The National Register of Historic Places: North Charlotte

Did you know that NoDa is built on the Nationally Registered Historic District of North Charlotte? While you can find textile mills all over the South, the mill villages of North Charlotte are a unique relic that makes NoDa’s streets and homes feel quite different than anywhere else. As NoDa continues to change, we hope to point out the history that has been lost, and highlight the many forms of preservation that have taken place. We would like to hear your renovation story and ideas for how we can show off our awesome historic ‘hood.

Q: What is the North Charlotte Historic District?
A: In 1990, the North Charlotte Historic District was accepted into the National Register of Historic Places, a federal designation by the National Parks Service. The 1989 application painstakingly lists 438 contributing structures, including NoDa’s downtown core, the mills, and, most notably, the Villages of Highland Park and Mecklenburg Mill. The application lists every address, notes the form and details of each house, and grades the structures’ historic significance at the time. In 1989, 66 percent of the North Charlotte Historic District was historically significant dating from 1900-1906.

Q: Is my house listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and what does that mean?
A: The 438 structures comprise a district, so each individual house is not a historic structure, but rather the grouping and significance of the houses together on these streets are. Certain houses and buildings within the district may have their own covenants and protection, but the Mecklenburg and Highland Mill Villages are unique because they were built by the textile mills to demonstrate a model of a working mill village. Stuart Cramer literally wrote the book on how to design a working mill and village in 1904 North Charlotte. “Useful Information for Cotton Manufacturers” dedicates much of Volume 3 to Highland Park Mill and Village.

Q: What are the boundaries of the Highland Park Mill Village?
A: The front of Highland Park Mill #3 faced the railroad, and the workers’ village opened out from the back door (on what is now N. Davidson Street) all the way to Spencer Avenue, and from Charles Avenue to 35th Street. Remember, automobiles were not yet commonplace when Cramer designed the village, and many of the workers were newly transplanted from rural Appalachia. A walkable village with access to goods and services provided an insulated community.

Q: Where is Mecklenburg Mill Village?
A: Immediately following the progress of Highland, the Mecklenburg Mill and Village began work on the other side of (what is now) 36th Street. Again, the Mecklenburg Mill faced the railroads and a village was constructed from the back door along (what is now) Mercury, 37th, and Herrin to Spencer Avenue. Unlike Highland, Mecklenburg Village is not accompanied by maps and books published at the time, and is significantly harder to imagine a century ago. The recordkeeping is spotty for this era of the village too: In 1905 this land was just outside the boundary of the City of Charlotte, and as a result the Mecklenburg Mill was simply building cabins in its backyard for the workers. It wasn’t until 1926 that Charlotte expanded and the first instances of private ownership of the houses were recorded. Even today, the build dates of the Mecklenburg Mill houses are listed as 1926, but there is no question the first houses here were built in 1905.

Q: How have the villages changed over the years and are they still historically significant?
A: There’s no question that both villages have changed, for the better and worse. In 1989, interest in NoDa and North Charlotte was growing, and the dedication of a very small neighborhood association and a few invested landowners and historians gave us an invaluable tool to measure that change today. You can walk the same village streets and compare the form of each house to 1989; original rooflines and porches have been modernized but the shape and orientation of these features are still visible to a trained eye. Many of the original mill houses were not built to last 120 years, but homeowners, architects, and builders have done commendable work to preserve the feeling of the historic villages.

Q: How can I find out more about my historic house and share my story?
A: This year, we will be focusing a lot of time and effort to build awareness of the Mill District. We will be looking to reinforce the unique history all around us, and that includes you and your house. Have you been through a renovation and peeled back the layers of history? Do you know who lived in your house before you? Does the 1989 list answer the question we all have about our very old homes: “What the heck were they thinking here?”

If you have photos or stories to share about your mill house, please get in touch and contribute. Perhaps in 30 years we can provide an archive to inform the next generation of NoDa and North Charlotte.