The suburb of Columbia now commonly called Melrose Heights (part of greater Historic Melrose) lies in the fork of Millwood Avenue, which was historically called Garner’s Ferry Road, and Gervais Street and its extension, Trenholm Road. The records do not reveal who owned the land prior to the Civil War. After the war, in 1868, a 67-½ acre portion of the tract was forfeited to the state because the unnamed property owner could not pay the property taxes. It was put up for public auction and purchased by Aaron H. Powell in 1872 for $29.00. He transferred this tract to Eliza J. Powell in 1881.
The Powell family continued to acquire small parcels of land in the fork between Millwood and Gervais Street. J.W. Powell transferred another 12 ½ acres to Eliza Powell in 1890. J.W. Powell bought several small tracts in the area from the 1880s into the early years of the twentieth century. J.W. Powell and Catherine K. Powell conducted several land transactions of property in the area in the early years of the twentieth century.
The area was prime land for development because of its proximity to the eastern city limits and to the older suburb of Shandon. It appears that the Powell family masterminded the development of Melrose Heights and Fairview, the two suburbs that developed on the Powell land in the early twentieth century. As early as 1900, the eastern section of the land became identified as Melrose Heights, though the earliest plat of the neighborhood was not registered in the Mesne Conveyance Office until 1915. This neighborhood was bound by Garner’s Ferry Road, or Millwood, Daly Street, Trenholm Road, and Powell Avenue and was divided into what appears to be four-acre blocks on the square-in-the-grid pattern.
By 1910, another new subdivision, called Fairview, was laid out on the Powell land to the west of Melrose Heights. It, too, was laid on the square-in-the-grid pattern. This neighborhood was bound by Garner’s Ferry, Gladden Street, Fifth Street, now called Kirby Street, and on the west by the lands of a Mr. Patrick. It included the north/south streets of Ellerbe, now called Fairview and Powell Avenue. The plan of the suburb indicated tree-lined streets, which today show the beneficial results of this planning.
Part of the remaining undeveloped land west of Fairview was acquired by J.B. Powell by 1924 and was laid out in lots. This land was in the area where King Street meets Gervais Street and where Fourth Avenue runs into the extension of Senate Street and extended west to the present-day Tree Street.
Development of properties throughout Melrose Heights and Oak Lawn occurred rapidly from the 1920s through the mid-1930s.
While the Powell family was the primary driving force behind the development of Melrose Heights and Fairview, other development and real estate companies bought and sold land in the area as well. In 1925, the Oak Lawn Development Company announced the opening of “a new sub-division known as Oak Lawn, located in the Heathwood section, one block north of Heathwood School, less than one block from paved street, and with sixty-five beautiful large lots,” with the cost to purchase a lot initially ranging from $800 to $1,250.
At the end of 1929, all three subdivisions of the neighborhood that collectively we call Historic Melrose today were well under development. Further building occurred throughout the 1940s and early/mid-1950s resulting in a tapestry of architectural styles popular in the United States for the first half of the 20th century, and for whose preservation the architectural conservation district was established in 2003.
The Melrose Heights Company and the Fairview Realty Company sold many lots in the suburbs between 1920 and 1950. Oddly, the Melrose Heights Company was not chartered until 1936, when it was simply called the Melrose Company. J.D. Powell and Catherine Powell were the directors of the company, which was based in Columbia.
The neighborhoods grew steadily through 1935 after which the pace declined for several years. However, after World War II another building boom was seen. These houses, built from 1945 until the mid-1950s were constructed to house the many returning veterans as they settled down to begin having the children that now make up what we call the Baby Boom. These houses are seen as infill development in lots that had either never been developed or where older homes had deteriorated and been razed. They are also evident in more concentrated enclaves on streets such as Michigan and Princeton.
In 2003, Historic Melrose was designated by the City of Columbia as an official architectural conservation district. This distinction helps to protect the area's architectural heritage by preserving character-defining elements of its historic homes. All exterior changes must be approved by the city's preservation office.
In 2016, Historic Melrose was added to the National Register of Historic Places [pdf] for its significance in the areas of Architecture, Community Planning and Development, and Landscape Architecture.