The Fourth Ward is a favorite section of Charlotte for many, but no matter how often you may have strolled through this part of town, there is a portion of it you have likely never seen.
Opening up that hidden part of the neighborhood is the idea behind the Friends of Fourth Ward’s, The Secret Gardens of Fourth Ward tour, which will take place this year from May 14-15.
“About three years ago, or a little better, I had been living in the neighborhood for 12, 15 years, and started passing around the idea that we need to do a garden tour to, kind of, share the neighborhood like we do at the holidays, but do so from the perspective of spring,” said Heath Knott, a Fourth Ward homeowner who will be showing he and his husband’s private garden again this year as they have done in the past.
Knott reached out to Beth Walker, who organizes the Holiday Home Tour, and the two got to work making the idea a reality.
The self-guided tour gives the public a chance not only to see homeowners private gardens, but also to check out the local public art and the many historic homes. There will also be B-Cycle and horse-drawn carriage rides, free beer and cocktail tastings, as well as appetizers provided by nearby restaurants.
Knott and his husband s garden have been on the tour since its inception.
“This is not a self-promotion tour, but if I’m going to ask seven people to put their gardens on, I need to be able to put mine on,” Knott said.
Fourth Ward was a prosperous area in the 1800s, but by the early 20th Century it had fallen into a decline that continued into the mid-1970s when the Junior League began a restoration program to bring the neighborhood back to prominence.
This involved reaching out to those who were willing to live on what, by then, was considered the fringes of the city. It is rumored that the gay community was one of the groups actively recruited, along with the creative class in general.
Knott points out that it helped that the gay community did not have to worry if the local public schools were not the best, since they did not have children to send to them. He also mentions that they were already living a lifestyle perceived by many, especially at the time, as taboo, so they had nothing to lose by living in a neighborhood that didn’t look like everybody else’s.
It was probably one of the first gay neighborhoods in Charlotte back in the ’70s and ’80s, when such a thing existed. It has always been a neighborhood that not only values diversity, but demanded it, he continued.
He says one of his motivations for starting the gardens tour was to bring attention to Fourth Ward as an eclectic and inclusive community.
Knott has moved four times without leaving the neighborhood.
We always came back to the Fourth Ward time and again, he said, even though it might be easier to find homes elsewhere since there is not a lot of property there still available. Nowhere else felt quite as much like home, it seems.
The tour helps bring neighbors together to work toward a common goal, Knott said, as well as to raise money for things the city cannot and will not pay for. He said this includes fixing sidewalks, adding new streetlights and landscape improvements to the park.
Those interested in finding out more about the tour or the neighborhood can do so by visiting the Friends of Fourth Ward website at fofw.org.
— All photos courtesy of Austin Caine.