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Raleigh - A brief history

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The city of Raleigh is named for Sir Walter Raleigh, explorer and noblemen who funded the first expeditions to the coast of modern-day North Carolina. Raleigh's history is bountiful. In 1792, Raleigh was created to be North Carolina's seat of government. To fully appreciate this uniquely blessed city, one must contemplate the history and delightfully complex composition of the state that created Raleigh.

Home to the Native American Iroquoian, Siouan and Algonquian tribes, it is also the birthplace of Virginia Dare, the first child born of English parents in the new world during the first attempt by the English to settle the western hemisphere. One of the original 13 colonies, North Carolina was the first to officially call for independence with the Halifax Resolves in 1776.

A state of yeoman farmers and among the South's first industrial areas, North Carolina was no home place to the gentry, but rather a state of working men and women who valued education and established the nation's first state university. North Carolina's appreciation of education also created a notable public school system and the nation's best community college system.

The city of Raleigh grew slowly. In 1794, the first State House was opened. It provided not only a location for governmental affairs but also a center for community activities. Over time, an increasing number of inns, taverns, dry-goods stores, coffin houses and brickyards supported the growing capital city. Until the Civil War, these businesses catered mostly to retail customers, providing services and basic needs. 

Fayetteville Street quickly became Raleigh’s commercial core as storefronts replaced residences along the blocks south of the State Capitol.  In addition to downtown commerce, a handful of mills and new ventures, such as the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad of 1840, comprised the composition of antebellum Raleigh.

During the Civil War, Raleigh was spared from the destruction that other southern capitals suffered. Four days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia, on April 19, 1865, Union General William T. Sherman and more than 80,000 soldiers marched into Raleigh. To avoid the devastation experienced earlier in Atlanta, Georgia and Columbia, South Carolina, Governor Zebulon Vance and Mayor William H. Harrison formally surrendered. Although food supplies and other resources were raided, the city remained intact.

Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, higher education in Raleigh contributed greatly to North Carolina’s culture and economy. The establishment of women’s colleges such as St. Mary’s School (1842), Peace College (1857) and Meredith College (1891) and historically black colleges like Shaw University (1865) and St. Augustine’s College (1867) solidified Raleigh’s reputation as the state’s educational and government center. In 1887, the establishment of present-day North Carolina State University as a land-grant institution further enhanced the city’s standing.

Though firmly in the grip of the hard times of the 1920's, North Carolina invested in a statewide network of paved thoroughfares and became known as “the good roads state,” recognizing that the lifeline of economic growth was a statewide transportation network. In the early twentieth century, Raleigh evolved into the retail center for eastern North Carolina. People flocked to Fayetteville Street for shopping, entertainment and parades. Whether it was grand opera, vaudeville, or motion pictures, Raleigh’s theaters and public performance venues offered something for all ages. 

Possibly the greatest change of the 1950's and 1960's was the positive effects of the Civil Rights Movement. No other national event affected Raleigh more profoundly than the Civil Rights Movement and the result transformed Southern Culture. With the establishment of the Research Triangle Park between Raleigh and Durham, the city experienced further population growth in the 1960's, when new arrivals moved to take advantage of employment opportunities at the newly built high-tech companies. Since the 1970's, Raleigh has experienced rapid suburban development, especially outside its northern limits, and continues to be a vibrant cultural center. 

Raleigh - a destination you will want to visit!


Sir Walter Raleigh Statue

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