Gateway to the Mill District
Before the cotton mills were built and the train tracks were laid down, Optimist Park was sprawling farmland.
This changed with the construction of the Alpha Cotton Mill (1889) and Highland Park Mill No. 1 (1892), two of the first cotton mills in Charlotte. Together, they helped create the momentum to transform the city into one of the country’s leading textile manufacturing centers.
The neighborhood was largely blue collar, with many residents working in the mills as builders for the mills and mill villages, or as shopkeepers and schoolteachers. Along with Belmont and Villa Heights, it became part of the city’s first completely working-class suburb.
The community was a walking neighborhood, which meant that grocery stores and general stores could be found on virtually every corner. And by the early 1900s, it had streetcar service, something more often associated with areas like Elizabeth and Dilworth.
Situated along what was once the northern boundary of Charlotte, Optimist Park now finds itself at the heart of everything. Its optimal location has led to recent efforts to better connect it to Uptown and to adjacent neighborhoods—once again by rail and by foot.