The Museum’s new exhibit, Charlotte: Signs of Home, opens in just two weeks on Saturday, October 16! This exhibit is guest curated by Christopher S. Lawing, who founded “The Charlotte Signs Project” in 2010, while he was still in high school. The signs featured in this exhibit tell the story of Charlotte through the iconic signs of businesses and institutions that once defined the city.
For more information about The Charlotte Signs Project and to pre-order Christopher’s book “Charlotte: The Signs of the Times,” visit cltsignsproject.com.
The exhibit includes signs from across the city, including Dilworth, Oakhurst, Plaza Midwood, Uptown, and the Museum’s own stomping ground – East Charlotte. Here’s a sneak peek at what will be on display.
Standing watch over Charlotte for generations, with the skyline and Panthers’ stadium as the backdrop, this behemoth sign is a true icon. The longest running advertising campaign in Charlotte, the JFG Coffee sign towered above I-277 and was one of the most visible to travelers and residents. The JFG Coffee sign, with the tagline “Special Coffee, The Best Part of the Meal,” hung from 1964 to 2009, when it was taken down for restoration. In 2011, it was rehung at the Music Factory, where it remained until 2016. The 11-foot-tall “J” will be featured in Charlotte: Signs of Home.
The JFG Coffee Sign shining bright over Interstate 277. If you look closely, you can see the Bank of America building in the background.
Founded by brothers Bobby & Gene Carter in 1957 as The Hickory House, the Old Hickory House was a barbecue joint originally located on Thrift Road near the intersection of Freedom Drive and Morehead Street. With culinary roots in Alabama and Georgia, the restaurant became famous for their pit cooked pork ribs, beef, chicken, and barbecue (not to mention their Brunswick stew) cooked over hickory wood. In 1972, the eatery moved to North Tryon Street, at which point it became the Old Hickory House. Conestoga Wagon wall lamps lined the walls at each booth, giving the dining room a western vibe. Enjoying success for many years, the Blue Line light-rail extension construction led to declining traffic and eventual closure in 2015.
Old Hickory House served barbecue pork, chicken, beef, and their famous Brunswick stew on North Tryon Street beginning in the 1970s. Development of the light-rail led to declining traffic and eventual closure in 2015.
The Ratcliffe’s Flowers sign is the oldest neon sign still in use in Charlotte. The sign was made by Ernest Grady, the first neon sign maker in the city, in 1929 for the flower shop located on S. Tryon St. In the late 1960s, business leaders in the city wanted to update the look of downtown and passed ordinances to regulate the look of signs. Ratcliffe’s refused to take down their sign and it hung above the shop until the business relocated. Ratcliffe Flowers is still in business today as a wholesale florist, with a new name. The sign, though, hasn’t changed and hangs at 425 S. Tryon St. at The Green.
The Ratcliffe’s Flowers sign was made by Ernest Grady is 1929 and is the oldest neon sign still in use in Charlotte. It still stands on S. Tryon St.
Many of the featured signs in Charlotte: Signs of Home are from businesses and places that no longer exist. Ratcliffe’s is a preservation success story – one that can be replicated for the signs of business and places you love now. Charlotte: Signs of Home opens October 16 at The Charlotte Museum of History. Join the Museum for the Charlotte Gem fundraiser and get a sneak peek of the exhibit two days before it opens to the public!
Until next time,
Charlotte Museum of History
About The Charlotte Museum of History
The Charlotte Museum of History exists to save and share the Charlotte region’s history, helping create a better understanding of the past and inspiring dialogue about the future. The museum is the steward of the 1774 Hezekiah Alexander Rock House and homesite, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest home in Mecklenburg County. Visit charlottemuseum.org and follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The museum is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
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“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass