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Southern Railroad Bridge Above P&N Roadbed


    Railroads have been part of the built or man-made environment of center city Charlotte since October 1852, when the Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad started operating locomotives from its northern terminus at the approximate location of the current Charlotte Convention Center at South College Street and Second Street.  This seminal event in the development of Charlotte was followed by the arrival in town of the North Carolina Railroad in 1854, the Wilmington, Charlotte and Rutherfordton, later Seaboard Air Line Railroad, in 1858, the construction in 1873 of the roadbed of the Atlanta and Charlotte Air Line, later Southern Railroad, along the northern and western edges of town, and the laying of the tracks of the electrified Piedmont and Northern Railroad south from Fourth Street and Mint Street in 1912.  Initially, the tracks of these railroads crossed Charlotte’s streets at grade level.[1]

    With the advent of electric streetcars or trolleys in 1891 and the arrival of automobiles in the early twentieth century, these rail crossings became major bottlenecks to traffic moving to and from the center city and Charlotte’s newly-established suburban neighborhoods.   Especially troublesome was where North Tryon Street, the city’s major northern gateway, intersected the tracks of the Seaboard Air Line.  By the 1930s a narrow underpass had been built to ease the congestion, but it contained a dangerous curve and was inadequate to meet the increasing volume of automobile traffic.[2]  On July 6, 1938, the Charlotte City Council acted to remedy this situation.  Calling it the “most necessary improvement in the highway system” in town, Mayor Ben Douglas and the Councilmen entered into an agreement with the State Highway and Public Works Commission to construct a new, wider underpass.[3]    

North Tryon Street Railroad Underpass


     Automobiles first traveled through the replacement North Tryon St. Underpass on October 4, 1939.[4]  Mayor Ben Douglas, City Manager James B. Marshall, and other dignitaries spoke at a dedication ceremony immediately before the inauguration of traffic. The cost of the underpass was $150,000, with $125,000 coming from the Federal government and $25,000 from the municipality.[5] “Mayor Douglas presided at the short speech

making,” reported the Charlotte News. [6] The underpass was part of a much larger undertaking to construct a modern highway between Concord and Charlotte, the Concord-Charlotte Highway, which opened to traffic on October 1, 1939.  The new roadway was four lanes wide for the first few miles heading north from Charlotte.[7]  A railroad bridge  was in place beneath the Southern Railroad tracks on West Sixth Street by 1952 (see below).[8]

West Sixth Street Railroad Underpass

c. 1952

Photo of Victor Shaw

Mayor Victor Shaw

      A major initiative to relieve congestion at railroad grade crossings in Charlotte  occurred during the administration of Mayor Victor Shaw.  Upon assuming office in 1949, Shaw stated that “grade crossing elimination was vital to the development of the city.”  It would “unbottle the City,” the Mayor proclaimed.  At Shaw’s urging, the City Council signed a contract on July 22, 1949, with Frank T. Miller, a consulting engineer from Greensboro, to survey the railroad crossings in uptown Charlotte and develop plans and specifications for the bridges and underpasses required to rectify the situation.[9]  The Charlotte News praised Mayor Shaw and the Charlotte City Council for taking this action.  “The elimination of the grade-crossing bottlenecks has been one of the new Administration’s main campaign pledges,” the newspaper explained.  “The people will be gratified that, unlike some other administrations in the past decades, this one means to carry out its pledge, and means to do it in a sane and sensible fashion.”[10]  Shaw called the signing of the contract with Frank Miller a “momentous date in the history of the city.”[11]

Car Crossing Eleventh St. Bridge


     The voters of Charlotte went to the polls on July 29, 1950, and approved a bond referendum authorizing the City to sell $1,500,000 of “Crossing Elimination Bonds.”[12]  The initial project of this new program was the construction in 1951 of an underpass on East Stonewall Street to enable traffic to connect directly with the recently-completed Independence Boulevard.[13]  This underpass was demolished in the late 1980s to accommodate the construction of the Charlotte Convention Center.  A bridge was constructed sometime between 1950 and 1953 beneath West Sixth Street as part of Mayor Shaw's initiative, and another was constructed to carry East Eleventh St. over the railroad tracks between College Street and Brevard Street.  Designed by Frank Miller, it was built in 1954.[14]

Concrete Abutment Of 11th Street Bridge

     The oldest railroad bridge in uptown Charlotte is the trestle that once carried the tracks of the Southern Railroad above those of the Piedmont and Northern  (P&N) Railroad.  In 1909, William States Lee, vice-president of Southern Power and Utilities Company, proposed to James B. Duke, the company’s president, that the firm construct an "electrically powered interurban railway system linking the major cities of the Piedmont Carolinas." Grading for the line began in Charlotte in April 1912 for the first leg of the northern section of the system, extending from Charlotte to Mt. Holly.   A freight depot was constructed on the west side of Mint Street between Second Street and Third Street, and a passenger station on Fourth Street just west of Mint Street.  Service from Charlotte began on April 3, 1912.  The trains exited from uptown Charlotte beneath the trestle that carried the tracks of the Southern Railroad along the western edge of the center city.[15]

P&N Freight Depot (Destroyed in the 1970s)

This remnant of the P&N Railroad Passenger Depot remains just below West 4th St.


Click Here For Dr. Tom Hanchett's Overview Of Center City Charlotte.

[1] For an explanation of the role of railroads in Charlotte’s development, see Thomas W. Hanchett,, n.d. “The Growth Of Charlotte: A History.”

[2] Charlotte Observer, 4 October, 1939.

[3] Minutes of the Charlotte City Council, 6 July, 1938.  The most complete record on the actions of the Charlotte City Council with respect to bridges is found in the Minutes of the Charlotte City Council, which are housed in the City Clerk’s Office on the 7th floor of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center. 

[4] Charlotte News, 4 October, 1939.

[5] Charlotte Observer, 4 October, 1939.  Others invited to the ribbon-cutting ceremony included Frank Dunlap, Chairman of the N.C. Highway Commission,  project engineer W. A. Little, and F. A. Triplett of Chester, S.C., the contractor who had built the underpass.  This issue of the newspaper contains a photograph of the underpass. 

[6] Charlotte News, 4 October, 1939.

[7] Charlotte Observer, 4 October, 1939.  Caldwell Construction Company of Charlotte provided the concrete for the underpass.  Neal Hawkins Co. of Gastonia did the excavating and grading for the project, and Brown Paving Company of Charlotte did the paving. 

[8]  The dating of the underpass is based upon the the Charlotte City Directories.  The 1941 City Directory (p. 932) states that W. Sixth St. crosses the track.   The 1942 City Directory (p. 1215) states that there is a railroad underpass.  This bridge was replaced by a more substantial structure in the early 1950s.

[9] Minutes of the Charlotte City Council, 22 July, 1949.

[10] Charlotte News, 25 July, 1949.

[11] Charlotte News, 23 July, 1949.

[12] Minutes of the Charlotte City Council, 31 July, 1950.

[13] Minutes of the Charlotte City Council, 25 April, 1951.

[14] Minutes of the Charlotte City Council, 2 September, 1953; 20 January, 1954. Sanborn Insurance Maps (1950), 316; (1953), 316.  The other bridges in uptown Charlotte designed by Miller (E. 3rd St., E. 4th St., E. Trade St., N. Graham St.) have been replaced by newer bridges.

[15] Thomas W. Hanchett and Dr. William H. Huffman,