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143 miles SW of Raleigh; 91 miles S of Winston-Salem

In the past decade or so, Charlotte has been sprouting skyscrapers, including the 40-story, trapezoidal steel-and-glass tower of the Bank of America Plaza and the stunning 46-story Hearst Tower, which was completed in 2002. The city has attracted and taken to heart a professional football team -- the Carolina Panthers -- that was good enough to get to the Super Bowl in 2004 and nearly pull off an upset against the favorite, the New England Patriots. Suburban districts have mushroomed, with landscaped housing developments and enormous shopping malls springing up in every direction. This is the New South, built squarely on the foundation of the Old South.

The largest city in the Piedmont, Charlotte was named for George III's wife, Queen Charlotte. Evidently, however, its residents didn't take their royal affiliation too seriously. When Lord Cornwallis occupied the town briefly in 1780, he was so annoyed by patriot activities that he called it a "hornet's nest," a name that has been proudly incorporated into the city seal.

Indeed, more than a year before the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia, the Mecklenburg Declaration, proclaiming independence from Britain, was signed in Charlotte on May 20, 1775. The Captain James Jack monument (211 W. Trade St.) is a memorial to the man who carried the document on horseback to Philadelphia and the Continental Congress. According to Charlotte's citizens, Thomas Jefferson used their declaration as a model for the one that he wrote.

In 1865, Confederate president Jefferson Davis convened his last full cabinet meeting here. After the Confederacy fell and the local boys came home from war, the city set out on a course that eventually led it to a position of industrial leadership in the South. The Catawba River provided water power for the rapid development of manufacturing plants and textile mills. Today these mills and factories, bowing to foreign competition, have been closing at an alarming rate.

For years, the Charlotte region was also the nation's major gold producer. A branch of the U.S. Mint was located here from 1837 to 1913. The exquisite 1835 mint building, designed by William Strickland, is now part of the Mint Museum, which houses one of the southern Atlantic region's major art collections.

Today the city is booming, and business is just fine, thank you very much. The banking, insurance, and transportation industries keep feeding the economy. With all this growth, a new generation of Charlotteans is champing at the bit for recognition that their city has hit the big time. There's not much here for the casual tourist, but business travelers are certainly coming to town in droves.