Raleigh was incorporated as the capital of NC on December 31, 1792. In the late 1780s, eight commissioners were tasked to find a central location to conduct state government duties. When they didn’t find a suitable city, they built one.
Enter: Raleigh, named after the English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh. Now that more than 230 years have passed, the city and its streets are chock-full of vibrant history.
It’s safe to say that over the years, the city has been touched by countless historical figures and happenings — many of which have shaped the names of Raleigh’s buildings, parks, and streets. In this guide, we’re delving into the history of the City of Oaks’ streets — specifically how they were named.
Once known as Wake Courthouse or Bloomsbury, Raleigh’s core was planned by William Christmas in 1792. This section of the City of Oaks is now made up of vibrant art hubs like the Warehouse District and historic areas such as City Market, and is filled with retail, restaurants, and entertainment centers.
Davie Street — Named after William Richardson Davie, a revolutionary general who established The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this roadway intersects with Fayetteville Street. Bonus: In 1927, Davie Street Park was dedicated to Lucille Hunter, the first African American teacher in NC to have a school named after her (Hunter Magnet Elementary School).
Chavis Way — The street’s namesake John Chavis opened a school in Raleigh in 1808. Chavis was a freeborn African American who served in the Revolutionary War, and was also a preacher and educator that taught both white and Black pupils.
Fayetteville Street — This centralized downtown street is lined with the State Capitol and government buildings and was named after one of NC’s prior eight judicial districts. This is also true for seven other downtown street names: Edenton, Halifax, Hillsborough, Morgan, New Bern, Salisbury, and Wilmington.
North, South, East, and West Streets — These four connecting streets were named in 1792 as the respective boundaries of Raleigh’s original 400 acres.
From 1857 to 1907, the Glenwood-Brooklyn Historic District marked the beginning of the suburbanization north of city limits. The Glenwood district now boasts art galleries, restaurants, and night-life venues.
Boylan Avenue — Boylan Avenue is named after William Montfort Boylan. William sold his property to the Greater Raleigh Land Company, which decided to divide the land into subplots for other houses in 1907. This area eventually become the historic Boylan Heights neighborhood that surrounds the Heights House Hotel, a now transformed boutique hotel, originally commissioned in 1858 by William and completed 1860.
Oberlin Road — In 1870, New Hillsboro Road was renamed Oberlin Road, presumptively named after James H. Harris, a former enslaved person and civil rights advocate who attended Oberlin College in Ohio.
Peace Street — In 1857, the Peace Institute (now William Peace University) was established. The school offered education for women in high school to college and to boys and girls in primary grades. The university and street was named in honor of William Peace.
St. Mary’s Street — Saint Mary’s College, now Saint Mary’s School, was established in 1842 and is the oldest continuously activity school in Raleigh school in Raleigh. The street was named after the private, independent Episcopal college-preparatory, boarding, and day school for girls in grades 9 to12.
Willard Place — Neighboring Boylan Avenue, this street is named after the forester, botanist, and UNC graduate William Willard Ashe. William was an explorer who made thousands of plant discoveries and grew up in the historic Elmwood estate on North Boylan Avenue. William’s estate can still be viewed (for now) behind the AC Hotel on Willard Place.
This area includes large neighborhoods, parks, and lively shopping districts.
Capital Boulevard — This is the longest roadway in Raleigh extending around 18.5 miles. According to Olde Raleigh, Downtown Boulevard and North Boulevard were renamed to Capital Boulevard in 1990.
Falls of Neuse Road — Often miscalled Falls of the Neuse Road, this north Raleigh road was named for a series of rapids in the Neuse River.
Lead Mine Road — Psst... your neighborhood could be sitting on top of lead. Well, a graphite mine to be exact. While most underground mining ceased in NC more than 100 years ago, some abandoned mines still remain. In 1991, there was a graphite mine discovered during construction under a home in north Raleigh.
Six Forks Road — Despite the utensil in its name, this major thoroughfare is believed to be named after a community in northern Wake County where six roads come together, according to William Powell’s “The North Carolina Gazetteer.” Bonus: These forks have a matching set: Six Knives Road. (We don’t know the story here.)
South and West Raleigh
This area is rich in history; most of its neighborhoods were constructed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The area is comprised of significant Raleigh spots like NC State University and the NC State Fairgrounds.
Buck Jones Road — The road’s namesake, Alfred “Buck” Jones, donated land and his log cabin to create the first public school for Black children in Cary. He died after contracting malaria — thousands of people attended his funeral in 1893.
Jones Sausage Road — This street is appropriately named after Jesse Jones Sausage Co., a sausage plant that dates back to 1947. Jesse Jones’ hot dogs have been sold at the NC State Fair for 50+ years.
Tryon Road — This road’s name comes from a past royal governor of NC, William Tryon. He was appointed from 1764 to 1771, until his relocation to New York. Bonus: Wake County was named after Tryon’s wife, Margaret Wake Tryon.
In recent years, many long-standing Raleigh neighborhoods, street names, and historic buildings like Oberlin Village Drive have adjusted their names to acknowledge historic ties with slave ownership. Learn more.
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