A keeper of Charlotte’s history
Plus: Real estate brokers buzzing about high-priced office towers; Many flights grounded at CLT; CMS says schools can plan proms; Kenny Chesney concert coming; Wells develops online assistant 'Fargo'
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Librarian Shelia Bumgarner helps track down photos and info about Charlotte’s past; ‘a one-person search engine’
Shelia Bumgarner stands at the desk in the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s main library, where she’s fielded thousands of calls and visits from Charlotteans and people from across the country over the last 32 years. The library closed last week for demolition, and a new, modern building will open in its place in 2025.
by Cristina Bolling
Whether you’re a fourth-grader writing a report on the history of the Reed Gold Mine or a novelist hunting down a historical image that you’re not even sure exists, there’s one person in Charlotte who is perhaps best equipped to help you in your quest: Shelia Bumgarner.
Bumgarner has been a librarian in Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s Robinson Spangler Carolina Room since it opened on Father’s Day weekend in 1989. It’s a treasure trove of historical and current information on Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and North Carolina, including books, photographs and negatives, microfilm, microfiche, vertical stacks, music recordings, maps and more. It also contains genealogical resources from all 50 states in print and online — the largest collection of family history materials in a North Carolina public library.
Bumgarner is a best friend to journalists, a savior to book authors and a magician to teachers who bring their students to her for captivating programs that bring historical topics to life.
The main library closed last week for demolition, and a new modern library building will rise in its place in 2025. Bumgarner and her fellow staff have spent the last few months packing up the contents of the Carolina Room, and they’ll work out of temporary digs before they can move into the new building.
Tom Hanchett, also one of Charlotte’s best-known keepers of history who was staff historian at the Levine Museum of the New South for 16 years and spent a year as historian in residence for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, calls Bumgarner “a one-person search engine.”
“As wonderful as Google is, having a real, live human being with deep roots in one place is irreplaceable. Shelia is that person for a number of aspects of that history, but particularly for photographs,” Hanchett said.
“If you’re looking for an image, Shelia will probably know whether it exists, and she can probably lay hands on it for you. … Her amazing abilities end up giving visual weight to magazine articles, newspaper articles, websites that reach thousands, maybe tens of thousands,” Hanchett said. “She is one of a dozen, maybe two dozen, people who — pick a date, and they can walk you around big chunks of Charlotte and tell you what was happening there 50 years ago, 100 years ago.”
Bumgarner is 63 now, and she’s already given notice that she’ll retire in 2024.
She sat down recently with The Ledger in the Mary Brevard Alexander Howell rare book room, nestled inside the Robinson Spangler Carolina Room, as she and other library staff worked to pack up for the big move.
Here are her comments, in her own words, edited for brevity and clarity:
History was always my best subject. I had trouble deciding on a major. I must have had 10 majors. My dad said, “Take two courses in your two favorite subjects. Whichever wins out — that’s your major.” History won out.
I got a master’s degree in American history and I was doing private research putting houses on the National Register (of Historic Places), not making enough money to move out of my parents’ house in Burlington (N.C.). One day a woman came in and she had never known her father, but she had some information about him. I showed her how to use the census. Then she told me where he was buried, so I got a map and I got the cemetery listings and showed her how to find his grave and some other information. She wrote me a really lovely thank you note afterward. And I thought, “I really enjoyed helping her. I’m making a difference in someone’s life.” That’s when I signed up for library school. I got accepted at UNC Chapel Hill and UNC Greensboro. UNC Greensboro offered me a job and money. When I came here (to Charlotte), I interviewed and I told them the story about the woman (she had helped). They said they stopped interviewing that day. I got the job. I started on Sept. 1, 1988.
When I first came, they sat me down with these two binders, and that’s what our photograph archive collection consisted of. I was flipping through it, and I was like, “Where are these beautiful houses?” They said, “They tore them down.” That’s when I learned what Charlotte is. It’s always what’s next. You can build it, but we will tear it down.
This (main library) building opened up on Father’s Day, June 1989. This whole street was wall-to-wall people. It was so exciting. We had space for microfilm readers. On the second floor, they had a business library and they had general reference and just anything and everything. This was very pre-internet. And then we got involved with Charlotte’s Web, which was the first internet and email service in Charlotte. We started publishing books. We published African American Album one. We went into communities, churches, you name it, and they had photograph sessions and we would make copies of all these wonderful photographs of Second Ward. Not just snapshots but photos of businesses, of churches, huge panoramas. That collection in the past two years is the most heavily used collection, because we have so many people doing projects on Second Ward.
I just have always been fascinated with what I call social history, which is how people lived, what games they played, their dress, what books they read, what food they ate. Just how they lived. That interested me more than battlefields. It’s really just the story about people. And sometimes it’s just good gossip that’s well documented. That’s how I approach it. I have had young people come in here, and I work with them on their papers, and they say, “Man, I wish you were my history teacher.” Because history can be fun.
When we get donations of archives, we call it “Christmas.” We do our best to tell people, if you’re cleaning out your attic, call us, call UNC Charlotte, call Johnson C. Smith (University). … I transcribed the Wilkes family letters. They were an interesting couple. She was from New York, and he grew up in Washington, D.C. They moved down here for the gold mining. She was used to balls and opera, and she comes down here in 1854, shortly after the passenger train finally arrived to Charlotte. You read the letters between her and her husband from when he was away — they had a very modern relationship. She’s talking about meeting Alexander Hamilton’s widow, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, and Mrs. Dolly Madison. You learn about gold mining, you learn about the railroad being built during the Civil War. She raised funds for St. Peter’s Hospital and Good Samaritan Hospital, which was the state’s first Black hospital. He gave money to Shaw University.
Right now, researching about First Ward and Second Ward and Third Ward are very popular. Julius Chambers is real hot right now. Dorothy Counts — everyone always wants images of her. I know there’s a lot of movement to create awareness of the lost community of Brooklyn. It was painful. We helped the novelist Anna Jean Mayhew on a new novel called “Tomorrow’s Bread.” It really captures what was going on as people were faced with having to leave everything they’d ever known.
‘Hot right now’: Officials dedicated a statue of civil rights lawyer Julius Chambers along the Little Sugar Creek Greenway on Saturday. Chambers won several cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1970s on voting rights, employment discrimination and education. It’s by sculptor Ed Hamilton.
The public library is probably one of the great bastions of American democracy. It’s been duplicated around the world. It’s been said: “Americans’ ability to learn is limited to their willingness to reach up and pull a book off the shelf.” … You can learn a foreign language now at a public library. You can listen to the Beatles and you can listen to Mozart. You can watch movies. All of this is free. Your tax dollars pay for it. You can come use computers. Learn how to write a resume, attend workshops and learn how to do a job interview or to garden. We have workshops and programs across the county that are free.
I’m glad people are coming around to exploring the history of their city and local history. It’s like all politics are local; all history is local. … A lot of people don’t like the term “makes history alive,” but to me it makes it real that you realize people haven’t changed that much. We all want to be loved, and to love, and to have a good house and a good family and to send our kids to school and to have a good job. And to enjoy life.
Today’s supporting sponsors are T.R. Lawing Realty …
Charlotte real estate types gossiping about upcoming sales of two office buildings; record price ahead?
Charlotte real estate brokers are buzzing about the upcoming sales of two new office buildings, which are expected to set record-high prices.
The Lowe’s Design Center Tower and the Honeywell headquarters building are both on the market. And if you thought home prices nowadays are high, prices for new office buildings in Charlotte’s urban core are in the stratosphere.
The talk in the real estate community is that the 23-story Lowe’s building in South End, at 358,000 s.f., had about 20 bidders and that sellers, represented by JLL, allowed any bidders over $285M to keep bidding, according to a reputable real estate source (is there any other kind?). It is being developed by Childress Klein and Ram Realty Advisors. There’s a sales brochure online, as Axios Charlotte pointed out Sunday.
So it’s already at about $800 per square foot, and local brokers are curious to see if the price can get to $900 or even $1,000 per square foot in additional rounds of bidding. Even if it doesn’t, it sounds as though the sales price will shatter previous Charlotte records on a per-square-foot basis — a measure favored by real estate brokers.
The highest per-square-foot price for a major Charlotte office tower is believed to be last year’s sale of The RailYard in South End for $612 per square foot, or $201M. [Corrected earlier version, 11/1/2021 8:45am)
It is not expected to beat the overall sales price record in North Carolina, which is held by last year’s $455.5M sale of the 966,000 s.f. Truist Center ($472 per square foot).
It’s not always an apples-to-apples comparison because of the inclusion of non-office space such as parking decks. But it’s useful enough to indicate that buyers still believe there’s a robust long-term future for offices in Charlotte, despite lingering worries about remote work and flexible schedules.
Another one that real estate types are watching is the sale of the 23-story Honeywell building uptown, which was developed by Lincoln Harris and, we hear, being repped by CBRE. (We can’t find an online brochure for that one, but that’s the word on the street.)
We’re told both could have buyers in place in the next month or so, though deals probably wouldn’t close for months. —TM
Long lines at airport as American canceled about 1/5 of its flights Sunday; More grounded today
American Airlines continued canceling flights from CLT on Monday, following lots of cancellations Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday morning, a line to rebook had 100+ people that went almost the whole length of the B concourse. An American spokesperson told The Charlotte Observer that the airline canceled 18% of its 555 departing Charlotte flights on Sunday, and another 100+ headed to Charlotte. The airline said that strong winds in Dallas a few days ago led to staffing shortages, which tend to be worse at the end of the month because of work restrictions, according to The Wall Street Journal. American said it’s hiring to avoid similar problems around the holidays.
CMS says proms are a (tentative) go for spring
After two years of no proms or homecomings, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools said Friday that it’s giving the green light for schools to start making plans for dances again.
In a communication sent to board members on Friday, CMS said:
Schools can proceed with preparations for prom and school dance activities that are scheduled for the spring. Principals are asked to be mindful of cancellation clauses when entering contractual agreements with external venues, in the event we are mandated to limit social gatherings due to COVID-related issues.
Let the era of “prom-posals,” limo-renting, dress shopping and figuring out how to get 20 people into a restaurant begin.
Some private schools and public schools outside Mecklenburg held proms this spring. In other cases, parents organized unofficial proms. —TM
Related Ledger article:
“Inside Charlotte’s prom limos” (May 8, 2019)
Apartments headed to former church in Belmont: A developer has filed a rezoning request to build 330 apartments at the site of the former Seigle Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte’s Belmont neighborhood. The 2.4-acre parcel at 10th Street at Seigel Avenue was bought in 2016 by a developer, but the rezoning is being sought by a different development company that appears to be affiliated with Wood Partners.
Concert announced: Country superstar Kenny Chesney is holding a concert at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte on April 30, 2022. Tickets go on sale starting Friday. (Carolina Panthers)
New virtual assistant at Wells: Wells Fargo is developing a virtual assistant named “Fargo,” part of a revamped app and website expected in early 2022. Fargo “will be able to execute tasks including paying bills, sending money and offering transaction details and budgeting advice.” The choice of the name was “obvious,” said Michelle Moore, the bank’s consumer digital head, who previously worked for Bank of America and helped develop its virtual assistant, named Erica. (CNBC)
Town elections: Voters in Matthews, Mint Hill, Pineville, Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson head to the polls Tuesday. Axios Charlotte breaks down some of the key races. Charlotte has no election this month because census data wasn’t available in time to redraw election districts. (Axios Charlotte)
Innovation district, affordable housing subsidies on agenda: The Charlotte City Council is scheduled to discuss the Atrium Health Innovation District and an affordable housing rental subsidy program at tonight’s City Council meeting.
Charlotte company on Shark Tank: TheMagic5, a Charlotte company that makes custom swim goggles, was offered $1M for 6.5% of the company by judge Robert Herjavec on the reality TV show “Shark Tank” that aired Friday. That values the company at $15.4M, and the owners accepted the offer. (Axios Charlotte)
Waxhaw cigar bar: FD Cigar Co., a “private speakeasy style” lounge and bar, plans to open this month in the Union County town of Waxhaw. It will have a “smoking room, 75 different cigar varieties and an abbreviated classic cocktail menu.” It’s “the vision of 2 local volunteer firefighters who spent countless evenings smoking cigars, talking about how great it would be to bring a unique twist on a cigar lounge to the people of Waxhaw,” according to its Facebook page. (Tri-W News)
Unless you are a day trader, checking your stocks daily is unhealthy. So how about weekly? How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:
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