The History of Apex: from Railroad Station to our Home

It’s been 150 years since Apex, North Carolina was first incorporated as a town. The average resident probably doesn’t know much about Apex’s history. One could simply walk through downtown Apex, see the traffic and the restaurants, and look up to the spire of the Apex Baptist Church and down to the railroad but never know why it’s named Apex, the history of the streets they walk through, and how a random railroad station grew to the home of over 75,000 people?

At the highest point of the thirty-mile-long stretch of the Chatham Railroad and in the middle between the Cape Fear and Neuse River Basins, the Apex railroad station was chartered in 1854 although the Chatham Railroad wouldn’t be operational until 1870. Around the 1860s, as more money was funneled into the Chatham Railroad by the North Carolina State Legislature, more settlers came to live and work around what would become a vital stop on the journey from Raleigh to Augusta. Apex finally became a town in 1873. This is also around the time when The Depot was built, which is now the home to the Town of Apex Economic Development staff, and the Apex Chamber of Commerce.

Apex was one of the first towns to develop and organize around Raleigh, our town grew as Raleigh’s shipping, trading, and shopping center to the South. Apex is also located in the middle of a giant pine forest, so our town’s original export, after all the forest was cleared for farmland, was lumber, tar, and turpentine. That was before the tobacco blight in the early 1900s that forced many tobacco farmers South to start Apex’s tobacco farming.

Walking through downtown Apex, you may notice that most of the buildings are made of brick. This is because two fires burnt down Apex within six years, one in 1905 and the other in 1911. After this, most of the buildings switched from wood to brick structuring and have stayed mostly the same for over one hundred years, receiving an official designation as a historic district in 1994. In 1912, the original town hall was built, which also served as a gathering place for teenagers to meet and dance, a farmer’s market, a firehouse, a jail, a police station, and a ticket office. 

During the Roaring Twenties, Apex’s population was 1,000, but due to the declining tobacco market in Apex and the Great Depression’s hindrance in trade, the town’s population dropped to 863. Apex remained small and relatively peaceful until the Research Triangle Park was founded in 1959. Apex’s population slowly grew until the late 1990s as more technology-driven industries and jobs moved to the region.

Despite the rapid population growth and industrialization of this once-small town, Apex still looks relatively untouched by the ever-changing world around it. This is because in 2006, the Small Town Character Overlay Zoning District passed, protecting Apex’s downtown and surrounding neighborhoods from any major renovation and keeping the small and sleepy town flair.

In 2015, Apex was rated the #1 place to live in America and has many more accolades for our environment, quality of life, public safety, finance, planning, and utilities. I have lived in Apex for the majority of my life, and so have many of my fellow students, coworkers, and neighbors. But no matter how much time any of us have spent living in Apex, Cary, Holly Springs, or anywhere else people come from to get to Apex High School, I’m sure we can all call Apex home.

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