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Aug 17

High Point’s West End Pt. 1 – contributed by Marian Inabinett

Posted on August 17, 2022 at 4:27 PM by Tamara Vaughan

The ongoing efforts of the Southwest Renewal Foundation and the recent opening of the long-time Winston-Salem music venue, Ziggy’s, have brought attention to High Point’s “West End.” This once-vibrant neighborhood centered around the Melrose Hosiery Mill was an alternate business district to the traditional Main Street downtown, featuring shops, cafes, grocery and drug stores, a movie theater, and a Post Office. Few people now remember these local businesses, patronized by hundreds of mill workers. Some are familiar with the nickname “Little Chicago,” attributed to this area in the 1930s, and more of us are familiar with the empty storefronts, vacant lots, and reputation for crime in the 1990s and early 2000s. In 2013, Kimberly Mozingo completed a project and exhibit at the High Point Museum on the West End for her UNC Greensboro graduate class. The exhibit on the rise and decline of the West End revealed the pride of the families who owned businesses there and a determination to restore the neighborhood’s prosperity. Her research on the neighborhood’s history created a permanent display at West End Ministries. In Part One of a two-part blog, we’ll look at the development of the West End.

High Point’s furniture factories had created a fast-growing city by the early 1900s, sprawling in every direction away from Main Street and the railway. One branch of the city’s streetcar system ran about one mile west of Main Street down English Street (as it was then) to property owned by a Mr. C. Markley which he called the suburb of “Melrose.” 

Mr. Markley owned a road construction company and, though from Virginia, had many business interests in North Carolina. He bought the property in 1905 and begin making improvements and laying out streets. He let the City use a tree-shaded lot for a park, called Markley’s Grove. Eventually, Mr. Markley sold all the development beginning in December 1918. 

 28 June 1905 HPE crop

Full Plat Map 1918

Dec 11 1918 HPE auctionNews article from June 28, 1905, in The High Point Enterprise. The “Melrose” plat, December 1918. 


The Bethel Reformed Church, a few small businesses, and some homes made up this neighborhood then. The western terminus of the streetcar line down English Street was at the intersection of English and a cross street naturally called West Point Avenue. The area was already being called “West End,” and by 1916, the West End Ice Cream Parlor was one of several small businesses established around the end of the streetcar line. In just a few years, it became a vibrant commercial district for High Point’s working families. 

The establishment of Melrose Hosiery Mills in 1922 provided a catalyst for the West End. Charles L. Amos and his brother originally sold and manufactured furniture on English Street, but both decided to try hosiery. Melrose Hosiery started with 50 knitting machines and 25 employees. Charles Amos soon purchased the entire 1500 block of English Street along the railroad tracks and later built apartments and commercial buildings in the West End. He helped start new businesses there such as Rose Furniture. The Melrose Hosiery Mills workforce grew rapidly in the 1920s, contributing to the growth of the English Street business district. 

2013029002 1923 marked

20130290021928 marked

2013029001 markedThe Melrose Hosiery workforce in 1923 and 1928, plus the Second and Third Shifts in 1941. Notice in the 1923 photograph that the Amos Furniture Manufacturing Company name is still on the glass in the door to the hosiery mill. 

The West End celebrated the addition of streetlights to the business district in 1929, creating their own “white way” at night. Business owners and their loyal customers embraced what was then called a “city within a city” — a business district separate from long-established Main Street. 

 

drug store ad 1929

florist ad 1929

 

 When the streetcar line ceased operation in the late 1920s, West End residents were not left without access to shopping and services:  they needed only to walk a few short blocks! Most of these businesses were family-owned and thrived by serving hundreds of customers who worked in nearby mills and lived on the surrounding streets. Through the 1950s, additional shops opened in an already-crowded 1500 block.

The City widened English Street all the way from North Main through the West End in the 1930s. The street was considered an important link in the national and state highways going through the Piedmont, and the West End business district was considered essential to creating an “inviting route” into High Point. The High Point Enterprise stated, “Few cities have a more beautiful approach anywhere in the South than has this city as the motorist arrives from the west.”

 2003026001 markedEnglish Street looking east, 1931. If English Street was a gateway for motorists driving to and from High Point, then they found West End’s service stations conveniently located. The Standard Oil station and the Texaco station operated on opposite corners of English and Phillips streets. The church building in the center background is probably the English Street Methodist Protestant Church. 

 

Melrose neon sign Mel-Rose-Glen newsletter Sept 1949Melrose added a neon sign to the West End skyline in 1949, reporting in the company newsletter that “hundreds of people” traveling by automobile, bus, and train see the new sign daily as well as “countless pedestrians.” The Museum has digitized some newsletters (1945-1951) from the Melrose and Glenn mills: https://newspapers.digitalnc.org/search/pages/results/?lccn=2015236598&sequence=1&sort=date

Growth, connectivity, and business opportunity also had a downside. In the early 1920s, High Point earned the nickname “Little Chicago” because the number of stolen cars and the crime rate based on population came second to the large metropolis of Chicago, Illinois. While the Mayor refuted the title, many agreed that the access to multiple important roadways made High Point a convenient place for bootleggers and other illegal activities related to the outlawed liquor trade. The original moniker had applied to the whole city of High Point, but the “Little Chicago” reputation for bootleg liquor, gambling, violence, and shady business persisted in the Southside and West End areas through the 1950s, though with the exception of one pool room, businesses on English Street remained locally-owned and neighborhood-friendly. 

Part Two will examine the decline of a neighborhood, but also the efforts of the past 20 years to restore its reputation and bring back businesses and people to the West End. 

 

Contributed by Marian Inabinett, Curator of Collections at the High Point Museum. Contact her at marian.inabinett@highpointnc.gov

 

Read Part 2

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