north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



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     The area across Hillsborough Street from this site, today combining commercial and residential use, has a varied history with particular significance to the development of North Carolina State University. Extending from Brooks Avenue to Horne Street, the tract was from 1873 to 1925 the second site of the North Carolina State Fair. In October 1884 the fairgrounds hosted the State Exposition which promoted agriculture and mechanic arts, thereby boosting the state’s industrial growth. Exposition president William S. Primrose served as first chairman of the trustees of the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (present-day N.C. State University), founded in 1887. The site in 1918 was part of Camp Polk, a World War I tank training facility.

     The State Fair has had three sites in Raleigh, beginning in 1853 on New Bern Avenue, moving to a site along Hillsborough Street in 1873, and finally to the present Blue Ridge Road site in 1928. (The fair was not held in 1926 or 1927 while facilities were under construction.) The fifty-five-acre site on the north side of Hillsborough Street, extending from Brooks Avenue to Horne Street and opposite the present campus of North Carolina State University, was also the site of Camp Polk, established in 1918 for tank training. During its years at the site, the State Fair’s appeal as a social institution, as opposed to a strictly agricultural exhibition, increased several fold.

     In 1884 William S. Primrose (1848-1909), a Raleigh insurance executive organized the state’s business elite behind his idea of a large exposition. The date was chosen to coincide with the 300th anniversary of the first of the Roanoke voyages. Such exhibitions were then in vogue with the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition counted as a major success. Primrose, a charter member of the Watauga Club and first trustees chairman of the North Carolina Agricultural and Mechanical College (present-day North Carolina State University), was unanimously selected as the exposition’s president; Salem businessman Henry Fries) served as secretary. A massive main exhibition hall housed the principal exhibits. Manufacturers displayed their wares. Electric lights were introduced to many North Carolinians. The hoopla was rarely equaled in nineteenth-century North Carolina. The Exposition operated from October 1-November, 1884, with the N.C. State Fair and “colored” State Fair as adjuncts. The aim of the exposition was to boost the state’s industrial growth and propel the state into a leadership position in the New South.

     Camp Polk was a tank training facility established by the federal government in September 1918 as part of the mobilization effort for World War I. The installation was named for William Polk, Revolutionary War colonel and prominent Raleigh resident. After the war the tract became Camp Polk Prison Farm, opened in 1920. While the tank training took place in the area near the present State Fairgrounds, barracks and other facilities were maintained on the tract alongside Hillsborough Street near the present North Carolina State University campus.

Jim L. Sumner, “‘Let Us Have a Big Fair’: The North Carolina Exposition of 1884,” North Carolina Historical Review (January 1992): 1-36
Melton A. McLaurin, “The Nineteenth-Century North Carolina State Fair as a Social Institution,” North Carolina Historical Review (July 1982): 213-229
N.C. State Alumni News (May 1930)
Dennis F. Daniels, “Historical Research Report: Polk Prison Property” (2001) (research report in Research Branch, North Carolina Office of Archives and History)
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north carolina highway historical marker program

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