Raleigh Plan

Figure Ground Raleigh

The previous Figure Ground Philadelphia is important to North Carolinians because the capital of Raleigh was modeled after it.

Raleigh Sketch

Raleigh Sketch

William Christmas, also a Senator from Franklin County, surveyed the area and developed the town plan based on Thomas Holme’s 1682 plan for Philadelphia, although at about half the scale.

(As an historical aside, the actual site for the capital involves numerous interesting political wranglings over the course of 22 years. The North Carolina General Assembly was determined to move the state’s center of government from Tryon Palace in New Bern on the coast to a less British and more secure location inland and central to the state. Beginning in 1770, Joel Lane1 lobbied the Assembly to create Wake County and it was established in 1771, named for Governer Tryon’s wife, Margaret Wake. Lane’s plantation became the location for the Assembly ten years later in 1781. Then in Hillsborough in 1788, the Assembly resolved to set the capital in Wake County. Through a series of meetings at Isaac Hunter’s Tavern2 in 1792, it was finally decided to purchase a thousand acres from none other than Joel Lane himself on which to incorporate the capital city.)

Raleigh is one of few cities designed from the beginning as a capital. Like Philadelphia, it is organized in a grid. Raleigh’s grid was bounded on all four sides with streets named for the cardinal directions.

Figure Ground, Raleigh

Figure Ground, Raleigh

Also like Philadelphia, Raleigh’s plan included four outlying squares around a central one. Of the original five squares, four still exist today. They were named for North Carolina political leaders of the day:

  • Union Square is in the center, now called Capitol Square.
  • To the Southwest is Nash Square, named for Abner Nash, the state’s second governor.
  • To the Southeast is Moore Square, named for NC Attorney General and US Supreme Court judge Alfred Moore.
  • Burke Square is to the Northeast and is now occupied by the Governor’s Mansion. It was named for the third governor, Thomas Burke.
  • Caswell Square is the missing Northwest corner park currently occupied by a number of state buildings.3 It was named for the first and fifth governor, Richard Caswell.

One more interesting parallel to Philadelphia’s plan are Raleigh’s four central streets radiating out from the capitol. In Philadelphia, these central streets are on the grid. But in Raleigh, they bisect it, creating short nearly half width blocks on either side. Each street was directed to a cardinal direction and named for an important North Carolina town in that direction:

  • To the north, Halifax was the location for the Halifax Resolves calling for independence in April 12, 1776, the lower of the two dates on the North Carolina flag.
  • To the south, Fayetteville was the settlement newly named for the French general and hero of the American Revolutionary War.
  • To the east, New Bern was the largest city in the state and had served as North Carolina’s capital up until Raleigh.
  • To the west, Hillsborough was the site of several North Carolina congressional and General Assembly meetings, as well as a pre-revolutionary Regulator revolt between 1768-1772.

Notes and References

1. Joel Lane’s house and museum still stands today one block south of Saint Mary’s School, south of West Morgan Street.

2. Isaac Hunter’s Tavern was originally located where the North Raleigh Hilton now stands on Wake Forest Road. Mark Turner’s search is the original discussion I found that spurred his final conclusion.

3. Caswell Square is shown on the famous 1872 map of Raleigh as occupied by a large school for the deaf.

4. Historical Raleigh From Its Foundation in 1792, by Moses N. Amis of the Raleigh Bar, 1902. Accessed at Google Books on 2015-12-09.

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