The custodians of Charlotte’s history have regrouped and strengthened

The custodians of Charlotte’s history have regrouped and strengthened
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You may have noticed recently that Charlotte has a construction project or two going on around town.

Outside of the Panthers’ storybook year, it’s tough to argue that the creation of new buildings at a breakneck pace is not the defining story in Charlotte right now. Especially close to Uptown, the announcement of these new projects is often met with a cry of “but what about [building slated for being demolished]?! I LOVE [building slated for being demolished]!”

This leads to inevitable thinkpieces about how Charlotte’s history is being lost, which is followed by thinkpieces about the thinkpieces saying, “Who are we to stand in the way of the future?”

Then a few weeks pass and neighborhood meetings are held and no one shows up and the development moves forward. Then months later, a new tenant is announced and everyone says, “Hey cool, something new!”

In my short time in the city, I’ve seen this cycle repeated more than a handful of times.

In nearly every case, the development of the new project moves forward, the history that someone wanted preserved is bulldozed and everyone moves on with their lives.

Is this how we, as a community, want the process to go? Maybe.

Are the buildings worth saving? Do they represent some key aspect of Charlotte’s history? I’m not sure.

Thankfully, I don’t have to be sure. Since 1991, the group who has taken up the mantle for these kinds of decisions has been Historic Charlotte.

The group’s stated mission is “to promote historic preservation in the greater Charlotte region by focusing on the built environment.” That’s great, and Charlotte sorely needs a watchdog who can advocate for buildings that we may one day regret having knocked down.

The lack of this sort of system of checks and balances is a primary culprit for why there aren’t more historical buildings in Uptown. Before Historic Charlotte, there wasn’t a concentrated collection of resources working toward the sustainable protection of Charlotte’s historic buildings. It’s a good thing they’re here. They need to have a strong voice in the community.

However, post-recession realities for any nonprofit are tough, and Historic Charlotte has been forced to streamline its resources in recent years, reducing from a paid staff to all-volunteer. That’s a lot to ask of any organization, but especially one tasked with countering development firms with economic incentive and deep resources.

Recently however, those history-preserving resources received a big boost as The Charlotte Museum of History announced its merger with Historic Charlotte.

John Kincheloe, President of Historic Charlotte Inc states, “This partnership is a logical progression for both organizations. We have collaborated on educational programs for several years, and we have complementary missions. Historic Charlotte has focused on preserving the historic built environment, while the Museum of History has delivered outstanding educational programming over the years, while also directly preserving the Hezekiah Alexander house. By combining our efforts and expertise, we can have stronger programs for the community, do more preservation work, and reach a broader audience.”

Charlotte history merger

This consolidation makes a ton of sense to me.

With this merger, Charlotte now has a single organization focused on preserving its history, whether in the “built environment” (i.e. legacy Historic Charlotte), or through educational programming and events to raise awareness of Charlotte’s history.

The goals of this combined group include:

  • Directly preserve the built environment through stewardship and excellent preservation of the Hezekiah Alexander house.
  • Broaden Charlotte’s perspective on history by preserving and sharing Charlotte’s stories in all of their richness and diversity.
  • Advocate for the preservation of historically important buildings, streetscapes and other components of the built environment.
  • Support and connect others who want to preserve the historic built environment, adding value and character to their homes, businesses and neighborhoods. This includes providing education and technical support to homeowners, contractors, architects and trade persons.

Not even the curmudgeonliest* of Charlotteans could disagree with those goals.

Charlotte has a ton of history to be proud of, but often it’s memorialized with a plaque in the sidewalk rather than a preserved physical structure near the historical center of town like you may see in other cities.

While it’s too late to undo the development of years past, by joining forces with the Charlotte Museum of History, the former Historic Charlotte has strengthened its position as the steward for Charlotte’s built environment.

Connect with the Charlotte Museum of History:

*I had written “most curmudgeonly” originally but apparently “curmudgeonliest” is correct. Who knew.

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