Archive for the ‘History’ Category

RIP Raleigh History

Photo by BBQ Geek

This week the city of Raleigh allowed the historic Clyde Cooper’s BBQ building to be demolished. While the BBQ business is still alive and well at a new location, the city lost a real treasure in this unassuming brick building. It was one of the last places in town that retained the old pre-Civil Rights era segregated entrances and dining rooms. Modern diners could enter either door and sit wherever they chose, all the while remembering a time when that freedom wasn’t afforded to everyone and the great pains it took to do so.

Now the building is gone, and with it a tiny bit of what made this city special, unique, and slotted into the history of our nation and our humanity. In its place will rise some new, whitewashed, shiny structure that promises something about the future, but will one day eventually also be old, ragged, and past its prime.

Buildings are a lot like us. They are born into this world with promise, and over time they take on meaning. It is no coincidence that the history of a place is so tied up in its historic sites. Raleigh has some of those, but not nearly as many as it could have. Over the decades it seems to have had a systematic agenda against preserving bits of its past by moving or knocking down buildings. These places could have been preserved, their stories told to future generations, but instead they had to make way for the next new thing.

I was at the RDU airport today, and at the end of the shiny new Terminal 1 (an improvement over the old terminal, to be sure) sits the old RDU airport and its old air traffic control tower. It is empty, abandoned, and waiting to be torn down. Couldn’t this space be preserved? Couldn’t we start here? Maybe it could be made into a North Carolina Aviation Museum, conveniently centered in the capital of our state to share the uniqueness of the area with business travelers and new arrivals. Docents could give tours of the old control tower. Someone could talk about progress and point out how far we’ve come.

Then maybe, just maybe, someone would get an itch to tell more of our stories in the locations where they are written on the landscape. Our legacy, and those of the people who came before us, could be preserved.



Photo courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina


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Baton Day #2: Raleigh History

I had a great time taking the followers of the RDU Baton Instagram account on a photo tour through the prehistory of Raleigh today. My photos and descriptions are below, as well as links to some of the sources I used for my information.

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Good morning! My name is Amber. The last time I held the baton I showed you a typical day in the life of a stay-at-home nanny. Today is my day off, so I’m putting on my ex-archaeologist hat and taking you on a photo tour of some historical sites in the area. There are so many things we could see today, but I have decided to focus on sites from before the founding of Raleigh in 1792. I’m no expert on Raleigh history! I just find it interesting to think about what this place would have been like before everything was officially established. For example, this may be the oldest known grave in Wake County. The people buried in this consolidated cemetery at Wakefield lived at a time when farming families owned hundreds of acres and their neighbors were few and far between. Wake County didn’t even exist yet. 

Dive Into Wakefield
Many thanks to Jones_ at Urban Planet for the cemetery and Colonial Drive tips.

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Yates Mill has been restored to its late 1800s state, but there has been a mill on this site since the 1750s. Samuel Pearson was granted the mill and 640 acres of land by John Carteret, Earl of Granville, a Lords Proprietor of the Carolinas. Pearson also cared for the 8-mile stretch of road from Walnut Creek to Swift Creek. That’s approximately Lake Wheeler Road from Centennial Parkway to the Lake Wheeler dam. If you are interested in historical maps there is a great archive at http://www2.lib.unc.edu/dc/ncmaps/

Yates Mill
Lords Proprietor at Wikipedia

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This is the oldest house standing on its original foundation in Wake County. Echo Manor Plantation House was built in 1743 on 840 acres of land granted to Robert Whitaker by George II. The land originally fronted onto Old Stage Road. Robert’s son, Colonel John Whitaker, later built Whitaker Mill and was active in establishing the new Wake County government. The house is in private ownership.

Echo Manor Plantation House

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Have you noticed this marker across the street from the Boylan Bridge Brewpub? There was a small community situated near Joel Lane’s house called Bloomsbury — named by Governor Tryon after a region of London. I attended a lecture by an old boss from my archaeology days about the excavations they did before Bloomsbury Estates was built. They found evidence that the community extended south of Joel Lane’s house down the hill toward where the railroad tracks are now. Joel Lane built his house in 1769, but by 1771 the community was renamed Wake Crossroads to reflect the recent founding of Wake County (named after Governor Tryon’s wife, Margaret Wake). Lane’s tavern was the site of many political meetings, including the one that decided on the future site of Raleigh in 1792.

A History of Bloomsbury, North Carolina
Wake County, North Carolina at Wikipedia

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I lived in Raleigh for 15 years before I first visited the Joel Lane house. It is open for tours Wednesday through Saturday. Be sure to check the web site for times. The gift shop is open today and the curator was happy to answer my many questions. Joel Lane’s house was built in 1769 and was moved in 1911. It was originally just a couple of blocks to the east and oriented that direction. As I’ve been researching for my baton day I have been impressed by Joel Lane’s business savvy, his ability to adapt to changing political environments, and his crucial roles in establishing both Wake County and Raleigh. 

Biography of Joel Lane
Joel Lane House
Joel Lane Museum House – official site

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I don’t want to leave the subject of Joel Lane without mentioning that he was one of the largest slave owners in the area. Historians have done some good work trying to track down the names of Joel Lane’s slaves, but due to a lack of records from that time there just isn’t much more information out there. However, there is a great story about a slave named Will who was shipwrecked in North Carolina and lived out his days in a cabin at the edge of Joel Lane’s property. This area later became known as Will’s Forest.

Will’s Forest
Joel Lane and His Slaves (video)

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Raleigh is unique in that it was a planned capital city. In 1788 the delegates of the Hillsborough Convention met to both ratify the US Constitution and determine a fixed location for the capital of North Carolina. The General Assembly decided that the capital should be located within 10 miles of Isaac Hunter’s Tavern. But the actual location of Isaac Hunter’s Tavern has turned out to be a bit of a mystery. Armed with a first-hand account from archaeologist Stanley A. South, an aerial map and Google, I am convinced that it was located here beneath this parking lot on Wake Forest Road. In 1969 Dr. South found the tavern building moved from its original location into a field and took many photos, all of which are now available on the State Archives of North Carolina Flickr site. The tavern was eventually burned. The field is still there but it is now an impassably overgrown wilderness. I did stomp around in the woods to try to find some evidence of the old building but with no luck.

Hunter, Isaac at NCpedia
Isaac Hunter’s Tavern — an Architectural Treasure Found and Lost
State Archives of NC Flickr set
Isaac Hunter’s Tavern and Hunting Isaac Hunter’s Tavern
Isaac Hunter’s Tavern historical marker


We came back to the North Raleigh Hilton on a tip from @markhub to check out the exhibit on Isaac Hunter’s Tavern. There is a great collection of artifacts in the lobby! I had no idea that was here. The bar doesn’t serve Isaac Hunter’s signature drink, the Cherry Bounce, though.

Correction: the cherry bounce was Joel Lane’s drink. The story goes that the group choosing the site for Raleigh was going to select a site across the Neuse River, but after a night of drinking cherry bounces at Joel Lane’s tavern they selected his land instead. It’s the drink that built Raleigh.

Cherry Bounce, Recipe for a Capital City
Cherry Bounce


April is Raleigh History Month. In researching the time before Raleigh existed I turned up many of the names reflected in the city’s modern streets and businesses. I also learned something of the spirit of the men whose political legacy is what we are all building on today. I think that there is room in Raleigh for more venues to talk about our history. Tonight I raise a Cherry Bounce, Raleigh’s historical signature drink, to everyone who came before us. Thank you for leaving us your legacy. May we always strive to be great people who have a positive impact on future generations.

Raleigh Heritage Trail

Further reading:
A New Voyage to Carolina by John Lawson

First Immigrants: Native American Settlement of North Carolina

History of Wake County, North Carolina: with sketches of those who have most influenced its development


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