If you’re like me and have called yourself a Charlottean for more than 20 years (we need a secret handshake), you may remember a time back in the early ’90s when Ballantyne was little more than undeveloped farmland on the southern periphery of I-485.
Before the resort, before the office towers, before the movie theater that vaguely resembles a spaceship. Times have changed, but there’s still one similarity to the days of old in the Ballantyne we know and love today.
Actually, there are four.
As you drive down what once were the quiet country roads of south Charlotte, you find yourself at a busy intersection marked by four towering archways. “The Monuments of Ballantyne” were commissioned by Charlotte developer Johnny Harris and created by Yugoslavian artist Boris Tomic, who spent the better part of three years crafting them in a brick factory in Salisbury.
At first glance, they appear to be mirror images of each other, but if you take a closer look, each tells its own unique story of Charlotte’s history.
Being in the shadow of 485, this seems like a natural place to begin. Featured on this arch is Cameron Morrison, nicknamed the “Good Roads Governor” for the role he played in establishing much of the transportation infrastructure our state uses today.
You’ll also find a map of the Native American crossroads that established Charlotte as a trading post, the historic trolley (welcome back, streetcar), which connected Dilworth to uptown Charlotte in the late 19th century, and the train station that served as the midway point between New York City and New Orleans.
Odes to Charlotte’s booming textile industry can be found all over this monument, including the spinning wheel and hand loom used for turning cotton into thread and cloth. Pay attention the right side of this arch, where you’ll find the Catawba River dam built on the property of one Dr. W. Gill Wylie. I’ll let you take a wild guess which lake it created.
It wouldn’t be a story about Charlotte without a tribute to banking. Here you’ll find the likeness of former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl alongside Conrad Reed discovering gold in the late 1700s, as well as our branch of the United States Mint, awarded to Charlotte in 1835 thanks to the gold rush.
For all you history and anthropology buffs, this one is a must-see. Revolutionary and Civil War tributes take their place alongside the various religious institutions around our city. On this monument, you also learn about the people. Each face has a story, and each name and face represents a cornerstone of the community we have become.
Today, this city within a city calls itself home to more 20,000 Charlotte residents and a multitude of businesses large and small. Times have changed, but the arches still remain, standing guard at the four corners of Johnston Road and Ballantyne Commons Parkway.
So the next time you find yourself in Ballantyne, take a little walk, read the placards at the foot of each monument, and learn a little more about the history of the Queen City.
Eric Osterhus is an adventure travel aficionado who spends the majority of his time outdoors. Follow him on Twitter @EricOsterhus.