Monday, September 11, 2006

The Charlotte region's rich history

Charlotte seems like such a new city that it’s sometimes easy to forget this region is steeped in rich history. Last week, the Mecklenburg Historical Association Docents and Historic Charlotte put on two events illuminating both the nation’s early days and the post-Civil War era:

--First came William R. Davie, known to Chapel Hill grads because he established the University of North Carolina in 1793 and his name graces the landmark Davie Poplar tree near the center campus.
The Mecklenburg association brought in guest speaker Harry Watson, director of the Center for the Study of the American South at UNC-Chapel Hill, to discuss his role as a Founding Father who helped frame the U.S. Constitution.

Davie grew up about 10 miles southeast of Charlotte in the Waxhaws region, just over the S.C. line in Lancaster County. He was wounded in the Revolutionary War, and later served in the N.C. General Assembly. He became one of five N.C. delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

There, he was active in brokering the compromise that allowed each Southern slave to be counted as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of political representation. In that respect, Watson noted, Davie left an “ambiguous legacy” – the compromise helped preserve the union for seven decades, but it did so by strengthening the institution of slavery. At the time of Davie’s death in 1820, records show he owned 116 slaves.

Watson said the Founding Fathers left unfinished work behind them. “Their best legacy is to remind us that we should be founders ourselves,” he said.

--Later came a look at the school founded by Presbyterian missionaries to educate former slaves, now Johnson C. Smith University.

Historic Charlotte invited Stefan Pienkny of Gantt Huberman Architects to discuss the award-winning renovation of Biddle Hall, the beloved centerpiece of the university’s campus off Beatties Ford Road northwest of uptown.

The architects had to preserve and update the c. 1884 brick building. Pienky said workers encountered asbestos, water damage, cracked foundations and more during the multimillion-dollar renovation, which stretched beyond the original one year predicted in 2002 and continued into 2005. They also successfully battled code enforcement that was sometimes unfriendly to historic preservation.

“It works as a functioning building. It’s also historically correct,” he said.

My favorite bits of trivia: There’s a “ghost room” on the building’s third floor, above the stage of its auditorium; and the building’s exterior appeared in the movie “The Rage: Carrie 2” (the 1999 sequel to the Sissy Spacek classic) to represent an insane asylum.

If you’re a newcomer, getting involved in local historic groups can be a great way to learn more about the community and meet new people.

Historic Charlotte, a nonprofit group that promotes historic preservation, can be reached at 704-375-6145. The Mecklenburg Historical Association is always looking for volunteers who can serve as docents at local historic sites; reach them at 704-563-7080.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

very cool post. My family has been a little bit sick of the "where to find x,y,z" out-of-state group of newcomers/food in your articles.

My husband is from a small town in Eastern NC. While I'm a Charlotte native, he has a real interest in the newcomers angle.

Unfortunately, he's not looking for long lost friends from Buffalo. (However, decent BBQ is a whole nother topic :-)

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forget about finding the food, I'm a Charlotte native looking for other Charlotte natives to socialize with. Where are you? Have you all moved away and sold your homes to New Yorkers? I hope not. Is there a place that I haven't heard of that Charlotte natives hang out at, or have they all been taken over by people from New York and New Jersey?

12:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone know where I can find a map of the location of all the bronze plaques in the sidewalks where the landmarks used to be before they were torn down for yet another bank building and surface parking lot?

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why would people be tired of us "yankees" moving down to pump money into the Charlotte economy and helping create so many new jobs? It's really silly that the old south mentality still rears its ugly head in this city.

4:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The old south mentality still rears its ugly head in this city because all you "yankees" won't adapt.

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This Charlotte native is happy about the newcomers (welcome!) and treasures the natives who provide a critical link to the city's history. Charlotte is immeasurably enriched by both.

11:01 AM  

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