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Independence Boulevard - Charlotte's First Urban Highway

Today, the major pieces of Charlotte's highway network include the Outerbelt (I-485), Interstates 77 and 85, and the Brookshire and Belk Freeways (I-277), but nearly sixty years ago Charlotte's first major urban highway project would begin.  The construction of Independence Boulevard in the 1940s and early 1950s would give Charlotte and North Carolina its first urban expressway, and would usher in a new era of highway building throughout the state. 
With the help of former mayor, Ben Douglas - who sat on the State Highway Commission in the 1940s - the push for building Independence Blvd. began.  In 1946, city residents passed a $200,000 bond issue that would go along with over $2 million in federal funding.  The highway would open in two stages in 1949 and 1950.  When a grade separated interchange was built at South Blvd. and Morehead St. in the mid 1950s, Independence Blvd. was completed. (1)  Although the highway was not a fully controlled access highway, it gave motorists an express routing on the southern edges of the city.
 
Independence Blvd. in the late 1970s before many of the major changes to the highway took place.  The map shows the detail of the interchange at South Blvd. and Morehead St. (Champion Map Corporation, 1979)
Changes to Independence Blvd. would begin in the 1980s.  The construction of the Belk Freeway (I-277) would have the most dramatic impact.  Later, the conversion of East Independence Blvd. to a freeway made additional changes to the highway.  The most recent change was the completion of extending the freeway to Albemarle Road in 2006.  Other changes like lengthened surface streets and the growth of the uptown area have impacted the original route.  Over the years, parts of Independence Blvd. have been renamed to Carson Blvd. and Stonewall St.  In June 2007, South Independence Boulevard was renamed Charlottetowne Avenue.  The decision, initiated by the Charlotte Department of Transportation, was made because of confusion between the nearby Independence Freeway and the surface street.  As a result, Independence Blvd. now only exists on US 74 as you head east of the city. (2)


Today in Charlotte many pieces of the city's past are increasingly hard to find.  In a growing city that in creating a solid identity, many old things go by the wayside.  For Independence Boulevard, the same can be said.  The backbone of Charlotte's transportation in years gone by, old Independence is now broken up, in some places it is now under a different name.  However, if you take a closer look, there's still a lot of the old road - and Charlotte's past - to be found.
 
Chris Curley leads us on a tour of Old Independence with photos he took in June of 2006.  I was fortunate to take this tour in person with him in the Spring of 2001.  Chris has lived in the Charlotte Area since 1980 and knows much of the modern history of Independence Blvd.
 
We start the tour on the west side of I-77 where Wilkinson Boulevard meets the Interstate.  Originally, Wilkinson Boulevard from Morehead St. to I-77 was Independence.  That name change would occur with the opening of I-277 in the 1980s.  Today, within the system of ramps that connect US 74, I-277, and I-77 together is the first remnant of the original Independence.  A bridge built in 1954 - that once carried the six lanes of Independence Blvd. - has been reduced to a one lane on-ramp.
 
The on-ramp from US 74 East (Wilkinson Blvd.) to I-77 South was once part of Independence Blvd.  The bridge that once carried six lanes of traffic has been reduced to handle only one lane for the ramp.


Independence Blvd. would have gone straight through the flyover ramps embankment.

A closer look of the former Independence Boulevard bridge.
Looking westwards to Wilkinson Blvd.

Eastward from I-77, the first few hundred yards of Interstate 277 would be built on top of Independence Blvd.  The off-ramp to Carson Blvd. would put to use another six lane bridge of the old highway.  The bridge, which carries the ramp over a set of railroad tracks, was also built in 1954.  Like the I-77 ramp to the west, this former six lane bridge now only handles one lane of traffic to Carson Blvd. at Mint. St.

Here the Carson Blvd. off ramp begins.  The jersey barriers funnel the former six lane bridge to one.

The 1954 bridge plate.
Looking west from the bridge down I-277 towards I-77.
Looking back up the ramp and bridge.
The former eastbound lanes of Independence Blvd.
The former westbound lanes as they disappear into I-277.

An old shoulder stripe from the westbound lanes still remains.
A pair of streetlights, the left for the ramp.  The second a leftover from Independence Blvd.
A close-up of the older streetlight.
Looking west on Carson.  Here you can see where the highway was removed.
From the off-ramp, a better view of the cleared highway and Carson Blvd.


An intersection view of where Old Independence's westbound lanes were truncated.
From here Carson Blvd. follows what was West Independence Blvd.  The best clues to that you are on old West Independence is that the original concrete pavement is still in use.  From Mint St., we'll head past Church St. to Tryon St.  At Tryon St., West Independence would become South Independence Blvd.

Looking east from Mint St. towards Church St.
From Tryon St. looking west towards Church St.
At the Carson Blvd. - Church St. intersection, a close look at the original pavement and concrete divider that was put in when the highway was reduced to four lanes.
Looking westwards at Tryon St., the original pavement returns.  It will continue that way until Mint St.
Between Tryon and South Blvd. more changes has been made to the original Independence.  The former six lane right of way has been squeezed into three lanes.  With former lanes now reclaimed for future real estate development. From here, a left turn onto South Blvd. continues South Independence.

Looking east from Tryon St., former South Independence squeezes to three lanes.

Carson Blvd. ends at South Blvd. A left turn follows the path of South Independence.

Looking up the hill and west on Carson Blvd.
Along South Blvd. is where the former grade separated interchange between South and Independence once stood.  There really isn't any trace of the old interchange remaining.  Now, a totally different interchange between South Blvd. and Interstate 277 exists.  As well, the cityscape of Charlotte has gone through drastic changes through here as well.

Looking south on South Blvd.  The pink building is The Arlington Apartments.
Morehead St. goes over South Blvd. which it also did with Independence Blvd.
From the Morehead St. overpass, South Blvd. crosses I-277 towards Stonewall.
Where South Blvd. meets Stonewall and Caldwell, Independence had made its big sweeping curve to the right (eastbound).  You wouldn't notice it unless you look closely, but the details of the curve still exist.
 
South Independence would have curved onto what is now Stonewall St. here.  The cracks in the asphalt pavement shows the alignment of the former curve.


Looking down Stonewall towards McDowell St.  You can see how the curve straightened out here.

From Stonewall looking at Caldwell and South Blvd.  Since we are facing the opposite direction, South Independence would have curved left here.  Today, you can not make the left hand turn onto South Blvd. as traffic is one-way in the opposite direction.  The tall building in the background in the Westin Charlotte that opened in 2002.

A closer look at the curve and asphalt pavement meeting the original concrete from Stonewall.
From Caldwell towards I-277 and Kenilworth, Stonewall St. follows the route of South Independence.  Here some great clues of the old highway still exist.  First, a sealed off pedestrian tunnel sits near McDowell St.  Near I-277, former retaining walls, driveways, and concrete stairs of an old city neighborhood that was torn down in the 1960s.  In August of 2006, some of these walls were being removed during a reconstruction project of the I-277 interchange.  Fortunately, they were still up when Chris went by.

Looking East on Stonewall towards I-277.

Looking west towards McDowell at where the former pedestrian tunnel sits.
A shot of the boarded up access to the pedestrian tunnel.
On the opposite site of the street, the other tunnel entrance.  It is not known how long these tunnels have been closed or what they may have connected to.
A former driveway entrance totally consumed by vegetation overgrowth.
Near the Stonewall and I-277 interchange, a former retaining wall and sidewalk sit.
A break in the retaining wall contain steps to a former residence or business.

A close view of one of the abandoned staircases and the overgrowth surrounding it.
Just past I-277 where Kenilworth Ave. takes over for Stonewall St., the name of South Independence Blvd. reappears.  South Independence crosses over Sugar Creek and past the former site of Charlottetown Mall known later as Midtown Square.  Today, more changes are taking place to South Independence as the bridge over Sugar Creek is being totally replaced and the former Midtown Square site will be the home of a new residential and retail development called "The Metropolitan."
 
From Kenilworth Ave., construction was taking place for the new Sugar Creek Bridge for South Independence Blvd.  South Independence at Kings Drive can be seen in the background.
 
Looking down Stonewall from the end of South Independence at the Interstate 277 interchange.

From the opposite bank of Sugar Creek, a look from Kings Drive toward the end of South Independence and the I-277 Interchange.
When the bridge replacement project is completed, this will be the new end of South Independence Blvd.


To conclude the tour of Old Independence, we follow Independence Blvd. from Kings Drive to the Independence Freeway.  Here, Independence has a more active urban feel with many retail stores and restaurants.  It ends at a traffic light at 7th Street, as continuing straight puts you on the Independence Freeway.

Looking west from 3rd Street down the hill towards Kings Drive.
From 3rd Street looking east towards Fourth St.
Looking west, 4th Street is in the foreground as Independence heads towards 3rd.
The Athens Restaurant at Independence and 4th Street was a Charlotte landmark for 45 years.  On September 30, 2006, this staple of Charlotte's past closed its doors to make way for an expanding Central Piedmont Community College campus.  The owners of the Athens hope to revive the restaurant at a new nearby location.
Looking west at Elizabeth Avenue.
East Independence Blvd. begins at 7th Street.  Here is a look at the original concrete just beyond 7th Street looking west towards Elizabeth Ave.
We end our tour as East Independence meets 7th Street at a traffic light.  The ramps connect Independence to the freeway that shares its name, the Independence Freeway.


  • (1) Turner, Walter R. Paving Tobacco Road: A Century of Progress by the North Carolina Department of Transportation.  Raleigh: North Carolina Office of Archives and History, 2003. 63.
  • (2) "South Independence Boulevard to be renamed." Charlotte Observer. June 27, 2007.
  • The Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County
  • Chris Curley
  • US 74 @ NCRoads.com Annex ---Mike Roberson
  • NC 27 @ NCRoads.com Annex ---Mike Roberson
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