J. Wilson Alexander house in Cornelius will be relocated


J. Wilson Alexander Tenant House in Cornelius is one of the last surviving examples of a tenant farming house in Mecklenburg County. The town board approved plans this week that will relocate the home to another corner of a property that’s being redeveloped.

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A historic home that’s part of the Charlotte area’s Black history recently faced the prospect of demolition as part of a major redevelopment project. But now it’s fate is secured.

The Town Board of Cornelius signed off last week on an amended plan to the mixed-use project that includes relocating — and saving — the early 1900s home.

The history of the J. Wilson Alexander house is significant to the region’s Black community. It’s one of the last remaining tenant homes of its kind in Mecklenburg County.

After the Civil War, tenant farming, or sharecropping, emerged as a system where formerly enslaved people rented houses and land for farming from white landowners and turned profits back to the landowner.

The Alexander home is one of a handful of significant African American properties where preservation efforts are being pursued in the region.

In the way of development

The Alexander home — estimated to be under 1,000 square feet — sits on a large piece of farm land not far from Lake Norman. The land is part of a roughly 55-acre development site that’s soon set to get underway.

Florida-developer Win Development’s plans to bring more than 100 senior independent housing units, some single-family homes and over 120,000 square feet of commercial space were approved in 2020.

Since then, the developer, town and local historians have been working on a way to save the historic structure.

Under the plan approved Monday night, the Alexander home will be moved a short distance to a grove of trees at the intersection of West Catawba Avenue and Westmoreland Road.

The home will be restored and used as an historical display on the property, according to Dan Morrill of the nonprofit Preserve Mecklenburg.

Plans are still in the works on how the public will be able to interact with the home, whether people will be able to go inside or simply walk up and look in, Morrill said.

Preserve Mecklenburg eventually will hold an easement on the home, ensuring it will be maintained and preserved in perpetuity, Morrill’s group said.

Win Development assumes responsibility for moving the house. It’s not clear when the house would be moved.

The home has been declared eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, according to Preserve Mecklenburg.

Amenities at the new development

Win’s project, called Alexander Farms, will include 143 senior living units and 70 single family lots. Win has not disclosed the total cost of the project.

The project is a “game-changer” for Cornelius, deputy town manager Wayne Herron has told The Charlotte Observer. He described the project as filling a big need in town for folks looking to downsize.

Plans laid out by the developer include a number of amenities tied to the senior living facility. There will be a coffee bar and cafe, private dining room, a poker room, a saltwater pool, a spa, pickleball courts, fitness center and golf simulator room.

The commercial space is expected to include a grocer and possibly a restaurant. The developer has filed grading permits meaning construction could start in the next month or two.

Other preservation efforts around Charlotte

The plan for the Alexander home is the latest effort to save a number of sites in Mecklenburg County with ties to the Black community, including the Excelsior Club along Beatties Ford Road.

A California investment group purchased the historic club in 2019, but plans for redevelopment have run into challenges finding adequate parking, the Observer reported in March.

The Morgan School in Charlotte’s Cherry community is another example of efforts to save a historic African American building.

Built in 1925, the Morgan School educated Black children in the community. Recently, steps have been approved to name the Cherry Community Organization as the best and highest bid to take control of the property.

This story was originally published May 23, 2022 6:00 AM.

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Gordon Rago covers growth and development for The Charlotte Observer. He previously was a reporter at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia and began his journalism career in 2013 at the Shoshone News-Press in Idaho.