Cameron Village (Village District)

Written By Ken Peters

In 1947, J.W. York and R. A. Bryan purchased 158 acres of undeveloped land west of downtown Raleigh, and began implementing their vision: a planned residential subdivision with shopping services, apartments, and single-family housing. The project was named Cameron Village for Duncan Cameron, the antebellum owner of the land. In 2021, however, the owner, Regency Centers, changed the name to the Village District to break the connection between the mall and Cameron, a wealthy owner of slaves.

The Cameron Village Shopping Center, located at the intersection of Clark Avenue and Oberlin Road, opened in 1949 with three stores and one restaurant. Raleigh residents were invited to “Shop as you please, with the greatest of ease, in the wonderful Cameron Village!”  Designed by Leif Valand, the open-air shopping mall was not only Raleigh’s first shopping center away from downtown but also is considered the first shopping center constructed between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, Georgia. By 1950, Cameron Village, a “town within a town,” comprised 65 stores, 112 business or professional offices, 566 apartment units, and 100 private homes.

Cameron Village’s ability to attract national chains such as Sears Roebuck helped it lure many of Raleigh’s downtown businesses.  For example, Jolly’s Jewelers, Nowell’s, Balentine’s Cafeteria and Hudson-Belk relocated to the shopping center or opened branch stores there. In addition to a variety of stores, shoppers enjoyed the center’s quaint atmosphere and abundant parking.

Many consider Cameron Village as the catalyst for the decentralization of retail services in Raleigh. Frustrated by the increasing clutter of Fayetteville Street and a lack of downtown parking, many shoppers preferred the atmosphere and convenience of Cameron Village. During the 1950s and 1960s, developers followed the lead of York and Bryan and encouraged the construction of shopping centers and strip malls near residential areas. In Raleigh, an increasing number of larger shopping centers were built: North Hills Mall (Raleigh’s first enclosed mall) opened in the 1960s, and Crabtree Valley Mall (the Triangle’s first “megamall”) opened in the 1970s.

Cameron Village has experienced numerous changes since opening in 1949. Several parking decks were added in the 1960s. In the 1970s, “The Underground,” a section located below street level that hosted popular restaurants and nightclubs like The Pier and Déjà vu, was started. “The Underground” was short-lived, however; most establishments closed during the 1980s. The shopping center has been renovated several times, including a restyling in the mid-1980s and one more in the early 2000s. 

The York family sold Cameron Village to Connecticut General Life Insurance in 1964, which later sold it to the Brookmont Corporation in the Dutch Antilles. Today it is owned by Regency Centers, a national mall developer, but York Properties still manages the village. J. W. York’s son, G. Smedes York, is the current president of York Properties, which also manages other Raleigh developments, provides residential and commercial real estate services, and undertakes development projects.

In 2021, the owners of the district changed its name to Village District to sever the connection with its early owner, Duncan Cameron. Cameron was one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina in the early 1850s (he died in 1853). He enslaved more than 1,000 people, with plantations in Wake, Orange, and present-day Durham Counties in North Carolina and in Mississippi and Alabama. In the Village area in Raleigh he owned a home where about two dozen enslaved people also lived.