Raleigh & Gaston Railroad locomotive Romulus Saunders, ca 1840s. Romulus Saunders, a native of Caswell County, was one of the most aggressive politicians in NC, holding many elective offices in the 19th century.

If you are looking for early North Carolina business history, this is the place to go.  When I stumbled upon it recently, I noted that the home page had been created in 2004, and thought that it might be a defunct website. But an e-mail exchange with webmaster Ron Vinson proved me wrong. Ron said:

“Yes the site is continually being updated-I am heading up the project. I do the research, along with others, confirm it and then post. We made a substantial push for early info and are now preparing to upload later 1800s business info during the next 6 months. We plan to add 1900s data during the early part of 2011.”

It is a volunteer project by his Asheville based company CSI/ISI (Communication Solutions) – under the umbrella HistoryNC.org. His company website is here.

Currently on the website is an enormous amount of information about early North Carolina businesses, including hard to find data such as the population of leading NC towns by decade in the 19th century. There are extensive sections on early railroads (the Raleigh & Gaston mentioned above was the state’s second), banks (including a list of the principals in the local branch of the Bank of Cape Fear in Salem which began in 1815 and died, like most southern banks, at the end of the Civil War) and much more.

And there are fascinating nuggets of information on subjects that you and I have never really thought about. For instance, cotton. NC always trailed the Deep South states in cotton production, but followed the trends, so that as US cotton production declined throughout the late 20th century, our production fell statewide to 52,000 bales in 1990, hardly worth mentioning.

But with the decline in the tobacco market and improvements in cotton growing and processing, suddenly King Cotton was back in favor. By 2000, NC cotton production, in an area centered on Northampton and Halifax Counties, had skyrocketed to nearly 1.5 million bales, and has remained at that level ever since.

If you have questions about early NC business matters, or if your ancestors were involved in 19th century ventures, you need to check out North Carolina Business History, a slowly but surely growing website.

The 1847 Bank of Cape Fear building in Salem was renovated in 1966 to house the growing Gallery of Fine Arts, which would soon become the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA).