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‘An absolute treasure.’ Tom Hanchett named library’s first historian-in-residence

Tom Hanchett, former historian at the Levine Museum of the New South, will serve as the first ever historian-in-residence at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library.
Tom Hanchett, former historian at the Levine Museum of the New South, will serve as the first ever historian-in-residence at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library now has its first historian-in-residence.

Tom Hanchett, a prominent local historian, began his year-long position on Monday. He will host public presentations, events and walking tours at different library locations to educate the public about local history and promote the Carolina Room, which he has used often throughout his long career.

“Folks call it a hidden treasure,” he said. “I feel like a kid in a candy store when I’m there.”

Hanchett will work to connect community members to the uptown branch’s Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room. That’s a special collections resource with historic, current and genealogical materials.

The Carolina Room, on the third floor of the main library on North Tryon Street, opened in 1956 to offer materials related to Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and North Carolina, such as archived photographs and newspapers, government documents, maps, school yearbooks, city directories, music archives, genealogical resources and books on historical and modern Charlotte.

Hanchett moved to Charlotte in 1981 to work for the Historic Landmarks Commission. He left to pursue a Ph.D. and returned in 1999 to serve as a staff historian at the Levine Museum of the New South, before he retired in 2016.

Besides the award-winning exhibitions he created at the museum, Hanchett’s historic walking tours with the Community Building Initiative, Charlotte Observer food column and his 1998 book “Sorting Out the New South City” have gained him further prominence in the community.

Telling Charlotte’s story

Hanchett’s new position makes official his existing relationship with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library, where he already puts on many educational programs.

“We’re excited about formalizing some of the things he’s doing today and expanding the ways he can contribute to the library,” said Lee Keesler, the CEO of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library.

the future is now
The Charlotte Mecklenburg Main Branch library features portraits of 250 children. Organizers and volunteers from About Face Charlotte started putting up the prints May 9. Dana Endsley

Keesler said the library has hired fellows before to engage with the community, but he said no one else can tell Charlotte’s story like Hanchett.

“He’s an absolute treasure for our community, and his repertoire is long and deep,” Keesler said. “It goes beyond history.”

Hanchett’s first event as historian-in-residence, “Food from Home,” will explore the new and old culinary traditions of Charlotte at Mint Hill Library on July 11 at 6 p.m. His next event, “Sorting Out Charlotte,” will trace Charlotte’s history as a city of distinct neighborhoods. at Myers Park Library on July 23 at 6:30 p.m.

“What I love to do is share history with the public and learn from the people who are making history every day, and the Carolina Room is a place where that kind of work happens,” Hanchett said. “To be affiliated with it as its first historian-in-residence is deeply gratifying.”

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