City of Rocky Mount
Population History
YEAR POPULATION
1870      357
1880      552
1890      880
1900    2,937
1910    8,051
1920   12,742
1930   21,412
1940   25,568
1950   27,644
1960   32,147
1970   32,284
1980   42,158
1990   49,961
2000   55,977
2010        
Sunday Telegram
Centennial Edition

Sunday, May 14, 1967

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Evening Telegram
American Bicentennial
Souvenir Edition

Tuesday, July 6, 1976

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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-Weldon Railroad was built about 2 miles east of the mill in 1845 and became the main connection for Rocky Mount to the outside world.
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The advent of the railroad did not cause an immediate boom for Rocky Mount. One important innovation it produced, however, was the establishment of Rocky Mount as a point of departure for travelers from the north and south. The Raleigh-Tarboro stage route (roughly highways 95 and 64) 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 but the town survived. On February 19, 1867 Rocky Mount was incorporated as a Town.

The establishment of the Rocky Mount tobacco market in the late 1800's is one of the town's most noteworthy development. The demand for bright leaf tobacco rose rapidly as the cigarette 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 enroute 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 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 main 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.

In February 28, 1907 with a population of approximately 7,500 Rocky Mount was incorporated as a City.

The 1900's 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 30's. The digging of this water reservoir, a project of the Works Project Administration, gave gainful employment to the unemployed and gave the citizens of Rocky Mount pride in a peaceful and beautiful site.

In view of the community's educational facilities, the 50's and 60's 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.

In 1970 and again in 1999, Rocky Mount was named an All-America City. 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 airport and new highways.

The 80's brought in a new regional shopping mall located on Wesleyan Boulevard and an athletic center on Hardee's Boulevard. Today, the city continues to grow and prosper.