Local News

North Carolina Sows Seeds of Change In Last Century

Posted December 26, 1999

— Controversy aside, most people will tell you the 20th Century ends at the stroke of midnight on Friday. What has characterized North Carolina in the last 99 years? Urbanization.

One hundred years ago, North Carolina lead the South in the construction of new textile mills. Much of the industry, even in urban areas, was driven by what grew on the farm.

Edgar Wyatt witnessed 82 years of changes in the city and in the country before his death last month.

In 1996, he strolled the grounds of his family's old farm and remembered when the land was not within Raleigh's border, even though he could walk there from his city home.

Historic Oakview is now a county park and farm museum.

A mural at the museum shows the changes in agriculture that have occurred within our state, according to assistant park manager Mark Sonderman.

New technology changed the way farmers worked their land, and urban growth changed the land farmers could work.

For most of the 20th Century, small towns like Wake Forest had a stake in keeping local farm land productive.

Farmers sent their children to town for an education from grade school to college. With diploma in hand, many sons and daughters decided to leave the rural south for work in big northern cities.

In the '50s, state leaders envisioned a research development that would keep many college graduates at home and attract just as many newcomers.

"The three universities are located in those three cities with the Triangle being in the center," said then-governor Luther Hodges. "New business, growth and development are the signs of the times," he said.

New industry, new highways, increased air travel, growth was inevitable, and so were growing pains.

Through the '80s and '90s, North Carolina ranked among the top five developing states in the nation, measured by the amount of land lost to development.

Vanishing farm land became the theme in places like Wake County.

Farms like Fred Burt's, on the southern edge of Wake County, were once considered safe from urban expansion, but no more.

"Right now, there are two housing developments that are very close, and they're building," Burt said. "There won't be any farming left."

State and city planners are now looking for ways to manage the growth and preserve open spaces, to regain a balance of progress and quality of life.


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