The charming town of Waxhaw, just south of Charlotte, is full of surprises. Historically, its claim to fame is being the birthplace of President Andrew Jackson and the home of the Waxhaw Indians—a somewhat odd mix of history, considering Jackson is  widely known for the tragic Trail of Tears.

And while there is a museum in the town that is focused on the region’s history, Waxhaw’s most unexpected museum may be its Museum of the Alphabet. The small, brick structure just outside downtown is entirely focused on the history of alphabets.

William Cameron Townsend opened the museum in 1990. Townsend became interested in linguistics when he learned as a South American missionary that many people are unable to read the Bible in their language because a translation doesn’t exist—and often the language doesn’t even have an alphabet. He founded Wycliffe Bible Translators, the Summer Institute of Linguistics, and the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (JAARS), all to help this cause.

Townsend was passionate about teaching others the historical importance of written words and their development, especially in relation to translations of the Bible, which is why he opened the small museum at JAARS headquarters in Waxhaw. The museum, which is broken into sections such as Hebrew or Cyrillic, features photographs, sculptures, and multimedia exhibits. Guests can take guided tours (if arranged in advance) or explore on their own.

Visit the Museum of the Alphabet

WHAT: A small museum in Waxhaw dedicated to the history of alphabets

WHERE: It’s part of the large JAARS headquarters at 6409 Davis Rd., Waxhaw

COST: Free

PRO TIP: Explore more than the alphabet. JAARS offers tours of its headquarters, where more than 600 people from around the world work on providing appropriate translated versions of the Bible. Then make a stop in the headquarters’ Mexico-Cardenas Museum dedicated to Lazaro Cardenas, Mexico’s president from 1934 to 1940, and a close friend of JAARS’ founder, William Cameron Townsend.

This story comes from Sarah Crosland’s book “Secret Charlotte: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure,” which you can buy on Amazon here or at local shops like Park Road Books and Paper Skyscraper. It’s a great read for anyone who loves Charlotte — and we’re not just saying that because she’s our former boss.

Photo: Gary McCullough/Charlotte Observer