Goodnight Raleigh - a look at the art, architecture, history, and people of the city at night

Into the Abyss

Edna Metz Wells Park drain, image credit: John Morris

The Raleigh I grew up in was a small dusty, small southern capital where most everyone knew everyone. Part of the circle included the son of the taxidermist at the old Museum of Natural History who imparted to his son a knowledge and appreciation for the natural world. Carl’s decidedly New Orleanian, Charlestonesque flavored rental on North Street provided a locus for our detailed weekend explorations of that world frequently involving Raleigh’s numerous subterranean conduits, local manifestations of urban waterways buried in concrete coast to coast spawned by a now-contested gestalt that nature was an entity to be separated from. This segregation, while bad for the life of streams proved an irresistable benefit to us growing up near downtown Raleigh, illustrated by a chum I found in a storm drain down from Wiley before and after school.

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Down by the Tracks

Were one to compile a list of major cities, state capitals no less, fueled and stoked by the “latest” technology, Raleigh would likely head the list. Her physical isolation and very location were a result of a fix for political problems sparked by sectionalism. That all changed with the railroad “craze,” launched locally in 1833 with Ms. Sarah Polk successfully dogging Mr. William to get into the game via a mile or so of experimental line drawn by oxen to run stone from a quarry near National Cemetery to the capitol site. The oxen were laid off in 1840 by the menacing promise of steam when the Raleigh and Gaston’s English-made Tornado shrieked and huffed the into town on the last 5 miles of fresh wood tracks, cheered on by the drunks amid a city-wide 3 day party.

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Back to the Future: To Resurrect the Hillsborough St. Streetcar Line?


Preparing to board the streetcar in the 1900 block of Hillsborough St., ca 1928. (Photo courtesy the NC Office of  Archives and History, State Archives.)

You wanna see some 14k hokum corporate masters employed to hoodwink the benumbed masses into abandoning a transportation system as good as the world had seen? Check out archival footage of “Futurama” the 1939 General Motors New York World’s Fair exhibit. 1960 was s’pose to be some sort of petrochemical, Tom Swiftian Nirvana: undersea hotels, mono-pylon suspension bridges, moderne skyscrapers served by subterranean parkways carved through the very earth, below the grade level sidewalks. Roads, roads, roads to the corners of the world. Instead, we have something looking more and more like, I dunno, a version the Dominican Republic with machine guns and 500 porn channels.

The raison d’etre of this piece is a detail of the Hillsborough project, a brick median under which lies buried a long-disused transportation option, our local section of a “splendid” national electric railway system: Raleigh’s streetcars, formerly headquartered at the 1910 Raleigh Electric Company Powerhouse on West Street. As a kid I watched (and smelled) City Coach’s sulfur-stinkin’ GM’s humping over some of the old track leading from the now-demolished, cavernous barn structure. The streetcars were long gone but Raleigh’s parsimonious tendencies saved much of the system under a protective layer of asphalt.

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Discuss Raleigh

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    • Shirley Ann Creech Weaver: The Chess Pie was great,lunch was .25 then .35. Waiting for city bus to go home on...
    • Darleen McEvoy Johns: I attended Thompson in the 50s. Mr. Kahdy and Mr. Hammack were my principals. Mr. Hammack was...
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    • Marsha Polier Grossman: Annette! Remember Mrs. Bessie Polier, my grandmother, who lived near you on E. North Street?...
    • Alan Lee: Good post guys!
    • Annette Gill Seidel: In late spring 1949 or 1950, there was an ad in the one of the Raleigh newspapers that the YMCA...