View of commercial buildings on Richmond Street

Biggest cities in Virginia 150 years ago

Written by:
May 23, 2022
Detroit Publishing Company // Wikimedia Commons

Biggest cities in Virginia 150 years ago

After the completion of the 1860 census and the election of President Abraham Lincoln, America imploded. Eleven southern states seceded from the Union in 1861, instigating four bloody years of the Civil War and fundamentally altering the social history of the U.S. The estimates of deaths caused by the Civil War begin around 600,000, but some claim as many as 750,000 individuals died throughout the conflict.

With so many families looking for a new start after combat finally ended and approximately 4 million Black Americans emancipated from slavery, it was time for many Americans to look for a new home to put down roots. The obvious choice for many was to move west, where there was more land to buy, settle, and cultivate. Many traveled by covered wagon, spending months on the dusty trail. Others who could afford better accommodations took a 25-day ride by stagecoach. All of them picked new cities and towns to make their homes, spreading the U.S. population more evenly across different states and territories.

On May 10, 1869, the first transcontinental railroad route across the United States was completed, ushering in a new era of transportation. The project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget, though with the loss of many lives, including those of the many Irish and Chinese immigrants hired to work 12-hour days in the hot western sun. Riding by steam engine, passengers could cross the entire country in four days, enabling waves of Americans and immigrants to quickly occupy land that would otherwise take months to settle.

The years of Civil War reconstruction, coupled with wagon, stagecoach, and railroad passengers finding new lives across the U.S., made the urban development reflected in the 1870 census incredibly interesting. Stacker compiled a list of the biggest cities in Virginia from 150 years ago using data from the U.S. Census Bureau. By transcribing Table XXV of the Ninth Census of the U.S., which was previously only available as a PDF, it's easy to explore what the urban landscape looked like less than a decade after the end of the Civil War as America healed and grew.

The largest city in Virginia ranked #24 among all cities nationwide in 1870. Of the 100 largest cities in the U.S., 3 were in Virginia. Keep reading to find out more about the historic metropolitan landscape in your home state or check out the data on your own on our site, GitHub, or data.world.

You may also like: Counties with the oldest homes in Virginia

People gathered in general store
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Detroit Publishing Company // Library of Congress

#25. Opequan, Frederick County

- Total population: 4,414 (#671 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,158
--- Female population: 2,256
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,420
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Library of Congress

#24. Metompkin, Accomack County

- Total population: 4,450 (#660 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,159
--- Female population: 2,291
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,477
Men and boys stand in front of a wagon shop
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Andreas Larsen Dahl/Wisconsin Historical Society // Getty Images

#23. Winchester, Frederick County

- Total population: 4,477 (#653 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,037
--- Female population: 2,440
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,235
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Carson Brothers/Buyenlarge // Getty Images

#22. Abingdon, Glouchester County

- Total population: 4,506 (#644 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,238
--- Female population: 2,268
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,464
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Camerique/ClassicStock // Getty Images

#21. Massie's Mills, Nelson County

- Total population: 4,546 (#630 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,257
--- Female population: 2,289
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,478
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Minnesota Historical Society/Corbis via Getty Images

#20. Peddler, Amherst County

- Total population: 4,628 (#605 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,302
--- Female population: 2,326
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,481
People standing in front of a general store with painted signs
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#19. Boydton, Mecklenburg County

- Total population: 4,708 (#579 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,229
--- Female population: 2,479
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,571
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Minnesota Historical Society/Corbis via Getty Images

#18. Bowling Green, Caroline County

- Total population: 4,765 (#566 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,182
--- Female population: 2,583
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,641
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Alexander Alland, Sr./Corbis via Getty Images

#17. Roanoke, Charlotte County

- Total population: 4,830 (#557 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,334
--- Female population: 2,496
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,667
Group of people sitting on porch
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Carleton E. Watkins/Bettmann Archive via Getty Images

#16. Mount Carmel, Halifax County

- Total population: 4,861 (#553 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,344
--- Female population: 2,517
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,589
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#15. Sam Miller, Albemarle County

- Total population: 4,959 (#529 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,419
--- Female population: 2,540
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,679
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Camerique/ClassicStock // Getty Images

#14. Brookville, Campbell County

- Total population: 4,960 (#528 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,385
--- Female population: 2,575
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,528
Doctor making medical rounds in horse buggy.
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#13. Fairfield, Henrico County

- Total population: 4,980 (#524 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,519
--- Female population: 2,401
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,622
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Detroit Publishing Company // Library of Congress

#12. Meherrin, Brunswick County

- Total population: 5,019 (#519 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,391
--- Female population: 2,628
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,751
Farrier shoeing a horse with blacksmith and two other men standing nearby.
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#11. Totaro, Brunswick County

- Total population: 5,043 (#517 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,455
--- Female population: 2,588
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,697
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#10. Western Branch, Norfolk County

- Total population: 5,100 (#505 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,527
--- Female population: 2,573
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,506
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Bettmann // Getty Images

#9. Lovingston, Nelson County

- Total population: 5,511 (#444 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,721
--- Female population: 2,790
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,757
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Minnesota Historical Society/Corbis via Getty Images

#8. Brick Creck, Halifax County

- Total population: 5,563 (#437 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,782
--- Female population: 2,781
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,762
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Transcendental Graphics // Getty Images

#7. Roanoke, Halifax County

- Total population: 6,182 (#363 nationwide)
--- Male population: 3,009
--- Female population: 3,173
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 2,033
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Minnesota Historical Society/Corbis via Getty Images

#6. Lynchburg, Campbell County

- Total population: 6,825 (#311 nationwide)
--- Male population: 3,077
--- Female population: 3,748
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,829
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Vintage Images // Getty Images

#5. Portsmouth, Norfolk County

- Total population: 10,492 (#170 nationwide)
--- Male population: 4,937
--- Female population: 5,555
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 2,956
Men standing next to horse drawn carriages in front of shops
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American Stock/ClassicStock // Getty Images

#4. Alexandria, Alexandria County

- Total population: 13,570 (#114 nationwide)
--- Male population: 6,234
--- Female population: 7,336
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 3,798
Men and women sitting with bicycles in park.
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Chicago History Museum // Getty Images

#3. Petersburg, Dinwiddie County

- Total population: 18,950 (#80 nationwide)
--- Male population: 8,496
--- Female population: 10,454
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 5,120
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H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock // Getty Images

#2. Norfolk, Norfolk County

- Total population: 19,229 (#79 nationwide)
--- Male population: 8,774
--- Female population: 10,455
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 5,048
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Detroit Publishing Company // Wikimedia Commons

#1. Richmond, Henrico County

- Total population: 51,038 (#24 nationwide)
--- Male population: 23,637
--- Female population: 27,401
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 14,083

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