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Charlotte - The Way It Used to Be


When you look at Charlotte today, you see a large, fast-growing metropolis. That's quite a contrast from its origins as a small crossroads town in the 1700s. Compare and contrast these images with what you know today. If you look carefully, you can still see some of the past reflected in the present.

From humble beginnings, Mecklenburg County grew into the most populous county in the Carolinas. Pictured in this 1770 map, Mecklenburg County is mostly forest. Charlottesburgh (now Charlotte) was the only town in the county. Large portions of the county were occupied by the Catawba and Cherokee Indians.


An act of the colonial General Assembly of North Carolina created Charlotte on Dec. 3, 1768. 360 lots were laid off around the town square by Thomas Polk, one of the first town commissioners. This small tract, centered on what are now Trade and Tryon Streets, now lies at the core of modern Charlotte, which still revolves around the "Square".


This early 20th century drawing by the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce shows Charlotte developing as the center of regional trade and industry. This position of prominence grew in the period from 1880 to 1930. It was in the 1930 census that Charlotte finally became the largest city in the Carolinas.


A 1907 map showing the railroad connections within 100 miles of Charlotte. It is clear that Charlotte had already emerged as the center of the textile industry, with 9,000,000 looms and 2,000,000 spindles within a 100 mile radius, representing $140,000,000 in capital. Southern Power Company provided the electricity necessary for this rapid industrialization. Now. Charlotte is a major center of the banking industry. Early Charlotte banks have their roots in the development fueled by the textile industry that flourished after the Civil War.


The Charlotte Fire Department, all of it, men and equipment, in 1916. In later years, the Charlotte would grow enormously to serve a rapidly-growing city. Fire Chief Palmer helped bring the Charlotte Fire Department to national prominence.


In the early part of the 20th century, the Charlotte Fire Department began a process of growth and modernization. By the 1920s, horse-drawn fire pumper wagons like these were disappearing.


Trolleys prowled streets of Charlotte from 1891 to 1938. In 1924, this trolley shares Trade Street with automobiles. Trolleys fell out of favor with the newly-motorized Charlotte and were replaced with buses. Charlotte has once again fallen for trolleys, and ambitious plans are underway for vintage trolleys to once again clatter across Charlotte.