Chapel Hill

In 1792, when trustees selected this site for the university, locals called the area New Hope Chapel hill, for a deserted Anglican chapel that had once stood on a high ridge near a crossroads. In 1793, when university trustees sold lots to create a town, its name became Chapel Hill. It was a small village in its early years and began to grow only in the early 1900s, along with the university. A typical college town that, along with Raleigh and Durham, is also one of the points of the Research Triangle, Chapel Hill has a reputation for being a progressive and liberal outpost in a conservative South.

Despite its reputation, the town was not all it might seem to be. In 1960, when African American high school students challenged segregation laws with sit-ins and picket lines, Chapel Hill business owners resisted change, and the community watched in dismay as their town, too, became the site of violent altercations between citizens. Yet in 1969 residents elected Howard Lee as mayor, the first African American mayor since Reconstruction in any majority-white city in the South.

In the 1990s Chapel Hill was the center of an emerging independent music scene, anchored by groups such as Superchunk, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Ben Folds Five, and the recording company Merge Records. Local musicians have also helped revive traditional music, including the Red Clay Ramblers, Ayr Mountaineers, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops.


Date Established: 1793

Date Range: 1793 – Present