Sunday, March 04, 2007

Charlotte's history and future

History and the future mingled Sunday afternoon in Dilworth, the stately neighborhood just south of uptown Charlotte.

Oldtimers who lived in Dilworth between 1900 and 1940 met with 11th-graders from Charlotte Latin School and officials from Charlotte Trolley Inc. As I wrote in today's Local section, it was a project meant to preserve personal histories of Charlotte's first "streetcar suburb" before they disappear. Newcomers may not realize that the new trolley and light rail taking shape south of uptown are actually the second incarnation of mass transit in that area - Dilworth was organized around an electric streetcar system in the 1890s. The system extended to other "streetcar suburbs" including Elizabeth and Plaza-Midwood. In the 1930s, city leaders replaced it with buses.

Dozens of people gathered around tables in a hall at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral on East Boulevard (familiar to most Charlotteans as the home of the annual Yiasou Greek Festival).

The older residents shared with the students their memories of growing up, going to school, riding Charlotte's early streetcars and dating.

The liveliest presence at my table was Bill Parlier, 84. He reminisced about playing a Halloween prank on streetcar conductors by greasing the rails on an uphill stretch on Hawthorne Lane. "It'd slip and spin and they'd have to get out and put sand on the track," he said with a laugh.

He talked about his first car, which he got in 1938 at age 16: a 1934 Ford coupe with a hard top and rumble seat - and then he had to explain to the teen-agers what a rumble seat is (an uncovered folding rear seat that was a feature in many cars until the 1940s). To pay for his gasoline, he worked as an usher in the Carolina Theatre on Tryon Street in uptown for 25 cents an hour.

And he talked fondly about going to see baseball games in Independence Park, which is still home to ballfields in the Elizabeth neighborhood. The area's textile mills fielded teams in evening "twilight league" games.

I asked Charlotte Latin student Jaime Todd, 17, what she'd learned from the history project. "I learned the difference in the lifestyle. It was slower and easier back then. There wasn't as much hustle and bustle," she said.

Would she have liked to experience life in that time? "I'm glad I'm in this generation," she said. "I'm not sure I could deal with the lack of technology."

What about you? Are there features of "old Charlotte" you wish you'd gotten a chance to experience? And what are some of the ways Charlotte is better off - or worse off - than 100 years ago? Post thoughts here or drop me a line.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charlotte was a lot smaller back then, but it was much more city-like. Back then, even the "suburbs" of Myers Park and Dilworth involved real city streets, real neighborhoods, and real community interaction. You actually knew the mailman, milkman and ice man because they came to your door. You knew all your neighbors because you passed them on the sidewalk, on the way to the grocery store. You could take the trolley to the other side of town, and chances are you'd know the conductor by name.

But that was before the rush to suburbia destroyed the fabric of Charlotte's inner neighborhoods. How ironic that people pursuing a small-town lifestyle managed to create such a faceless, spiritless environment. It's only in the past decade that we've finally begun to reverse the viral effects of sprawling suburbia. Now we spend billions of dollars re-creating the neighborhoods, retail centers and transit systems that our grandparents took for granted.

6:27 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home