NoDa Mill District Self-Guided Tour

by Tom Hanchett 

Heart of NoDa
Heart of NoDa, mid 2010s. Photo by James Willamor CC BY-SA 3.0

NoDa it’s called now, a hip place for strolling to bars and eateries. But for nearly all of the 20th century this was North Charlotte, a cluster of blue-collar textile mill villages. Highland Park #3 Mill (now a mixed-use project including Heist Brewery) opened in 1903, briefly the biggest cotton factory in North Carolina. More mills and textile-related industries joined it, workers living in company-built housing nearby.

As U.S. textile production faded after the 1950s, North Charlotte languished. Then artists discovered it. Paul Sires and Ruth Ava Lyons revived a “naturally air-conditioned” (it’s roof and back wall had fallen in) row of shops for their Center of the Earth Gallery in the late 1980s. By the ‘90s there were enough artists for gallery crawls — which in turn attracted new businesses and young homebuyers for the old mill cottages. The NOrth DAvidson Street area became NoDa.

What’s to see? Explore the historic heart of NoDa/North Charlotte, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. From the Highland Park #3 mill and village, walk to the Mercury and Johnston mills, then through the bustling three-block “downtown.”

Length: about 1.5 miles

If you are a brisk walker, that’s maybe 30-40 minutes. If you stroll, amble or dawdle (all are much encouraged), it’ll take longer.

Start in front of the Johnston YMCA, 3025 N. Davidson Street

Arriving by car? You can usually find an on-street parking space near the Johnston YMCA. Please help our YMCA and our mom-n-pop stores — don’t park in their lots unless you are a paying customer.

Mural NoDa
Art at the 36th Street LYNX light rail station by Ruth Ava Lyons and Paul Sires.

Arriving by LYNX light rail? From the 36th Street station, walk up 36th Street past Rat’s Nest vintage clothing to N. Davidson Street. Turn right and walk two blocks south to find the Johnston YMCA.

To begin, face the YMCA, then walk to your left (south toward downtown Charlotte)

JOHNSTON YMCA – 3025 N. Davidson Street

Charles Worth Johnston built and/or ran the key textile mills that gave rise to North Charlotte. When he retired, son R. Horace Johnston took over management, from offices in the elegant Johnston Building downtown. To inspire worker loyalty the Johnstons opened this impressive community center and YMCA, dedicated November 25, 1951.
Charles Worth Johnston built and/or ran the key textile mills that gave rise to North Charlotte. When he retired, son R. Horace Johnston took over management, from offices in the elegant Johnston Building downtown. To inspire worker loyalty the Johnstons opened this impressive community center and YMCA, dedicated November 25, 1951.

Continue south along Davidson Street, crossing 33rd Street. On your right is the big Highland Park #3 Mill.

Highland Park #3

HIGHLAND PARK MILL #3 – 2901 N. Davidson Street

Deep-pocketed William Holt and Jesse Spencer, with textile holdings across the Carolinas, put Charlotte-based Charles Johnston at the helm of Highland Park #3. He hired engineer Stuart Cramer to lay out the mill village and design the factory – the state’s first cotton mill built for all-electric operation.
Deep-pocketed William Holt and Jesse Spencer, with textile holdings across the Carolinas, put Charlotte-based Charles Johnston at the helm of Highland Park #3. He hired engineer Stuart Cramer to lay out the mill village and design the factory – the state’s first cotton mill built for all-electric operation.

The Highland Park #3 Mill is an official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark and is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

Cramer-Highland Park

Stuart Cramer published detailed plans for Highland Park #3 in his book Useful Information for Cotton Manufacturers, 1906. 

Cramer NoDa Plan

Cramer laid out the streets and designed the houses, Useful Information for Cotton Manufacturers, 1906. 

Carefully cross N. Davidson Street and head back toward 33rd Street

Southern cotton mills ran on what was called the “family labor system” – an expectation that the whole family would work, keeping costs low as this region competed against more industrialized New England. Families fresh from the farm liked the sturdy company-owned cottages a short walk from work.
Southern cotton mills ran on what was called the “family labor system” – an expectation that the whole family would work, keeping costs low as this region competed against more industrialized New England. Families fresh from the farm liked the sturdy company-owned cottages a short walk from work.

But the reality of long, hard hours in the factory wore on children. Nationally renowned anti-child-labor activist Lewis Hine photographed these young millhands in 1909: “A few of the hands on the night shift in Highland Park Mill No. 3, Charlotte, N.C. 10:30 P.M. January 7/09. 100 hands in all. Ten children as small as smallest in photo to some smaller….  Boss of spinning room began at 8 years and is now 30.”

Mill children

Turn right on 33rd Street

TINY HOUSE — 551 E. 33rd Street

Compact living is back in style these days. That’s made North Charlotte’s mill cottages even more desirable -- and sparked construction of new, smaller “tiny houses.” Paul McBroom, founder of the Neighborhood Theater, built this one and several others, aiming to offer opportunities for renters who might be shut out by NoDa’s rising land values.
Compact living is back in style these days. That’s made North Charlotte’s mill cottages even more desirable — and sparked construction of new, smaller “tiny houses.” Paul McBroom, founder of the Neighborhood Theater, built this one and several others, aiming to offer opportunities for renters who might be shut out by NoDa’s rising land values.

Turn right on Yadkin Avenue

The street name honors the Yadkin River, which had powered one of the South’s earlier experiments with electricity, the 1898 Idols dam that supplied current to mills around Winston-Salem. It’s one of several textile-inspired street names in NoDa, including Warp and Card (two textile processes) and Charles, Holt and Spencer (for mill owners Charles Worth Johnston, William Holt and Jesse Spencer)
The street name honors the Yadkin River, which had powered one of the South’s earlier experiments with electricity, the 1898 Idols dam that supplied current to mills around Winston-Salem. It’s one of several textile-inspired street names in NoDa, including Warp and Card (two textile processes) and Charles, Holt and Spencer (for mill owners Charles Worth Johnston, William Holt and Jesse Spencer)

MILL COTTAGES ON YADKIN AVENUE

More of Stuart Cramer's cottages built for workers at the Highland Park #3 mill make up all of Yadkin Avenue. You’ll enjoy observing the many ways these look-alike houses have transformed over a century-plus.
More of Stuart Cramer’s cottages built for workers at the Highland Park #3 mill make up all of Yadkin Avenue. You’ll enjoy observing the many ways these look-alike houses have transformed over a century-plus.

After one short block on Yadkin Avenue, turn left onto 32nd Street – which swoops left to become N. Alexander Street.

HIGHLAND MILL HOTEL / SHUE’S BOARDING HOUSE – 3020 N. Alexander Street

Stuart Cramer’s original plan for North Charlotte called for a hotel. Its construction began in June of 1903 near the start of the district’s development. Salesmen calling on North Charlotte businesses stayed here, along with unmarried mill workers and couples not yet ready to rent an entire house. Mrs. George Shue ran it for the Highland Park company, providing not just rooms for her lodgers but also “board” – home-cooked meals.
Stuart Cramer’s original plan for North Charlotte called for a hotel. Its construction began in June of 1903 near the start of the district’s development. Salesmen calling on North Charlotte businesses stayed here, along with unmarried mill workers and couples not yet ready to rent an entire house. Mrs. George Shue ran it for the Highland Park company, providing not just rooms for her lodgers but also “board” – home-cooked meals.
Shue’s Boarding House, photo from Lois Moore Yandle, Spirit of a Proud People.
Shue’s Boarding House, photo from Lois Moore Yandle, Spirit of a Proud People.

Continue on Alexander Street, crossing 34th and 35th Street.

As you approach 36th Street look under the trees to your right for what some neighbors call the TV House – and also look to your left for the Church of Jesus Christ behind its brick wall.

THE TV HOUSE – 704 E. 36th Street

In 2005 the Turner South cable channel picked this circa 1905 house as the fixer-upper for a reality TV series called “Homemakers,” featuring an all-female renovation crew. Kristin Wells, a real-life Charlotte contractor, emerged as something of a star, going on to host her own series “SmartFix” on HGTV.
In 2005 the Turner South cable channel picked this circa 1905 house as the fixer-upper for a reality TV series called “Homemakers,” featuring an all-female renovation crew. Kristin Wells, a real-life Charlotte contractor, emerged as something of a star, going on to host her own series “SmartFix” on HGTV.

THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST APOSTOLIC – 600 E. 36th Street

Rev. R.L. Hancock moved his non-denominational Church of Jesus Christ onto this block of 36th Street in 1952, offering spirit-filled worship to textile workers and others. At night the building glows with red neon, still a beacon of faith in a worldly part of the city.
Rev. R.L. Hancock moved his non-denominational Church of Jesus Christ onto this block of 36th Street in 1952, offering spirit-filled worship to textile workers and others. At night the building glows with red neon, still a beacon of faith in a worldly part of the city.

Stay on Alexander Street, crossing 36th Street and continuing one more block. Then turn left on Mercury Street.

This one-block avenue takes you to what was originally known as the Mecklenburg Mill, renamed the Mercury Mill in 1926.
This one-block avenue takes you to what was originally known as the Mecklenburg Mill, renamed the Mercury Mill in 1926.

At N. Davidson Street, turn left (you’ll see the Mecklenburg Mill to your right).

MECKLENBURG MILL – 3327 N. Davidson Street

Financed by a relative of tobacco millionaire James B. Duke, the Mecklenburg Mill began running in 1905. 175 workers – many of whom lived in company-owned houses in the shadow of the water tower across the street -- took in raw cotton, spun it into thread, then wove that into cloth. Later known as the Mercury Mill, it became part of the Johnston family’s holdings before closing in the 1970s. In 2013 the NoDa Neighborhood and Business Association sought out a developer who would renovate it for a mix of much-needed affordable housing plus market-rate apartments.
Financed by a relative of tobacco millionaire James B. Duke, the Mecklenburg Mill began running in 1905. 175 workers – many of whom lived in company-owned houses in the shadow of the water tower across the street — took in raw cotton, spun it into thread, then wove that into cloth. Later known as the Mercury Mill, it became part of the Johnston family’s holdings before closing in the 1970s. In 2013 the NoDa Neighborhood and Business Association sought out a developer who would renovate it for a mix of much-needed affordable housing plus market-rate apartments.

The Mecklenburg Mill is an official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark and is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

Continue southward on N. Davidson Street, crossing the railroad track. Just before you cross the rails, the Johnston Mill is on your right.

JOHNSTON MANUFACTURING – 3300 N. Davidson Street

The Johnston family opened this spinning mill in 1916. As textile production began moving out of the U.S. after WWII, chasing ever-cheaper labor, the Johnstons hung on as long as they could. “Charlotte Losing Last Major Textile Plant: Johnston Manufacturing Co. is permanently closing its N. Davidson Street operation” reported the Charlotte Observer on March 1, 1975. After an attempt at rehab as apartments, the long-vacant structure today again awaits a visionary developer.
The Johnston family opened this spinning mill in 1916. As textile production began moving out of the U.S. after WWII, chasing ever-cheaper labor, the Johnstons hung on as long as they could. “Charlotte Losing Last Major Textile Plant: Johnston Manufacturing Co. is permanently closing its N. Davidson Street operation” reported the Charlotte Observer on March 1, 1975. After an attempt at rehab as apartments, the long-vacant structure today again awaits a visionary developer.

The Johnston Mill is an official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark and is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

SALUD CERVECERIA – 3306-C N. Davidson Street

During the 2000s – 2010s, Charlotte had the fastest-growing Latino population of any major U.S. city. You can see some of that energy in NoDa. Dominican-born Dairelyn Glunt and her American husband Jason opened Salud in 2012, offering an array of beers that attracted Charlotteans of every background. USA Today named Salud “Best Beer Bar” in 2019. By the way, Dairelyn’s brother is the entrepreneur behind Sabor, fast-growing Latino fast-food chain with an eatery just up N. Davidson Street.

Admire Salud’s mural by NicoArt – Nico Amortegui, originally from Colombia, South America.
During the 2000s – 2010s, Charlotte had the fastest-growing Latino population of any major U.S. city. You can see some of that energy in NoDa. Dominican-born Dairelyn Glunt and her American husband Jason opened Salud in 2012, offering an array of beers that attracted Charlotteans of every background. USA Today named Salud “Best Beer Bar” in 2019. By the way, Dairelyn’s brother is the entrepreneur behind Sabor, fast-growing Latino fast-food chain with an eatery just up N. Davidson Street. Admire Salud’s mural by NicoArt – Nico Amortegui, originally from Colombia, South America.

Continue along N. Davidson to 36th Street. Turn left on 36th. Walk up 36th Street one block to Yadkin Avenue and turn right.

NODA COMPANY STORE — 3221 Yadkin Av

This re-purposed mill house sells snacks and drinks, displays neighborhood artists and offers a welcoming hang-out. Prolific Charlotte muralists the Matts — Matt Hooker and Matt Moore — painted the history scenes on the exterior. See Revolutionary War General William Lee Davidson, for whose family Davidson Street and Davidson College are named.
This re-purposed mill house sells snacks and drinks, displays neighborhood artists and offers a welcoming hang-out. Prolific Charlotte muralists the Matts — Matt Hooker and Matt Moore — painted the history scenes on the exterior. See Revolutionary War General William Lee Davidson, for whose family Davidson Street and Davidson College are named.

Now retrace your steps — back to 36th Street and turn left

NEIGHBORHOOD THEATER – 511 E. 36th Street

NEIGHBORHOOD THEATER

One of half a dozen movie theaters built in Charlotte suburbs in the mid 20th century (the best known being the Manor in Myers Park). The 1948 Astor Theater eventually showed porn, then became a storefront church. In 1997 Paul McBroom and Sharon Pate transformed it into a scruffy-but-lovable showcase for live music. Sharon also ran Neighborhood Realty, helping scruffy-but-lovable artists and others buy run-down mill houses, boosting the area they nicknamed NoDa.

Grab a coffee at the Smelly Cat across the street and put your eyeballs to work on the theater’s big mural by Will Puckett. How many animals can you count? Can you find Will’s self-portrait?

Continue re-tracing your steps back along 36th Street to N. Davidson Street. At the corner, look for the Costner House on your left and also the Evening Muse across the intersection.

DR. THOMAS COSTNER HOUSE – 3228 N. Davidson Street

“New Physician for Charlotte,” headlined the Observer on June 11, 1904. “Dr. Thomas S. Costner, of Lincolnton, has decided to locate in North Charlotte where the new $700,000 plant of the Highland Park Manufacturing Company and the new Mecklenburg Mill and other smaller industries are… [He] will at once begin the erection of a handsome cottage.” In a few years Dr. Costner’s growing reputation pulled him to a more centrally located residence in the Elizabeth neighborhood. His NoDa dwelling became a boarding house, then a series of restaurants.
“New Physician for Charlotte,” headlined the Observer on June 11, 1904. “Dr. Thomas S. Costner, of Lincolnton, has decided to locate in North Charlotte where the new $700,000 plant of the Highland Park Manufacturing Company and the new Mecklenburg Mill and other smaller industries are… [He] will at once begin the erection of a handsome cottage.” In a few years Dr. Costner’s growing reputation pulled him to a more centrally located residence in the Elizabeth neighborhood. His NoDa dwelling became a boarding house, then a series of restaurants.

THE EVENING MUSE – 3227 N. Davidson Street

Joe Kuhlman and staff have made The Evening Muse one of the Southeast’s premier listening rooms for live music since 2001. The structure’s walls were literally falling down when artist neighbor Paul Sires began rebuilding. Look closely -- he worked the names of his children, Eden and Orion, into the brick of the cornice.
Joe Kuhlman and staff have made The Evening Muse one of the Southeast’s premier listening rooms for live music since 2001. The structure’s walls were literally falling down when artist neighbor Paul Sires began rebuilding. Look closely — he worked the names of his children, Eden and Orion, into the brick of the cornice.

Walk southward on N. Davidson Street. Watch for the highly populated wall mural on your right.

MURAL BY WILL PUCKETT – Side of Jack Beagle’s Pub, 3213 N. Davidson Street

Busy Will Puckett’s Revolutionary War history mural marks the Matheson Street Bridge entrance to NoDa and his animal mural enlivens the Neighborhood Theater. Here he takes NoDa itself as his subject. Can you find the Mecklenburg Mill water tower? How about twins David and Scott Brooks, whose Brooks Sandwich shop at 2710 N. Brevard Street is a favorite stop for chili-onion-slaw hotdogs (our tour ends a couple of blocks from there – just sayin’).
Busy Will Puckett’s Revolutionary War history mural marks the Matheson Street Bridge entrance to NoDa and his animal mural enlivens the Neighborhood Theater. Here he takes NoDa itself as his subject. Can you find the Mecklenburg Mill water tower? How about twins David and Scott Brooks, whose Brooks Sandwich shop at 2710 N. Brevard Street is a favorite stop for chili-onion-slaw hotdogs (our tour ends a couple of blocks from there – just sayin’).

CHARLOTTE FIRE STATION NO. 7 – 3210 N. Davidson Street

CHARLOTTE FIRE STATION NO. 7

Architect C.C. Hook, best known for designing the 1925 Charlotte City Hall as well as Myers Park’s Duke Mansion, drew the plans for this pint-sized fire station which opened in 1935.

The station is an official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark.

HAND PHARMACY – 3201 N. Davidson Street

Hand Pharmacy

Hand Pharmacy at left. Photo by James Willamor CC BY-SA 3.0

Druggist Jasper K. Hand had this handsome two-story structure built about 1912. Upstairs held a meeting hall that hosted, among many other things, labor-organizers of the United Textile Workers of America who tried unsuccessfully to unionize Highland Park #3 in 1923. During the 2000s, digital education pioneer Interactive Knowledge had offices upstairs, devising websites for the Smithsonian and other prestige clients. Cabo Fish Taco moved in downstairs in 2001, anchoring a new NoDa food scene.

The Hand Pharmacy building is an official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark.

MURAL BY OSIRIS RAIN – 35th Street at N. Davidson Street

Look to your left at the 35th Street intersection to see the wall art by Osiris Rain, who paints murals for clients internationally from a base in Charlotte. Artistic energy runs deep right here. Claymaker Paul Sires and painter Ruth Ava Lyons rebuilt this row of shops to make space for their Center of the Earth Gallery, now gone but not forgotten.
Look to your left at the 35th Street intersection to see the wall art by Osiris Rain, who paints murals for clients internationally from a base in Charlotte. Artistic energy runs deep right here. Claymaker Paul Sires and painter Ruth Ava Lyons rebuilt this row of shops to make space for their Center of the Earth Gallery, now gone but not forgotten.

Continue southward across 35th Street, staying on N. Davison Street.

FAT CITY – 3123 N. Davidson Street

As North Charlotte morphed into NoDa in the 1990s, Fat City swirled with energy. Punk rockers, gay bikers, the hip and the homeless, you never knew who’d turn up to hang out … and eat grandma-style Southern cooking. When real estate investors got the site, they worked a wall of yellow brick into their 2008 development, a ghost of Fat City.
As North Charlotte morphed into NoDa in the 1990s, Fat City swirled with energy. Punk rockers, gay bikers, the hip and the homeless, you never knew who’d turn up to hang out … and eat grandma-style Southern cooking. When real estate investors got the site, they worked a wall of yellow brick into their 2008 development, a ghost of Fat City.

And you are back in front of the Johnston YMCA, concluding our tour.

Though if you like, keep going past Heist Brewery to the end of the block, then turn right one block to Brooks Sandwich Shop, 2710 N. Brevard Street. Get a hotdog “all the way” plus Cheerwine to wash it down and stand out under the trees at the long tables of Brooks’ outdoor “dining room.”

Brooks

Want to learn more?

Spirit of a Proud People

Find the marvelous book of photographs and memories gathered by a woman who grew up in North Charlotte: Lois Moore Yandle, Spirit of a Proud People (1997), available at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. 

Read the NoDa News published by the very active NoDa Neighborhood and Business Association

Much of the area is a designated Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places

Take an ArtWalk of Charlotte’s murals.

NoDa door