Support Us Button Widget

A glimpse of Charlotte’s Museum of History

Explore the history of the Queen City with a one-of-a-kind view into the many facets that make Charlotte the queen it is.

The pillared archway of a white museum building, surrounded by greenery and trees.

The Charlotte Museum of History tells the story of the Queen City and its inhabitants from the 1760s to present day.

Photo by CLTtoday

Table of Contents

When Charlotte was founded, it’s unclear if settlers knew how historic this city would become. But it is, and that’s what we’re digging through.. The city has several museums showcasing the arts, sciences, and culture. One is the Charlotte Museum of History.

Tucked away on Shamrock Road in east Charlotte, the grounds are beautiful and the interior is mind-blowing. The museum is the steward of the 1774 Hezekiah Alexander Rock House, the oldest home in Mecklenburg County. CMH has four halls and gallery spaces for traveling and permanent exhibitions.

Path of Portraits

The first hall you’ll notice houses the Path of Portraits. It’s an ongoing project with Charlotte creatives to paint the faces of people whose stories in history may not be well-known. Some date back to the 1700s. The first two you’ll notice, John Lawson + Nance and her child.

A hall with a portrait of John Lawson on the left and a man in the background looking at another portrait.

John Lawson’s book, “A New Voyage to Carolina,” was published in 1709 and documents all types of life and land in the Carolinas.

Photo by CLTtoday

“Lawson was kind of one of the early explorers of the Carolinas before there was really any settlement here,” says Mea Agazio, the Education & Engagement Manager at Charlotte Museum of History. “He wrote A New Voyage to Carolina, documenting the wildlife, the surrounding areas, the people, and indigenous nations. We still use his writings to kind of learn a little bit more about what Indigenous life was like before pre-colonization.”

A painting and possible image of Nance breastfeeding a child with a plaque describing her history on the right.

There is very little documentation of Nance. We do know she was born into slavery and lived at the Alexander Homesite, had three children there, and left the property in 1786.

Photo by CLTtoday

The portrait of Nance is breathtaking in person. The reimagination presents a woman in motherhood but also embodies strength and being.

“Nance was an enslaved woman here on our home site. We know from documents that she had three kids while she was enslaved here. That’s the only documentation that we have of her. But she was more than a mother, an enslaved person. She was powerful. I think that holds a lot of weight,” said Agazio.

The Path currently has a dozen portraits with hopes to expand in telling all the stories of Charlotte.

Siloam School

The Siloam School is one of Mecklenburg County’s oldest remaining African American schoolhouses. It’s also one of the last standing Rosenwald-Era Schools. Through the use of imagery, blueprints, timelines, and classroom desks, you’ll trace the story of education in the South for Black children.

A banner showing the words "Save Siloam School Project," with text and imagery, surrounded by lights.

This banner greets guests as they enter the area used to highlight the work of the Save Siloam School Project.

Photo by CLTtoday

In its history, it was a single room schoolhouse, a family’s home, and a body shop. The Mallard Creek area’s growth and expansion led the building to become neglected and encroached on by development. Thanks to the Museum’s fundraising efforts, the building was delivered to the Charlotte Museum of History’s grounds in September 2023, where restoration is ongoing.

“It was cool considering the fact that fundraising for the school move was a community effort, in the same way that building the school and fundraising for the construction of the school was a community effort. So literally a hundred years later, we were able to bring the community together,” said Agazio.

Once restoration is complete, the school will open to the public in June. Editor’s note: a full story on that work and the school’s history coming soon.

35 Years of the Charlotte Hornets

Across from the Path of Portraits, you can trace the first 35 years of the Hornets, formerly (and briefly) the Bobcats. This exhibition, in partnership with the team, celebrates the contribution of the Hornets to the Queen City.

Several basketballs are suspended from the ceiling, recreating the game-winning, three-point shot from the Hornets during the '94 NBA Finals.

Follow the basketball’s path to recreate Muggsy Bogues’ game-winning shot against Boston.

Photo by CLTtoday

In this exhibition, you can compare your height to that of Muggsy Bogues, imagine yourself shooting the series-clinching shot against Boston in the 1993 playoffs, see authentic jerseys, a Hornets cookbook, toys and memorabilia.

There’s even a display dedicated to the Charlotte Sting, the city’s WNBA team. Could we see a resurgence of the Sting anytime soon? This City Editor can hope.

Otherwise known as the Backcountry Gallery, this area is great for school groups and children’s programming. It shows the evolution of housing, starting with the Catawba Bark House, and traces back to the Alexander Rock House (that story is coming soon). “We use this space to kind of show the evolution of what Charlotte looked like, since students kind of have trouble picturing a Charlotte without roads and tall buildings and cars. People have lived on this land for thousands of years, but it’s just looked different over the years.”

An area for children to explore the history of Charlotte with a faux farm area on the left, table and chairs in the center and a small log cabin on the right.

While it may be hard to imagine now, Charlotte has a robust history in farming, textiles, and mining.

Photo by CLTtoday

This gallery features colonial-era games, a nod to Charlotte’s mining history, and textile work. “I call it the starting point for Charlotte getting to where it is today, because that’s when you see lots of people coming into Charlotte moving here in droves,” says Agazio.

Open Wide the Door

The most recent exhibition to open at CMH is Open Wide the Door. It tells the story of Carolina-native Mary Cardwell Dawson. Dawson founded the National Negro Opera Company. The exhibition features portraits, intricate costumes, an interactive listing area, and highlights the success of the National Negro Opera Company as it performed in the 1940s.

A wall with the words "open Wide the Door" and a description underneath of the exhibition and an image of Mary Cardwell Dawson looking to the distance on the right.

Mary Cardwell Dawson was a pioneer. In 1941, Dawson founded the National Negro Opera Company, the first commercially successful Black opera company..

Photo by CLTtoday

In a press release, Terri L. White, the Charlotte Museum of History president and CEO, said this exhibition was a longtime coming. “Mary’s contributions to the world of opera were never properly appreciated during her lifetime. The museum is honored to be a part of finally recognizing her visionary legacy here in North Carolina.”

Captured in Cartoons

Cue School House Rock. This exhibition highlights the works of cartoonists in the Queen City, including a recreation of Kevin Sires’ desk, a Pulitzer Prize-winner and longtime cartoonist of “The Charlotte Observer.”

A hall within Charlotte Museum of History shows a multi-colored character in a glass case with a comic book in front.

There is fun in Charlotte’s history, like Zax, a mascot used by Duke Energy in the 1980s.

Photo by CLTtoday

“This exhibit shows, not only the history of cartooning, but also in Charlotte specifically, and how illustrations play to our commentary on social issues and, really anything that can be reported on,” said Agazio.

Overall, CMH is here to tell and preserve the story of Charlotte and its people, from 1767 to present day.

There is so much more for you to explore, but this is just a teaser of what you can expect at the Charlotte Museum of History. Make sure to stop in and check out everything CMH has to offer + if you run into Mea on your visit to the museum, tell her Maria + Jack sent you and say hello. 👋

More from CLTtoday
The Isabella Santos Foundation vows to provide hope to families across the Carolinas through its new initiative.
NC Wildlife Resources Commission emphasizes ways for people to coexist with black bears.
After eight years of raising funds and restoration, Charlotte Museum of History will host a grand opening to the restored Siloam School.
CLTtoday phone
Good news for Charlotte
Get the best local news & events sent to your inbox each morning, for free.