Philanthropist Sarah Belk Gambrell, a prominent member of the Belk department store family, died Thursday, July 30 in Charlotte at age 102.

            From the Charlotte Observer, July 31

Gambrell was the only daughter of William Henry Belk, founder of the Belk retail chain, and rose from an apprentice buyer of ladies’ ready-to-wear to a half-century career as a director and officer of the company. Her money left an equally durable legacy, benefiting colleges and universities, YWCAs, medical research, arts, music and history.

Married to investment banker Charles Glenn Gambrell, she moved in 1952 to New York City to coordinate the company’s women’s wear and cosmetics businesses.

“Sarah Belk Gambrell spent her career at Belk as an innovator, change-maker and visionary, helping to shape Belk into a beloved and trusted destination for fashion,” the Belk Company said in a statement Friday. “She boldly paved the way for countless female leaders who followed in her footsteps. Mrs. Gambrell is woven into the fabric of Belk and we are proud to honor her memory.”

Her love of the arts and music led to gifts to organizations including the Mint Museums, the Charlotte Philharmonic Orchestra, Opera Carolina, the Charlotte Museum of History and the Hezekiah Alexander Foundation.

A private service will be held, a family spokesman said.


 

The Kings Mountain Historical Museum remains closed but announces a virtual program “Famous and Infamous Women of NC” with Randell Jones on FaceBook and on their web site.  Also, they will have a three part series on the Overmountain Men in September.

 

Site Status
All Sites Almost all sites that are physically closed have a variety of on-line Zoom and/or FaceBook events. Check their web sites for information.
Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County Open for pick-up of holds only.
President James K, Polk State Historic Site Grounds only open now, Monday through Saturday, 9 am to 5 pm for self-guided tours.  Interpretive talks on the grounds, Saturdays at 10 am.
Latta Plantation Grounds, outbuildings, garden, and animals open for self-guided tours, Wednesdays-Saturdays 10 am to 4:30 pm, Sundays 1 to 4:30 pm.

 

 

And now for another short History Lesson

 

 

Charlotte’s First Orphanage

 

On Little Sugar Creek Greenway, near the center of Charlotte there is an old brick church that is used for weddings and musical events.  Few who walk on the greenway are aware that this was the chapel for Charlottes first orphanage.   Today it is commemorated with a bronze plaque near the building and a bronze statue on the greenway showing the founder, Edwin Osborne and several children from the orphanage.

 

Edwin Osborn, Soldier, Minister, Founder

 

Edwin Augustus Osborne was raised in Texas but his family came originally from Mecklenburg. When he reached 21 in 1859 he wanted a further education and wrote to his Aunt Peggy Osborne Davidson.  She was the widow of Robin Davidson of Holly Bend and daughter-in-law of the late Major John Davidson of Rural Hill, all in northern Mecklenburg County.  Aunt Peggy promised to give Edwin an education if he could get himself to Mecklenburg .  Having little money, Edwin proceeded to walk the 800 miles to Mecklenburg.  Aunt Peggy greeted him warmly, introduced him to his many relatives and enrolled him in a school in Statesville.

 

When the Civil War broke out, Edwin enrolled as a Lieutenant, and soon rose to the rank of Colonel.  He commanded troops in a number of important battles, was wounded three times, recovered from his wounds at Aunt Peggy’s and came back to his duty each time

 

After the war he moved to Charlotte to study law.  He became a lawyer and  clerk of the County Court and married Francis Moore, an Episcopalian.  Born a Presbyterian, but never very religious, Osborne converted and was confirmed in the Episcopalian Church in 1869.  He continued his study of religion and was ordained a deacon in 1877.  Resigning as County Clerk, he began preaching in far flung mountain churches and soon was ordained an Episcopal Priest.

 

In 1885 Edwin Osborn returned to Charlotte, preaching at a number of country churches and selling life insurance to make ends meet.  Thinking back on his experiences as County Clerk, he remembered the plight of the poor orphans who, by state law, were bound by the court as apprentices “every male to some Tradesman, Merchant, Mariner, or other person… until he shall attain the Age of Twenty-one Years, and every Female to some Suitable Employment, til her Age of Eighteen Years”  Most orphans were apprenticed to learn “the art and mystery of farming” or “the art and mystery of housewifery.”  Another alternative was to work as a factory hand at a wage of 12½ cents per week.

 

The new state constitution, adopted in 1868 at the end of the Civil War provided for one or more state Orphan Houses to care for and educate the destitute orphans, but there were no state funds available and none of these were built.  Instead the state looked to religious organizations to fill this need.  Edwin dreamed of building an orphanage in Charlotte, but he had neither land nor money to accomplish this.  But there was land owned by the Episcopal Church on Sugar Creek on the south side of town with an abandoned school building.

 

Edwin contacted the trustees of the land and asked them to donate it for an orphanage.  They agreed, with the provisions that it be named for Lewis Thompson who had donated the land to the Church many years before and that the Rev. Edwin Osborne be responsible for setting up the orphanage and serve as its first superintendent.  This was the fourth orphanage built in North Carolina.

 

In 1886 Osborn began to develop Thompson’s Orphanage and Training Institute.  All he had was an abandoned classroom building, which had recently been damaged by an earthquake, a brick residence, 72 acres of land along Little Sugar Creek, and not a dime to start with.  So he began to  raise money, going door to door first in Charlotte and then all over the state asking for contributions of clothing, furniture, and most importantly of money.  The people freely donated sufficient funds to repair and extend the school building, then called Thompson Hall, and to furnish it.  He also found the first matron, Miss Elizabeth Mackay who was hired for $15 per month.

 

Thompson’s opened in May 1887, with two children.  Within the month there were 8 children in the institution.  Within a year the building was filled by 30 children.  By 1889 there were 39 children living in the one hall, in crowded conditions. Thompson’s took in orphans from across North Carolina, not only those whose parents had died, but also those whose parents could not care for them because of poverty or illness.  The little boys and girls worked the farm, growing vegetables, milking cows and, delivering the milk to families in town.

 

Building St. Mary’s Chapel

 

Although the Thompson’s Orphanage was nominally Episcopalian,  they admitted children without any consideration of religious orientation.  Nonetheless they emphasized religious learning along with secular and practical instruction.  Osborn searched for a way to build a separate chapel, as services were being held in one of the classrooms.

 

In 1889 Judge William Bynum, an old friend of Osborn’s from the days when Bynum was a lawyer and Osborne was county clerk, gave $2,500 to build a chapel in memory of his late wife Eliza and his daughter Mary.  The chapel was built in 1891 with bricks made on the site, from clay gathered from the banks of Little Sugar Creek.  It was in use by the end of 1892 and consecrated in 1895 as “The Memorial Chapel of St. Mary the Virgin.”

 

Osborne continued to run, build and expand the institution until he resigned to enlist in the Spanish American War as a chaplain,  while Thompson’s Orphanage continued under other leadership.

 

By 1956 Thompson’s was surrounded by the city and pieces of the land had been taken for Independence Boulevard and Pearl Street Park.  A portion of the land was used for the first enclosed Shopping Mall in the South.

 

Thompson’s reestablished itself further from town and is today known as Thompson Child and Family Focus.  They continued to use St. Mary’s Chapel until 1970 when they gave it to Mecklenburg County.   It has been used ever since for public gatherings, music concerts and weddings.  Thompson’s continues to fulfill their original charter of caring for those less fortunate and needing their help.