Sep 23, 2015 - Things to Do

Better know a Charlotte landmark: The Elizabeth Trolley Walk

Elizabeth-Trolley-Walk-Path

Elizabeth-Trolley-Walk-Path

I love that Charlotte is shiny and new and clean, and it’s fun to track the new developments that are announced what seems like every week. However, in the mad dash to tear down and rebuild, we can’t forget that this city has a ton of hidden historical treasures. It’s up to us to make sure they don’t fade into the background of booming development.

These historical landmarks abound, many of them so familiar to longtime residents that they are rarely highlighted and often inconspicuous enough to go unnoticed at first glance by transplants like me. As I brush up on my Charlotte history, I hope to highlight some of these and bring to light how many interesting landmarks are all around us, and give you some ammo to wow your friends with some interesting historical nuggets.

First up is the Elizabeth Trolley Walk, not coincidentally because it’s significant to me personally.

Trolley-Walk-7th

What is it?

Elizabeth-Trolley-Walk-Map

The Trolley Walk is a concrete pathway that cuts through Elizabeth neighborhood, allowing easy access through the neighborhood to the businesses along 7th street.

Trolley-Walk-shown-on-Google-Map
Charlotte-Street-Car

Where is it?

The path runs from 7th Street to 5th Street through the Elizabeth neighborhood, between Pecan Avenue and Clarice Avenue on 7th Street. You ever look up Elizabeth on Google Maps and see that weird gray line that cuts through the middle of the blocks but isn’t a road? That’s the Trolley Walk.

Trolley-Walk-7th-Gate

Why is it there?

In 1913, Charlotte’s subdivisions relied heavily on the transportation infrastructure. The houses in the most desirable locations were those with easy access to the streetcar lines for a quick commute into uptown. At this time the streetcar ran from Hawthorne Street down 7th Street along where the final phase of the Elizabeth neighborhood, a subdivision called Rosemont, was in the midst of development. The Trolley Walk was a convenience deliberately placed by the planners to ensure the homes a few blocks away from the streetcar line could still have easy access to the transportation they relied on.

Here’s more, better-written detail from Charlotte’s retiring historian, Tom Hanchett:

The construction of a walkway, such as the Trolley Walk, at the terminus of the streetcar line was designed to make side street property more valuable than it ordinarily would have been. By designing a public pathway, the developers sought to make Fifth Street lots almost as desirable as Seventh Street, along which the trolleys ran. Indeed, in a 1923 advertising pamphlet for Rosemont, Fifth Street lots sold for $1500.00 while Seventh Street property was valued at $2500.00 per lot, which underscores the role of the streetcar in determining land values (Hanchett 1984: 22).

Why do I care?

Perhaps I’m a little biased about this*, but in addition to being super convenient for Elizabeth residents, the Trolley Walk represents something that should be at the core of Charlotte’s future: giving all citizens access to the opportunity and infrastructure that this great city has to offer.

In the late 19th century, when development in Elizabeth was booming, the planners included small design features like the Trolley Walk to greatly improve the quality of life of the residents. Sure this particular feature was a little self-serving because higher-priced lots meant higher returns for the developers, but it’s a perfect example of how small, deliberate actions in city planning can result in a situation where everyone wins. Citizens get access, developers recoup the economic returns they seek, and the city broadens and diversifies their tax base. Everybody won.

Everybody can win in Charlotte’s current development boom as well. It requires deliberate action through public/private partnership to ensure we’re giving everyone access to Charlotte’s glistening future, and that the access is more than lip service.

What little-known fact can I tell my friends to seem smart?

In the four years before an electric streetcar service operated two lines down Trade to McDowell and down Tryon to Latta Park in 1891, Charlotte had a horse-drawn streetcar system. Again, you can read more on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission site. It’s so good.

*I am extremely biased about this.

Trolley picture courtesy of cmhpf.org.

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