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Uptown History

Whether it's your first time or hundredth time exploring Uptown, we invite you to unlock the hidden history of the heart of the Queen City.

It's Uptown, Not Downtown.

While many cities have a downtown and an uptown, Charlotte is the only major city in the country that calls its entire downtown business district “Uptown.” More than just a fun nickname, this unique quirk of the Queen City has two notable historical meanings behind it. 

In the mid-1700s, what is now Uptown was the site of a Native American trading path that ran southeast from Georgia northwest up to the coast of Virginia. The path ran along a ridgetop — the highest contours of a natural ridge — making it the highest point of elevation. When early settlers went to the emerging town center, they were always going “up,” so what may have started as “I’m going up to town,” evolved to “I’m going Uptown.” Today, if you take a walk toward the center of Uptown at Trade and Tryon streets, you’ll notice that you are moving slightly uphill from any direction.

Charlotte’s central district was called Uptown until about 1929 when people started calling it downtown. Then on Sept. 23, 1974, Charlotte City Council made an official proclamation to formally name Charlotte’s business district “Uptown.” This designation was meant to honor the neighborhood’s historical name while also presenting a more upbeat and upscale identity to draw more people to live, work and play in the center city district.

The Center of Center City: Trade & Tryon

What was the city’s original crossroads is now the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets: “Trade” named for the site’s history and “Tryon” named after the state’s Colonial governor William Tryon. The city grew out from the center at Trade and Tryon streets and was officially incorporated as “Charlotte Town” in 1768. The courthouse, Capt. Cook’s Inn (President George Washington was a guest in 1791) and Col. Thomas Polk’s homeplace were located at the intersection.

Polk was a state legislator, one of Charlotte’s founders and the great-uncle of the 11th U.S. President James K. Polk. In May of 1775, Polk along with several other citizen leaders led efforts to cut ties with Britain, resulting in the creation of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and the Mecklenburg Resolves. While the existence of the “Meck Dec” is debated among historians, the date it was reportedly signed — May 20, 1775 (a year before the U.S. Declaration of Independence) — is commemorated annually at Trade and Tryon streets. The intersection is now known as Independence Square and the small pocket park on its northwest corner is known as Thomas Polk Park.

In 1995, four larger-than-life bronze sculptures created by artist Raymond Kaskey were erected at each corner of the intersection to represent the enterprises that have contributed to Charlotte’s growth as a major economic center. The statues include:

Commerce - A prospector panning for gold represents the discovery of gold near Charlotte and the opening of the first branch of the U.S. Mint in 1837. The pan of gold is emptied onto the head of former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to signify the area’s banking and finance industry.

Industry - A woman millworker and a child millworker represent Charlotte’s early textile factories.

Transportation - A railroad builder is a symbol for the city’s status as a railroad hub, the number “1401” commemorates a steam locomotive named “Charlotte” and an eagle represents the area’s major airport.

The Future - A mother holding up her child with the Dogwood (the state flower) and a hornet’s nest underneath represents the promise of the future. The three other statues all look toward “The Future” statue.

The Four Wards

First Ward - The east side of Uptown features Spectrum Center, 7th Street Public Market, UNC Charlotte Center City, First Ward Park, Blumenthal Performing Arts theaters, Levine Museum of the New South, Children’s Theatre of Charlotte/ImaginOn and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Main Library. The edge of First Ward is also home to condos and townhomes hidden under a beautiful tree canopy offering easy access to NoDa.

Second Ward - The south side of Uptown features government and city-owned buildings like the county courthouse, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center and Charlotte Convention Center and provides easy access to South End and Dilworth. It’s also home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, Marshall Park, The Green, and diverse culinary options.

Third Ward - The west side of Uptown is home to major sports facilities including Bank of America Stadium and Truist Field. Other popular locales include the Mint Museum, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Knight Theater, Romare Bearden Park, Frazier Park and Brevard Court. The outer edge of the neighborhood features historic bungalows, contemporary apartments and townhomes as well as Johnson & Wales University Charlotte.

Fourth Ward - The north side of Uptown features quaint residential areas with a mix of Victorian-style homes and modern condos surrounded by beautiful parks and tree-lined streets, all just a short walk from great places to eat and popular nightlife options. Must-see spots include Discovery Place Science, the McColl Center for Art + Innovation, Charlotte Ballet and Fourth Ward Park.

Uptown's "Rich" History: Gold Mining & Banking

In 1799, a 12-year-old boy named Conrad Reed found a 17-pound rock about 25 miles outside of Charlotte that his family used as a doorstop for two years before it was identified as gold. John Reed, Conrad’s father, sold the rock for $3.50 not knowing it was actually worth more than $3,000. This marked the first documented discovery of gold in the U.S. and the beginning of the North Carolina gold rush. 

In 1825, gold was discovered near Irwin Creek, which is now the intersection of West Morehead and Graham streets. Now abandoned and inaccessible gold mines, like the Rudisill and St. Catherine, are scattered 500 feet underneath current-day Uptown and South End with paths extending from south of Bank of America Stadium all the way to the Bank of America building.

By 1835, the Charlotte area was becoming known as the gold mining capital of the U.S., and President Andrew Jackson approved Charlotte as the first site outside of Philadelphia for a branch of the U.S. mint. The Charlotte location began minting gold into coins in 1837 on West Trade Street in Third Ward. In 1913, the Charlotte Mint closed and the building was moved to Randolph Road where it reopened as the Mint Museum in 1936. A second location of the Mint Museum opened in Uptown in 2010.

The first Charlotte Bank opened in 1834. In 1897, the Charlotte National Bank opened and later merged with what became known as Wachovia Bank. In 1901, the predecessor of what eventually merged to become Bank of America opened in Charlotte. The banking and finance industry continued to grow over the years. In 1991, NationsBank led by Hugh McColl came to Charlotte after a merger. It opened a 60-story skyscraper in 1992, the South’s tallest building at the time. In 1998, NationsBank had another merger and became the headquarters for Bank of America. 

Today, Uptown Charlotte is known as the nation’s second-largest banking district by assets after New York City. Among Uptown’s towering skyscrapers, you’ll see many banks and financial organizations, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Truist Financial, Fifth Third Bank, Regions Bank and Ally.

City Symbols: Crowns & Hornets' Nests

As you’re exploring Uptown, you’ll find crowns and hornets’ nests in some of the least expected places. These two iconic Charlotte symbols have noteworthy origin stories. When Charlotte was founded in 1768, the Colonies were still under British rule. The European settlers wanted to stay in the favor of King George III, so they named the city in honor of his wife, Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The city has taken on many nicknames since, including the Queen City, the QC and Crown Town. You’ll see crowns on Charlotte street signs, wayfinding signs, murals, business logos and more.

In 1780 during the American Revolution, General Cornwallis arrived in Charlotte with his British army. The local patriots surprised him with their merciless attacks, and legend says that Cornwallis called Charlotte a “hornets’ nest of rebellion.” Today, both the hornet and hornets’ nest are emblems on police officers’ badges and vehicles, historical markers and, most famously, on the uniforms of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.

Charlotteans have come to love these two historical symbols that represent their beloved Queen City. Beyond street signs and public art, you’ll also see these popular marks on T-shirts, hats and even tattooed on faithful locals.

Discover More of Uptown's History

Ready to explore more of Uptown Charlotte? Book a tour with Charlotte NC Tours, C-Charlotte Tours, Queen City Rides or the Funny Bus City Comedy Tour for another fun history lesson while seeing it all firsthand. Or head to the Levine Museum of the New South and walk through the award-winning “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” permanent exhibit to learn about the city’s fascinating past from post-Civil War to today.