History of Carrboro

Carrboro was first settled in 1882 around a University of North Carolina railroad spur. It was originally known as West End, due to its geographic location directly west of Chapel Hill. In 1911, the town was incorporated under the name Venable, for chemistry professor and University of North Carolina president Francis Preston Venable. It wasn’t until 1913 that the town made its final name change after Julian Shakespeare Carr, owner of the local textile mill, after Carr expanded the mill and agreed to provide electricity to the community in exchange for naming the town after himself.

For the first fifty years after its incorporation, Carrboro remained a small mill town with a slow, steady pace of growth. In 1960, approximately 2,000 people lived in the town. In the late 1960s the town’s population began to increase stemming from the growth occurring at UNC-Chapel Hill and area businesses.

Also during the late 1960s, Carrboro began to become more progressive in its thinking. Today the town has a reputation as one of the most progressive communities in the South. Carrboro was the first municipality in North Carolina to elect an openly gay Mayor in 1995, and was also the first in the state to grant domestic-partner benefits to same-sex couples.

Growth has continued through the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. This has resulted in the creation of a vibrant and diverse community. Carrboro Farmer’s Market, two venues that host national music acts (the ArtsCenter and Cat’s Cradle) call Carrboro home. The town also hosts annual events like the Carrboro Music Festival and Carrboro Film Festival. Today, over 20,000 people are able to call Carrboro home.

Carrboro’s roots began in the late 19th century when a branch of the North Carolina Railroad extended south to the edge of Chapel Hill, and the first local textile mill opened nearby. Informally known as West End and Lloydville, the community incorporated as town named Venable in 1911.

Two years later, the state legislature renamed the town Carrboro at request of Julian S. Carr, a post-Civil War business leader. He was also an active and influential participant in Jim Crow era efforts to create a system of racial segregation. Although the town continues to bear his name, the values and actions of Carr do not represent Carrboro today.

In the 1970s, a group of Carrboro residents joined together to change the town’s power structure and advocate for a community that fully included all residents. Thanks to their commitment, today Carrboro honors its working-class roots while reaching toward the goals of social equity, environmental harmony, and fiscal responsibility.


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