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The Voice of the Black Community

Opinion

New to city, but where are the native Charlotteans?
I've learned there are transplants galore
 
Published Wednesday, July 16, 2014 9:00 am
by Michele J. Chilton

In the 1950s, folk singer Pete Seeger asked the question, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”1 For all you pre- and post-millennials, ask a friendly Baby Boomer or Generation Xer to explain it to you.


Then again, perhaps the generation gap is quite fitting, for today I very well might ask, “Where Have All the native Charlotteans Gone?” Have they been plucked, wilted, withered away or moved aside and bloomed in neighboring towns just to get away from the crowds of newcomers?   


I can’t tell you how many people here in Charlotte have told me that they were from some other part of the country or even from different cities in North Carolina. As a fellow newcomer myself – all of six weeks – I am among Charlotte’s new breed of transplants from California to Connecticut. While we are not “born and bred” Charlotteans, we are ready to make our mark on a city growing by leaps and bounds.


Now with all this progress, I suppose it’s inevitable for a loss of charm to occur. I experienced this first hand a few weeks ago at a local business. And what’s up with the whole uptown- downtown motif? I thought you were supposed to “Take the A Train” Uptown.2 It’s another Baby Boomer reference.


And while I’m in an inquisitive mood, is there any reason why there are so many streets named Sharon – Sharon this and Sharon that? Who is this woman named Sharon, and what is her claim to fame or infamy that has lent itself to such confusion on the streets of Charlotte? And while I’m still on my tangent, can anyone tell me what happened to the street I was just on? As I was traveling south on Tryon last week, the street just up and disappeared as I found myself on Camden Road.  Can anyone help a directionally-challenged sistah out?


Thankfully, I recognized The Post and with a bit of help from a gentleman on the street, I was able to get back onto Tryon. So much for not talking to strangers! Well, I guess I missed the boat on listening to one of mom’s top-10 lists of does and don’ts – right up there with making sure you have on clean underwear just in case you are in an accident.


Oh boy, nothing like a good rabbit trail to get you off track. Well, back to my business account. How shocking to observe the half-hearted smiles and grunt-laced hellos as the greeting employee attempted to welcome customers coming through the doors.  Was this the South I had pictured and so eagerly expected? Where was the “How you doing baby?” and “I’m so glad to see you” I so anticipated.


I, admit, I expected that stereotypical Southern hospitality at its finest to embrace me like a warm blanket on a cold-winter’s night. I guess you can tell I’m a Northern girl. I’m a neophyte as green as grass so I see from a fresh perspective of my newly espoused dwelling place. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy my new spot, but part of me is still longing for the quaint, nostalgic days of old – a step back in time, but not too far as that is a serious topic for another day’s column.


Still, I’m pleasantly surprised and quite frankly amazed how many people are aware of the history behind the city’s central landmark – Trade and Tryon Streets. Kudos goes out to all of you for that lesson learned! So, I guess, there still is some Southern charm lingering after all.


I believe while taking my evening constitution this past weekend I discovered it. Block by block, I was melodiously drawn in. Harmonious sounds permeating the atmosphere led me past a local restaurant featuring an outdoor musician until I finally reached the center. At its very core was an R&B, jazz band lighting up the night sky for all those – like myself – assembled to take note.


Eventually, there were some who, overcome with sheer excitement, decided to join in the festivities via song and dance. What a picture-perfect scene for all those living and visiting, especially a shout out to the beauty and talented women dressed in pink and green, Alpha Kappa Alpha, in town for their 66th boule’. Welcome ladies and thank you Charlotte for welcoming me, yet another newcomer to your royal city.


Pennsylvania native Michele J. Chilton moved to Charlotte to study at Charlotte School of Law.    

Comments

I'm a native of the Charlotte area (nearby Gaston County to be more precise). In answer to where the natives have gone, many have moved to the suburbs due to rising cost of housing. Others moved with countless bank mergers to all corners of the country.

Some Charlotte background on the streets, rumor is that many of our streets change names either a) because the neighborhoods through which they pass were once suburbs that were annexed (such is the case with Elizabeth, Cherry and Dilworth) or b) that early city planners purposely renamed streets after major crossings in an effort to confuse should the city ever be invaded. (This is true of the DC area and dates back to the war of 1812 and the American Civil War).

Charlotte was a very sleepy town until the current population boom began sometime around the mid-1960s and escalated in the mid 1990s. In fact, in the early 20th century, many of the small suburbs such as Lincolnton, and Mooresville were nearly the same size with Charlotte only being composed of the 4 wards that now reside inside the loop created by the Brookshire Freeway.

As for Sharon, the unconfirmed reason for Sharon was there was, at one time, a town known as Sharon in what is now South Charlotte.. The name of the road comes from the fact that this road connected the town of Sharon with Charlotte. Similarly Fairview Road ran all the way to the town of Fairview in Union County. Many of our street names came about this way --the name indicated which town you would find at the end of the road.

Often roads in the early colonial days of NC were named for landmarks such as churches, rail depots, or the twons they connected. For example, Stanly Lucia Rd in Northeast Gaston County, Webbs Chapel Rd (for the chapel that onc stood there), and Beatties (orig Beatty's) Ford Rd which led to the primary crossing of the catawba river before the river was dammed to create Lake Norman in the late 1950s.

Charlotte actually has a lot of history, but the problem is that so much of it was lost in an effort to change its image.

For instance, did you know that on the corner of 7th and Tryon is one of only 5 Art Nouveau movie houses of its type in the world? It sits in the shadow of the Hearst Tower and was known as the Carolina Theater. The Carolina was operational until the 1970s when it closed. In the late 70s or early 80s, the building caught fire when a group of homeless people sleeping there accidentally caught a curtain on fire in an effort to keep warm.

Also, did you know that Charlotte was the center of the first gold rush in American History. Conrad Reed, a young boy at the time, was said to have found a large gold nugget on the reed farm in what is now Cabarrus county. The family used the "rock" as a door stop for several years, not realizing what it was. Once news spread, assay offices sprang up quickly, eventually resulting in the establishment of the first branch location of the United States Mint on what is now the corner of Mint and Church Streets. After the Mint was shut down during Reconstruction, the building was used in various fashions until it was later moved to its current location on Randolph Rd and reopened as an art museum. (speaking of the Mint Museum, did you know that it contains one of the largest collections of pre-columbian art in North America?)

One last fact (I can go on for hours). Did you know that Gastonia was home to the largest organized labor strike in American history? The Loray Mill (later called the Firestone for the tire and rubber company that was its last commercial tenant) was the site of a violent textile workers' strike in the 1920s. The mill has recently been converted into luxury apartments and retail space and is leading a revitalization of the newly designated York Chester historic district. (Incidentally, York Chester being named for the two main roads that pass through the area and named for the towns of York and Chester, SC to which they once terminated).

Anywho, that's enough history for one day. There are still natives around, but we're a quiet sort, so you generally don't know we're here.

Hope that answers some of your curiosity questions, and creates a few more.

And go check out the French and Indian War site in Statesville, or the only working Emerald mine in the US in Hiddenite.
Posted on March 30, 2015
 

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