The epicenter of America’s first gold rush is now a major financial hub. Present-day Charlotte is practically synonymous with banking—but life there isn’t all business. With its heart-pounding NASCAR races and world-class barbecue, Charlotte residents also know how to have a good time. Here’s a trivia buff’s guide to the Queen City.
1. Downtown Charlotte is called “uptown,” much to the confusion of… well, pretty much everyone who isn’t from there. Locals have been saying it that way for at least 85 years. Apologists will happily point out that central Charlotte does sit at a higher elevation than the rest of the city. “When you go there, you’re going up to town,” says native son Jack Wood. “That’s the proper name for it.” In the 1970s, Wood—a clothier by trade—made a push to preserve this verbal quirk. After some intense lobbying, he convinced the City Council to officially designate the historic sector as “Uptown Charlotte” on September 24, 1974.
2. According to some, the coveted title of Pimento Cheese Capital of the World belongs to Charlotte. The city's Ruth's Salads produces 45,000 pounds of the Southern lunchtime staple every week—the most of any company in the Southeast—and Charlotteans comprise one of the largest markets for the stuff in the nation. (The other biggest market for pimento cheese sellers: Raleigh-Durham.)
In the 1700s, two vital pathways crossed where uptown Charlotte now lies. One was the Great Wagon Road. Built by European settlers, it once stretched from Philadelphia to Georgia—and its existence set the stage for a mass southward migration of colonists. In North Carolina, the route bisected a large Native American trail. Remnants of these two roads still exist in Charlotte, where they’re known as Tryon and Trade streets. Today, their intersection is called Independence Square.
4. The Charlotte metropolitan area is the largest in the United States that doesn’t have a zoo. However, if you’re in town and feel like a road trip, the North Carolina Zoological Park in Asheboro—which one of America’s largest chimpanzee troops calls home—is only 75 miles away.
5. Charlotte was officially incorporated in 1768 under the name “Charlotte Town.” This was a tribute to King George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. It's currently a part of Mecklenburg County—which is named after the German region in which she was born.
6. Charlotte’s current NBA team is called “The Hornets.” You might also notice that there’s a hornet nest logo emblazoned on the sides of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police vehicles. Why is this community so infatuated with stinging insects? In 1780, British General Charles Cornwallis marched his men through the city, where they encountered firm resistance. He’d go on to call Charlotte “a hornet’s nest of rebellion.” Little did he realize that the town would wholeheartedly embrace his comment. Today, Charlotte’s two main nicknames are “the Queen City” and “the Hornet’s Nest.”
Some people believe that Charlotte produced its own Declaration of Independence more than a year before Philadelphia did. In April, 1819, the Raleigh Register made a bold claim. Readers were told that, after Lexington and Concord, prominent North Carolina patriots assembled at the Charlotte courthouse. On May 20, 1775, the men allegedly signed a so-called “Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence,” which severed their colony’s ties with Great Britain once and for all. Alas, most historians don’t buy this story—and neither did Thomas Jefferson. It is worth noting that no original copies have ever turned up. So far as we know, the document never existed. Nevertheless, Charlotteans still celebrate May 20 as “Meck Dec Day.” Every year, a reading of the text takes place at Independence Square—along with some good, old-fashioned cannon-firing.
7. The NFL’s Carolina Panthers have played their home games in Charlotte since 1996. At present, they’re the only team in the league that’s owned by a former player—ex-Baltimore Colt Jerry Richardson.
10. Perhaps Charlotte’s oddest landmark is her majestic Firebird sculpture. Completed in 1991, it had roosted in several cities before finding a permanent home on Tryon Street, just outside the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. Created by Niki de Saint Phalle, the 17-foot avian is adorned with over 7500 pieces of colored glass. For this reason, his statue is often called “the disco chicken.”
11. Another sculpture worth visiting: Czech artist David Černý's Metalmorphosis, a giant, mirrored, rotating self-portrait installed in Whitehall Technology Park. The piece measures 31 feet tall and weighs around 14 tons.
12. Once upon a time, North Carolina—and not California—was known as “ the Golden State.” In 1799, a 17-pound nugget unexpectedly turned up in Cabarrus County. This event triggered something that the United States had never seen before: A gold rush. Over the next several decades, miners would try to strike it rich throughout western and central North Carolina. Almost overnight, Charlotte went from a small town to a booming metropolis. Profitable mines (such as the McComb) popped up around town and, in fact, many of their tunnels are still hiding beneath Charlotte’s outskirts.
13. Today, Charlotte remains an economic hot spot. Behind New York City, it’s now the country’s second-largest banking center. Bank of America is headquartered here, as are Wells Fargo’s East Coast operations. This reality has given rise to yet another nickname: Banktown.
14. In the Queen City, NASCAR is king. Uptown, you’ll find the organization’s 150,000-square-foot Hall of Fame. Racing fans can also head out to neighboring Concord, North Carolina, where the famed Charlotte Motor Speedway resides. Billed as “the greatest place to see a race,” it hosts three of NASCAR’s biggest annual events: The Coca-Cola 600, the Bank of America 500, and the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
15. If you’re dreaming of a white December 25, Charlotte might not be for you. Since 1878, the city has only gotten measurable snow on four Christmas Days: in 1880, 1909, 1947, and 2010.
Official White House portrait, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Remember the plane that had to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River back in 2009? You can now see it on display at the Charlotte-based Carolinas Aviation Museum. The airbus’s infamous last flight was originally supposed to take it from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to the Queen City. Accordingly, 80 of the 155 passengers on board hailed from the greater Charlotte region. Every so often, a few of them swing by the museum for a “meet and greet” with visitors.
18. Known as “the Jackie Robinson of Pro Golf,” Charlotte native Charles Sifford was the first African American to participate in the PGA Tour. After setting that milestone in 1961, he went on to make history again six years later at the 1967 Greater Hartford Open. There, Sifford did something else that no black athlete had ever done before—win a fully sanctioned PGA event. He was inducted to World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004.
19. The very first Family Dollar opened up in Charlotte during the month of November, 1959. Within 10 years, it turned into a 50-store chain. By 2013, 78,000 Family Dollars had emerged in 48 states. Since then, the company’s merged with—and become a wholly-owned subsidiary of—Dollar Tree.
20. 2012’s The Hunger Games was almost entirely shot in North Carolina. Charlotte didn’t get left out: Knight Theater on Tryon Street is where the tributes’ interview scenes were filmed.
21. For many Charlotteans, transportation got a lot easier when the LYNX Blue Line began operations in 2007. As of this writing, no other light rail system in America sends its trains directly through a convention center.
22. Barbecue is a huge source of Tarheel State pride. According to food critic and historian Robert Moss, “Charlotte may well have been the home of North Carolina’s first barbecue restaurant.” As evidence, he cites a classified ad that the Charlotte Observer published in 1899. Therein, a Mrs. Katie Nunn promotes her grocery store on South Church Street. To entice customers, the ad alleges that Nunn’s husband, Levi, is “the only barbecuer in Charlotte.” This little notice is one of the earliest-known records of a commercial BBQ establishment in North Carolina.
23. Grab your wet suits: Olympic canoe/kayak slalom competitors train at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Situated on the outskirts of Charlotte, this facility boasts the world’s biggest manmade whitewater river. In roughly 8 seconds, its powerful pumps can unleash enough water to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Founded in 1836, the Charlotte Mint was specifically designed to produce one thing and one thing only: gold coins. Ultimately, more than $5 million-worth of these were produced there by the time it was shut down in 1861 and converted into a Confederate hospital.
25. Last year, 92-year-old Charlottean Harriette Thompson became the oldest woman in recorded history to ever finish a marathon. Thompson—a grandmother and two-time cancer survivor—was in her 70s when she first started running competitively. At the 2015 San Diego Rock n’ Roll Marathon, the North Carolinian trotted onward for 7 hours, 24 minutes, and 35 seconds to complete all 26.2 miles of the race.