Raleigh’s historic Oakwood neighborhood

Historic Oakwood | SPHO

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Did you know that Oakwood, located adjacent to downtown and just east of Person Street, is Raleigh’s only — and NC’s largest — intact 19th century neighborhood? In 1869, the locally prominent Mordecai family donated land from their estate to serve as a cemetery for Confederate soldiers following the end of the Civil War. Not long afterwards, residential parcels began to be sold around the cemetery tract, with homes being built steadily between 1890 and 1930 and resulting in a roughly 25-square-block neighborhood.

Heck-Andrews House | Amanda Bittner

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Oakwood is rare for its medley of homes representing an array of architectural styles and periods — including Victorian, Queen Anne, Second Empire, Classical Revival, and Craftsman homes built mostly for middle-class tradesmen (who worked in downtown Raleigh) and their families. Fun fact: more than 90 percent of Oakwood homes have at least one porch.

Following World War I and leading into the Great Depression, second generations of families began to move out of the downtown area. The invention of the automobile made transit easier to and from the city + many of the original residences were divided into smaller apartments or multi-family dwellings.

During the 1970s, however, renewed interest in the neighborhood led to the renovation of several homes and the the Society for the Preservation of Historic Oakwood (SPHO) was formed to block the development of a major road through the neighborhood, which would have resulted in the loss of many historic residences.

Today, Oakwood is a thriving, walkable, close knit downtown neighborhood — home to longtime locals, young professionals, families, and students attending nearby colleges. To date, more than 80 residents have participated in the SPHO’s Oral History Project, which began in 2010 as a way to capture the stories of those who live in Oakwood + strengthen connections within our larger Raleigh community. Take a listen here, and be sure to plan a walking tour this spring to learn more about this pocket of our city’s history.

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