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All Roads Lead to Matthewsby Amanda Lea on July 13, 2021
Matthews is less than 30 minutes from uptown Charlotte (without traffic) and offers a vibrant, small-town oasis with a thriving arts scene.
Community connection is a running theme in Matthews. You’ll feel that connection whether you’re shopping for produce at the Matthews Community Farmers Market, grabbing a cup of coffee from Brakeman’s Coffee & Supply, picking out your next read at the Matthews Public Library or snagging a slice of pizza at The Exchange Pizza Depot. Just walking the streets of downtown will stoke your creativity.
This is the second installment of a new exploration series sponsored by OrthoCarolina, that encourages everyone to go for walks to discover creative communities across the Charlotte region.
Main photo credit: Ernesto Moreno
In Matthews’ earliest days, farmers began clearing the land for planting around the start of the 19th century. As the land was cleared for planting, so many tree stumps were left standing that the early settlement was unofficially known as “Stumptown.”
Jump ahead to 1825, when John Miles Fullwood was appointed area postmaster. Fullwood operated a stagecoach depot, store and post office from his home. The mail was addressed to Fullwood Station. Gradually, Stumptown became known as “Fullwood.”
All aboard! The Central Carolina Railroad, later known as the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, began rolling through town in 1874. The railroad named the stop “Matthews” in honor of Edward Matthews, a director in the company … and the rest was, literally, history.
Matthews was incorporated in 1879.
Matthews is 17 square miles and has grown from 191 citizens in 1880 to a population of more than 30,000 today. Although the town has evolved, the railroad continues to be an important part of its identity. You can still see trains rumble across the tracks several times a day, and you’ll find the railroad history infused in the town’s culture, from business names to menu items.
Keep an eye out for pieces of the past as you explore all this town has to offer.
Bee Happy in Bee City
You’ll see a lot of bee-autiful (sorry!) art around town celebrating the fact that Matthews was designated a “Bee City” in 2014, making it just the fifth city to receive the designation. Bee City USA is a national nonprofit organization that recognizes, supports and encourages pollinator conservation in cities, towns and counties. The bee theme in Matthews is solid — from local honey at the farmers market to sculptures celebrating these powerful pollinators. (You can follow Bee City USA Matthews to learn more about educational activities and events around town.)
The Bee Sculpture at County Place Park by artist Amy Hart is in honor of the town’s Bee City USA designation. The sculpture is surrounded by a garden filled with flowers and plants that attract pollinators.
Also in County Place Park, the Pollinator Mural on the Obelisk by artist Tersia Brooks is a tribute to Matthews’ history and beauty. (If you’re visiting Squirrel Lake Park, you can take a quick drive down Privette Road to spot the mini-mural painted on the fence of Brooks’ residence.)
You could (kind of) say all roads lead to Matthews, since you can hop on I-485, Hwy. 74 or Hwy. 51 and end up on John Street, the main drag through downtown Matthews.
Parking is precious, but possible. Try to avoid the street parking on John Street and opt for one of the public lots. Good bets to snag a spot are the lot beside the library or the lot at the corner of Trade Street and Charles Street (beside Seaboard Taproom).
The majority of downtown Matthews is walkable, with plenty of crosswalks, sidewalks, walking trails and greenways. There’s also an assortment of outdoor living, with patios and park benches inviting you to grab a drink and catch up with friends.
There’s no fear of getting lost here. You’ll find large maps posted throughout the downtown area noting where you are in relation to the train tracks, with a helpful list of nearby businesses and attractions.
Matthews is divided into three neighborhoods: the Cultural Arts District, Historic Downtown and North End. The main streets here are Trade Street, John Street and Matthews Township Parkway. Explore by neighborhood to streamline your journey, or wander at will and see what you discover along the way. Below are some highlights we recommend adding to your list as you create your own Matthews adventure.
Shop and Savor
Pop into a local coffee shop or boutique and breathe in the inspiration. Strike up a conversation with the owners and employees; they’re sure to have a story to share — or at least a lunch recommendation.
One such shop is ZABS Place, a boutique thrift shop and employment training center for young adults with special needs. Bentzion and Rochel Groner, directors at Friendship Circle of Charlotte, started the nonprofit in 2014. ZABS serves as a stepping stone to future employment opportunities at community businesses, utilizing skills developed and honed during their employment. Stop by to peruse the racks and appreciate the attention to detail — like the sweet sign that ensures puzzles and games are checked to be sure all pieces are accounted for. (Note: ZABS is closed on Saturdays in observance of Sabbath.)
Libby and Leaf is another fun place to browse the wares of local artists and shop for home and garden products. There’s even a second floor dedicated to toys and games for younger shoppers. The shop occupies the space of the former A.J. William Hotel in Historic Downtown.
Stop by Moxie Mercantile for some vintage-chic finds by local artists. The newest location for this local, woman-owned business (Plaza Midwood and Davidson are the originals), you’ll find a carefully curated collection of accessories and homewares in this bright lifestyle boutique. Be sure to ask about the in-house jewelry maker Barb Peterson of Peterson MADE. Her brick-and-mortar space is tucked in the back corner of Moxie and is definitely worth a peek.
When it’s time to refuel, grab a signature Lavender Latte or LocoMocha at Brakeman’s Coffee. In line with the railroad theme, this local spot invites guests to “hit the brakes” and settle in the revitalized 1925-era house. A covered front porch and cozy patio invites you to take in the picturesque views of downtown.
Another caffeinated option is Good Cup. Located in the corner of Fullwood Market, Good Cup hits the spot with a Wildflower Latte or nitro cold brew on tap from Sugar Creek Coffee Roasters. (You can also find Good Cup at the Matthews Farmers Market.)
For sustenance, there are plenty of options. Fullwood Market has an array of delectable dishes. (The fried chicken sandwich is a fan fave.) Royal Cafe & Creperie has a low-key atmosphere with top-notch food. (Build your own crepe, or try one of the seasonal suggestions.) The Loyalist Market is a popular gathering spot. A sandwich shop by day and cheese bar by night, it offers beer, wine and local provisions.
The Portrait Gallery serves up small plates and craft cocktails in a cozy, yet classy, setting. (The fried Brussels sprouts, tossed in apple cider vinaigrette with chopped bacon and shaved Pecorino Romano will not let you down.)
For more than 20 years, Santé Restaurant has delighted customers. With a French-inspired, fine dining menu that champions fresh ingredients from the Matthews Farmers’ Market, Santé (which means “health”) is a mainstay. Chef Adam Reed brings his experience working at The Russian Tea Room (and more) in New York to his kitchen in Matthews. We’ll be taking a closer look at Santé on our social channel later this summer.
For a true hidden gem, try Pepero Korean restaurant tucked in the back of a small Oriental market. (The steamed dumplings are mouthwatering.) Roam the aisles abounding with goods and grab a few ingredients to make your own feast.
Work up a thirst? Settle in at Seaboard Brewery, Taproom & Wine Bar, a local watering hole boasting the largest patio in Matthews. There’s also a shady courtyard between the taproom and brew house. Food isn’t served in the brewery, but The Exchange Pizza Depot is just steps away. The walk-up window is housed in what looks like a neighbor’s vintage garage, but the pizza is said to be some of the best in the Charlotte area.
Order a pint of Guinness at Grace O’Malley’s Irish Public House. This quintessential neighborhood pub will transport you straight to Dublin. Virtually everything in the bar and restaurant was handcrafted in Ireland, including the storefront. Don’t be surprised if some live music breaks out and you find yourself swaying along. Sláinte!
See & Do
Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the Matthews Community Farmers Market is the largest producer-only farmers market in the Charlotte region. Connect with neighbors, growers and vendors and celebrate the season’s bounty in the heart of downtown Matthews. It’s not just corn and tomatoes. (Although those are delicious, too!) There’s live music, food trucks, cooking demonstrations and more.
The farmers market is beside Renfrow Hardware (which leases the land for the farmers market … for a dollar each year). The family-owned and -operated hardware store is a Matthews institution for more than 120 years. You’ll find everything from garden tools and cast iron skillets to local honey and baby chicks. (Yes, you read that right.)
There are multiple generations of knowledge at this “mom-and-pop shop” and they’ll happily share it with each customer who walks through their well-worn doors. Less than a mile away is Renfrow Farms, the sister company that complements Renfrow Hardware’s gardening business. The produce, nuts, flowers, and honey produced at Renfrow Farms are sold at the farmers market, plus they offer floral design services for weddings and other events.
The Matthews Public Library and Town Hall building is a great touch-down spot. Park in one of the public lots to check out some new books, view the book mural behind the library, and tour the Seaboard train on display outside the Train Depot and Visitors Center.
Cultural experiences can be found at the Matthews Heritage Museum (across from Brakeman’s). The museum is housed in the 1879 Massey-Clark House, one of the oldest buildings in downtown Matthews. Kids and adults will enjoy exploring the “Lifestyles Gallery,” imagining a time before electricity and running water. Currently on display at the museum is the exhibit “North Carolina Pottery: A Tradition in Clay,” featuring pottery from several regions in the state.
Matthews fosters the small-town feel by hosting regular community concerts and events, many of which take place at Stumptown Park. The Summer Concert Series is held the second and fourth Fridays from April through September. There’s also Food Truck Fridays (second and fourth Fridays from May through October), and Matthews Alive Labor Day Festival (September 3-6). View the full lineup of events here.
The Community Center originally opened in 1907 as the town’s first public school. After a demo and reno in the 1990s, the center is alive with events, programs and classes for all ages and abilities. Fullwood Theater is part of the Community Center and is home to Matthews Playhouse.
The McDowell Arts Center (MAC) houses a two-room gallery space upstairs with a large classroom and studio space downstairs. For the month of July, The Ballantyne Palette will have their work on display at the MAC gallery space. But you don’t even have to step inside to see works of art.
Walk around the Community Center campus and find works by Bree Stallings on the stairs of the Community Center and MAC and a wall mural by Carol Hambridge (more details below). There’s also an array of painted rocks scattered around with messages begging to be read.
There’s a variety of public art in Matthews. Here are a few more highlights:
- The Matthews Celebration Mural by Carol Hambridge on the side of Matthews Ballroom captures the character of the community, celebrating the festivals, families and the overall small-town feel. (Editor’s Note: Carol’s mural is the featured image at the beginning of the article.)
- Hambridge also painted the Cultivating Matthews Mural outside the McDowell Arts Center. The town’s textile history is reflected in the portrayal of cotton, a spinning wheel, thread and a quilt.
- For a literal art walk, the Four Mile Creek Greenway is dotted with sculptures and artwork.
- The Bicycle Mural in North End is a fun surprise. Located on the exterior wall of Which Wich, the mural was added by an unknown artist in 2014 soon after the North End was established.
- Enjoy the playful mural at Velo Pops by Bree Stallings and order a frosty treat.
- Sit on the patio at Loyalist Market and enjoy the view of the “Windsock for the Aliens” sculpture created by artist Wayne Trapp.
(Cheat sheet: Take the ArtWalkChallenge and discover 12 pieces of public art in downtown Matthews.)