If you’ve traveled down S Tryon St, past the intersection with Beam Road in Charlotte’s Steele Creek area, you have driven by one of the most significant remaining historic homes in
Charlotte’s America’s history and probably never realized it. Maybe I’m overselling it a bit so you can be the judge. At the intersection of S Tryon St and Beam Rd is 7001 S Tryon St, otherwise known as the McDowell House. There isn’t a official historic landmark sign and it isn’t in the National Register of Historic Places (but there should be) marking what took place here but there is a rock monument installed by the Mecklenburg Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution that’s covered by trees. Chances are you haven’t stopped to see it so here’s the story.
In 1780, this was the home of John McDowell and his wife Jane Parks McDowell. This was during the American Revolution and Charlotte was a staging ground for the Continental Army who were up against Lord Cornwallis and the British Army. On August 16, 1780, Captain John McDowell went to battle against the British at the Battle of Camden (today, this is in Kershaw County, SC) and lost. 900 of the Continental Army were either killed or wounded and another 1,000 were captured. John was among those so badly wounded, he was left for dead.
Fast-forward to October of 1780 when a detachment of British troops, that were stationed in Charlotte, were pulling out and heading to South Carolina. At this time in the American Revolution, Savannah and Charleston had already surrendered to British control so it’s anyone’s guess where these forces were headed (Charlotte was always hostile to the British forces, which is why Cornwallis referred to it as a hornet’s nest). As they were heading south, the ran across the McDowell plantation.
As the encounter was described in Touring North Carolina Revolutionary War Sites by Daniel Barefoot, the Redcoats set about pillaging the plantation, excusing their plunder as the “fortunes of war”. Mrs McDowell pleaded for compassion from the captain since they are already lost so much. The captain asked what her name was and Jane replied “McDowell.” The commanding officer replied “that’s my name. Where are you from?”
Like many early non-native settlers to the region, the McDowell’s were from Scotland. Assuming that both the Redcoat Captain and Mrs McDowell were likely related, he ordered his men to cease pillaging the plantation and to restore everything as it was (talk about a good bit of luck). The infantry then left the plantation and continued on to South Carolina.
Here’s where the story takes a heroic twist. After the British forces were at a safe distance, Jane saddled up her horse, grabbed her two-year old son and headed into the the night to the Sugaw Creek Presbyterian Church (101 W Sugar Creek Rd Charlotte NC 28213), where there was an encampment of Continental forces. It is said that it was a rainy night and that when she arrived at the church, dawn was starting to break. She apparently startled the Continental troops with her arrival but she brought news that the British were leaving North Carolina and the path they were on. This enabled that regiment to head south and continue their assault on the Redcoats.
If her path followed Tryon Street exactly as it does today, the journey was approximately 10 miles, which would take about 3.5 hours at walking pace. Now, try that same journey at night without light, on a horse and carrying a 2-year old. The trip was so arduous that much later, shop keepers of the Steele Creek area general stores would leave the Steele Creek area early in the morning with horse and buggy, arrive in Uptown, and then camp out before loading their supplies and heading back. That’s only a 5 to 6 mile trip and she did double that in about 1/3 the time. Jane McDowell was later referred to as the female Paul Revere (except she wasn’t caught on her midnight ride).
Today, the McDowell house stands derelict. What I assume was the horse stable is still standing and unfortunately it appeared that someone has vandalized the property. The house is boarded up however the boards in the front parlor were removed and it looked as if someone kicked in the back door for access. The original home has been expanded many times over the generations and someone even added a swimming pool. Today, it’s owned by a company out of Georgia but commercial for sale signs are on both of the remaining McDowell parcels so maybe it’s for sale (I didn’t see it in LoopNet but I don’t do commercial real estate so I don’t maintain an account). In the 1990’s, some of their land was sold off to build the neighborhoods of McDowell Farms and McDowell Meadows.
Having grown up in Washington DC where everything is a historic site (Washington slept here, Watergate occurred over there and there’s the McDonalds Clinton scarfed a Big Mac in), it’s sad to see this place with actual significance in such a state as it is. Here’s hoping that whomever ultimately purchases that property doesn’t just knock it down and build more bland apartments.