Fact Friday #25 - Charlotte vs. Everybody ... at the turn of the 20th Century


Happy Friday everyone!

In Fact Friday #2, I gave some insight as to how banking became big business in Charlotte. But was it banking and finance that elevated the Queen City above its neighbors in terms of commerce and trade? What, if any, other factors contributed? 

The last decade of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th saw Charlotte take its place as the leading trade center in the Carolinas, a destiny it had striven toward since construction of its first railroad in the 1850s. [The building of the Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad has been called the single most important event in Charlotte’s economic history, playing a critical role in the creation of Charlotte’s cotton and textile industry boom.] Financial machinations far beyond Charlotte’s borders, somewhat ironically, made the local dream a reality. During the 1870s and 1880s Wall Street investors swept up a string of regional rail companies, culminating in the creation of the mighty Southern Railway by the famed financier J. P. Morgan in 1894.

The Southern Railway controlled four of the six tracks that converged on Charlotte and routed its Washington-to-New Orleans mainline through the city. Lucky Charlotte now sat astride the “Main Street of the South.” Even more fortunately, Charlotte still retained competing rail service. In 1900 the Southern’s major rival, the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, purchased the other existing tracks that entered town. 

In 1900, on the current site of Charlotte’s only Greyhound bus terminal, this Spanish Mission-style station on West Trade Street was built, and the area became the “gateway” into the city. [The station was torn down in 1962, the year this photo was taken.] - Charlotte Then and Now, 2013, Brandon Lunsford.

Two additional options appeared in the early 1920s with construction of the Norfolk & Southern Railroad running eastward through Raleigh into Virginia and the Piedmont & Northern electric interurban line extending westward to neighboring Gastonia. The multiple rail connections kept transportation prices low and helped Charlotte’s economy expand. By 1930 the Queen City would surpass every town in North Carolina and even the venerable port of Charleston in South Carolina to emerge as the largest city in both states, a position that Charlotte continues to hold today by quite a large margin.

 

Information taken from Sorting Out the New South City, 1998, Thomas W. Hanchett. Additional commentary added.

“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass