Thursday, January 30, 2020

5 Fun Ways to Explore Local History

Amid all the growth, development and shiny newness of Charlotte, it’s easy to forget – or hard to fathom – the city’s rich history. But we have a deep, storied past that should be remembered and, in many cases, celebrated. Fortunately, there are a number of fun ways for Charlotte-lifers and newcomers alike to get to know more about the city we call home.

Here are five of our favorite active, educational outings:

Liberty Walk

In its formative years, Charlotte was at the crossroads of some of the most pivotal moments in the American Revolution. Though relics of those events are long gone, folks can revisit history by taking a stroll along Charlotte's Liberty Walk uptown.

A little more than a mile long, the Liberty Walk is similar to Boston's Freedom Trail, with educational markers and monuments that memorialize how Charlotte's citizens participated in and influenced that significant time in our nation's history.

Marked by Liberty Walk sidewalk pavers and memorials, there are 19 stops along the route, which starts near the corner of South Tryon St. and East Stonewall St.

Here’s how to enjoy the Liberty Walk.

Historic Latta Plantation

Historic Latta Plantation is a cotton plantation and living history farm located in Huntersville, NC. Visitors can take a guided or self-guided tour the home and 11 outbuildings representative of life in North Carolina from 1800 to 1865.

Historic Latta Plantation offers educational programs, workshops, camps, and re-enactments throughout the year. Check the website for hours, tour schedule, admission fees and a calendar of programs and events.

Historic Latta Plantation is located within the Latta Nature Preserve, which offers a Nature Center, tons of trails, nature programs, fishing and shelter rentals.

Consider taking a hike and visiting the Carolina Raptor Center after you check out Historic Latta Plantation.

Trail of History

The Trail of History is a 1.5-mile stretch of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway running along Kings Dr. from 7th St. to Morehead St that displays a collection of bronze statues of key figures in Charlotte's historic growth and development.

The Trail of History features prominent local influencers like Captain James Jack, brave courier of Mecklenburg's Declaration of Freedom; William Henry Belk, retail pioneer; Thad Tate, prominent African American businessman and civic leader; James B. Duke, business and philanthropic giant; and Jane Wilkes, who was instrumental in building Charlotte's first two hospitals.

Part outdoor museum, part scavenger hunt, the Trail of History offers a fantastic opportunity for exercise, exploration and education. The greenway is a perfect option for a walking, strollers and bike or scooter rides.

Here’s how to experience the Trail of History.

Charlotte Museum of History

The Charlotte Museum of History, located in east Charlotte off Shamrock Dr., preserves and showcases relics, artifacts and a deeper understanding our community’s past.

The flagship attraction of the museum is the Hezekiah Alexander Home Site. Built around 1774, this is the oldest surviving house in Mecklenburg County and the last existing home of a framer of North Carolina’s 1776 Constitution and Bill of Rights.

But there are lots of other exhibits that make this a destination worth visiting. Here, you’ll find galleries dedicated to things like “Unforgettable Music Venues of Charlotte” (an ode to venerable establishments like the Double Door Inn and Tremont Music Hall) and “Charlotte Neighborhoods” (which explores urban growth and development from settlement to the early twentieth century.

There are also some kid-friendly exhibits, including the Rock House Mysteries play room and the Backcountry Gallery with hands-on replicas of Colonial-era dwellings, furnishings, and a garden.

Here’s more of what you’ll find at The Charlotte Museum of History.

Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room

Located on the third floor of the main Charlotte Mecklenburg Library on 6th St. uptown, the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room is an impressive public repository of historical and current information on Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and North Carolina.

Here, you’ll find genealogical resources, a neighborhood history toolkit, a collection of historic images (including an archive of Charlotte Observer negatives), Charlotte Mecklenburg school yearbooks, manuscripts and family documents, a local music archive, historic maps and deeds, and government documents and statistics.

The Carolina Room serves as contributing resource for the website, which exhibits the Charlotte-Mecklenburg story.

CMStory regularly offers engaging history-rich programs, like "Women Changing Charlotte" and "Food From Home," led by Dr. Tom Hanchett, Historian-in-Residence at the Library, at various area Charlotte Mecklenburg library branches.

Check Carolina Room hours before you go (it’s currently open Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Monday virtual hours only. Closed Sunday.)

Before you leave the library, check out the photos and exhibits lining the hall in front of the Carolina Room for some additional insight into Charlotte history.

It only takes a little digging to appreciate the historical vibrancy of Charlotte and the surrounding area. Lucky for us, there are lots of fun, interesting ways to get to know the area and better understand everything from its founding to today.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Charlotte Museum of History

Growing up in Charlotte, it must have been a rite of passage to take a field trip to the Hezekiah Alexander Home Site. I remember going – probably more than once – but I hadn’t been back to this historical landmark and The Charlotte Museum of History that maintains it since elementary school. So I recently decided I was long overdue for a visit.

The Charlotte Museum of History, located in east Charlotte off Shamrock Dr., is a not-for-profit organization that preserves and showcases relics, artifacts and a deeper understanding our community’s past.

While the flagship attraction of the museum is the Hezekiah Alexander Home Site (built around 1774, this is the oldest surviving house in Mecklenburg County and the last existing home of a framer of North Carolina’s 1776 Constitution and Bill of Rights), there are many other exhibits that make this a destination worth visiting.

Inside, you’ll find galleries dedicated to things like “Unforgettable Music Venues of Charlotte” (an ode to venerable establishments like the Double Door Inn and Tremont Music Hall), “Charlotte Neighborhoods” (which explores urban growth and development from settlement to the early twentieth century), “Keeping Watch on Water: Looking Back at our City of Creeks” (taking a close look at the city’s stream network and its nuances and evolution) and “A Focus on Sports” (a photographic exploration of local amateur and professional sports).

In addition to gallery halls, there are some kid-friendly exhibits, including the Rock House Mysteries play room and the Backcountry Gallery with hands-on replicas of Colonial-era dwellings, furnishings, and a garden.

Outside, in addition to the Alexander home, there’s a reproduction log kitchen, barn, and reconstructed two-story springhouse.

Along a short, paved loop trail, you’ll also find the American Freedom Bell (at 7 feet by 7 feet, this is the largest bell at ground level in America; it symbolizes the patriotism and pride of the people of Charlotte), a picnic area, and a Chilean Mill used to separate pieces of gold ore during the Carolina Gold Rush that began in our area in the early 1800s.

Out front of the museum is a Spanish cannon used in the Spanish-American War and gifted to the city two years after it was captured by American forces in 1898.

For hours and admission, visit the Charlotte Museum of History website. Worth noting: The museum will offer free admission and special programs from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, February 8, 2020 during the Arts and Science Council’s Connect with Culture Days.

How to get there: The Charlotte Museum of History is located at 3500 Shamrock Drive, between Eastway Drive and Sharon Amity Road.

Don’t forget to take:
  • Money for admission: See fees here.
  • A picnic lunch or snack: Enjoy a bite to eat in the outdoor picnic area.
  • A sense of curiosity: There’s more to our city’s history than you probably know!

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Model Airplane Park

Well, here’s something I didn’t know existed and didn’t realize we’d enjoy so much: A public model airplane park. Go figure.

The David A. Waymer Aeromodular Flying Field is a miniature runway on a giant field in Huntersville. This space, run by Charlotte Mecklenburg Parks and Rec, is used primarily by model airplane enthusiasts and clubs (there are rules for flying your craft), but is free and open to the public. Just be mindful of the spectator zones so as not to interfere with aircrafts and their pilots.

I know very little about remote controlled airplanes, but was amazed at the models we caught on display and in flight. There is a large, covered “hangar” with picnic tables for constructing and tweaking the planes before they take to the skies. This is a fun area for an up-close look at some amazingly ornate to-scale crafts, like a miniature version of an American Airlines passenger plane or a really fancy-looking fighter jet. Drones and helicopters are also allowed.

When you get to the field, park in a gravel lot and make your way past a short fence to the gathering area. On the right is the runway and flying field, offset by the spectator fence, and to the left are two giant paved flight circles for tethered crafts. Straight ahead is the covered hangar and a porta-potty.

The regulars we spoke with told us that you can usually find at least a handful of pilots and model plane enthusiasts most weekend days and through the week when the weather's nice.

If you want to tack some playtime onto this trip, the David B. Waymer Park with playground equipment is on your right about a mile before you hit the airfield.

Until now, my general working knowledge of model airplanes was mostly limited to the paper variety. But I can enthusiastically endorse an outing to this venue. You might find a new hobby -- or, at least, enjoy an afternoon of it.

How to get there: David B. Waymer Aeromodeller Flying Field is located at 15401 Holbrooks Rd, Huntersville, NC 28078.

Don't forget to take:
  • Hats, sunscreen and sunglasses: There is very little shade at this park.
  • Water and a snack or picnic lunch: This is the perfect place to have a bite to eat while you watch.
  • Blanket or stadium chairs: Seating is minimal, but you can also stand along the fence.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Weather Day Adventures

Wet skies and cold temps don’t necessarily have to mean a housebound day. The minute the weatherman tells me we’re in for “you’ll-be-staying-in-today” weather, I start scanning my mental list of indoor active adventure options – something to get us moving, stimulate our minds and exhilarate our family time together.

While trampoline parks, climbing centers and indoor gyms are nice, there are plenty of low-cost/no-cost ways for families and kids to burn some energy and have fun without breaking the bank.

Here are some of our favorites:

Indoor Pools

One of the best ways to beat the cooped-up blues is to spend a good hour or two playing in the water at a nice, warm indoor pool. Guaranteed to wear you out in the most pleasant, satisfying way, there’s something exceedingly gratifying about flexing those swimming muscles – whether you’re doing laps, playing tag, or water-walking. Your whole body will thank you.

We belong to the Y, which offers nearly a dozen warm indoor pools, some of which also include kid-friendly amenities, like slides and zero-entry wading areas. Our favorite indoor Y pool is Stratford Richardson.

But there are other great local options, like the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation aquatics centers, which include Ray’s Splash Planet.


Hey, don’t knock mall-walking ‘til you’ve tried it. Yes, it’s mostly retirees taking laps. But I invite folks of all ages to consider what a wonderful option these cavernous spaces offer for taking a climate-controlled stroll with plenty to look at along the way. That includes families with young kids who just need to move -- especially since area malls are open to walkers long before the stores crack their doors.

Over the holidays, we hit SouthPark Mall, which is accessible before-hours at the Food Court entrance starting at 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. on Sundays. Carolina Place opens to mall-walkers at 7 a.m. every day and Concord Mills opens at 7:30 a.m. Mondays through Fridays, 8 a.m. Saturdays, and 10 a.m. Sundays.

Another option: Overstreet Mall in Uptown Charlotte. This network of hallways and skywalks is open at all hours most days of the year. Pick an entry point at one of the buildings along the route and you can make your way from MLK Jr. Blvd. to E. 5th St. without going outdoors. Bonus: Shops and restaurants along the route are open weekdays mostly during business hours.

County Recreation Centers

Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation runs 18 area indoor Recreation Centers, which offer everything from basketball courts to computer labs, fitness centers, and arts and crafts rooms. Here’s a map of local Rec Centers. Scattered throughout the county, these make for easily-accessible, safe, fun spaces to move and learn.

Mecklenburg County Recreation Centers also provide a number of special programs and sports for all ages. They range from things like chess club and guitar lessons, to reading and music, to basketball and flag football. Check out the extensive offerings.


I know it’s a little counterintuitive, but public libraries actually make for great places to stretch both your mind and your legs. Especially Imaginon, the children’s library uptown, where wiggles are welcome and invited.

This large, open space, full of centers of activity, offers both entertainment and room for engaging gross motor skills. Plus, Imaginon is located across the street from First Ward Park, perfect for mixing it up with a dose of fresh air if the weather allows.

I also recommend checking out library programming at Imaginon and other local public library branches. Some offer things like “Listen and Move Storytime” and library scavenger hunts, great for a more curated active learning experience.

Weather Walks

Sometimes the best course of action is not to beat the weather, but join it. Do this by taking a weather walk. Bundle up or grab an umbrella and pick a destination. We like to walk to eat — whether it’s to the grocery store to pick out a special snack, a restaurant for lunch, or a donut shop for a sweet treat.

If you don’t live in safe walking distance from an establishment, drive or take the bus or light rail to a spot that gets you close enough, but leaves room for a stroll. A great option for this is to park somewhere along the urban section of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway and walk to the Metropolitan area, where there are a handful of restaurants, Target and Trader Joe’s.

It’s admittedly a little more work to get moving on a weather day, but I always find it to be worth the effort. And, with some great local options, it might just be easier than you think.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Ray's Splash Planet

I'm always impressed with -- and sometimes surprised by -- the recreational resources available in Charlotte. Beyond parks, greenways and nature preserves, there's an abundance of programming, activities and facilities that are free or very low-cost, making movement and play both fun and accessible.

One example? Ray's Splash Planet, an indoor waterpark run by Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department located uptown. For $8 ($10/non-county residents), kids can spend the day playing in this 117,000-gallon pool featuring a 3-story slide, fountain station, lazy river and swirling vortex pool. Grown-ups can join in the fun for $10 ($15/non-county residents) or watch from the side for $3.

The pool also offers a zero-entry section for young swimmers to splash in and a 4-foot area for taller visitors to swim laps or play water basketball or volleyball.

At a constant bath-tub-like 86 degrees, the waterpark is comfortable on a frigid winter day and a welcome relief during the heat of summer.

The lifeguard staff is friendly and remarkably attentive, and there are complementary life jackets available.

Rays also offers a fitness center for adult workouts, and men's, women's and family locker rooms.

The facility opened in 2002 but recently underwent a major renovation. It's a great option for birthday parties and group reservations. They also offer a variety of programs for a range of ages and interests.

Visitors can pay by the visit, but the best deal might be in the MeckPass, which provides access to all Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation fitness and aquatic facilities on a monthly basis.

Facility hours vary daily and on holidays.

How to get there:

Ray’s Splash Planet is located at 215 North Sycamore St, Charlotte, NC, 28202

Don't forget to pack:
  • Swimsuit: Proper swimwear is required
  • Towel: You'll need to bring your own
  • Locker room shoes: Flip flops or Crocs for before and after play
  • Lock: There are plenty of lockers to stash your gear in the locker room.
  • Change of clothes: Don't go home wet!