A History of Wilson, North Carolina


Wilson County Court House - Wilson, North Carolina

The town of Wilson was incorporated by the General Assembly of North Carolina on January 29, 1849. It later became the county seat of Wilson County. The town from its incorporation in 1849, when it was just a crossroads, until about 1890, made a very slow growth. But during the decade 1890-1900, several events of historic importance took place, which had a great influence on the growth and the importance of the town.

In 1890, the first tobacco warehouse was built in Wilson. It proved quite successful both from the standpoint of being a convenience to the farmers who had heretofore sold their tobacco in Rocky Mount and other centers, and also as a business enterprise for the owners. From the beginning, Wilson proved popular as a tobacco market. The growth of the town may be dated from this first tobacco sale. During the 44 years that the Wilson tobacco market has been running, it has not only attained eminence by being the largest in the world for the sale of flue-cured tobacco, but justly claims to be the most efficient market of any tobacco belt.

The second thing of importance in this decade was the beginning of the industrial and manufacturing development of the town which was then begun. Wagon manufacturing, cotton mills, and the making of cigarettes were all started in this decade.

Third, one of the most important things that happened in 1890-1900 was the building of what became the Norfolk Southern Railway, giving this town modern connection and transportation east and west. The Atlantic Coast Line had, from the day of the incorporation of the town, given service north and south. Now, by having access to the port at Norfolk and the cvapital at Raleigh, by means of the Norfolk Southern as well as connection north and south, Wilson was in a much better commercial strategic position.

The fourth thing that happened in the 1890-1900 decade to influence the growth and progress of Wilson was the establishment by the town of its first public utilities. The electric light plant was the first utility established. It was begun in 1892 through a bond issue of $15,000. The lights were turned on during the following year. The water works were started with a bond issue of $60,000 in 1893. From that time until now our municipally-owned utilities have been a source of constant pride, commercial progress, and help toward tax relief to the citizens of Wilson. The water works, the electric light plant, and the gas works, combined, today have a property value of about one and a half million dollars. The annual average profit is about $150,000, which is turned over to the public treasury for the relief of the taxpayers, giving Wilson a very low rate of taxation.

Since the 1890s, the population of Wilson has steadily increased until today it is the trading center for a population three times larger than the actual population of Wilson, which is approximately 15,000.

Wilson is known far and wide as a town of beauty, particularly in its residential section. West Nash Street has been selected by many as one of the ten most outstanding places of beauty in North Carolina. In 1926, Wilson dedicated with appropriate ceremony the handsome one-half million dollar court house. In November of 1928, the new Post Office and United States Court House was dedicated.

The educational life of Wilson has been one of steady progress under the leadership for two decades of the late Dr. Charles L. Coon. Thoroughly modern buildings house the consolidated schools in each township of the county. The town also has Atlantic Christian College, a four-year senior grade A College, one-half of whose 300 students come from the county and town of Wilson.

For over half a century, Wilson has been served by two exceedingly strong banks, the Branch Banking & Trust Company, and the National Bank.

In 1932, the Board of Aldermen voted to have a town manager, and this request was granted by the legislature. Since that time the town has been governed by a manager. This new method of government has proved very satisfactory in the conducting of the town government and in the maintenance of the town's credit. All Wilson bonds are now quoted above par.

Wilson has recently begun the development of parks and playgrounds, and there are now two parks and five playgrounds for use this summer.

Wilson is known as a neighborly, friendly town, and its slogan might well be, “A Good Place To Live.”

From 1848 until 1933, the town had a Mayor-Alderman form of government. In 1933, the people voted for a Mayor-Alderman-City Manager form of government and a City Manager was accordingly installed in June of 1933.

The town is governed by a Mayor and five Aldermen. The Mayor is the chief executive officer of the town while the City Manager is the chief administrative officer, working under the direction and control of the Board of Aldermen.

The town is divided into five wards. A mayor is elected by the town at large while each ward names one Alderman who must be a resident of the ward which names him. An election for town officers is held every two years and after assuming office the Aldermen name a City Manager. The different phases of the town's work are divided into departments such as utilities, finance, police, fire, street, etc.

A regular meeting of the Board is held each month on Thursday after the first Monday at which time reports of the condition of the town are made by the City Manager to the Mayor and Board. Necessary ordinances are passed, complaints and requests of citizens are heard and the affairs of the town discussed and regulated as the need arises. No ordinance may be passed and no appropriation made other than at regular meeting. The Board holds special meetings whenever the need arises.

According to the Federal Census of 1930, the town of Wilson had a population of 12,613, an increase of 258 percent since 1900. If the city limits were extended about a half mile in each direction, taking in the suburbs which actually connect and are part of the town, the population would be about 16,500.

The population of Wilson County in 1930 was 44,914 as compared to 23,596 in 1900. The rapid expansion between 1900 and 1930 is evidence in itself of the progressiveness of the community.

The industrial development of Wilson dates back from the year 1854 at which time Hackney Brothers was organized and engaged in the manufacturing of buggies. From year to year there followed a rapid change in more modern inventions in vehicles for travel, automobiles having almost replaced the use of buggies. In keeping with this progressive development Hackney Brothers, in 1919, discontinued the manufacturing of buggies, reorganized under the name of Hackney Bros. Body Company and since that time have been engaged in manufacturing the modern type of commercial bus bodies, their weekly output now being approximately 40 bodies, depending upon the size and type.

The Hackney Wagon Co. was organized in 1903 and is still in operation, making the most modern type of wagon, the output being approximately 50 per week.

Hackney Industries, Inc., was organized in April of 1934. This factory manufactures steel commercial bus bodies. The weekly output is about 15, depending upon the size and type.

During the busy season these three factories employ a total of approximately 350 people with a weekly payroll of about $8,000.

Wilson has three up-to-date fertilizer plants, two of which operate cotton gins. The Contentnea Guano Co. was organized in 1907. It manufactures acid phosphate and a high grade line of fertilizer. The daily output is 800 tons.

The Farmers Cotton Oil Co. was organized in 1902. This company has several units for the manufacturing of various products. It manufactures a high grade line of fertilizer with a daily out-put of approximately 400 tons. A feed unit is operated with an out-put of 50 tons of manufactured feeds per day. A modern gin is also operated with daily ginning capacity of 75 bales. In the ginning of this cotton there is an extraction of about 60 tons of seed, which are put through a crushing process, producing cotton linters, cotton seed hulls, and cotton seed oil. This plant also operates a unit for manufacturing bale covering which is used for wrapping cotton.

The Southern Cotton Oil Co. was organized in 1900. It manufactures a high grade line of fertilizer with a daily capacity of 200 tons. It operates a cotton gin with a capacity of 100 bales per day which produce 80 tons of cotton seeds. These seeds are put through a crushing process, producing cotton linters, cotton seed hulls, and cotton seed oil.

During the busy season these three factories employ a total of approximately 200 people with a total weekly payroll of about $3,500.

Wilson has three modern ice factories: Colonial Ice Co., organized in 1904; Independent Electric Ice Co., organized in 1929; and the City's Ice & Fuel Co., organized January 1, 1934. These three plants manufacture a total of approximately 110 tons of ice per day and employ a total of approximately 50 people with a combined weekly payroll of about $900.

Southern Dairies Inc. was organized in 1900 and is engaged in the manufacturing of ice cream with a daily capacity of approximately 1500 gallons.

Wrights Ice Cream Co. was organized in 1931. It has a daily capacity of approximately 100 gallons.

The Barnes-Harrell Company bottles approximately 3,000 cases of Coca-Cola per week.

The Acme Candy Co. manufactures approximately 3500 pounds of various kinds of candy per week.

The two ice cream plants, Candy plant and Bottling plant have a total of 61 employees with a weekly pay-roll of about $2,200.

Wilson has two lumber mills, one marble and granite factory and a mattress factory. The Williams Lumber Company operates lumber mills in Wilson and Rocky Mount, North Carolina. The Wilson plant cuts 40,000 feet of lumber per day. This lumber is cut into all sizes and types to be used for things of wooden construction. The plant is equipped to manufacture sash, doors, blinds, framing, etc.

The H. G. Stephenson Lumber Co. cuts 5,000 feet of lumber per day and purchases about an equal amount from other mills. The mill is equipped to make lumber into all sizes and shapes in addition to the making of sash, doors, frames, and blinds.

The Wilson Marble & Granite factory was established in 1908. Manufacturing of memorial monuments, markers and head-stones is carried out on an extensive scale.

The Wilson Bedding Company was established in 1922. This plant is equipped to manufacture between thirty and forty mattresses per day, the number depending upon the grade and type. The plant is equipped to renovate old mattresses.

The two lumber mills, the marble and granite factory and the bedding company employ a total of 110 people, and have a total weekly pay-roll of approximately $1,475.

A canning factory has just been established in Wilson by the Federal Government operating under the supervision of the FERA. Present plans call for the canning of beef cattle for about nine months during the year, with the other 3 months devoted to the canning of fruits and vegetables. This plant will employ approximately 400 people.

The Wilson Cotton Mills were organized in 1882. They are well equipped to manufacture the best quality of cotton yarn. When operating full time they use about 2,000 bales of cotton annually, which is all bought locally, and from this amount of cotton there is about 1,000,000 pounds of product in the form of cotton yarn manufactured. When operating full time they employ approximately 75 people.

The combined weekly pay-roll of the Canning Factory and Cotton Mill is approximately $3,900, the two plants employing a total of approximately 475 people.

Excerpted from "Facts about Wilson, North Carolina," Compiled and Published by the Wilson Chamber of Commerce, Wilson, NC, October 15, 1934 [with minor edits].

Click Here to read the entire pamphlet, which has many illustration and photos. Link is current as of September 2005 and December 2015.


Tossnot Depot was granted a U.S. Post Office in Edgecombe County on April 29, 1840, and its first Postmaster was James D. Barnes. The name was changed to Wilson, which was granted a new U.S. Post Office on March 24, 1849, and its first Postmaster was again James D. Barnes. In 1855, Wilson was now in Wilson County. Its Post Office has been in continuous operation ever since inception.


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