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North Carolina Travel Guide
History of Raleigh

Raleigh was born as what is known as a "planned" city, which would suggest that somebody wanted it and that there are probably those who love it very much. Which of course is good. Unplanned cities very often grow up to have complexes, insecurities and such. Raleigh has no such. It is today a big open town, easy to come to know but not the sort of municipality you end up getting particularly intimate with.

A few words on Raleigh's history:

State Capital Building, RaleighThe city was conceived in 1792, and was named at birth Wake Crossroads. Its original mission was to serve as aplace for those traveling north to south or vice versa to stop for a rest and perhaps a drink or two (this was way before .08 became the legal limit). Long about this same time, the North Carolina General Assembly decided the Crossroads would be a great place to set up permanent residence, and a thousand-acre plot of land was purchased from local businessman Joel Lane - a tavern owner, church builder and very popular guy - and initial plans were laid out for a city, modeled on the nation's capital at the moment, Philadelphia. Both the bars and the state government remain in what is today known as Raleigh, to mixed regard and varying effect. The city of Raleigh is named after Sir Walter Raleigh, who established the lost Roanoke Colony on Roanoke Island in present-day Dare County, North Carolina. By the time the city that bears his name was founded, Sir Walter, as he was known to his friends, was long dead. A bronze statue, cast by Bruno Lucchesi, who is revered as one of the great sculptors and teachers of the late twentieth century, stands outside the Raleigh Convention Center.

State Capital Building, RaleighCompleted in 1840, the North Carolina Capitol building is, by its own admission "one of the finest and best-preserved examples of a major civic building in the Greek Revival style of architecture." It really is a lovely building, and a National Historic Landmark, and is open to the public. Come the Civil War, it was here at the capitol building that state legislators signed the Ordinance of Secession in the House of Commons Chamber. According to the above-mentioned website, "As soon as it was signed, a handkerchief was waved from the window of the office of the Speaker of the House. When that signal was given, a great celebration began on the building's Union Square, including a 100-round artillery salute and music from a military band. Legend has it that the first blood shed for North Carolina during the war occurred that day as a bulldog, startled by a gun salute, severely bit one of the cannoneers of Manly's Battery in the seat of his pants."

North Carolina PresidentsOn April 26, 1865, after Gen. Johnston surrendered 90,000 of his Confederate troops to Sherman at Bennett farmhouse near Durham, Lt. George Carr Round of the Union army climbed to the top of the capitol dome and sent to the Union troops bivouacked in and around Raleigh the last signal message of the Civil War: "Peace on earth, good will to men." - a nice sentiment, though things didn't exactly work out that way.

But Raleigh came out of the Civil War in good shape. (For a cool bird's-eye-view map of Raleigh in 1870, go to and click on the high-resolution map.) It remained, though, a small town until the 1920s, at which point it began to bustle, soon developing into the commercial nexus of the eastern part of the state. Agriculturally, the economy switched from cotton to tobacco, and the railroad was built up to connect Raleigh to the surrounding rural communities and beyond. Many of the small towns of eastern North Carolina that today remain small towns - their character and architecture - were fashioned in these early years of the century, courtesy of the railroad and tobacco. Unfortunately, many more of those towns are now cookie-cutter bedroom communities serving Raleigh and Research Triangle Park.

By the end of World War II, Raleigh had begun its steady advance into the urban center that it is today, with the surrounding area remaining predominantly rural, as it did until the birth of Research Triangle Park (see above).

Estey Hall, Shaw UniversityThe arrival of suburban life was heralded in 1949 with the opening of the southeast's first shopping mall, Cameron Village, which continues to more or less thrive.

Along with the business of state government, education is a major enterprise in Raleigh. In addition to North Carolina State University, Raleigh is home to Shaw University, St. Augustine's College, Peace College, Meredith College and Wake Tech Community College. Both Shaw and St. Augustine's were established shortly after the end of the Civil War - in 1865 and 1867, respectively - to educate freed slaves; Shaw was the first such institution established in the country for that purpose. Shaw is also the site of Estey Hall, the first building ever constructed for the purpose of providing higher education to African-American women, in 1874; the building still stands today.

Dorton Arena, RaleighAccording to the National Register of Historic Places:

"From the late 1940s through the 1960s, Raleigh was a proving ground for the architectural movement known as Modernism. Modernist design, characterized by simplicity of form, minimal ornamentation and innovative use of materials, drew from the works of Frank Lloyd Wright and noted European designers. The number of architecturally significant residences and offices built in the city attest to the movement's impressive local impact.

This was in large part due to the establishment, in 1948, of the North Carolina State University School of Design, which attracted a number of influential modernist architects. The most prominent of the structures to rise from this movement was Dorton Arena, completed in 1952, designed by the Polish architect Matthew Norwicki, who helped rebuild Warsaw after WWII. Dorton continues to this day to be considered one of the most elegant livestock-judging facilities in perhaps the entire world (see North Carolina State Fair).

Ronald L maceThe School of Design is more recently notable as the home of The Center for Universal Design, founded in 1989 by disability-rights activist and visionary architect Ron Mace. Mace is the father of "universal design," an architectural concept by which physical environments and products are designed to be of greatest access and utility to everyone, regardless of ability, age or status in life. Mace's work was elemental in the crafting of a mandatory building code for accessibility in North Carolina, in 1973, the first such in the country. He graduated from the School of Design at North Carolina State University in 1966 with a Bachelor's degree in architecture. After four years of practicing conventional architecture, he became involved in the effort to produce the first building code for accessibility in the nation. This code became mandatory in North Carolina in 1973 and served as a model for other states. Ron's pioneering work in accessible design was instrumental in the passage of national legislation prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities, the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 and The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Other Related Sites: Raleigh, Things-to-do, History of Durham, NC State Fair, Museum of Art

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