Carrboro is the town just west of Chapel Hill. With a population of just under 20,000 Carrboro is the kind of small southern town where the past and the present seem to have been fused into a single moment until it’s no longer one time or the other. Many of the buildings on Main Street and Weaver Street, the two main drags, haven’t changed in half a century—and yet Carrboro is wireless. The heart of the town is a contemporary version of the old country store, but it’s a co-op now and the food is mostly organic.
Town of Carrboro
In 1882, the town to the east—that would be Chapel Hill—determined that it needed a train station to accommodate folks traveling there. They picked a deserted area a mile away from campus—a mile away so no one on the Hill would be disturbed by the unseemly sound of a train passing through. For many years, they called the town Venable. Then, in 1898, a man named Tom Lloyd built a cotton mill, and slowly Venable began to resemble a real town. In 1913, it became the largest hardwood cross-tie market in the world, and the next year it’s named was changed to Carrboro, after Julian Carr bought Lloyd’s mill and donated electricity and actual streets to the town.
Two institutions are open year-round: The ArtsCenter and the Cat’s Cradle. The ArtsCenter began in 1974, and since then it’s become the soul of the arts community. And not just for Carrboro either, but for fifty miles in any direction you care to go. Right next door is the Cat’s Cradle, the institution which single-handedly earned Carrboro its designation as the Seattle of the South. Big names, local and international, play at this world-famous music venue—and local bands that went on to bigger things. Ben Folds Five and The Squirrel Nut Zippers started out here.
Carrboro, more than anything else, is a community. What does this mean, community? It means poetry and art and music. And it means Thursday evening on the lawn in front of Weaver Street Market—or The Weave, as it’s known around town. From late-spring to early-fall, the “Weave” hosts live music on Thursday nights and Sunday morning jazz brunches, with local non-profit organizations selling food, wine and beer. Fittingly, it’s just in front of the old Carr Mill building that still stands, a relic from an industrial past, here in its present second-life as a shopping mall: past and present intertwined. The 300 East Main Street Development is growing in the heart of Carrboro with a hotel, shops and restaurants.
Carrboro is a walking town; from The Weave, you can go anywhere. Go right, and you’ll run into the Spotted Dog, which is just down the street. That’s where you can go for beer and good sandwich. Veer south and, if you’re lucky, you might run into the Orange County Social Club, or OCSC. Right next door is Acme Food and Beverage Company, where, in addition to one of the best burgers in town, you can drink the not-to-be-done-without Carrboro Mojo, a delicious concoction created when spiced ginger ale meets “Stoly”. Down the street is Akai Hana, a delicious Japanese restaurant owned by Lee Smith and Hal Crowther, two of the many celebrity writers who live here and hereabouts.
Created in 1977, the Carrboro Farmers’ Market was one of the earliest markets to link farmers directly with their customers. This is a true farmers’ market. Everything that is sold must be grown or produced within a 50-mile radius of Carrboro. Twice weekly, on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings, spring through fall, the market serves as yet another community event. Recently the New York Times featured book, Serious Eats, lists the Carrboro Farmers' Market as number five on the list of Best Farmers Markets in the country and Southern Living Magazine also listed the Carrboro Farmers' Market as a source for The South's Top 10 Tastiest Town Awards.
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