The Town of Chapel Hill is a community where a diversity of ideas, people, and opportunities converge. It is a place where its people feel a vitality and pride that stem from Chapel Hill's history, traditions, and unique characteristics.
Nicknamed the "Southern Part of Heaven," Chapel Hill was named after New Hope Chapel that stood upon a hill at the crossing of two roads (where The Carolina Inn currently stands). Town lots were auctioned in 1793 when work began on the first University building, although it was 1795 before any residents occupied permanent homes.
The history of the Town is inextricably linked to the University. The Town was, in fact, created to serve the University. When the UNC Board of Trustees chose the area around New Hope Chapel as the site for the first state university in 1793, they also named a committee to lay out a town adjacent to the site.
Present day reminders of Chapel Hill's history are cherished by residents and admired by visitors.
Listed below are key dates and events of a town otherwise known as the Southern Part of Heaven.
1793: Cornerstone of the University’s first building was laid, and the first town lots were sold
1795: University opened, and the first student arrived
1819: NC General Assembly authorizes a municipal government for Chapel Hill, with a board of commissioners elected by the village freeholders
1859: Town covers 820 acres forming a rectangle bounded roughly by Sunset Drive, Penick Lane, Tenney Circle and Gimghoul Road.
Mayor H.B. Guthrie (1869-72) becomes the first mayor
Mayor John H. Watson (1872, 1876-79, 1883-84, 1885-87, 1891-95)
1886: Petition to form a fire department
Mayor John W. Carr (1873-74), Mayor John White (1874) and Mayor Andrew Mickel (1874-76)
1871-1875: UNC closed from lack of funding
Mayor A.J. McDade (1884-85, 1888-91)
1889: Town makes it a misdemeanor punishable by a $20 fine to cut a tree in town
1895: MayorJohn H. Watson becomes first elected mayor
Mayor Algernon S. Barbee (1895-1901)
1897: Old Well completed
Mayor James C. MacRae, Jr. (1901-03)
1902: Chapel Hill Public School opens
Mayor Algernon S. Barbee (1907-11)
1909: First movie theater, the Pickwick theater, opens
Mayor William S. Roberson (1903-07, 1911-13, 1914-27)
1916: Performances start at the Forest Theater
1921: First pavement laid along Franklin Street.
1922: First Town Manager, Eddie Knox.
1924: Carolina Inn Opens
Mayor Zebulon Council (1927-33)
1927: Carolina theatre which later is renamed to Varsity Theater opens
1931: Bell Tower dedicated
Mayor John M. Foushee (1933-42)
1937: Post Office/ Courthouse built at 179 E. Franklin St.
1938: First Town Hall built on Rosemary Street.
Mayor R.W. Madry (1942-49)
1945: Hargraves Community Center Built (named Negro Community Center)
1949: Morehead Planetarium opened
Mayor Oliver K. Cornwel (1954-61)
1950: First modern annexation, bringing in the Northside school (currently known as the Orange County Multi-Purpose Center on Caldwell Street Ext.) and 275 acres known locally as the Strowd Hill area.
1951: First paid director of Negro Community Center hired, Lucille Caldwell
1957: UNC Men's team wins the first NCAA Title on March 23
1958: Chapel Hill Public Library opens
Mayor Roland McClamroch (1961-69)
1960: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited the Hargraves center on May 8, 1960 to meet with African-American community leaders.
1962: Fire Station 1 Completed
1963-64: Chapel Hill Committee for Open Business is created for the purpose of integrating restaurants; later, name is changed to Citizens United for Racial Equality. Segregation ended with the Civil Rights Bill of 1964.
1968: Fire Department integrate
1968-1978: the services of Parks and Recreation, Planning, Personnel, Transportation and the Public Library were added to Town government.
Mayor Howard Lee (1969-75)
1971: New Town Hall built at 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
1973: parks and recreation administrative building built
1973: Hargraves Center is named for William M. Hargraves, a former Parks and Recreation Commission member who died in an auto accident. William Hargraves was a charismatic leader in the community and helped implement many programs for the community at the Center.
1974: Municipal bus service begins.
Mayor James Wallace (1975-79, 1985-87)
1979: Board of Aldermen is renamed Town Council, The Town’s first trail project, the Cedar Falls Trail, was built
Mayor Joseph L. Nassif (1979-85)
1982: Police station built at 828 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
1984: Town observes Martin Luther King Jr. Day as municipal holiday (federal holiday not observed until 1986)
1985: Street Scene Teen Center opened its doors for the first time
1987: The governments of Orange County, the Town of Chapel Hill, and the Town of Carrboro approved a Joint Planning Agreement. The Agreement created a Rural Buffer on the edges of Chapel Hill to maintain rural character and low-density residential uses (generally one dwelling unit per two acres) without urban services (water, sewer, and other Town services)
Mayor Jonathan Howes (1987-91)
1990: Town Flag adopted
1990: Calvin Horton appointed Town Manager
Mayor Kenneth Broun (1991-1995)
1992: Chapel Hill public arts commission established
1994: Current Chapel Hill public library built
Mayor Rosemary Waldorf (1995-2001)
Mayor Kevin Foy (2001-2009)
2002: Chapel Hill Transit fare-free system
2002: Chapel Hill Town Council established the Town's Percent for Art Ordinance. This Ordinance allocates 1% of selected capital projects for the creation, fabrication/construction, installation, and maintenance of permanent works of public art. Funding for Percent for Art projects comes from each project's construction budget, which can include Federal, State, County, Town, and private support.
2004: First Neighborhood Conservation District (NCD) established in Northside in 2004. Today there are nine NCDs that are intended to protect distinctive neighborhood characteristics.
2005: Current town seal adopted by the Town Council. The design depicts goddess Athena and has been in use since the 1930s.
2005: Council changes “Airport Road” to “Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard”
2006: Roger Stancil appointed Town Manager
2006: Peace and Justice Plaza named
2008: Homestead Aquatic Center built
2008: @ChapelHillGov joins Twitter and Facebook
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt (2009-2015)
2009: Dedication of Peace and Justice Plaza (LINK)
2009: Southern Community Park opens. Located southwest of Highway 15-501, it is the second largest park (after Cedar Falls Park), covering 72 acres with more half the land remaining in a natural state.
2009: Economic Development strategies begin
First Community Survey
2011: Morgan Creek trail Phase I complete
2012: Chapel Hill 2020 comprehensive plan adopted
2013: 140 West Franklin ribbon cutting
2013: Library expansion project completed
2013: Town Hall renovation to address flood damage
2013: Launch Chapel Hill opens
2014: First Chapel Hill bike plan adopted
2014: Completed $1.5 million Morgan Creek Trail project (with tunnel under Culbreth Road)
2014: Old Chapel Hill Library building sold to the UNC Arts and Sciences Foundation
2016: Town starts the Open Data Portal. Town of Chapel Hill is committed to transparency, collaboration, and providing people with improved access to local government information, data, and opportunities to participate.
Ephesus- Fordham district created to revitalize area
Mayor Pam Hemminger (2015-present)
2015: IFC ribbon cutting and opening of a 52-bed, $5.76 million men’s transitional shelter
2015: Names of Bill Thorpe and Dean Smith added to Peace and Justice Plaza
Obey Creek Development Agreement approved
2015: Voters pass $40.3 million bond referendum
2017: Chapel Hill Building Integrated Communities begins
2018: Maurice Jones appointed Town Manager
2018: UNC celebrates 225 years
2018: Voters express overwhelming approval of $10 million bond referendum in support of affordable housing initiatives. Bond was approved by 72% of voters.
2019: Celebration of 200 years of local government