Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers - Charlotte and the Carolina Piedmont in the New South

Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers - Charlotte and the Carolina Piedmont in the New South

Since I am not a native North Carolinian, I found the “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” exhibition to be so enlightening. Before visiting the Levine Museum of the New South, I was not very knowledgeable about Charlotte’s post-Civil War history. My desire is to teach 1st grade someday. The museum tour guide mentioned that the “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” exhibition was created for an 8th grade level, although 1st graders could still greatly benefit from visiting the museum. I agree that some of the content is too mature and complex for younger grade levels. However, because of the hands-on nature of the exhibit, I feel it would still be a valuable experience to take a 1st grade class to the Levine Museum.

There are many historical artifacts, photographs, music/video clips, and other memorabilia, which all give a comprehensive interpretation of the history and growth of Charlotte. First graders would enjoy touring the different “environments” within the exhibit. For instance, students could walk through a replica of a one-room tenant farmer’s house, while imagining three families inhabiting such a tiny home with no running water or air conditioning. Young children would be fascinated to see a large cotton gin, as well as experience the sights and sounds of a cotton mill. They would enjoy running their fingers through bundles of cotton, with and without seeds. Many students might find it interesting to learn that an entire bale of cotton was once worth 35 cents!

Part of the exhibit involves a re-creation of a Charlotte street, showing such businesses like RCA Studios, Southern Power Company, Lance Crackers, and Belk department store. Young children would enjoy walking through the mock street and browsing through each store. This would allow children to really imagine what life in Charlotte was like years ago. Visitors are encouraged to try on vintage hats and clothing in the replica Belk department store.
The Southern Power Company (later called Duke Power) shows antique appliances, such as waffle makers, toasters, irons, and tea kettles. Children could look at the old appliances and make comparisons to modern-day appliances. This would be a great springboard for discussing the technological advances that have taken place in recent generations.

Another interactive feature of the exhibit which invites children to think about and share ideas is the inclusion of the Q&A Boards. The Q&A boards are scattered throughout the museum, and they ask such thought-provoking questions, such as, “If you could go back in time to this Charlotte street, what would you like most or least?” Blank sticky notes and pencils are provided for visitors to openly express their opinions.

Taking a field trip to see this exhibit would be an excellent supplement to a 1st grade Social Studies lesson about communities. “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” is a hands-on exhibit, which makes the experience fun, interactive, and educational. It is the type of exhibit one could visit multiple times and learn something new each time. Although some of the material presented in the exhibit is intended for older students, first graders could definitely gain much insight about Charlotte’s history from this tour. A second visit to the museum would allow students to build upon their prior knowledge from their first visit. The Levine Museum could help teach 1st graders about the ways communities in Charlotte have changed so dramatically from 1865 to the present day.