Known as the Queen City, Charlotte is a city with a rich, storied past. For an afternoon with plenty of adventure, check out the top historical sites to put on your North Carolina sights list.
With nearly 900,000 residents, Charlotte is the largest city and with that comes plenty of historic tourist attractions. Here’s a look at some of the best places for reliving the local history, in no particular order:
Built on a former plantation dating back to the early 1800s, Freedom Park is one of the area’s most popular sites. The park opened at the end of WWII as a memorial to veterans.
Spanning almost 100 acres, the park now features a lake, walking trails, playgrounds, tennis courts, bike trails, park concerts, performances, and so much more. It’s also home to the Charlotte Museum of History and Nature Museum featuring many interactive exhibits. With so much to do, Freedom Park is the perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon.
James K Polk Memorial & Museum
The site is open to the public and is a great look into the life of Polk and his family. Located in the Pineville area of Charlotte, the James K. Polk Historic Site sits on 21 acres from the original homesite. Serving as the 11th president of the United States, Polk is one of the area’s most famous residents.
The site is a representation of what life was like on the Polk farm during the 18th and 19th centuries. The Main Cabin has been reconstructed to represent its early 1790s structure, and a representation of the Kitchen Cabin stands nearby.
A museum with artifacts from President Polk’s life includes a look at his rise to fame through politics and a glimpse into the Mexican-American War.
Hezekiah Alexander Homesite
This four-story, 5,000-square-foot Rock House was built in 1774 by General Hezekiah Alexander who helped draft North Carolina’s first Constitution. Standing now as the oldest house in Charlotte, the home remained in the Alexander family until 1892 when it was donated to the city as a historical site.
Today, this small plantation-style Rock House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. At the homesite, you’ll explore all levels of the historic home. It features period-style furniture and artifacts showing that people have been on the land for thousands of years.
Throughout the sites’ grounds, lush gardens, and expansive lawns, you get a glimpse into what daily life was like during that time period. With five structures to explore and expansive gardens, you will definitely see what 18th Century life was like.
Reed Gold Mine
Reed Gold Mine is just a short drive from Charlotte and is where America’s first gold rush began. The discovery of a 17-pound gold nugget in 1799 set off a wave of gold fever that lasted for decades.
Visitors can go underground to tour the mine shaft tunnels. While there, try panning for gold, and explore the museum to learn about gold mining history. Open to the public, the many walking trails, picnic areas, and informational sites around the expansive grounds will have visitors touring what life was like in the 1800s.
This square is where the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was signed in 1775, making it one of the most important Revolutionary War sites. It’s the site of the first public library in North Carolina and also served as a hospital for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.
Today, there are plenty of restaurants and shops to explore, as well as a playground and fountain for kids. Independence Square is also home to a number of historical landmarks, including the Liberty Bell replica and the Harriet Tubman statue.
Levine Museum of the New South
This museum is dedicated to telling the story of the New South, which encompasses the post-Civil War period up to present day. Through exhibits, artifacts, and first-person accounts, the facility brings this period of history to life.
The Levine Museum of the New South does an excellent job of showcasing Charlotte’s role during this period of American history through interactive exhibitions and programs. The museum also addresses the topic of race relations in the South.
North Carolina Transportation Museum
If you’re in Charlotte for more than a day, this is a terrific day trip for anyone interested in trains and local history. You can take a tour, learn about transportation in North Carolina, and if you’re feeling adventurous, hop aboard one of the vintage trains for a unique rail excursion.
Trains generally operate on weekends and holidays from April through October but be sure to check the schedule in advance. And if you happen to be exploring Charlotte during the November and December Holidays, the museum has many special holiday events, tours, and train rides. Hint: The Polar Express excursion is an all time favorite! .
The Mint Museum
The Mint Museum is a great place to learn about the history of money and how it is made. The first mint facility was built in Philadelphia but relocated in 1837 to Charlotte where the gold eagles were minted on April 3, 1838.
The museum is home to permanent exhibits on the history of money, medals, and numismatics. It also houses an impressive collection of pottery and art from around the world, as well as exhibitions on topics like fashion and design. The museum is open to the public and is a must-visit spot for those that love art, history, or both.
Historic Fourth Ward
If you’re looking for a taste of Charlotte history, look no further than the Historic Fourth Ward. This charming neighborhood is full of historical homes and buildings dating back to the city’s founding in 1768.
As the city grew and developed in the nineteenth century, wealthy merchants and professionals built stately homes along North Tryon and South Church Streets. For districting purposes, this area eventually became known as the “Fourth Ward” in 1852.
Today, Fourth Ward is on the National Register of Historic Places and is vibrant with a mix of shops, restaurants, office buildings, and, of course, historic homes. This historic neighborhood is home to several museums and within walking distance to Uptown Charlotte.
Billy Graham Library & Homesite
The Billy Graham Library is housed in a 40,000-square-foot building that was once part of the original dairy farm owned by Reverend Billy Graham’s parents. The farmhouse has been restored to look as it did when the Graham family lived there in the 1920s and 1930s.
You can view memorabilia from Billy Graham’s 50+ years in ministry, watch videos of some of his most famous crusades, and learn more about his incredible life story. The main gallery of the library contains exhibits on different aspects of Reverend Billy Graham’s life and work.
If visiting Charlotte during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, this is one stop you don’t want to miss. Horse-drawn carriage rides, storytelling, Christmas caroling, and an impressive light display are certain to put you in the Christmas mood.
Rosedale Plantation (aka Frew’s Folly)
When you walk through the front door of Rosedale Plantation, you’re transported back to antebellum history. What began as a cotton plantation is now an urban oasis brimming with tales from the generations of those who lived and worked at the plantation.
The elaborate lifestyle of the plantation owner, Archibald Frew, a Charlotte postmaster and tax collector, is found on every floor of the restored 1815 homesite. A visit to the recreated blacksmith shop shows the importance of early plantation ironworks. The Rosedale grounds feature the Big Tree museum and countless native plants. And you may even spot a peacock or two!
Special events at Rosedale and guided tours of this 1815 Federal Style house are available through ticket purchases. For a paranormal experience, take part in the haunted history tour for tales of past residents who have chosen to remain behind.
As you can see, there’s much more to Charlotte, North Carolina than meets the eye. From plantations to libraries to museums and more, there are countless sites to explore in this vibrant city. So if you’re looking for some Charlotte adventures, be sure to add these historical places to your itinerary.