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Raleigh: History

City Named Capital of State

In 1771 a new North Carolina county was created by the state assembly. They named the county Wake, in honor of Margaret Wake, wife of Governor William Tryon. In 1792 the General Assembly purchased 1,000 acres of Wake County and established the city of Raleigh, which was named in honor of Sir Walter Raleigh, to serve as the first permanent state capital. The word "Raleigh" comes from two Anglo-Saxon words meaning "meadow of the deer," which captures the essence of the city's peaceful setting.

Early Citizens Seen as "Roughnecks"

William Christmas of Franklin County, North Carolina, was hired to create a plan for the new city. Christmas designed a layout with one square mile of perpendicular streets and one-acre lots. Union Square, future home of the State House, lay at the center. Equidistant from it the planner designated four squares to serve as green space. Even now, the original city boundaries can be recognized by their original names, North, South, East, and West.

Enthusiastic about Christmas's plans, legislators authorized the building of a new courthouse in Raleigh, making it the county seat as well as the capital. During its early days, Raleigh had a questionable reputation because of the bachelors and saloons that dominated the scene. Its citizens were not granted the right to vote until the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Raleigh in the Nineteenth Century

Raleigh grew larger at a slow but steady pace during this time when most of its residents were in the business of agriculture. Eventually towns developed along railroad lines and market centers. In time, small textile and furniture factories grew up. In 1831 the original State House burned down. The legislature agreed that the new State House should be a more durable structure. For this purpose solid granite was quarried in the east side of the county and brought to Raleigh via a specially built rail line. The permanent Executive Mansion was designed by architects Samuel Sloan and Gustavus Bauer, and constructed entirely of North Carolina materials, from the slate roof to the pine balustrade and brick facade. Construction was performed by prison inmates whose names and initials can still be seen in the brick sidewalks surrounding the mansion.

During the Civil War, Raleigh did not experience the tremendous suffering at the hands of Union forces as did many other southern towns and cities. Destruction was narrowly averted when some torch-carrying troops from the 60,000 troops quartered in the city approached the downtown upon hearing of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Their commander, General John A. Logan, turned them back at gunpoint.

City Takes Off After WWII

Raleigh's major growth occurred after World War II ended in 1945. The seeds of the city's modern renaissance were sewn in the 1950s when the state of North Carolina created the world-famous Research Triangle Park west of the city. The concept of Dr. Howard Odom, a University of North Carolina sociologist, the original purpose of the development was to use the talents of the highly trained graduates of North Carolina's colleges and universities who were leaving for more promising careers elsewhere. The area boomed following the establishment of IBM's facilities there in 1965.

Raleigh is now recognized around the world for the basic and applied research and development conducted by the occupants of Research Triangle Park. The downtown area is currently undergoing a revitalization with the groundbreaking in 2005 for a new 500,000-square-foot convention center, scheduled for completion in early 2008. With a population of more than 330,000, Raleigh enjoys a combination of the two most sought after and envied economic characteristics: low unemployment and rising incomes. Major companies are regularly launching new operations or expansions in the Raleigh area, keeping the local economy healthy. Furthermore, the city's housing stock is robust, increasing at a healthy pace to welcome newcomers to the area.

Historical Information: North Carolina (State) Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, 109 East Jones Street, Raleigh, NC 27601-2807; telephone (919)733-3952