Charlotte’s City Center is divided into four separate wards that are simply called the First, Second, Third, or Fourth Ward. Collectively, these four wards form a diamond shape and are referred to as “Uptown.”
Locals decided to stop calling the city center “downtown” and instead adopted “Uptown” in 1987, in an attempt to showcase the city’s hopeful and upbeat vibe.
That same year, Charlotte’s Optimist Park neighbourhood gained international attention when President Jimmy Carter teamed up with Habitat for Humanity to build over a dozen houses in less than a week for low-income residents.
Each ward is defined by its direction away from the intersection of Trade Street & Tryon Street, known as Independence Square.
I was excited to visit Independence Square because I knew that Arnaldo Pomodoro has an installation called Il Grande Disco there.
Il Grande Disco has been on display in Charlotte since 1974, and Pomodoro has additional pieces in multiple countries.
We saw his piece Sfera con Sfera at Trinity College in Dublin and fell in love with his style, so tracking this down made me feel like an accomplished collector of sorts.
I had no idea that Independence Square was full of towering sculptures and other art installations until we arrived.
The most striking are the four bronze and granite sculptures on each respective corner of the square, which have been on display here since 1995.
Each of Raymond Kaskey‘s figures were designed to present transportation, commerce, industry, and the future.
The Queen City
Charlotte was named after Queen Charlotte, King George III’s wife, from Mecklenburg, Germany. The surrounding county was named Mecklenburg County to honour her homeland as well.
King George II still ruled the colonies during this time when the city was chartered in 1768, and the locals wanted to gain favour with the royals.
For this reason, the city of Charlotte also took on the nickname “Queen City.”
There is a bronze sculpture of her called Queen Charlotte Walks in Her Garden by Dr. Bailey Graham Weathers, Jr. on College Street, in between the First and Fourth Wards.
The eastern quadrant of the diamond is the First Ward, home of Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, The Market at 7th Street, First Ward Park, Infused Cocktail Lounge, the Victoria Yards beer garden by Resident Culture, loads of banks and law offices, municipal buildings, police departments, and fancy hotels.
The Market at 7th Street is a food hall with entertainment much like Optimist Hall & Camp North End, but it is located inside the busy Uptown. This market is unique because they proudly focus on supporting and literally creating space for businesses owned by women and BIPOC, and most of the vendors providing food are locally sourced.
It is also notorious because its parking garage doubles as a musical instrument. Christopher Janney designed his piece Touch My Building with over 400 light panels all around the exterior, and it has nearly 40-feet tall structures around it that light up and play music when you touch them.
The installation also plays a song every hour on the hour, and allegedly there is some secret riddle for visitors to solve, but we had more places to see.
Charlotte’s Fourth Ward is the Uptown quadrant located north of Independence Square. Main Streets in the Fourth Ward are N. Graham Street, W. Fifth Street, and W. Trade Street.
Most notable sites in Fourth Ward are the Fourth Ward Park (below), Charlotte’s Oldest House, Old Settlers Cemetery, Levine Museum of the New South, and Discovery Place Science Museum, Historic Elmwood-Pinewood Cemetery, and multiple sites that comprise the Charlotte Liberty Walk.
Old Settlers Cemetery is right in the middle of Uptown and holds the graves of Charlotte’s earliest settlers, founding fathers, and politicians.
Most were interred in the late 1700s and 1800s, until 1884 when the cemetery became too crowded to accept new additions. Right away, the city opened up the much larger Historic Elmwood-Pinewood Cemetery.
Check out Cedar Street Tavern, the Corner Pub, Crave Dessert Bar, Queen City Grounds, and the Roxbury nearby.
The Charlotte Liberty Walk Tour covers many significant historical sites around Independence Square and along Tryon Street.
Among these, visit the Battle of Charlotte Monument, Catawba Indians & Trading Path Marker, Site of Queens College circa 1771, Battle of Charlotte State Historic Marker, Thomas Polk Park & Homesite, Cook’s Inn, the Queen Charlotte statue, the Nathanael Greene Historic Marker, and so many more.
Charlotte’s pre-war structures no longer exist, so lookout for other monuments and plaques during your tour that indicate significant places beyond the scope of American Revolutionary War history.
Some more interesting facts we learned about Charlotte while we were visiting:
- The land that became known as Charlotte was originally inhabited by the Catawba, Cherokee, Coharie, and Lumbee tribes.
- Many of Charlotte’s first European settlers were from England, Ireland, and Scotland, and they followed the Great Wagon Road down from Pennsylvania. There is a rad bar in NoDa called Great Wagon Road Distilling and now I know why.
- In 1799, a kid found a 17-pound rock while playing in the river and his mom used it as a doorstop, until a visitor later recognized it as solid gold. Feels like something that would happen to me, honestly. This discovery created the first Gold Rush in the new world.
- Charlotte was a major railroad and cotton mill crossing in its early days.
- Today, Charlotte is the second largest metropolitan area in the Deep South after Atlanta.
- Charlotte was the first US city to have its own Mint, and today it is the second largest banking center in the country aside from NYC.
Art walks are huge in Charlotte. Follow this self-guided tours of Uptown or this self-guided tour of art in the 4th Ward.
Murals are not as abundant in these two wards as in the Plaza Midwood and NoDa districts, but you will be surprised.
Rosalia Torres-Weiner’s Mother of Invention at 301 N Tryon Street below, and Pichiavo’s Delight in Dancing on the Charlotte Ballet building both lit me up. You really have to see them up close.
The mural below is Where Inspiration and Strength Blooms by a collaboration between artists Owl, Sam Guzzie, and Kalin Renee Devone.
In the area for a while? Follow me to Second Ward, the NoDa District, Optimist Hall & Camp North End, and Plaza-Midwood.
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