From the humble beginnings of a mill town, Carrboro has grown into a close-knit community committed to art, business and the environment.
As the town celebrates its 100th birthday today, Carrboro residents and officials say they are proud of the town’s progress and are confident it will maintain its culture-driven atmosphere.
Time: 7:15 p.m. tonight
Location: Carrboro Century Center
“It is a modern version of the old town,” said Allen Spalt, a former member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. “What we have in Carrboro is fragile, but not so fragile that I’m worried about its future.”
The area first began to resemble a town in the 1880s after the construction of the Durham-Greensboro Southern Railway.
“The railway allowed local goods to reach the wider market,” said David Otto, co-author of the recently published book, “Images of America: Carrboro” with Richard Ellington.
Following the construction of the new railway station, several mills began to open up, including the successful Alberta Cotton Mill opened in 1898 by an uneducated yet cunning local entrepreneur named Thomas Lloyd.
The mills became a key source of employment for many of the area’s residents.
“Life in a mill town isn’t known to be glamorous, and for good reason,” Otto said. “There were children as young as 6 working in the mills, taking naps in the wool.”
Carrboro, which took on its name in 1914, remained an industrial town until the 1960s when the mills began to close, leaving an empty vacuum for new businesses to fill.
At this time, Otto said its metamorphosis into a progressive, cultural town began.
Following UNC’s decision to allow off-campus housing in the late 1960s, Otto said students began flocking to Carrboro, shifting the town’s demographic from one filled with traditional, industrial families to one of progressive students.
Today, the town strives to incorporate environmentally friendly practices into all of its projects.
“Carrboro is definitely a leader in the sustainable cities movement,” said Mayor Mark Chilton.
“Seeing things such as the Farmers’ Market and alternative transportation, these not only sustain a healthy planet, but healthy lifestyles in general.”
In 2000, the town adopted a plan for the future called Vision2020, which called for an adherence to several traditional town ideals including the arts, diversity and alternative modes of transportation.
Spalt, who helped create Vision2020 along with more than 100 residents, said he thinks the town has developed along the plan’s guidelines.
“Our emphasis on local businesses downtown has continued and is one of the reasons the town is still flourishing,” he said.
But Carrboro’s recent history hasn’t been without hardship.
Chilton said the financial crisis has put many of the town’s projects on hold, like the 300 East Main Street complex.
The planned 5.5-acre development will house a parking deck, a pedestrian plaza and a Hampton Inn — the town’s first hotel.
Despite poor economic climate, Chilton said the project will still move forward.
“It is now a question of when, and not whether, it will happen,” he said.
Even in this period of expansion, Alderman Sammy Slade said Carrboro will continue to focus on environmental sustainability and to value the creative class of workers and artists as viable contributors to the small town’s economy.
“Carrboro will be a town that can lead by example how to exist in an era where growth is not necessarily the way forward,” Slade said.
“We can still increase people’s well-being and happiness without huge growth.”
Contact the City Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.