South End's Story
Charlotte has always been a city of opportunity, and South End has been at the center of innovation from the beginning.
It was home to the nation’s first gold rush, which partially inspired the construction the city’s first railroad, leading trains through South End in 1852. It’s the area’s first industrial park opening its doors in 1892. And it’s everything in between.
South End’s history is spotted with firsts—and not just for the neighborhood but for the region and city. People rushed to the Queen City throughout the early nineteenth century looking for gold and although few were lucky, they brought an entrepreneurial spirit of hope and resilience that can still be found on the streets today.
Read on to learn more about the milestones and inventions that have shaped this neighborhood, and all of our city.
1825 - Carolina Gold Rush
Local businessman Samuel McCombs finds on his farm, located just off what is today West Morehead Street, a small pocket of gold nuggets encrusted in white quartz rocks. McCombs digs deeper and realizes that he has not discovered just a pocket of gold but a vein or lode that seemed to go on forever. In 1825 he opened the McComb Mine (later the Old Charlotte Mine and then the St. Catherine Mine). The mine was located near present-day Bank of America Stadium and several other mines popped up in the surrounding area. The mines were able to open so quickly thanks to foreign investments. It was an Italian Count Vincent de Rivafinoli who initially got the ball rolling by supporting the Rudisill and St. Catherine mines. With the European money, came European immigrants, mostly from England, who were familiar with the mining industry. Charlotte, before the end of the nineteenth century, was already a city of the world, filled with newcomers and new ideas.
1852 - The Railroad
October 21, 1852 is not a red letter day on any calendar, and there are no celebrations marking it. However, that date marks the single most important event in the history of Charlotte — the day the first railroad train arrived in the Queen City. The Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad was the first rail line into this section of the Piedmont, and the inaugural train, arriving from Columbia, was greeted by a brass band and free barbecue. The line was made possible by Charlotte’s business community and entrepreneurs arranging innovative funding, which was a region-wide effort, with farmers and townsfolk all along the route buying stock, and local governments kicking in cash as well. The railroad’s presence guaranteed Charlotte would soon forge ahead of similar surrounding towns.
1891 - Edison's Mass Transit
Edison came to Charlotte in 1890 to test out a theory. He wanted to see if it was possible to use electricity to separate gold from other sediment in the process of gold……It didn’t work. However while in Charlotte the celebrity was on the list of Charlotte’s elites to have over for dinner. Edward Dilworth Latta was just such a person. On Friday February 21, 1890 Mr. Latta had a big dinner at his house on North Tryon Street. He had the who’s who of Charlotte (See full story Charlotte News February 24, 1890). It was at this dinner that Latta discussed with Edison his plan to run electric street cars out to the “Country” to Charlotte’s first suburb, Dilworth. The two agreed to work together and Charlotte has been growing ever since. After a visit by Thomas Edison, Edward Dilworth Latta and his Charlotte Consolidated Construction Co. open Charlotte’s first suburb – Dilworth — and introduce the electric streetcar to the city.
1892 - Inventing the Industrial Park
Daniel Augustus (D.A.) Tompkins builds Atherton Cotton Mill (now converted to Atherton Lofts). With the groundbreaking ceremony on November 8, it became the first industrial structure in the area. By 1895, The Charlotte Daily Observer called this area (the corridor between South Boulevard and the railroad tracks) “the Manchester of Charlotte. “ By the turn of century, this corridor was home to Atherton Mill, Mecklenburg Flour Mill (producing three brands of flour), Charlotte Shuttle Block Factory, a sash cord factory, a spoke and handle factory, Charlotte Trouser Co., Southern Card Clothing Co., and Charlotte Pipe and Foundry Co. It was, in essence, the city’s first industrial park. These factories were locally-owned and operated and did not use northern capital to start up. Their owners, with their fresh ideas and creative ways of making money, transformed Charlotte’s economy from an agrarian one to an industrial one. A South Carolina native who came to Charlotte in 1883, Tompkins led the “Cotton Mill Campaign” that, utilizing new ideas, new methods and new devices, transformed the once-rural Piedmont into the country’s textile manufacturing region by the 1920s. He eventually built 100 mills across the region. Charlotte was the center for textile machinery, and he dominated the market. Says Morrill in Historic Charlotte, “such men became convinced that future wealth in the region lay not in traditional farming methods but in industrialization, urbanization, and scientific agriculture.” (p. 44)
1893 - Bringing Professional Design to the Area
To help sales in Dilworth, Edward Dilworth Latta hires architect Charles Christian (C.C.) Hook to, according to The Charlotte Daily Observer, “provide plans for five new-style residences. They will include the ‘Queen Anne, ‘Colonial’ and ’Modern American’ styles of architecture.” Hook, the Charlotte region’s first professional architect, designed 35 homes for Latta. Hook’s architectural practice was just two years old at the time, but he went on to become one of the most prolific North Carolina architects of his day. He introduced the Colonial Revival style to the region, and the oldest house featuring that style which can be attributed to him (fully extant) is the Gautier-Gilchrist House at 320 E. Park Ave. (Morrill, p. 51). Other structures he designed that are still standing include the Van Landingham Estate, Fire Station Number 6, the Duke Mansion, Charlotte City Hall and the Carolina Theatre.
1901 - Innovation in Pipe Manufacturing
W. Frank Dowd opens Charlotte Pipe & Foundry, a manufacturer of soil pipe, on South Boulevard between Park and Renselaer avenues. The plant burned down in 1907, and Dowd moved it to Clarkson Street. Starting the firm was a bold step – although Charlotte was the textile and textile machinery center of the South, Alabama was the center for steel making and pipe manufacture. The Dowd family continued to show a willingness to be bold and innovative in its manufacturing processes. During the 1950s, the company embraced centrifugal spinning methods (instead of the traditional hand molding process) and refitted its plant in 1957. In 1967, the company was among the first to manufacture plastic drainage waste and vent (DUV) systems, and it is now the largest plastic pipe producer in the U.S.
1904 - 1905 Cutting Edge Engineer
Just north of his Atherton Cotton Mill, D.A Tompkins builds the machine shop (the main manufacturing facility) for the D.A. Tompkins Company, which built machinery for cotton mills and cottonseed oil plants. He was an innovative engineer with a degree in civil engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who pioneered the technology to turn cotton seed (considered a waste product of processing cotton) into cooking oil. In his obituary in The Charlotte Daily Observer on October 19, 1914, it called one of his two most notable contributions to industry, “the placing of the cotton seed oil business on an engineering basis.” He was often called the “father of the cotton seed oil business.” Tompkins’ first major client was the firm that is now Wesson Oil. An early product was Snowdrift shortening—similar to today’s Crisco—a novelty for cooks who were used to using hog lard. His Southern Cotton Oil Company grew to eight mills across the South.
1905 - Pepsi Pioneers
Henry and Sadie Fowler (to become known as “Mr. and Mrs. Pepsi-Cola”) become the first bottlers to incorporate using the Pepsi name, making them the company’s first franchise and the oldest Pepsi bottler in the world. In the 1930s, the company moved to 2820 South Boulevard, where it remained until 2018.
1906 - The Man Behind "Air Conditioning"
Stuart Cramer coins the term “air conditioning” in a patent filed in April. A protégé of D.A. Tompkins, he was a prolific designer of textile mills and mill villages, as well as an innovator in the field of humidification and air conditioning for the textile industry, with numerous patents to his credit. His firm merged with the G. M. Parks Company of Fitchburg, MA in 1918 to become Parks-Cramer and moved to South Boulevard in 1919. Today the site and historic buildings are known as Atherton Mill, and are filled with retail, restaurants, and new apartments.
Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. visits Charlotte at the invitation of Edward Dilworth Latta to help him expand the development of Dilworth. The world-renowned landscape design firm, based in Brookline MA, created Dilworth Road East and West and the adjacent curving streets. Olmsted’s father, Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., was the founder of professional landscape design in the U.S., and his sons, Frederick Jr. and John Charles, brought it into widespread practice. Their work in Dilworth — plus that of John Nolen in Myers Park, which also began in 1911 — introduced the idea of naturalistic suburban planning to this part of the South.
Charlotte Machine Company is founded by Egbert Gribble on South Boulevard. In 1926, he moved it to Camden Road, where it operated until 2014. The company began by making component parts for the textile industry, but has been able to think creatively and adapt to changing economic times. In the 1950s, it made parts for the Nike missile and today focuses on the medical, telecommunications and defense industries.
1923 - A Leader in High Fashion Design
Nebel Knitting is founded by William Nebel, a German immigrant and third generation hosiery knitter. Nebel produced women’s high fashion silk hosiery. He was an innovator in hosiery styles, colors and patterns, and held at least 16 structural and design patents. His success was an indicator of the diversification of the Southern textile industry, with Charlotte as its heart. In the 1940s, the company conducted aggressive and cutting-edge advertising campaigns, and in 1953, the Charlotte News reported it was one of the largest hosiery mills in the U.S. But times changed, and the mill was closed in 1968. Its plant at 127 West Worthington Avenue was designed by noted mill architect Richard C. Biberstein, and was expanded in 1929 and 1946. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and is now home to shopping, retail and design showrooms.
1923 - A Showcase for Innovation
The first of several Made in the Carolinas Industrial Expositions is held in a new building constructed for the event on East Park Avenue. The events highlighted new products and progress made in the two states. Thousands rode by train to visit the expositions celebrating the inventiveness and manufacturing and design accomplishments of the area. Contemporary accounts compared them to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras.
1926 - Snack Food Originator
Lance Packaging Co. – a pioneer in the snack food business — moves to 1300 South Boulevard, which had once housed Edward Dilworth Latta’s Charlotte Trouser Co. The facility was doubled in size by 1941, and the company was headquartered there until 1962, when it moved to 8600 South Boulevard near Pineville. Today the site houses condominiums. For many years, Charlotteans enjoyed the aroma of roasted peanuts as they traveled down South Boulevard. Lance, Inc. (as it was renamed in 1939) is credited as the originator of the peanut butter and cracker sandwich. The company got its start in 1913 when Philip Lance, a food broker, got stuck with 500 pounds of peanuts. He and his son-in-law demonstrated their ingenuity by roasting them in his home, located on South Boulevard. They sold well, using the innovative concept of convenient single serve packages. Mrs. Lance and her daughter – also original thinkers – are credited with coming up with the idea for the sandwich – they were, at the very least, certainly the first to sell them when they were first offered in 1916. The first sales efforts were door-to-door, and the crackers were also a big hit with the soldiers at Camp Greene during World War I.
1937 - Writing a Literary Classic
Barely into her 20s, Carson McCullers writes the opening chapters of her first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, while living in a boarding house located at 311 East Boulevard. The book becomes an American classic, with a 1968 film version garnering two Academy Awards.
1938 - End of the Gold Mines
Charlotte’s last operating gold mine, The Rudisill (corner W. Summit & S. Mint), which by this time extended down to more than 400 feet, closed ending more than a century of searching for the coveted metal in Charlotte/Mecklenburg.
1964 - Center for Artists
The Charlotte Art League is formed. It is a non-profit adult arts organization dedicated to fostering emerging fine and commercial artists through community exposure, networking, education and interaction with fellow artists. In 1996, it moved into a facility on Camden Road, offering opportunities for regional artists and art enthusiasts by providing a gallery for rotating exhibits by members, workshop facilities, monthly lectures series and affordable studio space. The Charlotte Art League moved from Camden Road to a new home on the northern half of the Blue Line in 2018.
1977 - Fast Food Pioneers
Jack Falk and Richard Thomas open their first Bojangles’ restaurant at the corner of West Boulevard and South Tryon Street, pioneering Cajun chicken, sausage biscuits and dirty rice in a fast food franchise format. They had earlier pioneered the fast-food breakfast biscuit while working for the Hardee’s chain. Bojangles made biscuits a centerpiece, and there are now franchises in 11 states, primarily in the Southeast.
1983 - Design Renaissance Begins
In a bold and pioneering move, Gaines Brown relocates his nationally-recognized exhibit design firm to the South End, which is then simply referred to as “the industrial corridor west of the railroad tracks.”
1987 - Taking Design to the Streets
Demonstrating their visionary commitment to revitalizing the city’s urban core, Charlotte voters approve $1.5 million in bond money for road and streetscape improvements along five urban corridors. South Boulevard was one of them. Many believe that without this small initial investment, the creation of the South End could not have happened or would have been delayed by many years.
1988 - Introducing the New Urbanism
Olmsted Park, the first residential infill project to be built in Charlotte, is constructed on the site of the old Crockett Park, a baseball stadium built in 1939. It is also among the first developments in the city to use new urbanism concepts in its design, including such features as winding streets with sidewalks, trees and houses reminiscent of the Bungalow era of the 1910s and 1920s. Developed by MECA Properties, The Crosland Group and Tom and Betty Moore, Olmsted Park featured 138 apartments and 54 homes on 12-1/2 acres of land.
1993 - From Factory to Design Showroom
In a $2-million rehab project, the old ParksCramer Building is converted into a 48,961-square-foot retail complex called Atherton Mills, a bold project that was the first major new retail in the area in decades. The first tenant is Interiors Marketplace, the creation of urban pioneers John & Kelley Vieregg. It is a showplace for antiques, arts, home furnishings and interior designers, an example of Charlotte’s increasing sophistication tastes in home décor and design. Today, Atherton Mill is owned by national retail investors EDENS, who are investing $100 million in a massive renovation to restore the historic buildings and add new retail and residential space to the complex.
1994 - South End Springs to Life
Showing a flair for originality, Dilworth’s old industrial corridor officially becomes known as the South End with the incorporation of the South End Development Corporation (now Historic South End) to promote and revitalize the area. A logo is also introduced, and street markers are installed to designate the boundaries and to define the concept.
With a steady stream of redevelopment projects making headlines, the vision takes shape for South End’s vibrant future as a walkable entertainment district on par with much larger cities. “If Dallas can have West End, by golly, Charlotte can have South End,” developer Tony Pressley tells the Charlotte Observer. Still, more than 100 vacant properties remain in the South End area. The biggest challenge for this industrial area between the Dilworth and Wilmore neighborhoods is environmental cleanup, a legacy of industry before regulation. A pilot project funded by an EPA Brownfields Redevelopment Grant tests for environmental damage, finding few health risks from redeveloping industrial sites in the area. A new piece of state legislation then gives property owners protection from liability for environmental damage caused by previous owners. This opens up redevelopment opportunities like the Nebel Knitting Annex, which is rehabbed and renovated into the Design Center of the Carolinas. By 1999, when Charlotte is among the first cities to receive a Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund Pilot Grant from the federal government, its visionary brownfields program is considered a model across the country.
1997-1998 - Different Vibes
South End’s popularity is growing, but the rents are still low; low enough for to make this the perfect place for pioneering Charlotte entrepreneurs and restaurateurs to try something new. From the funky Phat Burrito on Camden Road with California burritos, to high-end Tutto Mondo on South Boulevard with “Parisian club chairs from the 1940s,” tapas, caviar and a DJ mixing world music until 2 a.m., South End has places that make you feel like you’re not in Charlotte.
After six years and $300 million in investment in the South End area, the South End Development Corporation lobbies local businesses and City Council to become an official Municipal Services District. This means that district taxpayers will fund continued district improvements, marketing of the area to attract businesses and residents, and additional planning for the four light rail stations that will open in the area seven years later.
2001-02 Dot Com Boom comes to South End
As the influence of the internet spreads and online businesses grow, South End becomes a hub of digital design as well as interior design. A survey finds more than 15 tech startups in the neighborhood, including the largest, a website design company, iXL. Corporate offices, like McGuireWoods technology service and Frontier Capital, follow to be closer to their customers. While not all of them survive the dot com bust, some like financial technology company goodmortgage.com, foreshadow tech growth to come.
2001-02 Growing Residential Scene
“Traffic and commuting is becoming an issue to the renter and the renter hasn’t had a choice - until now,” Fred Bolt with Pappas Properties tells the Observer discussing the 1,500 condo and apartment units under construction or planned in the South End area. Walkability to offices in Uptown and the planned light rail line become selling points for residential growth in the area. Condo conversions are nothing new in South End. In the late 1990s, lofts in Atherton Mill and Factory South at the site of the former Lance factory had become the forerunners of the residential resurgence. But the most noticeable condo tower, the 22-story, rose-colored Arlington rises. Original plans had called for 42 stories but were scaled down in response to objections from Dilworth.
2005-2006 Art and Creative Retail Bloom
By 2005, South End was home to more than 250 design-oriented businesses, up from just 30 in 1995. Art galleries bloom throughout the neighborhood and innovative retail companies open their doors. In the triangle-shaped plot owned by Gaines Brown at Camden and South Tryon, an ArtBar, a Canine Cafe and clothing shops round out the block. Friday evening art crawls regularly make the Charlotte Art League, Joie Lassiter, Modern Eye, Elder, Hidell Brooks and Hayes George galleries stops on their city-wide tours. Art & Soul of South End, an annual spring arts festival, brings a juried art competition, a children’s art festival, and a block party to Camden Road.
Condo projects sprout up throughout Center City and developers look to South End as a place to try new things. Lowe’s gets creative with their South Boulevard and Iverson Way development, working with the community to make a scaled-down version of their typical big box store with residential and retail elements that blend into the neighborhood. Ryan Homes breaks ground on a townhome project toward the west side of the district at South Church and Winnifred Street. While much of the development in the late 1990s and early 2000s had focused along South Boulevard or the parallel strip of Camden Road, residential and industrial conversion projects spill over toward the Wilmore neighborhood and the still industrial section south and west of Uptown, where the gold mines once thrived.
The long-planned LYNX Blue Line opens through South End and the neighborhood welcomes it. With stops at Carson, Bland, East/West and New Bern Station, South End blossoms. Apartment development follows. A high-rise apartment complex, Ashton South End, goes up at the corner of Tremont Avenue and Camden Road. Retailers note an uptick in foot traffic and sales. Some predict the neighborhood will double in population by 2010. But the housing crash intensifies in 2008 and 2009, shelving a lot of plans and sending the district back into planning mode.
The Great Recession hits Charlotte’s financial industry hard, but South End retains its pioneering spirit. In 2009, Tyler Ford, laid off from a corporate job, starts Lightbulb Coworking on Morehead Street. Lightbulb is Charlotte’s first coworking space, where freelancers and remote workers can find flexible terms to rent an office or desk. More coworking spaces follow in the years to come, attracted by the high ceilings and bright windows of the historic industrial buildings and the easy access to Uptown offered by the light rail.
As the recession puts a hold on fast-paced development, South End catches its breath and focuses on community. Common Market South End opens at the corner of 1515 S Tryon on April 1, 2009. The deli/craft beer convenience store becomes a gathering place for long-time neighbors and newcomers alike.
In the face of the downturn, culinary creativity thrives. With affordable fare and innovative twists on classic meals, the food truck movement reaches Charlotte. South End seizes on the opportunity. Around the corner from Common Market, Gaines Brown invites food trucks to park on his vacant lot every Friday night. With some picnic tables and a little marketing from Charlotte Center City Partners, Food Truck Friday quickly becomes a neighborhood institution and a place for new restaurateurs to try the market for their up-and-coming concepts.
2010 - Saving the Firehouse
While the recession put lots of plans on hold, it didn’t stop the threat to historic preservation in the neighborhood. Developer Marcel Stark had bought Firehouse No. 2 on South Boulevard with plans to turn the 1909 building which had once housed horse-drawn fire tanks, it into a health spa. The recession intervened and he was forced to either sell at a loss or make a deal with a Florida developer who would buy the land, if Stark demolished the 100-year-old building. Neighbors and preservation and planning agencies band together to save the historic building.
2012 - Breweries Bubble Up
Way back in 1994, South End Brewery and Smokehouse at Atherton Mill pioneered craft brewing in the area. But, without the nearby customer base of a residential population, it didn’t last long. By 2012, 5,010 people live in South End and more are arriving each day as the recession begins to lift. Breweries benefit from the boom, and from a 2013 local policy change that allows breweries to expand into business and transit zoned districts, rather than just industrial zones. Triple C opens near the New Bern light rail station brewing and selling “Belgian-style” beers in August 2012. The growing trend spreads to each corner of the neighborhood - Unknown Brewing opens in the northwestern corner of the district in 2013, Sycamore follows in 2014 along the path south of the East-West Light rail station. Wooden Robot joins the neighborhood in 2015, injecting more nightlife into the “Gold District” on the western edges of South End. Soon, brewery crawls join art crawls as the dominant pastime.
2014 - Connecting with Uptown - The Rail Trail
Population and business growth in South End prompt big plans from district planners. The question remains - how could we connect the growing district with Uptown? The City’s 2020 Vision Plan for Center City recommends capping I-277 between the neighborhoods with park space. In 2014, Charlotte Center City Partners releases a vision for a “Rail Trail,” a 3.2-mile linear park to cover the path along the light rail line from 9th Street Station in Uptown to the New Bern Station in South End.
Meanwhile, as an unmistakable sign that South End’s cache has caught on, growing industrial and entertainment areas to the south around the Scaleybark Station begin to rebrand themselves as “LoSo” or Lower South End.
2012-2015 - Apartment City
As the recession lifts and the Uptown banks and headquarters start hiring again, stalled apartment projects bloom one-by-one along the Blue Line. They fill with young people looking for entertainment options provided by the breweries and a quick and carless commute into Uptown. A 2015 study ranks South End the fastest-growing submarket in the country, with 82 percent growth. Another study ranks the city of Charlotte the fastest growing “millennial magnet,” for its growth of 20-34-year olds, more than 10,000 of whom moved to the city in 2015.
The district’s history as an industrial area had at first hurt its prospects for redevelopment. But now, it proves a benefit for developers looking to build large apartment complexes or other amenities. South End quickly finds itself in the middle of the grocery store wars as Publix builds one of its first stores in North Carolina at the site of the old Lida Manufacturing Textile plant. A few blocks down South Boulevard, a new Harris Teeter quickly follows.
More than 3,500 apartments remain under construction by May that year and the South End population reaches 8,300.
2016 - Uptown Office Growth Comes to South End
With more people living and playing in South End and businesses filling up the towers Uptown, commercial developers move in. Next door to neighborhood stalwart Price’s Chicken Coop, 1616 Center adds the corporate headquarters of BGW Accounting, followed by data analytics startup Tresata and construction firm JE Dunn. Soon after, Dimensional Fund Advisors announces plans to build a 250,000 square foot building at Camden and South Tryon, building up the artsy block formerly home to Common Market and a few other creative businesses and retailers. Common Market relocates to Tremont Avenue, at the opposite end of Camden Road. Other retailers move to new homes elsewhere in the city.
2017-2019 - South End: Tech Hub
Charlotte’s tech sector reaches maturity. As the mobile revolution reshapes business, once-stuffy banks, headquarters and consultancies bring tech from the back office to the front. Tech talent flocks to Charlotte, and South End’s urban proximity and funky vibe provide a landing pad for companies expanding their footprint. Major corporations like AllState, Lowe’s, EY and LendingTree join startups in making South End home for tech operations. The newcomers expand South End’s vertical footprint, with office towers like the RailYard on South Tryon. Plans for the Design Center Tower, a 23-story office building to house Lowe’s technology center, signal a new future for South End.