Growing up in North Carolina, I witnessed the boom of the Charlotte region due to the influx of banking and financial services companies in the 1990s. The area changed drastically in the past 3 decades, as the city grew in stature and size, with more skyscrapers in Uptown and more diverse businesses in the entire metro region. One place to explore the growth of the Charlotte region is the Levine Museum of the New South. Its focus on the history of the region after the Civil War through present day is unique, and I love how it’s “using history to build community.”
The museum is located in Uptown Charlotte and makes a great addition to any trip to the Queen City. It has reopened Fridays – Mondays with limited numbers of guests due to the coronavirus. Be sure to purchase your tickets ahead of time to ensure entry, and download the Avo Insights Augmented Reality app before your visit to enhance your time in the museum.
The main exhibit at the museum, Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers: Charlotte and the Carolina Piedmont in the New South, examines Charlotte’s growth from a sleepy farming town immediately after the Civil War to the banking powerhouse that it is today.
You can learn how farming was transformed in the late 1800s by the end of slavery, the increase in railroads, and the new technology available, including the cotton gin.
The next section of the exhibit focuses on the growth of textile mills, which became the region’s biggest business in the early 20th century. By the 1920s, the South surpassed New England to become the nation’s top textile producer. The museum has a replica cotton mill, showing how dirty and hard the mill jobs were and how many of these jobs were done by kids.
In pre-COVID times, the museum also provides hands-on activities so your children can try their hand at carding, spinning, and weaving cotton. My kids loved doing this, especially since our ancestors were carders and spinners in the mills!
The replica mill village is particularly fun to explore, with a typical mill house and household goods on display.
This display also has music from the time period, and you can actually hear the music that was popular then. If you’re a fan of the movie, “O Brother Where Art Thou,” you will like it!
My kids were especially interested in learning about the mill coins that workers were paid with and could only be used at the company store.
After leaving the mill village, you walk into a recreated Main Street from the early 20th century.
Your kids will love exploring the old store with its toys displayed.
My kids thought the old appliances were so funny. It was hard for them to understand how revolutionary they were at the time!
Main Street also has a cool barber shop replica.
There’s even a church sanctuary display and information about Charlotte’s own, Rev. Billy Graham.
During 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, it’s especially timely to learn about the struggle for women’s suffrage in North Carolina.
After Main Street, the exhibits focus on the fight for Civil Rights in the mid-20th century. Some of the depictions of the separate and unequal facilities are heartbreaking yet important for kids to study. The exhibit gives you a chance to view news stories from the era to help you understand what was happening.
North Carolina ignited the nation’s sit-in movement for Civil Rights in Greensboro in 1960. While the original Greensboro counter is at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, the Levine Museum has a replica counter.
Charlotte played an integral role in desegregating schools through busing, and its history is discussed. Kids will be interested in the bus!
The final rooms of the exhibit focus on Charlotte’s growth into a financial powerhouse and the decline of textiles, along with its new skyscrapers and the increased popularity of NASCAR, which is headquartered here. As a native, I enjoyed seeing the old pictures of Charlotte compared to how it appears today. I can’t believe how much it has changed, with new roads, buildings, and the massive growth in the suburbs.
My favorite part of the exhibit is the display about the women trailblazers in Charlotte’s history, including my former boss, Sue Myrick. She was Charlotte’s first female mayor and represented the 9th District of North Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives for 16 years. I loved seeing her picture in the museum!
The last part of the exhibit is the display about North Carolina food items, including my kids’ favorite, Moon Pies!
After leaving the main exhibit, you can also view the rotating exhibits upstairs. At my most recent visit, these exhibits included more discussion about school desegregation and voting. Check its website before your visit to see what’s there!
If you can’t visit in person, the museum has an interactive virtual tour of the main exhibit that is fantastic (be sure to click on the “X” in the picture to smoothly move between displays.). Also your child can have storytime with the museum here.
If you’re looking for a place to learn more about the Piedmont region of North Carolina and how it has changed since the Civil War, the Levine Museum of the New South is the perfect place to visit. Next time you’re in the Queen City, be sure to visit with your family!
- Cost: $10/adults; $6/children 6-18; free/5 and under
- Recommended for: 10 and up
- Tour time: 1 hour
- Gift shop onsite
- Transportation: Parking is available in the adjacent parking garage (bring in ticket for validation). The museum is also located on the Lynx Blue Line at the Seventh Street Station.
- Dining options nearby: The mall, Founders Hall, has several restaurants. Other favorites include Amelie’s French Cafe and Fuel Pizza. Check out the Charlotte tourism site for more ideas (note that most restaurants are currently take-out only due to the COVID restrictions).
- Nearby hotels: The Westin is my go-to hotel in Uptown Charlotte but there are many to choose from, including chains and local hotels. See the Charlotte tourism website for more ideas.
- Attractions nearby include: Discovery Place (my favorite science museum for kids!), ImaginOn, Mint Museum Uptown, Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame
Books to Read:
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- 6 and up: