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THE first Mecklenburgers, according to historian D. A. Tompkins, "were producers. They believed than any work, so it was faithfully and honestly done, was worth doing, and that manhood was more than wealth. Mecklenburg could have existed comfortably cut off from the rest of the world. That makes a people feel independent . . .
"Nearly every farm had a distillery for turning grain and fruit into whiskey and brandy. These liquors were used freely by all, but it would be a mistake to suppose that people were intemperate. It was cheaper to distil than to buy. Moreover, the distance form the markets, Charleston being the nearest, was so great that it was easier to carry the products . . . in liquid form than in bulk . . ." Whiskey was in almost universal use and was offered on every occasion, whether a wedding, funeral, or chance encounter. According to Tompkins it was served at graveside and church during burial ceremonies.
There were several taverns in Charlotte, providing lodging, meals and all kinds of liquors. Here the men of the community met to discuss politics and to get the news of the outside world from travelers.
Horse racing, shooting matches, and other outdoor sports were diversions for the early settlers.
There were four county courts each year to offer opportunities for trading horses and other social intercourse. But even court meetings were surpassed by the muster, the finest of all back country social and political gatherings. "The military companies were kept in efficient condition for muster day and it grew to be the chief opportunity for the public discussion of political issues," says Tompkins.
For fifty years following the Revolution there was little change in this patterns of home life and recreation in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties. However, by 1830 the results of the mechanization of the cotton industry were being realized. People were in much more comfortable circumstances and a few families had acquired large plantations and numerous slaves. Tompkins writes of this period:
"The average southern plantation contained about 3000 acres and one hundred slaves, and such a one would be equipped with something like 25 plow hands, 25 miscellaneous hands, 50 women and children, 25 mules, 4 horses for family use, 600 hogs, 25 head of cattle, 100 sheep, 10 goats, 15 dogs, chickens, guineas, peacocks, turkeys, geese, and ducks. There would be a blacksmith shop, wheelwright, and other woodworking shops, 25 Negro houses, a grist and flour mill, and a store. Such a plantation would be worth about $100,000, would produce about $10,000 to $20,000 per year, according to the way it was managed."
No phase of life in Mecklenburg during the first half of the nineteenth century is as little understood today as that which had to do with slavery, and the relative position of Negroes following their emancipation. Dr. J. B. Alexander in his History of Mecklenburg County summarizes the situation as it existed about 1850 in a couple of sentences: "Not half a dozen cruel masters in Mecklenburg. A man who was cruel to slaves was tabooed by white people."
Prior to the Civil War provision for Negro slaves was made by all churches by building balconies or, in the absence of a balcony, reserving seats. Miss Orr's History of the First Presbyterian Church of Charlotte notes that on April 8, 1851, "Our Sunday School contains a small class of colored persons, mostly young," and that, "In 1914 the church had its last Negro member." In the burial ground of the same church, the northeast section was reserved for graves of colored servants of lot owners. The same arrangement was in effect at the First Baptist Church of Charlotte where Negroes remained members of the congregation until 1868 when 55 of them were dismissed at their own request to form a separate congregation.
Mention of the kindness with which Negro slaves were usually treated and the genuine affection that white people had for many of them is not to overlook the harsh realities of slavery. It is only natural that any tension that might have existed between the races before the war was intensified when the Negroes became "equal under the law." Even then, however, the matter of educating the Negroes became a serious concern of white people. It is undoubtedly true that the Negro facilities were not equal to those provided for white. Neither were they anything like adequate for the needs, because of an economy impoverished by war.
Through the years, the status of the Negro in Mecklenburg County has, of course, risen phenomenally. A small but significant indication is to be found in the practice of those who publish the Charlotte City Directory. Until 1910 all Negroes were listed in the back of the book, following the listing of white citizens. From 1910 until 1930 Negroes and whites were listed together with a small asterisk being used to denote Negroes. From 1930 until 1951 Negroes were designated by a small "c." Since 1951 no designation of race has been used. Prior to 1940 white and Negro churches were listed separately. Since then they have been listed together. In the field of public entertainment, such a circuses, theatrical attractions, lectures, and concerts, segregated but comfortable space has usually been reserved for Negroes, but this custom is gradually giving way to general seating. As long ago as the early 1920's the internationally known Negro vocalist, Roland Hayes, was greeted at the old Auditorium in Charlotte by a capacity audience which was about equally divided between Charlotte's best known white and Negro citizens.
Quacks, Charlatans, and Other 19th Century Diversions
In 1848 Raymond & Waring's zoological exhibition appeared in Charlotte, "with lions and tigers and a brass band." A Dr. Shannon arrived soon after "to practice and teach 'patheism'" that would cure headache, tooth ache and slight cases of rhumatism free. In 1852 John Vane was in the county teaching people how to detect counterfeit money. Daguerreotype artists often spent several weeks in town and were widely patronized.
Life in Charlotte moved gradually in transition from a village to something approaching the status of a city in the period 1890-1910. Little did the men and women who lived in this era suspect that their moment in history would bring up nostalgic memories of "The Gay Nineties." A writer in the Charlotte Observer for November 7, 1934 says:
"Charlotte society had individual charm in the 'gay 90's.' The old homes bespoke the essence of hospitality and the Christmas season's jollity was climaxed by the elaborate New Year's Day receptions. The list of residents who would be 'at home' was published in the daily paper and Open House lasted form early afternoon until evening." The writer describes some of the at-home celebrations and remembered how "Young bachelors went in small groups from one New Year's party to another. One such group, known as the Stowe Seven, made it a practice for several years to leave cards bearing a group picture of themselves."
The Observer reporter continues: "Brides were blushing, modest, and stayed close to home before the wedding. There were never 20 parties crowded into the week before the big event, but after the wedding trip everybody put 'the big pot in the little pot' and receptions were in order."
There were no country clubs in Charlotte in the Gay Nineties. Dances and other social events were held in the ballroom of the Central Hotel, or other public places. It was the period of gallant gentlemen and wasp-waisted women. One form of gallantry required that a man should protect the wearing apparel of his dancing partner by covering his right hand with a silk handkerchief. From this custom came the favorite bon mot concerning the young lady who, wishing to protect an expensive gown, requested her escort, "Please use your handkerchief." Whereupon this novice in social amenities took out his handkerchief, blew his nose in it, and put it away again. However, it could be that this same crude character might be called upon to help carry his tightly-corseted girl-friend from church on some hot Sunday mornings, for fainting in church was a frequent and ladylike occurrence in those glorious days.
Replacement of horse-drawn street cars by electric trolley cars in 1893 brought Charlotte people their first real release from the "horse and buggy days." Of course, there were a few bicycles before that time but they were mostly those with a huge front wheel and tiny back wheel. The new "safety bikes" became plentiful in this section about the time the electric cars replaced horsepower. The popularity of the bicycle in Charlotte and vicinity induced G. V. Keller to remove his Relay Manufacturing Company from Reading, Pennsylvania to Charlotte where the manufacture of bicycles was continued for some time.
In the 1890's a popular quarter-mile bicycle track was located on South Mint Street where annual bicycle races were held. There was another track, one-third of a mile in length, near the intersection of East Boulevard and Avondale Avenue. This was used by the Charlotte Fair Association for horse races for several years.
County fairs have had checkered careers in Mecklenburg County. The first one of which there is a record was held in Charlotte by the Mecklenburg Agricultural Society in October 1855. In the fall of 1871 the first Fair of the Carolinas was held in Charlotte for five days, with $10,000 in prizes offered for 17 categories of competition. All five railroads leading into Charlotte offered to return exhibits free if shipped to the fair via their lines at regular rates.
In 1902 the Mecklenburg County Fair Association was formed. The grounds were located southeast of Latta Park, and included a main exhibition hall, midway, grandstand, race track, livestock barns, poultry and agricultural houses, baseball grounds, and parade grounds. The buildings and grounds were lighted by electricity. Held in October of each year, the fair drew crowds from both North and South Carolina. Many features of the mammoth 20th of May Celebration held in 1906 were held at the fair grounds.
In 1939 Dr. J. S. Dorton, owner of the very successful Cleveland County Fair, formed the Southern States Fair which held its annual exhibit in Charlotte that year. The new fair grounds covered nearly 100 acres, with race track, grandstand, and several buildings and a sizeable lake. The property was located beyond the city limits on the eastern edge of Charlotte. No one then thought it would become a part of the city within the foreseeable future. That it did, however, when the limits were extended December 31, 1959. As the nineteenth successful annual fair concluded on Friday, October 17, 1959 Dr. Dorton announced the permanent closing of the fair and said: "We are proud that Charlotte is the fastest growing city in the South, but when we purchased the fair ground even the most enthusiastic booster of the Queen City would not have predicted we would be inside the city limits in 19 years and subject to city as well as county taxes." He also pointed out that the gradual, but very real, decline of agriculture in Mecklenburg and the competition of major mass attractions in and around Charlotte were contributing factors to his decision.
On November 30, 1900 Osmond L. Barringer unloaded in Charlotte the first carload of automobiles ever shipped to a southern state.
This shipment consisted of two steam-driven Locomobiles, one of which he kept for his own use and the other he sold to Dr. C. G. McManaway, prominent Charlotte physician. There were a number of steam cars developed in the next few years and some were sold in Charlotte, but in the face of competition from the more flexible gasoline cars, they simmered down to two, the White Steamer and the Stanley Steamer, and these two soon ceased production.
In 1902 Mr. Barringer received a shipment of two single-cylinder Oldsmobile roadsters, one of which he retained and the other he sold to a resident of Spartanburg. In attempting the sale of this car he had to meet competition from electric driven cars which were then gaining in popularity about as fast as the steam-driven cars were losing out. However, the electric cars, while convenient for city travel, failed to compete successfully with the gasoline engine though there were quite a number on Charlotte streets for some years.
Nineteen hundred and four, the year automobiles were first listed in the Charlotte City Directory, was the beginning of mass production of automobiles when Oldsmobile produced 2100 cars, Ford 1708, Cadillac 1698, Packard 192, and Buick, just beginning, 37.
For a quarter of a century before World War I the male members of the Wearn family were Charlotte sports leaders. With others, they were known originally as the "Wearn nine." Later, because of their continued interest in the sport, the old park on South Mint Street was called Wearn Field (later known as Robbie Field for Wilbert Robinson, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and still later as Hayman Park for Felix Hayman, another local baseball fan and sponsor).
The first professional baseball team was formed in 1902 when Charlotte became a member of the Carolina League with Eddie Ashenback as manager. Minor league baseball was then in its infancy and the league folded before the close of the season. Baseball came back to Charlotte in 1908 when Dave Cross's Hornets won the Carolina Association pennant. This association was a casualty of World War I in 1917. But thanks to the courage of Felix Hayman and W. M. (Bud) Moore, Charlotte again had a team in 1919. Baseball has been a favorite spectator sport and recreation ever since, though there have been a number of changes in name, ownership and alignment of cities represented.
School and College Athletics
Organized athletics began in Charlotte Public Schools in 1914 when Marvin L. Ritch, a young attorney, became the volunteer coach for the first high school football team. It was not until 1920, when Ritch's team had won two state championships, that the Board of Education provided funds for the first paid athletic director. Thereafter, interest in football dominated school sports, but baseball, basketball, and track teams came into considerable popularity, and each had its participants and followers.
The story of basketball in Charlotte was somewhat different since it was played here many years earlier than in other sections of the South, by local school teams. It was introduced in Charlotte in 1896 by F. C. Abbott, recently arrived from Massachusetts, where he had learned the game from its originator. Through Mr. Abbott, basketball became a favorite game with adult members of the Charlotte Y.M.C.A. some twenty years before its adoption by local school teams.
College football came to Charlotte in 1936 upon completion of Memorial Stadium. The first game in the stadium, however, was lost by the Wildcats of Central High School to the team from Barium Springs Orphanage, score 12-6. The stadium was dedicated the following day, September 26, 1936, as a crowd of 12,000 turned out to see the University of North Carolina eleven defeat Wake Forest, 14-7.
The largest crowds to assemble in Memorial Stadium each year are those which come to witness the Shrine Football Classic, originated in 1936, played between picked players from North Carolina and South Carolina high schools, and played for the benefit of the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children at Greenville, South Carolina.
The Charlotte Country Club was incorporated in 1910 as the Mecklenburg Country Club but changed its name to the Charlotte Country Club in 1917. In its 50 year history its presidents have been: Arthur J. Draper (1910-1914); John M. Morehead (1914-1915); Clarence B. Bryant (1915-1919); William States Lee (1919-1921); Thomas C. Guthrie, Sr. (1921-1924); Howard M. Wade (1924-1938); Claude A. Cochrane (1939-1941); H. T. Cosby (1942-1946); S. W. Cramer, Jr. (1947-1948); Louis H. Rose (1948-1949); Ross Puette (1950-1952); John C. Ervin (1952-1955); C. P. Street (1955-1960); E. M. O'Herron, Jr. (1961-to date).
The club has one of the finest 18 hole golf courses in the country, a swimming pool, tennis and squash courts, and a modern, beautifully furnished clubhouse.
The Myers Park Country Club was formed in 1921 at the site of the Horner Military Academy. Those chiefly instrumental in forming the club were W. E. Thomas, J. P. Quarles, H. C. Sherrill, W. B. Huntington, and W. F. McAfee. Its presidents have been: John L. Dabbs (1921); William States Lee (1922); Charles Raven Brockmann (1922-1924); George W. Paterson (1925-1926); Dr. Joseph A. Elliott (1927-1930); Herman D. Horton (1931); C. L. Brookshire (1932); C. M. Westbrook (1933-1934); J. A. Mayo (1935-1942); Herbert Hill Baxter (1943-1948); H. H. Everett (1949-1952); Paul R. Ervin (1953); Hugh Puckett (1954); Arthur P. Harris (1958); Peter Stuart Gilchrist (1959); L. D. Brooks (1960).
From 1923 until 1947 the Myers Park Country Club was under the management of Ramsey W. Dulin to whom most of the credit is due for bringing this club from a small, informal undertaking to one of the largest and finest institutions of its kind in the South.
Other Country Clubs
With the rapid growth of Charlotte following World War II other country clubs were organized, including Amity Country Club, Carmel Country Club, and Sharonview Country Club. At the same time several commercial golf courses were built to supplement the municipally owned and country club courses. Among these were the Carolina Golf Club and Eastwood Golf Club.
Young Men's Christian Association
Formation of the Young Men's Christian Association in Charlotte was largely due to the efforts of George B. Hanna, who came to Charlotte as assayer for the United States Mint, having formerly been a professor at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. His enthusiasm for the Y.M.C.A. in his former home encouraged him to interest several young men in Charlotte in forming a local association, the organization meeting of which was held November 11, 1874.
Mr. Hanna became the first president of the local association and served in that capacity for 30 years.
Prior to 1888 the association occupied rented space in several locations. In the spring of that year a new building at 206 South Tryon Street was dedicated for the principal use of the association. This building was occupied until November 1, 1908 when the building at 330 South Tryon Street was dedicated. With additions in 1916 and 1922 this second building served until May 28, 1960 when the new $2,500,000 plant on East Morehead Street was formally dedicated and occupied.
The Charlotte association was the first in North Carolina to engage a full time general secretary, a physical director, a boys' work director, and also first to promote educational work with an opening session which began in 1887, the first gymnasium in Charlotte and the first swimming pool.
During the administration of Francis O. Clarkson as president in the 1930's the Second Street Branch of the Y.M.C.A. for Negroes was organized and in 1947 the North Charlotte Branch was formed. Because of Charlotte's central location and great interest in Y.M.C.A. affairs, the city was selected as headquarters for the Interstate Young Men's Christian Association, composed of associations from North and South Carolina.
Upon moving into the new building on Morehead Street, the Charlotte association had upward of 8000 adult and junior members. Officers and directors who were responsible for conceiving and carrying out the enormous task of providing the new facility include: George M. Ivey, Sr., president; James J. Harris, vice president; James G. Cannon, vice president; Morgan B. Speir, Jr., secretary; G. Douglas Aitken, treasurer; George E. Simmons, general secretary; Edwin L. Jones, W. Frank Dowd, William H. Barnhardt, Richard E. Thigpen, H. F. Kincey, Guy T. Carswell, Beaumert Whitton, and many others.
Young Women's Christian Association
The Charlotte Young Women's Christian Association was organized in 1902 by the Woman's Club, and Mrs. Walter S. Liddell became president. The idea was to open a boarding department for young women away from home.
In 1904 a building provided space for 35 girls and was equipped with furniture which had been donated by townspeople. In the same year, Miss Grace A. Aldrich became the first paid secretary of the association.
Following removal to its present location in 1914, the Y.W.C.A. began growing in all directions. The Phyllis Wheatley Branch for Negroes, one of the oldest of its kind in the United States, was opened in 1918, and in 1921 a swimming pool was added to the plant of the Central Association. As of 1960 the Central Y.W.C.A. has 1,431 adult members, 944 junior members, 72 dormitory occupants and a trained staff of eight professionals and six clerical workers. Phyllis Wheatley Branch has 1449 adult members, 276 junior members, 7,081 coed teen-age participants (no dormitory) and a trained staff of three professionals and two clerical workers.
Among those who gave the Charlotte Y.W.C.A. its initial impetus and saw it through the formative years were Mesdames F. C. Abbott, M. A. Bland, B. D. Heath, J. A. Durham, Hugh A. Murrill, A. M. Spong, George F. Rutzler, Brevard D. Springs, Luke Sewell, C. C. Hook, C. N. G. Butt, W. O. Nisbet, Heriot Clarkson, A. H. Washburn, Miss Lily Long, Dr. Annie L. Alexander, Miss Lida Caldwell, Miss Edith Catherine Fry, Miss Nancy Anderson, and many others.
Barbecues date from very early days but, until recently, they were for pleasure, not profit. The oldest hereabouts began at Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church in 1929 when the idea originated after Dr. W. H. Frazer rewarded his Sunday School class with a barbecue. From this occasion the men of the church conceived the idea of raising money by means of an annual barbecue. For those who can't wait from one sponsored barbecue to another there are year-round barbecue restaurants to be found on almost every highway.
In response to a heavy sentiment, the 1927 legislature created the Charlotte Park and Recreation Commission of seven members. The same act authorized an election giving the citizens an opportunity to vote a special tax levy for the support of the new program, an election which resulted in a levy of two cents on the $100 property valuation. Prior to enactment of this legislation the parks of the city were under the supervision of the Parks and Tree Commission, a group seriously handicapped by lack of funds.
The newly formed Charlotte Park and Recreation Commission found itself in control of 143 acres of land assigned for park purposes and shown on maps as Independence Park, Latta Park, Cordelia Park, Colonial Park and Morgan Park.
In the light of 1960's 700 acres, superior equipment and adequate personnel, the initial holdings of the Park and Recreation Commission seem puny, but in comparison with most towns in the South, they were extensive. They proved the same foresight that led earlier inhabitants to plan Trade and Tryon Streets as wide thoroughfares, somewhat later South and East Boulevards, equally as wide, and even later Queens Road and other spacious roadways in Myers Park. Charlotte has been more fortunate than most of her sister cities in this respect.
Very shortly after assuming office the Park and Recreation Commission received from E. C. Griffith, 16 acres for Bryant Park, and from F. C. Abbott, W. T. Shore, T. C. Wilson, and Osmond L. Barringer some 240 acres for Revolution Park. During the depression, E. C. Griffith donated property for Eastover Park, and the American War Mothers were encouraging the movement for the beautiful Rose Garden, bounded by Independence Boulevard, Insurance Lane, and Sunnyside Avenue. Memorial Stadium followed in 1937, and the Municipal Swimming Pool in 1938. A major facility was added in 1948 when Freedom Park was opened. In June 1949 the people endorsed the efforts of the Commission by voting overwhelmingly for $1,000,000 in capital improvement bonds, and increasing the tax levy to 6 cents for 1949, 7 cents for 1950, and 8 cents for 1951 and succeeding years.
With the increase in available funds and revenue, the current program of the Commission includes seven recreational centers, 36 parks and playgrounds; 47 tennis courts; 18 baseball diamonds; 31 softball diamonds. Among the many other responsibilities of the Park and Recreation Commission are Park Center, Memorial Stadium, municipal swimming pools for white people and Negroes, and the many picnic areas throughout the park system.
The future of recreation, planned and unplanned, in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County is bright. With the added support of the people of the county the accomplishments of the past in the city may be duplicated through the rural sections. The five incorporated towns will undoubtedly follow suit to the end that both the City of Charlotte and County of Mecklenburg may boast of one of the finest recreational programs in America.
Blythe, LeGette and Brockmann, Charles Raven. Hornets’ Nest: The Story of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Charlotte, N.C.: Public Library of Mecklenburg County, 1961.