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Raleigh was founded in 1792 as North Carolina’s capital city and Fayetteville Street is the capital’s beating heart. Framed on the north and south ends by two grand buildings in the Greek Revival architectural style, Fayetteville Street’s early grog shops, street cars and courthouse have given way to the trendy eateries, sleek offices and luxury hotels we see today. As the city’s central hub for economic activity, Fayetteville Street reflects the story of Raleigh and its people, a line connecting the city’s past and where it came from to its future and where it’s going. See that story brought to life at the City of Raleigh Museum, which offers hour-long walking tours every Saturday afternoon, and take in two centuries of history and architecture. We asked museum director Ernest Dollar to share some little known facts about Raleigh’s most famous street.
The Wells Fargo building marks the former home of the Hotel Giersch, named after German immigrant and local hotelier Robert F. Giersch. In 1887, Giersch stood at the center of a legal dispute for selling “spirituous liquids” to the public. Giersch’s legal team argued that Wake County’s ban on spirits did not include beer and wine as these were fermented, not distilled. He was arrested three times in one day, eventually having his bond set at $600, or $15,000 in today’s money. The lower courts ruled in Mr. Giersch’s favor, but prohibitionists overturned the decision at the state Supreme Court level.
Wilbur High Royster and His Unusually Named Brood
Wilbur High Royster owned a candy store located at 207 Fayetteville Street, but it wasn’t the candy he peddled that made him famous. In order to keep his children straight, he named them after states: Vermont Connecticut, Arkansas Delaware, Wisconsin Illinois, Oregon Minnesota, Iowa Michigan, Nathaniel Confederate States and daughter Virginia Carolina Royster. For years, the Royster family was featured in Ripley’s Believe it Or Not for their distinct names.
Raleigh’s Civil War Capture
On the morning of April 13, 1865, the Union army captured Raleigh. The blue-clad cavalry rode up Fayetteville Street and, as it approached, Confederate horsemen fired on the advancing column under Major General Judson Kilpatrick. One Rebel horseman tried to escape down Morgan Street but was captured and hauled before the enraged Union general. The young soldier gave his name as Robert Walsh of the 11th Texas Cavalry. Lieutenant Walsh was taken “where none of the ladies could see” and hung where the Governor’s Mansion now stands. Though the rolls of the 11th Texas Cavalry never list Walsh as a member of the unit, his grave in Oakwood Cemetery is anonymously decorated each year on April 13.
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