Q is for Queen City: Charlotte, NC

There are a number of cities nicknamed Queen City; I knew about Cincinnati, OH and a few others. However, I’m going to talk about Charlotte, NC, in no small part because I have been there several times.

Back in 1973 or early 1974, my father lost his job with Associated Building Contractors in Johnson City, NY, next to Binghamton. He saw this an an opportunity to go wherever he could find a job anywhere in the country. He looked everywhere from Syracuse to San Francisco. Ultimately, he found a position at J.A. Jones Construction in Charlotte, as safety coordinator. He went down first, then my “baby” sister Marcia, and finally my mother. Both of my parents were born in Binghamton, but Mom was less than enthused about moving to the South.

My father, while liking Charlotte well enough, referred to it often as a “big old country town,” where a train might stop traffic within the city limits. It was big and getting bigger, in large part because of annexation. Cities in North Carolina, and other predominantly southern states were allowed to annex unincorporated territory adjacent to them as long as the municipalities met minimal criteria of “urbanness”, two people per square mile, and provided police, fire, and water services. This action was taken to require those living on the fringe of the city to be added to the tax base, a luxury most Rust Belt cities can’t do because of fairly fixed borders.

There were annexations in 1972, 1974 and 1977. I was in graduate school in Public Administration at UAlbany in 1979-80, and actually did research on the effect that the rapid growth had on the city. What I’ve noticed since, though, is that the growth has continued: “Until 1978, Charlotte – like many other mid-sized southern cities – was struggling to grow, reeling from the decline of the textile industry. But that year, Charlotte began its transformation into the second largest banking center in the United States. The city’s population has more than doubled, from 315,474 in 1980 to an estimated 751,087 in 2011.”

It also grew as a function of alcohol: “Prior to 1978, single drinks could not be served in North Carolina. People who wanted a glass of wine with dinner at a restaurant would have to bring their own bottle. Bars simply didn’t exist.

“After state voters passed what became known as the ‘liquor by the drink’ law, Charlotte’s hospitality industry began to grow. Around the same time, the first wave of northern immigrants arrived… In 1978, IBM moved 1,000 families from upstate New York. That was the first big influx.” Before that, “You couldn’t buy pasta. You couldn’t buy a bagel in Charlotte. The IBMers really began to change the community.” True enough; the pizza was TERRIBLE when my parents moved there.

Transportation has also played a part. The airport has become a hub. Charlotte now has light rail; when the family relocated there, the bus system was, to be generous, inadequate. This is still true once one gets out of the core downtown, though: “It’s also very easy to get lost: everything looks very similar.” That’s comforting to read, because it almost always happens to me. Charlotte is changing all the time.

ABC Wednesday – Round 13

25 thoughts on “Q is for Queen City: Charlotte, NC”

  1. How fast does a relative small town grow! We have the same happening here.
    With the increasing number of cars, and the fact that all carowners prefer travelling by car to public transport, we see that they have to deal with over crowded roads, which cause traffic jams to such an extent, that the government has to look for a satisfying solution. Many carowners are commuting every day nowadays, whereas in the past people lived as close to their work as possible.
    Wil, ABCW Team


  2. We have the same problem right here in my village…not so much a village anymore, though. I moved here in 1975 when it truly was “the sticks” because we could afford to buy a house here. Surrounded by farm fields, we lived in a tiny little subdivision and got to know the neighbours well. Almost 40 years later, there are traffic jams everywhere and the subdivisions have kept on growing to the point where people are complaining that there won’t be any farms left soon. Because we live south of the Fraser River, there is only the tunnel or one bridge miles away and the daily traffic jam is frustrating. “They” say we should be using public transportation, but the powers that be took away some very convenient runs plus not everyone can carpool because everyone works in different locations. It is frustrating but still a beautiful place to live.


  3. I was recently in Edmonton, where I grew up when the City consisted of probably a hundred thousand souls, – and is now in the millions. Places where we hiked (and where I met my husband) are now filled with commerce and busy highways and round-abouts. It had the same liquor laws when I lived there, too…..


  4. I’ve noticed that increasingly flights from RDU (Raleigh/Durham) where I live go to Charlotte. I can get direct flights from RDU to many major cities but it’s not uncommon to have to change planes in Charlotte for a lot of places. Interesting post.


  5. Bring your own wine is a new concept for me…interesting.
    It is interesting to learn about small town growth and the reasons for it happening. Alcohol…who would have thought?


  6. I have never traveled in the South. I would very much like to, but the only way we would do it is with a trailer and since my husband’s eyesight is not good enough to maneuver a trailer, (little or no vision in the left eye)it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen soon. So I really enjoyed your history. So many things to learn about and so little time to do it. Google is fantastic for gathering information about places. I think I use it 3 or 4 times a day.


  7. I have always wanted to live in a “big, old country town.” NC sounds and looks to me a very charming place. I have an invitation from an aunt to visit but haven’t gotten around to sorting the visa.


  8. When I was living in Charleston, South Carolina in the 1960s, the town had recently expanded from the five square miles on the peninsula to just over 20. It’s now 164.

    Then again, I shouldn’t talk. I live in a town that covers 621 square miles — which is actually down from a peak of nearly 680.


  9. Interesting history of Charlotte. And that with banking the city had an influx of new people! It sounds like it’s still a midsize town. (and there’s nothing wrong with that!)


  10. I have never been in Charlotte, but the American company I worked for had his head office in Charlotte, and now I also understand why those who came to Brussels drank so much and there was nothing to do with them in the afternoons because they had too much wine at lunch, lol ! I didn’t know about these laws in the States, because in Belgium people always drink wine when they go out that’s just a must.


  11. I like the Southern towns I’ve visited, but have not been here. I like the idea of bringing your own bottle; would be lots less expensive than the wine served in restaurants now! Kate, ABC Team


  12. Our small town is still small, but it grew from a small company town for the local paper mill. We are remote, so in the beginning that was all there was, except for a few individuals who lived “outside” and trudged to work in all kinds of weather. As time went on, a few communities arose on the outskirts. One of those was near the dock for the steamship. It soon became a commerce center, and finally took over as the more “important” part of town. Now all of the communities have united under one name, Powell River, BC. The Townsite is now a living historical monument and is once again a vibrant part of the city’s culture. – Margy


  13. I’ve always thought Charlotte would be a very beautiful southern city to visit. Seems to me IBM was the main thing that managed to get good pizza and bagels there. Lots of fun information.


  14. I totally understand getting lost in a place where everything was once familiar and now just looks similar… My hometown back in India is also growing – each time I return for a visit, I get lost in places that were once so known..


  15. It always amazes me how much change can happen in such a short period of time. Though I suppose 35 years wouldn’t be considered a very short period of time in most cases, when you are talking about major changes in both economics and culture it would be. Very interesting piece.


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