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The Shell Plant Becomes Arrowood Business Park (Part 3 of 3)

(October 17, 2018) This is the third of three articles adapted from stories collected or written by Walter Neely and published in Gleanings, Newsletter of the Steele Creek Historical and Genealogical Society.

See also:

Summary: Why Do We Have So Much Industry? It All Started with the Shell Plant
Part 1: Steele Creek Farmland Converted to Navy Ordinance Plant in 1942
Part 2: Steele Creek Contributed to the World War II Effort

History of the Shell Plant – Part 3

Part 3 will conclude the history of the Shell Plant and its successor, the Arrowood Business Park. It looks at what happened to the plant following the end of World War II, its sale, and its eventual development into the important economic engine that it is today.

In Part 2, the war had ended and the Shell Plant had effectively closed down. Two days after the end of the war, the contract with U. S. Rubber Company was cancelled. However, the U. S. Rubber Company sold the property to the United States of America on May 18, 1945, for $267,765.27. (Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds, Book 1115 Page 148.) The property total in this deed was 2,266.319 acres and right of way for a railroad spur tracks was over 29.032 acres. This was only slightly more than the $246,567.50 that U. S. Rubber Company paid for the land they acquired in 1942.

After the end of the war, a contingent of Navy and Marine personnel kept a presence on the property as it was used to store munitions.

Peggy White Levinson's father, Herbert L. White, was the last Commander of the Navy base, and her family was the last to leave in June, 1957. They lived in Quarters A, near the water tower. She and her sister, Vivian, attended Steele Creek Elementary School when she was in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades. She and her sister remember the base, the land, the freedom, roller skating in the buildings, walking on the railroad tracks, riding horses up the bunkers (after they were cleaned out), and lots of other adventures. They had a barn and riding ring for their horses. During the 1950’s, the military conducted War Games on the property, and she would ride her horse to watch the activities. Her father developed a good relationship with nearby farmers and permitted them to let their cows graze on the property. There were other families living on the base and perhaps a dozen children waited for the school bus at the guard house with the Marines. She developed a close relationship with the Marines, who even “baby sat” with her and her sister. However, the Marines were not past reporting the children to their parents when they were caught climbing up the water tower or chasing cows in a neighbor’s pasture. She reported that this was an enjoyable time in her childhood of which she has very fond memories.

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Lt. Commander Herbert L. White with Vivian and Peggy White (Levinson)

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The White home was known as “Quarter’s A” and is at the top of the picture. Central Steele Creek Presbyterian Church is at the bottom.

Click on the image above to see an enlargement in a new tab. The riding ring is in front of the house, and the framework for the water tower is in the trees behind the house.

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 Peggy and Vivian White riding their horses in the ring at the Shell Plant.

The following information is extracted from the article, Reflecting On Charlotte’s Growth: History of the Westinghouse Area by Barbara Russell. It contains several quotes from former Steele Creek Historical and Genealogical Society member, Max Funderburk. Additional information was found in a folder from the Steele Creek Historical and Genealogical Society file cabinet at the Steele Creek Branch Library. It included ownership and development information that was intended for distribution to interested businesses and investment brokers.

At its peak the plant employed 12,154 employees and included 237 numbered structures, two water tanks, and a sewer plant. After the war ended, the Navy reduced its operations and changed its emphasis to reconditioning ammunition. The assembly lines were closed and only 150 to 170 were still employed. Finally in 1957, “The Navy locked the gates and left me here to look after the Navy’s interest,” said Mr. Funderburk who had transferred to the facility three years earlier. He reported that “all the power was turned off, except at the front gate and the apartment where I lived.” For the next 18 months Funderburk provided security and maintenance. He arranged “mule-grazing” with some Pineville area farmers to keep the grass under control.

In 1958, a group headed by Mr. Paul Younts (then president of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce) and local officials approached congressman Charles R. Jonas to see if the government would release the property for sale and development. Finally, the U. S. Navy released it and turned it over to the General Services Administration who authorized it to be sold. The advertisement for the auction is shown below. Click on the image to see an enlargement in a new tab.

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On February 9, 1959, the General Services Administration accepted a bid from a group of 11 Charlotte area investors including Alex Shuford, owner of Shuford Mills, Henderson Belk of the Belk retail family, and businessman-entrepreneur Pat Hall. Their original bid of $1,800,000 was rejected, but after several months of negotiation, a bid of $2,010,000 was accepted. After they were advised that they were the successful bidders, the following persons purchased a 20% stake in the property at 5% each: Edward Krock, Edward Krock Industries; Victor Muscat; R. L. Huffines, Jr., Cherokee Securities Corp.; and Frank G. Binswanger, Frank G. Binswanger Co. However, within the next five years, Alex Shuford had purchased all these interests as well as that of Henderson Belk. Pat Hall remained an investor and became the project manager assisted by Funderburk, who left the civil service so he could remain in Charlotte.

Arrowood Inc. was formed on October 19, 1960, with officers as follows: Chairman of the Board - Mr. A. Alex Shuford, Jr.; President – Mr. E. Pat Hall; Vice President – Mr. A. Alex Shuford, Jr.; Treasurer – Mr. E. Pat Hall; Secretary – Mr. Alvin A. London; Asst. Secretary – Mrs. Margaret W. Means. This corporation was formed for the purpose of developing the property with industries.

Funderburk recalled that he and Pat Hall named the development “Arrowood” after considering several others. Arrowood probably comes from the adjacent Arrowood Ranch and a nearby dairy of the same name. The roads in Arrowood were named based on the names of Shuford’s mills. The main road was originally to be called Havana Boulevard for Shuford’s plant in Cuba. But when Fidel Castro took over and nationalized industrial properties and Shuford’s mill in Cuba, that name was scrapped. Eventually the street was named Arrowood Boulevard and stayed that for several years. However, this caused some confusion because Arrowood Road was the next major road to the north. It wasn’t until 1968 when Westinghouse built its massive turbine plant to the west of the Arrowood industrial park and extended the road to align with Arrowood Boulevard that the entire road was renamed Westinghouse Boulevard, ending the confusion with the road names.

The first parcel of land from the park was sold to Esso (later Exxon) which located a service station at the intersection with York Road (now South Tryon Street). (The station only recently closed, was demolished, and was replaced by a 7-11 convenience store.) The first large building was constructed for Duff-Norton Co. The Charlotte partners developed 11 parcels spread throughout the area to get improvement of the roads from the North Carolina Highway Department.

Arrowood Inc. listed 15 General Restrictions to the potential developers. Some of them were: No noxious or offensive business or manufacturing activities shall be permitted or any activity which would create by its operations a nuisance to other owners or tenants at Arrowood; the following uses will not be permitted as the sole function or use of the property (1) Blacksmith Shop, (2) Building material storage and lumber yard, (3) Coal and Wood Yard, (4) Stone and Monument Works, (5) Abattoir, (6) Refining Company; Waste must be disposed of in a manner approved by the Grantor and no plant shall be constructed on the property which will produce industrial sewage not acceptable by the system; Livestock shall be kept on the premises only with prior written approval; The property will be maintained in a neat and attractive manner and in keeping with the general atmosphere of a planned industrial development of the highest quality.

On July 1, 1965, the investors sold the land to Arrowood Southern (Southern Railway, now Norfolk Southern Corporation). Funderburk and Hall (who retained his financial interest in the park) stayed on to manage the facility. The Railway expanded the rail service throughout the industrial park as a sales tool. General Foods was the first company to build after the lines were reopened. Some of the property was sold to Trammell Crow Company who began developing the business park along Westinghouse Boulevard.

As locations for I-77 were being studied by the N. C. Department of Transportation in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the original plans took a route around Arrowood. Realizing that it would be advantageous to have this major roadway go through the park, Hall offered to give the State 98 acres of land to run the interstate highway through the middle of the industrial park.

Now working for Arrowood Southern, Funderburk handled leasing and billing paperwork. At one time he had as many as 161 leases, and everything was on a month to month basis. Every lease granted the developer permission to tear down one of the old Navy buildings in order to construct new facilities, if necessary. When General Tire was built in 1967, eleven old buildings were demolished. Only one building remains from the war years – the Gus’s Sir Beef Restaurant on Westinghouse Boulevard is housed in what used to be the old mess hall, Funderburk said. (Now the La Poblanita Mexican Restaurant and other assorted businesses – 1925 Westinghouse Blvd.)

Funderburk retired in 1986 but keeps a fond eye on the industrial park. And, he has his own souvenir of the park’s early days: He and his wife live in the old commanding officer’s quarters, now on a home-site just a few miles away. (Ed. note: The Funderburk family lived in the officer’s quarters on the site until 1990. At that time they moved the house to its current location on Knox Farm Road, where they continued to live until their passing. Thanks to daughter Linda Funderburk for this information)

The following are excerpts from an article in The Charlotte Observer, December 10, 1961, page 16C, by Harry Snook. Written just over a year after the acquisition of the property from the GSA, some of the plans, though optimistic, never came to pass.

Arrowood Plans Things In Addition To Industries

A shopping center, 18 hole golf course, deluxe motel, airport, office buildings, and residential development have been written into plans for Arrowood, one of the largest industrial parks in the south. Announcement of the plans followed news that a relocation of U. S. 21 south from Charlotte would send the heavy traffic of the new expressway through Arrowood. Today, more than 45 firms are doing business at Arrowood. They employ more than 2,000 persons. The annual payroll is in excess of $5 million.

This to Pat Hall is barely the start. “Eventually we’ll have 18,000 people working out here, and a payroll of $75 million a year or more” he said explaining that the projection was based on established principles of land use. The projection is over the next 14 years.

Visitors to Arrowood recently have literally gaped at the transformation of what was “ghost land.” There’s the brand new brick-and-steel Duff-Norton plant on a 26 acre trace. More than 200 workers collect regular paychecks there. More than 500 persons are employed by Cuyahoga Products in a modern plant built a few months ago on a 15 acre tract. Three divisions of Interchemical Corp. with more than 60 employees have just recently moved into the building on another 15 acre tract. Microton has 75 or more people at work in its new plant on seven acres of landscaped property.

The other industries, furniture manufacturers, trucking firms, an aircraft rebuilder, and others are in the old ammunition depot buildings. Many of the old buildings have already been torn down. Eventually the old buildings will all be gone replaced by carefully restricted modern buildings.

He iterated that “We haven’t been pushing hard. We’ve wanted to keep the land clear until the highway was settled, so we could plan the whole thing and not wind up by botching somewhere.” Already, and looking far ahead, Hall has a 100,000 gallon –a-day sewage disposal plant in operation with only a fifth of this capacity being utilized. Yet the plant is designed so that its capacity can be quickly and economically doubled. “We’ve got the electricity. We’ve got natural gas. And there are already 15 miles of railroad tracks here that connect to Southern’s main line.”

Generous right of way has been allocated for the 36 miles of roads now at Arrowood, and future roads will be treated the same. “If you don’t plan for the traffic 20 years from now, you’ll wind up in a snarl,” he grinned. The biggest road of all, of course, is to be U. S. 21 which will change the main entrance of Arrowood from the York Road on the northwest to the southeast edge of the property. To avoid criticism, Hall and his associates gave nearly 95 acres of land worth an estimated $300,000, to the state for the highway right-of-way. “We could have sold the land in good conscience,” Hall said. “This route chose by the highway people is the logical one. It’s a straight shot, and will handle the heavy traffic we’ll be generating.” Hall noted that the original plans years ago for relocation of U. S. 21 called for passage through what now is Arrowood. “The federal government as owners of the property, said no.” Hall said. “Fortunately, we were able to say yes.”

This superhighway will run through Arrowood for more than two and a half miles, leaving a strip 800 feet deep on the southeast side of the highway and across from the big bulk of the property. Two interchanges or cross-over turnoffs will be in Arrowood. The biggest one at Arrowood Boulevard, provides a choice site for the 80 room motel and 18 hole golf course planned by Hall – in the extreme southeast corner and taking up about 125 acres. “There’ll be more than 30,000 cars a day moving along that highway,” said Hall. “Tell me; is there a deluxe motel south of the city now? Or a motel with an adjoining golf course in this area?” “Our idea is the combine the golf course with a private club and permit the motel guests to use the course,” he said.

At the other interchange, a couple of miles to the northeast, where Arrowood Road will cross the highway, a shopping center is planned in the northwest corner. “We’ll start with a service type center,” he said. “We already need it – a restaurant, barber shop, service station, and the like – with the people we have working out here.” The basic service firms should be in operation within the next two years, according to Hall’s timetable. To be added later: retail stores, a medical clinic, and recreation facilities such as a bowling alley.

Between the shopping center and the creek to the southwest, about 350 acres of land have been earmarked for residential development – up to 500 homes. “People who’re working out here have been asking when we’d make land available for homes,” Hall said. “It’s just like the medial clinic – we’re talking with several doctors who’ve been interested for months now.

Detailed plans have been made for a paved, 3,000 foot airstrip in the eastern part of Arrowood. Hall said the project stemmed from a need expressed by corporate executives, but probably would involve a complete, privately operated airport.

Between the service roads paralleling the new highway and the highway itself, Hall has marked land for light industries. The big plants will go beyond the service roads on the other side of them from the highway and elsewhere on the sprawling Arrowood.

Although shying away from any guess on the total amount of money his plans involve, Hall admitted the “whole works will involve millions – and we’re talking about more than just a couple of years.” Lest anyone lean toward adding a pinch of salt to Hall’s plans, which he says are “flexible.” It shouldn’t be overlooked that Arrowood already represents an investment of millions. “We didn’t buy this land to farm,” Hall said.

Arrowood he pointed out is “ten minutes from the Square, eight minutes from Douglas Airport, six minutes from the Catawba Lake recreation area, and right in the middle of what may well be the greatest concentration of population in the whole South a few years from now.” As Hall sees it, Arrowood’s ultimate development is only a matter of time – and a lot of planning ahead.

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The plan above was included with the article. Click on the image to see an enlargement in a new tab.

Obviously, many of the plans were implemented related to the industrial park, but we’re still looking for the airport, golf course, deluxe motel, shopping center, bowling alley, and residential area as described. New US 21 became I-77 and fulfilled its traffic projections and impact on the park

In conclusion, the Shell Plant, and later Arrowood, did become a major impact to the Steele Creek Community providing employment for thousands and stimulated development along South Tryon St. and Westinghouse Blvd. to the west. It was an important impetus that changed our sleepy, agricultural neighborhood into the growing and bustling community in which we live today.

See also:

Summary: Why Do We Have So Much Industry? It All Started with the Shell Plant
Part 1: Steele Creek Farmland Converted to Navy Ordinance Plant in 1942
Part 2: Steele Creek Contributed to the World War II Effort

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