North Carolina's Birdseye Maps

  • Roberta Williams University of North Carolina at Greensboro


The nineteenth-century was a time of tremendous change in The United States. Great technological advances fed the assurgency of the Industrial Revolution and American capitalism. Newly built factories forever changed the American landscape and the creation of a middleclass, comprised mostly of innovative businessmen (factory owners and other small businesses owners), was the result of a surging economy. Phenomenal population increases were fueled by the arrival of thousands of immigrants who fled Europe for the promise of land in a nation full of promise. Amidst all of this change and development, America also found itself in the throes of a debilitating civil war. The clash between North and South ended in the Confederate states being absorbed into the Union but the losses suffered by the South, and the period of restoration that followed proved to retard industrialism in the South compared to the North.

The majority of the American bird's eye maps captured the growth of the nation during the nineteenth-century by focusing on the change taking place in the North. The maps were akin to modern day web pages providing information about the town, and encouraging community awareness, while demonstrating full-fledged civic pride (Kreiger, 2008). Because the plantation society of the South subsisted on a predominantly agricultural economy, bird's eye map makers took little notice of the South until after the Civil War when industry and development made its mark on the southern landscape. This paper examines six of the fourteen the bird's eye maps of North Carolina that cover the span of time from Reconstruction into the first second decade of the twentieth century, thereby providing a continuous record of post-War development.