Inspiring wonder for more than 75 years
Seventy-five years after opening the doors of its first small museum in Freedom Park Charlotte, Discovery Place continues to shape a future where people of all ages embrace science to create opportunities, build hope, solve problems and bring positive change to our world.
In 1946, schoolteacher Laura Owens sought a hands-on environment for her students to observe and learn about live animals, specimens and artifacts from the natural world. With help from the community, on November 9, 1947, Owens opened a small museum in the former Sunshine School building on North Cecil Street in Charlotte.
The 1950’s – 1960’s
The museum was so well received that the community, led by the Junior League of Charlotte and the Lions Club, worked with Mecklenburg County to develop the Children’s Nature Museum. Designed with the purpose of educating and inspiring children to connect to the natural world, the new museum was built on Sterling Road on property adjacent to Freedom Park in Charlotte.
When the Children’s Nature Museum opened in 1951, it was one of the first facilities in the Southeast focused on bringing families and the natural world together through hands-on science and nature education.
Expanding its educational offerings, in 1965 the museum opened a planetarium to educate students about astronomy. Students traveled from across North Carolina to visit the planetarium and learn about constellations in the night sky.
The 1970’s – 1990’s
Quickly growing into one of the most popular area attractions, and now called the Charlotte Nature Museum, community leaders were intent on expanding the facility’s reach and scope. Amidst growing interest in hands-on science and technology education in the 1970s, the Charlotte community responded by approving funding and plans for a new, comprehensive science and technology center.
Community leaders sought to provide access to a growing city and further encourage economic development by locating the new museum in the heart of Uptown Charlotte. Discovery Place welcomed its first visitors in 1981 along North Tryon Street, occupying 72,000 square feet of space enabling the community to understand, enjoy and apply science to their lives.
The museum expanded in 1986 with exhibition space to accommodate nationally traveling exhibitions, and in 1991 opened the Charlotte Observer IMAX Dome Theatre as the first giant-screen motion picture theatre in the Carolinas. And in 1996, the Carol Grotnes Belk Education and Parking Complex was completed adjacent to Discovery Place.
The 20o0’s – 2010’s
Following an 18-month, $31.6 million renovation, Discovery Place welcomed visitors in 2010 as a reimagined museum with new interactive exhibitions and state-of-the-art labs to engage children, adults and families in real-world science, nature and design problem-solving.
That same year, Discovery Place expanded its footprint in the Charlotte region with the opening of Discovery Place Kids-Huntersville on Gilead Road in downtown Huntersville. Three years later, this footprint extended beyond Charlotte when Discovery Place Kids-Rockingham opened its doors on E. Washington Street in downtown Rockingham.
A network of community-based children’s museums supported by public-private partnerships, Discovery Place Kids feature developmentally appropriate experiences for children that encourage interactive learning through imagination and fun.
Seeking to fill the growing learning needs of the Charlotte region, Discovery Place is further committed to being a leader in STEM education by offering professional development training for area educators. In 2014 through a generous gift from Bank of America, the Discovery Place Education Studio opened on the museum’s Uptown Charlotte campus.
To mark 70 years of science, exploration and wonder, in 2016 the four museums and education, professional development and community outreach programs were integrated under a single brand called Discovery Place. The Discovery Place Museum in Uptown Charlotte was renamed Discovery Place Science, while Charlotte Nature Museum was renamed Discovery Place Nature.
Today, through four museums in three cities and virtual and community outreach programs throughout the Carolinas, Discovery Place serves three-quarters of a million people a year with high-energy, high-impact science education that is helping to build our region’s future.
Discovery Place Science has become one of the leading hands-on science museums in the nation, bringing science, nature and design together through special exhibitions, educational programming and hands-on learning labs with area partners including Atrium Health, Honeywell, Lowe’s and Trane Technologies.
Beginning in early 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, Discovery Place developed innovative ways to deliver its mission, including the creation of virtual programming for students, educators and the public through the Stay-at-Home Science platform. The platform was renamed Discovery on Demand in 2022 and continues to educate, engage and inspire audiences beyond museum doors.
Discovery Place Science welcomed audiences back to an upgraded and renamed Accenture IMAX Dome Theatre in early 2022, following extensive theatre renovations and installation of IMAX’s groundbreaking laser and sound technology. Only the eighth of its kind in the U.S., the upgraded theatre allows Discovery Place to deliver a wide array of digital content from blockbuster films to planetarium programming to two-way international video conferencing.
In celebration of Earth Day 2022, design plans were unveiled for the reimagining of Discovery Place Nature. Liollio Architecture and Hood Design Studio are leading the planning and design of the new museum, which will be a world-class environmental education center with live animals native to the Piedmont, a North American river otter habitat and outdoor experiences that connect with its forest location.
In a public-private partnership with Mecklenburg County, the new museum will be developed at the current location on Sterling Road. Construction for the new Discovery Place Nature Museum is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2023.