Route I: South Mecklenburg
Route I is approximately 50 miles long and takes about
one and one-half hours to drive. Allow up to two hours extra time for stops
NOTE: There are separate tours for the towns
of Matthews and Pineville on this website that can be incoporated into this
Click on the map to browse
In the south of Mecklenburg County two
prominent railway towns, Pineville and Matthews, flank an area of robust
farming traditions. Both towns owe their existence to the railroads which
began to criss-cross the county after 1852, and which boosted the area's
cotton economy. As railway depots, Pineville and Matthews became focal
points for the local community, offering a wide selection of supplies and
fancy goods, cotton ginning and freight facilities and popular social
gathering places. Route I takes you to both towns and the still
predominantly rural area between the two.
Route I begins on Arrowood Road, east of I-77.
- If you are coming from the south, drive north on I-77 and take the
exit for Arrowood Road. Turn right.
- If you are coming from Uptown Charlotte, take I-77 south to the
exit for Arrowood Road and turn left.
1. After a short distance you see the transmission
towers of WBT in the distance. WBT was the first commercial radio station in
the Carolinas. The station had humble beginnings; the first broadcasts were
made in the 1920's from an old chicken coop in a Charlotte suburb. (See
Route II, no. 34.)
At the traffic
light, turn right onto Nations Ford Road.
2. Nations Ford Road follows the route of an ancient
Indian trading path. Its local destination was Nation Ford, a river crossing
used by Indians and later by adventurers, traders, and settlers. The name
refers to its proximity to the Catawba Indian Nation. On a national scale
the trading path fit into a series of Indian trails, linking the Great Lakes
with the Carolinas and beyond to the Savannah River in Georgia.
When the first white explorers arrived in this area there
was a population of 4000 to 5000 Indians in at least six villages scattered
along a twenty mile stretch of the Catawba River. Here the Catawba, a branch
of the Sioux tribe, enjoyed the advantages of fertile soil, a fish-filled
river, abundant wildlife and a hospitable climate, though they also faced
periodic battles with their Cherokee neighbors to the west. In 1650 a
legendary battle was fought at Nation Ford in which 1100 Cherokees and 1000
Catawbas were killed in a single day. The ensuing truce granted the Catawba
an area along the "Great River" from near its headwaters in North Carolina
to what is now Chester County, South Carolina. This was the situation that
the pioneers found as they drove their laden wagons into the Piedmont's
forest. Imagine the road that the pioneers encountered. It was described in
the 1750's by a settler as "a seldom trodden rocky farm road to the back
field" amidst a "vast primeval wilderness arched high overhead by large wide
spreading branches of majestic trees, ash, walnut, oak, pine, poplar and
The pioneers changed what they found. By the 1760's,
after only a decade of persistent white settlement in the area, much of the
Catawba's lands had been sold, bartered, or lost. The Catawba nation had
dwindled to a population of about 1000, for in addition to tribal warfare
they suffered from contact with European diseases and vices: chiefly
smallpox and whiskey. In 1764, two years after the death of the last famous
Catawba chief, King Haiglar, the colonial governor of South Carolina granted
the Catawba fifteen square miles on the border of North Carolina and South
Carolina. By 1840 the area had dwindled to 652 acres, and there were only
seventy-five Catawba left. Little was thought about the surviving remnants
of the Catawba until 1977, when Chief Gilbert Blue laid claim to the
original fifteen square miles granted to the Catawba in 1764.
two and one-half miles Nations Ford Road now ends at Highway 51. Turn left
and continue on Highway 51 until you reach Pineville.
3. Just before you enter the village of Pineville
you will cross the railroad which created the town and which set off the
process by which Charlotte was to become the large city it is today. The
Charlotte and South Carolina Railway ran its first passenger train on
October 21, 1852, linking Charlotte with Columbia and thereby providing
crucial service for shipping cotton to the South Carolina ports. Previously,
cotton and other merchandise had been laboriously carried by wagon along the
tortuous roads to and from navigable rivers in South Carolina. The closest
market was an 8 - day trip.
Main Street, Pineville
See the Pineville route...
Before the railroad opened, Pineville had been a small community
clustered around a stagecoach stop and was known as Morrow's Turnout. It
reputedly got the name Pineville from the many large pine trees casting
shadows over the town at the time of the railroad's construction. The
railroad ensured Pineville's future as a commercial center, and by 1873 it
had become an incorporated municipality. By 1900, the town boasted two bars
and ten stores and served the surrounding countryside, both as a
mule-trading center and an important credit market.
Following Charlotte's example, Pineville also attracted
the growing textile industry. Its first textile mill opened in 1890.
Although the mill has expanded and changed ownership several times since
then, this mill operated until very recently as the Cone Mills.
Pineville no longer serves all the needs of a large rural
population, but it still attracts many shoppers to its antique shops and
cafes. You may want to park your car and explore the sights, including the
many antique shops.
through the village on Hwy. 51. At the intersection with Hwy. 521 turn
right. On your left, after .5 miles, you will see the log cabin of the Polk
Museum on your left. Turn into the drive and park near the Information
4. The museum marks the birthplace of James Knox
Polk, the eleventh president of the United States. He was born in 1795 into
one of the leading pioneer families of Mecklenburg and spent his childhood
in the county. His great uncle was Thomas Polk, one of Charlotte's first
residents and a forceful leader of the early community. Although the Polk
family lands were located at this site, the present log buildings are not
original to the farmstead. They are reconstructions which date from the
early nineteenth century. The museum tells the story of James K. Polk and
sets the scene of eighteenth - century Mecklenburg through exhibits, a slide
show, and guided tours of the log house and outbuildings. Allow about one
hour for a full visit. Admission is free. The museum is open Tuesday to
Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.. There is a picnic area,
and toilet facilities are provided. (For more information call (704)
Polk Museum, Pineville
On leaving the
Polk Museum, turn left onto Hwy. 521 and continue driving south for about 3
miles. You will pass Harrison Methodist Church on your right.
5. Although the church building itself is not old,
the first Methodist congregation in the county assembled on this site in
1785. George Washington is said to have attended a service at
Harrison Methodist Church during his triumphal tour through the new
Republic in 1791.
The old Harrison Methodist Church, which burned.
Harrison Church, turn left onto Providence Road West.
6. The farmhouses that you will see on the country
drive along Providence Road West between here and Providence Church offer an
insight into life in Mecklenburg County for the last hundred years. If the
Polks and their neighbors had stayed in the area, their farms would have
seen many changes. No doubt two story frame dwellings would have replaced
their hand-hewn log houses. The old log structures would have been used as
kitchens or for storage or could have been incorporated into the new houses.
Mecklenburg farmers wasted very little, even in their relative affluence.
After about 2
miles, turn right onto Community House Road. Bear left at the fork, keeping
the 1930s Community House (which is a log building) on your right. Drive a
farther .5 miles. Turn around to get a view of the house set in the distance
among the trees across the fields to your left.
Providence Community House
7. The view that you see gives you a good sense of
how the landscape must have looked during the late nineteenth century. James
R. Dunn built the house in the distant grove of trees in about 1885, but it
is better remembered for the Ross family who resided here from 1919 to the
1970s. William and Sarah Ross operated a flourishing cotton farm here with
four tenant houses, a store, a cotton gin, and a blacksmith's shop.
Providence Road West, turn right and take the next right turn after 1.3
miles onto Blakeney Heath Road. Drive .5 miles through a recent
subdivision until you come to the
Blakeney house set in the trees to your right.
8. If the Polks had stayed in the area, their frame house
might have burned, as did the first house on this site. Even if it had
survived, many farmers around the 1900s felt the urge to either update their
old homestead with generous new wrap-around porches and additional ells or
rear projections, or build a completely new house to conform with the
fashions of the time.
This house was erected in 1905 to 1906 by James A.
Blakeney who had been acquiring land in the area since the 1880s. The house
is a splendid example of the type of dwelling prosperous farmers constructed
at that time. It was no doubt the work of a local builder. It is a
conservative interpretation of Victorian architecture, popular 20 to 30
years earlier in more fashionable areas of the U.S. Notice the large bay on
the left front of the building, the wood shingles in the gable ends, and the
large wrap-around porch with its decorative details. These are all Victorian
motifs, but presented in an unpretentious manner.
The James A. Blakeney House
Providence Road West. Cross the road and pull into the parking lot of the
convenience store to see the
9. This was the home of a
local store owner. The store was nearby, but burned in 1954. Most
Mecklenburg farm families were self-sufficient, growing their own grains and
vegetables, producing their own meat and eggs, churning their own butter and
even making their own clothes. The country store provided the things which
could not be made at home. As you can see from this house it could be a
Note the Victorian motifs, especially the decorated
pediment capping the center of the porch, which suggests that this house may
have been constructed by the same local builder as the Blakeney house.
eastward on Providence Road West. Shortly past the Robinson house, take the
right turn to stay on Providence Road West. Almost 1 mile farther you will
pass the McKinney house on your left.
10. This was once the seat of a 900 - acre
plantation. Here the old 1870s house which is now to the rear was
incorporated into a fancy new Colonial Revival extension in 1916. The
property also contains several agricultural outbuildings, especially an
eastward on Providence Road West for approximately 1.25 miles. At the
traffic light at Providence Road, turn left onto Providence Road. Drive .5
miles and turn into the parking lot of Providence Church on your left.
11. For many early South Mecklenburgers this was
the center of their community and a source of strength and inspiration. The
charming Federal - style sanctuary which we see today was built in 1858, but
it was preceded by more modest structures. The earliest worshippers gathered
here in the open air in all weather to listen to sermons delivered from a
large rock overlooking a spring in an oak grove. The stone outcropping can
still be seen in the cemetery opposite, across Providence Road. Their first
shelter would have been a brush arbor -- a canopy of fresh cut pine boughs.
As soon as the predominantly Scots-Irish settlers had
built their own homes and cleared some land for crops, they turned to the
task of establishing a church and seeking out a spiritual leader. It was not
easy to find such a leader and teacher in the newly settled back country of
North Carolina. For many years Mecklenburgers were served by itinerant
preachers who took on the enormous job of serving a large and zealous flock.
The most famous of these men was Alexander Craighead, a man who embodied all
that the Mecklenburg community stood for--a determination to live, work, and
worship in freedom. His sermons stressed the "new Side" evangelical
components of Christianity, and he openly encouraged liberty and
independence in both the religious and political sphere. Although Rocky
River and Sugar Creek churches, several miles to the north and northeast,
were his official congregations, Craighead preached all over the county and
counted the Providence group as "one of his houses."
By 1767, the Providence group had built a simple log
meetinghouse which stood east of the cemetery. With the new church came the
congregation's first pastor, William Richardson, the son-in-law of Mr.
During the Revolutionary War, the British General Charles
Cornwallis moved his army through this area on his march to Charlotte in
September, 1780. As was true throughout the county, he received a cold
reception from the community. Three members of the Providence Church, Neil
Morrison, John Flenekin, and Henry Downs, were said to be signers of the
alleged Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. Their graves and those of
other Revolutionary heroes can be found in the cemetery. Take a walk through
the cemetery, but be careful crossing the road.
Providence Presbyterian Church has also been the site of several
successful revival meetings. One such held in 1802 was described by a church
member: "...prayer and hymn-singing filled the air, phenomena of a strange
and unaccountable nature occurred, and many hundreds of persons were
converted." In 1804 a second sanctuary was erected in front of the cemetery,
and by 1831 the church was flourishing, with 240 members many of whom were
black. In 1858 a new structure was built, and it survives as one of the most
interesting and well-preserved in the county. It is an excellent example of
the simplicity of meetinghouse architecture. Notice the immense height of
the windows, which rise twenty-five feet above the sanctuary floor. Inside,
the decoration is plain, but beautifully executed. The galleries are
original and were built for the use of black members, who, as slaves, had no
choice but to attend the church of their white masters. These became empty
after the Civil War as the freed slaves formed their own congregations.
Today Providence Church is once again thriving and living
up to its name "symbol of God's protecting care."
Providence Presbyterian Church
To shorten the
tour, turn left onto Providence Road from the parking lot and then right at
the major junction with Hwy 51. Follow Hwy 51 into Matthews, and turn left
onto Trade St. at the crossroads in the center of town. Skip to number 16.
To continue on
the full tour, turn right onto Providence Road from the parking lot and
drive south to Providence Road West and McKee Road. Turn left onto McKee
Road. After .5 miles take the fork to the right onto Tilley Morris Road.
After a mile you will see the Hennigan Place on your right, just after a
bend at the top of a hill. Be careful, it is easy to miss it.
12. This old
farmstead has been moved from its original location where it was
threatened with demolition in 1973. James Hennigan built the house in about
1845, adjacent to James K. Polk's old farm. Hennigan was a prominent
Methodist layman and an official of the court of pleas and the quarter
sessions of the county.
The house is a good example of the Greek Revival
influence on local builders. Notice the four plain Doric-style columns,
wooden of course. Otherwise the house is very similar to other vernacular
farmhouses of the area. Notice again the "I" house design. A series of large
single stone piers supports the house, hinting at its great age.
Tilley Morris Road. You will be driving on this road for several miles,
though the name changes to Weddington Road shortly after the Hennigan Place.
You will be in Union County for a short period of time. After about 3 miles
you will cross McKee Road again, and eventually come to a stop sign. Turn
left onto Pleasant Plains Road, and follow it into Matthews.
13. Before you reach the town's crossroads, look
out for the old
Matthews School. It is on the right-hand side of the road, just past the
fire station, and set well back from the road among other public buildings.
The school symbolizes Matthews's growth and civic pride during the first
decade of the twentieth century when the town was chosen as the site for one
of the first state-supported rural high schools. The building was truly a
community enterprise, with locals providing building materials and teams and
wagons for hauling them to the site. In 1983 the town purchased the outgrown
school and converted it into a community center.
See the Matthews route...
14. Like Pineville, Matthews owes its growth and
commercial success to the railroad. Prior to the Civil War the area was
known as Fullwood. It consisted of a stagecoach inn and post office on the
run between Charlotte and Monroe. The first postmaster was John Fullwood.
After the war, the area became known as "Stumptown," a humorous name derived
from the pine stumps remaining after local trees were cut down to build
houses and a general store. The turning point in the town's history came in
1874 when the Carolina Central Railroad routed its track through the small
community to link Tennessee to Wilmington, North Carolina via Charlotte. The
name Matthews was chosen to honor Watson Matthews, a member of the Carolina
Central's board of directors. The town was incorporated in 1879.
street is best appreciated on foot. Park your car. When you return you will
be continuing down Trade St. towards the railway tracks.
15. Many of the store buildings date from the late nineteenth or
early twentieth centuries. Probably the most interesting is the old
Heath and Reid General Store building at the eastern corner of N. Trade
St. and the railroad line--a prime location when it was completed in 1889.
This store was the economic and social centerpiece of the community. Everard
Jefferson Heath and Edward Solomon Reid provided a variety of services
including banking, cotton brokerage, and of course wholesale and retail of
every imaginable commodity. Mrs. Sanford L. Forbis, a resident of Matthews,
remembers visiting the store in the early twentieth century and describes a
beehive of activity. Groceries were sold in the rear section, while at the
front, ladies could select from a rich assortment of cloth ribbons, hat
pins, zippers, buttons, and thimbles. Farm supplies were of course a staple,
and Heath even loaned supplies to sharecroppers in the spring, exacting a
share of the crops in the fall as payment.
Heath & Reid Store
Return to your
car. From Trade St., turn left onto W. Charles St. just opposite the Reid
store, and just before the railway crossing. Take the second left alongside
a fine turn-of-the-century house. Pause at the intersection with W. John
16. On your left, facing W. John St. is a Victorian Queen Anne
style cottage, "an oasis of charm and grace." This house was built in 1890
by Edward Solomon Reid, the store owner. He lived here for a time before
moving to Charlotte. Locally the house is remembered as the residence of his
sister, Ellie, her second husband Dr. Thomas Neely Reid, and their daughter
Nancy Alexander Reid. Dr. Reid was a model country doctor. He studied at
Davidson College, the University of Virginia, and New York University before
returning to Matthews to a practice which covered parts of Mecklenburg,
Union, and Cabarrus counties. His early transport was a horse and buggy, but
he was one of the first in Matthews to acquire an automobile. According to
local historian Louise Matthews, older residents remember that when the
sound of his International Harvester "runabout" was heard, "children and
chickens scattered and disgruntled farmers had to dismount from their wagons
and hold the bridles of their frightened horses." His daughter, Nancy Reid,
was a lifelong resident of the cottage (1898-1986). She is remembered
locally as a schoolteacher and community leader.
The house displays many Victorian features: bay windows,
cross-gables and tower, scalloped shingles on the tower roof, sawnwork
embellishments on the porch including a pinwheel design. The huge magnolia
to the front right was planted by Ellie and Thomas when they moved here
almost a century ago.
17. Facing the Reid house across W. John Street is
another late nineteenth-century cottage where Nancy's maternal grandfather,
Solomon J. Reid, lived for a while after 1882. This Reid was an important
local politician, serving as a representative in the North Carolina house
and senate in the later nineteenth century. Local folklore claims that
during the Civil War Governor Morehead asked Reid to bury some silver on a
nearby farm to save it from Yankee soldiers. If he did, he was not the only
one trying to preserve valuables from what seemed like the imminent sack of
Charlotte by the Union Army, for another party took a quarter million in
gold and coin belonging to the Bank of North Carolina and buried it in a
wooded glen in the dead of night. As it turned out, General Sherman and the
Yankees did not invade Mecklenburg County but swung east instead.
onto W. John Street and after a couple of blocks take the right fork and
continue on Monroe Rd. to the traffic light at Hwy 51.
18. The house on the right, just where the road
forked, dates from 1878. It was built by Eli Grier, the first Matthews
resident to serve in state government. He was also a sheriff of Mecklenburg
Turn left onto
Hwy 51 and continue to Sardis Road. Turn right at the traffic light onto
Sardis Road. Look out for the James Boyce Park sign 3 miles along the road
on your right. Turn right on Boyce Road and look for the park entrance on
19. The park commemorates the Boyce homesite built
in 1757. There are picnic and toilet facilities in the park.
Sardis Road and turn right. Continue driving along Sardis Road. After .75
miles you will pass the Sardis Presbyterian church on your left.
20. The original Sardis Presbyterian Church was
erected in 1789 as a daughter church to Providence Presbyterian Church that
you saw earlier, and the earliest graves date from about this time. These
are situated in the graveyard across the road from the present church.
Sardis Road to the traffic light, keeping to the left- hand lane. Notice the
large Victorian house called "The Homeplace" on your right just before the
21. Dr. R. G. Miller, minister of Sardis
Presbyterian Church for thirty-eight years, had this house constructed in
1902. The grand Victorian-style house remained in the Miller family until
1966. It now operates as a popular bed-and-breakfast inn.
Stay on Sardis
Rd. by turning left at the traffic light. After .2 miles notice a
nineteenth-century home on your right, sandwiched between two more recent
houses. To stop and look at the house, make a right turn onto Shasta Ln. and
proceed about half a block until you can get a side view of the house.
22. This Greek-Revival farm house was once the
home of another Sardis pastor, the Reverend John Hunter. He was installed as
minister at the Sardis A.R.P Church (now the Sardis Presbyterian Church) in
1859 and remained for twenty-seven years. The Hunters were an old
Mecklenburg family; John's grandfather, Henry Hunter, emigrated from Ireland
during the early 1770s and helped to defend Charlotte against the British
during the Revolutionary War. The house was built around 1869. Like the
Hennigan Place on Tilley Morris Rd. the house is an unpretentious rendering
of the Greek Revival style. This rather plain version of what was elsewhere
quite an ornate type of house was a trademark of local builders, for it
suited the reserved nature of the county's Scots-Irish Presbyterian
inhabitants. After all, ostentation was the work of the Devil.