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FAQ City: Why Was 1910 An Important Year To Charlotte?

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Charlotte Mecklenburg Library
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An aerial view of Charlotte circa 1910.

FAQ City listener Jeremy Whitner noticed 1910 coming up a lot as he traveled around Charlotte.

“A lot of churches were founded in that time and a couple of big civic buildings were built," Whitner said. "And then a lot of stuff in the area ... was built around 1910 to 1915, too.”

There are buildings from the time period that still remain, like the Moore Golden House — a charming yellow cottage-style dwelling on Eighth Street and has housed prominent residents throughout the 20th century that was later home to journalist and civil rights activist, Harry Golden.

There’s also what is now Plaza Midwood, which was established during this time period, but according to historian Tom Hanchett, most of the remaining structures are residential. You may also remember Hanchett from other FAQ City episodes exploring the oldest restaurants in Charlotte and the origin of Charlotte's neighborhood names.

What Was Charlotte Like In 1910?

There’s a postcard of Charlotte circa 1910 showing an aerial view of the city. You can see buildings from that time period — the Selwyn Hotel, Realty Building and City Hall. But there are no portions of the blue painted sky that have tall skyscrapers. Zooming in, you see a streetcar and some storefronts.

However, Hanchett believes if somebody from 1910 found themselves in modern-day Charlotte along the light-rail line they might not need a GPS.

"You're looking at a Charlotte that somebody from 1910, they would be able to orient themselves even though there's been much change," Hanchett said.

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Charlotte Mecklenburg Library
Another view of Charlotte from a postcard circa 1910.

What Was North Carolina Like In 1910?

“Charlotte around 1910 was very small by today's standards," Hanchett said. "It was big by the standards of North Carolina and the South. Growing incredibly quickly. The three main cities at that point — Raleigh, Winston-Salem and Charlotte — were locked in battle, it was clear that Charlotte would eventually emerge as the biggest city. But out of those three, we were really the capital of this emerging textile region.”

Charlotte became the largest city in North Carolina with 34,000 residents. That boom was due to manufacturing jobs — mainly textile-related — that were brought to the community.

And outside of Charlotte, the first North Carolina Tar Heels men's basketball team had their first-ever season.

What Two Things Drove Growth To Charlotte During This Time Period?

"The early years of the 20th century, two things were going on," Hanchett said. "One was raw population growth — people coming to Charlotte to work in the textile mills and all the related industry. So that drove physical growth."

Transportation was another.

“The other was the new technology of the streetcar — the electric street railway," Hanchett said.

Neighborhoods like Plaza Midwood, became known as streetcar suburbs, which is a suburb that grew because the streetcar made people more mobile.

How Did Charlotte Residents Feel About This Growth?

"The first headlines that I saw about this in the 1910 papers were a disappointment because they said ‘Really we thought it was gonna be 45 or 50!?’" said Tom Cole, a historian with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. "They thought the city was going to grow two and a half or three times from its 1900 size."

But the folks in 1910 would be glad to know that Charlotte continued to grow -- even bigger than 50,000 residents.

What Lessons Can Be Learned From 1910 That We Can Apply Today?

In 2040, the city expects the population to grow by 385,000 people. In 1910, the population saw a major increase, too.

The 2040 Plan looks at Charlotte’s future. The city calls it a “community-based” vision. And whether it’s a game or the multiple town halls and public hearings for residents, the city is giving other people a chance to voice their concerns.

But in 1910 ... this wasn’t the case. Charlotte was a mixed city at the turn of the century, but like many places in the United States, there was still segregation and racism.

And historian Tom Cole said one demographic pretty much made the decisions.

"Those making these decisions were from the same social background and had the same priorities and pretty much agreed how to develop the city to promote business. That was Charlotte's guiding star throughout most of the 20th century," Cole said. "Other voices that might have asked for other goals … like equality … more services to the average citizen … those voices were not in the political arena, so to speak."

"Other voices that might have asked for other goals…like equality…more services to the average citizen…those voices were not in the political arena so to speak."

How Is The City Looking At Development Now?
Things are a little bit different. Community members are voicing their concerns about the plan and what it means to historic neighborhoods and residents already living here. There have been virtual public listening sessions and even a game where community members can try their hand at developing Charlotte.

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Alexandra Watts is a Report for America corps member and covers local government and community issues through a partnership between WFAE and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.