March is Women’s History Month, and the grand dame known as Rosedale is fortunate to have in her history many strong and memorable women.
First among these was Sarah Frew Davidson, sister to Rosedale’s builder and first resident owner, Archibald Frew. Following the death of her first husband, Thomas Davidson, Sarah married his nephew William Davidson, who later became an NC State Senator. While Sarah herself never lived in the home, she and her husband stepped in and provided the funds to save Rosedale from foreclosure after Archibald Frew went bankrupt in 1816. Sarah and William established a home of their own called The Grove in Rural Hill, NC, and had five children, one of whom—Harriet Davidson—came into possession of Rosedale in 1833 along with her husband, Dr. David Caldwell.
A strong and well-educated woman herself, Harriet Davidson Caldwell had eight children of her own, and helped maintain Rosedale and the family while her husband attended to his growing medical practice. Dr. Caldwell became a highly respected physician in the Charlotte/Mecklenburg area, and Rosedale and the family thrived until tragedy struck in 1845 as an epidemic of a disease called erysipelas swept through the area. The epidemic struck down almost a quarter of Mecklenburg County’s population; Harriet herself and three of the Caldwell children caught the disease, and all four died within a year of each other. Before her death, Harriet wanted to make certain that her surviving girls were well-cared for, and sent to her family home for another strong woman who became part of Rosedale’s legacy, an enslaved woman named Cherry.
Cherry had lived most of her life at The Grove, and had taken care of the Davidson children there following the death of their mother Sarah Frew Davidson at an early age in 1812. Harriet had fond memories of Cherry, and on her deathbed requested that Cherry be brought to Rosedale to care for the newly motherless Caldwell children. Family stories tell us that Cherry attentively tended to the Caldwell children as she had their mother and her siblings, and that the children were fond of her as their mother had been, underscoring Cherry’s legacy as part of the Rosedale story.
One of Harriet’s surviving children, Margaret, married John Springs Davidson in 1864; their son Baxter Craighead “Craig” Davidson inherited Rosedale, and in 1914 brought to the home his lovely young bride Louise Heagy Davidson. An avid gardener, Louise was said to have remarked “Why do they call this place Rosedale? There are no roses here,” and was responsible for much of the revitalization of Rosedale’s gardens, some of which can still be seen today. Craig and Louise had two daughters, Mary Louise and Alice, who would later in life make the crucial decision on the fate of the Davidson homestead and the future of Historic Rosedale.
Mary Louise Davidson (1916-1987) and Alice Davidson Abel (1926-2008) both grew up at Rosedale, and loved the home and its place in Charlotte’s history. However, by the 1980s, they were struggling to maintain the home and property, and realized something had to be done to save the historically significant site. In 1985, the sisters sold the property to the Historic Preservation Foundation of North Carolina, saving it from developers. Funding for the sale and restoration of the home had been provided in large part by the Colonial Dames of America, of which the Davidson sisters were members; and both Mary Louise and Alice shared their stories of their family and the home in hours of interviews, preserving the history for generations to come.
From wives and mothers to enslaved caregivers to historic preservationists, Rosedale has been fortunate to have a long line of loyal and supportive women in its history. These women contributed—in their own ways, and at their own times—to the historic house museum we see today. Be sure to keep an eye on our social media for more photos and stories of the women of Historic Rosedale.