NoDa Mill District – Self-Guided Walk
by Tom Hanchett
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.
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
Continue south along Davidson Street, crossing 33rd Street. On your right is the big Highland Park #3 Mill.
HIGHLAND PARK MILL #3 – 2901 N. Davidson Street
The Highland Park #3 Mill is an official Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmark and is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
Stuart Cramer published detailed plans for Highland Park #3 in his book Useful Information for Cotton Manufacturers, 1906.
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
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.”
Turn right on 33rd Street
TINY HOUSE — 551 E. 33rd Street
Turn right on Yadkin Avenue
MILL COTTAGES ON YADKIN AVENUE
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
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
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.
Stay on Alexander Street, crossing 36th Street and continuing one more block. Then turn left on Mercury Street.
At N. Davidson Street, turn left (you’ll see the Mecklenburg Mill to your right).
MECKLENBURG MILL – 3327 N. Davidson Street
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 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
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
Now retrace your steps — back to 36th Street and turn left
NEIGHBORHOOD THEATER – 511 E. 36th Street
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
THE EVENING MUSE – 3227 N. Davidson Street
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
CHARLOTTE FIRE STATION NO. 7 – 3210 N. Davidson Street
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 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
Continue southward across 35th Street, staying on N. Davison Street.
FAT CITY – 3123 N. Davidson Street
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.”
Want to learn more?
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.
Our Charlotte Walking Tours
Some other tours we like
Mid-Century Modern in Center City
ArtWalks Charlotte – self guided walking tours of murals and other public art
Sorting Out the New South City explores how Charlotte became a city of neighborhoods. Book discussion guide available here >>