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FAQ City: Why Is Downtown Charlotte Called 'Uptown'?

Nick de la Canal

Listener Jeff Moen moved to Charlotte about three years ago, and has never really figured out this one quirk of his new hometown. While nearly every city in the nation calls its central business district "downtown," in Charlotte, it's "uptown."

Of course, there are other uptowns out there. There's an Uptown, Memphis; an Uptown, New Orleans; and dare we forget Uptown Manhattan in NYC, just to name a few. But those cities also have downtowns. As far as we can tell, Charlotte is the country's only major city that calls the whole place "uptown."

This can seem pretty bizarre to outsiders. It did to late-night host Jon Stewart when he hosted his show from Charlotte in 2012, ("... downtown, which for some reason here is called 'uptown,' which I think we can all agree ... is stupid.")

Well, as some long-time residents may recall, the heart of Charlotte did used to be referred to as downtown as recently as the 1970s. That is, until a certain middle-aged businessman named Jack Wood came into the picture and launched a diehard campaign blasting the "downtown" moniker as downbeat and depressing, and not to mention historically inaccurate.

On this week's episode of FAQ City, we take up Jeff's question; track down community historian Tom Hanchett, who walks us through Jack Wood's crusade of the 1970s; and host Nick de la Canal pulls some records, and ultimately decides Jack Wood was right.  

Credit Compiled by Nick de la Canal / WFAE
A collection of headlines and photos from The Charlotte Observer circa 1974-75, when Jack Wood was waging war against "downtown" in favor of "uptown."

Special thanks to Tom Hanchett, community historian, for joining us on this episode. Check out his uber cool blog over at www.historysouth.org for more great tales from Charlotte's past.

And a quick shout out our small town neighbors who, like Charlotte, have designated their central areas "uptown." In North Carolina, members of the uptown club include Shelby, Greenville, Lexington, and Wadesboro, and in South Carolina, there's Greenwood. Do you know of any other towns or municipalities calling their downtowns "uptown?" Let us know!

Do you have a question about Charlotte's history, culture, or other peculiarities? Submit in the box below, and we might just answer it on an upcoming episode of FAQ City!

While you're at it, make sure to subscribe and rate/review the podcast on Apple PodcastsNPR One, and Google Play.


Corrected on March 1, 2018 - A previous version of this story incorrectly listed Greenville, South Carolina, as a city that refers to its downtown as 'uptown.'

Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal