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Rocky Mount, North Carolina
City of Rocky Mount
Rocky Mount's City Lake Park
Rocky Mount's City Lake Park
Official logo of Rocky Mount, North Carolina
The center of it all
Location in Edgecombe and Nash Counties and the state of North Carolina.
Location in Edgecombe and Nash Counties and the state of North Carolina.
Country  United States
State  North Carolina
Counties Edgecombe, Nash
Founded March 22, 1816
Incorporated February 19, 1867
 • Type Council–Manager
 • City 44.40 sq mi (115.00 km2)
 • Land 44.20 sq mi (114.47 km2)
 • Water 0.21 sq mi (0.54 km2)
 • Metro
1,045.8 sq mi (2,708.5 km2)
98 ft (30 m)
 • City 54,341
 • Density 1,220.09/sq mi (471.08/km2)
 • Urban
68,243 (US: 406th)
 • Metro
143,870 (US: 291th)
 • CSA
288,747 (US: 111th)
Time zone UTC−5 (EST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
ZIP Codes
27801, 27802, 27803, 27804, 27809, 27815
Area code(s) 252
FIPS code 37-57500
GNIS feature ID 1022368
Interstate Highways I-95.svgI-87.svg
U.S. Highways US 64.svgUS 301.svg
State Highways NC 43.svgNC 48.svgNC 97.svg

Rocky Mount is a city in Edgecombe and Nash counties in the U.S. state of North Carolina. The city's population was 54,341 as of the 2020 census, making it the 19th-most populous city in North Carolina. The city is 45 mi (72 km) east of Raleigh, the state capital.

It is the principal city of the Rocky Mount metropolitan area, often called the "Twin Counties", which had an estimated population of 143,870 in 2020. Rocky Mount is also an anchor city of the Rocky Mount-Wilson-Roanoke Rapids Combined Statistical Area in northeast North Carolina with a total population of 288,747 as of 2020.

Incorporated in 1867, the community at the falls of the Tar River that became the city of Rocky Mount dates from the middle of the 1700s. Historically strong in rail transportation, textiles, and agriculture, the economy of Rocky Mount has diversified into biomedical pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, and logistics. Rocky Mount has also twice received the All-America City Award from the National Civic League in 1969 and 1999.



Battle House, NC Route 43-48 (Falls Road), Rocky Mount, Nash County, NC HABS NC,64-ROCMO,1-1
Battle House, an antebellum plantation home in Rocky Mount

Rocky Mount had its beginning in the early part of the 19th century around the first post office which was established at the falls of the Tar River on March 22, 1816. At that point, the name "Rocky Mount" appeared in documented history. The name undoubtedly derived from the rocky mound at the falls of the Tar River, which was also the site of one of the first cotton mills in North Carolina: Rocky Mount Mills was established in 1818. The Wilmington and Weldon Railroad was built about two miles (3 km) east of the mill in 1845 and became the main connection for Rocky Mount to the outside world.

An important change the railroad brought was the establishment of Rocky Mount as a point of departure for travelers from the north and south. The Raleigh-Tarboro stage route (roughly where I-95 and U.S. 64 run today) passed just below Rocky Mount, which became the logical debarking point for railroad travelers wishing to proceed east or west.

The Civil War and Reconstruction Era brought hard times to Rocky Mount. On February 19, 1867, Rocky Mount was incorporated as a town.

The establishment of the Rocky Mount tobacco market in the late 1800s is one of the town's most noteworthy developments. The demand for bright leaf tobacco rose rapidly as the tobacco industry took shape, and the growth of the tobacco market led to the establishment of the town's first bank in 1889.

Also during this period, the railroad exerted a powerful influence on the town. The tracks first reached Rocky Mount on Christmas Eve in 1839. In 1840, a train of cars en route to Wilmington stopped in Rocky Mount to import some "Old Nash" for special toasts at opening festivities. The fame of Nash County apple brandy had spread fast. As Rocky Mount encouraged the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad to locate shops and yard facilities in the town, an influx of railroad employees into Rocky Mount occurred. In 1871, the county line moved from the Tar River to its present location in the center of the tracks.

20th century

By the turn of the 20th century, Rocky Mount's population was around 3,000. A main railroad line, a well established cotton mill, and productive farmland were major contributors to the area's growth and prosperity. To encourage and promote further growth and development, the Chamber of Commerce was established in 1904.

On February 28, 1907, with a population around 7,500, Rocky Mount was incorporated as a city. The 20th century brought a number of "firsts" to Rocky Mount - the first public school; one of the most modern hotels in the state, the Ricks Hotel; the first library; the establishment of the first daily newspaper, the Rocky Mount Evening Telegram; the first hospitals with services available to the public; and the YMCA.

DTRockyMount 19622
Downtown Rocky Mount, 1962
19990205 27 CSX Rocky Mount, NC (6620529959)
Downtown Rocky Mount, 1999

In view of the community's educational facilities, the 1950s and '60s brought rapid growth. A new high school opened in 1953. North Carolina Wesleyan College opened in 1960. In 1968, Nash Community College and Edgecombe Community College opened in the twin counties to meet the needs of citizens in technical, vocational, and general education programs.

In 1970, Rocky Mount received an All-America City Award. The little town built upon a rock had become the progressive city on the Great Falls of the Tar. The '70s also brought a new post office building, completion of Nash General Hospital, a new campus for Nash Community College, recreational use of the reservoir on the Tar River, a new water plant, the Rocky Mount–Wilson Regional Airport, and new highways.

The 1980s brought in a new regional shopping mall, Golden East Crossing, located on Wesleyan Boulevard, and in 2006, a 143-acre (58 ha) sports complex was added, equipped with six youth baseball fields, four interchangeable baseball/softball fields, one championship baseball field, eight soccer/football fields, a professional disc golf course, two outdoor basketball courts, a walking trail, sand volleyball courts, a fishing pier, and a horseshoe pit.

Hurricane Floyd

In September 1999, Hurricane Floyd made landfall in eastern North Carolina, dropping nearly 17 inches (430 mm) of rain during the hours of its passage. Many residents were not aware of the flooding until the water came into their homes. Most localized flooding happened overnight, and the Tar River suffered the worst flooding, exceeding 500-year flood levels along its lower stretches. An additional 20+ inches of rain had fallen prior in the month from the two passes of Hurricane Dennis.

National Register of Historic Places

The Bellamy-Philips House, Bellemonte, Benvenue, Falls Road Historic District, Machaven, The Meadows, Rocky Mount Central City Historic District, Rocky Mount Electric Power Plant, Rocky Mount Mills Village Historic District, Stonewall, Villa Place Historic District, and West Haven Historic District are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Historic Rocky Mount Mills Village

Historic sign near Rocky Mount Mills Village

Situated near Rocky Mount's Tar River, the Rocky Mount Mills Village grew in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a small community of tenants working for the mill. Changes in industrialization eventually forced the closing of the mill, and this way of life came to an end. However, when the mill closed, the property remained intact.Though the property has been a rental for its entire existence, covenants are now being placed on the property to assure home ownership and owner occupancy. The covenants are also designed to protect the historical integrity of the existing structures in the village and to control the new infill residential construction.

Built between 1885 and 1940, each home is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. The houses stand in generally good condition. A typical house can be described as a one-story building of gabled, saddlebag frame construction with weatherboard siding, complete with a gabled one-story ell and a hip-roofed porch. The two-story buildings are single-pile frame construction with weatherboard siding, rear one-story addition, and hip-roofed porch. Once accommodating 145 homes, the village now contains 62 remaining residences. The layout of lots has approximated the original design for the village where the lots are deep and originally accommodated large vegetable gardens in the rear. In many cases, the original windows, doors, and hardware are intact.

In 2007, Capitol Broadcasting Company purchased the Rocky Mount Mills, along with about 30 mill houses and 30 vacant lots for mill houses. The same company also owns American Tobacco in downtown Durham, North Carolina. In May 2014, it was announced that the Rocky Mount Mills will be turned into a Brewmill. It will be the first craft brewery incubator in North Carolina.


Rocky Mount is located in northeastern North Carolina, at the Fall Line between the Atlantic Coastal Plain to the east and the Piedmont region to the west. The city is 58 miles (93 km) east of Raleigh, the state capital, 91 miles (146 km) northeast of Fayetteville, 144 miles (232 km) north of Wilmington, 19 miles (31 km) north of Wilson, 42 miles (68 km) south of Roanoke Rapids, and 127 miles (204 km) south of Richmond, Virginia.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 104.9 square miles (271.8 km2), of which 104.6 square miles (270.8 km2) is land and 0.4 square miles (1.0 km2), or 0.35%, is covered by water. The Tar River passes through the city from west to east, crossing the Fall Line at Upper Falls and Little Falls and descending 25 feet (7.6 m) within the city limits.

Rocky Mount straddles the Nash/Edgecombe County line, which follows the CSX Transportation railroad tracks through the center of the city.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1870 357
1880 552 54.6%
1890 816 47.8%
1900 2,937 259.9%
1910 8,051 174.1%
1920 12,742 58.3%
1930 21,412 68.0%
1940 25,568 19.4%
1950 27,697 8.3%
1960 32,147 16.1%
1970 34,284 6.6%
1980 41,283 20.4%
1990 48,997 18.7%
2000 55,893 14.1%
2010 57,477 2.8%
2020 (est.) 54,341 −5.5%
U.S. Decennial Census
2018 estimate

2020 census

Rocky Mount racial composition
Race Number Percentage
White (non-Hispanic) 14,470 26.63%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 34,426 63.35%
Native American 298 0.55%
Asian 757 1.39%
Pacific Islander 26 0.05%
Other/Mixed 1,692 3.11%
Hispanic or Latino 2,672 4.92%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 54,341 people, 22,260 households, and 14,334 families residing in the city.

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, 57,477 people, 23,097 households, and 14,639 families resided in the city. The population density was 1,312.6 inhabitants per square mile (606.7/km2). The city had 26,953 housing units. The racial makeup of the city was 61.3% African American, 32.4% White, 0.6% Native American, 1.0% Asian, and 1.6% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 3.7% of the population.

Of the 23,097 households, 27.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 35.7% were married couples living together, 22.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.6% were not families. About 31.4% of all households were made up of individuals living alone, and 26.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.42 and the average family size was 3.04.

In the city, the population was distributed as 27.5% between the ages of 1 and 19, 6.4% from 20 to 24, 24% from 25 to 44, 27.9% from 45 to 64, and 14.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age is 38.7 years. 45.8% of the population are males compared to 54.2% for females.

The median income for a household in the city was $37,059, and for a family was $39,929. The per capita income for the city was $21,779. About 19.0% of the population is below the poverty line.


Rocky Mount's population is 40.3% religiously affiliated, below the state average of 48.9%. Christianity is the largest religion, with Baptists (13.3%) making up the largest religious group, followed by Pentecostals (4.5%) and Methodists (3.5%). Presbyterians (1.5%), Episcopalians (0.9%), and Catholics (0.8%) make up a significant amount of the Christian population as well. The remaining Christian population (15.2%) is affiliated with other churches. Islam (0.5%) is the second largest religion after Christianity.

Arts and culture

Rocky Mount has a growing arts community. The city operates the Maria V. Howard Arts Center, a Children's Museum and Science Center, and a community theater at the Imperial Center for Arts and Sciences.

Recently, the city renovated the Douglas Block, located in downtown Rocky Mount. Six historically significant buildings, all of which composed the African American business district of the downtown area in the early to mid-1900s, was a part of this renovation. The Douglas Block includes Thelonious Monk Plaza, named after Rocky Mount native and jazz musician Thelonious Monk.


Southern Bank Business Center in downtown Rocky Mount
North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles headquarters

The economy of the Rocky Mount metropolitan area, historically been dependent on textiles and agriculture, has diversified into pharmaceuticals and manufacturing. Located near the juncture of a number of highways and railway, distribution and logistics are important to local business. The area has a strong service sector and a number of financial and customer support centers are located here.

Rocky Mount's is located 45 mi (72 km) from the state capital Raleigh and the Research Triangle located there. This has helped attract new companies to Rocky Mount seeking a skilled labor and a lower costs of living and doing business.

The metropolitan area was named in a 2020 study as the third-highest in the United States where manufacturing is thriving with a manufacturing output of $6.2 billion, or $42,270 per capita. Between 2014 and 2018, manufacturing grew in the Rocky Mount area by 11.8%, and there were 108% more manufacturing jobs than the national average.

In 2019, CSX Transportation began construction of a $200 million cargo terminal in Rocky Mount.

Largest employers

Below is a list of some of the largest employers in the metropolitan area as of 2018.

# Employer No. of employees
1 Pfizer 3,000+
2 Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools 2,275
3 Cummins–Rocky Mount Engine Plant 1,800
4 Nash UNC Health Care 1,600
5 Edgecombe County Public Schools 1,100
6 QVC Distribution center 1,100
7 CenturyLink 1,000
8 Sara Lee Frozen Bakery 950
9 Alorica 885
10 City of Rocky Mount 850


Rocky Mount is the regional shopping destination with many big-box retailers and specialty shops located in the city. Rocky Mount's shopping centers are generally congregated along and around US 301 (Wesleyan Boulevard). Large centers include Golden East Crossing, Englewood Square, Sutters Creek Plaza, Cobb Corners, and Westridge Shopping Center.

In the downtown, the Douglas Block is a commercial area that was a former African American business district. Station Square is a shopping area located next to city hall and the train station.


Edgecombe Community College campus in downtown Rocky Mount

North Carolina Wesleyan College is a four-year private liberal arts college located in Rocky Mount and home to the Eastern North Carolina Center for Business and Entrepreneurship. The center's programs are free, open to the public, and focusing on business development, entrepreneurship, and community engagement. The city is also served by Nash Community College, which has a brewing, distillation, and fermentation program in partnership with the Mills, and Edgecombe Community College, which has a downtown campus specializing in biotechnology and medical simulation. Shaw University's College of Adult and Professional Education, or C.A.P.E., program also has a satellite campus in the Mills Village.

The city of Rocky Mount is primarily served by the Nash-Rocky Mount Public School System, which as a whole has 15,000 students in 28 schools. Parts of the city in Edgecombe County are also served by the Edgecombe County Public Schools system. Public high schools include Nash Central High School, Northern Nash High School, Rocky Mount High School, Southwest Edgecombe High School and Southern Nash High School. The two nontraditional public schools are Tar River Academy and Nash Rocky Mount Early College. The one local charter school is Rocky Mount Preparatory School. There are also a number of private schools in the area.

Braswell Memorial Library serves the community as its major public library with affiliated libraries throughout the Twin Counties. It recently became part of the State Library's NC Cardinal consortium of public libraries that share an integrated system allowing books and other materials to be checked out from other libraries across the state.



Roads and highways

U.S. Route 64 in North Carolina (40479013035)
US 64 is the city's main east–west corridor

The city is served by three major highways:

  • I-95 to its west.
  • US 64 (Future I-87) as its main east–west corridor.
  • US 301 (Wesleyan Boulevard) as its main north–south corridor.

In the downtown area, both US 64 Bus. (Sunset Avenue / Thomas Street) and US 301 Bus. (Church Street) serve as major thoroughfares. State highways NC 4, NC 43, NC 48 and NC 97 serve the city by connecting to nearby towns.


The Rocky Mount–Wilson Regional Airport (IATA: RWIICAO: KRWIFAA LID: RWI) serves the general aviation needs of the surrounding counties. It is on NC 97, 9 miles (14 km) southwest of downtown Rocky Mount. The closest airport with scheduled commercial service is Pitt–Greenville Airport (PGV), 40 miles (64 km) to the southeast. Cargo and charter flights in the area also use the Kinston Regional Jetport (ISO), 50 miles (80 km) to the south. Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU), is 74 miles (119 km) to the west.


Rocky Mount Amtrak-ACL Station; Trackside Canopies
Helen P. Gay Rocky Mount Historic Train Station in downtown, originally built in 1893.

Amtrak provides three north and three southbound trains per day at the Rocky Mount station located in downtown. Service is to Washington, D.C., New York City, Miami and Philadelphia. Freight service is provided by CSX. Trains travel to destinations in eastern North Carolina and also to points west and south of the city.

Public transit

Tar River Transit provides public transportation in and around the city of Rocky Mount, and operates 10 fixed bus routes throughout the city.

Notable people

  • Andrew B. Anderson Jr. – U.S. Air Force lieutenant general and chief of staff born in Rocky Mount.
  • J. J. Arrington – NFL football player who attended Northern Nash High School in Rocky Mount.
  • Thurbert Baker – the first African-American Attorney General in the State of Georgia born in Rocky Mount.
  • Dr. Lloyd W. Bailey - faithless elector in the 1968 Presidential election
  • F. C. BarnesGospel musician born in Rocky Mount.
  • Luther Barnes – Gospel music producer born in Rocky Mount.
  • Gardner Bishop – barber and civil rights activist born in Rocky Mount.
  • Herman Boone – coach depicted by Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans born in Rocky Mount.
  • Benjamin Bunn – former U.S. congressman and first mayor of Rocky Mount who lived in historic Benvenue.
  • Jim Clack – NFL football player who won two Super Bowl championships with the Pittsburgh Steelers born in Rocky Mount.
  • Roy CooperGovernor of North Carolina who attended Northern Nash High School in Rocky Mount.
  • Jeff Collins – member of the North Carolina General Assembly.
  • Elijah L. Daughtridge – 12th Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina born in Rocky Mount.
  • Harold Dentonnuclear physicist born in Rocky Mount who advised the President during the Three Mile Island accident.
  • Harold Bascom Durham Jr. – recipient of the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Vietnam War.
  • Mike Easley – former governor of North Carolina and state attorney general born in Rocky Mount.
  • Phil FordUNC and NBA basketball player born in Rocky Mount.
  • Jim Gardner – former U.S. congressman and lieutenant governor who cofounded Hardee's in the city.
  • Maureen Garrett – soap opera actress born in Rocky Mount.
  • Alberta Gay – mother of Marvin Gaye born in Rocky Mount.
  • Kaye Gibbons – novelist who attended Rocky Mount Senior High School and wrote Ellen Foster.
  • Brian GoodwinMLB baseball player for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
  • Billy Godwin – former head baseball coach for East Carolina University born in Rocky Mount.
  • Allan Gurganus – author who wrote Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All born in Rocky Mount.
  • Bill Harrison – former CEO and chairman of JPMorgan Chase born in Rocky Mount.
  • Chuck Hinton – MLB baseball player born in Rocky Mount.
  • Matt Hill – Electric blues musician born in Rocky Mount.
  • Earle Hyman – actor born in Rocky Mount who portrayed Cliff's father on The Cosby Show.
  • Terrence J – actor and co-anchor of E! News attended Northern Nash High School in Rocky Mount.
  • Jack Kerouac – father of the Beat Generation who resided with family off and on and referred to city as "Testament, Va." in On the Road.
  • Kay Kyserbig band musician, radio and film personality born in Rocky Mount.
  • Buck Leonard – Negro league baseball player; member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
  • Westray Battle Long – second director of Women's Army Corps under Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II born in Rocky Mount.
  • Mae MercerBlues singer, actress and producer born in annexed former town of Battleboro.
  • Thelonious MonkJazz pianist born in Rocky Mount.
  • William Murray – former football player and head coach at Duke University born in Rocky Mount.
  • Vann R. Newkirk II – journalist and staff writer for The Atlantic born in Rocky Mount.
  • Charles Pittman – NBA basketball player born in Rocky Mount.
  • Chuck Robbins – CEO of Cisco Systems who attended Rocky Mount High School.
  • Etaf Rum – New York Times best-selling author of A Woman is No Man who lives in Rocky Mount.
  • Susie Sharp – first female North Carolina Supreme Court justice born in Rocky Mount.
  • The Swift – Christian pop band formed in Rocky Mount in the late 1990s.
  • Danny Talbott – UNC and NFL quarterback who led Rocky Mount High School to state championships in football, basketball, and baseball.
  • Ken Thompson – former CEO and chairman of Wachovia born in Rocky Mount.
  • Jim ThorpeOlympic gold medalist who played minor league baseball for the Rocky Mount Railroaders.
  • Mike Tyson – MLB baseball player born in Rocky Mount.
  • Phil Valentine – talk show radio host who attended Northern Nash High School in Rock Mount.
  • Tim Valentine – former U.S. congressman born in Rocky Mount.
  • Harold Vick – Jazz musician known for his work in the film School Daze (1988) born in Rocky Mount.
  • Buck Williams – NBA basketball player born in Rocky Mount.
  • Mary Elizabeth WinsteadEmmy Award winning actress born in Rocky Mount.
  • Adrian H. Wood – educator and blogger who was born and raised in Rocky Mount.

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