Fourth Ward Park is a small park in Uptown Charlotte and the centerpiece of one of the city's most interesting neighborhoods to explore, particularly if you enjoy local history or checking out upscale homes. In the 19th century, this was Charlotte’s most desirable neighborhood, and it’s a great place to see well-preserved Victorian mansions alongside some of the city’ most recent architecture. It’s a popular place to visit during the holiday season when many of the houses are lit up.
According to the Friends of Fourth Ward organization, “For many residents of this historic neighborhood, Fourth Ward Park is their front yard.” The two-acre park includes two fountains, a playground, benches, and birdhouses designed by local artists, and well-kept gardens featuring a variety of ornamental trees. On Sundays in the summer, it hosts a free live music series called “Picnic in the Park.”
In recent years, Fourth Ward has once again become Charlotte’s most desirable neighborhood, and high-rise condominium buildings have sprung up alongside the Victorian mansions. According to the Historic South End organization, “Planners and architects were fastidious with their design of the new buildings, making them compatible with current architecture and surroundings.” When you visit, you can judge for yourself.
A big part of the neighborhood’s appeal is that residents who work in Uptown Charlotte can walk there or to many of the city’s top attractions. That isn’t an accident, but the result of planning that began in the 1970s. Like many upscale urban neighborhoods of the 19th century, Fourth Ward went into decline in the early 20th century as streetcars allowed residents to move out to suburbs such as Dilworth and Myers Park (now neighborhoods within Charlotte). By the 70s Fourth Ward was considered a “bad neighborhood.”
In 1973, Charlotte banker Hugh McColl, Jr. and UNC administrator Dennis Rash had a conversation about what makes a great city. McColl, who would later become CEO of Bank of America, was at the time recruiting professionals from New York and London to his North Carolina National Bank, and thinking about what Charlotte would look like to people who had lived in bigger cities. McColl and Rash agreed that a key quality of a great city is that people can live near where they work. Charlotte didn’t offer that at the time, but they saw potential in Fourth Ward. McColl’s bank and other local banks began offering loans at below-market rates to people and businesses interested in moving there. Harvey Gantt, a city counselor who would later become mayor, got behind the redevelopment plan along with other local leaders.
At this time Charlotte and many other US cities were dealing with controversies involving busing of students and other efforts to address persistent racial segregation. Fourth Ward had the potential to be rebuilt as a truly integrated neighborhood. To set an example, Gantt, who is African American, as well as Mel Watt, another local African American leader who would later become a US Congressman, bought houses next door to Dennis Rash, who was white, and raised their kids as neighbors.
Cover image: James Willamor, CC BY-SA 2.0 via flickr.