Town History Timeline
Davidson College was founded by the Presbyterian Church. A committee of the Presbytery of Concord started planning in 1835. The College opened its doors in March 1837. Businesses were first on land leased by the college.
The area around Davidson consisted of small farms and plantations. The area remained very rural into the 20th century.
1837 to 1879
The college was the town government and even managed police patrols. The town incorporated as Davidson College in 1879.
The town’s name was changed to Davidson.
An important turning point: The founding of Cornelius over a cotton-weighing decision. Davidson had a cotton mill in 1890, but it could never compete with Cornelius and Mooresville as manufacturing centers. The mills in Davidson did provide some economic changes but also added to social divisions.
African Americans established businesses very early in the town’s history, but most worked as servants for the college or for white families.
A growing population of poorer whites came to towns from farms as crop prices declined. Tenant farmers came to work in mills. Davidson had a mill village and separate church for mill workers. Unity Church became Calvary Presbyterian. The building site is now Reeves Temple AME Zion.
An example of civic cooperation: The early churches established public schools (both black and white). Women from the churches raised funds to improve facilities and provide recreation for children. Together, women attending Davidson College Presbyterian Church and college students created Sunday schools for slaves and then helped with the mill church classes. Ironically, this helping also kept the communities separate and followed regional and national patterns of class and race.
At the turn of the 20th century, the college was still critical to the town both as the largest business and because it provided the first water and electricity systems to the town. The first cars came to town in 1911, and bus service followed in 1917, but as with railroad, the town remained off the beaten track. It was easier to get to Charlotte or Statesville, which was important because the town no longer had a hospital or clinic. Poor roads and inconvenient train schedules protected local businesses by keeping customers in town.