Fayetteville, City of

Written By Lloyd Johnson

The origins of Fayetteville can be traced to two settlements on the Cape Fear River. Cross Creek began as a trading post in 1756, and Campbelltown, established by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1762, was one mile from Cross Creek.  These towns merged in 1783.  The new, consolidated town was named Fayetteville in honor of the Frenchman Marquis de Lafayette, who supported the American cause during the American Revolution, and was the first American town with American Revolutionary hero as its namesake.  (During his tour of America in 1825, Marquis de Lafayette stopped there.)

Following the American Revolution and during the late 1700s, a growing Fayetteville in many ways became the political center of the state.  A new courthouse and a new jail opened in 1786, and the city’s first newspaper, The Fayetteville Gazette, began publication in 1789.  In 1786 the North Carolina General Assembly convened in Fayetteville and named delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention.  In 1788 North Carolinians considered making Fayetteville the state capital, and in 1789, the General Assembly met there and chartered the University of North Carolina, ceded the state’s western lands to Tennessee, selected the state’s first two United States Senators, and eventually ratified the Constitution of the United States. The North Carolina General Assembly continued meeting in Fayetteville until the legislative body moved in 1794 to conduct business in Raleigh.

During the nineteenth century, Fayetteville experienced substantial economic growth and served as a regional entrepot of goods and services and ideas.  The inland port town contained a courthouse, churches, lawyers’ offices, banks, dancing clubs, taverns, mercantile businesses, bookstores, and newspapers.  In its limits were also several church-affiliated academies and a Masonic lodge.  For entertainment, people joined dancing clubs, attended Thalian Society (founded 1814) musicals and dramas, and watched horse races. The great fire of 1832 destroyed much of downtown Fayetteville, but the citizens diligently replaced many of the wooden structures with brick buildings. The Market House, an imposing building with its Moorish arches surrounding its base, was completed in 1833; today the Market House is a must-see for any tourist, for it symbolizes old Fayetteville. The United States Arsenal was constructed at Fayetteville in 1838, and by the 1850s, its campus spread across forty acres.  In the 1850s Fayetteville served as the hub of North Carolina plank roads, the most notable being Western Plank Road that was completed in 1854, spanned 129 miles, and connected Fayetteville to Salem. Prior to the Civil War, trade and commerce flourished in Fayetteville, with naval stores, flour, lumber and wheat passing through on their way to Wilmington.

During the last year of the Civil War (1861-1865), General William Tecumseh Sherman’s 60,000 troops spent two days in Fayetteville.  On March 12, 1865, Sherman ordered the burning of the federal arsenal, and before the Billy Yanks left town, they destroyed foundries, cotton factories, and newspaper establishments. During Reconstruction, Fayetteville was a pioneer and leader in African American education: three schools operated in the 1880s, and the Howard School, established in 1867, evolved into Fayetteville State University.

By the twentieth century, many new stores and shops were built downtown.  In 1916, the first skyscraper, a five-story department store operated by the Stein Brothers, jutted into the Fayetteville sky.  In 1918 the federal government authorized the construction of Camp Bragg northwest of the city.  It is the largest Army base in the country, and since 2011, Fort Bragg has included the Pope Army Airfield (with its Air force unit, the 43rd Air Mobility Operations Group).

Many argue that without Fort Bragg, Fayetteville might have grown only to be a small town of ten thousand. In 2023, the Army changed the name of Fort Bragg to Fort Liberty, part of a broad renaming of bases that had been named for Confederate Generals in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Fayetteville’s growth during the last fifty years has produced an ambivalent response.  During the 1960s, Fayetteville’s main street, Hay Street, with it strip joints and bars that catered to the military, was considered sleazy, and with the Vietnam War in full swing, the city was derogatorily called “Fayttenam.”  By the 1980s, Hay Street had been revitalized, but it has not yet rebounded to surpass the sales of the suburban strip malls and shopping centers. Today, over one hundred subdivisions, including King’s Grant, Tallywood, Vanstory Hills, and numerous shopping plazas and malls dot the map of Fayetteville.  Some of the first retailing complexes were Eutaw Shopping Center, constructed on Bragg Boulevard in 1948, Boudreaux Shopping Center, built on a former vineyard in the 1950s, and the Westwood Shopping Center, erected in the 1960s.   The large and indoor Cross Creek Mall opened in 1976.  In all, the city’s retail sales have skyrocketed during the post-war years: $44 million in 1948, a half billion in 1972, and one billion in 1982.The increase in sales reveals the constant population growth of the city.  In 1930 Fayetteville’s population was 13,309.  By 1940 the population grew to 17,428, (forty-percent African American). Population growth also resulted from the city expanding its boundaries; after the post-World War II suburban sprawl, city leaders decided to annex over a hundred subdivisions. In 1980, Fayetteville residents numbered 60,000 and their number more than doubled to 121,015 by 2005 and comprised North Carolina’s sixth largest city.

In addition to its service industry and military bases and growing population, Fayetteville is known for its institutions of higher education.  Founded in 1867 to educate freed slaves, Fayetteville State University, had an current enrollment 5,748  in 2022. It offers numerous undergraduate and graduate programs.  Methodist College, a four–year liberal arts college established in 1960, had 1,916 students in 2021. Fayetteville Technical Community College opened its doors in 1960 and reaches about 37,000 students (including its corporate and continuing education programs).

Fayetteville is also known for its cultural arts. Following World War II, the city formed the Fayetteville Symphony in 1957, and the Fayetteville Little Symphony in 1962. The Fayetteville Museum of Art was established in 1972. Fayetteville can boast of several radio stations, two television stations, and the Fayetteville Observer, founded in 1835 and the state’s oldest operating periodical. Fayetteville is also home to the Cape Fear Museum of History and the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in downtown Fayetteville.

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