Fact Friday #14 - When the World Took Notice


At the turn of the 20th century, Charlotte was still very much a sleepy town, known for its agriculture, mills, textiles, and trading. When the Allied Powers looked to the U.S. for additional troops for World War I, the U.S. was faced with a dilemma: there were only 100,000 full-time soldiers enlisted. This was much lower than what was needed. The U.S. needed millions more troops, which resulted in a draft where all men between ages 21 and 30 were required to register. And, of course, new boot camps would be needed for the training of all these new soldiers.

Charlotte’s leaders and the Chamber of Commerce recognized an opportunity to change the landscape of the city and put it on the map in a way that it had never before experienced. Significant efforts were put into convincing decision makers in Washington, D.C. that Charlotte was a prime location for training grounds. They knew that such an undertaking would do wonders for the city’s economy via job creation, infrastructure, and the additional purchasing power of the incoming soldiers. The city’s weather, abundance of land, and access to railways leading directly to New York City were all selling points and were critical in Charlotte winning a training site over Fayetteville and Wilmington, NC, Syracuse, NY, and Athens, GA. By September 1917 Camp Greene, named for Nathanael Greene, a major general of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War credited with forcing the British to desert their posts in the Carolinas and attempt to regroup in Virginia, had begun receiving troops. The base was located 3 miles west of center-city in the city’s southwest corridor and quickly became a city-within the city, fully equipped with its own post office, hospital, stables, park (Lakewood Park), YMCA, YWCA, etc.

When the camp was first built, it housed 40,000 soldiers, while in all of the rest of Charlotte there were only 20,000 residents. At its peak, more than 60,000 soldiers lived on the base. The sell of goods and services exploded in many industries and when the camp eventually closed, many of the infrastructure resources were turned over to private entrepreneurs who would go on to develop commercial properties, as well as many of the communities that still exist in the area today, such as Ashley Park, Clanton Park, Enderly Park, Berry Hill, and Shopton. I remember when Camp Greene Park was built (although I don’t remember the year) and the Charlotte Hornets (Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, etc.) came out to help dedicate the grounds. The 27-acre park is still in tact and boasts 12 tournament-grade basketball courts, 1 covered full-court basketball courts, biking/walking trails and a small pond. “You definitely can say Camp Greene was the moment the outside world took notice of this little place,” says Tom Hanchett, staff historian at Levine Museum of the New South. “It helped Charlotte dream big.”

 Until next week!

 Chris.

 Email me at chris@704Shop.com if you have interesting Charlotte facts you’d like to share!

View from an aeroplane of Camp Greene.

Credit: The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

 

 

An interior shot of a Camp Greene barracks.

Credit: The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

 

Soldiers on guard duty at Camp Greene

Credit: Charlotte Viewpoint