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Chapel Hill - A brief history

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Nicknamed the “Southern Part of Heaven,” the town center of Chapel Hill sits atop a hill which was originally occupied by a small Anglican “chapel of ease,” built in 1752, known as New Hope Chapel. Town lots were auctioned in 1793 when work began on the first University building, although it was 1795 before any residents occupied permanent homes.  

Home to the nation’s first State University, Chapel Hill is a diverse community of students, educators and business professionals. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), authorized by the state constitution in 1776, was chartered in 1789, and opened its doors on January 15, 1795.

The history of Chapel Hill is inextricably linked to the University, born as the ‘quintessential college’ town. Chapel Hill was, in fact, created to serve the University. When the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees chose the area around New Hope Chapel as the site for the first state university in 1793, they also named a committee to lay out a town adjacent to the site.

In 1968, only a year after its schools became fully integrated, Chapel Hill became the first predominantly white municipality in the country to elect an African American mayor, Howard Lee. Lee served from 1969 until 1975 and, among other things, helped establish Chapel Hill Transit, the town's bus system. Some 30 years later, in 2002, legislation was passed to make the local buses free of fares to all riders, leading to a large increase in ridership. Even in the 21st century, without a car, you can get anywhere in Chapel Hill for free.

The population is globally diverse, consisting of University faculty and staff, students, business people and retirees from all over the world, not to mention the native Chapel Hillians. The town's transformation from a small, relatively rural, turn-of-the-century village to a thriving, cosmopolitan University city has occurred since 1940.

Present day reminders of Chapel Hill's history are cherished by its citizens and admired by its visitors; quiet winding streets, wooded homesites, stone walls, a sense of post Revolutionary history and small shops surrounding the University add to the charm, mystique and “small-town” atmosphere. Much of the character of Chapel Hill is due to its great natural beauty including steep wooded slopes, small streams and tree-covered vistas. The integration of these protected natural environments, with the cosmopolitan and institutional setting of the University, reflect the spirit of diversity and community which is Chapel Hill.

Today, the campus is the center of the community. Students, residents and visitors all love the University-lined Franklin Street for shopping, dining or just a stroll.

Visit Chapel HIll today!

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