With a population of around 670,000, Charlotte is the largest city in North Carolina and one of the 20 largest in the U.S., while its metropolitan area is home to some 1,900,000 residents. Thomas Polk, the uncle of President James Polk, founded the city, which also serves as the county seat of Mecklenburg County, in 1755. Today, Charlotte serves as a major transportation hub, due to its position among several other large population centers. A variety of sources have deemed it among the best places to live in the U.S., as well as one of the nation's most promising locales for new business ventures.
NEIGHBORHOODS AND DISTRICTS
Center City is Charlotte's urban center, with a vast array of restaurants and shops. The City is divided into four wards:
- First Ward is largely made up of apartments and single-family residences and also hosts a thriving arts and entertainment district.
- Second Ward is considered to be the government district and contains many office and local government buildings.
- Third Ward is home to the Bank of America Stadium, with another baseball stadium and a new performance venue on the way.
- Fourth Ward is primarily a residential neighborhood but is also home to various arts and cultural centers.
Known for its tree-lined streets, the historic neighborhood of Dilworth was Charlotte's first so-called "streetcar suburb." Trolley car tours of the present area are offered through Charlotte Trolley, Inc.
ECONOMY AND INDUSTRIES
Charlotte is the second-largest banking center in the United States, behind New York City, in terms of control of assets. Bank of America makes its headquarters in the city, having been formed out of a merger between NationsBank and BankAmerica in the 1990s. More recently MerrillLynch became part of Bank of America. Wachovia which has become part of Wells Fargo & Company has had East Coast headquarters in Charlotte.
Even aside from its status as a major node of national banking, Charlotte and the surrounding area benefit from a diverse and vibrant economy, being home to a variety of Fortune 500 companies such as Lowe's, Time Warner Cable, LendingTree, and Family Dollar. A large portion of NASCAR's operations is based in Charlotte and its surrounding area.
- Discovery Place: A regular destination on the local field trip scene, this children's museum has won several awards for the range and quality of its kid-pleasing science exhibits and interactive play areas, among other things. Discovery Place supplements its permanent exhibits with an unusually large number of special exhibitions covering a range of subjects including art and history. It's also home to the three-story IMAX Dome, which ranks as the largest movie screen in the Carolinas. The museum's overall success has prompted it to establish smaller satellite locations throughout the metropolitan area.
- Charlotte Nature Museum: This largely outdoor subsection of Discovery Place features such crowd-pleasing walk-through exhibits as Butterfly Pavilion, Creature Cavern, and Insect Alley, each providing up-close-and-personal encounters with a variety of cute and not-so-cute specimens of the animal kingdom. The Charlotte Nature Museum also offers a number of educational programs and events, as well as a nature trail proceeding through a century-old forest.
- Carolinas Aviation Museum: Those with an interest in aviation in general and the history of southern aviation in particular are well-advised to stop off at the Carolinas Aviation Museum, which is housed at Charlotte-Douglas Airport. The museum is home to a variety of historic planes (many of which are restored on the premises) and a research library. It also serves as a venue for air shows and related events.
- The Mint Museum of Art: Housed in a building that originally served as the Charlotte Mint, The Mint Museum of Art is the city's most prominent art venue. Despite the relative modesty of its permanent collection, the museum is well regarded as an international stopping point for major traveling exhibitions. The Mint's own year-round offerings tend to emphasize American art dating from the pre-colonial era to the present day.
- Levine Museum of the New South: The Levine covers the life and culture of the American South from 1865 to the present day, by way of a unique set of permanent exhibits and special exhibitions that have drawn accolades for their overall quality. The museum is one of Charlotte's best-regarded tourist attractions.
- James K. Polk Historic Site: A combination of museum and memorial, the James K. Polk Historic Site provides a detailed perspective on the 11th American president, James Polk, with an elaborate reconstruction of his home.
- Carolina Renaissance Festival: Throughout October and November, the Carolina Renaissance Festival gives homage to the peculiar wonders of 15th- and 16th-century Europe with dozens of unique attractions. Ten stages provide venues for comedy, dancing, and musical acts, while 500 costumed characters (not including attendees, who tend to dress up as well) engage in circus performances, jousting tournaments, sword fights, and other activities of the period. The festival also makes for fun and unusual shopping opportunities.
- Festival in the Park: Some 150,000 visitors stream in to Charlotte's Freedom Park each September for one of the city's oldest and best-loved events. Held each year on the third Thursday after Labor Day, Festival in the Park features 150 artisans and a whopping 1,000 entertainers, including musical acts ranging from singer/songwriter duos to the Charlotte Civic Orchestra. Other traditional participants include such organizations as Carolina Clowns and the United Magician's Society. And thanks to the park's intricate lighting system, each day's festivities continue well into the night.