My parents moved to Indian Trail in 1970 to start a community newspaper. At that time, the town had 405 residents. (My parents’ newspaper, The Southeast News, covered South Charlotte, Matthews, Mint Hill and Indian Trail.)
By 1980, the town had doubled its population to a whopping 811. Progress, indeed.
Indian Trail’s growth trend has continued, and today, the town has about 36,000 residents, making it one of the fastest growing towns in North Carolina and the U.S over the past few decades.
Yet Indian Trail remains relatively obscure to most in the Charlotte area. Part of the reason is because it doesn’t have a quaint downtown area like Matthews or Davidson. Nor does it have craft brew pubs, coffee houses or trendy shops. Instead, its central business district is comprised of less-than-appealing old strip malls and one-off shops. Other businesses are spread out on Monroe Road and Highway 74.
While the town remains obscure to the rest of area, people continue to move here in droves. They like the proximity to Charlotte, the incredibly affordable housing and the family-like atmosphere. In recent years, the town has made great strides to improve services and amenities and is much different than the town where I grew up. I went back this week to see what’s happening.
Here’s 14 things to know about Indian Trail:
1) It is located just across the Mecklenburg County line between Matthews and Monroe.
2) On a map, the town limits look like a gigantic ink blot.
3) The area was actually a trail Native Americans used at one point, stretching from north to south.
4) One and half golf courses call Indian Trail home. The front side of Charlotte National is in town limits, and the venerable Pebble Creek par three course is on Highway 74.
5) It’s home to Carolina Courts, a massive basketball and volleyball facility.
6) You can go roller skating in Indian Trail at Kate’s Skating on Highway 74.
7) Or, you can go ice skating at the awesome Extreme Ice Center on Indian Trail-Fairview Road.
8) Indian Trail is a fast food lover’s paradise. In a one mile stretch on Highway 74, you can hit Biscuitville, Cook Out, Taco Bell, Hardee’s, Burger King, Bojangles’, Chick-fil-A, KFC, Wendy’s, Arby’s, McDonald’s and Sonic. Coming soon: Popeyes.
9) The town is also big on diners. For a classic Southern experience, check out Johnny K’s in downtown. When I was a kid in the 1980s, the same space was home to Kay’s Cafe.
10) Traffic all around Indian Trail is a nightmare. Traveling along the two-lane Monroe Road during rush hour can take 30 minutes just to go a few miles.
11) The town passed a $10 million bond to help the state with the widening of Monroe Road, but it looks like road improvements won’t happen until 2024.
12) A cultural center was opened in the downtown area in 2012.
13) There are three parks in Indian Trail. The new Crooked Creek Park features four softball/baseball fields and picnic area, and when completed a zip line as well as a “miracle field” for children with disabilities. The town’s other two parks – both relatively new – are Crossing Paths Park and Chestnut Square Park.
14) Finally, it has the best barbershop in the Charlotte area. Richard and Gay have been cutting hair at Indian Trail Barbershop for 50 and 48 years, respectively.
When my parents opened their newspaper, their first office in Indian Trail was at the main strip mall downtown. Beside them was the barbershop. It moved to the “new” location in 1980. I’m not sure, but I think I got my first haircut by either Gay or Richard some time in the 1970s. I went back to the barbershop for the first time in 30 years this week for trim.
I had to remind him who I was, but once it clicked, Gay remembered my mom and dad and even the number of kids in my family. He told me a few stories about the early days of my parents’ newspaper in Indian Trail and about expanding the current location of the shop to make room for another chair.
We talked about the barber chairs that were made in 1948, the clock on the wall with revolving advertisements that stopped working years ago. I can still remember the clicking sound as the ads rotated.
The place had changed very little. You can’t smoke in the barbershop anymore, but the waiting area chairs still have the built in ashtrays. They are the original chairs of the shop, but they’ve been recovered several times.
There was the old RC Cola drink cooler that used to hold bottles. You can still see the bottle opener on the side. Today, it was packed full of cans. Next to the cooler, there was the Lance Crackers machine with the prices stuck in time at .50 cents. The machine was so old, the prices couldn’t be changed anymore.
“I’m losing money on the peanuts,” Gay said.
I got a haircut (complete with neck shave with a straight razor) but realized I didn’t have any cash. This is a cash or check-only business, of course. The woman who cut my hair (she’s been there for 16 years) told me to pay the next time around. I was taken slightly aback by the old school trust, but couldn’t bring myself to leave without going over the laundromat next door to get cash. It was $11 and I gave her a $4 tip.
As I left, I turned to snap a photo of the outside of the building. The door was open and it really didn’t look that much different than I remembered. But then I turned to get into my car and noticed the long line of cars waiting to get through the intersection. There would be no left turn out of the parking lot today.
And there’s the schism that is Indian Trail. There are still pockets that remind one of the days of 811 total residents, but for the most part this is a different town with a much different future ahead of it.
(Photo Credit: Google Maps; Monroe, NC Miscellaneous History site)