CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- President George Washington spent the night in a Charlotte inn once and came away unimpressed, referring to the city in his diary as a "trifling place."
The Queen City -- named after the wife of King George II, who ruled the colonies -- has made up for lost time and now is best known as a business city, home to Duke Energy and the place where Hugh McColl started a small bank called NCNB, which grew to become the Bank of America. Soon, Charlotte will be known as a city that hosted the Democratic National Convention.
Here are five of the best free things to do in Charlotte -- and not a one involves holding a sign of support for a candidate or wearing a funny hat.
• Independence Square: At the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets stand four bronze statues, one on each corner. Three statues -- commerce, transportation and energy -- look toward the fourth, which represents the future.
The first statue shows a black laborer, representing the workers who built Charlotte's first railroads. The second statue shows a prospector panning for gold, representing the discovery of gold near Charlotte in 1799, with another figure representing banking and finance, said to be modeled on former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.
The third statue shows a female textile mill worker and a child, representing minors who worked in the mills before labor laws outlawed the practice. The fourth statue representing the future also has a mother and child, with the state flower, the dogwood.
The nearby Bechtler Museum of Art charges admission but you can take pictures for free standing beneath the 17-foot-tall sculpture "Firebird," a new favorite spot for tourist photos.
The square is named for the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. Though widely disputed by historians, some claim that the Mecklenburg document was signed May 20, 1775, more than a year before the Declaration of Independence -- the one written by Thomas Jefferson -- was ratified by the colonies on July 4, 1776. (The existence of another document, the Mecklenburg Resolves, signed May 31, 1775, is not disputed by historians.)
• Queens Road West: A wide street with million-dollar homes, Queens Road West is part of the Myers Park neighborhood developed at the turn of the 20th century by the firm of John Nolen of Cambridge, Mass., renowned for urban planning. Charlotte textile, banking and utility company families lived there. A Nolen employee, Earl Sumner Draper, planted trees before houses went up, and today rows of willow oaks create "a green cathedral," says Tom Hanchett, staff historian at the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte.
Houses here typically don't have "for sale" signs. Nope, that's too gauche. Instead, they're advertised as "available."
• Frescoes: Ben Long, who grew up in Statesville, N.C., studied fresco painting in Italy before bringing the art to churches in his home state. His largest and first secular fresco is a three-panel painting in the Bank of America Corporate Center representing themes of making/building, chaos/creativity, and planning/knowledge.
Another Long fresco titled "Continuum" is located in the three-story archway leading to the courtyard at Transamerica Square. It portrays the many faces of North Carolina, including the UNC Tar Heel mascot and former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl.
• Tours: Several self-guided walking tours can be found online at charlottesgotalot.com/default.asp? charlotte=208. One starts at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and goes past the Bechtler, Mint and Levine museums with a stop at Settlers' Cemetery, where town founder and Revolutionary War hero Thomas Polk is buried. The 24-stop tour ends at the Epicentre, an entertainment facility with great views.
Tours of public art include a free shuttle service called the Gold Rush, as well as the Arts &Science Council's 31-stop walking/shuttle tour, which includes the frescoes and the Trade and Tryon statues, artsandscience.org/programs-a-services/public-art-program/public-art-walking-tour.
• The Green: The Green, a 1.5-acre downtown park at 435 S. Tryon St., is a literary-themed park with sculptures of giant books, pages and a walkway of sounds. Bright signs mark the intersections of author names, including "Emily" and "Bronte," "Herman" and "Melville," and "Alice" and "Walker."