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  #21  
Old Posted Feb 8, 2017, 5:56 PM
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wow, thanks all for the really interesting insights and theories.

to clarify my question, i wasn't asking why these two cities aren't literally like boston and philly today. i'm well aware of the vastly different stages of economic and urban growth that took place in the northeast vs. the southeast. i was asking about this issue in the more relative sense.

in the northeast, the colonial towns and villages that grew and prospered into becoming the region's big cities first tended to remain the big cities, all the way through to today.

but in the southeast, that script got totally flipped. charleston and savannah were the alpha cities of the region in 1850. flash forward 170 years and that's definitely not the case anymore. i find those kinds of shifts of urban power interesting and fascinating. so thanks to all for shedding some light on what went down in the southeast to allow the old colonial power cities like charleston and savannah to fade away while newcomer interior cities like atlanta and charlotte rose to prominence.

all that said, i'm not lamenting the fact that charleston and savannah didn't grow into mighty metropolises, they'd be radically different cities today had that been the case. the fact that they had very modest growth trajectories over the decades allowed them to become the ridiculously well-preserved, charm-filled museum cities that they are today. i love 'em both.
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  #22  
Old Posted Feb 8, 2017, 6:07 PM
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in the northeast, the colonial towns and villages that grew and prospered into becoming the region's big cities first tended to remain the big cities, all the way through to today.
But even in the North, there were shifts in the order of cities. Not nearly as dramatic, but still shifts. Philly was bigger than NYC. Albany and Providence were top-tier cities. Newport was pretty important. DC was a nothing town at the beginning.
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  #23  
Old Posted Feb 8, 2017, 6:19 PM
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But even in the North, there were shifts in the order of cities. Not nearly as dramatic, but still shifts. Philly was bigger than NYC. Albany and Providence were top-tier cities. Newport was pretty important. DC was a nothing town at the beginning.
sure, there were little shifts here and there, but nothing remotely close to what happened in the southeast where the original colonial seaport alpha cities were totally supplanted by upstart interior cities that grew to completely overshadow the original alpha cities.

it'd be like if boston, NYC, and philly were now small little cities of several hundred thousand, while syracuse and scranton were the mighty alpha cities of the region with many millions of people each. that would be really fucking weird.
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  #24  
Old Posted Feb 8, 2017, 6:45 PM
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wow, thanks all for the really interesting insights and theories.

to clarify my question, i wasn't asking why these two cities aren't literally like boston and philly today. i'm well aware of the vastly different stages of economic and urban growth that took place in the northeast vs. the southeast. i was asking about this issue in the more relative sense.

in the northeast, the colonial towns and villages that grew and prospered into becoming the region's first big cities tended to remain the big cities, all the way through to today.

but in the southeast, that script got totally flipped. charleston and savannah were the alpha cities of the region in 1850. flash forward 170 years and that's definitely not the case anymore. i find those kinds of shifts of urban power interesting and fascinating. so thanks to all for shedding some light on what went down in the southeast to allow the old colonial power cities like charleston and savannah to fade away while newcomer interior cities like atlanta and charlotte rose to prominence.

all that said, i'm not lamenting the fact that charleston and savannah didn't grow into mighty metropolises, they'd be radically different cities today had that been the case. the fact that they had very modest growth trajectories over the decades allowed them to become the ridiculously well-preserved, charm-filled museum cities that they are today. i love 'em both.
As I said though, the Piedmont areas were already more densely populated than the Coastal South in 1800 (much less 1850).
Here's a density map by county for 1850...
http://www.socialexplorer.com/7f9010d0a1/view

Rather different population distribution patterns compared to the North where high densities were concentrated along the coasts.

Although Atlanta was still very small in 1850, the way I see it, the Piedmont already had a better rural population/economic base giving it the ability to support more small market towns that could grow into regional service hubs that could grow into major industrial centres. It seems like there wasn't much population in the Coastal South for the cities to draw upon, whether for trade and commerce, or for rural to urban migrations.

I'm not sure why you already had a shift towards the Piedmont so early on though. Was the Coastal South more swampy? Worse storms? Unable to get much benefit out of its rivers compared to the North (where they were either swift and useful for hydro-power or navigable for a substantial length)?

Last edited by Steely Dan; Feb 8, 2017 at 8:37 PM.
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  #25  
Old Posted Feb 8, 2017, 7:18 PM
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I'm not sure why you already hada shift towards the Piedmont so early on though. Was the Coastal South more swampy? Worse storms? Unable to get much benefit out of its rivers compared to the North (where they were either swift and useful for hydro-power or navigable for a substantial length)?
As I said, disease climate played a role. The Piedmont wasn't as healthy as the upland south for people of European descent, but it was healthier than the lowlands. In a lot of the lowland plantations (like rice farmers in South Carolina) the white plantation owners used black overseers, and only even bothered to visit in the winter because it was so hazardous to live there.

Slavery also played a role though. Cotton didn't grow well in the coastal lowlands. The core of the "black belt" was further inland, along the "fall line" of the Piedmont. Obviously settlement thus ended up being higher here, not only because there were more slaves, but more overseers, slave owners, and businesses to support them.

Speaking of the "fall line" this space - the division between the first foothills of the Appalachians and the coastal plain - tended to be where major southern cities were located. The reason being that generally this was the highest navigable place on the rivers before rapids became an issue. Water-powered mills could often be located here as well. Richmond, Raleigh, Columbia, Macon, and Tuscaloosa, among other cities, ended up along the fall line.
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  #26  
Old Posted Feb 8, 2017, 8:25 PM
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As I said, disease climate played a role. The Piedmont wasn't as healthy as the upland south for people of European descent, but it was healthier than the lowlands. In a lot of the lowland plantations (like rice farmers in South Carolina) the white plantation owners used black overseers, and only even bothered to visit in the winter because it was so hazardous to live there.

Slavery also played a role though. Cotton didn't grow well in the coastal lowlands. The core of the "black belt" was further inland, along the "fall line" of the Piedmont. Obviously settlement thus ended up being higher here, not only because there were more slaves, but more overseers, slave owners, and businesses to support them.

Speaking of the "fall line" this space - the division between the first foothills of the Appalachians and the coastal plain - tended to be where major southern cities were located. The reason being that generally this was the highest navigable place on the rivers before rapids became an issue. Water-powered mills could often be located here as well. Richmond, Raleigh, Columbia, Macon, and Tuscaloosa, among other cities, ended up along the fall line.
fascinating stuff, thanks for all the great info. american urban development history is one of my most favorite topics.

Many cities also developed on the fall line in the northeast as well for similar reasons, but the major colonial seaports up there didn't have the same impediments to growth that it sounds like the southern ones did.
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  #27  
Old Posted Feb 8, 2017, 8:44 PM
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but in the southeast, that script got totally flipped. charleston and savannah were the alpha cities of the region in 1850. flash forward 170 years and that's definitely not the case anymore. i find those kinds of shifts of urban power interesting and fascinating.
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  #28  
Old Posted Feb 8, 2017, 9:04 PM
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William Tecumseh Sherman: Great Ohioan or Greatest Ohioan
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  #29  
Old Posted Feb 8, 2017, 9:30 PM
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It was the Civil War. Or, more accurately, the economic realignment that took place in the south following the Civil War, and the resulting delay of industrialization there. The southern workforce, supply base, and customer base were all decimated. And in a stroke of really terrible luck, that all happened at exactly the moment when northern cities like Chicago were ballooning from old Charleston-sized pre-industrial villages to massive industrial metropoli. The Civil War couldn't have happened at a worse time, as far as southern urbanity is concerned.

Yes yes, Sherman burned Atlanta. But Atlanta was a railroad hub, and railroads were the wave of the future. Atlanta was better situated to rise again.
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  #30  
Old Posted Feb 9, 2017, 3:32 PM
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It was the Civil War. Or, more accurately, the economic realignment that took place in the south following the Civil War, and the resulting delay of industrialization there. The southern workforce, supply base, and customer base were all decimated. And in a stroke of really terrible luck, that all happened at exactly the moment when northern cities like Chicago were ballooning from old Charleston-sized pre-industrial villages to massive industrial metropoli. The Civil War couldn't have happened at a worse time, as far as southern urbanity is concerned.

Yes yes, Sherman burned Atlanta. But Atlanta was a railroad hub, and railroads were the wave of the future. Atlanta was better situated to rise again.
It really wasn't the Civil War. It was even before the civil war. Here's a list of the largest 100 U.S. cities in 1860. Nine cities had more than 100,000 people, but only one was in the South - New Orleans. Arguably you'd include Baltimore here as well, as it was a border city. Eight cities were between 50,000 and 100,000, and none were within the CSA (although Louisville and DC were arguably southern). Nineteen cities had populations between 25,000 and 50,000. Out of those cities, only Charleston, Richmond, and Mobile were located in the south. Looking at the entire top 100, only 15 were in the CSA, and another 7 in border areas (DC, Maryland, Kentucky, or Missouri - arguably it should be eight, because Wheeling was in Virginia at the time, and soon would be in West Virginia). Massachusetts alone had more cities (18) than the entirety of what would become the confederacy.

Regardless, the point is the South was way behind on urban growth well before the Civil War. Indeed, while some southern cities did stagnate further in the postwar period, like Charleston and Savannah, others boomed after the Civil War, like Memphis.
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  #31  
Old Posted Feb 9, 2017, 3:34 PM
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Very interesting information. I had never heard of the term "fall line" before, but as I live in a city located at the head of navigation, at least historically, this explains, to a degree, the location of the city in which I live.
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  #32  
Old Posted Feb 10, 2017, 3:44 AM
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It was even before the civil war.
The issue isn't whether or not the south was behind the north prior to the Civil War. It's why Charleston and Savannah lost their place relative to the rest of the south.

Certainly their slide began before the war, but the postwar realignment certainly exacerbated the trend significantly.
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  #33  
Old Posted Feb 10, 2017, 4:26 AM
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I would say transportation played a role as well. It's very difficult to build railroads along the coast in the south, because of lowlying swamps and broad rivers/estuaries.

Both Savannah and Charleston had railroads feeding into them, but they were on spurs while the main line was often 50-75 miles further inland. When the interstate system was built, this pattern was repeated. Charleston is a full hour's drive off I-95, assuming no traffic. Even Savannah is a 15-20 minute drive from I-95.

Also to the list of historic Southern coastal cities, don't forget to add Mobile. Historically it was somewhat smaller than Charleston or Savannah and much smaller than New Orleans, but it is the Alabama counterpart to each of those cities. Florida doesn't really have a single counterpart, although Pensacola and Jacksonville come close.
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  #34  
Old Posted Feb 10, 2017, 4:44 AM
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And now that previous issues like diseases and lack of A/C is no longer an issue, perhaps these places can be faster growing these days.
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  #35  
Old Posted Feb 10, 2017, 4:51 AM
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railroads, slavery and disease. (knee-jerk answer)

st. louis and new orleans also had those problems but were different. discuss.
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  #36  
Old Posted Feb 10, 2017, 4:54 AM
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the dude [sherman] is buried here in st. louis, funnily. also grant had slaves at his st. louis farm.


dat union army leadership, tho.
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  #37  
Old Posted Feb 10, 2017, 5:57 AM
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Off-topic, but If you like Sherman, you'll enjoy this piece:

https://pando.com/2014/11/20/the-war...-burn-atlanta/
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  #38  
Old Posted Feb 10, 2017, 4:18 PM
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st. louis and new orleans also had those problems but were different. discuss.
St. Louis didn't have anywhere near as horrible of a climate. And in the case of both cities, being on a major river system meant there was just too much strategic importance to their location in the mid-19th century for them not to grow as trade centers.
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  #39  
Old Posted Feb 10, 2017, 4:28 PM
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And in the case of both cities, being on a major river system meant there was just too much strategic importance to their location in the mid-19th century for them not to grow as trade centers.
and not just any old major river system, but THE major river system of the entire freaking continent, stretching hundreds and hundreds of miles deep into the interior of the nation, with numerous navigable tributaries.

it was kind of a big deal.
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  #40  
Old Posted Feb 10, 2017, 4:35 PM
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to dig down a bit further, this has already been covered, but both new orleans and st. louis had large, productive hinterlands to draw wealth from (as did every other major north american city to rise before world war 2) and function as transportation centers . savannah and charleston had swampy, low productivity, low connectivity, highly stratified, entrenched economies. new orleans became fueled by st. louis and vice versa, so the entire center of the continent fueled those 2 cities which worked in tandem (although st. louis traded with the mid atlantic heavily as well) until chicago started hammering away (another discussion).

as far as i know, charleston and savannah were more (economically) isolated, excepting the higher classes which i'm sure interacted with the northeast. much more stagnant economies, and were geographically old backwater to the westward surge of american activity. not anymore, of course.
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