University City

History series tells stories of Charlotte

When David Erdman first came to Charlotte in 1976, he didn’t know the streets of uptown once bustled with gold miners.

When Tom Hanchett arrived, he didn’t realize that pigs used to run free through the woods of Charlotte until they were deemed juicy enough to barbecue.

Most people who move to Charlotte have no idea of its long and curious history. To remedy that – and at the same time, to celebrate its own 20th anniversary in Charlotte – University City Regional Library will host a local history series each Sunday this month.

The lectures, hosted by local historians Erdman, Hanchett, Tom Cole and Mary Dominick, will cover regional culinary traditions, local architecture, a famed author and the history of Charlotte College, now UNC Charlotte.

Jennie Davis, a library service specialist at University City Regional Library, helped organize the series. She said it would serve as a fine introduction for newcomers just settling into town.

“We have people coming here from all over the country who don’t know a lot about where they’re living now,” Davis said. “It’s very diverse here, and the population is booming.”

Charlotte’s history is just as diverse as its people and as rich as the soil it’s built on. That’s why Davis left the topics up to the historians she invited.

“If it was interesting to them, it would certainly be interesting to us,” she said.

For Tom Cole, a genealogy and history librarian at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, it was a 20th-century Huntersville author who caught his attention.

Cole will speak May 5 about LeGette Blythe, a prolific writer who penned novels based on Charlotte’s history.

Widely acclaimed during his lifetime, Blythe, who lived from 1900 to 1993, imagined the past through a string of characters, often plumping up their lives with romantic subplots and action-filled scenes on the battlefield.

“He wrote stories of brave men and strong women, beautiful servants and decadent enemies,” Cole said.

To Tom Hanchett, a historian at Levine Museum of the New South, it’s the food of the South that he finds decadent.

Hanchett’s lecture on May 12 will delve into the diverse traditions of the region, from apple cider-making to fish camps to, of course, barbecue.

“It will not be a complete history of Charlotte, but give a sense of traditions that have been here for a long time, as this becomes a city of newcomers,” Hanchett said.

Any place has food traditions going way back, he said, and newcomers continue to stir theirs into the community pot.

“I live in the Central Avenue corridor, and I can bicycle from my house to eateries from every corner of the globe,” he said. “That’s the New South.”

David Erdman, a lawyer, historian and former Charlotte council member, is interested in how the city arose from its humble beginnings.

His talk on May 19 will examine the city’s growth from an engineering perspective.

“Since the day I arrived here, I was interested in the mystery, ‘From what did Charlotte originate and grow?’ ” Erdman said.

Erdman will use a slideshow of rare photos from 1896, 1913 and 1927 to help show how Charlotte’s growth from a small town to a big city came with the help of four golden periods.

“We’re very lucky. Most cities only got one golden age. We’ve had four.”

Mary Dominick, a history graduate student at UNC Charlotte and a member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, will finish the series May 26 with her documentary “The Original Concept & Design of Charlotte College.”

The documentary includes footage of the campus’ beginnings, interviews from the college’s early professors and recordings from founder Bonnie Cone.

At the conclusion of the series, Davis said, she hopes newcomers and old-timers will walk away with a fresh perspective and a thirst to keep learning.

“We’re hoping the series will be well attended, and if it is, we’ll offer more,” Davis said.