Visiting the new south where racing and banks thrive
By Phyllis Steinberg
It’s hard to imagine that Charlotte, NC, a Southern town with a population of 18,000 in the l900’s and surrounded by hundreds of cotton farms and mills has grown into the nation’s second largest banking center in the United States.
Today, lofty, high-rise office buildings dot the city’s skyline. The city has a population of 580,000 people and is home to 300 or the Fortune 500. The downtown area is immaculate. There are no peddlers on street corners or homeless people seen in this modern metropolis.
Charlotte, is a city of history and the way to learn that history is to visit the Levine Museum of the New South which tells the history of the city from 1865 to tomorrow.
The centerpiece of the newly renovated Levine Museum of the New South is the exhibit, Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers. This multi-media, permanent exhibit features the stories of men, women and children, black and white, rice and poor, who shaped the area since the Civil War. Here, you can dip your hand in a basket of seed in front of an early cotton gin, step inside re-created sections of a textile factory and walk down Main Street into an early department store. There is also a theater where you can watch footage of the early days in Charlotte.
But perhaps the most poignant exhibit for me was a school where you can sit and watch vintage news coverage from a small television screen on the Supreme Court decision on busing and desegregation and its impact on Charlotte and the rest of the nation. Parents, grandparents and children should visit this museum together to experience the history of our nation. Charlotte played an important role in child labor laws, union organizing activities and strikes, strategies for all Americans to achieve equal rights, sit-ins and desegregation legislation.
Charlotte also has a free electric trolley system which has been running in the city since 1880. The children will enjoy taking the trolley around the downtown area and seeing the sights which includes the Discovery Place, a hands-on science center for children of all ages. There is also a Nature Museum and informative walking tours that include Charlotte Center City and Historic Fourth Ward area. Save the Paramount Carowinds Park for an entire day. There is the theme park and an adjacent water park.
The newest hotel in Charlotte is the Westin Charlotte, a 700-room convention style hotel that has comfy beds and bathrooms with awesome double-shower heads. The service is top-notch as well, for such a large hotel. The hotel is also on the free trolley line if you want to experience the downtown area without having to use a car.
If you are looking for an elegant historic inn to stay at while in Charlotte, there is the Duke Mansion, built in 1915, by James Buchanan Duke. Duke’s most lasting legacies include Duke University, Duke Energy and the Duke Endowment. The Duke Mansion has been home to many celebrities and is listed on National Register of Historic Places. The Mansion is now operated as a nonprofit with all proceeds being used to preserve the home.
You really can’t talk about Charlotte, NC without mentioning the Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Built in 1960, the Speedway hosts three NASCAR Nextel Cup events each year plus other races all during the year. The Speedway also offers a daily guided tour which includes a ride around the track.
For those who love to shop for bargains, there is the Concord Mills, located just 12 miles north of uptown Chalotte, near the Lowe’s Speedway. A visit to both in one day is possible. The shops are Concord Mills are outlet stores with plenty of discounts. There are 200 stores including Off Fifth Avenue, Naturalizer, OshKosh B’Gosh, Nine West, Brooks Brothers plus restaurants and a AMC multi-plex theater.
If you would like to take a day trip, Winston-Salem is a great place to visit. Nestled in the foothills of the Blue-Ridge Mountains, Winston-Salem offers many opportunities for families to experience a diverse culture and deep-rooted heritage of the Moravian settlers who came to the region 250 years ago. Here, actors in colorful costumes, portray the life of the early settlers for visitors. They bake bread over a fire, churn their own butter and grow their vegetables in gardens behind historic homes. There are many things to see in Old Salem, as it is now called. There are more than 100 restored and reconstructed buildings. Tour highlights include the Single Brothers House, Salem Tavern, Winkler Bakery and The Old Salem Children’s Museum.
Charlotte, now a thriving metropolis has left its cotton fields behind is a fun-place for multi-generation vacationing.
Photos by Phyllis Steinberg and the Charlotte Convention and Visitors Bureau
Charlotte Convention and Visitors Bureau
Levine Museum of the New South
The Duke Mansion
Lowe’s Motor Speedway