Homeowners who like a spot with a more relaxed pace, yet close enough to city life for convenience, often look southeast of Charlotte to Union County. Nestled in the rolling hills of the Piedmont, the homes range from spacious estates on large acreage to more compact new neighborhoods that promote a feeling of community. Thanks to the I-485 outerbelt, uptown Charlotte and I-77 are only a short drive away for the many newcomers choosing to settle here.
Union, in fact, is the fastest-growing county in the Charlotte metro area. The county has more than 115,000 people, and their numbers are expected to grow by at least half by the time 2019 rolls around. To accommodate them - and employ them - new businesses are springing up, especially in the U.S. 74 corridor between Monroe and Charlotte. And educational institutions are hurrying to train employees, including the West campus of South Piedmont Community College, now spread over two locations with its main campus on Old Charlotte Highway. Union is also home to Wingate University in Wingate, ranked as one of the South's outstanding regional liberal arts colleges. Wingate operates a branch in Matthews, just up U.S. 74 from Union County.
In downtown Monroe, be sure to take a look at the old Italianate courthouse, circa 1888. The lovely old buildings here make the town an occasional stand-in for old-time towns in TV and movies. Named for President James Monroe, the town (population 24,051) was founded to serve as the county seat in 1844. It got its industrial start from cotton and the railroad, but now has a mix of industries and businesses, plus an airport. As the county seat, Monroe also has its share of government offices and law firms.
Despite the activity, downtown Monroe fell on hard times some years ago. Downtown Monroe, Inc. sponsors beautification projects, special activities and other programs to revitalize the area and make it more appealing. Monroe is also the home of Union Regional Medical Center, part of the Carolina's Healthcare System and many physician's offices. The Roosevelt Blvd (U.S. 74) corridor is so packed with stores and businesses that it's often congested. However, State transportation planners are working on designs for a bypass that will help through traffic skirt the local tie-ups
For newcomers to the Charlotte area, probably the hottest spot in all of Union County is Weddington, a once-tiny town nestled along the Mecklenburg County line on Providence Road (N.C. 16). Growth has been so rapid in Weddington that the Union County school system has opened new elementary and middle schools here, as well as a new high school. Mainly residential, the town boasts the highest per capital income of any in the state. Weddington Corners shopping center is the unofficial town center. Physicians' offices are nearby, as is the Siskey Family YMCA on Weddington Road. A library is being planned. But Hunter Farm still offers a taste of the country, with strawberry picking in the spring and hayrides and a pumpkin patch in the fall.
Marvin's country atmosphere and homes with acreage are its big attractions. It boasts a golf-course community, and the area from Marvin south to Waxhaw and beyond is "horse country." If you choose to live in Waxhaw, every day you'll get to enjoy the special things that visitors only get to peek at. This town is filled with antiques and gift shops that are fun to explore. Waxhaw, which gets its name from an early Indian tribe, boasts a long-running summer outdoor drama and year-round community activities, many of which happen downtown on the "Green," the grassy strip alongside the railroad tracks.
Between Monroe and Waxhaw on N.C. 75, Mineral Springs is seeing less intense development than some areas, but some new homes are going up. A century-old community is the nucleus of Wesley Chapel, incorporated only in the last couple of years. At N.C. 84 and Potter Road between Weddington and Monroe, it has a historic Methodist church site, an elementary school and lots of pretty green countryside.
Stallings - rhyming with "Al" instead of "All" - is the first Union County community you come to south of the Mecklenburg line along the U.S. 74 corridor. It's a quiet bedroom community popular both because of its small-town image but also the quick travel time, via I-485/U.S. 74, to Charlotte and other points. A former outpost on an Indian trading trail, the modern Indian Trail is home to new business and industrial parks, subdivisions and a shopping center. This community has grown rapidly in recent years, in part due to its proximity to Mecklenburg County and in part due to the town's aggressive annexation policies. Lake Park, off Unionville-Indian Trail Road, didn't just grow; it was planned as a residential development dedicated to the "new urbanism," which uses design to foster a feeling of community. The community has since incorporated, and now the development Lake Park and the town Lake Park are the same thing. You'll find year-round activities, a shopping center and a private school offering Christian-based education here.
Hemby Bridge, a small community with rural roots, adjoins Mecklenburg east of U.S. 74 along Secrest Short Cut Road. Unionville, north of Monroe on U.S. 601, manages to keep its rural atmosphere.