Rocky Mount is a city in Edgecombe and Nash counties in the coastal plain of the state of North Carolina. Although it was not formally incorporated until February 28, 1907, the North Carolina community that became the city of Rocky Mount dates from the beginning of the 19th century. The first post office in the area opened in 1816. The city’s population is currently at 57,477.
Rocky Mount is the principal city of the Rocky Mount, North Carolina area, which encompasses all of both Edgecombe and Nash counties. Rocky Mount is also a part of a Combined Statistical Area which encompasses both Rocky Mount and Wilson metropolitan areas. The Rocky Mount–Wilson CSA population is currently over 200,000 residents. Rocky Mount is about 45 minutes away from the state capital, Raleigh. It is also apart of the Raleigh-Durham-Cary CSA with a grand population of 2,132,523.
Rocky Mount has a growing arts community. The city operates the Maria V. Howard Arts Center, a Children’s Museum & Science Center, and a Community Theater at the Imperial Centre for Arts & Sciences.
Recently, the City also renovated the Douglas Block, located in Downtown Rocky Mount. Six historically significant buildings, all of which comprised the African American business district of the Downtown area in the early to mid-1900’s, was a part of this renovation. The Douglas Block also includes Thelonious Monk Plaza, named after Rocky Mount native and jazz musician Thelonious Monk.
Rocky Mount had its beginning in the early part of the 19th century. It centered around the first post office which was established at the Falls of the Tar River on March 22, 1816. It was at that point that the name Rocky Mount appeared in documented history. The name undoubtedly derived from the rocky mound at the falls of the Tar River, which was also the site of one of the first cotton mills in North Carolina: Rocky Mount Mills was established in 1818. The Wilmington and Weldon Railroad was built about two miles east of the mill in 1845 and became the main connection for Rocky Mount to the outside world.
An important change that the railroad brought was the establishment of Rocky Mount as a point of departure for travelers from the north and south. The Raleigh-Tarboro stage route (roughly where I-95 and U.S. 64 run today) passed just below Rocky Mount which became the logical debarking point for railroad travelers wishing to proceed east or west.
The Civil War and Reconstruction Era brought hard times to Rocky Mount. On February 19, 1867 Rocky Mount was incorporated as a town.
The establishment of the Rocky Mount tobacco market in the late 1800s is one of the town’s most noteworthy developments. The demand for bright leaf tobacco rose rapidly as the tobacco industry took shape and the growth of the tobacco market led to the establishment of the town’s first bank in 1889.
Also during this period, the railroad exerted a powerful influence on the town. The tracks first reached Rocky Mount on Christmas Eve in 1839. In 1840, a train of cars en route to Wilmington stopped in Rocky Mount to import some “Old Nash” for special toasts at opening festivities. The fame of Nash County apple brandy had spread fast. As Rocky Mount encouraged the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad to locate shops and yard facilities in the town, there was an influx of railroad employees into Rocky Mount. In 1871, the county line moved from the Tar River to its present location in the center of the tracks.
By the turn of the 20th century, Rocky Mount’s population was approximately 3,000. A main railroad line, a well established cotton mill, and productive farmland were major contributors to the area’s growth and prosperity. To encourage and promote further growth and development, the Chamber of Commerce was established in 1904.
On February 28, 1907, with a population of approximately 7,500, Rocky Mount was incorporated as a city. The 20th century brought a number of “firsts” to Rocky Mount – the first public school; one of the most modern hotels in the state, the Ricks Hotel; the first library; the establishment of the first daily newspaper, the Rocky Mount Evening Telegram; the first hospitals with services available to the public and the YMCA.
City Lake drew city-wide attention in the late 1930s as a project of the Works Project Administration, and the project provided much-needed employment to the area during the Great Depression.
In view of the community’s educational facilities, the 1950s and ’60s brought rapid growth. A new high school opened in 1953. North Carolina Wesleyan College opened in 1960. In 1968, Nash Community College and Edgecombe Community College opened in the twin counties in order to meet the needs of citizens in technical, vocational and general education programs.
1970 marked the year Rocky Mount received an All-America City Award. The little town built upon a rock had become the progressive city on the Great Falls of the Tar. The 70’s also brought a new post office building, completion of Nash General Hospital, a new campus for Nash Community College, recreational use of the reservoir on the Tar River, a new water plant, the Rocky Mount-Wilson Regional Airport and new highways.
The ’80s brought in a new regional shopping mall, Golden East Crossing, located on Wesleyan Boulevard, and in 2006, there was the addition of a 143-acre Sports Complex, equipped with six youth baseball fields; four interchangeable baseball/softball fields; one championship baseball field; eight soccer/football fields; a professional disc golf course; two outdoor basketball courts; a walking trail; sand volleyball courts; a fishing pier and a horseshoe pit.
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