Why it’s Called Uptown & Why Charlotte’s Uptown Streets go Northeast.

Ever notice how we call downtown Charlotte Uptown? Or why North Tryon really runs Northeast? Well I did and while I have blogged about this before it was the way the streets run in Uptown that made me want to research this further. Most cities are settled near a body of water or some other important navigational feature like a port or railroad. Charlotte settled for what at the time of it’s founding was the middle of nowhere. So I always wondered why it was set-up the way it is. 

Why Uptown?

This gets debated all the time but there is a historical meaning and a PR meaning to this term. It is true that in the 1980’s the leaders in Charlotte wanted to make downtown sound really cool so they started promoting it as “Uptown”. This term was not entirely just made up though. It dated back to when Charlotte was just a trading post at Trade and Tryon. (Hence the Trade street name) Trade and Tryon sits on a ridge between Irwin and Sugar creeks. The early residents of Charlotte would walk or ride their horses to Trade and Tryon to buy and sell their goods. They literally had to go uphill so they would say they were going “Up to Town”. It later was shortened to just going “Uptown”. As the city grew it slowly went back to the term downtown, when the industrial revolution took place. Like most other cities at the time. It was later resurrected in the 1980s as a PR campaign to make downtown sound better.

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So what’s up with the layout of Charlotte?

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I have always wondered why the grid layout of Uptown was laid out facing Northeast. Most people mistakenly think that all the streets run North-South and East-West. They don’t they actually run almost due Northeast-Southwest and Southeast-Northwest. I figured there has to be some reason for this.



Well remember why the first residents started calling downtown Uptown? It’s appears that the same ridge that gives Uptown it’s name is actually oriented Southwest to Northeast. My guess is it was easier to build the first path/roads through Charlotte along the top of the ridge. In the location of what is now Tryon street. If you look at the creek basins you’ll see the ridge runs almost right along Tryon street. This also would have made crossing Sugar and Irwin creeks into Charlotte at a 90° angle much easier for early settlers

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Gold mines also played a role:

Another reason the city is oriented to the Northeast are the early gold mines which really got the city going in the early 1800’s. The formation called the Charlotte belt and really all the geological formations in the Carolinas run from Southwest to Northeast. It’s likely some of the first miners built roads and trails that ran this direction so they could mine at right angles to this formation.

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So what do you think? It’s clear the subtle geography of the area played a big part in the way the city was laid out. Even though I’ve been here for over 10 years now I still can’t figure out why the roads all change names 5 times. Smile

Please share your thoughts or any insight you might have. Charlotte does have a history contrary to popular belief and it’s new appearance. I am always interested to learning more so leave a comment below.

  • Tom Barto

    Nicely done!

  • Mark

    Hey Brad,

    I was told one time that the street names change so much due to the constant change in city limits as the city grew. So, where the city limits ended, a new street name would begin. But, it still doesn’t explain the Tyvola, Fairview, Sardis, Rama, idlewild path of confusion though.

    • wxbrad

      Yeah that makes some sense but agree a few of them are just bizarre.

    • allison

      I know some reasons it does that. Those roads were there, although not connected. When the city connected them they kept the old names.

    • debc2

      I always tell newcomers that want to go to South Park from my area to get on Idlewild Rd, cross over Independence but stay on that same road until you get to the mall. Don’t change streets and don’t look at the street signs. No matter what the signs may say just stay on that road. It is confusing!

    • Terry

      The Plaza,Plaza Rd exstention,,Sharon Rd,Sharon Rd West,Sharon Lane,Park Rd,Park Road exstention,Park Ave need I say more stupid !

  • Basil Lyberg

    You should sit down with the curator from the Levine Museum of the New South. Just fascinating to hear some of the history behind the city. I’m sure he would love your post on the uptown piece.

  • alan white

    Don’t forget that there was a Native American pathway/roadway that preceded Tryon St. Settlers probably just followed that.

    • wxbrad

      Yes but that was there for the same reason it was along the ridge between the 2 creeks. I figured even the Indians had to use that ridge as a pathway as well. Thanks for the link!

      • alan white

        No argument, as far as Indians using the path of least resistance :-), however, don’t you find it fun thinking that, as you walk down Tryon St. that it was actually an Indian path first…. before miners or settlers?

  • Damien Sullivan

    Who is Sharon? and what’s Sharon Amity?

  • NC_Native

    A couple of answers here: Remember that the first permanent European setters to Mecklenburg County were typically Presbyterian Scots. There were numerous communities in what was then rural Mecklenburg County that grew up around specific Presbyterian churches. For example, Sharon was not a woman. It’s a biblical name…as in the Plains of Sharon (pronounced “sha-RON”) in Israel, and was the name of a rural community several miles south of Charlotte which grew up around Sharon Presbyterian Church. By the same token, the Amity community east of Charlotte was named for Amity Presbyterian Church. Thus, the rural road which connected the two was called Sharon-Amity and many of the roads in the Sharon area bore some semblance of the name of the community in which they were located. Now, as for the roads changing names so often, part of it is, as someone already mentioned, is because new roads were built and/or connected with other existing roads as the city grew and spread out. Typically the city kept the original names after they were pieced together into what appeared to be one road. All the Queens Roads for example, were built and named when Myers Park was a streetcar suburb built in what had been rolling cotton fields south of the city. Those streets weren’t originally designed to be part of Charlotte, the city simply grew around it and connected the pre-existing streets with city streets as they expanded. As for the Tyvola, Fairview, Sardis, Rama, Idlewild Road insanity, you must remember that as recently as the 1970s, this was not one continuous road and some didn’t exist at all. There was no such thing as Fairview Road until the development of SouthPark Mall circa 1970. The old Tyvola Road was extended east across Little Sugar Creek and realigned to connect with the “new” Fairview, just west of SouthPark. Also, the section of Fairview going east of the mall towards Phillips Place wasn’t built until well into the 1970s and was made to connect with the old Colony Road, which branched off of Providence at the current Strawberry Hill development and turned south by where Country Day School is located. Sardis came from the east and dead-ended just north of what is now the Providence/Fairview intersection, where the gas station convenience store still stands. The old Sardis can be seen running through Strawberry Hill. When Fairview was built and that eastern section of it took over a small piece of what was then the northern part of Colony Rd, they realigned that section of Sardis slightly south so that it met dead on with Fairview. Going east, on Sardis, there used to be a big curve to the south where Providence Day School is located, and there was a left turn to get onto Rama Rd. In the 1980s the city realigned that intersection and made it so that you had to make a right turn from Sardis to STAY on Sardis, but if you kept going straight it changed names to Rama. So that’s why all those roads appear to be one long road through south and east Charlotte, but didn’t begin that way at all. Needless to say, the residents and businesses on those roads didn’t want their addresses changed, hence the constant name changes. 🙂

    • NC_Native

      Also in the SouthPark area, Park Rd coming from the city used to seemingly “end” at what is now Fairview. The section that continues south through that intersection was built in the late 80s/early 90s. To continue on Park Rd heading south away from town, you had to turn left onto Fairview, then go up to the light at what has now been renamed Park South Drive and turn right. In other words, Park South Dr was once Park Road. Where it now dead ends and rejoins Park Rd heading south used to simply go straight through. There are many other such changes and realignments over the years throughout the city, particularly around what is now Charlottetowne which runs by the Metropolitan and the northern end of South Boulevard where it crosses John Belk Freeway. Does anybody else remember when there were ramps to get from Morehead onto South Boulevard next to the Dowd YMCA and the old Independence Boulevard snaked through that area? It now looks absolutely nothing like it did as recently as the late 1980s.

    • Doug Wright

      I thought Tryon St/Hwy 29, and 29a north of charlotte, were the approximate location of the road known as the Great Wagon Road that brought the German and Scott/Irish south from Pennsylvania.

    • Marie Francoise

      Pretty good history, thanks.

      Just one thing: Fairview Road did exist before SouthPark Mall, as early as 1963. The little shopping center called Sharon Corners was open at least that early.

      • NC_Native

        You are correct…that particular section of Fairview was there but the rest (extending East towards Phillips Place and onward) didn’t come along until years later. I also forgot to mention that the part of what is now Fairview between Tyvola and Park South Drive was actually called Park Road, before they built Park straight through there. So there was a dog leg heading south on Park Road where you had to turn left onto Park, and then turn right on Park again onto what is now Park South Drive. That was always so odd to me!

        • richard

          That section was called park rd then was it not?….where Celenese was….. I rode my motorcycle on trails where fairview rd is now. It was built in mid 70s. I remember when Burger King Opened. I went to Sharon School right there and lived off of Sharon View.

    • TommyDilfinger

      The funny part to me is, how they kept some names, but changed others. York Rd. for instance. That area was originally Pineville (as it says so on my Birth cert). Then it became apart of the county, still York Rd. Only later did it become South Tryon. Years ago, Carowinds Blvd. intersected with York Rd. Now, it’s Carowinds Blvd and South Tryon. Why keep some and not all? Was it due to the “York County” & “Mecklenburg County” lines?

  • Roger Holloway

    Great and insightful article, Brad. Will be sharing with relocation folks on my blog ChoiceCarolinaHomes.com so people relocating to Charlotte can begin saying it properly when they move! My wife works Uptown at CMC, which is Uptown. Since we live in South Charlotte, I’ve mused that she heads up to town, which is north of us. Have mentioned that if we lived in Mooresville, for instance that she’d travel down to town, or downtown.

  • ilbts

    The changing street names are confusing, embarrassing and down right stupid. This makes it look like the city has no idea on what they are doing. I have been to many major cities and have not seen anything like this. Keep the street names the same.

    • Marie Francoise

      Oh, it’s not embarrassing and once you’ve driven it, not confusing. The name changes are just a local quirk.

      NC_Native has a good explanation of why it’s this way.

      PS: Several San Francisco street names change as they cross Market Street. So it happens elsewhere, too.

    • TommyDilfinger

      A lot of the streets were in areas that use to be in the “county” so, York Road for instance, use to be York Road, all the way to Arrowood Rd. But, now, that part is in the City, and was changed to South Tryon years ago. Also, most people originally from Charlotte, go by Highway numbers (49, 160, 29, 74, etc.). So, when I would tell people where I live, I’d say near 49 & 160. Most people from Charlotte, would know exactly where that is. But, with all of that said, nothing is more confusing than Queens Rd.!

      • Ray Hamilton

        Everyone at that time wanted to be on Queens Rd.(Money). But they did decide to change them. (East,West,North and South). lol

  • Mark Caplan

    My favorite spot is the intersection of 5th and 7th Streets, which of course is neither 5th nor 7th but Monroe Road.

    • Marie Francoise

      Discuss. 😉

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  • richard

    And the hooker girls say, If you cant trade on Tryon try on Trade!