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Published November 21, 2013

If Raleigh’s Roads Could Speak: A History of Street Names

Have you ever wondered why a street is assigned a certain name? Raleigh has quite a vivid history, and its street signs can give us a glimpse into that past.

An early model of a planned capital city, Raleigh was incorporated in 1792. The streets that bordered the original 400 acres were designated as North, South, East and West. William Christmas, the city’s surveyor, planned for the main streets to radiate from the downtown Capitol Building.

According to the Raleigh Public Record, roads surrounding the Capitol Building were named after North Carolina’s eight judicial districts. Each district is labelled by the name of its major city. These streets are known as Wilmington, Fayetteville, Hillsborough, New Bern, Edenton, Morgan, Salisbury and Halifax.

Raleigh as it appeared in 1920 map.
Downtown Raleigh as it appeared in 1920 map.

Other downtown streets are named for the officials of the eight judicial regions, plus one at-large commissioner. These men include Joseph “Quaker Meadows” McDowell, a legislator and soldier, and William Johnston Dawson.

James Martin supervised the building of a courthouse and jail in newly founded Wake County (along with state senator Joel Lane, who sold the land to establish the city of Raleigh). General Henry William Harrington was a Revolutionary War hero. Streets are also named for Thomas Blount, James Bloodworth, Willie Jones, Frederick Hargett and Thomas Person.

RELATED: Emancipated Slave Cemetery Hidden in Cameron Village.

Additional state leaders who were recognized include Governor William R. Davie, House Speaker Stephen Cabarrus and Senate Speaker William Lenoir.

Roads outside of the Beltline have interesting origins as well. Six Forks Road was originally a crossroads. While there is currently an intersection at Six Forks and Strickland, two extra roads, Lead Mine and Baileywick, overlapped nearby in the past.

Raleigh as it appeared in 1887 map. Click for a larger view.
Greater Raleigh as it appeared in 1887 map. Click for a larger view.

Lead Mine Road is named for the many graphite mines underneath the current Greystone Village neighborhood. (Graphite is used as the black core of so-called lead pencils.) Sawmill Road, which now connects Creedmoor and Lead Mine, was named for a sawmill located near the same area in Raleigh’s early days.

RELATED: Ghost Hunt! Raleigh’s Crybaby Lane Investigated.

Millbrook Road is named after an early Wake County neighborhood. The Raleigh and Gaston Railroad built a train station at “Mill Brook” in the 1860s. A community of families, business, schools and churches grew around the railroad station and tracks.

The next time you are exploring our capital city, keep in mind that many of the street names date back to its early days and tell their own story of Raleigh’s history!

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  • Ginny

  • I have a journalism degree and an English minor from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. I am a staff writer for I enjoy music, books, photography, hiking and travel. Previous jobs include positions at Deep South Entertainment in Raleigh and ReverbNation in Durham. All my articles.

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