Erle Stillwell House II

stillwell 2 new
541 Blythe Street

The house was built in 1935. Erle Stillwell lived in the house until his death in 1978. Since that time some cosmetic changes, including the addition of carpeting, interior storm windows, and the removal of the mantel shelf in the living room, took place. No structural changes have taken place in the house since its construction. The current owners have restored original floor finishes, renovated the kitchen (in the style of the period), and are in the process of restoring all windows.

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The Erle Stillwell House located at 541 Blythe Street is significant for its association with prominent Henderson County and North Carolina architect Erle Stillwell. It serves as an intact representation of an architect's residence, exhibiting a high degree of craftsmanship and design detail. It is also significant for the time period it represents, clearly a definitive phase in the career of Stillwell.

Stillwell began work in Hendersonville in 1905, confining most of his work through the 1920s to Hendersonville and Henderson County. The Depression brought with it changes for Stillwell's practice, with a clear delineation between his earlier work then and his later work from the 1930s through the 1970s. During that period, Stillwell continued some work in Henderson County but also designed numerous projects all over the state, including theaters, schools, residences, churches and civic buildings. This house is also associated with Stillwell in the time he was a founding partner in the Asheville firm Six Associates, Inc.

The Earl Stillwell house is located at 541 Blythe Street, at the western edge of the city limits of Hendersonville. It is set within a heavily wooded lot at the corner of Blythe and Iowa Street, facing south towards Iowa Street. Notable landscape features include the rock work retaining walls along Iowa Street, slate paths, and the original patio extending along the full width of the rear facade with a curvilinear retaining wall.

The one-story Craftsman style brick house, with some Tudor Revival and Classical detailing, was built in 1935 by Stillwell as his second residence in Hendersonville. The house has an irregular floor plan, primarily an inverted U-shape with an attached garage on the west and a large wing to the northeast. Architectural features of the exterior include a multi-gable roof, multi-light casement windows, brick quoins, and a prominent recessed entry porch with a series of heavy-timbered arches projecting to the front and curved rafters. There is a one-story frame outbuilding, ca. 1940, at the northwest corner of the property, which, according to the current owner, was Erle Stillwell's workshop.

The interior of the house is comprised of a living room, kitchen, two baths, three bedrooms (one of which was formerly a den adjoining the former maid's room), a study (former maid's bedroom), attached garage, and basement. It exhibits a high degree of craftsmanship and architectural detail, much like Stillwell's first house. While not documented at the present time, it contains many details similar to the work of Hendersonville builder Albert Drake, who built several houses in the 1930s and 1940s in the Craftsman style. A main hallway runs east-west all along the front of the house, with a secondary hall running north-south on the east side. Windows are multi-light casement, deeply recessed, with slate sills. Doors are two-panel with original hardware, floors are pegged oak tongue and groove, and walls and ceilings are plaster. Notable features include the wavy plaster ceiling, knotty pine paneling, built-in shelves, and original granite fireplace surround with cast iron doors in the living room, original light fixtures, and the v-board front door with cast iron viewfinder.

The neighborhood where Stillwell built his two houses is located west of downtown Hendersonville. It was developed in the mid-1920s and was platted as Pinecrest, but Stillwell bought a large lot there previous to this in 1920, which extended from Pinecrest Street on the north to Iowa Street on the south. He built his first home in Hendersonville on the northern half of this lot in 1926. The Stillwell house which is part of this local designation report is the second home designed and built by Stillwell, in 1935, also as his own residence. Stillwell served as Hendersonville's primary architect beginning in 1905. He lived in his first house from 1926 to 1931, the time period when he designed many significant buildings, primarily in Hendersonville and Henderson County. He lost this house in the Depression but never sold the southern portion of the lot, where he later built the house at 541 Blythe Street.

Erle Gulick Stillwell was born in Hannibal, Missouri on August 29, 1885, the son of Amos John Stillwell and Frances Anderson Stillwell. He attended the U. S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, and then studied at the University of North Carolina, Cornell University, and the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to his academic studies, Stillwell traveled extensively in England, Scotland, France, Italy, and Greece. He visited Hendersonville in 1905 and decided to stay. In 1907 in Hendersonville, he married Eva Douglas Smith. Eva Smith was the daughter of William A. Smith, the developer of Laurel Park just outside the city limits of Hendersonville. In 1916 Stillwell opened an architecture practice. He became a member of the American Institute of Architects in 1916, and served as Treasurer/Secretary of the North Carolina Chapter from 1917 to 1921, and again from 1934 to 1937. Stillwell also served as president of the North Carolina Chapter from 1922 to 1923, and again from 1942 to 1944. In 1942, he became a Fellow in the American Institute of Architects. Stillwell continued in private practice until 1942, when he became a founding partner in the Asheville-based firm, Six Associates. Only the larger firms were being granted government work at the time, so Stillwell joined with Charles E. Waddell, a civil engineer, and architects Henry Irven Gaines, Anthony Lord, William W. Dodge, and Stewart Rogers to form the company. The company was, and still is, located near Biltmore between Asheville and Hendersonville on Highway 25. Stillwell continued for thirty years as part of Six Associates, retiring in 1971. In addition to his architecture practice, Stillwell was an active member of St. James Episcopal Church in Hendersonville, along with several clubs including the Masonic lodge, the country club, and the Kiwanis Club. Eva Stillwell died on November 12, 1971 and Erle Stillwell died on October 22, 1978.

Erle Stillwell's early practice of architecture took place during one of the most economically rich times in the history of Hendersonville. Among his clients were some of the most prominent businessmen and women in the city. In Hendersonville and the surrounding area, Stillwell designed the Michael Schenk House (ca. 1910), an addition to Rosa Edwards School (1912), the Queen Theater (1915), a bungalow for Dr. J. L. Egerton (1917), the Kantrowitz bungalow (1917), St. James Episcopal Church (ca. 1917-1919), the Gillican Residence (1919), the F. A. Ewbank Residence (1920), the Brownlow Jackson Building (ca. 1920; 1926), First Bank and Trust Company (1922), State Trust and Citizen's Bank (1923), First Baptist Church (1923), Hendersonville High School (1926), Blue Ridge School for Boys (1926), the A. Patterson Residence (1926), the A. A. McCall Residence (1926), alterations to the R. P. Freeze Residence (1926), bungalow for F. S. Wetmur (1926),  Hendersonville City Hall (1927), Etowah Grade School (1927), Citizen's National Bank (1928), Edneyville Grade School (ca. 1920s), Flat Rock School (ca. 1920s), Fletcher Elementary School (ca. 1920s), Mills River District Public School (ca. 1920s), the Tuxedo School Building (ca. 1920s), W. M. Sherard Residence (ca. 1920s), the Hafford Jones Residence (date unknown), a showroom and service station for Hendersonville Brick Company (date unknown), the Ewbank & Ewbank office building (date unknown), a store building for Ewbank Brothers (date unknown), and the E. W. Ewbank Residence (date unknown).

The 541 Blythe Street house is more directly associated with the latter part of Stillwell's career, when he still worked some in Henderson County but also became active all through North Carolina and the southeast, especially in the design of numerous Art Deco and Art Nouveau theaters, and was a founding principal in the firm Six Associates, based in Asheville.

Since Stillwell's death, the property has changed hands several times. Stillwell willed the house to his niece, Helen G. Rake, and her husband Lorraine P. Rake. The Rakes sold the property on December 20,1978 to Jennifer F. McConnachie. Jennifer McConnachie sold the property to William H. and Joan L. Bell on June 1, 1979. The Bells sold the property on November 15, 1982 to Patrick L. McNutt. Patrick McNutt sold the property to David S. Cowan on June 26, 1986, and Janet and James Johnson bought the property from the Cowans in 1999.

(Excerpts from the Local Historic Property Designation Report 4.25.01)

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