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Street Stories 

Secrets and legends behind Charlotte's long and winding roads

Page 3 of 4

Alexander Street

City officials came to their senses in 1914 and gave some dreadfully dull downtown street names some meaning. B Street was changed to Brevard, C to Caldwell, D to Davidson and E to Alexander -- named after prominent founding families of Mecklenburg County, not individuals of those clans.

One famous Alexander, for example, was Joseph, a clergyman and educator who established Queens College. A staunch patriot, Joseph was credited with saving morale after the Battle of Camden. Most male members of his Presbyterian parish brought rifles to his Sabbath services during the topsy-turvy Tory days. Another Alexander, Hezekiah, led a group of patriots who adopted the Mecklenburg resolves, nullifying all British laws and authority. The royal government at the time wrote to England that the Mecklenburg Resolves were the most treasonable documents the continent had ever produced.

Sadly, a more modern and perhaps influential Alexander does not have a street named after him, although one is in the works. Frederick Douglas Alexander worked tirelessly to register blacks to vote in the '30s and '40s.

In 1961, Alexander bested a field of 41 candidates to become the city's first black councilmen since 1890. In the '60s he was Charlotte's leading champion for civil rights. Among other integration actions, Fred tore down a fence that segregated dead blacks in Pineville Cemetery and dead whites in Elmwood.

After Alexander passed away in 1980 there was some effort to rename Senior Drive, the street where he lived, in Fred's honor. The new Fred Alexander Road will be in the Mt. Holly/Brookshire Boulevard/Huntersville area.

click to enlarge THE BEGINNING OF CHARLOTTE: Before Tryon became what it is today, the Great Wagon Road laid claim to the same strip of pathway. - CHRIS RADOK
  • Chris Radok
  • THE BEGINNING OF CHARLOTTE: Before Tryon became what it is today, the Great Wagon Road laid claim to the same strip of pathway.

Independence Boulevard

Shortly after World War II, Charlotte began growing like a well-fed little girl with low metabolism. Without a cross-town boulevard to help relieve some of the congestion that plagued Uptown streets, her pants were getting a little tight around the waist. Too tight for some people. When a brilliant engineer completed a street plan that included an expressway from Graham Street eastward along Stonewall to Sugar Creek, where one arm led to the Monroe and Albemarle highways and the other connected with Queens Road, city leaders were all for it.

That is, until citizens practically started a riot over it. According to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission Web site, once they found out that the new expressway would split the Chantilly, Elizabeth, and Piedmont Park neighborhoods and a good chunk of the city's first public park would be victimized, it was on. The mayor at the time, Herbert Baxter, and members of the City Council backed down for a moment, most likely wiping sweat from their foreheads as infuriated folks continued to complain. But the submission would not last. When no other solution could be determined, the city council approved the plan, and construction was underway.

When it came time to name the new cross-town boulevard, city council notes from May 4, 1949 found in the Carolina Room, report that it was suggested that it be named after the mayor. Throwing out the modesty card, Herbert Baxter would have none of that. "How about naming it Independence Boulevard?" piped up City Clerk Lillian Hoffman. After all, the new expressway was built after sacrificing much of Independence Park.

It's too bad that Herbie said no because now state officials are asking the Charlotte Department of Transportation to change the section of Independence between 7th Street and Midtown; apparently the street name regularly befuddles motorists who confuse it with the highway. Doreen Szymanski of the Charlotte Department of Transportation says she has asked nearby Central Piedmont Community College for name recommendations.

Trade and Tryon

For those who know better, the corner of Trade and Tryon streets goes by a different name: the Square. According to, this major intersection actually began as ancient Native American trading paths.

Before the name Tryon was "tried on," this particular road was a part of the Great Wagon Road, one of the most heavily traveled major routes for settlers in America. The length of it slithered from pioneer-filled Pennsylvania to the great state of Georgia.

In 1755, Thomas Polk, the great uncle of U.S. President James Polk, built his home at the intersection of Great Wagon Road and a Native American trading path. This crossroad eventually gave birth to the little village of "Charlotte Town." As the city grew, Great Wagon Road was renamed Tryon Street, after William Tryon, the royal governor of colonial North Carolina right before the Revolutionary War. And the little trading path that Native Americans frequented? Trade Street, of course.

click to enlarge HER MAJESTY While royalty doesn't flow freely through the veins of the Queen City, she can say she was named after the wife of King George III, Queen Charlotte.
  • HER MAJESTY While royalty doesn't flow freely through the veins of the Queen City, she can say she was named after the wife of King George III, Queen Charlotte.

Runnymede Avenue

In the Old English, Runnymeade contains an "a," but the colonialists that named the avenue wanted to further remove themselves from the Brits from whence they came. Its name comes from the English meadow that sits on the bank of the Thames River, south of London. Here, the barons with an army raised against King John ("Soft Sword" so called for his inaptitude at warfare -- he was also, coincidentally, the last King John) in defense of their rights as landholders, forced the monarch to sign what became known as the Magna Carta.

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