The Wesley Heights neighborhood is a quick drive west on Trade Street or a brisk walk on the greenway from Charlotte’s uptown. Its 100 years of history are hard to disregard when residents, homes and old rails are still there to tell the Wesley Heights story.
Charlotte businessman John Wadsworth ran a livery and livestock farm on the land that is now Wesley Heights. That company, J.W. Wadsworth Model Farm, cared for the horses that drove the trolley system in Charlotte. (Residents still find horseshoes on their property.)
In 1910, Wadsworth’s son, George, commissioned a home to be built for his family. That same home still stands and is called Wadsworth Estate. Owned by Shirley Fulton, a retired judge and prominent leader in Charlotte, it serves as a venue for weddings, political events and parties.
In 1911, the farm was sold by the family and sub-divided for a middle-class neighborhood with brick and wood siding bungalow and cottage style homes. By the 1930s, the neighborhood was complete with electric trolleys running through the wide streets. At that time and for the next few decades, Wesley Heights was an all-white neighborhood.
Today, Wesley Heights community is a robust and diverse neighborhood made up of 50 percent people of color and 50 percent white. Shannon Hughes, a chemist, is a 10-year resident of Wesley Heights. He has been president of the Wesley Heights Community Association for the past four years. Hughes gave me a driving tour of the neighborhood.
Hughes introduced me to residents and gave me a history lesson on several houses. His enthusiasm and pride for Wesley Heights was not contained: “We know our neighbors. Everybody knows everybody. We look out for one another.”
I met Helen Kirk, a retired school teacher. Kirk was the second African American to move into the neighborhood in 1967. She remembers how the neighborhood started to change: “Almost became a slum – a lot of drug activity.”
But the long-time residents persisted and with the help of a strong neighborhood association, pride returned to the community. Shirley Fulton became president of the neighborhood association in the 1980s. Her leadership helped the group form long-term plans for the Wesley Heights Greenway, coordinate neighborhood festivals and build community.
Kirk says, “People began to care about one another. It was a neighborhood family.”
Wesley Heights residents have several reasons to be proud:
• Designated a Local Historic District in 1994.
• Most intact neighborhood in Charlotte with 95 percent of homes historically the same as in the 1920s.
• 385 of their 400 homes are on the national registry.
• First neighborhood in Charlotte to have detached garages. Garages are also on national registry.
The Kendalls, Brantley and Jessica, have lived in Wesley Heights with their children for five years. They enjoy the impromptu gatherings at Rhino Market and being connected to First Ward through the greenway.
Jessica says, “We love it for the diversity and good mix of people.”
The city’s transportation plan includes bringing the streetcar back to the Wesley Heights neighborhood via Trade Street. It will make its way from uptown to Wesley Heights, Biddleville-Smallwood and Seversville.
Kirk is not far off when she says: “I have lived here long enough to see it make a complete circle.”
Photos: Shannon Hughes, Vanessa Infanzon, Brantley Kendall