The People of 1911 Charlotte

“What shapes a city?  What forces mold its neighborhoods, give rise to its industries and offices, give form to its shops and skyscrapers?  What determines where the streets will run, where the wealthy will build their mansions, where the poor will have their humble homes?  And why do these forces seem to shift over time, transforming one area, destroying another, holding yet another unchanged?"
--Thomas W. Hanchett, Sorting Out the New South City:
Race, Class, and Urban Development in Charlotte
(Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1998), p. 1

This opening passage from Tom Hanchett’s book on the historical geography of Charlotte, N.C., provided the impetus for “Charlotte 1911.”  Using push-pins and photocopies of city maps, Hanchett illustrated his thesis that by 1911 Charlotte had been “sorted out” by race and class into socially and racially homogeneous residential neighborhoods.  A generation before, downtown blocks around Trade and Tryon Streets were home to both white and black businesses and residents.  By 1911, city directory listings show, downtown dwellings had been replaced by commercial buildings.  Most downtown businesses were operated by whites.

“Charlotte 1911” brings Hanchett’s innovative use of city directories and city maps as key historical documents into the digital age.  Four thousand business and residential listings from the 1911 Charlotte City Directory have been entered into a relational database. Each listing has been assigned longitude and latitude coordinates so that it can be displayed on both historical maps and contemporary satellite/map views of Charlotte. 

“Charlotte 1911” repopulates Charlotte’s vibrant city center of a century ago and locates each resident and business in the built environment of that time.  Visually, Charlotte in 1911 is represented on more than 90 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map pages, which have been digitally “stitched” together to form a seamless map view of the city.  The maps show every built structure, road, and open space in what was then and now the city’s heart: the area now girdled by I-277.

"South Tryon Street from Square, Charlotte, N.C." in Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077). North Carolina Collection Photographic Arvhices, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.

Navigating this Site:
“Charlotte 1911” is designed as a discovery tool.  Merging two contemporaneous records of the city at a key moment in its historical development (the city directory and Sanborn Map of 1911) allows us to see this city at that moment in a new way.  Zooming from a helicopter view down to a single neighborhood and then to a block within it reveals patterns, anomalies, and singularities.  The process of social and economic sorting—easily visible in Charlotte 1911—was to shape the city for the next century. 

Clicking on a place marker on the map reveals the information about that person/business contained in the 1911 Charlotte City Directory.  Listings are searchable by name, address, occupation, and race.  Listings have also been “tagged”: choosing the “barber” tag and the African American category, for example, will display all African American barbers living and working in the center of Charlotte in 1911.

This site is best viewed in the Mozilla Firefox Browser. Users of Internet Explorer are likely to encounter significant difficulties loading map data. Firefox may be downloaded for free here.

About the Project:

“Charlotte 1911” was designed as a pilot project to demonstrate the capabilities of Main Street, Carolina as a platform for digital history.  Thomas Hanchett served as historical advisor for “Charlotte 1911.”  Research for the project was undertaken by UNC-Chapel Hill undergraduate students Joanne Yavorski, Charlotte Egerton, Kara Pearce, and Frank O’Hale, working with Natalie DeFilippo, Project Manager for MSC during the 2009-2010 academic year.


“Main Street, Carolina” is made possible from a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a generous gift from the C. Felix Harvey Foundation. It is a collaboration led by Robert C. Allen, James Logan Godfrey Professor of American Studies, History, and Communication Studies at UNC-CH, and Natasha Smith, Head, Digital Publishing Group/Documenting the American South, Carolina Digital Library and Archives, UNC-CH Libraries. Kevin Eckhardt served as the lead programmer in the software design.  Pamella Lach is “Main Street, Carolina” project coordinator.