Living Here Guide

Cabarrus County: Racing, shopping and history

Ty Williams (left, 9) reaches for the fish at one exhibit as his mother, Paula Williams of Charlotte, watches on Oct. 15th. Ty has autism and is nonverbal, but he enjoys touching things in his environment. 10-15-14 Autism Awareness Night at SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord Aquarium in Concord, NC.
Ty Williams (left, 9) reaches for the fish at one exhibit as his mother, Paula Williams of Charlotte, watches on Oct. 15th. Ty has autism and is nonverbal, but he enjoys touching things in his environment. 10-15-14 Autism Awareness Night at SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord Aquarium in Concord, NC. Marty Price

Cabarrus County has so much to offer families – like mine – who want to be close to Charlotte, but are drawn to the lower taxes, solid schools and an amazing sense of history and community spirit available over the county line.

Known as the heart of NASCAR country, Cabarrus County is located in south-central North Carolina, just 20 minutes northeast of uptown Charlotte. More than 1.8 million people live in the cities of Concord and Kannapolis, as well as the towns of Harrisburg, Midland and Mount Pleasant.

There is always something going on in our diverse neighborhood in Concord – planned and impromptu block parties, gatherings at the pool, driveway grill-outs and s’mores on fire pits. A quick message on the neighborhood website helps you sell things, find things you want to buy, join book groups and running groups, and even set up meal rotations to help sick neighbors. The sense of community is something we had not experienced in other neighborhoods we had lived in.

My husband and I both work in uptown Charlotte, so the easy commute along Interstate 85 is important to us. Since the northern leg of Interstate 485 was completed this summer, it’s even easier to access other parts of the region, as well as Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

We also love how close we are to shopping (Concord Mills is the state’s largest tourist attraction), restaurants, a good YMCA, and the parks and fields where my children play soccer.

And living in NASCAR country certainly makes it easier to be racing fans. We live minutes away from multiple race shops as well as Charlotte Motor Speedway. The annual Christmas lights show at the speedway is one of our favorite family events, not least because of the opportunity to actually drive on the track. Hendrick Motorsports – the team of Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. – is just down the road.

Frank Liske Park is where we head for picnics and trail walking, and we also spend time exploring the county’s growing network of greenways, which are part of the Carolina Thread Trail, connecting pedestrians throughout the county and, eventually, the state.

Since moving here, we’ve learned so much about the rich history of the region. Cabarrus County was named after Stephen Cabarrus of Chowan County, speaker of the North Carolina House of Commons in 1792. The city of Concord was founded four years later and became the county seat. Historic downtown Concord is home to the 19th-century Cabarrus County Museum, as well as the Concord Museum and the Memorial Garden, three acres of restored gardens that date back to 1804.

Kannapolis, Cabarrus County’s second largest city, is one of the largest and best-preserved mill villages in the South. Developed by James William Cannon in 1907, the city consisted primarily of homes built by Cannon Manufacturing and Cabarrus Cotton Mills. Now the mill buildings are gone and new buildings, part of a scientific and economic redevelopment project called the North Carolina Research Campus, stand in their place.

The city also is home to a local baseball team, the Kannapolis Intimidators, a Class A minor-league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. The Intimidators, named for NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt, play 70 home games a year at Intimidators Stadium, and sometimes showcase a local hero throwing out the first pitch.

Kannapolis also houses the N.C. Music Hall of Fame, which hosts a public awards ceremony each fall, and the historic Gem Theatre, which opened in 1936 and is one of the few movie theaters in the country to still offer balcony seating.

The town of Harrisburg dates back as far as 1791, and after a number of names formally became Harrisburg in 1874. The town lies in the southwestern part of the county and is home to U.S. Legends Car International, the largest producer of race cars in the world. The town’s Fourth of July celebration features one of the region’s largest parades, along with food, fireworks, crafts and entertainment. We have a wonderful picture of our children and their friends sitting on the side of the road waving small flags and eating ice cream cones as the floats go by.

The small community of Midland is home to Reed Gold Mine, where the first gold discovery in America was made in 1799. Along with touring the visitor’s center and restored underground tunnels, you can try your luck panning for gold. My children have found me many beautiful “jewels” over the years.

Mount Pleasant was founded in 1848 and is a model of small-town America. Home of the Eastern Cabarrus Historical Museum, the town’s downtown area is home to several beautiful mid-19th-century buildings.

We’ve lived in the county almost two years and are still discovering new restaurants, shops, trails and parks to enjoy and share with friends and family. We feel lucky to call Cabarrus County home.

Kerry, an analyst in the Observer’s news systems department, has lived in Cabarrus County for almost two years.

The essentials

Ride the slides: Great Wolf Lodge, the state’s largest indoor waterpark, is reserved exclusively for lodge guests. The resort has restaurants, an arcade and a kid spa.

Shop till you drop: The layout of the enormous Concord Mills Mall mimics the oval racetrack of the speedway, and features more than 200 stores.

See the sea life: The SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord Aquarium boasts thousands of sea creatures, from sharks to jellyfish. The chance to hold a starfish or pet a crab in the touch pool is my younger son’s favorite part. Well, that and the indoor play area at the end.

Get physical: The 238-acre Frank Liske Park includes a 10-acre lake for fishing and paddle boating, picnic shelters, volleyball courts and multiple playgrounds as well as soccer complexes, walking and fitness trails, and a miniature golf course.

Go off to the races: Charlotte Motor Speedway hosts two big NASCAR races plus many smaller ones, as well as non-racing events like the annual Christmas lights show.