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What's a ward, and why does Charlotte have 4?

Charlotte's four historic uptown wards are often in the news.

A 24-year-old man, Kyle Fleischmann, missing since November, was last seen in First Ward. The $157 million NASCAR Hall of Fame is being built next to the Charlotte Convention Center in Second Ward. And in recent months Fourth Ward residents have successfully thwarted alcohol-related businesses – including Coyote Ugly, which wanted to move from First Ward – from opening in their neighborhood.

You newcomers might be wondering: What's a ward?

A ward is an election district. By the mid-19th century, Charlotte got big enough to split into election districts, according to Tom Hanchett, staff historian at the Levine Museum of the New South. At first, there were two election districts.

But when the railroads came in the 1850s, Charlotte's population boomed – from 1,065 in 1850 to 2,265 in 1860 and 4,473 in 1870, Hanchett said. In 1869, city officials created four wards, dividing the city along Trade and Tryon streets. The city's outer boundaries cut off around where the I-277 loop is today.

First Ward is home to the Levine Museum, Time Warner Cable Arena – formerly simply Bobcats Arena – and the Main Branch of the Public Library. Second Ward has the Government Center. Third Ward includes the Observer and the Bank of America Stadium. Fourth Ward is where Discovery Place is and is known for historic Victorian homes.

Coming next week: the city's efforts to make navigating uptown – by foot and car – easier.