Charlotte and The Salvation Army

New Census estimates were released last week, and Charlotte remains the largest city in the Carolinas and one of the fastest growing cities in the nation. It ranks 17th on the list of the nation’s largest, with a population estimate in 2015 of 827,097.

How did we get here? Let’s rewind a hundred years or so.


A view of northern Charlotte from the Tompkins Tower in 1904. Church Street is on the left. The courthouse is in the center and in the upper left hand corner is Fourth Ward.  Photograph appears courtesy of the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room - Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

In the early 1900s, the city of Charlotte was in a period of major economic growth. After the stock market crash of 1893, Charlotte was one of first to begin to pull out, thanks in large part to the growing textile industry. But, mills weren’t the only game in town. The diversified economic base included banking, power generation and wholesaling.  A bustling mass transit system now served an expanding ring of suburbs. In the 1910 census Charlotte pulled far ahead of Raleigh in population and finally overtook the port of Wilmington to become North Carolina's largest city, symbolizing the shift in the state's economy from cotton and tobacco export to textile production. The population at that time was 34,014.

It wasn’t all rosy. The average life expectancy in the early 1900s was about 47 years. The leading cause of death was pneumonia and influenza. Only 14 percent of the homes in the U.S. had a bathtub. Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone, and a three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost $11. To gain a picture of how much that is, consider that the average wage in the U.S. was 22 cents an hour.

This is the backdrop for the early days of The Salvation Army in Charlotte. The population was growing, but along with that, there was a great need among the city’s poor. In February of 1904, Captain Ross McAlpine and her sister opened The Salvation Army in a small rented upstairs building on South Church Street. From the beginning, many attended the services and some of Charlotte’s most notorious experienced life change. The first Salvation Army Christmas effort began in 1905, as Red Kettles were placed along the streets. A year later, under the leadership of Ensign and Mrs. William Price, an extensive relief program was instituted to aid families in need.

Today, our programs serve more than 40,000 people each year. Last year, through support from the community, we sheltered 6,608 women and children at our Center of Hope and provided 209,529 total nights of lodging. With help from more than 10,000 volunteers, we served 434,731 nutritious meals to hungry neighbors and served 1,719 at-risk youth at our 8 area Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs. (View our 2014-15 annual Impact Report).

Charlotte has certainly grown exponentially. But, so has the need among low-income families. The Salvation Army is here, day in and day out, to meet those human needs in His name without discrimination. And, as long as the need exists, our work will. Thank you for your support in this mission.


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