Mint Museum Randolph
2730 Randolph Road
Charlotte, NC 28207
Early settlers tried to curry favor with George III, the English king of their era, by naming their new town for his queen, Charlotte of Mecklenburg. The Mint Museum of Art has a grand portrait of the lady, and several statues of her can be found around the “Queen City” including a much maligned bronze at the corner of N. College and E. 5th streets and a much more flattering version at the Charlotte airport. However, this nod to royalty didn’t keep the settlers, mostly Scots-Irish, from voting for independence from England shortly thereafter—a full year before the Continental Congress signed the colonies’ official Declaration of Independence. At the corner of E. Fourth Street and Kings Drive, a statue of Capt. James Jack, riding hell-for-leather to Philadelphia to deliver the news from Mecklenburg, gallops down the Little Sugar Creek Greenway’s Trail of History.
Reed Gold Mine
9621 Reed Mine Road
Midland, NC 28107
It’s odd that that the names looming largest on our skyline today are Bank of America and Wells Fargo. Not very long ago, these banks were facing off in San Francisco, daughter of the Great California Gold Rush of 1848. Few realize that Charlotte got its beginning as a financial center the very same way. The Carolina Gold Rush began in the early 1800s after a boy named Conrad Reed found a 17-pound nugget on the family farm in 1799. In 1835, the U.S. Treasury opened the first branch of the United States Mint in the until-then undistinguished hamlet of Charlotte, and the city was on its way. Reed Gold Mine, where it all began, is now a NC Historic Site, a few miles northeast of the city. The mine is open to the public with tunnels to explore, mining equipment, panning for gold and plenty of gold rush history.
Billy Graham Library
4330 Westmont Drive
Charlotte, NC 28217
Charlotte is the birthplace and eventual final resting place of famed evangelist Billy Graham. You can find out all about his ministry, including his early years in Charlotte, at the official library (which is more like a museum) off the Billy Graham Parkway. However, Graham is just the most illustrious of the evangelists who started out here. In 1925, the charismatic minister known as Sweet Daddy Grace moved to Charlotte to found the United House Of Prayer For All People. Today, Charlotte has more of these all-are-welcome congregations than any other city. Several of the local UHOP churches, including the one on S. Mint Street, serve Southern-style lunches to the public. And speaking of evangelists, who could forget Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, glam ministers of the 1980s, who founded Heritage USA on Charlotte’s southern edge? Church services are still held in the old Heritage Grand Hotel, now under the auspices of Morningstar Ministries, another evangelical organization born in Charlotte, and Jim Bakker is one of its preachers.
Ben Long Fresco Trail
Bank of America Corporate Center
100 N. Tryon St.
Charlotte, NC 28202
Ben Long, a UNC-Chapel Hill grad, developed a passion for the nearly extinct art form of painting frescos on wet plaster favored by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and other Renaissance greats. After studying in Italy, he returned to North Carolina where Hugh McColl, then CEO of NationsBank (now Bank of America), became his most prominent patron. Long’s frescos are scattered across western half of the state, with four located in Charlotte, among them the huge three-panel work in the lobby of the Bank of America Corporate Center. Other Long frescos in Charlotte can be found in the lobbies of the Law Enforcement Center (601 E. Trade Street) and the First Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall (200 W. Trade Street), as well as a stunning dome fresco in the entrance arch of Transamerica Square (401 N. Tryon). There was another in St. Peter’s Catholic Church until nearby construction caused it to separate from the wall and shatter.
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2732 Wilkinson Blvd.
Charlotte, NC 28208
In 1947, there were about 100 drive-up Dairy Queens selling the newest treat in post-war America, soft-serve ice cream, invented in about 1940 in Joliet, Illinois. One of those hundred was North Carolina’s first Dairy Queen, located on Wilkinson Boulevard on Charlotte’s west side. The original sign, a two-sided image of the iconic Dairy Queen Eskimo, still tops the art deco building, nominated as a Charlotte historic landmark. The back-to-back rooftop sign is the oldest surviving one of its kind.
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With 15 years of experience covering restaurants in Charlotte and the Carolinas, and two regional guidebooks under her belt, Renee Wright examines the dining scene with enthusiasm plus a deep knowledge of food trends and outstanding local eating ops. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.