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How Charlotte's Neighborhoods Got Their Names

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istock

Wonder how Myers Park or NoDa became Myers Park and NoDa? To track down these answers, we enlisted the help of Thomas Hanchett, local Charlotte, North Carolina historian and author of the book Sorting Out the New South City. 

Of course, this list isn’t comprehensive. Some neighborhoods didn’t make the list because their etymologies were obvious (we’re looking at you South End and University City), and some were omitted because there’s no reliable information (why does no one know where Chantilly originated?). But we’ve dug up some fun historical facts that explain where your neighborhood got its name—and possibly its personality.

1. Arboretum 

Charlotte’s Arboretum neighborhood surrounds the eponymous shopping center (location of the city’s first Wal-Mart), which opened in 1989. The center and the neighborhood were named for the large quantity of trees that were in the area prior to its development. 

2. Ballantyne

Just outside the I-485 loop, this neighborhood is one of the city’s newer additions. It was originally farmland and a large family hunting preserve until Charlottean Smoky Bissell purchased the land (around 2,000 acres) for development in 1995 and named it after his aunt, Barbara Ballantyne. 

3. Biddleville 

© James Willamor

This community is home to the historically black college, Johnson C. Smith University, which was formerly Biddle University. The school—and ultimately the neighborhood—were named for Major Henry J. Biddle, an officer in the Union Army who died during the Civil War. His wife, Mary Biddle, donated funding in his honor to help found the college. 

4. Blakeney 

This South Charlotte neighborhood and shopping complex takes its name from James A. Blakeney. After his father, a South Carolina native, was killed during the Civil War, his mother resettled with her children in the Blakeney area in 1883. The family accumulated considerable holdings in the area, and the James A. Blakeney House, constructed in 1901, is still in the neighborhood—and currently for sale for $1.5 million. 

5. Cherry

© James Willamor

Historically, this small neighborhood has also been called Cherryton or Cherrytown. “It may have been an old plantation slave quarters,” says historian Thomas Hanchett. “Its name is said to have come from the cherry trees that once grew on its hillsides.”    

6. Cotswold 

© James Willamor

This neighborhood derived its name from the Cotswold Village Shops located at the intersection of Randolph and Sharon Amity Roads. The shops, which were once Cotswold Mall, were named for the charming Cotswolds area in England.

7. Dilworth

© James Willamor

Edward Dilworth Latta, a traveling salesman from New York, moved to Charlotte in 1876. In 1890 he joined with Charlotte’s mayor and four other investors to develop the city’s first street car suburb. Latta also created Dilworth’s Latta Park, which was originally an amusement park designed to draw city dwellers to see the neighborhood before it was developed. “He was a very modest man,” says Hanchett. “From what I know, he never named anything Edward.”

8. Eastover 

Prior to 1927, the land on the east side of Providence Road was primarily two dairy farms. At that time, Charlotte’s E.C. Griffith Company began creating an upscale new suburb aptly named for its location to the east of much of the city’s previously developed suburbs. 

9. Elizabeth 

© James Willamor

When Charles B. King established a small Lutheran college for women in 1897, he named it after his mother-in-law, Anne Elizabeth Watts, because Watts’ husband, a tobacco businessman, had provided much of the funding for the school. The neighborhood takes its name from Elizabeth College, which stood on the present-day site of Presbyterian Hospital.

10. First, Second, Third, and Fourth Wards

© James Willamor

By the 1850s the village of Charlotte had grown large enough that it needed to be separated into four political wards. A quadrant was made with the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets at its center. Charlotte officially ended the ward voting system in 1945, but the names of the center city neighborhoods stuck. 

11. FreeMoreWest 

Want proof that Charlotte is still a young city? The name of this neighborhood, just outside of Uptown, has only been coined in the last several years. Named for Freedom Drive, Morehead Street, and the west side, its one of Charlotte’s fastest growing urban neighborhoods.

12. Grier Heights

Arthur S. Grier was an influential African American leader in Charlotte during the segregation era. He was the owner of Grier’s Grocery on Monroe Road, and he built his home—which still stands—across the street from the store in 1922. Several business ventures later, Grier developed the land behind his home into the area that became known first as Griertown and later as Grier Heights.

13. Myers Park 

© James Willamor

Charlotte resident Colonel William R. Myers is known for donating the land for the area’s first African American college, Biddle College (now Johnson C. Smith University) as well as Myers Street School, the city’s first public school for African Americans. His son, J.S. “Jack” Myers, came into his inheritance, which included 306 acres of then farmland, at the age of 26. Jack Myers accumulated more than 1000 acres, on which he created tree-lined roads and planted flowers, earning it the nickname “Myers Park.” 

14. NoDa

© James Willamor

The first question most people ask about this eclectic arts district is where it got its funny name. It’s short for “North Davidson,” the street that runs through its center. Architect Russell Pound originally coined the name in the early 1990s. 

15. Plaza Midwood

© James Willamor

While this east Charlotte area has plenty of historic roots, it wasn’t formally recognized as a neighborhood until 1973 when two residents decided to form a community organization. They coined the name by combining the area’s most notable residential street, The Plaza, with one of its larger subdivisions, Midwood.

16. SouthPark 

© James Willamor

Today, SouthPark is one of the city’s most sought-after and upscale neighborhoods. But it was only with the arrival of SouthPark Mall in 1970 that Charlotte residents began to flock to this spot, which was once former North Carolina Governor Cameron Morrison’s 3,000-acre farm. The mall, titled for its picturesque location south of town, was the neighborhood’s namesake.  

17. Starmount

Like much of the South Boulevard corridor of Charlotte, this neighborhood was established in the latter part of the 20th century. Now it’s one of South Charlotte’s largest neighborhoods, but the initial construction spread from Starbrook Drive, which lent its name to the development.

18. Steele Creek

Not surprisingly, this neighborhood is named after the small creek that runs through it. The origin of the creek’s name is a little less certain, but it’s believed that the Steele family were Scotch-Irish settlers who came to the area in the early 18th century. 

19. Washington Heights

This neighborhood, which opened as a streetcar suburb in 1913, was originally planned as a suburb for the city’s middle-income African American residents and named in honor of Booker T. Washington. 

20. Wilmore

© James Willamor

This area was originally home to the Wilson and Moore farms. Hence, when it was converted into another one of the city’s streetcar neighborhoods in the early 20th century, the names were combined for Wilmore.

See other cities in our Neighborhoods series.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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