Fact Friday #26 - Why Does Charlotte Have Wards?


Happy Friday everyone!

In Fact Friday #12, we gave a quick overview of Charlotte’s original four wards. But you may find it interesting that these areas were not always considered or labeled as wards. What brought about their adoption?

One of the definitions of the word “ward” is: an administrative division of a city or borough that typically elects and is represented by a councilor or councilors. Synonyms: district, constituency, division, quarter, zone, parish. Holding true to this definition, Charlotte’s wards were borne out of a desire for separate political representation.

The railroad and cotton boom of the 1850s helped motivate the division of Charlotte’s downtown into wards for election purposes. City officials split the city into two wards in 1851 and redrew the boundaries in 1869 to incorporate four wards. All of the city wards were full of mostly upper-and middle-class families, but since the area comprising the Fourth Ward contained much of the city’s highest and most desirable ground, it held many of the grandest houses.

This 1916 picture was taken from the X-ray room of the Charlotte Sanatorium, at the corner of Seventh St. and Church St. in Fourth Ward. Some of the houses on Church, right at the edge of the Fourth Ward, are visible in the foreground, and recognizable in the distance of the First Ward are the spire of Charlotte’s city hall and the Independence Building. 

Outer boundaries of these wards expanded as the city grew, until 1907 when a ring of seven new suburban wards was added around the first four. In 1945 Charlotte abandoned the ward system in favor of officials elected at large, but the names were kept alive, notably by institutions like Second Ward High School and First Ward Elementary School, and are still used today to identity the Uptown region. By the 1930s the city had been revolutionized by the arrival of the trolley and the automobile, and many of the businesses and wealthiest citizens of the Fourth and First wards were moving out into “streetcar suburbs” like Dilworth and Myers Park. Much of the residential and commercial core of the wards became parking lots to accommodate the arrival of so many vehicles.

Many of the buildings in the Fourth Ward were spared from the urban renewal projects that devastated much of Charlotte’s downtown in the 1960’s, ‘70’s and 80’s (such as the complete demolition of Brooklyn, the heart of Charlotte’s African-American community in Second Ward), but a lot of First Ward was altered. In First Ward, the area targeted for redevelopment was approximately sixty blocks with 73% of its structures classified as blighted and 38% of residences labeled as overcrowded. Improvements made with this project would include work on highways and roads running through the ward, expansion of Central Piedmont Community College, utilities improvements, the governmental center, and a 400-plus public housing complex that dominated much of the ward, named Earl Village (replaced in 1992 with mixed-income housing and mixed-use development).

The areas seen in the current view above were the first residential areas near Uptown to become desirable again, and today they are full of high-priced low-rise condominiums. The First Ward skyline from 1916 is obviously vastly changed today.

Information taken from:

Charlotte Then & Now, 2013, Brandon D. Lunsford

Residential Segregation in Charlotte, N.C., Federal Policies, Urban Renewal, and the Role of the North Carolina Fund, 2002, Elise C. Richards 

Additional commentary added.

Looking for a deep dive on Charlotte’s wards, past and present? Look no further. We’ve got you covered! Click here.

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