Columnist Jack Claiborne in The Charlotte Observer wrote in 1973, “Four years ago a story in a Sunday edition of The Charlotte Observer asked, ‘Can Dilworth be saved?’ The answer then from local real estate dealers was, ‘No’.” In subsequent years many residents have continued to ask the same question, reflecting the always fragile nature of inner city neighborhoods.
Dilworth was Charlotte’s first suburb and the first suburb with streetcar transportation to the business district. Edward Dilworth Latta had a vision of urbanizing Charlotte by creating a residential area with easy access to the city center. For that purpose he bought 442 acres of farmland and fairgrounds in 1890. His company, known locally as the Four C’s, secured the gas franchise, electric streetlights, and created the first electric streetcar line that would connect Dilworth to the “city”.
Latta wanted to develop the area as a complete community that would include a diverse collection of homes surrounding a beautiful green space, and some industry. Atherton Mill and many other factory buildings in what is now Southend, were part of the Dilworth plan and recognized as Charlotte’s first industrial park. For the green space, Joseph Forsyth Johnson, a well-known landscape architect, was hired to create a beautiful park with a boating lake, lily pad pond, terraced gardens, and winding paths. Though much smaller now, Latta Park remains one of Dilworth’s favorite attractions.
As industry boomed in the early 1900’s, Dilworth grew. The Olmsted Brothers firm was brought in as both landscape architects and urban planners to plan the expansion of Dilworth. The Olmsteds considered not only street and traffic patterns, but also the topography and landscape features of the neighborhood. Their design included a grand hour glass shaped road that would curve around and connect the sections of houses to the north and south of Latta Park. That grand tree lined road is Dilworth Road.
Dilworth as we know it was recognized for its importance in Charlotte's history and granted protection as a local historic district in 1983. In 1987, Dilworth was added to the National Registry of Historic Places. The neighborhood has 1,025 structures designated as historically significant.
There is no more definitive account of Dilworth’s history as Charlotte’s first streetcar suburb than Dilworth: The First 100 Years by local historian Tom Bradbury. This book may be purchased at The Paper Skyscraper or Dilworth Drug, both located on East Boulevard. All proceeds benefit DCA.