Have you ever felt like you belonged somewhere? Carrboro is a small, relatively unknown town near Chapel Hill where its residents feel at home; it has an “organic” feel, as if “sprung from the ground” (“Where Do We Live?,” Carrboro Free Press). It is not uncommon for people to have never heard of Carrboro. Granted, it is not exactly the most astounding and well known city, but that is precisely what makes it so unique and a compelling subject to research. Carrboro has a unique history, beginning as a train depot, transitioning to a mill town, and ending up as a quaint, artsy town. After spending time throughout the town, it is easy to see that it is more than just a quiet residence with a few shops; there is much more lining the aging sidewalks than comforting homes.
One key component that sets Carrboro apart from most cities is that despite its smallness, and seemingly emptiness compared to Chapel Hill, Carrboro is bubbling with culture. The Carrboro Film Festival, The ArtsCenter, and the Weaver Street Market are only a few of the hot spots that attract people from all over to this dynamic location. In addition, Cat’s Cradle and the Farmer’s Market are also important additions to the town. Carrboro is a thriving, progressive town, focused on the creative potential of its citizens; Carrboro leads by example. By exploring Carrboro’s history and culture both through research and in person, one will realize quickly that Carrboro represents something much more than a small suburban area right outside the University.
In 1882 Carrboro was founded as a simple train depot, never with the intention of becoming a town. Chapel Hill, the town to the east, needed a train station to accommodate travelers. The city of Chapel Hill determined to build the depot in an uninhabited area one mile from campus, as required by state law to limit the students’ “city temptations” (Welcome to Carrboro). Also, the train was far enough away so as not to disturb the activities on Franklin Street with the obnoxious sound of a train. The train depot was known as West End. The town’s first textile mill, called Alberta Mill, was built in 1899 by Thomas F. Lloyd. Julian Carr, a Durham tobacco industrialist bought the mill ten years later. In 1913, Carrboro (West End) became the largest market for wood crossties, which are the pieces perpendicular to the metal train tracks, like the steps on the ladder. This crosstie market spawned from their train industry and was an important income source. One day Carr provided electricity from his mill to the residents of the town. This was a significant donation which allowed Carrboro (West End) to become more modern as well as more independent. In 1914, Carrboro changed its name to what it is known by today, becoming more than just a train depot or a mill town beside. Eventually the mill closed and later the deserted, rickety mill was transformed into Carr Mill Mall under the Tax Reform Act of 1976. The windows are no longer closed by bricks, but the stone walls and maple floors are visible. Carr Mill Mall is composed of restaurants and boutique shops.
Similar to the old mill, Carrboro has come a long way from its historical roots. Except for the architectural remains, Carrboro does not really reflect its history. Carrboro has grown in size as well as in personality, developing a unique culture. Carrboro is still a small, cozy town, but it now maintains an independent spirit. The friendly, progressive, organic feel of Carrboro entices people of many backgrounds and invites numerous visitors. The people who refer to Carrboro as home uphold a sense of pride for their diverse, culturally rich town.
The base of the culture Carrboro has come to possess is the arts. “Carrboro has been referred to as “the Paris of the Piedmont” because of its high concentration of art galleries and related facilities and services” (Welcome to Carrboro). The nickname originated with John Martin, a Chapel Hill Weekly reporter. Then Nyle Frank, a UNC student, brought the name to Carrboro when he moved there. Furthermore, “USA Today named Carrboro 2nd of ‘10 great places with arts-filled spaces’” in its Travel Guide on June 18, 2002 (Welcome to Carrboro). One of the most influential arts sites is The ArtsCenter. “Without it, Carrboro would be mightily diminished” (Welcome to Carrboro). Since its opening in 1974, The ArtsCenter has been in the spotlight amid the arts community. According to The ArtsCenter itself, “the ArtsCenter nourishes the arts, creativity and community through education, performance, and exhibition.” The non-profit offers classes, concerts, theater productions, children and family productions, as well as gallery exhibits. The ArtsCenter serves not only Carrboro but also surrounding communities.
Just a few steps down from The ArtsCenter is Cat’s Cradle, a distinguished music venue. Artists from all around, local and international, famous and lesser known, come to perform at Cat’s Cradle. Famous musicians, such as Ben Folds Five, have jumpstarted their careers here, and returned to play after achieving fame. As one would expect, patrons from all walks of life visit to listen to the music provided by Cat’s Cradle.
The ArtsCenter and Cat’s Cradle are not the only cultural hotspots within the town. Every year, the Carrboro Film Festival attracts people from all over North Carolina to come together to express themselves through the arts. Few people have such a significant cultural outlet that not only allows them to rely on their creativity and imagination but also provides a connection with their surrounding community. Though this tradition is young, five years in the making, it draws a wide spread and diverse group of people eager to display their creations in hopes of going home with one of many awards given, each based on a different merit of cinematic talent. In addition, it gives young directors in the making a chance to showcase their early work and begin their careers. As for its significance to the general public, it is a great source of entertainment, with a large variety of unique short-clips, and wonderful diversion for the day.
Weaver Street Market does not sound very significant merely from its name; however there is much more, culturally speaking, to this simple collection of shops. Initially, this tiny market began in 1988 with the help of the collective public in Carrboro. The market is more than just a grocery store. It is a social gathering place, a characteristic that is highlighted by the friendly cafés, restaurants, open lawn and spacious seating, both indoors and out. Merely walking by, one can see the significance this Market has to the town of Carrboro. The sound of dogs barking can be heard in the distance, children can be seen gallivanting, chasing after one another, the air is filled with the low murmur of joyous conversation and the fresh scent of a cool spring breeze quickly masked by the waft of the culinary aromas. If it happens to be a Sunday one would even hear the cool jazz tones and smell the freshly baked brunch, served just for the occasion.
The Weaver Street Market illustrates another important aspect of Carrboro itself: its growing commitment to the environment. The market offers a variety of stores that center around a green, local and organic fresh market. They strive to offer the best quality food to all customers and comply with fair trade practices. It is not just a simple goal, but a mission to provide the services in the most environmentally friendly way possible, and they uphold these foundational practices with the support of sponsors as well as the community. The Weaver Street Market is not the only example of environmentally sustainable practices. During the spring and summer a coalition of farmers, gardeners, and bakers meet to distribute their products at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market. Each vendor provides his or her own unique selection of locally grown products that helps to support the health and connectedness of the Carrboro community. Not only does the Farmer’s Market bring many of the community’s members together, but it supports the ideas of growing food organically, as well as pesticide- and antibiotic-free, and exemplifies the proper way to take care of the earth, beginning with the food we consume. Additionally, the market often hosts special events to keep the public entertained, interested and always coming back for more. The farmers are respectable for living their beliefs, their humility and honesty. After experiencing the taste of locally grown, grass-fed beef, the significance of organic practices becomes abundantly clear.
This welcoming, earth-friendly, artsy atmosphere permeates all of Carrboro. With origins akin to the life of a sidekick, who would have guessed that Carrboro would become a burgeoning, independent, soulful town? The emphasis on the arts appeals to many people, artists and art-lovers alike. The captivating attractions, from the Film Festival to the performances at Cat’s Cradle, entice people from all over to visit. Enthusiasm from residents of the town induces progressive changes which turn into traditions. When meeting and interacting with people as passionate about the wellbeing of the environment, animals, and humans, it is hard not to be awestruck and develop an admiration for them. Mother Earth, Mother Nature, Gaea would be proud. Carrboro is an interesting, upbeat, lively town; I urge you to take the time to explore and experience the unique culture of Carrboro. You won’t be disappointed.
Carrboro Farmer’s Market. Carrboro and Southern Village Farmers’ Markets, 2011. Web. 25 Feb. 2011.
Managing Editor, CFP. “Where do we live?” Carrboro Free Press. 17 Oct. 2007: 4. Print.
Ross, Kirk. Mill, a monthly arts, music and literature publication of the Carrboro citizen. Carrboro Citizen. Robert Dickson: October 2007. Print.
The ArtsCenter, Always Inspiring. The Arts Center, 2011. Web. 27 Feb. 2011.
Welcome to Carrboro. Chapel Hill/ Orange County Visitors Bureau, 2008. Web. 24 Feb. 2011.
About the Author
Brynn Smith is a first-year student at UNC Chapel Hill. She is considering Psychology and Education as her majors.