“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 UrbanDevelopment 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 By 1911, city directory listings show, downtown dwellings had been replaced by commercial buildings.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“Charlotte 1911” brings Hanchett’s innovative use of city directories and city maps as key historical documents into the digital age.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.
“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.
Origins of the Project
“Charlotte 1911” was designed as a pilot project to demonstrate the capabilities of “Main Street, Carolina” (MSC) as a platform for digital history. Thomas Hanchett of the Levine Museum of the New South 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.