Living Here Guide

6 historical fun facts every Charlotte resident should know

In this painting, Captain James Jack is pictured riding in 1775 from Charlottetown (now Charlotte) to Philadelphia to deliver the Mecklenberg Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress.
In this painting, Captain James Jack is pictured riding in 1775 from Charlottetown (now Charlotte) to Philadelphia to deliver the Mecklenberg Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress. Courtesy of the May 20th Society

Want to know how Charlotte got its “Queen City” nickname? The city was named after the wife of England’s King George III. Colonists first settled in teh area because it was the meeting point of two Native American trading paths, which became Trade and Tryon streets. When the city was formed in 1768, the European settlers named it after the wife of King George III, Queen Charlotte, and gave the surrounding county the name Mecklenburg to honor her birthplace in Germany.

Here are a few more interesting bits of Charlotte history every resident should know:

(1) The hornet’s nest.

Where to find it: On the sides of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police cars and in the Spectrum Center

In 1780, General Cornwallis led the British army into Charlotte but didn’t stay long due to the feisty local patriots. So, according to lore, Cornwallis dubbed Charlotte a “Hornet’s Nest of Rebellion.”

The nest can be seen today on the sides of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police cars.

The city furthered its Hornet’s Nest reputation in 1892 by naming the local baseball team the Charlotte Hornets. And in 1974, the Charlotte Hornets became the city’s first professional football team. Ten years later, the Charlotte Hornets became the city’s first NBA team.

(2) The nation’s first gold rush.

Where to find it: Reed Gold Mine, 9621 Reed Mine Rd., Midland

In 1799, 12-year-old Conrad Reed found a 17-pound yellow rock on his family’s property. A jeweler later identified his ”rock” as gold, making the John Reed property the site of the first documented gold find in the United States. North Carolina was the chief gold-mining state until 1849.

Today, the Reed Gold Mine is a museum with restored mine tunnels and hiking trails. Pro tip: if you visit between April through October, you’ll get the chance to pan for gold yourself.

Panning for gold 2_1996 Observer file photo
Pete Nash at Reed Gold Mine. HO Charlotte Observer file photo

(3) The Mint.

Where to find it: The Mint Museum on Randolph, 2730 Randolph Rd.

The Charlotte Mint opened in 1837 on the 400 block of West Trade Street, creating more than $5 million in gold currency. It was later used as a hospital and military office for the Confederate government during the Civil War.

In 1931, the building was set to be demolished, but a group of citizens came together to have it moved to its current location in Eastover. Five years later, The Mint Museum opened its doors as the state’s first art museum.

(4) Why it’s called Uptown, not downtown.

Where to find it: Uptown Charlotte

The Loyalists’ decision to settle at the intersection of Native American trading paths (now Trade and Tryon streets) contributes to why locals call downtown Charlotte “Uptown.”

This intersection was the highest elevation point in the city, so people had to go up to reach this point. On Sept. 23, 1974, City Council declared that the shopping and business district in the center city be officially named “uptown Charlotte.”

(5) The first to declare independence.

Where to find it: Statue of Captain James Jack, the corner of Fourth St. and Kings Dr.; Independence Boulevard; Charlotte Independence soccer.

Back on May 20, 1775, some of Charlotte’s leaders are believed to have signed the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, thus signifying a separation from Great Britain. While Thomas Jefferson and other historians have argued that the document never existed, that hasn’t stopped us from celebrating Meck Dec Day every May 20. Even Presidents William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gerald Ford came to town over the years to celebrate.

If you happen upon the corner of Fourth Street and Kings Drive, you will see the statue of Captain James Jack on his way to deliver the Meck Dec to Philadelphia.

Mec Dec_Captain James Jack_Photo courtesy of Chas Fagan
Captain James Jack took the Meck Dec to the Continental Congress from Charlotte in 1775. Captain Jack by local sculptor, Chas Fagan. Courtesy of Chas Fagan

(6) Home to a president.

Where to find it: President James K. Polk historic site, 12031 Lancaster Hwy, Pineville

Charlotte’s southern neighbor, the Town of Pineville, is the birthplace of James K. Polk, the 11th U.S. president, who served from 1845-1849. A reconstruction of the typical homestead is now on the property – land once owned by Polk’s parents – with a log house, separate kitchen and barn.

Polk home site_2013 Observer file photo
A group of elementary school students takes a tour of the James K. Polk historic site in Pineville. Jeff Willhelm

Caroline Portillo contributed