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Postal Service in Charlotte
THE earliest postal service to Charlotte, provided by traders and travelers, was highly erratic and expensive. Julia McNinch Slear, writing in the Charlotte Observer on November 25, 1934, pointed out that it was scarcely better than that reported before the beginning of the Christian era in the Books of Job, Esther, and Jeremiah.
By October 1, 1794, however, the Federal Post Office Department considered that Charlotte, with its 325 people, was large enough to justify the opening of a post office.
Prior to the coming of railroads in 1852, mail was dispatched in passenger stage coaches. These coaches were in operation as early as 1794 when the route Salisbury-to-Concord-to-Charlotte-to-Statesville and return was covered bi-weekly; by 1830 mail reached Charlotte by stage coach every other day. As railroads branched out in every direction from Charlotte during the latter half of the century, stage coaches were abandoned. The last stage route, that between Wadesboro and Charlotte, ceased operation on December 15, 1874.
Practically all mail was then transported by rail for many years. Speed in the handling of mail became somewhat of a mania and reached a climax when the Southern Railroad inaugurated a through mail train from New York to New Orleans, known as Number 97. It was probably faster than any train operating between those two points in the 1960's, but was discontinued in 1903 following one of the most famous disasters in railroad history. There are several versions of what happened in The Wreck of the Old 97:
". . .He was going down grade, making 90 miles an hour
When his whistle began to scream
He was found in the wreck with his hands on the throttle
And was scalded to death with steam.
Now, ladies you must take warning
From this time now and on
Never speak harsh words to your true loving husband
He may leave you and never return."
The post office at Charlotte, as elsewhere, quickly took advantage of motorized transportation, which became increasingly popular during the early years of the twentieth century. With the abandonment of many local railroad trains in the mid-twentieth century, the use of intercity truck routes and postal buses increased. Airmail service was begun in Charlotte April 1, 1930.
The first postmaster at Charlotte was Edward Wayne (or Waine), who served four years, beginning January 1, 1795. Between Wayne and Edward H. Thomas, the present postmaster, there were 30 postmasters and one postmistress (see appendix). Until 1833 the post office in Charlotte never did as much as a thousand dollars of annual business. In 1959 the total was $6,515,000. In 1825 the postmaster's pay was $195.35; in 1959, $10,970. Money orders were first issued here on September 9, 1867; free city delivery began September 1, 1887, and rural free delivery July 16, 1900.
Until 1881 the post office was variously located in rented space. On October 15, 1880, a contract was awarded for the erection of a building on the southwest corner of Trade and Mint Streets to serve the post office and United States Court. A lot in the rear, now occupied as a parking lot for postal vehicles, was then known as Vance Park and was popular as a playground and for occasional band concerts.
From 1915 until 1918 the post office again rented space (corner of South Tryon and Second Streets) while the building finished in 1881 was demolished and a larger one built in the same location. In 1934 a large addition was built on the adjoining property where the branch of the United States Mint had stood. The new building was dedicated on November 21, 1934, by Postmaster General James A. Farley and has since, with improvements, continued to serve postal and other governmental activities in the city.
What Hath God Wrought?
In 1844 Samuel F. B. Morse invented the electrically operated telegraph instrument; the opening of a telegraph office in Charlotte by the New York and Mississippi Telephone Company took place less than ten years later.
On April 4, 1856, the Western Union Telegraph Company was formed by an amalgamation of many smaller companies and the original office in Charlotte was continued under the new name. For over fifty years the Charlotte office of the Western Union was at 30 South Tryon Street; since January 1, 1927, it has been in the Wilder Building.
The first telephones in Charlotte were demonstration instruments, one in a popular drug store and the other in a nearby residence. Trial conversations resulted in the opening of an exchange with 25 subscribers on April 20, 1880. It proved unprofitable, however, and operations were suspended in 1883.
In July 1884 an improved exchange with 64 subscribers was opened under the name of Charlotte Telephone Company. Rates were $41 per year for residential service and $51 for business telephones. Growth was slow; nine years later there were only 73 telephones in Charlotte. After the turn of the century service grew rapidly and when the exchange was purchased by the Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company on March 4, 1904, there were 968 subscribers.
Number of telephones in use passed the one hundred thousand figure in 1958. As of January 1960 there were 115,560 instruments in use in the metropolitan area. The Caldwell Street building was first occupied in 1929 when the dial system came to this locality. Charlotte was the first city in the Southern Bell system to have multi-office dial exchanges. By 1960 Southern Bell had an investment of about $35 million in Charlotte, an annual payroll in excess of $8 million, and was servicing nearly 25,000 long distance calls daily.
A saying in the library profession is: "In case of fire, let the books burn but save the newspapers and magazines." Books can be easily replaced, whereas newspapers and magazines, published by the millions, are "here today and gone tomorrow." With the coming of microfilm and microcard reproduction, the problem is nearly solved. But with the rapid disappearance of newspapers and magazines, it is almost impossible to reconstruct an accurate record of early Charlotte newspapers.
The first newspaper published in Charlotte seems to have been the Catawba Journal, a weekly, begun October 4, 1824, and published here for several years before being removed to Salisbury. To replace it, the Charlotte Journal, also a weekly, was started in 1831. This name was changed by the publisher, Thomas J. Holton, to The Whig on January 26, 1852. An issue dated September 17, 1861, lists Mrs. T. J. Holton as "Editress and Proprietress," so it is assumed that her husband had died, for he would have been too old for military service then required of eligible males.
Influence of the gold-mining industry in Charlotte can be seen in the name and contents of the Miners and Farmers Journal, established as a weekly September 27, 1830, and apparently successful for several years. The Tri-Weekly Bulletin appeared in 1840 and continued until 1881, though known as the Weekly Courier from 1865. The Hornet's Nest and True Southron lasted two or three years following its establishment July 7, 1849. The Mecklenburg Jeffersonian, weekly, began March 9, 1841, and also lasted several years.
Evidently designed to offset the influence of The Whig, the Charlotte Democrat, W. J. Yates, editor and owner, published its first issue July 10, 1852. It was published as the Western Democrat until 1881 and as Charlotte Home Democrat from February 8, 1884 until 1896, at which time it was consolidated with the Mecklenburg Times to become the Times-Democrat, and published as such until 1924.
From 1859 until 1878 there was published the Evening Bulletin, known from its beginning until 1868 as the Daily Bulletin. The Daily Carolina Times appeared on the scene in 1864 and remained until 1870, and the Daily Journal lasted from August 22, 1882, until March 25, 1883. From 1870 until 1881, General Daniel Harvey Hill published the Southern Home which had the appearance of a newspaper but in content was more in the nature of a magazine.
The Daily Charlotte Observer began publication January 21, 1869, as the property of Smith, Watson & Company, with Francis Justice as editor. Other early editors were J. W. Wright, J. Jones and, lastly, C. R. Jones who "conducted the paper as politically independent."
In December 1886 the Charlotte Chronicle was started as a Democratic daily newspaper. It wasn't long before the Chronicle outdistanced the Observer and was able to announce, "The Observer is no more." For the next several years there was no newspaper in Charlotte with the "Observer" in its title.
In 1892 the Charlotte Chronicle was sold to D. A. Tompkins and Joseph Pearson Caldwell, equally well known as an editor, and the name was changed to Daily Observer. Mr. Caldwell began his duties as editor on February 1, 1892, and from that day forward the Observer has been one of the most influential newspapers in the South. Dr. Julian Miller, editor from 1935 until his death July 28, 1946, in an article on the history of the Observer said: "The life story of the Observer dating from the Tompkins-Caldwell regime has been an epic in journalistic and industrial achievement. Its history is inextricably woven into the civic, economic and social fabric of the community."
Ownership and management of the Observer changed from time to time. Death and illness broke up the Tompkins-Caldwell team and in 1915, the responsibility for conducting the business was assumed by Word H. Wood and George Stephens, bankers. In 1916 these gentlemen sold all outstanding stock to Mr. Curtis Boyd Johnson, publisher of the Knoxville Sentinel.
In order to remain in Knoxville, Mr. Johnson sold a considerable block of stock in the Observer to Mr. Walter B. Sullivan, who became resident manager and president. Mr. Sullivan's illness and subsequent death made it necessary for Mr. Johnson to devote more time and attention to the Observer and finally to move to Charlotte in 1924. Under his ownership and management the paper enjoyed its greatest growth in size and popularity.
Mr. Johnson died on October 6, 1950, and on August 3, 1951, Ralph Nicholson was engaged as editor and publisher. This arrangement lasted until August 1953 when Mrs. Curtis Boyd Johnson became publisher. On December 30, 1954, controlling interest in the Observer was sold to Knight Publishing Company, owned by Johnson S. Knight, his brother James L. Knight, and their associates, who are presently maintaining and increasing the prestige of the newspaper.
For many years prior to 1916 the Observer was published at 32 South Tryon Street, a location since occupied by the Bank of Charlotte and the Imperial Theatre. Need for additional space necessitated removal to Tompkins Tower, 33-35 South Church Street. Ten years later, on January 1, 1927, the Observer moved to its present building at the corner of Stonewall and Tryon streets.
Growth of the Charlotte Observer may be judged from the record of daily circulation from ten periods:
A complete story of the Charlotte Observer may be found in its mammoth issue for February 28, 1950. Biographical information for many of the employees is given. Following are a few of those whose services are still recalled: Joseph Pearson Caldwell, first editor and one of the foremost southern newspapermen of his time; Wade Hampton Harris, editor from 1912 until his death September 14, 1935; Dr. Julian S. Miller, editor from 1935 until 1946; James A. Parham and Rupert Gillett, associate editors; Ernest B. Hunter, managing editor 1929 until his retirement in 1958; Mason B. Hood, long-time reporter; LeGette Blythe, reporter, columnist, editorial writer and literary editor; Hazell Mizell Trotter, reporter; Haywood G. Trotter, reporter, city editor, news editor and managing editor; Haywood Thompson, features editor; Edwin Brietz, news editor; J. M. Roberts, Jr., city editor and news editor; F. Earl Crawford, feature advertising manager; P. H. Batte, business manager; D. G. Spencer and Robert P. Bell, Jr., telegraph editors; Leary W. Adams, business news editor; the famous Isaac Irwin Avery and John Charles McNeill (see Chapter 12); Mrs. J. A. Yarbrough and Mrs. Sam Presson, feature news contributors; Augustus Zollicoffer Travis, columnist; Kays Gary, columnist; Granbery Dickson, religion editor; Hal Tribble and Randolph Norton, editorial writers; Sigsbee Miller, Betty Wannamaker (Mrs. J. J. Ravers), Rita Adams (Mrs. Joseph B. Simpson), Porter Munn, and a host of others on the reportorial staff; "Dick" Banks, arts critic; Jake Houston, Jimmy Dumbell, Bruce Roberts and others of the photographic staff; Jake Wade, Wilton Garrison, Sam Miller, and many other able sports writers; Mrs. J. P. Caldwell, columnist for many years, and Mrs. Margaret Kelly Abernethy, society editor for nearly a generation.
Since December 8, 1888, Charlotte has had two excellent newspapers, the Charlotte News having been started on that date as an afternoon competitor to the Chronicle which, shortly thereafter, was renamed Observer. The News was founded by Wade Hampton Harris, who had been with the old Observer (1869-1886). In 1895 Mr. Harris, for about $5,000, sold the News to Mr. William Carey Dowd, Sr., who had come to Charlotte in 1892 and acquired the weekly Mecklenburg Times. Mr. Dowd continued with both the weekly Times and daily News, later buying the Home Democrat which he consolidated with his original weekly to become the Times-Democrat, a weekly which he published until 1924.
Under the management of William Carey Dowd the Charlotte News eventually developed into North Carolina's leading afternoon newspaper. Upon Mr. Dowd's death, September 23, 1927, ownership and management of the News devolved upon his sons William Carey Dowd, Jr., and J. Edward Dowd. Under these gentlemen, and with the same policies and enthusiasms, the News kept pace with the growing city.
The Dowd family interest in the Charlotte News was surrendered on January 9, 1947, when a group of businessmen, headed by newspaperman Thomas L. Robinson, acquired complete ownership. Some time later, Mr. Robinson obtained almost complete ownership as well as active management of the newspaper. Under his direction, the News continued the fine reputation gained through its long and useful history. However, rising production costs, responsible for many newspaper suspensions and consolidations at the time, resulted in the sale by Mr. Robinson, August 5, 1959, of the Charlotte News to the Knight Publishing Company, owners and publishers of the Charlotte Observer.
Popular feeling in Charlotte at the time of this drastic change in the newspaper situation was one of regret that it had become impossible to continue two financially independent newspapers, but a feeling of relief and gratification that the new arrangement would apparently not jeopardize the spirit of journalistic rivalry that had existed, or diminish the vigor that had characterized the News.
Beginning with William Carey Dowd, Sr., there have been on the staff of the News many who earned deserved recognition. W. Carey Dowd, Jr., was a worthy successor to his father; so also was J. Edward Dowd, who some months after selling his interest in the News, became general manager of the Charlotte Observer. There are also C. A. "Pete" McKnight, former editor of the News, present editor of the Observer; Brodie S. Griffith, managing editor of the News for many years and editor and general manager of the News under Knight ownership. There have been reporters, editorial writers, feature writers and columnists galore, each with his or her personal following, including John P. McKnight, later with Associated Press and currently with the U. S. Information Agency; John Harden, head of his own public relations firm and author of several books; Cameron Shipp, who went on to become a successful Hollywood writer; Tom P. Jimison, who once had himself confined to a mental hospital to get the proper atmosphere for a crusading story; Dorothy Knox and Fannie Lou Bingham, feature writers; C. A. Paul and later, Julian Scheer, columnists; Tom Fesperman, columnist, successively city editor, managing editor of the News and currently managing editor of the Observer; Harry Ashmore, editorial writer who moved on to Little Rock and became celebrated because of his editorial position in connection with desegregation news, currently editor-in-chief, Encyclopaedia Britanica; Victor Reinemer, editorial writer who won many awards and moved on to Washington; W. J. Cash, Burke Davis, Timothy Pridgen, and Marion Hargrove (see Chapter 12); Cecil Prince, editor, whose death on May 24, 1960, at the age of 37, was a grievous shock to his associates and the community; Charles Kuralt, who may be seen frequently on national television channels; Ann Sawyer, Elizabeth Blair Prince and Martha Azer (Mrs. A. A. London), reporters; Tom Franklin and Jeep Hunter, photographers, and the two Youngs, "Dick," Sr., dean of the reportorial staff, and "Dick," Jr., managing editor. A huge jubilee edition of the News was published November 15, 1938, containing a mine of information and data concerning Charlotte and its people.
Charlotte Evening Chronicle
By 1903 the competition of the Charlotte News evidently became so acute that the Observer felt something should be done to offset it. There is no other way now for explaining the action of the Observer in establishing the Charlotte Evening Chronicle on May 25, 1903. This venture evidently didn't turn out as successfully as had hoped and on May 7, 1914, the Evening Chronicle was sold to the Charlotte News, which for a time thereafter became the Charlotte News and Evening Chronicle.
Weekly Newspapers - Mecklenburg Times
When the Charlotte News discontinued its weekly edition, the Times-Democrat, in 1924, Mr. Bill Arp Lowrance of Forest City came to Charlotte and started the Mecklenburg Times. This newspaper is today a dependable source of information concerning people and events in rural Mecklenburg, and is an inexpensive medium for the publication of legal notices of all kinds.
Magazine Publishing in Charlotte
The Land We Love seems to have been the first bona fide magazine published in Charlotte. Volume I, Number 1, dated May 1866, lists the owners as James P. Irwin and Daniel Harvey Hill, and describes the publication as "A monthly magazine devoted to literature, military history, and agriculture." Small type and poor paper conspired to give The Land We Love a most uninviting appearance, while the contents seem to have been written with a "heavy hand." Publication ceased with the November 1868 issue, when the magazine was merged with the New Eclectic of Baltimore. This, in turn, became the Southern Magazine and suspended in 1875.
The Carolina Medical Journal, established in 1878 by Doctors E. C. Register and J. C. Montgomery, was probably the second magazine to be published in Charlotte and the one to have had the longest history. It continued until 1908 when it was absorbed by the Charlotte Medical Journal, of which publication Dr. J. M. Northington became editor in 1926, changing its name to Southern Medicine and Surgery. Publication was discontinued in 1953.
About 1895 John Cuthbertson founded the Textile Excelsior, changing its name a few years later to Southern and Western Textile Excelsior. This publication was combined with Textile Manufacturer about 1907 and continued until 1910.
Between 1890 and 1900 several newspapers and magazines were started but none seems to have left any greater impression than a scant entry in some issue of the city directory. Some of these were: People's Paper, owned by J. P. Sossaman; Southern Industries, owned by W. L. Scott; Weekly Register, owned by C. W. Peters and W. L. Yeager; Dixie (organ of the Order of Railway Trainmen), edited by W. B. Swindell; Church and State, with W. W. Bays, Jr., as business manager and Mamie Bays as editor; Southern Success and Advertiser, of which W. B. Swindell was editor.
In 1898 the weekly North Carolina Presbyterian, founded January 1, 1858, by the Synod of North Carolina, was bought and moved from Fayetteville to Charlotte by a syndicate composed of Reverend A. J. McKelway and others. Dr. McKelway became the editor and the name was changed to Presbyterian Standard. Dr. J. R. Bridges became editor in 1918 and in 1926 was succeeded by Rev. J. G. Garth, who served until the magazine ceased publication in 1931.
A year after the Presbyterian Standard located in Charlotte, Mr. George S. Escott founded the Mill News. This magazine was published from 1899 until 1922 when it was merged with the American Cotton & Wool Reporter of New York. In 1908 the Merchants Journal and Commerce was founded by Norman H. Johnson, an attorney, who at that time was executive secretary of the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association. When the association was consolidated with the Virginia association, the publication office was removed to Richmond.
In 1908 there was also established the Poultry Yard, by Elam & Dooley; the Christian Home, by Rev. T. J. Jenkins; the Southern Republican, by J. A. Smith and D. B. Paul; The Carolina Pythian, with Major J. G. Baird as editor, and the Progressive Mission.
In August 1906 Volume I, Number 1, of a literary magazine entitled Charlotte Magazine made its appearance. No editor nor owner is named. With the exception of an insert about Charlotte and Charlotte people the magazine might just as appropriately been called Asheville Magazine, or been named for any other city. Number 2 of Volume I never appeared.
It was in 1911 that Mr. David Clark formed the Clark Publishing Company to publish the Textile Bulletin, the first of several publications now issued by that firm (see Chapter 7).
Another Charlotte Magazine, with J. Ray Shute as editor in chief, made its appearance August 1932, as a publication of the "civic clubs of Charlotte." While in every way a legitimate and attractive publication, this periodical succumbed to the ravages of depression. The Charlotteer, published by J. L. Dew 1937-1939, was another ambitious undertaking that failed.
In 1939 there arrived in Charlotte from New York, Mr. Harry Golden (see Chapter 12), "a likeable Jewish gentleman." After brief experiences as an advertising salesman he founded the Carolina Israelite, a publication with a newspaper format and contents described by Life magazine as, "a collection of warm essays and reminiscences with modest adjectives." Mr. Golden's success has been reflected in his paper's circulation which went quickly from a few hundred locally read copies to an international audience of more than 60,000.
The Dairy Goat Bulletin began its existence in Charlotte, January 1943, as a quarterly magazine, edited by Paul Palmer. In the fall of 1949 it changed hands and was afterwards published at Mena, Arkansas with a change of name, in 1951, to the Capriculturist.
Other Printed Communications
The mortality rate of newspapers and magazines may seem high, but does not compare with the fleeting existence of the publications of churches, clubs, and other organizations, which were started with high hopes. For a time at lease, some of them had a few faithful followers. Others continued for years and since they reflect one aspect of life in Charlotte as lived in the twentieth century, a few of these latter are mentioned by way of illustrating this kind of reading material.
Charlotte: The Center was a 32 page periodical, published at irregular intervals by the Chamber of Commerce from about 1925 until early 1930. It consisted of statistics and articles aimed at prospective industries.
The Mecklenburg Baptist and Mecklenburg Presbyterian have both been published for a number of years and are typical of other denominational papers.
Bulletin of the Mecklenburg Medical Society. Volume I, Number 1 of this pocket-size magazine appeared March 1940 with Dr. Tom W. Baker as editor and Drs. Graham Reid and Allyn B. Choate, as associate editors. The business managers were Drs. Ernest W. Franklin, Walter B. Mayer and Jerome B. Hamer. Filled with professional papers which had been read at meetings of the medical profession, this was a creditable and apparently useful magazine. It suspended publication at the conclusion of Volume II when activities connected with World War II made it impossible for doctors to give the necessary time to its preparation.
Rotary Reporter, established about 1918 and still published, is typical of publications issued regularly by civic clubs. Desert Dust, established about 1935 and still published by the Oasis Temple, keeps the 7152 shriners posted on fraternal and other Masonic affairs.
Charlotte is one of the nation's great transportation and distribution centers. The story of how it got that way bridges the gap between the isolation of frontier life, and the refinements of modern society.
Early transportation methods and facilities inspire admiration, but not envy, for our forefathers, whose bridle paths between neighborhoods gave way to cartways and dirt roads as villages began to spring up in the forests. Horses would sometimes carry three or four children and an adult, while proud ladies, on foot, would wear everyday shoes along the country roads and don their Sunday footwear as they neared the church.
Later came gigs, jersey wagons, surreys, buggies and carriages. A young man was judged by the horse and buggy he owned, just as today his car tells much about him. When large plantations were formed and towns laid out, families were judged by the kind of carriages owned, their horses and liveried Negro coachmen. More distant travel required stagecoaches, and for more than a half century this mode of transportation dominated, until it gave way to the railroads.
Removed as they were from good markets, the people of the Piedmont area of North Carolina retained their self-sufficient economy for a good many years. Their logical market would seem to have been Fayetteville, but Charleston loomed just as important. The difference in distance was not great, but the two principal rivers drawing the Piedmont were the Yadkin and Catawba, both running diagonally across the state into South Carolina. The easiest land routes naturally followed the water courses and up to 1850 Cheraw was the closest market to Charlotte, an eight day trip at that time.
These facts undoubtedly account for the energy with which Charlotte people joined in the agitation which began about 1825 for improved transportation facilities. On October 7, 1833, at a public meeting in Charlotte, delegates were appointed to attend a "railroad meeting" at Salisbury. At a convention on December 10, 1836 Mecklenburg and eighteen other counties were represented by 131 delegates who adopted resolutions asking the legislature to assist in the building of railroads which they stated were of great importance to western counties. About the same time Mecklenburg sent representatives to a meeting at Knoxville to consider building a road from Charlotte to Cincinnati. Other meetings occurred at intervals and a regular organization was maintained in Charlotte, after 1846, for the purpose of securing railroad transportation.
Finally, the needs became so acute that a compromise measure between eastern and western counties was passed in 1849 creating the North Carolina Railroad Company. The authorized capital was $3,000,000, of which the state was to supply two thirds and private stockholders one third. Later, the state acquired another $1,000,000 in preferred stock to complete the road.
In the meantime, Charlotte citizens had attended meetings to obtain a railroad to Columbia. Subscriptions to stock in this road were sold in May 1849, and construction began soon after. By October 1852, the Charlotte & South Carolina Railroad was carrying freight though the road was not quite complete into town. The first passenger train arrived at Charlotte on October 21, 1852 and was greeted by a tremendous celebration. Crowds came from Columbia, Winnsboro, Chester and other points, and newspapers estimated there were 20,000 people present. The Columbia band furnished music and there were a number of speeches followed by a barbecue on the lawn of the Female Academy, and at night a dance and fireworks display. Henceforth there was daily passenger service between Charlotte and Columbia. The Charlotte & South Carolina Railroad was acquired by the Richmond & Danville Railroad in 1878.
The second railroad to enter Charlotte was the North Carolina Railroad, which ran from Goldsboro to Charlotte via Raleigh, Greensboro, and Salisbury, a distance of 219.2 miles. The first train was operated from Concord to Charlotte September 1854 and the road was completed in January 1856. The first through train ran the following day, and daily thereafter. The North Carolina Railroad was leased to the Richmond & Danville on September 9, 1871 for a period of thirty years. The Richmond & Danville was absorbed by the Southern Railway System in 1894, at which time the lease was renegotiated for ninety-nine years. The state still owns the North Carolina Railroad and receives compensation for its use from the lessee.
On May 19, 1870 Mecklenburg County voted $200,000 in bonds to assist in building the Atlanta & Charlotte Air Line Railway, and $100,000 towards rebuilding the Atlantic, Tennessee & Ohio Railroad, familiarly known in Charlotte as the Statesville Line. This line had been completed in 1860, but by 1864 had been torn up to provide war material. Rebuilding was completed in 1874.
All of these local railroads came together as the Southern Railway System, June 18, 1894. The Southern today has more miles of track in Mecklenburg county than there were in the entire first railroad reaching Charlotte from Columbia, which road the Southern now owns.
When the first passenger train arrived in Charlotte, passengers were deposited somewhere close to the present location of the Southern passenger station on West Trade Street. From one combination passenger and freight train daily in 1852 and two trains daily in 1854, passenger trains increased to a peak of about 25 to 30 trains daily in the 1920's. With the increased used of buses, automobiles and air travel, passenger traffic then began to decline. Short railroad lines were abandoned until at present the passenger traffic in and out of Charlotte is limited to a half dozen through trains in each direction daily.
From a financial standpoint, passenger hauling has always been a minor part of the business of the Southern Railway Company, the principal business being transportation of freight. Toward this end it has devoted much effort to attracting new industries to Charlotte and vicinity. By 1900 the volume of freight business required a block-long warehouse on South College Street, between Third and Fourth Streets; the building burned in Charlotte's most spectacular fire, June 24, 1954. Later, in order to unbottle some of Charlotte's traffic arteries, the railroad built new tracks for its freight trains, skirting the business and residential sections of the city.
Passenger trains began running between Wilmington and Charlotte on December 15, 1874, via the Carolina Central Railway, the first section of which road, between Charlotte and Lincolnton, was put into operation April 1861. In 1900 the Carolina Central became a part of the basic system comprising the Seaboard Air Line Railroad.
From the date of its entry into Charlotte the Seaboard offered both freight and passenger service until November 3, 1958 when passenger service was discontinued.
The Piedmont & Northern Railway Company, one of the four Class I railroads now serving Charlotte, is an all-freight, Deisel line extending between Charlotte and Gastonia in North Carolina and between Spartanburg, Greenville, Greenwood and Anderson in South Carolina. It is the only railroad with its general offices located in Charlotte, and thus has the distinction of being "home grown."
The Piedmont & Northern was organized in 1911 by James B. Duke and his associates, as an adjunct to their various electric power and industrial developments in the Carolinas. Originally, the railroad was conceived as an interurban electric line extending through the Piedmont Carolinas.
The predecessor company of the present North Carolina Division of the Piedmont & Northern was the Piedmont Traction Company, organized in January 1910. Its first mission was to construct a line between Charlotte and Gastonia, connecting the street railway systems of the two cities. Interurban passenger service was inaugurated with appropriate fanfare on Independence Day, 1912. The new and fast electric passenger cars gained immediate public acceptance and for many years were the backbone of passenger transportation between the two cities. Several months after the organization of the Piedmont Traction Company, Mr. Duke and his associates obtained a charter for the Greenville, Spartanburg & Anderson Railway. The consolidation of the two lines was to be the first step in the ultimate connection between Gastonia and Spartanburg, and extending northward from Charlotte to other North Carolina cities. However, this plan was stoutly opposed by several truck lines serving the area and the Interstate Commerce Commission declined to grant the company permission to complete the system. Notwithstanding the upsetting of its plan, the Piedmont & Northern has contributed immensely to Charlotte's industrial growth by attracting new enterprises.
The all-freight Norfolk & Southern extended its lines to Charlotte in December 1913, thus linking Charlotte to Norfolk through a prosperous agricultural and industrial section.
Norfolk & Southern has been especially active in acquiring sites for Charlotte's industrial expansion, and in attracting new industries.
Almost as exciting as the coming of the first train was the advent of the automobile in Charlotte.
An automobile is said to have been owned in Charlotte as early as 1901, but none is mentioned in the Charlotte city directory until 1904. In that year the Osmond L. Barringer Company was listed in the business section as dealer for Franklin Autocar and Cadillac automobiles. Since that time, many of the great homes of earlier citizens have been torn down to make way for service for automobiles, which many midtown lots have become parking areas, with corner positions occupied by sales rooms for automobiles and their accompanying repair shops. It seems safe to say that Charlotte automobile interests use more of the city's ground space than does any other form of business. There were upward of 62,000 automobiles registered in Mecklenburg in 1960.
From a small beginning in 1930, the bus industry has grown to acquire its own large Union Bus terminal, with dining and other modern conveniences to serve five bus lines: Atlantic Greyhound, Carolina Coach Co., Carolina Scenic Stages, Carolina Transit Lines, and Queen City Trailways.
As the population increased and patronage became sufficient, there appeared individual public conveyances. These usually had two seats, one for the driver and the other for rider or riders. These phaetons invariably had curtains which could be unrolled for those who desired privacy. Some did, because these vehicles were used by traveling men and townsmen, who did not want their own equipment or themselves to be recognized, when visiting Charlotte's red light district, located in the vicinity of Caldwell and Second Streets, and Davidson Street, below Second. Vehicle stands were adjacent to railway stands and hotels. At the head of the line of phaetons waiting at the railway station would be an omnibus for each of the leading hotels. These were drawn by two horses and had seats facing each other, running lengthwise, and providing space for 16 to 18 passengers. A few of these horse-drawn omnibuses were replaced by motor busses from 1910 to 1915 but, with the increased use of taxicabs almost all hotel buses were abandoned by 1920.
In 1887 Charlotte's first horse-drawn streetcars were put into operation from West Trade Street, at the Southern Railway crossing, to the end of the line which was at the top of the hill on Elizabeth Avenue. Electric cars made their appearance in 1893 and the lines were gradually extended for the next 25 years.
There were summer cars with seats six or eight feet in length extending the width of the cars. The conductor moved along the running board, holding on with one hand and collecting nickel fares and issuing transfers with the other. The winter cars had seats which faced inward and extended the length of the cars, similar to those used for horsedrawn cars. Summer cars were abandoned about 1915, and the others converted into pay-as-you enter conveyances.
Taxicabs and Buses
By 1915 automobiles had about replaced horses for all transportation purposes except sporting events, hauling, and agricultural pursuits. Horsedrawn public vehicles had been superseded by individual automobiles for hire and it wasn't long before some of these were grouped and became taxicab companies. The city directory of 1923 was the first to carry in its business section a classification for taxicabs. The final link between the old and new methods of local transportation broke in 1938 when motor buses replaced street cars, and the car tracks were removed, or covered over. In April 1955 the Duke Power Company, which had inherited the street car system when the Southern Public Utilities company was absorbed, sold its buses to the Charlotte City Coach Lines.
Inauguration of air transportation was announced in the Charlotte Observer for April 2, 1930 with headlines and a story that began, "Roaring out of the darkness of the south, Gene Brown, intrepid flier of the night skies, last night officially christened Charlotte as an air mail stop." As a pilot for Eastern Air Transport, later to become Eastern Air Lines, Brown brought the first air mail to the city before a wildly enthusiastic throng, estimated variously as from 30,000 to 50,000 people.
A group of Charlotte's most prominent citizens were on hand December 10, 1930 to welcome the first passenger flight of the same system. The 18 passenger Curtis Condor plane landed a few minutes after noon. For the first few months the passenger traffic from Charlotte averaged 30 per month on two daily flights.
The first flights into Charlotte landed at the Charlotte Airport, a privately owned enterprise provided by air-minded citizens at a cost of about $225,000. Under the management of Johnny Crowell, Charlotte's best known aviator, the airport served its purpose well. It was eventually taken over as a facility of the municipal government, and named Douglas Municipal Airport in honor of Mayor Ben E. Douglas, who spearheaded the movement for its acquisition. Subsequently, through bond issues and governmental aid, much additional land was obtained and the modern airport was dedicated and put into service July 10, 1954.
The excellent service provided by Eastern Air Lines for seventeen years was supplemented on December 5, 1947 when Capital Airlines, Southern Airways and Piedmont Airlines began scheduled flights to Charlotte, and in 1956 when Delta Airlines began its service to the community. For either short or long distances, travelers may charter private planes from Cannon Aircraft Company, Carolina Aircraft, or Southeast Airmotive.
From an average of thirty passengers monthly in 1930, air transportation has grown into a leading local industry. As of 1960, some 1,310 persons emplane daily at Douglas Municipal Airport, on 102 scheduled flights of the five airlines serving the city. In addition, 61/2 tons of mail, air freight and air express are handled daily. More than 1,700 people are employed at the airport.
Blythe, LeGette and Brockmann, Charles Raven. Hornets’ Nest: The Story of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Charlotte, N.C.: Public Library of Mecklenburg County, 1961.