The Boylan Heights neighborhood is one of Raleigh’s first planned suburbs. In design and architecture, it exemplifies middle class ideals of the early 1900s. Economic expansion in early 20th-century Raleigh resulted in an acute housing shortage. In response, real estate developers began purchasing portions of the old plantation lands ringing the city, where wooded lots, attractive architecture and restrictive covenants might attract would-be homeowners.
One such tract was the Boylan estate, located immediately west of the city. The property, neatly bordered by the North Carolina Railroad to the north, state prison lands to the west and the state asylum to the south, had been owned by planter and entrepreneur William Montfort Boylan. In 1907, Boylan’s heirs sold the largely wooded, 100-acre tract to a local land syndicate. The subdivision was so successful that by 1915, all lots were sold, and the syndicate dissolved.
The spatial and social composition of Boylan Heights was carefully planned. Streets extended those of the existing downtown grid, but curved aesthetically to match the contours of the hilltop site. Backyard alleys served nearly all lots. Neighborhood building zones specified minimum construction costs. The most expensive houses, in Queen Anne or Colonial Revival styles, were built near Montfort Hall, the antebellum Boylan mansion at the top of the hill. More modest homes, chiefly in the bungalow style, were constructed further below. A large parcel was set aside for a community park; in 1926, it became the site of a neighborhood elementary school. Reflecting the social conditions of the times, African Americans were restricted from living in the neighborhood except as domestic help.
Such patterns continued until the Great Depression, when many aspiring blue collar families lost their homes and white collar families relocated to more fashionable neighborhoods. Absentee landlords became prevalent during the 1940s, and the community became working class, with larger homes carved into apartments. Recent renewed interest in downtown housing, however, has begun to reverse the trend. Historic district status, established locally in 1984, further spurred reinvestment and conversion of houses back to single family use.
Boylan Heights is located on the southwest edge of downtown Raleigh, just north of Western Blvd. and east of Central Prison and is roughly bounded by the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks, Mountford, Martin and Florence sts. and Dorothea Dr. These are private residences generally not open to the public. Visit the neighborhood association’s website for further information.
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