Jane’s Walk Celebrates a Resilient Downtown

[Today’s post comes from Lauren Pritchett, a Triangle native and resident of Cameron Park, a surrounding downtown neighborhood. Lauren has helped bring the locally led walking tours of Jane’s Walk to Raleigh. You can follow her through her blog or Twitter, @hilgspritch. (Leo)]

“Raleigh’s Second Renaissance” has been a wildly trending phrase since the DRA’s 2014 State of Downtown in mid-April. Raleigh is indeed experiencing a new chapter of development. As much excitement that a renaissance can bring, it can be equally as daunting. We must make decisions that will affect our overall quality of life.

On May 3rd and 4th, Raleigh will be celebrating its inaugural Jane’s Walk to encourage open conversations about the city’s development. Jane’s Walk is a global initiative honoring urban activist Jane Jacobs’ birthday. It is designed to promote urban literacy through locally lead neighborhood walking tours, each focusing on a different theme. As part of the event, I will be facilitating the DTR History of Commerce Tour. We will stop at 10 different landmarks starting at the COR Museum on May 3rd at noon.

Skyhouse Raleigh

I’ve found that evidence of Raleigh’s resilience in the face of challenges can be extrapolated from our commercial architecture. One fundamental example of this is Fayetteville Street’s beloved Briggs Hardware Building. Thomas Briggs inspired our young epicenter during the Reconstruction Era by opening up the city’s first skyscraper for his shop in 1874. The subtle Art Deco style that The Raleigh Building features remind us of our ability to overcome the Great Depression. Soon, SkyHouse will be erected on the corner of Martin and Blount Streets as a symbol of Raleigh’s Second Renaissance!

During my free time, I jot down thoughts about my concerned citizenship on my blog. Usually, my curiosity leads me to wanting to know more about what came before us. What I’ve learned from researching downtown’s history is that we have endured a lot! Since becoming the capital of the “Rip Van Winkle State”, Raleigh has survived population growth spurts, wars, economic downfalls, and civil rights movements. For a small, often overshadowed, Southern city, I’m intrigued with how these milestones affect the wax and wane of Raleigh’s development.

The Raleigh Building

Please join me in discussing examples of our resilience and transformation during Jane’s Walk. Our outgoing Chief Planning & Development Officer, Mitchell Silver, will also be leading a walk starting in Nash Square at 1:30pm. On Sunday, May 4th at 2pm, I invite you to follow urban instigator, Matt Tomasulo, as he explores the opportunities of Dix Park. Jane’s Walk is coming to our city at the perfect time and is sure to be full of inspiration.

Renovation on Salisbury Uncovering History

200 Salisbury Street in October 2012

I wanted to highlight this article about the renovation work going on at 200 South Salisbury Street. The News & Observer writes about some great work going on at the corner of Salisbury and Hargett:

Now, workers are pulling down that skin, revealing what developer James A. Goodnight hopes will become a striking historic piece of Raleigh’s revitalizing downtown.

“I don’t know why they did this to this building,” says project coordinator Chris Surrett, as workers cut pieces of the steel frame that was bolted to the building to hold up the stucco. “We’re going to take it back to where it’s pretty again.”


He bought the two adjoining buildings through Paper Clip Properties LLC in July for $700,000 and hopes to turn the ground floor into a restaurant and lease the upper floors for offices.

*Classic downtown Raleigh building emerging from behind modern, stucco shell

Here’s an older photo of the building and while Goodnight’s work won’t bring it back exactly the same, it gives us an idea of what the team there is uncovering.

200 Salisbury Street in the early 1900's.
From the State Archives of North Carolina

The City of Raleigh Flag

City of Raleigh flag at the Raleigh City Museum

About a week ago, Josh Shaffer at the N&O wrote a piece about what could be the new icon for Raleigh. He suggests that the now open Nature Research Center’s 70-foot globe needs consideration for that title. The bronze acorn and the shimmer wall were other landmarks mentioned but I’m going to throw the City of Raleigh flag into the mix. Yes, Raleigh has a flag and in case you haven’t seen it this post will take care of that. The flag should always be considered one of our core symbols and I don’t think we give it enough love.

In other cities, the flag is a sense of pride. Chicago and Washington DC have great flags and if you’re lucky, you may find citizens with tattoos of it. (anyone in Raleigh can claim having this?)

In 2004, the North American Vexillological Association did a survey against 150 US city flags. Respondents answered on a 0 to 10 scale on what they thought were a well designed flags. We ranked 56 on that list, highest North Carolina city by the way, so flag design may not be a huge feather in our cap.

Still, I want to ask this question; Why are there so few Raleigh flags around town?

The Raleigh flag design is over 100 years old but has an interesting history that may explain it’s rather nonexistent role in our city.

A Little History

The City of Raleigh flag has a nice, mysterious story to it as its original purpose was not made for the city at all. The most influential event on this would be during the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898 as part of the Spanish-American War.

The USS Raleigh (second US ship named after the city at the time) played a key role in the fighting in the Philippines and back at home, the local newspapers kept Raleighites enthralled with stories of victory at Manila Bay. Thomas R. Jernigan, a former Raleigh resident who was representing the United States in China at the time wrote home saying:

tell Mayor [William M.] Russ she was in the thickest of the fight and came out in excellent shape. The Raleigh is a splendid vessel, and may be counted on to do her share of the fighting in this war.”

The cruiser would stay in Asia for a bit longer returning back to the United States with a stop in New York in April of 1899. The city sent representatives there for the national welcoming reception for the ship.

At the same time that month, the Raleigh Board of Aldermen (what is now a version of our current city council) decided to give a city flag as a gift to the cruiser. A flag had not existed at the time and so began the process in creating one. A special committee was formed for this specific purpose.

First, color was needed. The colors of red and yellow were adopted for the city’s centennial (1892) however for the flag, these two colors were seen as “too Spanish” and not used. Sir Walter Raleigh’s colors of red and white were chosen instead and described as “the colors emblematic of Raleigh.”

The Board of Aldermen then contracted Miss Kate Denson to design the flag for a fee of $50. Her flag consisted of three colored, vertical stripes (red, white, red) with unique designs on each side. On one side, the flag contained a figure of an oak tree inside a gold circle with the words “City of Raleigh, North Carolina, 1792” all surrounded by a wreath of oak leaves and acorns. The other side contains the Sir Walter Raleigh coat of arms with the words, “Presented to the U.S. Cruiser Raleigh, the ‘First and Last at Manila.'”

While Miss Denson was contracted in April 1899, other events with the ship were ongoing.

News that the ship would next make a stop in Wilmington, North Carolina quickly spread and Raleigh made big plans for a welcome party in the port city. In addition, there was news that the ship’s officers and crew were going to present “a gun captured at Manila” as a gift to the city. The “Nordenfeldt 3-pounder” was given to the city on May 5, 1899 and then again the day after at a more formal ceremony.

Miss Denson’s flag was not ready in time and Attorney R. N. Simms, spokesman for the city, made an announcement at the ceremony that “a handsome flag of the new city colors” would be later delivered.

It’s not proven whether the flag ever made it to the ship because the USS Raleigh was decommissioned in June and Miss Denson would complete the flag in October. That month, the 43″ x 69″ flag with gilded fringes all around flew at the North Carolina State Fair. The flag was officially presented to the Board of Alderman on December 1, 1899. Satisfied with her work, they contracted with her for a second flag for the City of Raleigh. No records exist whether this flag still had the Manila Bay reference like the original did.

Here’s where the mystery starts to settle in.

The USS Raleigh was recommissioned during the periods of 1903-1907 and 1911-1919. No records exist proving the flag ever flew on the ship.

In 1938, one of these two flags was lent to the next USS Raleigh (third US ship named after Raleigh) in order to be copied. Upon return, then City Clerk J. E. Sawyer noted that it was “now nearly worn out.” This left Raleigh with one remaining flag.

The mystery is now in full effect as no mention or public record of the flag has been found after 1938.

In 1960, the flag resurfaced. William Carper, the City Manager at the time, found one of the flags in a storage area within City Hall. Talks of making the flag official for the city started and during that same year the city council adopted the design as the “authentic flag of the city.”

Restoring the uncovered flag was an eleven year process and it returned to Raleigh in 1980 where it was on display at City Hall.

On the flag’s 100th birthday, 1999, the flag was given to the Raleigh City Museum.

Back to the present

Today, the flag found in 1960 is still on display at the city museum with a recently updated exhibit. Along with much more information than provided here, the exhibit has a nice artist rendering of the second USS Raleigh.

So how does one get a copy of our city flag?

City of Raleigh flags at Joel Lane's Public House
City of Raleigh flags outside of Joel Lane’s Public House

My research has fallen rather flat as the flag is a custom design and is pretty costly for someone to get through a flag shop. Where’s the local vexillographer at anyway?

The city does have a stash of custom made flags for sale in case someone is interested. For $98, you can get a 4′ x 6′ flag to show your pride. Talk to Barbara at the city Public Affairs office (919-996-3001) to make arrangements.

Who will be the first to step up and make the Raleigh flag available for the masses? If anyone is interested in city branding, this could be a topic to expand on.

Executive Mansion Gets Marked

On May 12th, the newest addition to North Carolina’s historical marker army was unveiled for the world to see. This particular one will give pedestrians, and yes drivers too, a brief history lesson about the Executive Mansion that sits on Burke Square. The marker reads:

Official residence, N.C. governors, it was completed 1891 on Burke Square using prison labor. Architects, A.G. Bauer & Samuel Sloan.

The marker isn’t that exciting, not for me anyway, but with this news I can bring up one of my favorite historical facts that anyone can see around the Executive Mansion.

Prison labor, referenced on the marker, was used to build the executive mansion, including the brick sidewalk on the edges of Burke Square. Gang leaders left their names on bricks used in construction of the sidewalk and you can still see the names today. Here is an example of one on the block’s north sidewalk.

See more examples in an old RalCon post in 2008.

Raleigh Streetcar Tracks Make An Appearance On Edenton Street

Edenton Street is currently being repaved. With the top layer of asphalt stripped away, some Raleigh history has been revealed. Take a look at the photos posted below and you’ll see some of the old streetcar tracks that once rolled from the capitol down Blount Street.

We have talked about buried tracks before and the map from North Carolina Maps confirms the track lines. Shown below are tracks on Edenton Street and the beginning of the curve onto Blount Street.

Baseball In Downtown, Devereux Meadow Meets Progress In Raleigh

Courtesy of the North Carolina State Archives

It’s no secret but most people don’t know about the baseball stadium that once stood near downtown. That’s right, at one point in time, minor league sluggers were blasting home runs onto what would eventually become Capital Blvd. The ballpark once sat in the area highlighted in the map below and this is where I’d like to focus the conversation today.

Click image for wider view.

Raleigh’s Team
The Raleigh Capitals once played at Devereux Meadow Ballpark which was located along present day Peace Street between West Street and Capital Blvd. The stadium was built in 1938 and baseball had its up and downs here until the site was cleared in 1979. In the name of “progress”, the area was then used for city services, a parking lot for waste disposal vehicles really. I want to highlight two articles I found that mention the stadium meeting the wrecking ball, written around that time.

Sentiment Surrounds Wrecking Of Park – The Time-News June 27, 1979.

Wrecker’s Ball Puts End To Ballpark – The Tuscaloosa News June 27th, 1979.

Courtesy of the North Carolina State Archives

What is there now?
The area today contains few offices or very little of anything representing density or urbanity. The city has been using the lots for parking waste services trucks and other utility vehicles. A few businesses reside off West Street in “off the beaten path” office space with very little car and pedestrian traffic on West Street.

However, the more important resource in this area is the Pigeon House Branch Creek that snakes through the Devereux Meadow site and hides underneath certain streets in downtown. Here’s an excellent blog post tracking the creek through the site. Last I checked, the creek was on the state’s list of impaired waterways and the city is trying to remedy this. One example of a fix has been the water garden at nearby Fred Fletcher park. I bet most readers have driven or walked through this area and never knew that a creek was flowing underneath.

The Future
As far as I know, there are no plans for Devereux Meadow at this moment. Ideas of a river walk have come up but nothing has materialized from that. It’s all talk at this point but that allows the online peanut gallery here to dream up ideas for this large piece of property on the edge of downtown.

More on that later….

Buried Tracks In The Warehouse District

High-speed rail and train travel out of downtown sounds like a thing of the future to some people. To others, its a thing of the past now that cars are king and planning of our cities happen around it. It’s no surprise that cities across the country have demolished or abandoned their train stations.

In case you missed it, we’ve mentioned before that Raleigh actually still has its Union Depot, now re-purposed as an office building. It will probably never see trains again but the warehouse district around it continues to have trains roll by. Its possible to uncover some of the older tracks that once ran through here. Let’s jump straight to the maps.

Above is a map of the area around Nash Square in 1914. Union Depot is marked on here as ‘Depot’ and you can see the old tracks leading up to the back of the building coming from the west.

This is a current map overlaid on top of the previous and it is obvious to see that the tracks are not there anymore. You can use a more interactive old/new map overlay at the North Carolina Maps site where I got them from. They set up a very slick Google Map to show this.

The truth is that the tracks were never torn up and are blatantly noticeable if you walk around the warehouse district. The tracks that used to lead up to Union Depot can be seen on West Street, they continue through one of the Dillon warehouses, and there are suspicious cracks along the asphalt leading up to the office buildings behind the old depot.

Click on the pictures for a larger view.

Tracks crossing West Street.

Tracks running through the Dillon Warehouse.

Harrington Street. Look for the cracks in the asphalt in neatly spaced, parallel lines.

The tracks lead up to the offices and disappear underneath.

Next time you are walking in the area, look for the tracks and imagine that at one time passenger trains were unloading people right into Nash Square and a few blocks from Fayetteville Street.

Picture: Heck-Andrews House

Heck-Andrews House on Flickr (via DTRaleigh)

Among the first grand residences built in Raleigh after the Civil War, the Heck-Andrews House set the tone for the subsequent development of North Blount Street as an enclave of the well-to-do. Industrialist Jonathan McGee Heck had the towering Second Empire house constructed for his wife Mattie in 1869 on what was then the edge of town.

continue reading at Raleigh: A Capital City | National Park Service