North Carolina Piedmont historical county boundaries

G R Dobbs
Department of Geography
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This page contains geographic representations of county boundaries in the Piedmont of North Carolina, from their beginnings to the present. These representations are made available in three forms:
  1. as still images
    1. as GIF format files, one for each time range
    2. as a PDF format poster, with all the different time ranges shown
  2. as shapefiles for use in ESRI's ArcView software or other GIS software that can read this format
  3. as animated images
    • at present this is a simple animation in Microsoft Powerpoint; in the future I hope to create animated temporal maps in either TimeMap or ESRI's Tracking Analyst
All three forms are freely available to the public for non-commercial uses. Just please read the information on this page first before clicking the download links further down the page.

Most, but not all, of the Piedmont counties of North Carolina are included. The Piedmont is one of North Carolina's four (or three, depending on how you define the eastern part of the state) physiographic regions. This map shows the Piedmont counties as defined in The North Carolina Atlas: portrait for a new century (Orr and Stuart, eds., University of North Carolina Press, 2000, p. 3), and the counties I've included. It's possible that at some point I'll fill in the rest, but it's not a high priority right now.

I created this dataset for my own use in my doctoral dissertation research, which involves mapping and analysis of 18th century land grants in the Piedmont. My philosophy is that others who have need of the same data shouldn't have to re-invent the wheel.

Data sources and limitations

I made these boundary files in ArcView 3.2 by editing TIGER boundary files (2000 edition, and also 1990 edition for Mecklenburg and Iredell counties) for the modern-day counties, available for free from the US Census Bureau (http://www.census.gov/) and from ESRI's data download web page (http://www.esri.com/data/download/index.html).

My information source for the historical boundary files was the North Carolina volume (print) of the Newberry Library's excellent historical county atlas series (DenBoer, Gordon. Atlas of Historical County Boundaries: North Carolina. Edited by John H. Long. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1998.). If you can, support their work so that someday there will be consistent, high quality boundary files for all states, including North Carolina. See the project's website at http://www.newberry.org/ahcbp/ie/index.html.

In addition, where a historical boundary followed a river but the modern one does not, I used shapefiles from the National Hydrography Dataset (USGS, http://nhd.usgs.gov/).

There are several sources of potential error and inaccuracy. No digital dataset is 100% accurate, including those I used to construct my files. Furthermore, when drawing in historical boundaries that did not follow an obvious feature such as a river, I "eyeballed" these line from the print atlas. Therefore, you should not expect to use these files for fine detail work at or near the boundaries. They are intended for use at a multi-county regional scale primarily.

There is one particular area where I could not reconcile the digital base files with the images in the Newberry atlas. This is the area where Yadkin, Forsyth, and Davie counties come together. The result in my files is a "tail" at the southeast corner of Yadkin County that should not be there. I'm open to suggestions as to resolving this problem. In the meantime, if your work focuses on that area, you may need to make adjustments.

Important historical context

The county boundaries represented here existed in a particular historical context, some of which you need to know about to fully understand and properly use the files.
  1. North Carolina's early county boundaries were created from the east, where administrative power was located in the early years of the colony. Boundaries on the western or northwestern sides of the early Piedmont counties were generally not defined at the time the county was created. On my maps and in my files, you will see a line of the type "indefinite limit" in such instances. "Indefinite limit" lines should not be interpreted to be actual boundaries in any sense. Rather, I've used such lines to connect the adjacent sides of the county at the limits of their officially defined extent--but the actual county territory generally extended considerably farther out than this. Therefore, when using the files, you should always display this type of line in such a way that its insubstantial nature is clear--either with dotted lines (I recommend loading the accompanying ArcView legend file) or as invisible.

  2. Britain and its colonies changed over from the Julian calendar to the more accurate Gregorian calendar in 1752. This means that dates prior to the changeover point are not consistent with those from that point onward. Generally speaking historians prefer to leave the Julian dates in their original form (see pp. 91-95 in Handlin, Oscar, et al. 1967. Harvard guide to American history. New York: Atheneum.), and this is what the Newberry atlas folks did. However, for the purposes of the temporal mapping I will soon be doing, a consistent time system throughout is needed. I have therefore converted the Julian dates to Gregorian (in the shapefiles, but not the other formats). This involves adding 11 days for dates up through September 2, 1752, and also adjusting the year for dates between January 1 and March 24 inclusive, up through 1751, because the two systems used different starting dates for the year. I have performed these conversions to the best of my understanding. However, if you are doing work where these dates are critical, you should study the issue and do the conversions yourself. For dates prior to the changeover, I have included the dates as given in the Newberry atlas as a field in the shapefiles' tables, so that you can do this. In addition to the Harvard Guide referenced above, I highly recommend the online article "Time to take note: the 1752 calendar change" by Kip Sperry.

  3. Bladen and Johnston counties are included in certain early forms only. This is because as more counties were carved out of them on the west, Bladen and Johnston shrank eastward outside of my area of interest, at which point I quit including them.

  4. Generally speaking, the Piedmont counties reached their final form in the 19th or early 20th centuries. The one exception is a change in the Mecklenburg-Iredell boundary in 1998, which is not shown in the Newberry atlas. The boundary was changed to facilitate emergency access to a certain peninsula in Lake Norman by the appropriate county. My thanks to Andy Goretti at the Mecklenburg County mapping department for explaining this to me, and to Karen Isley at the Mecklenburg County land records department for supplying the effective date.

Geogeek stuff

  • Because my files were derived from the Census 2000 TIGER files, they inherited the same geospatial parameters:
    • unprojected (geographic coordinate system)
    • datum = NAD83
    • spheroid = GRS 1980
    • units = decimal degrees
    See the Census Bureau's TIGER/Line metadata website for more info.

  • The shapefiles consist of both lines and polygons. Counties where all boundaries are "definite" are supplied as polygons; counties where some boundaries are "estimated" and/or some are "indefinite limits" are supplied as lines so that these different line types can be shown. Someday, I may find a better way to do this...

  • Though the shapefiles are unprojected, the map images are projected in NC State Plane 1983.

Terms of use

  1. You are free to use these files (as image, geodata, and/or animation) for personal, scholarly, educational, and non-profit purposes, as long as appropriate credit is given to me (G. R. Dobbs) as their creator. If the use is in print of any kind (publication, school paper, website, etc), you must also indicate the source location (this website or other point of distribution); however this part is not necessary for public presentations where the images are only projected for a short time, or for maps printed out for your personal use.
  2. You may not use these files in any profit-making enterprise.
  3. You may, however, reprint the map images in a book or article if you first obtain explicit written permission from me.
  4. You may not sell these files.
  5. You may use the shapefiles to create your own maps, and publish them without permission. You should still give me credit for creating the files, though.
  6. If you operate a data distribution facility and would like to include any or all of these files in your system, please contact me first so that I can let you know of any future revisions.


By clicking any of the download links in the table below, you indicate that you understand the limitations of the data and accept the terms of use

No thanks--show me other NC historical county boundary resources online

GIF image files These individual files are grouped together in .zip files. You will need WinZip or similar software to unpack them after downloading.
You can download all the images (1734-2004) at once, or the 18th century maps and the 19th-20th century maps separately. The map for 1796-1815 is included in both groups. A legend image is included in all three sets.
Note: dates on these maps are generalized. If you need exact dates, refer to the date table at the bottom of this webpage.
PDF poster file You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to open this file (available free from Adobe's website).
The poster is 22" x 34". Printing on a large format printer or plotter is recommended, but if you have software that will allow you to tile for printing on smaller paper, you can print it on 4 sheets of 11" x 17" or 8 sheets of 8.5" x 11" paper.
Note: dates on the poster are generalized. If you need exact dates, refer to the date table at the bottom of this web page.
right-click and choose "save target as" to download poster (14.84 MB)
shapefiles You need ArcView or some other GIS software to use these files.
There is a shapefile for each different version of each county. All files for a given county are grouped together in a .zip file, then these county .zip files are grouped together into one download file. The file also includes some ArcView legend (.avl) files you can load in the legend editor.
download zipped shapefiles (1.35 MB)
animated PPT file You will need Powerpoint 2000 or later to open this file.
Once you have the file open, click once to advance from the title slide; after that the animation begins automatically and shows a new map every 3 seconds (the user can change these parameters in Powerpoint--but that means changing all 46 animated objects in slide 2!!)
Note: dates on these images are generalized. For exact dates, refer to the date table below.
open or download the powerpoint file (1.59 MB)


Table of dates to accompany maps of NC Piedmont historical county boundaries

Note: Old Style dates have not been converted to New Style in this table

Date Created Modified
1734 Bladen -
June 28, 1746 Granville
Johnston
-
March 17, 1749/50 Anson Bladen
March 31, 1752 Orange Bladen
Granville
Johnston
March 27, 1753 Rowan Anson
Granville
Orange
April 10, 1759 - Johnston
April 23, 1761 - Johnston
Orange
February 1, 1763 Mecklenburg Anson
June 10, 1764 - Granville
April 10, 1769 - Mecklenburg
January 26, 1771 Guilford -
March 1, 1771 - Orange
March 12, 1771 Wake Orange
April 1, 1771 Chatham Orange
Rowan
March 6, 1773 - Rowan
June 1, 1777 Caswell Orange
Rowan
December 24, 1777 - Anson
February 12, 1779 Lincoln
Montgomery
Randolph
Anson
Guilford
November 10, 1779 - Anson
May 12, 1782 - Lincoln
June 2, 1784 - Lincoln
December 29, 1785 Rockingham Guilford
January 1, 1787 - Granville
January 6, 1787 - Wake
December 6, 1788 Iredell Rowan
December 22, 1789 Stokes -
February 1, 1792 Person Caswell
December 31, 1792 Cabarrus Mecklenburg
January 11, 1794 - Iredell
December 30, 1794 - Cabarrus
Mecklenburg
December 25, 1796 - Stokes
December 21, 1815 - Iredell
December 9, 1822 Davidson Rowan
December 22, 1835 - Davidson
Rowan
December 20, 1836 Davie Rowan
January 11, 1841 Stanly Lincoln
Montgomery
December 19, 1842 - Anson
Mecklenburg
January 14, 1843 Catawba Lincoln
December 21, 1846 Gaston Lincoln
January 15, 1847 - Iredell
January 16, 1849 Forsyth Stokes
April 19, 1849 Alamance Orange
May 1, 1851 Yadkin -
February 3, 1875 - Granville
April 14, 1881 Durham Orange
Wake
May 5, 1881 - Granville
March 11, 1889 - Davidson
Forsyth
May 29, 1895 - Alamance
Chatham
February 27, 1911 - Durham
Wake
March 4, 1911 - Forsyth
Yadkin
December 4, 1916 - Gaston
March 1, 1921 - Davidson
Forsyth
March 7, 1927 - Forsyth
Yadkin
July 1, 1998 - Iredell
Mecklenburg


my home page ~ UNC-CH geog home ~ posted 8/19/04 ~ last update 2/26/05