Friday, October 13, 2006

History comes full circle in Dilworth

In one part of Charlotte, history has come full circle.

That was the message of a walking tour Thursday sponsored by Charlotte Trolley Inc., the organization dedicated to preserving memories of the city’s original electric streetcars.

Tour leader Stewart Gray of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission pointed out that the early development of Charlotte was limited by transportation. The city developed as an urban core with four wards and a ring of small villages around it whose names still survive in current neighborhoods, including Biddleville, Seversville and Cherry. Beyond that lay cotton fields.

The only convenient way into the city from beyond the inner ring was by train – horse-drawn carriages were the other primary mode.

So in the 1890s, industrialist Edward Dilworth Latta conceived the idea of building the city’s first suburb, Dilworth, and connecting it to the city core by trolleys. He brought Thomas Edison to Charlotte to design the electrical system to power them.

The trolleys ran for 50 years and then the system was dismantled, replaced by the automobile that helped shape Charlotte into its current sprawling shape. Some parts of Dilworth fell into neglect.

But in recent years, city leaders have decided to again embrace mass transit and Dilworth is thriving. Next year, a light-rail line – which will also carry trolleys – will connect uptown Charlotte with the city's south side. Homes and businesses are clustering along the line’s path so people can take advantage of the easy transportation to work and amenities. What was once old is new again.

If you want to drive around Dilworth and explore its historic homes, don’t miss the one at East Park Avenue about two blocks off South Boulevard. It’s the spectacular Villalonga-Alexander House, a Colonial Revival home built in 1901. Read more about it here.

Want to learn more about Charlotte’s historic neighborhoods? Charlotte Trolley is leading two more walking tours, to Fourth Ward next Thursday at 5:30 and to Plaza-Midwood on Oct. 26 at 5:30. They cost $8 per person. More info here.


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