Queen of the Caroli­nas

glit­ter of gold are all part of the al­lure of Char­lotte

Business Traveler (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michelle Harbi and Dan Booth

Be­fore there was the Yukon in Alaska or even Sut­ter’s Mill in Cal­i­for­nia, there was Carolina – the first gold rush in the newly-minted United States of Amer­ica. The story goes like this; in 1799 a young Con­rad Reed found a shiny rock in the creek bed on the fam­ily farm in Cabar­rus County, North Carolina. He gave the rock to his dad, John Reed, who re­put­edly used it for years as a doorstop.

In 1802, Reed the El­der took the rock to a jew­eler, who bought it from him for a week’s wages, a frac­tion of its value. But not to worry; Reed came out all right in the end. The next year, one of his slaves dis­cov­ered an­other nugget – this time 28 pounds – and the min­ing oper­a­tion Reed started made him a rich man. To­day the Reed Mine is on the Na­tional Registry of His­toric Places.

The amount of gold dug out of the Carolina clay was so great, in 1835 the US govern­ment set up a spe­cial­ized mint in Char­lotte “for the coinage of gold only,” ac­cord­ing to the act that es­tab­lished the branch. Over its years of oper­a­tion up to the end of the Civil War, the Char­lotte Mint struck over $5 mil­lion in gold, and to­day, neu­mis­ma­tists the world over prize these rare and valu­able gold coins stamped with the let­ter “C.”

For nearly 100 years, the build­ing that housed the mint sat at 400 Trade Street in what is now called Up­town Char­lotte. By the 1930s the build­ing was set for the wreck­ing ball, but a group of Char­lotte cit­i­zens raised the money to buy it from the Trea­sury Depart­ment, move it and turn it into the first art mu­seum in the state. To­day the Mint Mu­seum houses per­ma­nent col­lec­tions in­clud­ing Amer­i­can art, Amer­i­can and Euro­pean ceram­ics and an im­mense as­sort­ment of North Carolina pot­tery. And of course a spec­i­men of each coin turned out by the mint.

Up­town Beat

How­ever, the re­moval of the mint from Trade Street did not di­min­ish Char­lotte’s stand­ing at the very heart of trade in the Caroli­nas. In 1755, Thomas Polk built a house at the cross­roads of two Na­tive Amer­i­can trad­ing paths be­tween the Yad­kin and Catawba rivers. One of those paths was part of the Great Wagon Road – now Tryon Street – while the other is now Trade Street.

Trade and Tryon is the epi­cen­ter of Up­town Char­lotte, and is other­wise known as In­de­pen­dence Square, or sim­ply the Square. Dur­ing mid­week lunchtimes it buzzes with bank­ing staff – Char­lotte is the sec­ond-largest bank­ing hub in the US, and one of the city’s big­gest em­ploy­ers, Bank of Amer­ica, has its head­quar­ters just by the square – while street mu­si­cians belt out the blues to passersby.

Four stat­ues, one at each cor­ner of the square re­flect the core threads that have con­trib­uted to the Queen City’s growth: An African Amer­i­can la­borer rep­re­sents Trans­porta­tion, a gold prospec­tor Com­merce, and a mill worker In­dus­try. All

Re­moval of the mint did not di­min­ish Char­lotte’s stand­ing at very heart of trade in the Caroli­nas

three are fac­ing the fourth, a mother and child, who rep­re­sent the Fu­ture.

A cou­ple of blocks north of the Square on Tryon, you will find one of Char­lotte’s most charm­ing ar­eas. In the mid-19th century the Fourth Ward was a well-heeled neigh­bor­hood, home to mer­chants and min­is­ters. But as res­i­dents shifted out to the sub­urbs, the area went into de­cline and many of its grand Vic­to­rian res­i­dences were de­mol­ished. Be­gin­ning in the late 1970s it un­der­went restora­tion, and about 40 of the houses have been re­tained as part of the Fourth Ward His­toric District, the tree-lined streets of which make for an en­joy­able stroll.

No­table ex­am­ples in­clude Alexan­der Michael’s (aka, Al Mike’s Tav­ern) at 401 West Ninth Street, a quaint if some­what cramped restau­rant housed in the

neigh­bor­hood’s 1897 gro­cery store, and the pink-hued Over carsh House (326 West Eighth), in Queen Anne style dat­ing from the 1880s.

In the cen­ter of the district, Fourth Ward Park is a pleas­ant spot for a pause – the sky­scrapers of Up­town, vis­i­ble above the trees, pro­vide a strik­ing con­trast to the his­toric homes of the district.

The Levine Mu­seum of the New South, lo­cated east of the park on 7th Street is a fas­ci­nat­ing place to ex­plore the South’s post-Civil War his­tory. Its “Cot­ton Fields

The Levine Mu­seum is a sober­ing, evoca­tive re­minder of how the past continues to in­form the present

to Sky­scrapers” ex­hibit ex­plains how the South has moved “from field to fac­tory to fi­nance,” through the dark days of slav­ery and war, into re­con­struc­tion, seg­re­ga­tion and the Civil Rights move­ment to Char­lotte’s present role as a money cen­ter.

The 1,000-plus ex­hibits are ar­ranged chrono­log­i­cally and de­signed to be in­ter­ac­tive – you can step in­side a ten­ant farmer’s one-room house and lis­ten to folk tunes from the time, or take a seat at a lunch counter and learn about the sit-in protests of the 1950s and 60s.

It’s a sober­ing, evoca­tive re­minder of how the past continues to in­form the present.

Steps from the mu­seum, the Sev­enth Street Pub­lic Mar­ket opened in 2011 to pro­mote lo­cal farm­ers, ar­ti­sans and en­trepreneurs. Housed in a vo­lu­mi­nous in­dus­trial-style build­ing, its ven­dors sell

ev­ery­thing from prime meats, cheeses and col­or­ful fruit and veg­gies to fine wines and de­lec­ta­ble chocolates.

Salts of the Earth stocks 170 gourmet salts from around the world – such as black truf­fle salt made from French gris de Guérande and Ital­ian black truf­fles – while Small Keys sells pretty hand­made soaps and beauty prod­ucts.

Lo­cal Loaf serves up de­li­cious sand­wiches, while other stalls of­fer up gourmet piz­zas, sushi made to or­der and zingy raw juices. Fans of the Show­time se­ries Home­land may no­tice some fa­mil­iar land­marks as they wan­der through the Queen City. The TV se­ries was shot in and around Char­lotte, with lo­cal lo­ca­tions doubling for the Brody fam­ily home, CIA Head­quar­ters and Mor­gan’s col­lege.

Tobacco Road

Whether or not your only knowl­edge of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Stock Car Auto Rac­ing – bet­ter known to the world as NASCAR – has been gleaned from

The Hall of Fame cel­e­brates the great and the good in the world of NASCAR

re­peated view­ings of Days of Thun­der or Tal­ladega Nights: The Bal­lad of Ricky Bobby, vis­it­ing the NASCAR Hall of Fame will be an ed­u­ca­tion.

Open since 2010 in a strik­ing race­track-in­spired build­ing, the Hall of Fame cel­e­brates the great and the good in the world of NASCAR. The sport has its roots in the South – dur­ing the days of Pro­hi­bi­tion, boot­leg­gers in the Ap­palachi­ans would soup up their cars and load up their trunks with moon­shine, run­ning the booze on the back­roads full speed to es­cape the po­lice. To­day a some­what more re­spectable – and lu­cra­tive – ver­sion of the sport has a huge fan base.

There’s a whop­ping 40,000 square feet of space to ex­plore, in­clud­ing Glory Road, an ex­hibit of his­toric cars from Buck Baker’s 1957 Chevro­let 150 Black Widow to to­day’s lean ma­chines, and the Hall of Honor, where the sport’s great­est driv­ers are hailed. If you fancy hav­ing a go yourself, you can sit in a stock car in the high-tech race sim­u­la­tor and pit your skills against other vis­i­tors. Visit nascarhall.com.

Of course, sim­u­la­tors are all well and good, but for the real deal, diehard rac­ing en­thu­si­asts can head up the road a piece (as we say in the South) to the Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way. Lo­cated a 30-minute drive from Char­lotte on I-85 at Con­cord, NC, the speed­way is a huge multi-track fa­cil­ity that hosts a drag strip, short track, dirt track, road course and even go-kart races. But the cen­ter­piece is the 1.5-mile oval where NASCAR stars roar past the crowd of up to 135,000 at cam­era-blur­ring speeds over 200 mph.

The 50-plus-year-old race track has seen its share of Hol­ly­wood mo­ments, pro­vid­ing the lo­ca­tions for the afore­men­tioned Days of Thun­der and Tal­ladega Nights. It also wel­comed such celebrity names as Paul New­man and Larry the Ca­ble Guy for the world pre­miere of Dis­ney/Pixar’s hit an­i­mated movie, CARS.

But all the Tin­sel­town glam aside, the track is, quite lit­er­ally, where the rub­ber meets the road. And even lowly mor­tals have the op­por­tu­nity to know – al­beit in a rel­a­tively safe and con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment – what it re­ally feels like to take on one of auto rac­ing’s leg­endary cour­ses.

The speed­way hosts a num­ber of so-called driv­ing “ex­pe­ri­ences,” usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with some il­lus­tri­ous rac­ing name; Mario An­dretti, Rusty Wal­lace, and ‘The King,’ Richard Petty. An en­try-level three-lap ride-along in Petty pro­gram starts at $109, but you can ac­tu­ally get be­hind the wheel for eight laps on race day for $525

Not dur­ing the race, of course. BT

Clock­wise: City of Char­lotte, NASCAR Hall of Fame, Sev­enth Street Pub­lic Mar­ket, Trade and Tryon Streets, Reed Gold Mine

From top: NASCAR Hall of Fame, Levine Mu­seum of the New South, Fourth Ward His­toric District

Clock­wise: Sev­enth Street Pub­lic Mar­ket, NASCAR Hall of Fame, Salts of the Earth

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