Oakwood, Boylan, Battery Heights and more: A guide to Raleigh neighborhoods

·7 min read

A city is only as great as its neighborhoods, and Raleigh has a bunch.

For better or worse, many of Raleigh’s neighborhoods have changed drastically over the years.

This change is explored in a new report in The News & Observer that looks at the city’s housing market using one block of one neighborhood — the 1500 block of East Jones Street in College Park — to show the effects on a neighborhood and its people when economic forces alter the makeup and, ultimately, character of a neighborhood.

We’ve started our Raleigh neighborhood guide as a companion piece to this story, the first in an occasional series on housing in Raleigh.

We’re beginning with areas in and around downtown Raleigh, and will continue to update and expand to include as many Oak City neighborhoods as possible.

Don’t see your neighborhood here yet? Tell us a little about it. Email: ask@newsobserver.com.

Oakwood

Historic Oakwood, established in the 19th century on the edge of downtown Raleigh, was the first area in Raleigh to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is Raleigh’s oldest and largest local historic district. The National Park Service calls it “Raleigh’s only intact 19th-century neighborhood.”

The neighborhood is roughly bounded by Person Street on the west, Franklin Street on the north, Watauga and Linden Street on the east, and Edenton and Morson streets on the south.

The oldest homes here represent architecture from the Victorian era, including Queen Anne, Second Empire and Italianate, with later homes representing Craftsman, bungalow, foursquare and other styles. Oakwood has strict design guidelines for new construction.

It’s a great neighborhood for walking down shady streets, where you’ll pass an array of rainbow-hued homes, a beautiful historic cemetery and even (if you’re lucky) a giant dinosaur. The annual December Candlelight Tour is the neighborhood’s most well-known event.

Mordecai

Mordecai (pronounced MOR-da-key) sits just north of Oakwood. The neighborhood, also on the National Register of Historic Places, boasts Raleigh’s oldest residence on its original foundation: Mordecai House, built in 1785 by Joel Lane but named for Moses Mordecai, who married into the Lane family. Mordecai House sits inside Mordecai Historic Park, which also houses the birthplace and childhood home of President Andrew Johnson.

But the majority of homes in Mordecai are not nearly that old; many were built between 1930 and 1955, and there are even some “kit homes” here. Raleigh Historic Development Commission calls this neighborhood “the most architecturally varied of Raleigh’s early-twentieth-century suburbs for the white middle-class.”

The Mordecai historic district is roughly bounded by North Blount Street, Courtland Drive, Old Wake Forest Road and Mordecai Drive. The area has seen more than its share of teardowns and new home construction in recent years.

College Park/Idlewilde

Just east of Oakwood is the historically African American neighborhood of College Park, which, along with the nearby Idlewilde neighborhood, is a rapidly gentrifying area of Raleigh. (College Park is east of Tarboro Street and Idlewilde is west.) College Park, about 26 blocks in size, gets its name for its proximity to the Saint Augustine University campus.

The East College Park Development Project, facilitated by the City of Raleigh, is responsible for 98 new single-family homes and 51 townhomes in this neighborhood (60% of the homes are income-restricted as defined by HUD guidelines).

Boylan Heights

On the west side of downtown Raleigh is this cozy, early 20th-century neighborhood, which is also on the National Register of Historic Places. One of Raleigh’s first planned suburbs, Boylan was developed in the early 1900s from the Boylan estate, which was bordered by the NC Railroad to the north, state prison lands (Central Prison) to the west and the Dorothea Dix Hospital property to the south.

The neighborhood was developed and sold as a place for (mostly) middle-class white families (with a few expensive homes at the top of the hill). During and after the Great Depression, families either lost their homes or relocated to more affluent areas, and the neighborhood became popular with absentee landlords, with larger homes converted into apartments.

In more recent years, the area became popular with young families wanting to live near downtown or N.C. State University, and the homes were converted back to single-family use. The neighborhood’s proximity to Dix Park gives it even more appeal today. The showpiece of the neighborhood is Montfort Hall, a mansion completed in 1860 for William Montfort Boylan and that recently was renovated into a boutique hotel called Heights House Hotel.

Battery Heights

This National Register of Historic Places neighborhood, developed primarily in the late 1950s and early 1960s and located southeast of downtown, is one of four midcentury subdivisions built for African Americans during segregation. You’ll find ranch and split-level-style homes here, set on generous lots.

According to the Raleigh Historic Development Commission, the neighborhood is named for the earthen batteries stationed in the area during the Civil War. The land was originally owned by Bartholomew Gatling, a former Raleigh postmaster and county attorney whose family later developed the land into lots for African American professionals.

Battery Heights has been home to many of Raleigh’s most prominent Black residents, including John H. Baker Jr., who grew up in the Oberlin community, played football in the NFL after college and became Wake County’s first Black sheriff.

East Raleigh/South Park

This area, also on the National Register of Historic Places, is a collection of smaller neighborhoods that make up Raleigh’s largest historic African American neighborhood. Developed primarily from around 1850 to 1940, the 30-block area sits east and south of downtown, with the oldest section running north of South Street and west of East Street.

The homes in the older section are densely packed and close to the street. In this neighborhood, you’ll also find a good number of churches and corner grocery stores, and a few antebellum homes remain. The South Park area, which began development in 1907, was marketed to African Americans because of its proximity to Shaw University.

This area is starting to see more development, with the recent construction of modern-style homes.

Oberlin Village

Oberlin neighborhood, one of the most historically significant neighborhoods in Raleigh, sits between Hayes Barton and Cameron Village. The neighborhood was founded as a freedman’s village for Black people after the Emancipation. The Wilson Temple United Methodist Church, established in Oberlin in 1873, is still there in a Gothic Revival-style structure built in 1911. The architectural style of the homes in Oberlin ranged from two-story Queen Anne-style homes to smaller, single-story cottages and bungalows. But this neighborhood has also seen a tremendous amount of teardowns and new construction in recent years, drastically changing its makeup. Still, there is the Oberlin Cemetery, established in 1873, said to be a graveyard for slaves.

Cameron Village / Cameron Park

Northwest of downtown is the Cameron Village neighborhood, a mix of homes, apartments and businesses first developed around 1950. Eight blocks of mostly ranch-style single-family homes surrounding the retail center make up its historic district, and the look and feel of the neighborhood is protected by development covenants, according to the Raleigh Historic Development Commission.

The neighborhood’s shopping center to the south, developed on the former Duncan Cameron plantation, recently changed its name from Cameron Village to Village District, due to its connections to a prominent slave owner.

The affluent Cameron Park is to the south of the Cameron Village shopping center, and was developed in the early 20th century. That area is home to different architectural styles, including Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and Georgian Revival. This neighborhood is also protected by efforts to maintain architectural continuity. In the early 1900s, those covenants also restricted Black people from living there, unless they were employed there as domestic workers.

The Cameron Park neighborhood is in the middle of voting to possibly change its name, as the shopping center did in January 2021. Results are expected soon.

University Park

This neighborhood, just north of N.C. State University’s campus, was established in the late 1800s (it was even the site of the first N.C. State Fairgrounds), but most of the homes there now were built starting in the 1920s through the 1960s. You’ll find Raleigh Little Theatre here, along with the beloved Raleigh Rose Garden (the go-to spot for engagement photo sessions).

Coming next: Glenwood/Brooklyn, Five Points, Hayes Barton and Longview.

Sources: Raleigh Historic Development Commission (rhdc.org), The National Park Service

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