Over three decades, Charlotte has almost doubled its population thanks to its jobs, climate and Southern charm. It’s made us one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the U.S.
Along with the influx of newcomers has come a clash of cultures and an endless stream of questions about local customs.
I asked my wife, who moved here 10 years ago when she was 23 years old, to help me come up with a cheat sheet of everything confusing about Charlotte to newcomers.
She dropped several on me in the span of a minute, some of which had more to do with her leaping into the real world for the first time than moving to a Southern city. But oh well. Most of her suggestions fit.
With that said, I put together this brief FAQ about the Charlotte region’s culture and way of life. It’s not exhaustive by any means, but at least it’s a start. Let’s call this “Part 1.”
(1) What the heck is up with “Uptown?”
Perhaps the No. 1 most confusing thing about Charlotte is why we choose to call our downtown “Uptown.” I won’t bore you with the details — you can Google the answer in a matter of seconds. In short, it’s partly because the city center is geographically higher than the surrounding area (it’s located in a small ridge), and partly from a marketing effort by a small business owner in the 1970s who thought “uptown” sounded better than “downtown.” The term has stuck ever since.
(2) Why are Charlotte streets so confusing?
Even locals are confused by Charlotte’s street grid. While there’s no one great answer, it’s common knowledge that because Charlotte grew so fast from 1960s to today, many new roads were built and connected to existing roads. Fairview Road, for example, didn’t exist until SouthPark Mall was build in the early 1970s.
(3) Who is the queen that lends her name to Charlotte’s nickname?
Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818), wife of King George III of England, is where Charlotte and Mecklenburg gets its name and why we are called the “Queen City.” For some reason, history notes Queen Charlotte as being particularly ugly. There are many portraits of her (including the one in this article), and she doesn’t look that ugly. But who knows: maybe the artist “photoshopped” out some of her ugliness.
(4) Why did Charlotte become such a big banking center?
Charlotte has always had a strong banking industry, but it wasn’t until the 1980s and 1990s that the banks began to grow exponentially. Two men in particular, Hugh McColl (NCNB-Nations Bank-Bank of America) and Ed Crutchfield (First Union-Wachovia-Wells Fargo) were perhaps the most instrumental in growing their respective banks by going on acquisition sprees during their tenures as CEO.
(5) What exactly is a fish camp?
Growing up in the Charlotte area, I’ve always taken the term “fish camp” for granted. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized people from outside the area have no clue what they are. Essentially, they are restaurants that specialize in serving fish — mostly of the deep-fried variety. The concept grew out of actual camps along rivers where fishermen would catch fish, filet them and fry. The Belmont area was home to some of the first known fish camps.
(6) What is livermush and why do people eat it?
The delicacy is made up of pork parts, especially liver and pig head and mixed with pepper, spices and cornmeal. I don’t know where it originated, but North Carolina is definitely the king of livermush. Shelby (northwest of Charlotte) hosts a livermush festival every year. My favorite preparation: fried in a pan until a crust is formed on the outside, but it remains mushy inside. Yum!
(7) What’s the deal with all the textile mills around Charlotte?
Back in the early 1900s, the main industry around Charlotte was cotton. Farmers would bring their crop into the city and the mills would turn it into fabric. NoDa in fact, was at one time a large mill area of Charlotte. At one point in the 1900s, the Charlotte area — especially around Gaston County — was the textile capital of the U.S. Preserving some of these old mills is one of the best things Charlotte has ever done.