If you’ve ever found yourself walking through a park or down a street that’s clearly named after someone and ended up feeling like a bad Charlottean for not having any idea who that someone is, you’re not alone. Here are 19 of those names and the people behind them (stay patient – these are really interesting stories).
Anne Springs Close
Why you know it: Anne Springs Close Greenway
Who: Anne Springs Close, the force of nature behind the Anne Springs Close Greenway, a 2,100-acre piece of conserved land in Fort Mill. She’s also known as being one of the South’s most important environmentalists and philanthropist and has served as a trustee of the Wilderness Society, Director of the American Farm Trust and the President of the National Recreation and Parks Association. And, just for good measure, she’s the last living passenger of the zeppelin Hindenberg‘s transatlantic flight.
When it comes to the Greenway, her father inherited the land and left it in equal parts to his eight grandchildren, who told Close that she could have it so that she could preserve it – if she named it after herself. She reluctantly agreed and the love of the land is only growing, with 230,000 people visiting last year. See everything she had to say about the land here.
TL;DR: Anne Springs Close, heavily involved in all things nature and driving force behind conserving the land that was left to her family by her father and turning into the Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill.
Why you know it: Ardrey Kell Road, Ardrey Road High School
Who: Two families in the area known for their contributions to the community as farmers, doctors, teachers and politicians as well as their heavy involvement with the church. Beyond that, nobody knows who these families are – not even Tom Hanchett, Charlotte’s resident prominent historian.
TL;DR: Nobody really knows, actually.
Why you know it: Bechtler Museum of Modern Art
Who: Andreas Bechtler, son of Hans and Bessie Bechtler, Swiss art collectors. Hans co-founded Pneumafil, a company specializing in air filtration systems for textile mills and gas turbine power generators, and bought a summer house in Switzerland where he became board chairman of Kunsthaus, Zurich’s art museum, and the family became friends with several important figures in the modern art world. Over the next 70 years, the Bechtlers collected an incredible number of diverse works, preferring art that “revealed the working methods” of the creator.
Pneumafil expanded to Charlotte in the 1970s and Bechtler’s son, Andreas, followed. After he sold his stake in the company, he created the Little Italy Peninsula Arts Center on 300 acres at Mountain Island Lake to house open-ended residencies to regional artists (but went on to use it as a family compound).
When his parents died, he and his sister inherited their art collection and Andreas began to search for a way to create a space to house the collection and made plans for a museum that would later become the Bechtler.
The creation of the museum is as unique as the collection inside it; it’s the second in the country designed by Swiss architect Mario Batta (the man behind the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), who incorporated a glass atrium, vaulted skylights and terracotta exterior. The collection of 1,400+ pieces of work focuses on the European perspective, School of Paris and American and British artists and opened to the public in 2010.
TL;DR: A couple from Switzerland with a passion for art left their collection to their son, who moved to Charlotte and made plans for a museum (the Bechtler) to house it after they died.
Why you know it: Bechtler Mint Site Historic Park
Who: Christopher Bechtler. A relative of Hans and Bessie Bechtler, Christopher was a goldsmith and watchmaker from Germany that moved to Rutherford County in the 1800s where he opened the first private mint and created gold currency (including the first gold dollar coin in the nation). These would be called Bechtler Dollars and over a million would be produced between 1830 and 1841, before the government began production of their own in 1849. His coins were worth $1, $2.50 and $5 in 20, 21 and 22 carats. The site of the mint is now known as the Bechtler Mint Site Historic Park and is just over 70 miles east of Charlotte.
TL;DR: Goldsmith and watchmaker (yes, part of the same family behind the Bechtler Museum) that opened the nation’s first private mint and created gold currency, including the first gold dollar ever.
Why you know it: Belk, Belk Theater
Who: William Henry Belk. Yes, the that’s the same Belk as the department stores. The first store was opened in Monroe in 1888 and has continued its legacy throughout 16 states to this very day. Due to pressure from online retail (until 2008, its website only offered gift cards and registries along with home goods), it was recently sold to New York-based private equity firm Sycamore Partners for $3 billion, severing the 127 years of strong local ownership and its place as the nation’s largest privately owned department store. The headquarters, however, will remain in Charlotte.
TL;DR: The man behind Belk, who opened the first one in Monroe in the 1880s.
Why you know it: Billy Graham Parkway, Billy Graham Library
Who: Billy Graham, one of the most influential evangelists in the nation. His “singular vision” was to expose anyone who would listen to the love of Jesus Christ and show that yes, there is real hope for this “lost world.” He spent over 55 years preaching to 215 million people in 185 countries and while doing so, he met and influenced normal citizens, Presidents, royalty and celebrities.
He founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1950 to gain an even further reach through broadcasts, film, books, events and the internet. On the Association’s property, just off of Billy Graham Parkway, is the Billy Graham Library, a dairy barn-shaped building in which guests take multimedia tours that explore Graham’s message and Gospel. It opened in 2007 and includes Graham’s (restored) childhood home on the property that includes family photos and items. The Library says its patrons can expect free admission (open Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.) and a closer look at Graham’s life. Go.
TL;DR: Important and influential evangelist from Charlotte.
Why you know it: Blumenthal Performing Arts
Who: I.D. and Hermann Blumenthal, the men behind Radiator Specialty Company Brands, the same company that made Gunk and Liquid Wrench. I.D. returned from World War I to Savannah, where he finessed his marketing and sales skills during a five-year partnership at his father’s Blumenthal Five and Dime until 1924, when he left home to be a traveling salesman.
He wound up in Charlotte with a leaky radiator and went to a mechanic that was able to seal the leak with a powder that was his own invention. Blumenthal convinced the mechanic to partner with him and Radiator Specialty Company was born only to manufacture the powder, Solder Seal. The line grew to include Solder Seal Boiler Repair, Radiator Anti-Rust and Liquid Radiator Repair. RSC eventually evolved into a major chemical supplier, but Blumenthal wasn’t limited to corporate earnings and extended his partnership to people throughout the Carolinas.
Blumenthal was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home and lived his life a religious man, promoting the founding of two Jewish Day Schools and buildings of multiple synagogues and eventually served as the President of the North Carolina Association of Jewish Men. He also created the Circuit Riding Rabbi Project. His philanthropic work was impressive, and you can read more about it here.
The Blumenthal Foundation was created in 1953 and was considered a “natural extension” in his efforts to bring “harmony among those of differing ideologies and theologies” through fields that include Arts and Sciences, Civic and Community, Education and Health and Human Services. The reason you know it? It was the largest private donor to what is now the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center (simply the Performing Arts Center until renamed).
TL;DR: I.D. Blumenthal, owner of Radiator Specialty Company, wound up in Charlotte after becoming a traveling salesman and struck a partnership with the creator of Solder Seal and became heavily involved in the community arts. All things Blumenthal are named after him.
Why you know it: Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden
Who: Daniel Stowe, co-founder of Stowe Mills (which would later become Pharr Yarns). Stowe Mills, founded in 1939, revived McAdenville Mills and McAdenville itself, which were for sale after the Great Depression. The company had 12 plants in the Southeast and internationally by the 1980s.
The principle of saving and reviving old buildings spilled over into his personal life and philanthropic efforts. In 1980, he donated $50,000 to save the Gaston County courthouse from being moved to Dallas and in the late ’90s, bought the First Baptist Church on Franklin Boulevard in an effort to save it from being demolished. When he retired to his farm, he fielded the multiple offers from developers looking to build there and donated $14 million and $13.8 million in land to what is now the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.
TL;DR: Textile visionary who had a passion for saving historic buildings and donated $13.8 million of land to create Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.
Why you know it: Elizabeth Avenue, Elizabeth neighborhood
Who: Anne Elizabeth Watts, wife of Gerard Snowden Watts, a big deal in Durham’s tobacco business. Watts’ son-in-law chose Charlotte to be the spot for a small women’s Lutheran college – Elizabeth College – and because of the money that the Watts family donated to the cause, decided to name it after Anne. The college moved to Salem, Virginia in 1915, and what used to be the main building was demolished in 1980, but the neighborhood’s name stuck.
TL;DR: The neighborhood and the street are both named after Anne Elizabeth Watts, muse of Elizabeth College.
Harvey B. Gantt
Why you know it: The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture
Who: Harvey Gantt, the first African-American student to ever be admitted to Clemson University (his wife was the second). He graduated in 1965 with an architectural degree (complete with honors) and a Masters of City Planning from MIT in 1970. He’d go on to become an architect and start his own firm, Gantt-Huberman Architects, in the 1970s. The company has plenty of local, regional and national design awards under its belt. He can also add to his résumé city councilman and, later, the city’s first black Mayor, serving from 1983 to 1987.
The Afro-American Cultural Center was renamed in Gantt’s honor in 2009 and aims to celebrate the “excellent in the art, history and culture of African-Americans and those of African descent.”
TL;DR: First black student admitted to Clemson University that would become owner of Gantt-Huberman Architects on North Tryon Street and eventually city councilman and the city’s first black Mayor.
Why you know it: Knight Theater, Knight Foundation
Who: Brothers John S. and James L. Two newspapermen from Ohio who eventually became the faces behind Knight-Ridder, the second largest publisher in the U.S. with 32 newspapers under its belt until 2006 when it was sold to the McClatchy Company.
The Knight Foundation, brought to life in December 1950, aims to support “transformational ideas that promote quality journalism and advance media innovation, engage community and foster the arts.” Charlotte is one of eight cities in which resident directors live and oversee support of local journalism, arts and community building.
Yes, it’s the same Knight as Knight Theater, part of the Levine Center for the Arts, which was named in honor of the brothers. No, there’s no connection the Charlotte Knights.
TL;DR: John S. and James L. Knight, creators of the Knight Foundation, in which Charlotte is one of few cities with resident directors that support journalism, arts and community building. Yes to Knight Theater, no to Charlotte Knights.
Why you know it: UNCC Levine Scholars Program, The Levine Center at Charlotte Country Day School, CPCC Levine Campus, Levine Avenue of the Arts, Levine Center for the Arts, Levine Children’s Hospital, Levine Jewish Community Center and Shalom Park, Levine Museum of the New South, Levine Science Research Center at Duke University, Levine School of Health Sciences at Wingate University, Leon Levine Hall at Campbell University, Levine Opportunity Center, Leon Levine Foundation
Who: Leon Levine and family. Levine is the man behind Family Dollar, opening the original on Central Avenue for just $6,000 – half his own, half from a partner – in 1958. It would go on to expand to over 8,000 stores nationwide and Levine would find himself in the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame and his family #174 on Forbes’ America’s Richest Families list in 2015.
Levine had a deep desire to give back to the community that allowed him to leave such an impressive legacy behind at created the Leon Levine Foundation with his wife Sandra in 1980. The foundation aims to give back to needful communities in a way that will “create positive change” and invest in them effectively. Noteworthy investments include Shalom Park ($1 million donation, now named Sandra and Leon Levine Jewish Community Center), Levine Children’s Hospital at Carolinas Medical Center ($10 million donation) and the Mindy Ellen Levine Behavioral Health Center ($1 million donation).
Since, Levine has been given a spot in the Carolinas Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, the Lifetime Achievement Award from Ernst & Young and the couple has been awarded the World Citizen Award 2012.
TL;DR: Leon Levine is the man whose name is on almost every building you’ve ever stepped foot in. Founder of the Family Dollar that is heavily invested in giving back to the community through his Leon Levine Foundation.
Why you know it: McColl Business School at Queens College, McColl Center for Visual Art, McColl Family Theater
Who: Ex-Marine Hugh McColl, a fourth-generation banker that wanted to create a bank that had branches on both the East and West coasts. After his two-year tour, he began working at North Carolina National Bank where he was the driving force behind the mergers and acquisitions that would turn the bank into NationsBank and eventually Bank of America in 1998, where he acted as Chairman and CEO. He retired in 2001 and formed investment banking firm McColl Partners, co-founded Falfurrias Capital Partners and founded female-focused McColl Garella. He was also heavily involved in the arts and opened the McColl Fine Art in 2003 and is a co-founder of MME Fine Art.
His philanthropic work is also noteworthy, and has played a role in Charlotte’s redevelopment, the Carolina Panthers National Football League, the Charlotte Hornets National Basketball Association and Habitat for Humanity. Education is also hugely important to McColl, whose mother taught “taught everyone in the family to love books,” and he has created an English professorship at Norfolk Academy and at UNC Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science.
TL;DR: Hugh McColl, Former Bank of America Chairman and CEO that was heavily involved in the city’s transformation and dedication to the fine arts and education.
Why you know it: McGlohon Theater
Who: Loonis McGlohon, a jazz pianist and songwriter rooted in North Carolina. He became music director for both WBT (AM) radio and WBTV. Throughout his career, he worked with singers like Judy Garland and won a Peabody Award for the NPR series American Popular Song, which he co-hosted with Alec Wilder, who he also wrote with. Works they’re known for include “Blackberry Winter” and “While We’re Young.” They also wrote “Songbird” as well as music and lyrics for the Land of Oz attraction in Beech Mountain.
On his own, McGlohon wrote the music for “The Hornet’s Nest,” a play presented in 1968 at UNCC’s amphitheater.
NationsBank Performance Place was named McGlohon Theatre in his honor in 1998, and he earned a spot in the North Carolina Hall of Fame shortly after in 1999 before dying of lymphoma in 2002.
TL;DR: Loonis McGlohon, famous North Carolina-born jazz pianist and songwriter who worked with people like Judy Garland and won a Peabody Award.
Why you know it: Myers Park, Myers Park Presbyterian Church
Who: Colonel William R. Myers, the son of a well-known and established plantation owner whose family was heavily involved in city happenings and philanthropy, who married Sophia Springs, whose family was also well-known for the same reason. Their son, John Springs Myers – known as Jack – came into his inheritance of 306 acres where he built a new house across from Providence Road. Over the years, he bought more and more of the land around his own and had 1,005 acres to himself between Providence Road and Sugar Creek. On this land, he operated a cotton farm, but wanted to create a suburb, so he planted enough rows of trees and shrubs that his house became known as Myers Park and the name stuck when a real estate advertisement referred to the area as such.
The house has since been demolished, but his front yard has stayed in one piece and is now known as J.S. Myers Park at the intersection of Hermitage, Ardsley and Providence Roads (near Manor Theater).
TL;DR: Jack Myers, son of two established philanthropists, who inherited his parents’ land and grew it to 1,005 acres before creating the suburb of Myers Park.
Why you know it: Ovens Auditorium
Who: David Ovens, a local philanthropist from Ontario who came to Charlotte in the early 1900s to manage a “dime store” operated by S.H. Kress Company. He was quickly approached by local business owner J.B. Ivey, who owned Ivey’s (the same Ivey’s acquired by Dillard’s in 1990), brought him on as a junior partner in 1905, but Ovens would go on to become vice president and general manager.
He was also heavily involved in local philanthropy, becoming president of the Good Fellows Club, head of the first Community Chest Drive (what is, today, the United Way), the local chairman of the Red Cross during the second World War and the president of the Community Concert Association. Because of his actions, he’s been described as the “most public-spirited citizen that Charlotte had ever known.” You can see all of them here.
You know his name because he helped generate the support of the public for the Civic Center (now Ovens Auditorium) and Charlotte Coliseum (now Bojangles’ Coliseum). He was heavily involved in local arts, but hated the modern look that he described as “straight up-and-down, steel-ribbed, glass-enclosed structures” – which, ironically, is exactly what Ovens Auditorium and the Coliseum were.
TL;DR: David Ovens, vice president and GM of Ivey’s (now Dillard’s) and strong supporter of the Civic Center (now Ovens Auditorium) and the Charlotte Coliseum (Bojangles’ Coliseum).
Why you know it: Romare Bearden Park
Who: Romare Bearden, an artist and writer born in Charlotte. When he moved to New York City after graduating high school, he attended NYU and began his career when he brought scenes of the American South to life and expressed the lack of humanity he felt that world was suffering. His work focused on the African-American community before the style turned to abstract before turning into a collage medium as he founded The Spiral, a Harlem group that often discussed the role of the artist in civil rights movement. The New York Times described him as the “nation’s foremost collagist” when he died in 1988.
Two years after he died, the Romare Bearden Foundation came to life in 1990. The non-profit is Bearden’s official estate and aims to serve emerging artists and scholars through grants.
Charlotte has named a street after Bearden and opened Romare Bearden Park in 2013 close to where Bearden grew up at the corner of Martin Luther King Bouevard and Graham Street. The design of the park is inspired by Bearden’s collages and paintings, and features two gardens, tables, green field, waterfalls, and an interactive play area.
TL;DR: Romare Bearden, Charlotte-born artist and writer that would go on to be called the “nation’s foremost collagist” by the New York Times.
Why you know it: Sharon Road, Sharon Amity Road
Who: Not a person, but a place, and a biblical one at that. The road was named after Sharon Presbyterian Church, which was named after the Bible’s Sharon (what is now modern-day Israel). Sharon was to “become a pasture for flocks” and a place for “herds to lie down,” which reflected perfectly the type of environment the church was located in for the settlers that named it in 1831.
Sharon Road was named such because churches were, really, the only landmarks, so roads were named after the churches that they led to or went past. Sharon Road also passed Amity Presbyterian, thus earning it the name of Sharon-Amity.
TL;DR: Not a person, but a biblical palce that references a gathering place for all worshippers. Named after Sharon Presbyterian Church.
Why you know it: Tryon Street, Tryon Street, Tryon Palace
Who: Governor William Tryon, who became the acting lieutenant governor of North Carolina in April of 1764 before becoming governor in July of 1765. During his time as governor, he grew the Church of England’s North Carolina presence by finishing construction of churches in four different cities and beginning new ones in rural areas. He’s also credited with creating a postal service in 1769 and keeping the Regulator Movement (a rebellion by residents of the backcountry who believed they were being charged excessive fees and mistreated whiel the government took part in falsifying records) at bay, despite his building of the Tryon Palace being one of the root causes.
Yes, he’s the face behind Tryon Palace in New Bern, the state’s first permanent capitol. There was plenty of anger that came with his construction of his vision for the governor’s mansion, which would also act as the main point of government business. When he was allotted £5,000 to build the space, Tryon demanded at least £10,000 instead, saying that even “in the plainest manner,” it would cost significantly more. To get it done, he hired workers from Philadelphia (claiming that North Carolina builders wouldn’t know how to build it) and raised taxes to help cover costs, earning it the not-so-nice nickname of Tryon Palace and the notoriety of being part of the issues that began the Regulator Movement. Yikes. His armed forces had a swift victory over the Regulators, though, and heh raised taxes once again to pay for the defeat. Can’t teach an old dog new tricks. The palace was reconstructed with the original architectural plan in the ’50s and is now open for tours, camping and weddings year-round.
He didn’t stick around when his time as governor ended, leaving the state in June of 1771.
TL;DR: William Tryon, Governor of North Carolina, who expanded the Church of England’s presence in the state, created a postal service and made people angry by building Tryon Palace with their tax money before defeating them in the rebellion they started in an attempt to bring him down. He paid for this with their tax dollars, too.
Why you know it: W.T. Harris Boulevard
Who: William Thomas Harris opened a grocery store on Central Avenue in 1949 on a $500 loan. In 1960, he merged with Willis L. and Paul Teeter, owners of Teeters Food Mart in Mooresville, to create Harris Teeter Supermarkets, Inc. with fifteen stores. Three years later, 25 stores were up and running and the business was the second largest grocery store company in the state by 1984. Today, it is the largest supermarket chain in the state.
TL;DR: William Thomas Harris, who merged with Teeters Food Mart to create Harris Teeter Supermarkets.