History of Cary, NC

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History of Cary, NC

history of cary nc

Welcome to Cary, North Carolina! Located under 20 minutes from the state capital, Raleigh, Cary is part of the Raleigh-Cary metropolitan area. It is the second largest municipality in Wake County and the seventh largest in the state.

As a dental practice in Cary, NC, we are proud to call this area home. Cary has a prime location within the Research Triangle of North Carolina and offers residents a number of amenities. Let’s take a look back at Cary’s history to learn more about its growth and development from early settlements to a railroad town to the booming metropolis it is today.

Historical Developments in Cary

Early Settlement and History

Previously inhabited by Native Americans, the arrival of Europeans and English colonists brought changes to North Carolina. Little is known about the tribes themselves, but it is assumed they were absorbed into the Catawba tribe after smallpox and conflicts with settlers reduced their numbers. 

With westward expansion into North Carolina, the area known as Cary was deeded to Francis Jones in 1749. He was given a land grant of 640 acres along Crabtree Creek. Although largely unsettled, the area had a great location situated between New Bern and Hillsborough. This soon brought more settlers to the area, and Cary became a thriving farming community growing crops of tobacco, cotton, and more.

In 1771, the area became part of Wake County. It was mostly occupied by farmers. The first business was called Bradford’s Ordinary, an inn owned and operated by John Bradford. As such, some records of Cary’s early days refer to the town as ‘Bradford’s Ordinary.”

General Store in Cary NC

19th Century Cary

Following the Revolutionary War, the area in and around Cary was owned by farmers. With the arrival of more families, the first school opened in the 1840s. The school year was two-and-a-half months long and served over forty children.

In the 1850s, Cary’s relatively flat topography made it conducive for railroad development. The town was chosen to be along the North Carolina Railroad line. Although there was no official stop or station in Cary, the train would stop to pick up or drop off passengers if signaled.

With the development of the railroad, Frank and Kate Page bought 300 acres on either side of the tracks. Frank Page was the father and founder of Cary and forged the way for growth in the town. He was the first postmaster, railroad agent, and mayor. He owned a dry goods store and built a saw mill. Page is the one who first referred to the town as ‘Cary,’ naming it after Samuel F. Cary, a prohibition leader that Page admired.

Cary North Carolina Railroad Station

Railroad Development & Incorporation of Cary

Following the Civil War, a second railroad called ‘The Chatham’ came to Cary. This railway ran from Raleigh to the coal fields in Chatham County. By 1867, regular railway service ran through Cary, which was then incorporated in 1871. Frank Page built a hotel in 1869 to serve railroad passengers.

In the 1870s, Cary experienced a boom and influx of residents. Since the public school system had collapsed during the Civil War, a new private school called Cary Academy was built. The school had high academic standards and highly respected teachers. With this influx, new businesses were opened, including a tobacco warehouse, Methodist church, Baptist church, and three general stores.

Unfortunately, progress in Cary was short-lived. Within a decade, many businesses closed up and moved away. Cary Academy became Cary High School and offered two five-month terms per year. Since there were families who couldn’t afford Cary Academy or weren’t welcome there, four free public schools opened in the area by 1877. However, even by 1900, only fifty percent of eligible children attended school.

20th Century Modernization of Cary, North Carolina

Cary Academy in Cary, North Carolina

Education Developments

In 1907, the Wake County Board of Education purchased Cary Academy, showing the state’s new commitment to public education. Cary High became one of the first (possibly the first) public high schools in the state and provided the framework for developing other public schools. The school had a teacher development center which allowed students to train for teaching careers right after graduating. In 1913, additional vocational programs were added.

Transportation Development

While railway transportation was the most common mode of transportation in and out of Cary, roads and automobiles were becoming more common. In 1910, only 2,000 of the state’s 50,000 miles of road were paved. In the 1920’s, the paved Western Wake Highway was completed, making transportation to and from Raleigh easier. Roads to Durham and Apex were paved shortly thereafter. 

Economic Growth

With the paved roads came residential development and subdivisions. As the population continued to grow, local services were improved. This included a fire department and water and sewer systems. More businesses and retail services, especially those that catered to the farming community, thrived. A gristmill, cotton gin, fertilizer dealership, and building supply company opened.

Following World War II, Cary started to develop industries on its own without relying on Raleigh. By the 1960s, the town’s population had doubled. Research Triangle Park opened, bringing in businesses such as IBM and Chemstrand Corporation. The business community and town services continued to expand to meet the needs of the growing community.

things to do in Cary, North Carolina

Visiting Cary, NC Today

Cary has grown vastly and now has a population of roughly 174,721 as of the 2020 census. As the second largest town in Wake County, Cary offers its residents an abundance of amenities from restaurants and shopping to arts, culture, and history. Cary has been named the hottest town in the East, one of the six hottest towns in America, and one of the best small cities in America. 

Don’t miss out on all of the activities and events Cary, North Carolina has to offer! While you’re here, allow us at Nathaniel Leedy, DMD Family and Cosmetic Dentistry to take care of your oral health and wellness. We strive to provide the highest quality dental care in Cary to give our patients beautiful, healthy smiles. 

Contact us or book an appointment today!

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