Unearth the mysteries of Charlotte’s oldest known map


Librarian Shelia Bumgarner got the call in the spring of 2021. A longtime Charlottean wanted to donate an old map. It turned out to be an unexpected treasure, a hand-inked sheet measuring 4 by 5 feet drawn in 1855. Nicknamed the Harris Map, it is the oldest known detailed map of Charlotte. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Bumgarner says.

That’s quite a statement coming from the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. One of the best local history collections in the Southeast, it has 84,607 volumes on the region’s history and culture. This is in addition to thousands of one-of-a-kind archival items and genealogy resources that help users trace the history of families around the world.

John O’Connor, the manager of the Carolina Room, sent the map to ECS Conservation, a nationally recognized Greensboro specialist. Experts painstakingly removed a masonite backing, cleaned off the varnish as well as nicotine residue from generations of cigarette smoke, and reattached crumbling fragments. The map now rests in its own custom archival box.

Meanwhile, Dr. Tom Cole, another Carolina Room librarian, rummaged through the newspaper archives. What was it, exactly?

Mansion House (orange rectangle in center), on South Tryon Street, was Charlotte’s main hotel for decades.

Detail of the K3a8345 board

House of Zebulon Vance, elected governor in 1862.

He discovered a city treasurer’s report in an 1856 Charlotte Democrat newspaper. It mentioned the payment to “James Parks for making the plan of the city in 1855: $26.62” (about $900 today). Parks, the county surveyor, drew the map for the use of tax collector Samuel A. Harris, hence the name “Harris Map”.

The map displays a grid of straight streets inside what is now the Interstate 277 loop. It ends near McDowell Street (then Boundary Street) to the east, Morehead Street to the south, Graham Street to the west and 10th Street to the north. “You can see,” Bumgarner said, “what a little place Charlotte was then.”

Detail of the K3a8341 card

The map illustrates how city officials often changed street names as Charlotte grew in the years following the Civil War.

The map divides each block into building lots, numbered for tax record keeping. Trade and Tryon streets intersect in the center and then, as today, in the heart of the city. The map shows only a few key structures. A brick-colored rectangle in the first block of South Tryon catches my eye, roughly where Eddie V’s Prime Seafood currently stands. “Mansion House,” the label says.

“That,” Bumgarner explains, “was Charlotte’s main hotel for decades.”

Parallel to Tryon Street, the Charlotte & South Carolina Railroad ascends from the south, while the North Carolina Railroad descends from the north. Today, the LYNX blue line runs on this route. In the 1850s, these two railroads changed Charlotte’s trajectory. When they connected this small town to the outside world, we became the commercial center of this part of the Carolinas. The growth took off and never stopped.

Follow the lanes to Sixth Street to find a house labeled “Gov. ZB Vance. That would be Zebulon Vance, elected governor in 1862. After the Civil War he became a lawyer – based in Charlotte, due to its good rail connections – before leaving in the 1870s for other politics. adventures.

Look west on Trade Street. You will see the First Presbyterian Church and the adjacent Old Settlers Cemetery, still standing today. A block away is the US Mint. Opened in 1837, it was the first branch outside of the main facility in Philadelphia, built here to process gold mined from the Carolina hills. The Federal Courthouse stands on this site today, and the building moved to Randolph Road and became the Mint Museum of Art.

Detail of the K3a8337 card

First Presbyterian Church (below) next to the Old Settlers Cemetery; both stay. One block away is the former US Mint building, opened in 1837 and now the federal courthouse.

The Harris map was a “living document”, updated as Charlotte changed. Large letters mark the four neighborhoods of what is now downtown. These were electoral districts, which did not exist when the map was first drawn. In 1869, when the authorities created them, the city needed more than one urn.

Street names are a fascinating aspect of the Harris map. Recently, Charlotte’s Legacy Commission, appointed by Mayor Vi Lyles, took on renaming streets that honored Confederate military leaders. This raised the ire of some people who assume that the current names have always existed. It’s not, proves the Harris map.

Look closely at Stonewall, Hill, and Vance Streets, named after Confederate Generals Stonewall Jackson and DH Hill, as well as Governor Vance. The capital lettering clearly differs from the old First and Second streets. Carolina Room’s research has determined the date all three were named: June 26, 1869.

The Harris Map may be viewable online as you read this. A new web portal, vault.cmlibrary.org, is expected to debut this month. In June, O’Connor says the map will be front and center when the Carolina Room’s digitization lab begins operating in late summer. It is part of off-site quarters, not open to the public, in the newly constructed Library Administration Center on Eastway Drive.

The old Main Library is set to be demolished, with a sleek, modern facility set to open on its downtown site in 2025. A new Carolina Hall will accommodate scholars.

Tom Hanchett, local historian since 1981, is the author of Sorting the New South City: Race, Class, and Urban Development in Charlotte. Follow him on Twitter at @historysud.

> The new Main Library project has temporarily closed the Carolina Room to the public. But its librarians accept research questions by phone or email: [email protected],


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