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Historical Growth: How Raleigh Became the City it is Today

Whether you’re a life-long resident of Raleigh, new to the community, or just considering making it your home, you may already be aware that it’s a booming city that has no signs of slowing down. Since its beginnings, Raleigh has continued to experience population growth.

Before it became the city it is today, Raleigh was a modest colonial settlement. In the 1760s, the land was known by the names Wake Crossroads, Wake Courthouse, and even Bloomsbury, but it was largely a spot that provided little more than a few provisions, making it a quick stop for travelers.

The settlement had two landowners who were largely responsible for Raleigh’s beginnings. The city was officially established in 1771 when the first session of the Wake County Court was held at the home of Joel Lane, known as the “Father of Raleigh.” Meanwhile, Isaac Hunter owned a popular tavern, located near Wake Forest Road just north of the Beltline, and it was there the decision was made to build the permanent state capital within a 10-mile radius of the tavern. By 1792, 1000 acres of Lane’s land was purchased by the State of North Carolina to build Raleigh as North Carolina’s capital city.

It took two years to survey and plan the community, and according to National Park Service records, it was said to be a “city of streets without houses.”

However, by 1800, Raleigh had grown from farmland to a population of 669 people. By 1820, Raleigh had grown to more than 2,600 people, but it wasn’t until the addition of two railroads—the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad and the North Carolina Railroad—that the population began to take off.

By the time the Civil War began, the city was pushing toward 5,000 residents. While Raleigh’s growth was hindered slightly as its economy, which was largely agriculture, was damaged by the war, the city still managed to grow. By the turn of the century, Raleigh had grown to more than 13,000 people.

The city doubled in size as the 1920s to more than 24,000 people. Despite the Great Depression, which hit agricultural states like North Carolina particularly hard, Raleigh was home to nearly 47,000 people by the 1940s. It wasn’t until after World War II and post-war efforts to change the area’s economics from a hub of tobacco and textiles to the home of all things research and development that things started to change.

By the 1960s, the Research Triangle Park created a massive shift for the area, which included a new economy and new people to Raleigh. The population of Raleigh nearly doubled in size from the 1940s to 1960s, and by the 1980s, more than 150,000 people called Raleigh home. From the 1980s to 2000, that number was pushing to 300,000 residents.

Today, Raleigh has become one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. It’s growing by about 3.4 percent each year alone. In fact, between 2000 and 2021, Raleigh was the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the United States, increasing by a massive 47 percent. With the addition of new tech companies across the Triangle, it’s estimated that Raleigh will remain the fastest-growing metropolitan area by 2025.

History proves that Raleigh is a thriving community with no signs of it slowing down anytime soon.

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