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davidals

Largest Carolina Cities 1790-1960

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A great many threads on this forum have been dedicated to imagining what our leading cities would look like in 20, 50, or 75 years. I thought it might be interesting to look at where we've been, focusing on North and South Carolina, by posting some lists of the largest cities in each state, drawn from census data.

Urban growth trends change, and will change again - events like the Civil War, the Great Depression and the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts all inaugurated dramatic shifts in how cities grow, and that can be seen in NC and SC. Around each of those events, certain 'key' cities in both states stagnated, and others began to experience dramatic and generally sudden growth.

A disparaging comment often directed towards most major cities in the Carolinas is that they are scrubbed of their own history, and that the historic architecture apparent in Richmond, Savannah, Charleston or other older East Coast cities seems missing. While urban renewal did tremendous damage in many cities, it should also be noted that most of the major cities in the Carolinas didn't begin to grow into big cities until the late 19th or early 20th century - thus many of our historical districts are often smaller and younger that those seen in big cities in neighboring states.

1790

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1900-1960

1900 - Largest Cities In The Carolinas (10,000+)

68 Charleston - 55,807

Columbia - 21,108

Wilmington - 20,976

Charlotte - 18,891

Asheville - 14,694

Winston & Salem - 13,650

Raleigh - 13,643

Greenville SC - 11,800

Spartanburg - 11,385

Greensboro - 10,035

By 1900, 38 cities had populations greater than 100,000 - this included (in the South) New Orleans, Washington, Memphis, Louisville, and (in the West) San Francisco, Denver and Los Angeles. In the Carolinas, swift growth was seen in cities in the western regions, with Charlotte, Asheville, the adjoined and soon-to-be-merged Winston & Salem, Greenville and Spartanburg becoming the fastest growing cities in the 2 states.

1910 - Largest Cities In The Carolinas (15,000+)

90 Charleston - 58,833

Charlotte - 34,014

Columbia - 26,319

Wilmington - 25,748

Winston-Salem - 23,583

Raleigh - 19,218

Asheville - 18,702

Durham - 18,241

Spartanburg - 17,517

Greensboro - 15,895

Greenville SC - 15,741

By 1910, 50 American cities had populations over 100,000.

1920 - Largest Cities In The Carolinas (15,000+)

Winston-Salem - 48,395

Charlotte - 46,338

Wilmington - 33,372

Asheville - 28,504

Raleigh - 24,418

Durham - 21,719

Greensboro - 19,861

Charleston - 67,957

Columbia - 37,524

Greenville - 23,127

Spartanburg - 22,636

Anderson - 19,570

The first of the only 2 decades in US census history in which no city in either NC or SC was among the 100 largest in the US. New York

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This is pretty good stuff. Can it possibly be moved to the USA South forum since the subject includes both Carolinas?

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Sure - someone else will have to do the honors I would assume. I was wondering where exactly this would belong.

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From 1950 on, the differences between SC's and NC's annexation laws become very apparent. The comparison of Greenville's and Winston-Salem's municipal and metro populations in 1960, and even today, demonstrate this.

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I got to the point in this where I felt I was watching a race only to end up forgetting that it was only up to 1960 and being sorrowly disappointed that the data for those decades past wasn't on this thread. :( It's ok, because it's fairly evident how this turned out anyway. It's bad that we're all so bored at 4am that we're actually taking the time to read this much. Thanks for that five minutes.

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It's fascinating to watch how slowly the Carolinas grew from Colonial times to the 1960s as compared to the Northeast. Prior to 1960 home airconditioning was virtually unknown and it was rare elsewhere due to the cost, (equipment and power). This is probably the biggest reason the vast majority of growth in the USA occured in cooler climate cities prior to this date. How many of you can imagine living here with no AC?

Of course Charleston essentially stopped growing after 1865 and started to shrink because the primary money maker for it's very busy port, the importation of Slaves, had been cut off. It would never recover from that.

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This is good stuff. Did you find this information online? If so can you post a link? I have been trying to find historic city population data for some time now.

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It's fascinating to watch how slowly the Carolinas grew from Colonial times to the 1960s as compared to the Northeast. Prior to 1960 home airconditioning was virtually unknown and it was rare elsewhere due to the cost, (equipment and power). This is probably the biggest reason the vast majority of growth in the USA occured in cooler climate cities prior to this date. How many of you can imagine living here with no AC?

Of course Charleston essentially stopped growing after 1865 and started to shrink because the primary money maker for it's very busy port, the importation of Slaves, had been cut off. It would never recover from that.

growing up we did without ac most of the time. we had an old house in charlotte (1830's origin) with 14 ft ceilings that were lowered to 12 ft because of the proportions of the house. It was not a large house, but ceilings were tall back in those days due to lack of ac :) We had an attic fan, which is a giant fan that sits in the attic that sucks air through the house. It actually worked really well. Some of the nights were bad, but we got used to it.

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This is good stuff. Did you find this information online? If so can you post a link? I have been trying to find historic city population data for some time now.

I'm not sure if this is where he got the information, but you can view the population's of the largest cities in America dating back to 1790, here.

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Of course Charleston essentially stopped growing after 1865 and started to shrink because the primary money maker for it's very busy port, the importation of Slaves, had been cut off. It would never recover from that.

Charleston and many Southern cities declined or did not grow rapidly because they essentially did not embrace industrilization in the early 19th century. The plantation economy only had use for small businessmen who serviced them. The importation of slaves ended by the US Constitution in 1809. The United States was the only nation where the slave population grew by birth rather than importation. The growth of limited liability companies, entrepenuership and complex financial systems flourished in the north and old northwest territories. Due to a variety of reasons, the same was not embraced in the Atlantic South or lower Louisiana territory.

There was no need for urban centers because there was no economy that depended on urban centers for commerce. Everything was based on rural growth, cheap land and simple economic systems. Folks that settled in the southern half of the nation: from the Carolinas westward, wanted to avoid the urban lifestyle as much as possible.

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I'm not sure if this is where he got the information, but you can view the population's of the largest cities in America dating back to 1790, here.

No, I mean the smaller cities populations (like Spartanburg for example). I haven't been able to find this info online before.

Charleston and many Southern cities declined or did not grow rapidly because they essentially did not embrace industrilization in the early 19th century. The plantation economy only had use for small businessmen who serviced them. The importation of slaves ended by the US Constitution in 1809. The United States was the only nation where the slave population grew by birth rather than importation. The growth of limited liability companies, entrepenuership and complex financial systems flourished in the north and old northwest territories. Due to a variety of reasons, the same was not embraced in the Atlantic South or lower Louisiana territory.

There was no need for urban centers because there was no economy that depended on urban centers for commerce. Everything was based on rural growth, cheap land and simple economic systems. Folks that settled in the southern half of the nation: from the Carolinas westward, wanted to avoid the urban lifestyle as much as possible.

Lets also not forget that those most powerful people in the old South were generally the large plantation owners, of which there were few. These guys didn't want anything to interefere with their way of life, and status, so they stopped the major industrialization trends.

I think that the South can catch up one day. It may not be anytime soon, but at the rate we're growing, and at the rate the North is NOT, it will happen eventually.

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The importation of slaves ended by the US Constitution in 1809. The United States was the only nation where the slave population grew by birth rather than importation. The growth of limited liability companies, entrepenuership and complex financial systems flourished in the north and old northwest territories. Due to a variety of reasons, the same was not embraced in the Atlantic South or lower Louisiana territory.

Actually it was a bill in 1808 that made the slave trade illegal in the USA that year. There was no constitutional amendment. There was an ongoing battle of States Rights vs Federal Rights and as a result there was no stomach to enforce this law, so slaves continued to be smuggled into Charleston up until the Civil War. The law made the trade even more valuable.

I don't disagree with what you say about industrialization, but the reason that it did not appear anywhere in the South was mainly because it was simply too hot for most people to live and they tended to immigrate to the North.

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Actually it was a bill in 1808 that made the slave trade illegal in the USA that year. There was no constitutional amendment. There was an ongoing battle of States Rights vs Federal Rights and as a result there was no stomach to enforce this law, so slaves continued to be smuggled into Charleston up until the Civil War. The law made the trade even more valuable.

I don't disagree with what you say about industrialization, but the reason that it did not appear anywhere in the South was mainly because it was simply too hot for most people to live and they tended to immigrate to the North.

Air conditioning, and the construction of the interstates, and the civil rights act I think all set the stage for the rise of the "new South."

The data did come from the link cited above, along with state census records for NC and SC, which is all online, but in many different places - this is just a personal research project I've been working on (on and off) for a while. I have the stats for 1970-2000 as well, and can post sometime soon.

Also - someone mentioned how - beginning circa 1960 - one can see how changes in annexation laws between NC and SC affected the size of the cities. I also have lists (based on census 2000 stats) of the URBAN AREA rank (NOT MSA, CMSA or City Limits population, but rather ranked by urban core and adjacent areas of +500 per sq mile in density) of NC & SC cities - for each state individually, and a combined NC/SC list. I can post this info as well if anyone is interested - these lists explicitly ignore city limits, county lines and MSA/CMSA boundaries (and even the state line, in the case of Charlotte) in favor of basing population numbers strictly on built-up areas immediately adjacent to a specific core.

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I find it amazing. I think much of the big population explosions of some of the cities came from annexation

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I would VERY much be interested in seeing the urbanized area data. I think it tells a more accurate story than municipal population statistics.

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thanks for the list. that is very interesting seeing where cities were through the past centuries.

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Here are the 2000 Urban Area lists - as noted these are probably the most accurate measure of where cities are now - the census bureau's calculation of this is to add populations of census blocks over a certain density (1,000 per square mile in the core, 500 elsewhere), thus excluding rural areas within city limits, and including genuinely urban unincorporated areas. Additionally, this calculation considers an area as one entity; there are some hyphenated names for purposes of description, but essentially the census idea of "Urban Area" would consider an area to be one entity - closely adjoined smaller cities like Cary, Kernersville, Kannapolis, Mount Pleasant, Greer or unincorporated suburbs like the French Broad valley N and S of Asheville would be included. I am assuming the census bureau is also still tweaking their methodology on this; for example I don't exactly understand the logic in inculding Greer with Greenville, but considering Mauldin, Simpsonville and southern Greenville County as a seperate entity. Similarly, some of the numbers are a little surprising - I am guessing the relatively high numbers for Hickory include the low-level sprawl that extends all the way out to Lenoir, Newton and Morganton, which would involve much lower levels of density than in many other urban areas listed.

I am assuming that the logic is similar to that used to divide some of the MSAs - if there's any rural space between cities (like Charlotte, Rock Hill, Concord and Gastonia, or between Winston-Salem and both High Point and Greensboro), then they are calculated as seperate, discrete entities. Likewise, major cities even when close together (WS, Greensboro and High Point, Raleigh & Durham, Greenville & Spartanburg) are calculated independently. Most, but not every bit of this is detailed in census bureau definitions.

NC - Populations Over 30,000

Charlotte

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I misunderstood--I thought you had past UA figures. I was familiar with the 2000 UA stats, but it was still good to see them all here together. Thanks.

As far as Charlotte's rise to prominence, we know that it was Charlotte's textile industry that played a significant part in its rapid growth in the early 1900's. So besides banking, what other industries/economic factors allowed Charlotte to decrease its reliance on textiles, particularly during the time when it was becoming obvious that textiles couldn't be counted on as a stable economic pillar of the local economy?

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I misunderstood--I thought you had past UA figures. I was familiar with the 2000 UA stats, but it was still good to see them all here together. Thanks.

As far as Charlotte's rise to prominence, we know that it was Charlotte's textile industry that played a significant part in its rapid growth in the early 1900's. So besides banking, what other industries/economic factors allowed Charlotte to decrease its reliance on textiles, particularly during the time when it was becoming obvious that textiles couldn't be counted on as a stable economic pillar of the local economy?

I think you hit both nails on the head - textiles fueled Charlotte's tremendous growth in the early 1900's and - really because of luck and a couple of far-sighted individuals - Banking in the last 40 years.

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I think you hit both nails on the head - textiles fueled Charlotte's tremendous growth in the early 1900's and - really because of luck and a couple of far-sighted individuals - Banking in the last 40 years.

Its not just banking either. Charlotte is a transportation hub and has a heavy industry sector. As most of the Piedmont cities. This list shows me that NC is a state of multiple small to mid-sized cities that are not reliant on each other. Charlotte may be the lone benefactor of this. Meaning not having to deal with the hassel of another city close by and in turn was able to grow with no real limitations. How big would Winston-Salem have grown if not for Greensboros influence...but then again there might not be a Triad dominance like there is now in that part of the state. Kind of a catch 22 if you ask me.

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Some history on Charlotte. It's not all banking.

Charlotte itself while having few mills was not itself a big textile producer. It was however the trading and distribution center for the textile industry which is one of the reasons it grew as it did during the from the 1900s on. And while the finance industry has been important in Charlotte, people on these boards don't realize this area has more manufacturing jobs than banking jobs, and this area is also the 6th largest distribution area in the entire USA (right after Chicago). Freightliner trucks, cigarettes, air conditioners, raw steel, car parts, banking equipment, etc are all produced here. The area is a huge producer of packaged food and drinks. Next time you eat a Lance cracker out of a vending machine, look at where it was manufactured. Either of these industries alone, manufacturing and distribution, would make Charlotte bigger than most of the other cities in the Carolinas.

Like textiles, the finance and distribution center for the NC Furniture industry, the largest in the world for a good bit of the 20th century, was in Charlotte. 2 of NC's traditional big 3, tobacco, furniture, & textiles, were financed and distributed though Charlotte.

Charlotte was also home to several very important companies that are tied to the economies of the region or much of the Carolinas. First Duke Energy is located in Charlotte which was responsible for providing power to much of the western Carolinas, and its management of the Catawba river chain changed cities from the mountains all the way to Columbia. Cheap and reliable power is one of the reasons so many manufacturing businesses located in the Charlotte area. And Charlote was the NC HQ of Southern Bell which means the city was the first to get all of the advances in telecommunications which drove more business.

In 1978, Charlotte landed the big fish, IBM. IBM choose Charlotte to build its last huge research, development and manufacturing facility in the USA. They built a center in the NE part of the city that eventually grew to 8000 employees by 1986, (BofA and Wachovia/FU were still small regional banks at this point). Many suppliers opened shop in Charlotte to supply IBM with components for their manfuactuing facility which made printers, ATMs, check sorting equipement, and electronic cards used all over the company. What is important about this was that at the time IBM was a highly valued company and when they made moves like this others noticed. If Charlotte was good enough for IBM then it was good enough for everyone, and hundreds of other companies followed them here. The entire 100K+ University area of the city grew around this operation.

EDS, AT&T Information Systems, Bell South, Microsoft, Apple Computer, all established operations here. IBM had considered building a similar facility in Columbia, and even purchased 1800 or so acres to do so, but those plans were never realized. Columbia would be a much different place today if that had happened. In 1986, Royal Insurance, a sophisticated, 141-year-old British-owned insurance company moved its entire 1,200-person headquarters to Charlotte from Manhatten. It was shock in the business world, and hastened the exodus of firms from NY to Charlotte.

Also in 1980, Piedmont Airlines decided to establish its first hub to do battle with Atlanta's Eastern Airlines, at the time the dominate airline in the Southeast. They choose Charlotte as the location for the hub instead of their home city of Winston Salem. This radically changed Charlotte's position relative to other Carolina's cities and today that remains the only airline hub in all of the Carolinas. Atlanta people like to brag that if you fly in the South you have to fly through Atlanta, but the Charlotte hub obsoleted that idea. lol This was a huge factor in the mass exodus of firms leaving the NE to choose Charlotte as its location.

Charlotte's success isn't just banking.

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I know many people are sold on urban area calculations but I think they are just as imperfect as other numbers. If every city was spaced apart from other cities, so that there was no running together of populations, the numbers might hold true. However, cities that are in close proximity to other cities can have their numbers either inflated or deflated depending on whether they are included or not included in a single urban area. The argument that urban areas are combined when there is enough connected growth between them doesn't hold true in all cases. For example, Greensboro has a very small urban area land-wise. Why? Because there are other urban areas that run in close proximity to it, particularly High Point. High Point and Greensboro city limits run together. Much of the surrounding areas of each city is just as much a part of one city as they are the other.

I think treating urban areas as some magic number that displays a city's true size is something that people on boards like this come up with and was never intended by census definitions. Urban areas are nothing more than an "urban area" whose name happens to be assigned by the principle city in that area. It is not a measure of the size of a city. For example look at the Raleigh urban area which includes Cary. You could easily argue that a city of over 100K (Cary), should be in it's own urban area. Then you have an urban area such as Asheville that include the towns of Waynesville and Hendersonville which are miles away from Asheville and are only connected by a sliver of land which run downs the highway.

Urban areas are drawn uniquely for each area and even though there are rules and guidelines to how they are drawn, these rules and guidelines are not such that they can be applied the same in every urban situation.

Again I don't have a problem with having urban areas only when they are deciphered as being something more than they are not. And that as seeing them as some kind of magic number that is the "true" size of a city.

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I think treating urban areas as some magic number that displays a city's true size is something that people on boards like this come up with and was never intended by census definitions. Urban areas are nothing more than an "urban area" whose name happens to be assigned by the principle city in that area. It is not a measure of the size of a city. For example look at the Raleigh urban area which includes Cary. You could easily argue that a city of over 100K (Cary), should be in it's own urban area. Then you have an urban area such as Asheville that include the towns of Waynesville and Hendersonville which are miles away from Asheville and are only connected by a sliver of land which run downs the highway.

Urban areas are drawn uniquely for each area and even though there are rules and guidelines to how they are drawn, these rules and guidelines are not such that they can be applied the same in every urban situation.

Well, I think they are more accurate than city limits. Urbanized areas rarely, if ever, stop at the city limits. You can't pretend the development isn't there. It must be counted and analyzed somehow. In the case of Raleigh, Cary should be included because it is a suburb or Raleigh. It would not be what it is, or as large if it weren't for Raleigh. Durham and Chapel Hill are not included in Raleigh, yet, but when they do, they will probably call it Raleigh-Durham. Just like the UN urban agglomeration figures calling Dallas and Ft. Worth Dallas-Ft. Worth. Smaller cities that surround the city usually are fast growing population centers BECAUSE of the larger main city. It is quite silly to say that Huntersville and Pineville and Matthews are independant of Charlotte. They are not. Also, by the way, Charlotte's urban area is now over 900,000 according to the UN figures, and this still does not include Gastonia or Rock Hill or Kannapolis/Concord.

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this is a fascinating thread. thanks for kicking it off, davidals.

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