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[photo] Sketch of Joel Lane House
Courtesy of NC Office of Archives and History

Raleigh was established as the capital of North Carolina near the geographical center of the state in 1792. A State Convention in 1788 sought a central location for an "unalterable seat of government." One thousand acres of land was purchased from Joel Lane, an early settler of the region. Lane and his two brothers had come to the area in 1741, and 30 years later Wake County was established with the construction of a courthouse and jail on the hillside in front of Lane's residence. His home became such a popular stop with travelers through the region that Lane built a tavern and helped erect a log church, the Asbury Meetinghouse. This small settlement, known as Wake Courthouse or Bloomsbury, was the predecessor of the town of Raleigh.

Raleigh was surveyed and planned by William Christmas in April 1792, with Union (now Capitol) Square reserved for the statehouse in the center, from which the principal streets radiate. Streets were named for the eight state districts--each identified by the name of its principal city--for the commissioners and for other prominent citizens. The plan included four parks--named for the first three Governors (Nash, Caswell and Burke) and for Attorney General Alfred Moore. A brick statehouse was constructed according to the instructions of the commission of legislators. When it was completed in 1794, Raleigh was said to be a "city of streets without houses." By 1800 the population numbered 669, and during that year, Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury held a "big meeting" in the statehouse, which at the time was used for religious gatherings, balls and public meetings.

[photo] State Capitol building, completed in 1840
Photo courtesy of North Carolina Division of Archives and History

Destructive fires occurred in 1818, 1821 and 1831. In the last fire, the brick statehouse was destroyed. In 1840 a three-day celebration, with parades, orations and balls marked the completion of the new State Capitol. Raleigh's commercial expansion remained slow until the 1850s by which time two railroad lines were connected to the city--the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad and the North Carolina Railroad. In 1857, the city limits were extended approximately three blocks on all sides from the original one square-mile boundary.

Although there was Union sentiment in Raleigh, a celebration occurred when the State convention voted to secede from the United States on May 20, 1861. The State Capitol served as the meeting place for the state's wartime legislatures, and the city became a concentration point for Confederate troops. General William T. Sherman's army entered Raleigh on April 13, 1865, beginning the occupation of the city by the Federal army. Troops were encamped around the city and Gen. Sherman established headquarters in the Governor's Palace. After war's end, the difficult period of Reconstruction began.

[photo] 1872 birdseye view of the City of Raleigh. View high resolution map by clicking here.
Photo courtesy of Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, digital id g3904r pm006660
An 1872 birdseye view of the City of Raleigh (right) shows the arrangement of the community shortly after the Civil War. The commercial section emerged along Fayetteville Street, just south of the State Capitol. Foundries, factories and warehouses were located near the tracks on the north and west sides of town. The remaining spaces inside the city limits were occupied with boarding houses, private residences and three hotels inhabited by poor and wealthy, black and white, young and old. In the final quarter of the 19th century, Raleigh's public and private sector leaders were determined to improve the cityscape to their advantage. Proximity to surface transportation spelled success for merchants in the form of shops and warehouses, stables and hotels. City alderman established streetcar lines and community leaders enlarged churches. Businessmen endeavored to make Raleigh a prosperous city before the turn of the 20th century.

[photo] Raleigh Water Tower
Photo from National Register of Historic Places collection

A critical element to Raleigh's future growth was the provision of a stable, potable water supply. From its founding in 1792, until the municipal water works went into operation, Raleigh depended on springs, wells and cisterns for its water supply. The Raleigh Water Works complex, built in 1887 at the 1800 block of Fayetteville Street, was designed by civil engineer Arthur Winslow. Filtered water was fed to the 2,500,000 gallon holding reservoir. A 14-inch main carried water to the city and elevated storage was provided by a water tower. By the early 1900s, the water supply system had expanded to cover the entire city.

Besides the provision of water another amenity which was lauded by Raleigh's public and private sectors was transportation. The electrified streetcar in the capital city did not materialize until 1891, but for five years before this, mule-drawn, open-sided vehicles ran short routes in the square mile. Although Raleigh was one of the first cities in North Carolina to possess the technology for the creation of electric power, the city's system foundered repeatedly. In the 1890s and 1900s, streetcars, street lighting and the power for newly located textile mills were the only uses to which electricity could be applied. Streetcars were a handy and relatively inexpensive justification for electrification requiring only a few large motors and auxiliary equipment plus the cost of generators and trunk lines. Raleigh's electric service was preparing for rapid expansion by 1908, when Raleigh Electric Company merged with two other regional suppliers to form Carolina Power & Light Company (CP&L), now Progress Energy. A new Power House was constructed about 1910 to power the electric streetcar system and a new streetcar garage was built in 1925, where cars were stored and repaired. The electric streetcar revolutionized transportation technology. Traversing and skirting the central business district, the tracks opened up a suburban ring and enabled the electric trains to travel fast, about four times faster than the horse-drawn systems they replaced.

[photo] St.Mary's College
Photo courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [pan 6a16529]
In addition to being North Carolina's capital, Raleigh emerged as an educational center in the 19th century. St. Mary’s College, founded in 1842 by the Episcopal Church, is the oldest continuously operating school in Raleigh and the third oldest school for girls in North Carolina. The Peace Institute was incorporated in 1858 as a Presbyterian-affiliated school for young women. One of the earliest public education facilities in Raleigh was the N.C. School for the Blind and Deaf (1848). An agricultural and industrial college, the N.C. Agriculture Experiment Station, was founded in 1877. Ten years later, the General Assembly established the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, which became North Carolina State University in 1917. Educational institutions for African Americans such as Shaw University (established 1865) and St. Augustine's College (established in 1867) attracted increasing numbers of black students, staff and faculty to Raleigh.

[photo] Narrow lots and small front yards are typical in the Oakwood Historic District
Photo by Elizabeth Alley, courtesy of Raleigh Historic Development Commission

In the closing decades of the 19th century, some of the city's leading educators lived in Oakwood, an area created from wooded land northeast of the city. The Oakwood neighborhood borrowed its name from the nearby cemetery and was the first district in Raleigh solely created to be an exclusive residential suburb. Many prominent citizens built and lived in the fine one-and two-story, frame and brick Victorian style dwellings reflecting the primarily middle-class tastes of the era. Residents of the neighborhood were employed in the banking and law firms in the central business district, the local and state governments, and the educational facilities. Oakwood remained a bastion of the middle class through the early 20th century. Laborers and skilled workers were also drawn to Raleigh in search of employment. The domiciles that were constructed by and for them are typical of those found throughout the Southern region of the country. The one- and two-story frame houses situated in Raleigh's African American neighborhoods include Queen Anne sytle cottages, shotguns and Triple-As.

[photo] Masonic Temple Building
Photo by Michael Zirkle Photography, courtesy of Raleigh Historic Development Commission
Between 1900 and the beginning of World War I, the composition of Raleigh's urban and suburban sections fluctuated as city leaders sought to mold the image of the capital city of North Carolina. The construction of hospitals, schools, churches and residences added diversity to the urban fabric. Textile production and railroad traffic were expanding in Raleigh. In 1903 alone 65 buildings were under construction worth a total value of $300,000. New tall office buildings of seven and 10 stories began to tower above the 19th century two- and three-story stores downtown. From 1874 to 1907 the tallest building besides the 85-foot-high water tower had been the Briggs Hardware Building, a four-story, red brick, flat-roofed, commercial building with stamped metal trim. In 1908, the seven-story Masonic Temple became the first building in the state to utilize new technological changes and innovations that were completely modernizing the traditional structure and arrangement of the building industry. Designed by South Carolina architect Charles McMillan, the stone-faced building of reinforced concrete and steel exemplifies skyscraper architecture begun in Chicago in the 1880s which continued as a type into the mid-20th century.

Raleigh's population increased 79 percent from 1900 (13,643 people) to 1920 (24,418 people). With a utility infrastructure firmly entrenched, water, electricity and inexpensive transportation provided better living conditions. Proximity to utilities permitted industrial endeavors to locate in or near the city limits. The surface transportation and a centralized, semi-skilled urban labor force were additional incentives to attracting textile mills in the final decade of the 19th century. Professionals such as educators, attorneys, physicians and entrepreneurs were enticed to the city as growth in commerce, health care and education increased. Raleigh's educational institutions for blacks and whites, men and women, and facilities for the handicapped attracted families to the city from other parts of the state. This influx of people necessitated the development of new or existing residential areas, which lead to the growth of Raleigh's suburbs in the early to mid-20th century.

Essay primarily excerpted from Raleigh Comprehensive Architectural Survey Final Report, Helen Patricia Ross, Raleigh Historic Development Commission, 1992.

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