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Raleigh History

Officially established in 1792, Raleigh was named after the English explorer and colonialist Sir Walter Raleigh.  Unlike most capital cities, Raleigh was actually purpose-built to house the state legislature. Just what was so attractive about this particular patch of central North Carolina farmland, you might ask? Well, a little place called Isaac Hunter's Tavern had a lot to do with it; state legislators enjoyed the crossroads pub so much, they figured they might as well build their offices nearby. The central location was a plus as well—Raleigh is nearly smack-dab in the middle of the state. The city was built on a neat grid with five public squares and outfitted with a nifty Greek Revival state capitol building. Much of the architecture from this period remains, including two of the original public squares. The city trucked along through the 19th century, remaining relatively unscathed during the Civil War despite a brief Union occupation. The post-war era brought the establishment of the South's first college for African-Americans, Shaw University, and African-Americans began to flock to Raleigh. A few years later, in 1887, the state General Assembly founded North Carolina State University in Raleigh, then known as North Carolina College of Agricultural and Mechanical Arts. In the late 1950s, Raleigh got a major economic boost from the establishment of nearby Research Triangle Park, a 7,000-acre high tech research and development park similar to California's Silicon Valley. RTP, as it's known, brought an influx of highly educated people from all over the world, which began to transform the city from a staid government town to an intellectual and cultural hotspot. These days, the biggest news in Raleigh is the revitalization of downtown. The construction of several large new performing arts venues, as well as museums and pedestrian malls, have helped liven up the once all-business area.