Along The Trolley Line
After Park Avenue, the trolley route diverges from Camden Road. The next stop is Bland Street, a very important stop for Charlotte Trolley, because the structure facing Bland Street and filling the block between the tracks and South Blvd is the original home of Charlotte's streetcars!
The Southern Public Utilities Streetcar Barn was built in 1914. It was smaller than the existing building, and was built in the Classical Revival style of architecture. It was constructed to house and service the cars for the electric streetcar system SPU had purchased from developer Edward Dilworth Latta in 1910. The structure originally had the capacity to house approximately 40 streetcars.
Charlotte’s streetcars left the Southern Public Utilities Streetcar Barn at 5:30 in the morning to begin service and returned to the site at 12:40 am after service ended. While most of the cars were out, workers in the barn cleaned and maintained those cars which needed it. The Car Barn had its own forge and a blacksmith who made the specialized tools needed to work on the streetcars and repair their many iron components. The "night men" at the barn serviced the streetcars, looking after their brakes, wheels, and other mechanical parts. Mechanics from the barn also provided service to cars stranded by problems such as damaged wheels, broken glass, and severed trolley rope.
The Car Barn was the site of Charlotte’s first, and worst, transit strike, in August, 1919. The motormen and conductors were striving for better pay and a union, but SPU, and indeed the city government, were not inclined to accommodate them. Local electrical workers from the Southern Power Company went out in sympathy, and soon crowds of mill workers took to the streets in support. Replacement streetcar employees continued to operate the cars, carrying guns, but were severely harassed. Finally, on the night of August 23rd, a gun battle between police and demonstrators outside the Car Barn killed five demonstrators and left 14 people wounded. SPU never did give in, although it later re-hired some of the striking employees.
When Duke Power converted from streetcars to buses, the Car Barn was also converted to meet the needs of the new transportation system. The principal adaptations to the barn occurred in January 1938 and unfortunately included the removal of the arched classical façade to facilitate moving the building closer to South Blvd and the construction of a new front façade.
Gold sluicing in Carolina gold fields.
Duke Power retained ownership of the Car Barn when it sold the bus system in 1955. For a few years the building was leased to the new owner of the system, but in the late 1950’s Duke began using the building as a truck garage and storage facility, and the building served this role until the late 1980s.
On the other side of Bland Street in the 1300 block of South Boulevard are the large factory buildings of the Lance Company. Charlottean Philip L. Lance began selling peanut-butter crackers commercially in the 1910s, starting one of the South's largest snack-food companies. These 1926-1950 structures have now been converted to condominiums, but old Charlotteans still remember smelling roasting peanuts as they drove up South Boulevard.
Between Bland Street and the next stop, the trolley crosses Carson Blvd. Just to the left a small rise of land is reputed to have been the site of an entrance to one of Charlotte’s numerous gold mines. In 1799 farmer John Reed found a seventeen pound gold nugget on his farm east of Charlotte, setting off the United States’ first gold rush. As discoveries spread to nearby counties in North and South Carolina, Charlotte became the trade center of America's first gold production region. Two of the era's richest mines were very close to the trolley’s current route: the Rudisill near Summit Avenue between Mint and Tryon streets, and the St. Catherine near the corner of Graham and West Morehead
By 1835 production was so heavy that the U. S. Treasury decided to open a branch mint in Charlotte. A fine NeoClassical building was completed in 1837. Designed by noted Philadelphia architect William Strickland, it stood near the corner of West Trade and Mint Streets until 1933 when it was dismantled and rebuilt in the Eastover neighborhood for use as an art museum.
Many thanks to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission for the historical information included above.