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Tour Routes


South Mecklenburg Matthews Pineville
Intro to South & East Charlotte Cherry Dilworth
Eastover Elizabeth Myers Park
Plaza-Midwood East and Northeast Mecklenburg North Charlotte & Biddleville
North Mecklenburg Davidson Cornelius
Huntersville Northwestern & Western Mecklenburg
Uptown Walking Tour Uptown Walking Tour Alt. Route 1 Uptown Walking Tour Alt. Route 2


Charlotte & Mecklenburg County for Visitors Streetcar Line Tour African American Heritage Tour

See notes at bottom of this page to assist you in using the tours.


Before any Europeans ventured into the Piedmont plateau of North Carolina, Catawba Indians made this area their home. Unfortunately, little remains of their long stewardship of the eastern banks of their "great river" except for their names and a few artifacts. The white settlers who came to replace the Native Americans included Germans, French Huguenots, Swiss, and Highland Scots, but they were dominated in number by the Presbyterian Scots-Irish. Some came via Charleston or Virginia, but most traveled by the Great Wagon Road south from Pennsylvania and Maryland through the Shenandoah Valley and the Great Valley of Virginia.

By 1762, sufficient numbers had settled in the area to merit the creation of a new county. No doubt the name Mecklenburg was chosen to flatter the English crown, since George III's new bride was from Mecklenburg-Strelitz in Germany. In these early days, it was the area's churches that served as social and spiritual focal points for the scattered rural communities. By 1770, the county was served by seven Presbyterian churches; all seven are still thriving today, and several retain their early nineteenth century sanctuaries.

The tiny community of Charlotte, founded in 1768, only became the county seat of this frontier area through the perseverance of Thomas Polk. Although Charlotte had the advantage of being at the crossroads of two ancient trading paths, it was not until Polk and his neighbors built a courthouse at the crossroads that the legislature was coaxed into making Charlotte the county seat in 1774.

In 1775, the courthouse was reputed to have been the scene of a momentous event in the county's history. With discontent towards British rule mounting, Colonel Polk called a county-wide meeting on May 19th to consider public safety. The following day, the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence is said to have been proclaimed from the courthouse steps. Eleven days later a list of Resolves was drawn up, outlining a system of government under which Mecklenburg would operate in the event of independence. Mystery now surrounds the Declaration, however, since the original copy was supposedly destroyed when the house of its custodian, John McKnitt Alexander, burned down in 1800. The Mecklenburg Resolves, in themselves a remarkable document, is definitely authentic and demonstrates the anti-British sentiments of the majority of Mecklenburg leaders. During the tour, you will come across several references to the signers of the Declaration, for they were important citizens of the county at that time. Whether or not the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence really did exist, the fervor of patriotism among these backwoods pioneers was quite real. Hostility towards the Redcoats during the Revolutionary War earned the city and the county their reputation as a "veritable hornets' nest" of resistance, and the name is proudly preserved to this day, even in the name of its NBA basketball team.

After Independence, Mecklenburg settled into a rural routine which lasted for the next hundred years. Following Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin in 1793, cotton production increasingly dominated Mecklenburg's agriculture, and slave ownership became more common. By the 1840's, there were several large cotton plantations here. You will see the best surviving examples on Route IV on this tour, which covers the northern part of the county.

The majority of Mecklenburg farms were modest, with only one or two slaves. In the rural areas, many of their houses can still be seen particularly on Route VI which covers the western part of the county. During the tour your attention will often be drawn to the predominant style chosen by Mecklenburg farmers for their homes between the late eighteenth and early twentieth centuries. Architectural historians call the style the "I" house, because it looks like the letter "I" when veiwed from the top. It is a two-story house which is three rooms wide but only one room deep and which has the main entrance on the long side. In Mecklenburg, the chimneys are usually located on the gable ends of the house, on the outside of the building. The entrance is symmetrically placed in the center of the building and opens onto a hallway which extends to a door at the rear of the house. Back additions were often made to the structure as need arose. There were two advantages to this style. From a practical standpoint, it provided good ventilation in the hot summers with its central hall and the large number of windows in each room. From an aesthetic standpoint, by having the main entrance on the long side of the house, it made a four room dwelling look much grander that it actually was.

Despite the prominence of agriculture in the county's history, cotton was not the only stimulus to Mecklenburg's nineteenth century economy. After gold was discovered here in 1802, there was a period of gold speculation in the county, with many farmers moonlighting in an effort to make their fortunes. Mecklenburg County is still dotted with old shallow mines and placer pits. In 1837, Charlotte became the proud home of a branch of the United States Mint, an operation that continued up to 1861.

A more important and lasting phase in the county's history opened with the coming of the railroad in 1852. Until then, trading had been a difficult task for county farmers, because their nearest market was eight days away along hazardous and difficult roads. By 1880, Charlotte was at the hub of a railway network with ties to Columbia and Atlanta to the south, Lincolnton to the west, and Statesville, Salisbury, and Greensboro to the north.

The promise of the railway was temporarily halted by the Civil War, but Charlotte recovered more rapidly than many other prominent Southern cities. There was no direct fighting or raiding in the county. Charlotte benefitted by being chosen as the site of the Confederate Naval Yard in 1862. Although it was a long way from the ocean, Charlotte was on two major railway lines and was in a reasonably secure location. Many mechanics who came to Charlotte to work in the Naval Yard stayed here after the war. This helped to swell Charlotte's population and provided the labor pool many valuable skills.

After the Civil War Charlotte began to grow and prosper as a regional trading and manufacturing center. Between 1880 and 1930, the city experienced unprecedented expansion under the leadership of businessmen such as Edward Dilworth Latta, Daniel Augustus Tompkins, James Buchanan Duke, and many others who provided the necessary capital and enterprise to stimulate industrial and commercial development. This tour reveals two sides of this development. Route II takes you through the new and fashionable suburbs, like Myers Park and Dilworth, that sprang up on the edges of Charlotte at the turn of the century. In contrast, Route IV shows you a less attractive side of Charlotte's industrial development, exploring the cotton mills and their mill villages where living conditions were less ideal. Route IV also explains the changing situation of the county's black community after the Civil War.

Throughout this period of frenzied growth and change, Mecklenburg County maintained a strong sense of continuity with its rural past. Although the Civil War changed life considerably for the few wealthy planters, most Mecklenburg farmers continued to raise cotton, corn and other crops with the assistance of their tenant farmers. The advent of the railroad had made the hauling of agricultural produce much more efficient, and the growth of Charlotte created a new market for truck farming and dairy products. The railways also caused the development of smaller Mecklenburg County towns, like Matthews and Pineville on Route I, Derita and Newell on Route III, and Huntersville and Cornelius on Route V. These outlying towns, or rather villages grown into towns, provided new social centers for the scattered farming communities.

Since the 1930's, Charlotte has continued to grow and is now the largest city in the Carolinas. Cotton brokerage has given way to banking, and the railways have been complemented by a flourishing trucking industry. Modern skyscrapers compete for attention on the horizon, and suburbs constantly spill over into the surrounding countryside.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Driving Tour is divided into six geographic and thematic sections. There is also an Uptown Walking Tour for exploring Charlotte's historic heart and a Visitors Tour that highlights the history of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County for visitors to the area. Although every effort has been made to provide complete directions for each route, finding your way around will be easier if you use a county map. Approximate driving times are given, but you should allow extra time when there are museums and other attractions on the route.

For the most part, the tour leaves it up to you to decide whether simply to view a building as you drive by or stop and linger.However, please bear in mind that the vast majority of the buildings on the tour are private residences. You are welcome to stop on the road to view these building, but only seek to enter buildings which are specifically indicated as open to the public. Have fun!

Notes to this virtual tour: information for you is in blue text. Facts about the sites are in black text. Directional information is in red text. Each tour has a map. You can click on the map to change the area covered and/or zoom in or out. To do so takes you to the Geocities page, so you have to use the back button on your browser to come back to us.

For more information...
See neighborhood walking tours in the Neighborhood Guide

This site was created using a Macintosh Performa 6290 by Bruce Schulman. This site is maintained for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Landmarks Commission by Bruce R. Schulman.