Ever-striving Charlotte, which celebrates its 250th anniversary on Monday, couldn’t wait for its own creation to start building.
Nearly two years before colonial Gov. William Tryon signed Charlotte’s charter on Dec. 3, 1768, writes Mecklenburg Historical Association researcher Jim Williams, three men used their own money to buy 360 prime acres where they built a log courthouse and started selling lots.
The names Charlotte and Mecklenburg honored the wife of England’s King George III and her German birthplace, while the Indian trade route along which the hamlet was founded became Tryon Street. The flattery helped persuade English officials to site a courthouse, whose presence would boost trade, in Charlotte, community historian Tom Hanchett has written.
That laid the groundwork for a city of 859,000 that’s in the midst of a nearly year-long celebration to mark its first 250 years. Monday’s event from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. will take place where much of Charlotte’s history began, at Trade and Tryon streets uptown.
The city’s story is one of steady growth mixed with dark days for many of its residents.
Gold mining transformed the village in the early 1800s. Railroads connected Charlotte to global markets in 1852, and cotton mills launched it as a trading hub in the late 1800s. Interstate banking began in the early 1980s, making Charlotte the nation’s second-largest banking center.
But old photos archived in the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room also depict African American sharecroppers standing in rags outside crude cabins. The unrest that rocked the city following the 2016 police shooting of a black man, Keith Lamont Scott, underscored deep, lingering social divisions.
For other glimpses of the city’s past, we turn to CLT250, the library’s “Charlotte-Mecklenburg Story,” a Hanchett article on the history of Charlotte and his “10 Things to Know” for the Levine Museum of the New South.
1775: Charlotte celebrates “Meck Dec Day” each May 20 in honor of a storied, if not physically proven, declaration of independence from Britain. New laws adopted that year, called the Mecklenburg Resolves, reflect that new freedom.
1791: People line up for hours to glimpse visiting President George Washington, who famously dismisses Charlotte as a “trifling place.”
1835: After the discovery of gold in 1799, President Andrew Jackson authorizes a Charlotte branch of the U.S. Mint to make coins. The building is moved nearly a century later to become the Mint Museum (now the Mint Museum Randolph), the first municipal art museum in North Carolina.
1852: The city’s first rail line connects to Columbia, S.C., and Charlotte grows its population every decade since then. Rail lines make Charlotte a manufacturing site for Confederate cannon and ironwork during the Civil War.
1865: President Jefferson Davis holds the last meeting of his full Cabinet in a Tryon Street house just before the dissolution of the Confederate States of America. The widow of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson takes up residence on West Trade Street.
1891: The first electric streetcar runs from the center city to Dilworth, Charlotte’s first suburb.
1899: Crowds follow stable owner Charles Wadsworth, the first Charlottean to drive a gas-powered car, as he motors up Tryon Street.
1905: Prohibition takes effect in Charlotte, after a county vote, 15 years before the national ban on alcohol sales.
1907: Charlotte engineer Stuart Cramer wins a patent for a “Humidifying and Air Conditioning Apparatus” that is believed to be the first to use the now-familiar term. Charlotte’s first air-conditioned public space, the Carolina Theater, now under renovation, opens in 1927.
1918: Evangelist Billy Graham is born on his family’s farm near what is now Park Road Shopping Center.
1919: A riot that kills five people and injures 25 breaks out when Charlotte street car conductors strike.
1936: Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music, makes his first recordings at the Hotel Charlotte on West Trade Street. Charlotte records more country and gospel records at the time than Nashville.
1941: The Army dedicates Morris Air Field in the runup to World War II, forming the core of what will become Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
1949: NASCAR’s first Strictly Stock race roars around a dirt track off Charlotte’s Little Rock Road before a crowd of more than 20,000 spectators.
1958: Cigar-chomping Charlotte author Harry Golden’s “Only in America” tops the New York Times’ best sellers list. The book includes the satirical “vertical plan” — no seats in public schools — for racial integration.
1971: In a landmark case, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld busing as a tool to end the racial segregation of public schools. The case stemmed from a lawsuit by Charlotte parents who wanted their six-year-old to attend the school closest to their home.
1985: The too-familiar orange construction barrels are invented when Milton “Tom” Cory of Charlotte’s Radiator Specialty Co. files the first patent for a “traffic control drum.”
1988: The Charlotte Hornets play their first game, a 40-point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, at Charlotte Coliseum on Tyvola Road. The team name refers to local sharpshooters who peppered British troops during the Revolutionary War.
1992: The 60-story NationsBank Corporate Center opens, becoming the Carolinas’ tallest building. A 1998 merger creates Bank of America, the nation’s first coast-to-coast bank.
2013: Research firm Nielsen says Charlotte has the nation’s fastest-growing Latino population, rising 168 percent since 2000.
Charlotte’s 250th Anniversary Celebration
The 250th anniversary celebration will take place Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Square, with music, food trucks, remarks by Mayor Vi Lyles and others and free slices of cake baked by Johnson & Wales University students. J&W students will display specially-designed cakes at 14 Charlotte Mecklenburg Library branches.