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History

The South End: A History of Design, Innovation and Creativity

October 21, 1852. It’s not a red letter day on any calendar, and there are no celebrations marking it. However, that date marks the single most important event in the history of Charlotte — the day the first railroad train arrived in the Queen City.

The Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad was the first rail line into this section of the Piedmont, and the inaugural train, arriving from Columbia, was greeted by a brass band and free barbecue. The line was made possible by Charlotte’s business community and entrepreneurs arranging innovative funding, which was a region-wide effort, with farmers and townsfolk all along the route buying stock, and local governments kicking in cash as well. The railroad’s presence guaranteed Charlotte would soon forge ahead of similar surrounding towns.

Without the railroad, none of the other events in this history would have happened, nor would Charlotte be the city it is today. Says Dan Morrill in Historic Charlotte, An Illustrated History of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, “By doing so, they (Charlotte leaders) elevated resolute and imaginative leadership to the pinnacle of importance it has occupied in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County ever since.” (p. 29)

And it has been imaginative leadership, as well as creativity and innovation, that has made the South End a center for design and for new ways of thinking and building.

1891EDISON’S MASS TRANSIT

After a visit by Thomas Edison, Edward Dilworth Latta and his Charlotte Consolidated Construction Co. open Charlotte’s first suburb – Dilworth — and introduce the electric streetcar to the city.

Charlotteans liked this innovative way of living and traveling. Dilworth was touted as a country resort – pretty important for a town with no parks – and 78 lots were sold on the 442-acre site in the last 10 days of May, attesting that it was an idea whose time had come.

On May 20 – when locals celebrated the signing of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence
(Meck Dec Day) – a grand opening was held heralding the start of the trolley and the opening of lots for sale in Dilworth. Some 2,000 people showed up for free food and to watch a $1,000-fireworks display.

The trolley was installed by the Edison Electric Company and cost $40,000. It was an ingenious way to market Dilworth – after all, it connected the suburb to the center city at a time when there were no automobiles in Charlotte. But in the early years, it was the amusement park Latta built at the end of Park Avenue that created enough ridership to support the trolley.

Latta had come to Charlotte in 1876 and founded Charlotte Trouser Co., but it was his forward thinking and marketing savvy in the creation of Dilworth that demonstrated his innovative thinking and flair. He moved his factory from uptown to South Boulevard in 1894, making it the second oldest factory in Dilworth.

1892 –  INVENTING THE INDUSTRIAL PARK

Daniel Augustus (D.A.) Tompkins builds Atherton Cotton Mill (now converted to Atherton Lofts).  With the groundbreaking ceremony on November 8, it became the first industrial structure in the area.  By 1895, The Charlotte Daily Observer called this area (the corridor between South Boulevard and the railroad tracks) “the Manchester of Charlotte. “ By the turn of century, this corridor was home to Atherton Mill, Mecklenburg Flour Mill (producing three brands of flour), Charlotte Shuttle Block Factory, a sash cord factory, a spoke and handle factory, Charlotte Trouser Co., Southern Card Clothing Co., and Charlotte
Pipe and Foundry Co. It was, in essence, the city’s first industrial park. These factories were locally-owned and operated and did not use northern capital to start up. Their owners, with their fresh ideas and creative ways of making money, transformed Charlotte’s economy from an agrarian one to an industrial one.

A South Carolina native who came to Charlotte in 1883, Tompkins led the “Cotton Mill Campaign” that,
utilizing new ideas, new methods and new devices, transformed the once-rural Piedmont into the country’s textile manufacturing region by the 1920s. He eventually built 100 mills across the region. Charlotte was the center for textile machinery, and he dominated the market.  Says Morrill in Historic Charlotte, “such men became convinced that future wealth in the region lay not in traditional farming methods but in industrialization, urbanization, and scientific agriculture.” (p. 44)

1893 – BRINGING PROFESSIONAL DESIGN TO THE AREA   

To help sales in Dilworth, Edward Dilworth Latta hires architect Charles Christian (C.C.) Hook to, according to The Charlotte Daily Observer, “provide plans for five new-style residences. They will include
the ‘Queen Anne, ‘Colonial’ and ’Modern American’ styles of architecture.”  Hook, the Charlotte region’s first professional architect, designed 35 homes for Latta.

Hook’s architectural practice was just two years old at the time, but he went on to become one of the most prolific North Carolina architects of his day. He introduced the Colonial Revival style to the region, and the oldest house featuring that style which can be attributed to him (fully extant) is the Gautier-Gilchrist
House at 320 E. Park Ave. (Morrill, p. 51). Other structures he designed that are still standing include
the Van Landingham Estate, Fire Station Number 6, the Duke Mansion, Charlotte City Hall and the Carolina Theatre.

1901 – INNOVATION IN PIPE MANUFACTURING

W. Frank Dowd opens Charlotte Pipe & Foundry, a manufacturer of soil pipe, on South Boulevard  between Park and Renselaer avenues. The plant burned down in 1907, and Dowd moved it to Clarkson Street. Starting the firm was a bold step – although Charlotte was the textile and textile machinery center of the South, Alabama was the center for steel making and pipe manufacture.

The Dowd family continued to show a willingness to be bold and innovative in its manufacturing processes. During the 1950s, the company embraced centrifugal spinning methods (instead of the traditional hand molding process) and refitted its plant in 1957. In 1967, the company was among the first to manufacture plastic drainage waste and vent (DUV) systems, and it is now the largest plastic pipe producer in the U.S.

1904-1905 CUTTING EDGE ENGINEER

Just north of his Atherton Cotton Mill, D.A Tompkins builds the machine shop (the main manufacturing facility) for the D.A. Tompkins Company, which built machinery for cotton mills and cottonseed oil plants. He was an innovative engineer with a degree in civil engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who pioneered the technology to turn cotton seed (considered a waste product of processing cotton) into cooking oil. In his obituary in The Charlotte Daily Observer on October 19, 1914, it called one of his two most notable contributions to industry, “the placing of the cotton seed oil business on an engineering
basis.”  He was often called the “father of the cotton seed oil business.”

Tompkins’ first major client was the firm that is now Wesson Oil. An early product was Snowdrift shortening—similar to today’s Crisco—a novelty for cooks who were used to using hog lard. His Southern Cotton Oil Company grew to eight mills across the South.

1905 – PEPSI PIONEERS

Henry and Sadie Fowler (to become known as “Mr. and Mrs. Pepsi-Cola”) become the first bottlers to incorporate using the Pepsi name, making them the company’s first franchise and the oldest Pepsi bottler in the world. In the 1930s, the company moved to 2820 South Boulevard, where it is still located today.

1906 – THE MAN BEHIND “AIR CONDITIONING”

Stuart Cramer coins the term “air conditioning” in a patent filed in April.  A protégé of D.A. Tompkins, he was a prolific designer of textile mills and mill villages, as well as an innovator in the field of humidification and air conditioning for the textile industry, with numerous patents to his credit. His firm merged with the G. M. Parks Company of Fitchburg, MA in 1918 to become Parks-Cramer and moved to South Boulevard in 1919.  It is now the site of the Atherton Mills complex.

1911 – A NEW TYPE OF LAND DESIGN

Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. visits Charlotte at the invitation of Edward Dilworth Latta to help him expand the development of Dilworth.  The world-renowned landscape design firm, based in Brookline MA, created Dilworth Road East and West and the adjacent curving streets. Olmsted’s father, Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., was the founder of professional landscape design in the U.S., and his sons, Frederick Jr. and John Charles, brought it into widespread practice. Their work in Dilworth — plus that of John Nolen in Myers
Park, which also began in 1911 — introduced the idea of naturalistic suburban planning to this part of the South.

1914 – FROM LOOMS TO MISSILES TO ELECTRONICS

Charlotte Machine Company is founded by Egbert Gribble on South Boulevard. In 1926, he moved it to Camden Road, where it still operates. The company began by making component parts for the textile industry, but has been able to think creatively and adapt to changing economic times. In the 1950s, it made parts for the Nike missile and today focuses on the medical, telecommunications and defense industries.

1923 – A LEADER IN HIGH-FASHION DESIGN

Nebel Knitting is founded by William Nebel, a German immigrant and third generation hosiery knitter. Nebel produced women’s high fashion silk hosiery. He was an innovator in hosiery styles, colors and patterns, and held at least 16 structural and design patents. His success was an indicator of the diversification of the Southern textile industry, with Charlotte as its heart. In the 1940s, the company conducted aggressive and cutting-edge advertising campaigns, and in 1953, the Charlotte News reported it was one of the largest hosiery mills in the U.S. But times changed, and the mill was closed in 1968.

Its plant at 127 West Worthington Avenue was designed by noted mill architect Richard C. Biberstein, and was expanded in 1929 and 1946. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and now houses the Design Center of the Carolinas and Byron Hall.

1923 – A SHOWCASE FOR INNOVATION

The first of several Made in the Carolinas Industrial Expositions is held in a new building constructed for the event on East Park Avenue. The events highlighted new products and progress made in the two states. Thousands rode by train to visit the expositions celebrating the inventiveness and manufacturing and design accomplishments of the area. Contemporary accounts compared them toNew Orleans’ Mardi Gras.

1926 –  SNACK FOOD ORIGINATOR

Lance Packaging Co. – a pioneer in the snack food business — moves to 1300 South Boulevard, which had once housed Edward Dilworth Latta’s Charlotte Trouser Co. The facility was doubled in size by 1941, and the company was headquartered there until 1962, when it moved to 8600 South Boulevard near Pineville. Today the site houses condominiums. For many years, Charlotteans enjoyed the aroma of roasted peanuts as they traveled downSouth Boulevard.

Lance, Inc. (as it was renamed in 1939) is credited as the originator of the peanut butter and cracker sandwich. The company got its start in 1913 when Philip Lance, a food broker, got stuck with 500 pounds of peanuts. He and his son-in-law demonstrated their ingenuity by roasting them in his home,
located on South Boulevard.

They sold well, using the innovative concept of convenient single serve packages. Mrs. Lance and her daughter – also original thinkers —   are credited with coming up with the idea for the sandwich – they were, at the very least, certainly the first to sell them when they were first offered in 1916. The first sales efforts were door-to-door, and the crackers were also a big hit with the soldiers at Camp Greene during World War I.

1937 – WRITING A LITERARY CLASSIC

Barely into her 20s, Carson McCullers writes the opening chapters of her first novel, The Heart is
a Lonely Hunter
, while living in a boarding house located at 311 East Boulevard. The book becomes an American classic, with a 1968 film version garnering two Academy Awards.

1964 – A CENTER FOR ARTISTS

The Charlotte Art League is formed. It is a non-profit adult arts organization dedicated to fostering emerging fine and commercial artists through community exposure, networking, education and interaction with fellow artists. In 1996, it moved into its current facility on Camden Street, where the league offers
opportunities for regional artists and art enthusiasts by providing a gallery for rotating exhibits by members, workshop facilities, monthly lectures series and affordable studio space.

1977 – FAST-FOOD PIONEERS

Jack Falk and Richard Thomas open their first Bojangle’s restaurant at the corner of West Boulevard
and South Tryon Street, pioneering Cajun chicken, sausage biscuits and dirty rice in a fast food
franchise format. They had earlier pioneered the fast-food breakfast biscuit while working for the Hardee’s chain. Bojangles made biscuits a centerpiece, and there are now franchises in 11 states, primarily in the Southeast.

1983 — DESIGN RENAISSANCE BEGINS

In a bold and pioneering move, Gaines Brown relocates his nationally-recognized exhibit design firm to the South End, which is then simply referred to as “the industrial corridor west of the railroad
tracks.”

1987 – TAKING DESIGN TO THE STREETS

Demonstrating their visionary commitment to revitalizing the city’s urban core, Charlotte voters approve $1.5 million in bond money for road and streetscape improvements along five urban corridors. South
Boulevard was one of them. Many believe that without this small initial investment, the creation of the South End could not have happened or would have been delayed by many years.

1988 – INTRODUCING THE NEW URBANISM

OlmstedPark, the first residential infill project to be built in Charlotte, is constructed on the site of the old Crockett Park, a baseball stadium built in 1939. It is also among the first developments in the city to use new urbanism concepts in its design, including such features as winding streets with sidewalks, trees and houses reminiscent of the Bungalow era of the 1910s and 1920s. Developed by MECA Properties, The Crosland Group and Tom and Betty Moore, Olmsted Park featured 138 apartments and 54 homes on 12-1/2 acres of land.

1993 – FROM FACTORY TO DESIGN SHOWROOM

In a $2-million rehab project, the old ParksCramer Building is converted into a 48,961-square-foot retail complex called Atherton Mills, a bold project that was the first major new retail in the area in decades.  The first tenant is Interiors Marketplace, the creation of urban pioneers John & Kelley Vieregg.  It is a showplace for antiques, arts, home furnishings and interior designers, an example of Charlotte’s increasing sophistication tastes in home décor and design.

1994SOUTH END SPRINGS TO LIFE

Showing a flair for originality, Dilworth’s old industrial corridor officially becomes known as the South End with the incorporation of the South End Development Corporation (now Historic South End) to promote and revitalize the area. A logo is also introduced, and street markers are installed to designate the boundaries and to define the concept.

1996 – TRANSIT REBIRTH

Inventive supporters who want to bring back the Charlotte Trolley take a giant step with the start of a demonstration project, featuring a car running along a former railroad line from Atherton Mills to Stonewall Street. The first streetcar on the new route is old No. 85, designed and built back in 1927 in a facility onBland Street atSouth Boulevard.

1998 — FROM BROWNFIELD TO DESIGN CENTER OF THE CAROLINAS

The Nebel Knitting Annex is rehabbed and renovated into the Design Center of the Carolinas, paving the way for the inventive rehab of old buildings in the South End. This project was made possible by the first
brownfields agreement reached by the N.C. Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) under the Brownfields Property Reuse Act of 1997.  This landmark legislation, using an innovative approach to address the issue of possible contamination of sites, enables responsible parties to enter agreements with the state to provide liability protection to new developers if contamination proves no health risks or danger to the environment.

This agreement was the culmination of efforts that began in 1996 when Charlotte was one of the first cities to receive an EPA Brownfields Economic Redevelopment Initiative Grant, which was used for a pilot project in the South End to test properties for contamination. It revealed there were few health risks involved in redeveloping properties in the area and demonstrated that real estate development in the South End could be a viable proposition.

By 1999, when Charlotte was among the first cities to receive a Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund Pilot Grant from the federal government, its visionary brownfields program was considered a model across the country.

2001 – THAT PINK TOWER…

Architect and developer Jim Gross pushes the edge of the envelope in building design as his 22-story condominium tower, The Arlington, takes shape and reveals a rose-colored glass exterior. Charlotte has seen nothing like it before or since.  It was built on the former site of the Park Manufacturing Company on South Boulevard.

2002 – MORE ADAPTIVE RE-USES

Karen Saks moves her 10-year-old firm, Karen Saks Showroom, in to the renovated 1903 Tompkins Textile Mill on Hawkins Street.

2003 –  FRINGE THEATER

The former warehouse of Charlotte Cutlery Co. on Rampart Street is transformed into the South End Performing Arts Center and is the home for BareBones Theatre Group, one of Charlotte’s leading fringe theater troupes. In fall 2004, it will become the third American city to produce “Lifegame,” a new concept in improv theater pioneered in London.

2004 – ANOTHER NEW MODE OF TRANSPORTATION

Trolley service between the South End and uptown is re-introduced as the refurbished original Car. No. 85 leaves the trolley barn (at Atherton Mills) on June 25.  UNC Charlotte Professor Dr. Dan Morrill, who
had pioneered the project for more than 20 years, is among the audience watching the car pull out. The line runs 2.1 miles to 9th Street.  Continuing the South End’s historic role as the place where the city introduces new modes of transportation, Charlottes’ first light rail line will run beside the trolley line, with construction slated to begin in 2005.

The trolley runs through the Charlotte Convention Center in a specially constructed tunnel. It is the only convention center with a trolley (or train) running through the middle of it, which required ingenuity to develop innovative construction techniques to ensure the safety of the building, the people inside it and
trolley passengers.

2004 –  THE REGION’S HOT SPOT FOR DESIGN

In July, a survey finds that the South End is home to 200 design businesses, including showrooms and offices for architects, builders, interior and landscape designers, and graphic and web designers.
–##–

Bibliography

Conversations with Tom Hanchett and Dan Morrill

Dilworth: The First 100 Years by Tom Bradbury

A Foundry Volume I Our First Century Together Charlotte Pipe and Foundry Co. 1901-2001 by Beth Laney-Smith

Historic Charlotte An Illustrated History of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County by Dr. Dan L. Morrill

Charlotte Spirit of the New South by Mary Norton Kratt

Charlotte: City at the Crossroads by Bea Quirk

Skirt Magazine, June 2004, “Designing Women at Work in the South End”

Brownfield News, September 1999, “Charlotte’s Web,” by Bea Quirk

Archives of the Charlotte Observer

Archives of The Business Journal

Charlotte’s South End: The Early Years, by Dorothy Waterfill and Karen Doyle. Booklet published by MECA Properties in April 1999.

Lance. Inc. Brochures and website

Charlotte Art League Website

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Properties Foundation Website – survey reports, applications for historic designation, articles, tours

Carolinas Room, Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

Levine Museum of the New South

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Discussion

8 thoughts on “History

  1. Great history and I’m glad I found Historic South End another gold nugget here in Charlotte.

    Posted by Robert B. Lewis | March 21, 2012, 9:13 am
    • In the early 1990’s I worked with a restaurant called, The Palatable Pleasures in the Ahterton Mill. The mill and its rennovations were a work in progress.. Antique dealers has a sales show room next to the restaurant. There were various other stores located within the buiding. Most of the building was still untouched. I loved to go exploring into the upper floors of the mill. It was as if you stepped back in time. There was an upper level that had a view of Charlotte. It looked as if it had been an office area for the mill. The hardwood floors and the dark woods of the desk and cubby holes above them. There was still a deep wonderful smell of the wood of the floor and the furniture. I could close my eyes and with the deep fragrance of the mill, my thoughts were of the men that helped start the mill a make it successful.
      It was wonderful and exciting to see work on the trolley line. I remember the first run from the mill and to an area still in Dilworth. I do not think the whole line was ready for service yet. I loved to visit the trolley shed and talk to the workers about their latest aquisitions of a trolley found or just bought. I found pictures my Grandmom had of Charlotte at the time of the trolley. The pictures of Charlotte at that time are priceless. The many wonderful small stores of locals. I believe a new store, called Belks. To see every form of transportation on the streets. From horse drawn wagons, to the new automobile. And running between them all, was the trolley.
      I do miss much of the old downtown area. The buldings with there facade’s. The Belk store building that faced Tryon Street, the facade had been covered with a metal type sheeting. The facade behind it was beautiful with detail of that time period of the trolley.Memories as a child, staying at the Hotel Charlotte, and going to have your shoes shined while watching the men work on my Grandads hat.
      It is exciting to see all the work in the Southend.
      Sincerely,
      Darrell Weaver

      Posted by Darrell Weaver | April 18, 2012, 5:37 pm
  2. You seem to be oblivious to the real story of how “South End” was developed.

    In the early 1980’s the Dilworth Community Development Association (DCDA) became concerned about the decline of retail and commercial businesses in Edward Latta’s “town center” of Dilworth along South Boulevard, Camden Road, Park Avenue, Kingston Avenue, and East Boulevard. This need became acute following the Dilworth Theater fire and the loss of the last grocery in the neighborhood. The DCDA hired Dennis Frenchman of Lane, Frenchman Associates of Boston to study the western area of Dilworth from East Morehead Street Avenue to McDonald Avenue and Euclid Avenue to the edge of Wilmore at Camden Road. City of Charlotte agreed to pay half of the cost and assist in data-gathering. Several local businesses and banks also contributed.

    Frenchman’s 1984 “Dilworth Urban Design Plan” was adopted by the Planning Commission and City of Charlotte as the blueprint for the redevelopment of the west side of Dilworth. Subsequently, the City developed a Capital Improvements Plan for South Boulevard that invested millions in re-engineering it as an urban mixed-use corridor (instead of a highway racetrack with narrow sidewalks that shut down at night). All of these infrastructure investments followed the Lane Frenchman Plan.

    The Plan foresaw a vibrant urban-scale center of offices, shops, restaurants, and entertainment developments, served by pedestrian-friendly streets, a trolley connecting with “Uptown”, and on-street parking on many streets. The Planning Commission followed up with rezonings to align land-use regulations with future uses.

    Only after these public investments were made, fulfilling the Frenchman Plan, did bold local developers jump in. Steve Harris and Ken Browder, of Browder-Harris Development, redeveloped the industrial workshop at 1820 South Boulevard as a mixed-use office/retail/entertainment project and home to the reborn Pewter Rose Restaurant in 1988.

    Tony Pressley, of MECA Properties, convinced Parks-Cramer to redevelop, using historic preservation tax credits, their heavy industrial site at Tremont Avenue and South Boulevard into the successful Atherton Mill complex. And he became a residential developer with the innovative Olmsted Park project. Tony may also be credited with first coining the term “South End” in the early 90’s.

    Others followed, including the City’s siting of a new fire station, the successful 1991 conversion of the Nebel Knitting Co. mill on Camden Road into Spaghetti Warehouse and design offices, which launched the Design Center of the Carolinas concept, and the 1996 redevelopment of the Lance cracker plant at Bland and South Boulevard.

    When Duke Power finally followed through on their promise to move the large substation located on the old trolley barn site in the 1400 block of South Boulevard, in 2000, much of the future envisioned in the Lane Frenchman Plan could then be seen—only 16 years following its adoption.

    The DCDA had lived up to its name: “Dilworth Community Development Association”.

    Sincerely,

    Kirk Otey
    former DCDA President

    Posted by Kirk Otey | April 27, 2013, 8:06 pm
    • Thanks for providing these additional details Kirk. The timeline posted under this history section was one that was published by Tony Pressley and all sources cited were the ones used to develop the more exhaustive publication put together on the history. There would not be a South End without Dilworth and appreciate your comments but more importantly all your efforts in the past and present.

      Ted

      Posted by wofford23 | April 27, 2013, 9:13 pm
  3. I’m currently researching and writing about Charlotte’s long-neglected history of gold mining. Have quite a bit of info about gold mines in what was to become known later as South End. Anything I can help South End with some info on this part of it’s history, would be glad too! Bill Randolph e-mail address billcr26@gmail.com

    Posted by Bill Randolph | April 13, 2014, 8:46 am

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Here’s Why It’s Called ‘The Historic Southend!’ « K 104.7 FM - June 28, 2012

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