Nestled in the northern end of a large peninsula, Belmont (the town, not the neighborhood next to NoDa) hugs the eastern border of Gaston County.
This waterside town is surrounded by the Catawba River to the east, Lake Wylie to the south, and the south fork of the Catawba River to the west. Its location made it difficult for its early Dutch settlers to make the trek to neighboring towns. Nowadays, Belmont is easily accessible via I-85 or Wilkinson Blvd. and is just 15 miles from uptown Charlotte.
Originally established in the 1750s, the community known as Garibaldi Station was renamed “Belmont” in 1833. The new name translates to “Beautiful Mountain,” a nod to its neighbor, Crowders Mountain (about 15 miles west of downtown Belmont). In addition to hiking the namesake mountain and spending the day at the famed U.S. National Whitewater Center, you can enjoy Belmont’s fascinating history, intriguing architecture and honest-to-goodness hospitality.
Mill Town to Modern Day
The Stowesville Cotton Mill opened in 1853, making it one of the first three cotton mills in Gaston County. Although textile manufacturing became an important industry for much of the South (including Gastonia, which was the fourth-largest textile center in the state), Belmont’s agricultural influence remained strong for much of the industrial revolution.
The railroad through downtown Belmont was built in 1871 and put Belmont on the map, so to speak, paving the way for growth and development. But it wasn’t until 1901 when access to the railroad and waterways led to the construction of the Chronicle Mill, a steam-powered mill that began producing carded yarns and later converted to combed yarns. (Combing is the process of passing fibers through a series of straight metal teeth to help the fibers lay parallel to one another. Combing involves separating the long fibers from the shorter ones and removing any tangles. Combed fibers are typically stronger and more lustrous than carded ones.)
Through the efforts of local leaders such as Robert L. Stowe, Sr., his brother, Samuel Pinckney Stowe; and Abel Caleb Lineberger, the town grew from a rural community to an urbanized manufacturing town. By the 1930s, over 20 textile mills called Belmont home, causing the population to soar from 145 at the turn of the century to over 4,000.
Traveling through the historic Belmont district now, you can see the textile mill remnants from the early 20th century. Known as “mill villages,” these small communities were dotted throughout the area and included churches, homes and stores serving mill workers and their families.
The textile industry declined in the Charlotte region from 1970 to 2000. Like many in the area, Belmont experienced the economic impacts of this decline, but the 21st century brought a renewed interest in the area. Residential developments and downtown revitalization attracted people looking for small-town living just outside Charlotte’s city limits.
Belmont Abbey was the start of downtown Belmont’s development. In 1872, the Caldwell Plantation was purchased and subsequently donated to the Benedictine monks, which eventually led to the formation of Belmont Abbey. You can walk the grounds of Belmont Abbey College (the only college in North Carolina affiliated with the Catholic church), and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and distinctive architecture.
St. Joseph Adoration Chapel is a graceful incorporation of wood and glass and is modestly tucked in the trees between two residence halls. The Mary Help of Christians Basilica is open for students and visitors to join the Benedictine monks for liturgies, or for personal prayer and reflection. The basilica was built in 1892 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Brick by Brick
Walking the streets of historic downtown Belmont, you’ll notice a common theme in building materials. As one local shop owner said: “We seem to have an obsession with brick around here.” From buildings and crosswalks to sidewalks and stairs, there’s an array of shades and sizes in the brickwork that holds this town together.
There’s history between the bricks, and in some cases, that history is even captured on the walls. Black-and-white photos adorn the exterior wall of Belmont’s Specialty Foods. The owner hired a friend to print the photos onto a special paper and affix them with a blow torch to the brick wall outside the business. The owner recalls patrons who have said they recognized a friend or family member from the photos, which depict scenes like the old Dairy Queen in Gastonia that defined a generation.
A colorful installation attached to the bricks of the former Bell Telephone Company building overlooks the Belmont Community Garden. The floral designs on aluminum sheets were created in 2018 by students and teachers at Gaston Day School to honor the school’s 50th anniversary.
If Walls Could Talk
Some locals say Belmont has experienced a lot of change and development over the last few decades, between new retail spaces cropping up and businesses that operate out of former residences.
There has indeed been a fair amount of turnover, but as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. These new inhabitants are often just adding their own chapters to a space with decades of stories to share.
You could spend an afternoon appreciating the architecture along these history-steeped streets.
The Stowe Mercantile building currently houses Catawba River Outfitters. The city’s former Piedmont and Northern Railroad Depot (known more commonly as just “the Depot”) is now home to South Main Cycles and the restaurant and pub, Station.
In contrast, the recently constructed North Main Station is beside the Depot and is the first commercial development downtown Belmont has seen in nearly 50 years. Just around the corner, Stowe Manor was built in 1924 and is now a popular space to host weddings and reunions. The small building on the corner of Main Street and Catawba Street once housed the Belmont post office until 1970 — it was converted in 1973 for use as the Belmont City Hall.
There’s also the A.C. Lineberger houses, both designed by prominent Charlotte architect Charles Christian Hook. The first was built on 203 N. Main Street in 1910, and the second at 411 N. Main Street between 1919 and 1921. The substantial homes are still private residences and represent the wealth and worldliness in Belmont during the period in which they were constructed.
Belmont Capital Advisors currently occupies the impeccable white house on 123 N. Main Street. Built in 1898 by local merchant George M. Gullick, it predates Belmont’s textile era. Robert L. Stowe, Sr. had an impressive Colonial Revival dwelling built within a landscaped park in 1917 on the corner of N. Main Street and W. Woodrow Ave.
Walk This Way
Parking is a breeze in downtown Belmont, with public lots and street parking throughout the area that make it easy to stroll the streets. Park in the lot by the Belmont Community Garden and cross the train tracks to Stowe Park for lush and somewhat shaded green space. You’ll find a walking path around the graceful fountain, several picnic spots, new playground structures and a stage for concerts and events.
The Carolina Thread Trail trailhead is also here and connects to downtown Cramerton via sidewalk. The Kevin Loftin Riverfront Park is a short drive from downtown Belmont. (Just follow the signs!) The park along the banks of the Catawba has nice trails and a waterfront walkway with swings and benches to enjoy some peace and quiet. If time is on your side, you may even get to watch the teams from Belmont Rowing Center.
You’ve likely heard of Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, so if you’re in the Belmont area you should make time to visit. Just a 10-minute drive from Stowe Park, the gorgeous gardens feature a five-story orchid conservatory and hundreds of acres of greenery and fountains. The 2.6-mile Seven Oaks Preserve Trail meanders along the shoreline of Lake Wylie and connects to the gardens.
Eat, drink, repeat
Belmont has a surprising number of unique dining options. Your biggest challenge will be deciding what to try first. Here are a few ideas:
- Perhaps one of downtown Belmont’s most cherished spots is Cherubs Cafe. The angelic eatery is owned and operated by Holy Angels, a nonprofit dedicated to caring for individuals with intellectual developmental disabilities, some of whom also staff the cafe. Pop into Bliss Gallery next door to see works by local artists as well as the talents of Holy Angels residents.
- Just around the corner, Mugshots Coffee is housed within Belmont’s Specialty Foods. Grab a latte and peruse the provisions, or take a seat on the patio and soak up the sunshine.
- Across the street from Stowe Park, you can order up an almond croissant at The Everyday Market and take a seat outside — then you’ll have a front-row view when a train rolls through.
- Nellie’s Southern Kitchen brings locally-sourced fare and Southern hospitality to the table. The concept is inspired by the grandmother and matriarch of the Jonas Brothers family. (Bonus: on the corner by Nellie’s is a town clock where you can read about Belmont’s Historical Society, which is located in a historic house just down Catawba Street. The museum is open to visitors on weekends.)
- Up your dining game with a trip to The Lodge Tavern & Tap, where specialties include venison, duck and buffalo.
- For a tasty snack, choose from over 200 flavors of gourmet popped goodness at Tastebuds Popcorn. Cookies & Cream and Banana Pudding are top picks.
- Jekyll and Hyde Taphouse Grill along Catawba Street has brick-art with “Parking” and “Brewery” lettering that is both fun and functional.
- The Bottle Tree is a true hidden gem. Situated in a midcentury ranch house which was previously the residence of former Mayor of Belmont, Kevin Loftin. You’ll find a dining room, a temperature-controlled wine cellar with private dining, and an inviting patio space.
- The String Bean is another great patio pick. Order the fried pickles appetizer to start, then try the chicken and dumplings gnocchi. (You’re welcome.) Be sure to check out the extensive wine and beer offerings and fresh meat and seafood selections in the restaurant’s Market.
- Grab a pint at Primal Brewery after you view the variety of historic photos across the street at Millican Pictorial History Museum. Or top off the day with a drink behind bars at The Jailhouse, located in downtown Belmont’s former jail. (A speakeasy-inspired cigar lounge is downstairs.)
Shop it out
Shopping in Belmont can be its own adventure. For women’s fashion, Jolie Boutique offers trendy clothes and accessories, and Gigi’s Boutique and Fine Consignment features designer clothes, handbags and home decor.
Magnolia & Vine is a one-stop shop for home furnishings. Surprise Me is a gift giver’s dream — from tea towels with pithy Southern sayings to locally made candles and jovial lawn decorations, you’ll find something for everyone on your list. (Tip: You can park in the lot with the toy train painted on the wall outside the shop.)
Prefer the thrill of the (treasure) hunt? Check out Piccolo Antique Mall, which boasts more than 20,000 square feet packed with an array of art, antiques, gifts and other fascinating products. Or peruse the easy-to-navigate aisles at Catawba River Antique Mall. (The Big Boy statue — of both Bob’s and Shoney’s fame — at the front door is a good sign that you’re in for a treat.)
Housed in the former Majestic Mill building that was established in 1908, the structure is almost as old as Belmont itself. Take note of a few visual interests nearby, too — including the treasure chest painting on the exterior of the antique mall and the colorful mural on the Coldwell Banker building across the street.
Pursue your passion
If you want to get a little crafty, sign up for a class at AR Workshop. Options include hand-painted porch signs, chunky knit blankets, custom clocks and wood canvas art.
If you have an interest in music or painting, enroll in a course at the Fine Arts Academy of Belmont. There’s even a music class for babies and toddlers. (Note: Upcoming registration is dependent on COVID-19 developments; the school will post updates on their website.)
Up and coming
If you’re interested in planning a visit to Belmont, check out the Belmont Main Street and Downtown Belmont Development Association (DBDA) for the latest neighborhood news, like how the DBDA has been working with artists to create artsy wraps on various electric and traffic boxes in town. Here are some other fun events to check out in the coming weeks:
- October 22-24, October 29-31, November 4-7: Museum of the Moon will be on exhibit in downtown Belmont for three weekends serving as the backdrop for a series of lunar-inspired events.
- October 21: Moonlight on Main opening art gallery (opening night for the Museum of the Moon exhibit)
- October 23: Boo Fest
- October 24: The Charlotte Jazz Band
- October 30: Halloween Bar Crawl
- October 31: Howl at the Moon Dog-friendly Event
Did We Miss One of Your Favorites?
If you have a favorite creative location in Belmont that we didn’t include in this story, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.Please send a description and a photo. We may add it to the story as a reader suggestion.
This is the sixth installment of an exploration series sponsored by OrthoCarolina, that encourages everyone to go for walks to discover creative communities across the Charlotte region.
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