History of The Bradford Market

A Brief History - The Bradford Family Farm

 

Starting in the Post-Civil War Era

The William Bradford Farm and Store, which flourished in the Ramah Community from the late-nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century, possess local historic significance as tangible reminders of the robust cotton economy that characterized Mecklenburg County in the last half of the nineteenth century, and as integral parts of the rural farming community that centered around Ramah Presbyterian Church in northwest Mecklenburg County.  Although the South’s plantation system of agriculture was destroyed by defeat in the Civil War, Mecklenburg County’s farming communities, made up primarily of small-scale farmers who did not own slaves, recovered quickly in the postwar period.  The last half of the nineteenth century was one of the most prosperous times for farmers in the area—innovations in fertilizer and equipment made cotton easy to grow, and Charlotte’s emergence as a regional cotton trading and textile hub made cotton easy to sell.  Farmers like William Bradford were able to profit handsomely from this post-war cotton boom.  Between 1890 and 1928, Bradford served as the head of a large farmstead situated prominently along the Davidson Concord Road.  Although Bradford grew primarily cotton and corn as cash crops, he supplemented this income with several profitable side operations, providing the members of the Ramah Community with a country store, a cotton gin, a blacksmith shop, and a sawmill.

The Buildings & Architecture

The Historic Bradford Store

Architecturally, the Bradford farmstead is significant as an excellently preserved example of a turn-of-the-century farm complex.  The farmhouse itself, a sprawling Queen Anne-inspired variation on the tradition vernacular I-house form, is a reflection of William Bradford’s success as a farmer, businessman, and politician (he served three terms as a Mecklenburg County commissioner in the 1910s) and a tangible reminder of the family’s prominent position within the Ramah Community.  The house and the assortment of outbuildings that remain on the property—including a barn, a smokehouse, several storage and shed buildings, and the store across the street—form a comprehensive farm complex that characterizes the diverse and self-sufficient nature of life in rural Mecklenburg County during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

In addition to its significance as a social center and community store, the Bradford Store (completed in 1911) is also architecturally significant as an early example of hand cast concrete block construction in Mecklenburg County.  Although concrete block was used as a cheap and durable alternative to wood in small communities throughout the United States between 1900 and 1930, relatively few examples of this early form of concrete block construction survive in rural Mecklenburg County.  The unusual collection of cast concrete block outbuildings in the Ramah Community can be attributed to the example set by William Bradford, who built his store and one of his farm outbuildings with the new material, and who most likely sold the blocks (or the machinery to make them) to other nearby farmers.

Agriculture and Building a Community 

 

The last half of the nineteenth century was a time of unprecedented development and prosperity for some farmers in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.  Emerging relatively unscathed from years of war, with railroads intact and a strong agrarian population of small farmers who had never relied on slave labor, the city and surrounding farming communities of Mecklenburg County entered a prolonged period of growth spurred by the a postwar boom in cotton prices.1  Notoriously difficult to grow in Mecklenburg County, cotton had never been a particularly profitable crop for the area’s farmers before the war.  However, with the introduction of the fertilizer Peruvian guano in 1860, Mecklenburg County farmers were able to grow cotton in unprecedented amounts in the postwar period, just in time to take advantage of skyrocketing prices, especially after the Panic of 1893.   Mecklenburg farmers also took advantage of their close proximity to Charlotte, which had emerged by the turn of the century as a vital cotton trading hub and the center of one of the country’s most profitable textile regions.2  These favorable economic and geographical conditions helped to make the period between 1860 and 1910 one of tremendous growth and expansion for successful farmers like William Bradford.

William Bradford was thirty-four when he purchased a parcel of farmland along the Davidson-Concord Road near Ramah Presbyterian Church from S. L. W. Johnson in 1890. He moved, along with his wife Mary and their children, into the modest one-story house already standing on the property and began farming cotton.3  It did not take long for the family to outgrow the house; to accommodate his six small children, William Bradford began work on a major addition to the small farmhouse in the late 1890s.  By the turn of the century, the four-room building had been transformed into a spacious two-story farmhouse, which served both as a visible reflection of Bradford’s economic success and as a more fitting centerpiece for what was quickly becoming one of the largest and most prosperous farmsteads in the Ramah Community.

During the early decades of the twentieth century, William Bradford began several business ventures that would make his farm a community center.  In 1911, he constructed a one-story general store across the road from his home.  Bradford’s Store carried farming equipment, groceries, cloth, livestock, and a host of other provisions. “You could get almost anything at the Bradford Store,” Joe Washam, a lifelong resident of the Ramah Community and owner of the nearby Washam Farm, recalled. “And if they didn’t have, it, they could order it for you.”4  By 1913, Bradford had constructed a cotton gin just behind the store; inspired by its success, he added a blacksmith shop.  Farmers could now get their cotton ginned and their horses shod while they bought feed and other supplies; in winter months, they drove in to sit by the big pot bellied stove in the center of store and swap stories.5  William Bradford’s popularity among his peers extended beyond the walls of his store – he was elected and served as county commissioner from 1912 to 1914, and again from 1916 to 1920.6

Although William Bradford and his son, Hurd Grier Bradford, continued to grow cotton, corn, and grain as cash crops along with the rest of the farmers in the Ramah Community, they were constantly undertaking new projects to increase the profitability of their growing farmstead.  The Bradfords took up chicken farming (an operation that included more than 10,000 chickens at its peak), built a large, two-story smokehouse that served the community, and started a sawmill in the glen behind the main house (an operation that eventually grew so large that Hurd Grier Bradford had to hire an overseer, John Overcash, to manage it).  The Bradford House continued to grow and expand along with the farmstead; by 1928, the year William Bradford sold the farm to his son, Hurd, the farmhouse included two large, gabled rear additions and a wrap-around front porch. Hurd Bradford added a shed-roofed addition to the side of the house in the 1930s.7

Hurd Bradford continued to run the family farmstead, including the store, the cotton gin, the blacksmith shop, and the sawmill, after his father’s death.  In the late 1930s, the Works Progress Administration widened and paved Davidson-Concord Road.  Hurd Bradford was forced to shorten the front of the store, but he still had room to put in a new gas pump—an amenity that would keep the store in business until the late 1950s.

Snippets provided kindly by the Mecklenburg Landmarks Commission. Read the full historical report here