Welcome to the Mill District

A revitalized reminder of how a small Southern town is becoming a booming city.

As Charlotte’s population grew by 20% over the last decade, the dynamic of its neighborhoods has drastically changed. The older in-town neighborhoods have become a lot more expensive and desirable. Industrial areas have become more residential. And residential areas that previously lacked any cohesive geographical identity have been given one, for better or worse. There’s now LoSo, which is the grittier southern strip below the white-hot SouthEnd neighborhood and its condominiumized light-rail corridor. There’s MoRa, which, as I understand it, is the stretch of Monroe Road that lies beyond the Oakhurst neighborhood – and whose residents are affectionately known as MoRans.

The latest iteration of Charlotte’s neighborhood identity creation was recently launched a few weeks ago, and at our Charlotte marketing agency, we like it a lot for three reasons. First, it’s next to our home base neighborhood of Plaza Midwood (and has basically functioned as Plaza Midwood’s grittier, artsier side for years now.) Secondly, it’s a memorable and historic name for this side of town that will help preserve some of Charlotte’s past for future generations. And thirdly, our Charlotte marketing agency’s favorite lunch spots are all located here.

Welcome to the Mill District

The name is a nod to the area’s mill history, and the fact that several of those mills have been – or will soon be – transformed into apartments, restaurants, retail and more. In addition to Highland Park Mill No. 1, which is now called Optimist Hall; there’s: Highland Park Mill No. 3 (now Heist Brewing and Highland Mill Lofts); Alpha Cotton Mill (now Alpha Mill Apartments); Chadbourn Hosiery Mills (expected to be redeveloped into office and retail); The Johnston Mill (expected to be developed into apartments); The Mecklenburg Cotton Mill (now The Lofts at NoDa Mills); and Louise Cotton Mill (being redeveloped into apartments over on Hawthorne Lane); and so on …

Currently, the Mill District is a patchwork of neighborhoods, from Optimist Park and Belmont closest to Uptown, then up to Villa Heights and into NoDa. In recent years, those neighborhoods around NoDa – especially Villa Heights – have been pushing to assert their identity as separate from NoDa. But the developers and real estate honchos who came up with this designation have said they’re not trying to take anything away from the already-established neighborhoods with the name, but imbue an identity to the whole district. Basically, they’re hoping that the business corridor will be known as Mill District, while each residential neighborhood would keep its own identity.

I see their point. It’s easier to say “We’re going to hang out in the Mill District, on Saturday” than it is to say “We’re going to grab some dinner at el Thrifty in Optimist Park, then stop by Amelie’s in Villa Heights for desert, and then roll into NoDa to catch a show at the Neighborhood Theater.”

So the next time you’re bouncing around all the new restaurants, bars, and other fun spots in this rebranded slice of town, make sure you gaze up at the soaring mill chimneys that dot the area and remember how these massive textile-related factories, with their paternalism, child labor, and racial segregation, turned the city of Charlotte into the undisputed textile capital of the southern Piedmont.



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