Charlotte CityWalks - NoDa
North Charlotte Mills and Villages
Welcome to the NoDa City Walks tour! This tour is narrated by NoDa residents and walk leaders. To listen, click "show audio" under the Introduction and Background & Context Sections. The tour starts with the NoDa Company Store, a former mill house that tells the story of the neighborhood on its exterior walls. It's a quick walk from anywhere in NoDa, including the 36th Street Blue Line transit station. Since opening in 2016, the NoDa Company Store has quickly become a neighborhood staple. On any given day, you can find locals and visitors alike relaxing on the outdoor patio, enjoying a leisurely swing in the butterfly garden, or perusing the art hanging inside. Its exterior also sports a mural depicting the area’s history.
The Davy is a great example of repurposed buildings in the neighborhood with varied use over the years. It is currently a rental apartment complex. There are two structures on the site. When facing The Davy, the structure on the left is the original, the North Charlotte Hotel, and was built, owned and maintained by the mills. It functioned as a boarding house for mill workers or as a hotel for visitors. It remained as such until the 50s-60s when the neighborhood began an economic decline.
As the North Highland Park Mill #3 along North Davidson Street was constructed in 1903, the mill also planned a mill community with housing and shops for the mill workers. This mill neighborhood is generally bounded by North Davidson, McDowell, Charles Avenue, and 36th Street. While many of these homes have "had work" as they say, the signature design of architect Stuart Cramer of a 1-story home with an open front porch and entry door centered on the home can still be seen.
The complex of buildings you see here-- which now is home to Heist Brewery, Benny Pennelo’s Pizza, and the Highland Mill Lofts—began its life as a textile mill known as the Highland Mill Loft apartments. The mill was designed by Stuart Cramer, who went on to be known as one of the most important architects for mill and mill village design. Along with the mill, Cramer designed the mill village of homes that housed the workers and their families. While most of the original mill houses are now gone, if you wander through the neighborhood, you will see that a lot of the houses still sport Cramer’s signature front porch.
Play ball! Before this area was the Yards, Highland Mill employees played competitive baseball on a field across the railroad tracks from the mill. The Charlotte Observer reported that there were 780 mills in the South. Of those, almost 500 were within a 125-mile radius of Charlotte, making Charlotte the textile center for the nation and world. When the first mills opened, there were no homes for the workers and no means to get them here. So the mills did what a lot of the mills did at the time. They simply built their own village. The various mills had their own baseball teams, who played each other in a regional league of sorts. Ballplayers were often younger, single men who lived at the Highland Inn, a boarding house over on Yadkin Avenue.
Continuing up North Davidson Street from The Highland Mill is Noda's Johnston YMCA. You've probably noticed this stately, brick building with the white columns and expansive front lawn. We think of the Y as the "front porch of NoDa" welcoming all.
Standing at the intersection of North Davidson and 35th streets today, you see a quaint, vibrant business district with shops and restaurants. Back in the day, it was constructed as a business district spanning the Highland Park Mill to the south and the Johnson and Mecklenburg Mills to the north.
Continuing along North Davidson Street you come upon the original fire station serving North Charlotte: FD#7. The station stands as originally built in 1935 when the City of Charlotte established the station to service the North Charlotte neighborhood, now known as NoDa. The fire station is notable as it once served as a fire station and as a jail cell.
We added a stop here as the location represents a foot in both new and old NoDa. From the corner of North Davidson and 36th Streets, you can look south and see the original downtown area of the mill villages -- The North Highland's village and the village that cropped up due to the Johnston and Mecklenberg Mills. To the west, you can spot the NoDa/36th Street Blue Line train station.
The Johnston and Mecklenberg Mills were constructed just a few years after the Highland Park #3 mill just down the street during Charlotte's boom days with the cotton milling industry. Both are located along North Davidson Street, north of 36th Street. You'll find more detail about The Highland Mill at another stop on this tour.
If you followed the earlier part of this tour, you saw examples of mill housing on Yadkin Avenue associated with the Highland Park #3 Mill. Houses along 37th street represent a slightly different architectural style and were constructed as worker housing for the Johnston and Mecklenburg Mill Village in North Charlotte.
The Neighborhood Theater and Smelly Cat Coffeehouse are both representative of reuse. Smelly Cat has been caffeinating NoDa for more than 20 years. Across 36th Street is the beloved Neighborhood Theater. The theater is a music and entertainment venue featuring local, regional, and national acts as well as local events such as the annual Home Grown Tomato festival!