Carrboro Through the Years

Photo of Carrboro by Town of Carrboro

Carrboro was first settled in 1882 around a University of North Carolina railroad spur and originally known as West End due to its location directly west of Chapel Hill. The trains continue to roll by and you can catch a birdseye view from Thai Station Restaurant, serving authentic Thai food from the remnants of an old railroad station.


Photo of workers constructing Alberta Mill in Carrboro circa 1898 courtesy of The Watts Collection

A man named Tom Lloyd built the Alberta Cotton Mill in 1898, which became the Blanche Hosiery Corporation, the Durham Hosiery Mills in the early 1900s, then the Carrboro Woolen Mills in the 1960s. It survived demolition in the 1970s to become the historic treasure it is today: Carr Mill Mall


Vintage photo of workers in front of Carr Mill
Photo of the crosstie market in Carrboro courtesy of The Watts Collection

The town was incorporated under the name Venable in 1911 named after chemistry professor and University of North Carolina president, Francis Preston Venable. By 1913, Venable had become one the world's largest hardwood railroad cross-tie markets.


Photo of the Carrboro ‘Truth Plaque’ in 2019 by the Town of Carrboro

The Town was named “Carrboro” in 1913 by the NC State Legislature after Julian S. Carr, an influential industrialist and the new owner of the local textile mill. It is said Carr agreed to provide electricity for the community in exchange for naming the town after himself. Although the town continues to bear his name, the values and actions of Carr - a prominent figure in the white supremist movement - do not represent Carrboro today. This truth is made known through a plaque approved by the Carrboro Town Council in 2019.


Photo of the Fitch family at Fitch Lumber by Chapel Hill Magazine

Fitch Lumber Company moved to Carrboro in 1923. The railroad and the mill allowed Fitch Lumber to thrive as one of Carrboro’s original and longest lasting businesses. Drop in and say hello to David, John, and Miles - the 4th generation of Fitch family members working at the business.


Photo of Step Edwards at Midway Barbershop by Kasia Jordan, The Daily Tar Heel

The oldest black-owned business in Carrboro is Midway Barbershop, which was established by Stephen Edwards in 1952. Edwards' son Step has run the shop for more than thirty years. The second oldest black-owned business is Eva's Beauty Shop, opened by Eva Barnett in 1970. 


Photo of Carrboro road sign courtesy of The Watts Collection

Carrboro was designated as a Bird Sanctuary in 1955. This commitment to preservation and conservation continues today as Carrboro is recognized as a Tree City USA and Bee City USA.


A group of Carrboro residents joined together in the 1970s 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, and continues to be regarded as one of the most progressive communities in the South.


Photo of Carr Mill Mall in 1979 by Chapel Hill Historical Society

In the mid-1970s, after the mill had been empty for more than five years, there were plans to demolish it and build a new shopping mall. With appeals from local citizens for historic restoration, two years of work, and $8.5 million invested, the mill re-opened in 1977 as Carr Mill Mall and is home to many locally-owned retail stores, offices, and restaurants.


Photo of Mayor Robert Drakeford by Town of Carrboro

In 1977, Carrboro elected its first African-American mayor, Robert ("Bob") Drakeford,  a young activist mayor who was elected as part of the progressive Carrboro Coalition in the 1970s.  Drakeford is remembered for his leadership in getting the public transit system extended to Carrboro and for making Carrboro a more bike and pedestrian-friendly town.


Photo of The ArtsCenter by The ArtsCenter

The ArtsCenter, originally known as ‘ArtsSchool’ was founded by artist Jacques Menache in 1979. The ArtsCenter has featured nationally known roots music acts, such as David Lindley and Dr. John and internationally known artists including Richard Thompson and k.d. lang, and continues to educate and inspire creativity and enrich the lives of people of all ages. Sign up for a workshop now!


Photo of Elizabeth Cotten Mural by

Carrboro native and folk guitarist, Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten, wins a Grammy for the “Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording” in 1984 at the age 91 and for a song she wrote at eleven years old at her home near the railroad tracks on Lloyd Street, called “Freight Train.” 

There is a historic marker on East Main Street in Carrboro that honors her life as well as a new mural painted by Chapel Hill artist Scott Nurkin in 2020. The mural is located on the Carrboro-Chapel Hill line at 111 N. Merritt Mill Road and is part of a statewide project, dubbed the North Carolina Musicians Mural Project, to honor famous North Carolina musicians in their hometowns.


Affectionately known as The Cradle, Cat’s Cradle is in the heart of downtown Carrboro and has been the Triangle’s premier live music venue for over 40 years. In addition to Nirvana performing in 1990, other notable acts include Public Enemy, John Mayer, Joan Baez, and Iggy Pop. The Cradle gives concert-goers a chance to see up-and-coming bands in an intimate setting, and is credited for helping launch such indie rock careers as Superchunk, Ben Folds Five, and Whiskeytown.


Photo at Carrboro Farmers' Market by David Jessee

The New York Times featured book, Serious Eats, lists the Carrboro Farmers' Market as number five on the list of Best Farmers Markets in the country. Locally grown and nationally known, the Carrboro Farmers’ Market continues to be home to many of the most talented growers and artisans in the region.


Photo of Carrboro Town Hall by David Jessee

Carrboro firmly solidified its reputation as one of the most progressive and LGBTQ-friendly towns in the south in 1995 when it became the first municipality in North Carolina to elect an openly gay Mayor. Carrboro was also the first municipality in the state to grant domestic benefits to same-sex couples. This commitment to inclusivity continues today in Carrboro, where everyone is encouraged to feel free and all are welcome. In Carrboro, your community is part of ours!


Photo of musicians in Carrboro by Tom Simon

The Carrboro Music Festival first launched in 1998 as the Fête de la Musique, and a tradition was born!  The name of the festival changed in 2002, and it became a two-day festival in 2013, but the purpose continues: to celebrate local music with performances throughout Carrboro that are free for the public to enjoy. Mark your calendar!


Screenshot of the book cover, "The 100 Best Art Towns in America" 

Carrboro was named one of the 100 best art towns in America in John Villani’s 2005 book, “The 100 Best Art Towns in America: A Guide to Galleries, Museums, Festivals, Lodging and Dining.” Explore the work of talented artisans featured at the many shops in Carrboro, including the NC Craft GalleryThis & That Gallery, and WomenCraft, and don’t miss Sophia’s new gift shop, called My Muses Card Shop, in the Station along Main Street.


Screenshot of It's Carrboro music video on YouTube

In 2006, the “It's Carrboro” video hit the internet and became a community favorite. The video was directed by Jason Meeks and featured many popular faces and places in Carrboro. Given the popularity of the original video, an updated version, called  “It’s Carrboro 2014” was released nearly ten years later. The latter video had a similar style to the original and was directed by Richard Jaimeyfield. 


Photo from Carrboro Film Festival by the CFF

The Carrboro Film Festival launched in 2006 to promote local area short films and received nearly 100 entries in the first year. Since then, the festival has grown and become an annual tradition, expanded to two days in 2013, and now accepts submissions from across the entire state of NC and beyond. Mark your calendar for this annual tradition!


Photo of James Carter by James Carter Studio

James Carter was awarded 1st place in enameling in the prestigious Saul Bell Design Award Competition in 2011. The master goldsmith, skilled designer, and artist continues to lead hands-on workshops in jewelry making and enameling out of his studios, James Carter Studios & School.


Photo of WCOM Studio by WCOM

In June 2004, WCOM began its local broadcast from Carrboro. WCOM is a nonprofit organization that offers locally-produced, volunteer-driven programming using a 100-watt over-the-air signal on 103.5 FM. The station is regularly voted high in the “Best of the Triangle” annual ballots and was a 2018 finalist for Best Local Flavor alongside MIX 101.5. Live like a local while visiting Carrboro and tune into WCOM!   


neil's deli pastrami
Photo of Neal's Deli house-made pastrami by Neal's Deli

The NY Times released “36 Hours in Chapel Hill-Carrboro,” a 6-minute video in 2015 that showcased collegiate Chapel Hill and free-spirited Carrboro, and how our two side-by-side towns offer a perfect combination of fine dining, fun bars, and local music. The famous pastrami and buttermilk biscuit sandwich from Neal’s Deli was featured. 


Photo by David Jessee

The Guardian featured the side-by-side towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro first in their list of “Best Towns and Small Cities in the US.” They showcased many things to do in Carrboro, where the “individual streak lives strong,” including how you can live like a local at Orange County Social Club, drink a triple espresso like UNC students at Open Eye Cafe, enjoy a pizza and grilled white corn at Pizzeria Mercato, and then dance to live music on the lawn at Weaver Street Market and at the Cat’s Cradle. 


Photo of Chef Gabe Barker by Pizzeria Mercato

Gabe Barker of Pizzeria Mercato was selected as a James Beard Award Semifinalist in the “Rising Star Chef of the Year” category for the second year in a row. Chef Gabe, who is the son of two James Beard-award-winning chefs, opened Pizzeria Mercato in 2015 and the restaurant continues to emphasize locally sourced ingredients from the Carrboro Farmers’ Market.


Photo of Weaver Street Market by David Jessee

Weaver Street Market is the community owned and operated natural foods store situated in the heart of downtown. For more than 30 years, Weaver Street has focused on local and fair trade products and is guided by a commitment “for the community and by the community.” This commitment continued in 2019 when the market shifted exclusively to reusable bags.


Photo of the April 16, 2019 unveiling of the Carrboro "truth plaque" by CriShaun Hardy, Daily Tar Heel

The Carrboro Truth Plaque Task Force unveiled a truth plaque in 2019 dedicated to bringing light to how the town came to be named Carrboro after Julian S. Carr, a prominent figure in the white supremist movement and influential industrialist. Although the town continues to bear his name, the values and actions of Carr do not represent Carrboro today. This truth is made known through this plaque. 


Child Going Down Slide
Photo of MLK Park in Carrboro in 2020 by David Jessee.

Martin Luther King Jr. Park, a 10-acre park with a multipurpose field and community garden, opened to the community in 2020. This is one of eight parks or play facilities conveniently located throughout the Carrboro community and open to all residents and guests.


Screenshot of the book cover, "Images of America: Carrboro" 

To celebrate Carrboro Day 2020, lifelong Carrboro resident and treasured historian, Richard Ellington, delivered a historical presentation, called “Carrboro: From Rail Spur to Cultural Meca, a Disjointed Journey.” Ellington is also the co-author of a cherished book called Carrboro, published in 2011. Both are delightful artifacts for traveling history buffs!


Photo of Black Lives Matter flags at Carrboro Town Hall by David Jessee

The Town of Carrboro installed Black Lives Matter flags on the town hall building in the summer of 2020, commissioned a permanent Black Lives Matter mural, and is a member of GARE (Government Alliance on Race and Equity).