Mill District

Reinventing History

A century ago, textile mills transformed Charlotte from a small trading and agrarian town into an integral part of the New South economy and culture. Between 1880 and 1940, Charlotte’s population increased from a modest 8,000 to over 100,000. During this time, the Piedmont South overtook New England as the world’s largest cotton manufacturing region and Charlotte emerged as a center for bankers, wholesalers, machinery dealers and others serving the vast textile region.

The present-day neighborhoods of Optimist Park, Belmont, Villa Heights and NoDa were at the epicenter of this textile boom. The construction of mills and numerous mill villages transformed farm land into thriving, working-class communities anchored by hubs of industry. With seven intact mills—all built between 1889 and 1940—the Mill District is a living reminder that the ingenuity of a few can shape the future of many.

The growth and prosperity of this era positioned Charlotte to become the economic power it is today and were a direct result of the vision formed by early textile entrepreneurs and the sweat given by the many workers who built and operated the mills. As you explore The Mill District, we invite you to share their sense of pride and possibility. These historic mills stand tall to remind the world of what Charlotte can do. Welcome to The Mill District.

Optimist Park

Optimist Park

Before the cotton mills were built and the train tracks were laid down, Optimist Park was sprawling farmland.

This changed with the construction of the Alpha Cotton Mill (1889) and Highland Park Mill No. 1 (1892), two of the first cotton mills in Charlotte. Together, they helped create the momentum to transform the city into one of the country’s leading textile manufacturing centers.

The neighborhood was largely blue collar, with many residents working in the mills as builders for the mills and mill villages, or as shopkeepers and schoolteachers. Along with Belmont and Villa Heights, it became part of the city’s first completely working-class suburb.

The community was a walking neighborhood, which meant that grocery stores and general stores could be found on virtually every corner. And by the early 1900s, it had streetcar service, something more often associated with areas like Elizabeth and Dilworth.

Situated along what was once the northern boundary of Charlotte, Optimist Park now finds itself at the heart of everything. Its optimal location has led to recent efforts to better connect it to Uptown and to adjacent neighborhoods—once again by rail and by foot.

Today, it serves as the gateway to The Mill District, connecting Uptown to NoDa and beyond.

© Photo Credit #### CMHPF.org

Belmont

Belmont

Much like Optimist Park, Belmont was farmland before the textile boom.

The construction of the Louise Cotton Mill in 1897 changed this and created what is now Belmont. Together with the adjacent neighborhoods of Villa Heights and Optimist Park, Belmont was part of Charlotte’s first entirely working-class suburb.

Belmont, like the other District Mill neighborhoods, grew rapidly during Charlotte’s textile boom. Churches and schools sprung up to support the community, and rails for both streetcars and the Seaboard Railway crisscrossed its footprint. Grocery and general merchandise stores, a lifeline for busy workers who didn’t have the time or money to visit the larger stores, could be found throughout the neighborhood.

Today, Belmont is a mix of old and new homes. The community is also home to Charlotte’s second oldest community garden and a section of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway. While many of the corner shops have been lost to time, place like the Belmont Pharmacy Building still stand to tell this neighborhood’s lively origin story.

Hear from the neighborhood first hand.

The one-story mill homes built here reflected a mix of Victorian and Bungalow styles, and were often set upon relatively large lots, by today’s standards.

© Photo Credit #### CMHPF.org

Villa Heights

Villa Heights

Once part of an area referred to simply as the “East Side,” the neighborhood of Villa Heights was formed at the turn of the last century by Clayton O. Brown, a real estate developer who gave it its name. Small cottages sold by Brown & Co. and other developers sprouted up quickly.

These houses, like the ones in Optimist Park and Belmont, were occupied by predominantly blue-collar workers employed in the mills and other businesses along the rail lines. As such, the neighborhoods of Optimist Park, Belmont and Villa Heights together formed Charlotte’s first entirely working-class suburb, where many workers actually owned their homes.

Its residents helped Charlotte become a leading textile producer and the largest city in the Carolinas. For this reason, The Charlotte News once called it “one of the most important sections of the city.”

Today, Villa Heights continues to offer a sweeping view of the Uptown Charlotte skyline and is once again poised for dramatic growth, in part because of its proximity to the light rail. Its residents have embraced its position as the neighborhood village on the hill, rooted in culture, community and natural beauty.

Hear from the neighborhood first hand.

And, despite its proximity to a number of mills, the area was called beautiful and offered a “splendid view of the city.”

© Photo Credit #### CMHPF.org

NODA

NODA

The area today known as NoDa was established in 1903 by the management team from Optimist Park’s Highland Park Mill No. 1.

Seeking additional production capacity for their gingham business, these textile entrepreneurs envisioned an almost self-contained industrial district in the area they called North Charlotte.

Several mills, beginning with Highland Park Mill No. 3, were erected in North Carolina in the early 1900s. Rows of tidy mill houses followed closely behind, occasionally interrupted by larger, two-story homes. A trolley running down Davidson Street connected the young neighborhood to businesses in Uptown, and a patch of grocery stores, pharmacies, and general stores sprung up to support the growing community.

The mid-century demise of the textile industry frayed the fabric of this tight-knit community, until a pair of artists sparked a revitalization effort in the eighties, which continues to bear fruit today. Today, the lively neighborhood, about two miles from Uptown, is known for its art galleries, restaurants, and music venues, and is poised for even more growth with the recent arrival of the light rail.

Hear from the neighborhood first hand.

Located in an area that was once farm and swampland, NoDa’s name is short for “North Davidson,” the street which forms its spine.