Charlotte was founded in the mid-1700s by Scotch-Irish and Germans traveling down from Pennsylvania. The town and the county were named for Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the wife of King George III of England. Fertile lands drew the early settlers and the nation’s first gold rush - really more of a flurry - took place in the early 1800s after Conrad Reed found a 17-pound rock on his family farm in nearby Cabarrus County that he used as doorstop which turned out to be nearly solid gold. The United States opened the Charlotte Mint in 1837 as the area led the nation in gold production until the great strikes in California in 1848.
Still the population scarcely scraped above 2,000 at the outbreak of the Civil War. After the war the area slowly transitioned from agrarian to manufacturing. The population topped 10,000 for the first time in 1890 as textile manufacturers primed the economy for explosion. By 1930 Charlotte passed Winston-Salem as the largest city in North Carolina and never looked back. Today the population is 750,000. In the process the city seamlessly segued from manufacturing center to financial center and in 2011 only New York City is a bigger banking city.
When a city explodes as quickly as Charlotte there is not much time to argue about preservation and we will only encounter a handful of buildings on our tour that don’t have a modern pedigree. As a counterbalance to the shiny high-rises we will also visit the residential Fourth Ward, mere blocks from the center of downtown, where prosperous merchants and businessmen and doctors built picturesque Victorian houses in the last decades of the 1800s. When this area was ravaged by neglect and abandonment in the 1970s what was left was not bulldozed away but rescued and restored.
Our walking tour will be a mix of commerce and residential, old and new and we will begin in a public greenspace that has survived since Charlotte’s earliest days...
Old Settlers’ Cemetery
West Fifth Street, between Poplar and Church streets
Due to its proximity to the nearby Presbyterian Church, the town’s main burial ground was often referred to as the “Presbyterian Burying Ground” but it was never an official church cemetery. The earliest known burial took place in 1776, eight years after the founding of the town, when Joel Baldwin, aged 26, was laid to rest here. Over the years many of the founding members of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County were interred here. Among the notables resting on this slight hilltop are Nathaniel Alexander who distinguished himself as a surgeon in the North Carolina Regiment during the Revolutionary War and went on to serve in the United States Congress and as governor from 1805 to 1807; Colonel Thomas Polk, an early commissioner of Mecklenburg County and a great uncle of future President James K. Polk; and Major General George Graham who harassed Lord Cornwallis’ troops in the Carolinas during the Revolutionary War. The cemetery was closed in 1867 but burials with special permission took place until 1884.
WALK OVER TO THE SOUTHWEST CORNER OF THE PARK AT THE INTERSECTION OF 5TH STREET AND POPLAR STREET.
129 North Poplar Street at 5th Street
Edgar Murchison Andrews, a furniture purveyor and founder of the Andrews Music Company, began buying up lots and constructing homes of quality in the 1880s and 1890s. Here, he constructed a brick house with hints of the French Chateauesque style in 1892. The first owner was Andrew Joyner Bagley, a railroad man. He sold the house in 1897 to Walter Nixon Mullen, a grocer best known for his Hornet’s Nest Liniment patent medicine.
TURN LEFT ON POPLAR STREET AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO TRADE STREET. TURN LEFT.
First Presbyterian Church
200 West Trade Street
The fledgling town of Charlotte had no church for nearly fifty years, making do with services in the courthouse when a circuit-riding preacher visited. In 1815 the town commissioners set aside a plot of land for a church to be built that would serve all denominations. The Presbyterians of Charlotte, much the dominant congregation, was officially recognized as a church in 1821 and in 1835, after John Irwin paid off the debt on the property it became a Presbyterian church. The present Gothic Revival building was erected in 1857 with a price tag of $13,000; subsequent additions have carried forward the Gothic style.
ACROSS THE STREET IS...
227 West Trade Street
This 394-foot tower rose on the rubble of the 1920s landmark Hotel Charlotte. Even though it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the grand old hotel was imploded in 1988. Look up to see the signature feature of the Carillon Tower - a Gothic central spire jutting out from the copper roof. The building was designed to compliment the Gothic visage of the First Presbyterian Church across the street.
CONTINUE ON TRADE STREET ANOTHER BLOCK TO TRYON STREET.
Trade and Tryon streets
Centuries ago two Indian trails crossed here. In 1768 the first home in Charlotte was constructed at the crossroads. Thomas Polk built the first courthouse here and the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was read in The Square on May 20, 1775. Today the intersection is marked by bronze statues representing Commerce, Transportation, Industry, and The Future. They are the work of Pittsburgh native Raymond Kaskey and were installed in the early 1990s.
ACROSS THE STREET, ON THESOUTHEAST CORNER IS...
Bank of America Plaza
101 South Tryon Street
When this tower topped out at 503 feet in 1974 it became North Carolina’s tallest building, a distinction it held until 1988. The scraper is set at a 45-degree angle from South Tryon Street that creates a plaza highlighted by a large bronze sculpture entitled “Il Grande Disco,” representative of industry. It is the work of Arnoldo Pomodoro.
TURN RIGHT ON TRYON STREET.
First National Bank Building
112 South Tryon Street
New York-born John Wilkes came to Charlotte at the age of 26 to oversee his family’s mining and milling interests. Although his father was a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy, Wilkes supported the Confederacy in the Civil War. After the hostilities ceased Wilkes received a pardon from President Andrew Johnson and in short order procured a charter for the First National Bank of Charlotte, the first national bank in the post-war South. Wilkes was soon off to iron manufacturing and was replaced as bank president in 1867 by Rufus Y. McAden. His son Henry would tear down the decades-old three-story bank building in 1926 and replace it with the state’s tallest building, a 20-story tower. McAden tabbed Louis Asbury, Charlotte’s most prominent architect of the day, to do the design work. Asbury specialized in residential design and here turned to the tried and true Neoclassical style to create a high-rise in the form of a classical column. The building was a financial fiasco, never being more than a third occupied. The fastidious Henry McAden scrutinized prospective tenants to a fault, supposedly not renting to doctors because of the various odors that might seep from their offices. The Depression dealt a death blow to the bank which closed its doors on December 4, 1930. By that time its building had also lost its position as North Carolina’s highest building to the Reynolds building in Winston-Salem.
212 South Tryon Street
Charles Worth Johnston hailed from Cabarrus County and came to Charlotte in 1892 at the age of 31 to embark on a career that would lead him to be described as “a Titan among textile industrialists.” He commissioned the construction of this building, that would enjoy a short stint as Charlotte’s tallest, in 1924. William Lee Stoddart, a New York architect who specialized in large urban hotels and found plenty of work in the Carolinas, designed the 15-story building. An additional two stories cam along later in the 1920s.
320 South Tryon Street
Edward Dilworth Latta came to Charlotte from South Carolina in his twenties and set up a retail clothing store under the name, E.D. Latta and Brothers in 1876. In the 1880s, when cotton mills began springing up across Charlotte Latta began manufacturing pants. In 1890 he formed the Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company (the Four Cs) that was soon to have its fingers in many pies - there was an electric trolley, a generating plant for electricity, a water works and, most significantly, real estate development. There were some 10,000 people in Charlotte when the Four Cs organized; twenty years later the population topped 30,000 and Latta was a prime player in the modernization of Charlotte. Latta built this two-story commercial arcade in 1914. He hired go-to Charlotte architect William H. Peeps to design the arcade. The London-born Peeps came to America as a furniture designer in Michigan and came to Charlotte at the age of 37 in 1905. He spent the last 45 years of his life in town as an architect. Although the arcade has seen some sprucing up over the years, many interior details have been restored to their original appearance and the Latta Arcade is the rare downtown Charlotte building on pace to celebrate its centennial.
400 South Tryon
This skyscraper was raised in the 1970s with ambitions to be the state’s tallest building but topped out at 32 stories and 394 feet.
Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
420 South Tryon Street
Hansand Bessie Bechtler of Zurich, Switzerland spent the better part of 70 years collecting modern art, sustained by his fortune that flowed from his heating and air conditioning company. In 1979 son Andreas came to Charlotte to work in one of the family’s manufacturing plants and decided to make the city his permanent residence. After inheriting half of his parents’ collection he donated the works to the City. The dynamic building constructed to house the Bechtler collection was designed by Swiss master architect Mario Botta, one of only two commissions he has accepted in the United States.
500 South Tryon Street
The Mint Museum opened in 1936 in the original branch of the United States Mint as the first art museum in North Carolina. The discovery of gold on the Reed farm northeast of town triggered the establishment of the first branch of the United States Mint from 1837 to 1861. For the Mint Museum Uptown Machado and Silvetti Associates of Boston created a dramatic five-story space to house the internationally-renowned Mint Museum of Craft and Design.
St. Peter’s Catholic Church
507 South Tryon Street
This Victorian Gothic church with it pointed arch windows is the second Catholic church on this site. The original church was constructed in 1851 but a munitions explosion near the end of the Civil War damaged the foundation and it limped on until 1893 when it was replaced with the current sanctuary. For 90 years St. Peter’s was the only Catholic church in the city.
Duke Energy Center
550 South Tryon Street
At 786 feet, this is Charlotte’s second highest building and its largest in square footage. To blast a 100-foot foundation hole required 600,000 pounds of explosives. It took more than 60,000 dump truck trips to remove the rubble, some of which was used in the construction of a runway at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Sheathed in blue-green glass on top of a granite base, the building was completed in 2010.
WITH YOUR BACK TO THE DUKE ENERGY TOWER WALK THROUGH THE PARKING LOT AND TURN LEFT ON COLLEG STREET.
between College Street and South Tryon Street
This little greenspace was preserved in the latest splurge of building. it is marked by whimsical fountains and walkways. the entrance on the College Street side is framed by bronze stacks of books.
Charlotte Convention Center
501 South College Street
The Charlotte Convention Center opened in 1995 with 280,000 square feet of exhibit space. The LYNX and the Charlotte Trolley lines pass straight through the center of the convention center.
One Wells Fargo Center
301 South College Street
This 42-story building enjoyed a brief reign as North Carolina’s tallest building for four years after it was completed in 1988. Culminating in an arch at the top that has been likened to an old-time radio, the building is considered Charlotte’s first post-modern high-rise.
TURN RIGHT ON MARTIN LUTHER KING BOULEVARD.
NASCAR Hall of Fame
400 E. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard
The NASCAR Hall of Fame opened in 2010 with five members in the Charter Class including founder Bill France, Sr. and his son Bill France, Jr. and legendary drivers Junior Johnson, Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty. The first artifact at the Hall of Fame was a Plymouth Belvedere that Petty drove to 27 wins in 1967.
TURN LEFT ON BREVARD STREET. TURN LEFT ON 3RD STREET TO RETURN TO COLLEGE STREET. TURN RIGHT.
201 South College Street
This 27-story skyscraper sheathed in black glass appeared on the Charlotte streetscape in 1982. In the years since ten Charlotte buildings have soared past its 387 feet.
200 South College Street
This black-and-white commercial tower came online in 1975. It stands 300 feet high.
TURN RIGHT ON TRADE STREET.
Time Warner Cable Arena
333 East Trade Street
The arena was planned for the NBA Charlotte Hornets in 2001 - it would replace the Charlotte Coliseum that was scarcely 13 years old at the time. The Hornets would depart for New Orleans and the arena would eventually be built by the city for the new Charlotte Bobcats. The arena opened on October 21, 2005 with a concert by the Rolling Stones.
TURN LEFT AND WALK BETWEEN THE RAILROAD TRACKS AND THE ARENA TO 5TH STREET AND TURN LEFT. WALK TWO BLOCKS TO TRYON STREET.
Bank of America Corporate Center
100 North Tryon Street
This is not only the tallest building in Charlotte and the Carolinas but the tallest building between Philadelphia and Atlanta. The World Headquarters of the Bank of America was originally planned as a 50-story skyscraper but stretched to 60 as a nod to the city’s namesake, Queen Charlotte, who ruled England for 60 years. The top of the building is highlighted by 384 aluminum rods that vary in length from 12 to 62 feet and call to mind a royal tiara when they are illuminated at night. At one time the ornate 1891 Charlotte City Hall stood here; groundbreaking for the 871-foot building took place in 1989. The 1,062-foot tower crane utilized during its construction, at the time, was the tallest external crane ever to be used on the North American continent.
ACROSS THE STREET IS...
Ivey’s Department Store
127 North Tryon Street
Joseph Benjamin Ivey opened his first store in Charlotte in February 18, 1900. By 1924 he was ready to open this grand emporium, designed by William Peeps. Although it now does duty as a residential facility, it stands as the only large department store building from Charlotte’s early days as a major retail district.
TURN RIGHT ON TRYON STREET.
214 North Tryon Street
The flared appearance of this 2002 skyscraper is not an optical illusion - the upper floors average 24,000 square feet and the lower ones 20,000. This is the fourth tallest building in Charlotte with 47 floors although inside you will find 48 since there is no 13th floor to placate possible tenants spooked by the fear of the number 13. During business hours you can see priceless works of art in the lobby at the Bank of America Gallery.
237 North Tryon Street
The Dunhill Hotel opened as the Mayfair Manor in the toughest of times in 1929 and has managed to navigate its way through aggressive urban renewal projects to stand as one of Charlotte’s few remaining landmarks from the 1920s. Even during the Great Depression the luxury hotel thrived with half of its rooms rented by permanent tenants. Its timeless Beaux Arts appearance in light brown brick was provided by architect Louis Asbury.
TURN LEFT ON 7TH STREET.
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
115 West Seventh Street
This is the second church on this site for the congregation that was founded in 1834 as the first Episcopalian Mission in Charlotte. The first sanctuary was raised in 1857 and replaced with the current building in 1892.
TURN RIGHT ON POPLAR STREET INTO THE HEART OF THE FOURTH WARD, STUDDED WITH RESTORED VICTORIAN HOMES.
John W. Sheppard House
601 North Poplar Street
Armed with one of the first degrees in pharmacy granted in the United States, from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, John W. Sheppard scouted Southern towns for a suitable base of operations. He became enchanted with Charlotte and opened a drug store in 1896 with his friend J.P. Woodall. The new venture was a quick success, perhaps because it was the first drug store in town to make and sell ice cream year-round. In 1899 Sheppard returned to his native New Jersey to marry his childhood sweetheart and brought her back to this newly constructed house. The Victorian house remained in the Sheppard family until 1961 and is one of the few houses in Fourth Ward that is original to its site and orientation to the street grid. Beside the house is a small pocket park created when the city closed several streets to reduce cut-through traffic.
WALK THROUGH THE POCKET PARK ONTO 9TH STREET.
324 West 9th Street
Brothers John and George Newcomb came from White Plains, New York to Charlotte in 1879 to establish a bellows factory. The enterprise prospered and soon they were making windows and sashes as well. The brothers purchased these two adjoining vacant lots on 9th street in 1884 for $1,400. This elaborately milled Italianate house was occupied that year. It became known as the Berryhill House when Earnest Wiley Berryhill married into the Newcomb family. It was purchased by the Junior League in 1975 and its renovation kickstarted the preservation of the Fourth Ward.
401 West 9th Street at Pine Street
Earnest Wiley Berryhill bought this grocery store in 1898 and operated it until his death on February 7, 1931. His delivery wagon was a familiar sight on Charlotte streets.
TURN LEFT ON PINE STREET.
326 West 8th Street at Pine Street
Although lacking some of the extreme decoration sometimes associated with the Queen Anne architecture style this house from 1879 is one of the few surviving examples of the style in Charlotte. It features asymmetric massing, a wrap-around front porch and corner turret sheathed in fish-scale wood shingles. The house was constructed by Elias Overcarsh, a grocer who became a licensed minister in 1870 who helped shape the religious development of Mecklenburg County.
TURN LEFT ON 8TH STREET. TURN RIGHT ON POPLAR STREET.
St. Peter’s Hospital
229 North Poplar Street at 6th Street
The core of this building, a single story with four rooms, opened in 1878 as the St. Peter’s Hospital, created by the congregation to provide medical services for the underprivileged. It may have been the first non-military hospital in North Carolina. A major three story addition was constructed in front of the original building in 1898, bringing 20 more rooms online for patients. The hospital operated until October 8, 1940 when St. Peter’s patients were transferred to the new Memorial Hospital. After that the building morphed into the Kenmore Hotel and today carries on as condominium units.
TURN LEFT ON 6TH STREET.
North Carolina Medical College
229 North Church Street
Incorporated in 1893, the North Carolina Medical College was the first chartered medical college in North Carolina, spawned from Davidson College’s pre-medical program. The school moved into this red-brick building designed by Charlotte architect James McMichael in 1907. The college prospered for only a few more years however, after a report by the Carnegie Foundation criticized its facilities. The college shuttered in 1914 and transferred the students to Richmond. The building was sold and converted into luxury apartments.
TURN RIGHT ON CHURCH STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN SETTLERS CEMETERY.