Charlotte neighborhoods have plenty of stories to tell, and during a month of City Walks hundreds of participants heard some of them. See photo slideshow at end of article.
The secret inscription on a statue of an almost forgotten Charlotte heroine. A teacher who gave her life in 1931 trying to save a student. The twin owners of a NoDa burger joint, memorialized in a mural. And the four, count ’em, four different kinds of baklava at an east Charlotte bakery.
We know Charlotte’s neighborhoods have plenty of stories to tell, and hundreds of people who came along on a month of City Walks learned some of those stories.
PlanCharlotte partnered with seven other local organizations to organize 21 walks through Charlotte neighborhoods, starting in April with a history walk through the Elizabeth neighborhood and ending May 29 with a bike ride along the Rail Trail that flanks the city’s light rail tracks. In between, the walks took place in a diverse collection of neighborhoods, among people of differing ages, backgrounds and ethnicities. We attended almost all of those walks, learning alongside the other participants. Some of the things we learned were about historic tidbits, now-demolished landmarks or neighborhood art works you might miss driving by.
But we also learned how much enthusiasm some newcomers to Charlotte have for learning about this city they now call home. We met a retired couple who moved from New Jersey to Mount Holly who attended almost every walk. On a walk through Dilworth neighborhood Mary met a newcomer from suburban Chicago, and a few days later, on a walk through the Elizabeth neighborhood she met a couple from suburban Chicago who turned out to be his parents.
Of course some of the walk participants were long-time residents who could add personal stories along the way. They, too, made the experience more powerful.
“Cities aren't structures; cities are people.” — Edward Glaeser, economist and author
We and the walk participants made some interesting connections simply by meeting people and chatting informally during the walks. That’s one important but sometimes overlooked benefit of activities like the City Walks: enriching out field of acquaintances and helping us feel more rooted in the place where they live. And that has value beyond just social networking.
As economist Edward Glaeser wrote in his 201 book, The Triumph of the City, it’s the proximity to other people, a characteristic of dense cities, that spurs innovations—an important component for a healthy economy. “Cities … are proximity, density, closeness,” Glaeser writes. “… For centuries innovations have spread from person to person across crowded city streets … and urban density has long been at the heart of that process.”
Glaeser’s observation sums up what we observed during a month of City Walks: “Cities aren’t structures; cities are people.”
About that secret inscription? It says “Women Rule” and it’s on the folded umbrella Jane Renwick Smedberg Wilkes holds in the Trail of History sculpture of her at East Morehead Street and Harding Place near the Little Sugar Creek Greenway. Wilkes is the largely forgotten woman who helped found Charlotte’s first hospital. The artist was Wendy M. Ross of Bethesda, Md.
The teacher who gave her life was Lillian Arhelger, “who met death in a heroic attempt to rescue a child from Glen Burnie Falls, Blowing Rock, North Carolina,” according to the plaque at the Lillian Arhelger Memorial in Independence Park, beside Hawthorne Lane near Seventh Street. She died June 10, 1931, trying to save 10-year-old Virginia Baxter, who slipped on the slick bank and fell over the falls. Lillian Arhelger went in after her and slipped over the falls too. She was a physical education teacher at Central High School. Virginia landed in some sand and lived. Lillian Arhelger did not. Students went door to door to raise money for the memorial. (Virginia’s father, H.H. Baxter, went on to be mayor of Charlotte.)
The twin brothers, painted into the Will Puckett mural of NoDa denizens on the side of Jack Beagles, are David and Scott Brooks, longtime owners of Brooks Sandwich House on North Brevard Street near North Davidson Street.
The four kinds of baklava: At Golden Bakery, North Sharon Amity Road near Albemarle Road. The four are pistachio, almond, walnut and cashew. After careful research we can report that all are delicious.
City Walks kicked off April 22 with a walk through the Elizabeth neighborhood in partnership with the Charlotte Museum of History. Shown here is the Visulite, a former movie theater on Elizabeth Avenue that's now a music venue. Photo: Mary Newsom
Rain brought out umbrellas on the April 22 walk through the Elizabeth neighborhood in Charlotte. Pointing to the left and wearing a blue shirt is walk leader Nancy Albert. In the background is the Lillian Arhelger Memorial and waterfall in Independence Park. Photo: Kris J. Solow
Nancy Albert describes historic sites in Charlotte's Elizabeth neighborhood during the April 22 walk. Photo: Kris J. Solow
Walk leader Greg Jarrell, at right, on the Enderly Park walk April 30. Photo: Claire Apaliski
Walk leader Matt Lemere, in overalls, leads a group through the NoDa neighborhood on May 7, co-sponsored with the Charlotte Museum of History. Photo: Claire Apaliski
NoDa walk leader Michele Lemere, left, outside the restored Highland Mill in Charlotte with new apartment construction in the background alongside the under-construction light rail tracks. Two NoDa walks took place May 7 in partnership with the Charlotte Museum of History. Photo: Claire Apaliski
Inside NoDa's restored Highland Mill, with walk leader Eric Hoenes, in black. Photo: Mary Newsom
A mural on the side of Jack Beagles in NoDa, by Will Puckett, depicts many people who have lived or worked in the Charlotte neighborhood. The May 7 NoDa walk was co-sponsored with the Charlotte Museum of History. Photo: Mary Newsom
Historian Tom Hanchett, in navy shirt, helps lead a May 7 walk in Historic West End near Johnson C. Smith University. The walk was in partnership with Mecklenburg Ministries' We Walk Together initiative. Photo: Claire Apaliski
Mural artist Jamil Steele, in straw hat, at mural on Beatties Ford Road near Johnson C. Smith University during May 7 City Walk co-sponsored with Mecklenburg Ministries' We Walk Together initiative. Artist DeVaughn Johnson is in baseball cap. Photo: Claire Apaliski
Brian Yesowitch of Temple Beth El, at center holding microphone, at the Hebrew Cemetery during a May 8 walk co-sponsored with Mecklenburg Ministries' We Walk Together initiative. Photo: Claire Apaliski
Brian Yesowitch of Temple Beth El shows a monument erected in 2001 in the Hebrew Cemetery on Statesville Avenue. The monument, put up by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, honors Jewish men of Charlotte who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Photo: Claire Apaliski
Not all the walk attendees were two-legged. This cheerful pup joined the May 13 walk through the Dilworth neighborhood, co-sponsored with the Charlotte Museum of History. Photo: Mary Newsom
A lenticular vinyl image adhered to a fence along Pecan Avenue in Charlotte’s Elizabeth neighborhood. The image is by Graham Carew. Students from Central Piedmont Community College helped print the vinyl. A second walk through Elizabeth, also led by Nancy Albert, took place May 14. Photo: Mary Newsom
Participants in a May 15 walk from Little Rock AME Zion Church in First Ward to St. Paul Baptist Church in the Belmont neighborhood and back, co-sponsored with Mecklenburg Ministries' We Walk Together initiative. Photo: Tom Hanchett
Participants in a City Walk along Charlotte's Little Sugar Creek Greenway on May 21. The group learned about the greenway's design, and how it was built both as a transportation corridor and as a storm water treatment and flood mitigation project. Walk leaders were Gwen Cook, front row in red shirt, and Beth Poovey, in green cap left of Cook. Photo: Mary Newsom
A participant on the May 21 Little Sugar Creek Greenway walk listens to the creek's waters. Landscape architect Beth Poovey described how stone "riffles" in the creek were deliberately placed where pedestrians could be near the water and hear water burbling. Photo: Mary Newsom
Tobe Holmes of University City Partners, second from left, talks about University City-area development planned for the new light rail station areas on a May 21 City Walk. Photo: Claire Apaliski
On the May 21 City Walk in University City, participants could see construction of a tunnel under North Tryon Street where the Blue Line Extension will run to the UNC Charlotte campus. Photo: Claire Apaliski
Attendees at the Walk on the West Side on May 21 got a look at the Revolution Park neighborhood's community garden beside Irwin Creek. Photo: John Howard
John Boyer, president of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, center left, holding folder, directs attention to the soon-to-be-demolished Charlotte Observer building at South Tryon and Stonewall streets. Boyer's May 24 City Walk highlighted mid-century Modern architecture uptown. Photo: Mary Newsom
Bechtler Museum of Modern Art President John Boyer, pointing up, calls attention to various buildings along South Tryon Street during a May 24 architecture tour of uptown Charlotte. The Bechtler co-sponsored the City Walk. Photo: Mary Newsom
Maria David, left, who led the Retro Uptown walk May 28,with attendee Shelley Welton. Photo: Richard Albrough
UNC Charlotte researcher Katie Zager, left, on a May 29 bike tour of the Rail Trail through South End. The ride also touched on the route of the Blue Line Extension through the Optimist Park, Belmont and Villa Heights neighborhoods. In South End, which is seeing booming apartment development, the group discussed urban design issues. Photo: Paul Benton