, the legislature ratified the 15th Amendment and Georgia was readmitted to the Union while the Governor had to fight to keep African-American legislators seated. Dennis Hammond, a Radical Republican, was elected mayor of Atlanta and the first two African Americans, William Finch and George Graham, sat on the new City Council. The era of Reconstruction ended in 1877, when the bulk of the Federal troops were removed from the South and African Americans could no longer rely on their political protection. Still, African Americans found other ways to thrive, both economically and socially. One the best examples of such success was former slave Alonzo F. Herndon, founder of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, located in the Sweet Auburn Historic District. Through this enterprise, Herndon became Atlanta's first black millionaire.

The 20th Century: At the turn of the 20th century, many of Atlanta's African Americans remained poor and disenfranchised, although after Reconstruction there were political and social theories advocating more equality for African Americans. At the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition, Tuskegee Institute founder and principal Booker T. Washington delivered his famous Atlanta Compromise Speech which urged African Americans to stress education, economic advancement, and gradual adjustment, rather than immediate political and civil rights. In the time of Jim Crow laws, this caused an uproar and divided African Americans throughout the nation. W.E.B. DuBois, a Morehouse (Atlanta University) professor and political activist, countered that "the radicals received it [Washington's speech] as a complete surrender of the demand for civil and political equality. "

The 20th century also saw the advent of violence in Atlanta as roughly 10,000 white people attacked the city's African Americans on September 22, 1906. "The immediate cause of the terrible Atlanta riot of 1906 had been the newspaper drumfire of alleged assaults upon white women by black men," wrote David Levering Lewis in his Pulitzer prize winning biography, W.E.B. DuBois, Biography of a Race. The deeper reasons for these riots lay in the class conflicts among working white people who feared losing jobs to lesser paid black laborers, as well as a social fear of the rising black middle class. The death count of the Atlanta riots numbered over two dozen slain African Americans and five or six whites. Du Bois responded to the riots with his "Litany of Atlanta" which was published in the Independent on October 11, 1906. Part of his litany reads "A city lay in travail, God our Lord, and from her loins sprang twin Murder and Black Hate." Mayor James Woodward called an assembly of white and African American leaders of Atlanta on the Sunday after the attacks. Promises of police reform were made, as well as the idea for the creation of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation.

Before desegregation took place African Americans created their own opportunities in businesses, publications, and sports. Evidence of successful businesses was most profound in Sweet Auburn, now known as the Sweet Auburn Historic District, a one-mile corridor that served as the downtown of Atlanta's black community. Businesses flourished in the 1930s and 1940s, including restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs where Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington performed. In 1928, the Atlanta Daily World, the oldest African American daily newspaper still in circulation, began publication. From 1920 until the 1940s, the Atlanta Black Crackers, a baseball team in the Negro Southern League, and later on, in the Negro American League, entertained sports fans at Ponce De Leon Park (across from the Ford Factory). Behind all the successes, however, was the daily reality of segregation.

Segregation began as an attempt after the Civil War to disenfranchise African Americans in the South with laws called "Black Codes" and "Jim Crow" laws, which were designed to regulate and limit the opportunities of African Americans. When the legality of these codes was challenged in 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Plessy v. Ferguson , recognized the legality of "separate but equal" laws regarding African Americans and whites. This decision set the precedent throughout the South that "separate" facilities for African Americans and whites were constitutional, provided they were "equal." The "separate but equal" doctrine soon extended to cover many areas of public life, such as restaurants, theaters, and public schools. It was not until 1954, in the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, that these laws would be struck down.

Many saw the injustice of these "Jim Crow" laws, and in the 20th century, the Civil Rights movement gradually formed in response. Since participation in politics was largely closed to African Americans, Charles Houston and Thurgood Marshall, beginning in the 1920s, decided to train a group of black lawyers who would challenge the laws. The churches in the community played an important role, providing a leadership role for black religious leaders, especially in the South. The church, in the days of slavery and in the segregated South that followed, became a social center for the black community, serving not only as a place of worship but also, according to Taylor Branch in his book, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63, "a bulletin board to a people who owned no organs of communication, a credit union to those without banks, and even a kind of people's court."

When the Civil Rights movement gained momentum, African Americans responded. At the heart of the movement in Atlanta were the students of Atlanta University. Many were involved in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that was formed in 1960 when the first official meeting was held in Atlanta. One of their first demonstrations was a sit-in at the Rich's department store lunch counter in downtown Atlanta with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. participating. Born on Auburn Avenue in 1929, Dr. King followed his father's path by preaching at Ebenezer Baptist Church. With his exceptional oratory and motivational skills, the Morehouse graduate emerged as a natural leader in encouraging a nonviolent approach to social change. Largely because of these ideals, Atlanta's road to integration was more peaceful than that of other cities. Still, there were tensions within the black community when negotiations were concluded to end a three-month boycott of 70 downtown white-owned Atlanta stores, which ended in February of 1961. The provision which ended the boycott, signed by 10 of the city's elder black leaders, along with the local chamber of commerce, was written in vague guarantees largely obscure to demands for desegregation. Many of the younger generation denounced the agreement. Tensions escalated at a meeting between the older and younger African Americans at the Warren Methodist Church. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s father was challenged for his position favoring the ending of the boycott. Only the late arrival of his son united the two factions in following the agreement. It was also in Atlanta where King addressed the first major civil rights demonstration in the South since President Kennedy's assassination. On December 15, 1963, King declared segregationa "glaring reality" in Atlanta. Integrated restaurants were still picketed at this time in the city, with some visible opposition. Today the life of this civil rights leader is celebrated at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.

After the Civil Rights Act became law in 1965, a new generation of leaders rose who bridged the gap between the Civil Rights movement and the entrance to local and national politics. The political power of African Americans in Georgia rose and the election of civil rights veterans Andrew Young and John Lewis to Congress was a reflection of that gain. Beginning with Maynard Jackson in 1974, the mayors of Atlanta have all since been African Americans, including current mayor Shirley Franklin, who upon her election in 2001, became the first black female mayor of a major southern city. Reflecting on African Americans in Atlanta, Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Mae Gentry wrote, "Still, Atlanta is a place where African Americans feel comfortable, a place where they have a stake in events, a place they can call home." The story of Atlanta is still being told, and now more than ever, African Americans are an integral part of the tale.

Some information found in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, "African-Americans: 1.2 million Residents Make Mark on Area," by staffwriter Mae Gentry, printed in 2002 and reprinted with permission.
The following books were helpful for this essay: 1. Branch, Taylor. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63. New York: Simon and Shuster. 1988.
2. Branch, Taylor. Pillar of Fire: America in the King years 1963-65. New York: Simon and Shuster. 1998.
3. Davis, Burke. Sherman's March. New York: Vintage Books, 1980.
4. Kolchin, Peter. American Slavery 1619-1877. New York: Hill and Wang.1988.
5. Lewis, David Levering. W.E.B. Du Bois Biography of a Race 1868-1919. New York: Henry Holt and Co. 1993.
Information on Georgia in the Civil War was found online at Information on Andrew Young was found at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress at Information on George Henry White was found at and an article on African-American History found at proved useful. Some of the information on African languages was found in the Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001

Growth and Preservation

Atlanta has long been glibly characterized as a city without historic architecture--"Sherman burned it all, you know." Besides ignoring the "brave and beautiful city" that Henry Grady and his New South compatriots championed after the Civil War, that comment also forgets that some of the city's most distinguished antebellum architecture was destroyed long after the war, including the original county courthouse and the city's downtown churches, all of which had been torn down and rebuilt by the 1890s. Numerous examples of antebellum residential architecture also survived into the 20th century around the fringes of downtown, although none survived past mid-century. The Leyden House, one of the few high style Greek Revival houses built in the city, was demolished by real estate speculators in 1913. The Italianate Neal Mansion, which Sherman used as his headquarters during the Federal occupation in 1864, was demolished in 1927 for construction of a new city hall. And the city's first two-story house, which dated to the earliest days of the city in the 1840s, was torn down in the late 1930s for a warehouse.

Still, Atlanta was not without a regard for its history and following a pattern that was fairly typical, if somewhat slow to develop, a historic preservation movement evolved in the city. In 1913, the Uncle Remus Ladies Memorial Association acquired the Wren's Nest, Joel Chandler Harris' home in West End, and shortly thereafter opened the city's first house museum, which included the carefully preserved bedroom where the famous author had died in 1908. The house has been restored in recent years, except for the bedroom which remains one of the best examples of an unrestored historic interior to be found anywhere.

Popular interest in the Civil War escalated in the early 20th century, and in 1921, the city opened the Cyclorama in Grant Park to exhibit the massive 1886 painting that depicts the Battle of Atlanta. Five years later, as Margaret Mitchell began writing Gone With the Wind, her father and others organized the Atlanta Historical Society, and in the 1930s they carefully documented the antebellum city and the war that destroyed it. The United Daughters of the Confederacy and other organizations began erecting battlefield monuments around the city during the same period, but local landmarks of those battles continued to be lost to neglect and new development.

The pace of destruction quickened dramatically after World War II as dozens of downtown buildings were demolished for parking lots and garages, including the legendary Kimball House hotel, whose demolition in 1959 signaled the beginning of a wave of demolitions that destroyed many of the city's most famous landmarks in the 1960s and 1970s. "Urban renewal" laid waste to hundreds of acres in the city, much of which would lie undeveloped as "white flight" and general disinvestment sapped the city's vitality and diminished its tax base. Freeway construction, too, which began in the late 1940s, brought three major highways through the heart of the city and destroyed hundreds of businesses and residences in the process.

The success of the Historic Savannah Foundation, which was organized in 1955 to successfully oppose demolition of that city's landmarks, had already attracted widespread attention in the State, and encouraged by passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966, similar organizations sprang up in Augusta, Macon, Columbus, and Thomasville in the mid-1960s. Although Atlanta had no similar voice for preservation until 1980, interest in preserving the city's past was slowly emerging in the 1960s. In 1966, the city established a 15-member Civic Design Commission, consisting of appointed experts in architecture, painting, sculpture, engineering, and planning along with three lay representatives. By the end of the year, the Commission had begun a campaign "to clean up . . . and restore" what would soon be christened "Underground Atlanta." Created by the series of viaducts that the city built to bridge the downtown railroad "gulch" between 1890 and 1930, the area contained some of the city's oldest surviving commercial buildings, and by 1969 it was a thriving entertainment district.

Another facet of the growing interest in the city's heritage was the Atlanta Historical Society's acquisition of the Swan House in Buckhead as its new headquarters, and two years later its relocation of the antebellum Tullie Smith house to the property as the centerpiece of a recreated vernacular homestead. In addition, a handful of "urban pioneers" who had rediscovered Inman Park, the city's first suburban development in 1889, organized Inman Park Restoration (IPR) in 1970 and, the following spring, held their first annual spring festival and tour of homes. While Druid Hills has benefited from a civic association since 1938, IPR was the first of several such organizations that emerged in neighborhoods around downtown to promote preservation and revitalization of some of the city's most threatened historic residential districts.

As the city began to lose population and crime rates soared, Underground Atlanta struggled to survive in the mid-1970s, and when construction of the city's new heavy-rail transit system demolished some of downtown's most important buildings in 1975, Underground Atlantawithered away. By then, the city's major passenger depots had both been torn down as had most of its old hotels and theaters and many of its early skyscrapers. Parts of the landmark Equitable Building, designed by Burnham and Root in 1890, were salvaged and repurposed as outdoor sculpture, and the entire facade of the Paramount Theater, designed by Hentz, Reid, and Adler in 1922, was re-erected as part of a private residence in south Georgia. Otherwise, Atlanta's historic architecture was consigned to the landfills.

In 1974, the "fabulous Fox" became an endangered property, and it was soon reported that Atlanta's largest and grandest theater would be razed for a new high-rise corporate headquarters. Uncharacteristically for Atlanta, a grass-roots campaign to "Save the Fox" quickly emerged, championed by a group of local high school students who picketed in front of the Fox and attracted critical media attention. Aided by the mayor, the city's Urban Design Commission, and a new non-profit organization, Atlanta Landmarks, Inc., the campaign succeeded. In 1975, the Urban Design Commission, with grants from the State Historic Preservation Office, conducted the city's first survey of historic resources and began administration of the city's first historic preservation ordinances. The Atlanta Preservation Center, a private, non-profit organization founded in 1980, assisted the Commission with an expanded survey in 1981, but not until passage of a new, comprehensive historic preservation ordinance in 1989 did the city have the tools it needed to preserve what remained of the city's architectural heritage. In addition to more than 130 National Register properties, the city now has more than 50 landmark buildings and a dozen historic districts which are protected by local ordinance.

Essay by Tommy Jones, Architectural Historian with the National Park Service's Southeast Regional Office.

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