Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Historic West End: A Neighborhood Walking Tour

I'm a lifelong Charlottean, but there are plenty of parts of town I'm not very familiar with. One of those is the West End. With Beatties Ford Rd. in the news so much these days, I wanted to challenge my prejudiced notions of this area. For a number of reasons, I'm glad I did and I'd invite you to do so, too.

Renowned Charlotte historian Tom Hanchett has created a series of historic neighborhood self-guided walking tours. The other day, we took the West End/JCSU tour, which runs along a stretch of the Beatties Ford corridor.

Before we went, I read up on the history of West End development, which I found fascinating and served to enrich our experience. (You can also find an amazing collection of digital artifacts here.)

Then, we packed scooters and water and drove to the tour starting point at The Mosaic (1601 W. Trade St.). We found on-street parking, but there's also a parking deck under Mosaic Village. From there, we followed the Mr. Hanchett's instructions, which include helpful pictures and turn-by-turn directions. 

All together, the outing is around 1.5 miles and took us about 45 minutes to complete. (Note: Street car line construction has much of Beatties Ford Rd. closed to vehicular traffic in this area, but sidewalks along the tour route remain open.)

You know what we didn't see while we meandered? There was no violence. No damaged or neglected buildings. No threatening groups of people. None of the images you might expect if you've only paid attention to recent headlines.

What we did see were lots of smiling faces, friendly waves, and beautiful historic buildings. Our favorite stops included the murals, the homes, and the Grand Theatre.

The most poignant moment for me was a brief sighting of Dorothy Counts Scoggins, who lives on one of the featured streets. If you're not familiar with her story, take time to learn about this remarkable woman and the role she played in history. I was awestruck seeing her in person and overcome with considerable emotion while I explained to the kids who Mrs. Dorothy Counts Scoggins is, what she represents, and why we care.

On the whole, this was a meaningful outing that we should have taken long before now.

Sometimes intentional exploration of historical and contemporary context can endear us to places our biases, conscious or unconscious, have kept us from enjoying. That was our experience with Charlotte's West End. It's a beautiful area, an important area, and I'm sorry we haven't taken the time to appreciate it sooner. We will be back soon.

Note: If you enjoy the walking tour and are interested in exploring more, you might consider the African American Heritage Driving Tour.

How to get there:
The West End/JCSU historic walking tour begins at 1601 W. Trade St., Charlotte, NC, 28216. Park on the street or in the Mosaic Village parking deck.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Water
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen
  • Your phone or a printed copy of tour directions
  • An open mind

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