Hidden History in Fourth Ward
The idyllic Uptown neighborhood features diverse architecture, intriguing history, charming culinary spots, and peeks of nearby skyscrapers through its lush green canopy.
The Fourth Ward Historic District offers an unexpected respite in the heart of Center City. Made up of more than 30 city blocks, mostly quaint and quiet residential streets, the idyllic Uptown neighborhood features diverse architecture, intriguing history, charming culinary spots, and peeks of nearby skyscrapers through its lush green canopy.
A walk through Fourth Ward reveals a mix of architectural styles both old and new, but many would be surprised to learn that a lot of the historic homes were actually moved to the area, not originally built there.
One of the city’s first “suburbs” (before there were suburbs), Fourth Ward has been home to a thriving and active community since the 1800s. Though the neighborhood has seen its ups and downs throughout history, its story of revitalization in the 1970s has served as a role model for other cities and was a spark that reignited development in Uptown Charlotte, helping it evolve into the desirable downtown it is today.
HISTORY OF FOURTH WARD
In the mid-1700s, what is now Trade and Tryon streets in Uptown Charlotte started as a major Native American trading path that spurred residential and commercial development all around it. The northern quadrant of Uptown was first called Fourth Ward in the mid-1800s, when the city was divided into four distinct areas for voting purposes. The ward system was eliminated in 1945, but the names of the wards live on.
Uptown experienced major changes and growth from its founding to today. In the late 1700s, it started as a pedestrian-friendly town (imagine dirt roads and horse and buggies) with a commercial core and wealthy residents, like merchants, political leaders, lawyers and doctors, living in the nearby area that would become Fourth Ward. The walkable small town atmosphere lasted for more than a century until things began to change with the introduction of the electric trolley in 1891. Then in the 1920s, the rising popularity of cars drove many rich residents and businesses to the suburbs. By the 1960s, the once prosperous residential area of Fourth Ward had experienced a major decline. Many of the once lavish Victorian-style homes had been turned into businesses or apartments or, even worse, were demolished.
As part of the racist-laden federal urban renewal program in the 1960s and 1970s, run-down houses and properties in downtown, including Fourth Ward, were designated for demolition. However, unlike the fate of communities in First and Second Ward, some of the historic properties in Fourth Ward were saved thanks to timing and a focus on development, restoration and preservation among community and civic leaders from Bank of America and the Junior League of Charlotte, among others.
Hugh McColl, president of North Carolina National Bank (a predecessor of Bank of America), and business associate Dennis Rash, a lawyer, banker and community activist, developed a Community Development Corporation (CDC) within the bank to help redevelop Charlotte, specifically its Third and Fourth wards. McColl, who was recruiting bankers from London and New York City to Charlotte, told Rash, “You can’t have a great bank without a great city. We have to do everything we can to make Charlotte a great city.” The bank worked with the city to provide funding for the redevelopment, moved historic homes from other parts of the city to Fourth Ward to replace the demolished properties, and also offered a special discounted loan program to attract new homeowners and investors.
The Junior League of Charlotte (JLC) was one of the first investors. The group purchased the Berryhill House on Ninth Street and restored it to its original grandeur. After the renovation was complete, the JLC created Berryhill Preservation, Inc. and used the funds from selling the home to purchase and restore nine other homes in the area.
In 1976, the City of Charlotte designated Fourth Ward a local historic district, and Friends of Fourth Ward was formed to preserve and enhance the Fourth Ward community (an association that is still active today).
These efforts in addition to the development of low-rise condos in the neighborhood ignited the revitalization and residential repopulation of Fourth Ward that helped it grow from 1,400 residents in 1980 to more than 6,000 in 2020, nearly a third of Uptown’s population. The late Rash, who oversaw the CDC and the redevelopment of Fourth Ward, lived in the area and became known as its unofficial mayor. Among many other notable leaders and influentials, Harvey B. Gantt, an architect and the first African American mayor of Charlotte, also calls Fourth Ward home.
HOW TO EXPERIENCE FOURTH WARD TODAY
The best way to get acquainted with Fourth Ward is to start off with the Friends of Fourth Ward’s free, self-guided tour, which takes a deeper dive into the history and architecture of the area and provides a route for a nice walk through the picturesque neighborhood. If ghost stories are more your style, Carolina History and Haunts offers the Beyond the Grave tour almost every night of the week with the majority of the stops being in Fourth Ward.
Historic sites turned eateries offer unique culinary experiences in Fourth Ward. The beloved neighborhood tavern Alexander Michael’s has occupied the former Crowell-Berryhill Store since 1983. Featuring a solid oak bar and shelves from the Independence Building, Charlotte’s first skyscraper, “Al Mike’s” as it’s affectionately called, serves up classic American cuisine in a European Pub atmosphere. For a more extravagant dining experience, make a reservation at the McNinch House Restaurant, the former home of Charlotte Mayor Sam McNinch from 1905 to 1907. The luxurious purple Queen Anne-style home is one of Charlotte’s most premier fine dining restaurants. A happy medium between the two would be Poplar Street Cafe & Wine Bar, which is located in the historic Morrison House and features Peruvian-inspired tapas, wine and spirits. For a decadent dessert and craft cocktail day or night, dine at Crave Dessert Bar, located in the Charlotte Cotton Mill Complex, the first textile mill in the city.
To be inspired by arts, culture and science, head to Fourth Ward hot spots like Discovery Place Science, McColl Center for Art + Innovation and Charlotte Ballet. Discovery Place Science is a hands-on science and technology museum that offers fun, interactive experiences for the whole family. McColl Center for Art + Innovation is located in a restored 100-plus-year-old church that now houses one of the nation’s top artists-in-residence programs. It's free to visit the museum and on Open Studio Saturdays, visitors can drop in to the artists studios to see them at work. Recently celebrating its 50th anniversary, Charlotte Ballet is the city’s premier ballet company. While most of its professional performances take place at Belk Theater or Knight Theater, the Charlotte Ballet Academy offers on-site dance classes for both children and adults.
In addition to indoor fun in Fourth Ward, outdoor green space is not lacking. The 3-acre Fourth Ward Park serves as the neighborhood’s “Central Park” with walking trails, decorative water fountains and a children’s playground. The more intimate Ninth Street Park features a children’s playground, a gazebo, benches and a colorful mural along its brick wall enclosure. Settler’s Cemetery, which was the burial ground to Charlotte’s early settlers and leaders, is a centerpiece of Fourth Ward. After a major restoration project in the late 1990s, brick walkways, fencing, landscaping and plaques were added transforming the space into what is now used as more of a neighborhood park.
Friends of Fourth Ward invites neighbors and visitors to many special events throughout the year, including two of the most popular annual events: Fourth Ward Holiday Home Tour and The Secret Gardens of Fourth Ward. Both events allow visitors to tour the neighborhood's historic properties and contemporary homes from different perspectives.
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