William Christmas, the man who designed downtown Raleigh

The streetscape of Raleigh came to be because of a man named William Christmas. Christmas was tasked with creating a plan for what would become the capital of NC in 1792.

A sketch of William Christmas' plans for the city of Raleigh.

Do you recognize any street names or geography from this early plan for Raleigh?

Photo via Learn North Carolina, Wikimedia Commons

While wandering our downtown streets, we wondered just how these roads came to be. The answer — a plan from a surveyor named William Christmas.

Christmas joins early Raleigh folks like Joel Lane and Isaac Hunter as founding fathers of the City of Oaks — before Raleigh was Raleigh, the area was a collection of colonial settlements. Hunter and Lane purchased wide swaths of farmland where they operated taverns and other businesses for central NC travelers — they called the area Wake Crossroads.

In 1792, a commission of state representatives purchased 1,000 acres of this land from Lane to create a central state capital. Later that year, Christmas — then a Franklin County senator — was chosen to draft a plan for the capital city.

This early plan was a grid system of 254 one-acre lots and five larger lots to become green spaces and state buildings. Two of these green spaces, Nash Square and Moore Square, still stand as outdoor havens in the middle of the city. Caswell Square is now home to more state buildings like the NC Department of Public Safety, and Burke Square is home to the NC Executive Mansion, the governor’s residence.

On Dec. 31, 1792, Raleigh was officially established as a city and the state’s capital, and Christmas’ plan was set in motion. The grid created by Christmas is still shaping Raleigh streets today.

Learn more about the history of Raleigh’s map through the NC Museum of History’s Capital Cartography digital exhibit, the Joel Lane Museum House, and The Cultural Landscape Foundation.