For a city that doesn’t look old, Charlotte has a deep history. Here’s an easy-to-remember overview: Just think “queen, king, duke, crown.”
Why is our nickname the Queen City? When the town was chartered in 1768, England’s King George and Queen Charlotte ruled the Colonies. Only a handful of houses existed here, where a major Indian trade route, the Nations Path, crossed a lesser trail on a hilltop.
Locals wanted a courthouse. To curry favor with Colonial Governor William Tryon, they named the hamlet “Charlotte,” called the county “Mecklenburg” after the Queen’s birthplace and renamed the Nations Path “Tryon Street.”
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Folks felt little love for the Crown, nonetheless. Many were Presbyterians, historically at odds with the Church of England. In May 1775, a year before the national Declaration of Independence, Charlotteans signed Mecklenburg Resolves declaring royal authority “null and void.” Tradition holds that there may even have been a full-blown Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.
Anti-English feeling showed up strong when British Gen. Charles Cornwallis swept into town late in the Revolution. Patriots so harassed his troops that he withdrew, calling Mecklenburg a “hornet’s nest of rebellion.” Today, hornets grace everything from police badges to our NBA basketball team.
Charlotte stayed tiny for a century, less than 2,000 souls. Then in the 1850s, railroads arrived. In the 1860s, the Civil War and the end of slavery wiped out the plantation economy centered on Charleston. “King Cotton” took hold in the Charlotte region big-time.
By the 1920s, our region beat New England to become the nation’s textile manufacturer. Today, big brick mill buildings and villages of small wooden cottages still dot the landscape, if you know where to look.
Check out Atherton farmers market, for instance, in the historic 1893 Atherton Mill. Or stroll the NoDa arts district, the former 1903 Highland Park #3 mill village.
All those mills, plus the small waterfalls that rippled nearby rivers, made this region ripe for a 20th-century high-tech innovation: hydroelectric power. Local doctor Gil Wylie convinced tobacco millionaire James B. Duke to dam the Catawba River in 1904 and sell electricity to cotton mills.
Lake Wylie, Lake Norman, Mountain Island Lake and more owe existence to what is now Duke Energy. Duke recruited factories to locate along its power lines, “A Mill to the Mile.” City population zoomed from under 20,000 in 1900 to over 100,000 by 1940.
Growth took off after 1980, as local banks led by Hugh McColl helped rewrite laws across the U.S. to allow interstate banking. McColl’s Bank of America and rival First Union (bought by Wells Fargo in 2008) helped uptown sprout an entirely new skyline. You might call it Charlotte’s new crown.
Banking, though, is only one segment of a diverse economy. Eight giant Fortune-500 corporations have headquarters here, including Family Dollar and Lowe’s Home Improvement.
Thousands of newcomers arrive every year from throughout the U.S. and around the globe. Charlotte is the nation’s fastest-growing major Latino market, among other distinctions. Since 1990, Mecklenburg County’s population has doubled – hitting 1 million people in 2014.