Many years ago, my father accepted a job with a company named North Carolina National Bank in Charlotte. Growing up on Long Island, I knew this was going to be a culture shock. What I knew about the south was printed in the newspapers. No matter how my parents tried explain that living in Charlotte was not that bad, I was skeptical. It did not help when my parents bought a house just beyond the city limits in a neighborhood with no street lights and was very quite. A sharp contrast from an area that was across Jamaica Bay from JFK Airport!
Charlotte is an interesting city with some interesting quirks. For as long as I remember, Charlotte has always been concerned with its image. Charlotteans are so worried about what the rest of the world thinks of them that they lose sight with the concept of “just be yourself.” While this attitude continues, Charlotte has moved up in the “major leagues” by concentrating on itself and building itself into something more than a 2½ horse town and Atlanta’s little sister.
One thing that Charlotte has going for it is that it is really the financial capital of the south. Charlotte is second to New York as being the largest banking centers in the U.S. Charlotte was the home of that little bank named North Carolina National Bank. Today, that bank operates under the name of Bank of America. It also was the home of First Union before being bought by Wachovia which was later purchased by Wells Fargo. Charlotte is the home of Wells Fargo’s east coast operations.
I bring this up after reading a Charlotte Observer story, “Museums of Money”that appeared last week on their website. The story begins by reminding us that Charlotte has had a long financial history dating back to the 1799 discovery of gold of Conrad Reed’s farm along Little Meadow Creek in nearby Cabarrus County. Conrad’s son John further explored the area in 1802 and began mining operations in 1804. The Reed Gold Mine is now a privately owned historic landmark open year round to visitors. You can still pan for gold to find the slivers still floating in the waters.
The story was prompted by the opening of the new Wells Fargo History Museum in the building they purchased from Wachovia in downtown Charlotte. The museum pays tribute to the gold and banking heritage of the area along with the history of Wells Fargo dating back to its founding in 1852. You can read about Wells Fargo’s history on line and see some the artifacts at their museums nationwide at www.wellsfargohistory.com.
Another museum mentioned is Mint Museum of Art. With the discovery of gold in the Charlotte area, congress authorized the first branch mints outside of Philadelphia. The U.S. Mint in Charlotte was opened in 1837 and was the first mint ousted of Philadelphia to strike gold coins. The Charlotte Mint produced over $5 million in gold coins until it was taken over by the Confederacy after North Carolina seceded from the Union in 1861. After the war its status was changed to an assay office. When the building was set to be demolished in 1931, a group of private citizens bought the building and moved it a few miles south of its downtown Charlotte location. The building was rededicated in 1935 as the Mint Museum of Art. Today, the museum has expanded to a new location in downtown Charlotte and the location of the original Mint building is called Mint Museum Randolph. The Randolph location has a small gallery dedicated to when it produced coins including a model of the layout showing where the coins were struck and stored along with examples of the half and quarter eagles struck at the old Mint.
Not to be outdone, Bank of America has a its flagship museum at its corporate headquarters in Charlotte. The Bank of America Heritage Museum does focus more on its heritage from its founding as North Carolina National Bank in 1961, but does recognize the full history of all the banks that it acquired over the years which dates its history back to The Massachusetts Bank founded in 1784. If your interest leans to the Bank of America before being purchased by Nations Bank, their museum in San Francisco will provide you with that opportunity. For those not in either location, the Bank of America Heritage website provides some information of interest.
One museum of note was the Levine Museum of the New South and its permanent exhibit “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers.” This award willing museum concentrates more on the growth of Charlotte and the area from the end of Civil War until today. One of the exhibits shows one of the first ATMs developed by IBM in Charlotte first used by First Union bank.
So if you are in, near, or traveling to Charlotte, these are all good places for a numismatist to go and explore.