1888 Mecklenburg County Map by Thomas J. Orr
By Jeffrey Houser

The borders of Mecklenburg County were formed over a period of 80 years, started in 1762 and finalized in 1842 when the southeastern portion was split off to create Union County. Although maps of various parts of the county were previously made for land ownership purposes, there were no maps of the county that showed it in its entirety.

In September 1885, the board of school commissioners decided to reduce the number of school districts within Mecklenburg County. A map was ordered to show the proximity of the schools within the county lines. Additionally, the map would show other notable features such as townships, farms, public roads, post offices and even gold mines. The task was assigned to the county surveyor, Thomas J. Orr.

Thomas Jefferson Orr was born near Matthews, NC on 9 October 1855. He spent his early life on his father’s farm but was listed as working as a surveyor in the 1880 Federal Census. Orr was appointed as the Mecklenburg County surveyor after Marcus D. L. Biggers resigned the position prior to the end of his term in April 1881.

Orr was tasked with surveying the entire county, an area that covered over 540 square miles and was filled with rivers, creeks and thick forests. Manual instruments such as an azimuth, compass and lengths of chains were used to take measurements of the landscape.

Despite the arduous effort, Orr completed the task in three years and in February 1888, the County Commissioners loaned Orr $275 to have the map published. It was printed in color to help define the borders of the different townships such as Berryhill, Crab Orchard, Lemley, Morning Star, Pineville and of course, Charlotte. School district numbers were plainly visible and the courses of waterways and roads were easily discernible. Copies of the map were sold for $1 and were requested by the State Librarian and even Thomas Edison, the well-known inventor. It was the definitive county map until 1911, when Charles A. and James B. Spratt released an updated version.

There is also a very interesting historical footnote regarding how the southern part of Mecklenburg County got its “notch” at the South Carolina state line. The border between North and South Carolina was a matter of dispute for many years after the Province of Carolina was split in two in 1729. In 1764, it was determined that the boundary at that time was 11 miles south of the 35° parallel and created an even border between the two states. South Carolina Lt. Governor William Bull II pointed out that the new border separated the top one-third of the Catawba Indian tribe from the rest of their reservation. Bull argued that South Carolina be granted this tract of land for the Catawba in 1763, as the tribe did not wish to have any part of their reservation in North Carolina. Thus, the state line was adjusted in 1772 so that it followed the northeastern and northwestern borders of the reservation, creating the angular anomaly.


History of County Formations in North Carolina 1664-1965. RootsWeb, accessed 27 February 2015,

“Redistricting the County – A County Map,” Daily Charlotte Observer, 24 September 1885.

“Local Items,” The Charlotte Democrat, 17 February 1888. 3. Print.

“New School Map is Finished,” The Charlotte News. 07 February 1911. 8. Print.

Johnson, Jane, and Ellen Poteet, “Elusive 1888 County Map Found,” Olde Mecklenburg Genealogical Society 32:6-11.

North Carolina-South Carolina Cornerstone. National Register of Historic Places, 20 December 1984, accessed 27 Feb. 2015,

Orr, Thomas. Map of Mecklenburg County, N. C. Digital image, 29 March 1888, Courtesy of The Charlotte Museum of History.

1888 Mecklenburg County Map by Thomas J. Orr