Named for NC industrialist Julian Shakespeare Carr, the little town just west of Chapel Hill has a history similar to many of the mill towns of the region. Originally known as West End, Carrboro’s roots are in the establishment of a railway depot; in order to keep university students from leaving on weekends (and spending their money elsewhere), state statutes required the railway depot to be at least one mile from campus. The arrival of the train to the area brought along with it a steam-powered grist mill which in turn became the Alberta Cotton Mill before being incorporated into the Durham Hosiery Mills complex. In addition to the university and the textile mills, the depot was also a major hub in the lumber industry in the 1920s and 1930s. The Great Depression, the closure of several mills and the end of passenger service on the train line resulted in the Carrboro languishing until the 1960s when the growth of the University of NC sparked an economic upturn.
|An oak on the old mill property|
The abandoned mill stood empty for a decade and was nearly demolished in 1975 before being saved by the community to be restored as Carr Mill Mall, now on the National Registry of Historic Places. In the complex is also one of Carrboro's most famous attractions, the Weaver Street Market. A co-op with plenty of organic and healthy choices, the market has a hot bar, perfect for the boys to choose what they want for lunch. We were rather hungry from our hike and time spent at Bolin Creek, and as the market is conveniently right off main street in the heart of the town it was an easy choice. Another great healthy option is only a few blocks away; the Carrboro Farmer's Market features local organic produce, locally produced cheeses, baked goods, and handmade crafts, it was one of the first stores in the area to link farmers directly with their customers (they require that everything sold must be produced within a 50-mile radius).
It’s no surprise then that Carrboro is a favorite destination of UNC students, not just for places like the farmers market but also for the restaurant scene. One of our Carrboro favorites is the homage to the town’s railroad origins, the Southern Rail Restaurant and Bar, located across the street from the Carr Mill Mall and Weaver Street Market. The eatery is located between active freight train tracks and not only is decorated with an extensive assortment of train-themed memorabilia, but is housed in restored vintage rail cars that have been connected with an industrial steel and glass platform enclosure. There’s even a dining car that allows for an alternative to the outdoor seating in the front courtyard, and the adjacent Station bar is separate, creating a one-of-a-kind place to eat: for rail-enthusiasts, children and the university crowd alike.
Our waitress mentioned that the best time to see trains on the freight tracks is Friday morning, and sure enough, several trains passed the next morning blowing their whistles in a seeming salute to the long-stationary cars of the Southern Rail. Across the road from the restaurant the tracks run adjacent to the Libba Cotten Bikeway, the trail connecting the UNC-Chapel Hill Campus to Carrboro. Paved with separate bike and walking lanes, many students and professors use it daily to get to and from campus. The bikeway was named for Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten (1895-1987), best known for her song “Freight Train” about the train that ran past her house on Lloyd St. Cotten’s left-handed guitar and banjo playing style won her a Grammy at the age of 89 along with a place on the Smithsonian Folkways recording label, and although the only trains running on these tracks today are the ones UNC uses to transport materials to its power plant, the spirit of the rail lives on in the vibrant town of Carrboro.
|Along the Cotten trail: poison ivy, view down the trail and the cemetery near Brewer Lane|