Route IV is approximately 10 miles long and will
take about 1 hour to drive. Allow extra time for stopping at
Johnson C. Smith University or for taking the Uptown Walking
Click on the map to browse
The buildings to be seen on
this tour illustrate the great economic and social changes that
were taking place in Charlotte during the half century after the
Civil War. In North Charlotte, to the northeast of Uptown
Charlotte, mills and mill villages sprang up in response to the
success of cotton textile manufacturing after 1880. By the late
1920s, Charlotte had become "the center of a textile manufacturing
territory housing 770 mills and consuming more cotton than any
other section of the world." To the northwest of the city center,
Johnson C. Smith University and the community of Biddleville
emerged as the freed slaves struggled against segregation and
prejudice following the Civil War. These endeavors became symbols
of hope and success for the black residents of the county in the
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The tour begins on Davidson St. between
36th and 37th Sts.
- From I-77 take the exit for I-85 North. Take the exit for
Sugar Creek Rd., and turn right onto Sugar Creek Rd. At the next
major intersection, turn right onto Tryon St. Turn left at the
traffic lights onto 36th St. After crossing the railroad lines take
the next left at the traffic lights onto Davidson St.
This area has been
characterized as the "hard-pumping industrial heart of Charlotte."
Although it was by no means the first site of cotton manufacture in
the county, North Charlotte was unique in housing three separate
cotton mills which flourished here between 1903 and 1975. The first
of these was the Highland Park Mill No. 3. The Mecklenburg Mill
soon followed. Both had their own mill villages that provided
housing for the workers. In 1913 the Johnston Mill joined the other
two. The first mill building to your left is the Johnston Mill. It
has been converted into housing.
Pause before making a
right turn onto 37th St.
1. The Mecklenburg Mill to your left was
built in the tradition of New England mills of the late nineteenth
century. Notice the profusion of windows which would have allowed
the maximum amount of natural light into the building. After a
series of owners, the mill was acquired by the Johnston group just
before the Second World War. C.W. Johnston had controlled major
shares in the Highland Park Co. since 1906 and was of course the
owner of the Johnston Mill next door. He is also the man who built
the seventeen-story Johnston
building on S. Tryon St., which you'll see on the Uptown Walking Tour.
Turn right onto 37th
St., and right again onto N. Alexander
2. This was the Mecklenburg Mill village,
something of a model in its time. The rural origin of most early
mill workers was reflected in village life.
"Each cottage has a large space for a
vegetable garden...a good quantity of beans, peas, corn etc. are
canned in the summer. There is a piggery...in a segregated spot....
There are quite a number of cows that furnish plenty of milk and
How mill workers found the time to raise animals
and grow vegetables is a mystery. Men, women, and teenage children
all worked ten to twelve hours a day Monday to Friday and five
hours on Saturday.
One mill worker recalls the lean years of the
Depression when only his mother could find work:
After a hard shift of breathing in cotton
lint, her ears ringing from the constant "bangin" and "slappin" of
the motor belts, and the eternal never ending "swishin" of the
bobbins and thread, she often worked late into the night hours at
our own home. Still tired from the previous day's work, she would
crawl out of bed at 4:30 a.m. the next morning, cook breakfast and
head out to the mill to begin another shift.
Although the houses were probably more luxurious
than many country dwellings, they lacked facilities we now consider
essential. Outside privies were common, "freezing in the winter and
hot and stinking as hell on steamy summer days." A bath generally
meant a turn in the galvanized wash tub sitting on the cold
As you drive through the village, you will
notice that some of the houses are larger than others. These were
the houses given to supervisors, their status being reflected in
more spacious accommodation. All the houses, of course, belonged to
the mill, and rent was taken out of the workers' wages.
At the junction of N.
Alexander and 36th St., turn right onto 36th St., and then left
onto Davidson St. Pause opposite the fire station on the
3. From 1903 until the late 1940s, the community
functioned as a self-contained village separated from the city by
farms and fields. This was the main street of that village, linking
the first two mills and their villages and providing all of the
basic necessities: a barber shop, dry goods store, lunch room,
doctor's office and pharmacy, and five groceries lined the street
by 1929. A trolley line ran down the center of the street, and
trips to town were considered a treat, though old time mill workers
recall being taunted by city folk as "lintheads" because of the
inevitable cotton fibers trapped in their hair and clothes.
Fire Station No. 7 was built when North
Charlotte was annexed by the city in 1928. Notice the pilasters and
pediments adorning an otherwise plain facade. Apparently North
Charlotte could get rather rowdy, and since the city jail was so
far away, two cells were built onto the back of the station for
emergencies. No doubt the rowdiness resulted from the lack of
stability in a society where people often moved in search of better
living and working conditions.
Continue down the block.
Notice the building to your right, just before you turn left at the
intersection with 35th St.
4. The old Hand
Pharmacy building on this corner was the site of union activity
in 1923 when the United Textile Workers of America tried to
unionize the Highland Park Mill. They voted to call a strike in the
meeting hall above the shop after eight members had been fired for
union activity. The strike, however, never gained sufficient
support in a community which could not afford to lose work and
where labor was always available.
Turn left onto 35th
St. Stop in front of the large house on your right at the end of
the first block.
5. When the Highland Park Mill and its adjoining mill
village were designed, the planner intended the village to focus
around a square with its own hotel, school, and store. The plans
were never realized, but the hotel was built in the then
fashionable Colonial Revival-style. Called the Highland Inn and
later the Sears Hotel, it was popular among the many drummers
(traveling salesmen) who frequented Charlotte with their wares.
At the next block,
turn right onto N. Alexander St., then right onto 34th St., then
left onto Davidson St., and then finally right onto Mallory St.
Pause by the corner to view the Highland Park Mill No.
6. In February, 1903, the Highland Park Mill No. 3 was
announced as Charlotte's largest and first electric driven mill.
The architect and engineer responsible was Stuart Cramer, a man who
was widely recognized as a textile machinery innovator. He
pioneered the development of heat and humidity controls for
spinning mills and has been credited with coining the term "air
conditioning." Imagine what a crowded spinning room would have felt
like on a July day before air conditioning.
The mill was designed to hold 30,000 spindles
and 1,000 looms, and the weaving room alone was as large as one and
a half football fields. It was a fully integrated mill, meaning
that cotton was carded, cleaned, spun, woven, and dyed on the site.
The sturdy brick walls of the mill were in part a protection
against fire, for cotton fibers were notoriously flammable. Within
the mill a firewall was built between each room, and floors and
roofs were constructed of heavy, slow burning planking. The ornate
tower with its crenellated parapet faced the busy Southern
Railway's main line, presenting an impressive facade to
Continue on Mallory,
which changes to Brevard St. shortly after the left-hand curve.
Eventually you will come to a stop sign. Turn right onto Parkwood
Rd. Parkwood Rd. curves round and eventually rejoins Brevard St.
Continue on Brevard St. until the intersection with 7th. St. Turn
right onto 7th St. Take the third left onto Church St. Two blocks
after 6th St. turn right onto Trade St.
7. You will be driving through the city center and may
wish to park and explore. The city has many attractions, including,
Spirit Square (a regional center for the arts), the Afro-American
Cultural Center, Discovery Place (a hands-on science museum), and
historic Fourth Ward. If you would like to walk through the center
city and visit its historic sites, turn to the back of the book and
follow the instructions for the Uptown Walking Tour.
Leave Charlotte on
Trade St. heading north and continue out of the city. You will
cross under I-77 and begin climbing up a long
The community of Biddleville,
clustered around Johnson C. Smith University, is Charlotte's oldest
surviving and one of its most interesting black neighborhoods.
Biddleville's story begins in the city's Second Ward (then known as
"log town") where the Biddle Memorial Institute launched its first
class of eight male students in 1867. It was the initial step in
Charlotte towards giving an equal educational opportunity to people
who had been denied literacy by law before 1865. The founders were
three white Presbyterian ministers, and the institution was made
possible by the generous contribution of a Philadelphia
philanthropist, Mrs. Mary Biddle. The aim from the beginning was to
teach "preachers and teachers" and to prepare community
moved to its prominent hillside location in the early 1870s, when
Colonel W. R. Myers (the father of John Springs Myers of Myers
Park, see Route II) donated seven acres of land to the new
institution. For the first twenty years all faculty members were
white, but the intention was always eventually to employ a black
principal and professors. In 1891 the institute appointed its first
black president, Rev. Daniel Sanders. Over the years the university
realized its goals by training thousands of administrators,
doctors, dentists, teachers, and ministers; at least seven of its
graduates became college presidents. Three returned to Johnson C.
Smith university, including Dr. H. C. McCrorey who led the school
for forty years between 1907 and 1947. These were years of rapid
change for the university. McCrorey led a drive to raise funds to
build a Carnegie library on campus; he instituted co-education, and
he also secured a generous donation that gave the university its
As you near the top of
the hill you will come to a five-way junction with traffic lights.
Take a shallow right turn to continue on Beatties Ford Rd. Notice
the gates to your right just after you cross the
8. In 1921, President McCrorey persuaded Mrs. Jane Berry
Smith, a Pittsburgh philanthropist, to donate eight new buildings
and an endowment fund to Biddle University, more than tripling its
size. The institution was renamed Johnson C. Smith University in
honor of her husband, and to commemorate the occasion this stone archway was erected as the
new entrance to the refurbished campus.
JCSU Entrance Gate
The current campus
entrance is located just ahead on your right. Turn into the college
entrance and inform the security guard that you are following the
county tour. You may park in designated visitor parking spots to
view the outside of the buildings, and this is recommended since
the campus is best seen on foot. For information about the campus
call (704) 378-1000.
9. The clock tower building which dominates the campus is
Biddle Hall. When it was
built in 1884 it served as a classroom facility, dining hall, and
chapel meeting almost all the needs of the student body. It is
Charlotte's finest example of Victorian institutional architecture.
Notice how complex the building is with its towers, bays, and
dormers. Even the brickwork is intricate on close examination. Two
features are particularly worth noticing: the corner stone with its
message "Sit Lux" (let there be light), and the crosses worked into
the brick chimneys of the old chapel.
Biddle Hall at Johnson C. Smith University
10. Carter Hall is
a student dormitory erected in 1895 entirely by student labor.
Notice the huge corner turrets which contrast with the delicate
wooden cupola in the center of the roof -- all characteristic of
Carter Hall at Johnson C. Smith University
11. Johnson C. Smith University's Carnegie Library is the only one
of the three Carnegie libraries in Charlotte to have survived. It
was built in 1912 using a grant donated by Andrew Carnegie who
helped erect hundreds of libraries throughout the U.S. In contrast
to the earlier buildings, but in keeping with changing fashions, it
was built in the Neoclassical style. Notice the pediment capping
the tall Doric columns of the portico, echoing the architecture of
a Greek temple. The building was designed by Hunter and Gordon, a
Charlotte architectural firm.
Carnegie Library at Johnson C. Smith University
Return to your car,
and drive to the entrance of the university. Cross over Beatties
Ford Rd. onto Dixon St. At the first intersection, turn right onto
Campus St. and pause.
12. From the start, the University was a magnet
encouraging further development in the area. Rev. Stephen Mattoon,
the first president of the institute at its new location, bought
farmland adjoining the campus and encouraged teachers, students,
and others to purchase lots. By the 1890s, the community was firmly
established, and once the trolley system was installed in 1903 the
future of Biddleville as a thriving suburb was ensured. The
expansion of the University in the early twentieth century,
resulted in the expansion of the surrounding community, and several
new suburbs sprang up around the central core of Biddleville in the
period before 1930. When Biddleville was threatened with demolition
in the 1960s, residents of the community reacted to preserve their
heritage, and today many of the older homes in the suburb are being
renovated.The house on your left, across Campus St., is a good
example of the connection between the University and its suburb.
The man who built this house in the 1890s played a significant role
in the cause of black education during the late nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries. George Davis of Wilmington, North
Carolina graduated from Biddle Institute in 1883 and went on to get
a Ph.D. in medicine from Howard University. He returned here to
become Biddle Institute's first black professor in 1886 and
remained until 1921. Davis's retirement in that year, however, did
not end his contributions to the cause of black education. Indeed,
possibly his most significant work was accomplished as the
supervisor of the Rosenwald school building program for North
Carolina. The Rosenwald Foundation was incorporated in 1917 by
Julius Rosenwald for the purpose of assisting communities to build
schools for rural blacks. However, in an effort to involve both
blacks and whites in the endeavor from the outset, the foundation
only provided a grant to match funds raised by the local community.
Since most of the schools were needed in poor rural areas, it is a
tribute to George Davis's energy and ingenuity that North Carolina
became the leading state in the Rosenwald building program. (Some
of the surviving Rosenwald schools can be seen on Routes III and
Drive down to the next
block of Campus St. to view Mt. Carmel Church to your
13. The original congregation of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church dates
back to 1878, though this building was erected in 1918. For decades
the church was an important center for Biddleville. The Charlotte
architect Louis Asbury, Sr. designed this Victorian Gothic brick
structure. The congregation used to walk down the street and turn
left onto French St to "The Branch" where they baptized new
If you take this same
route, you will come to Biddleville Park, a good site for a picnic.
Otherwise, turn right onto French St. and then left onto Beatties
Ford Rd. Just after crossing the freeway overpass, notice the
Excelsior Club to your left. Turn left onto Sanders St., and then
into the parking lot of the club to turn around
14. This distinctive Art Moderne-style
building has played a significant role in the social and political
life of Charlotte's black community. The Excelsior Club was founded in 1944
by James Robert "Jimmie" McKee and became the leading black social
club in the southeast. In addition to its social function, the club
also provided a meeting place for both black and white political
candidates during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
This was another chapter in the history of black advancement in the
city begun by Biddle Institute back in 1867. In 1965 Charlotte got
its first black city councilman of the 20th century, Fred
Alexander. During the 1970s, the county became a test case for
busing children to integrated schools, creating a powerful example
for other southern counties. The original building was a two-story
house built in 1910. The structure was heavily remodeled in 1952
and is now probably the finest example of the Art Moderne style in
The Excelsior Club ends
the tour of North Charlotte and Biddleville.
To return to Charlotte,
turn right out of the parking lot onto Beatties Ford Rd. and follow
it back into Charlotte.
To return to I-77, turn
right out of the parking lot onto Beatties Ford Rd. Following the
signs for the Brookshire Freeway East, turn left after you recross
the freeway overpass. The Brookshire Freeway will take you to