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Its county seat is Raleigh, which is also the state capital. Eleven other municipalities are in Wake County, the largest of which is Cary, the third largest city of the Research Triangle region and the seventh largest municipality in North Carolina.
It is governed by the Wake County Board of Commissioners, coterminous with the Wake County Public School System school district, with law enforcement provided by the Wake County Sheriff's Department. It is also part of the wider Triangle J Council of Governments which governs regional planning.
Prior to English colonization, present-day Wake County was part of the Tuscarora nation.
Wake County was formed in 1770 from parts of Cumberland County, Johnston County, and Orange County. The first courthouse was built at a village originally called Wake Courthouse, now known as Bloomsbury. In 1771, the first elections and court were held, and the first militia units were organized.
Wake County lost some of its territory through the formation of other counties. Parts were included in Franklin County in 1787, and in Durham County in both 1881 and 1911.
During the colonial period of North Carolina, the state capital was New Bern. For several years during and after the Revolutionary War there was no capital, and the General Assembly met in various locations. Fayetteville was the state capital in 1786, 1789, 1790, and 1793, when Raleigh became the permanent state capital in 1794. In 1792, a commission was appointed to select a site to build a permanent state capital. The commission members favored land owned by Colonel John Hinton across the Neuse River, but the night before the final vote the committee adjourned to the home of Joel Lane for an evening of food and spirits. The next day, the vote went in Lane's favor.
Margaret Wake Tryon.
Lane named Wake County in honor of Margaret Wake, wife of colonial Governor William Tryon. Raleigh was named after Sir Walter Raleigh, and established in 1792 on 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) purchased from Lane. Raleigh had never set foot in North Carolina, but he had sponsored the establishment of the first English colony in North America on North Carolina's Roanoke Island in 1585. The city of Raleigh became both the state capital and the new seat of Wake County.
Main article: Battle of Morrisville
The Battle at Morrisville Station was fought April 13–15, 1865 in Morrisville, North Carolina during the Carolinas Campaign of the American Civil War. It was the last official battle of the Civil War between the armies of Major General William T. Sherman and General Joseph E. Johnston. General Judson Kilpatrick, commanding officer of the Union cavalry advance, compelled Confederate forces under the command of Generals Wade Hampton III and Joseph Wheeler to withdraw in haste. They had been frantically trying to transport their remaining supplies and wounded by rail westward toward the final Confederate encampment in Greensboro, NC. Kilpatrick used artillery on the heights overlooking Morrisville Station and cavalry charges to push the Confederates out of the small village leaving many needed supplies behind. However, the trains were able to withdraw with wounded from the Battle of Bentonville and the Battle of Averasboro. Later, General Johnston sent a courier to the Federal encampments at Morrisville with a message for Major General Sherman requesting a conference to discuss an armistice. Several days later the two generals met at Bennett Place near Durham on April 17, 1865, to begin discussing the terms of what would become the largest surrender of the war.
In the 20th century, the average per capita income for the county was of $54,988, and the median income for a family was of $67,149. In the same period, the per capita income decreased from $44,472 to $31,579, especially for women. About 7.80% of the population was below the federal poverty line. In August 2014, the population hit 1,000,000 people.
In November 2017, commissioners of Wake and Harnett counties discussed the possibility of redrawing the line between the counties using the latest technology. This could affect 27 homeowners who would end up in a different county or have their property divided between the two.
Law and government
The county is governed by the Wake County Board of Commissioners, a seven-member board of County Commissioners, elected at large to serve four-year terms. Terms are staggered so that, every two years, three or four Commissioners are up for election. The commissioners enact policies such as the establishment of the property tax rate, regulation of land use and zoning outside municipal jurisdictions, and adoption of the annual budget. Commissioners meet on the first and third Mondays of each month.
Current members of the Wake County Board of Commissioners are Jessica Holmes (Chair), Greg Ford (Vice-Chair), Vickie Adamson, Matt Calabria, Susan Evans, Sig Hutchinson, and James West.
David Ellis is the County Manager.
Wake County is a member of the regional Triangle J Council of Governments.
North Carolina State Capitol
While North Carolina is historically a conservative state, Wake County is typically a swing voting area.
From 1828 to 1964, the county was won by Democratic presidential candidates in all but six elections (John C. Breckinridge in 1860, Ulysses S. Grant in 1868 and 1872, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, James A. Garfield in 1880, and Benjamin Harrison in 1888). From 1968 to 2004, Republicans won the county in every election but one, when Bill Clinton carried it in 1992. However, the races have almost always been close, such as in 1980, when Ronald Reagan won by a landslide nationwide, but by a mere one percent in Wake County. Recently, Republican George W. Bush won the county in 2000 with 53 percent of the vote and defeated John Kerry in 2004 by a slim 51 to 49 percent. In 2008 Democrat Barack Obama defeated John McCain 56 to 43 percent, becoming the first Democrat since Lyndon Johnson to win a majority of the county's vote. In 2012, Obama won Wake County again over Mitt Romney with 54 percent of the vote to Romney's 44 percent – the first time in almost half a century that a Democrat carried the county in consecutive elections. Obama's performance in Wake mirrored his strong showing along the I-85 Corridor. In 2016, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won the county 57 percent to Donald Trump's 37 percent, reflecting the nationwide shift towards Democrats in urban and suburban areas.
Presidential elections results
Democrats fared well here in the 2008 election. In the 1998 Senate race, John Edwards won in Wake County, which helped him defeat incumbent Republican Lauch Faircloth. In 2000 Mike Easley won the governor's race here with 55% of the vote. In 2004, Easley won again, winning with 59 percent to 40 percent for opponent Patrick Ballantine. Democrat Beverly Perdue won Wake County in the 2008 Governor's election by a 51 to 45 percent margin. Democratic candidate for US Senate Erskine Bowles won the county with 52 percent, despite losing statewide to Richard Burr by the same margin. In 2002, however, Republican Elizabeth Dole defeated Bowles with 55% of the vote here, and won by a large margin statewide. In 2008 Kay Hagan defeated Dole 56 to 40 percent.
Democratic strength is concentrated primarily in Raleigh. Republican strength is concentrated in the rural and exurban areas in the northern and western parts of the county. The outskirts of Raleigh, and the cities of Cary and Apex are mostly home to swing voters.
Neuse River in Wake County, NC
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 857 square miles (2,220 km2), of which 835 square miles (2,160 km2) is land and 22 square miles (57 km2) (2.6%) is water.
Wake County is located in the northeast central region of North Carolina, where the North American Piedmont and Atlantic Coastal Plain regions meet. This area is known as the "fall line" because it marks the elevation inland at which waterfalls begin to appear in creeks and rivers. As a result, most of Wake County features gently rolling hills that slope eastward toward the state's flat coastal plain. Its central Piedmont location situates the county about three hours west of Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, by car and four hours east of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Bodies of water that are located in Wake County include Lake Crabtree, Crabtree Creek, Lake Johnson, the Neuse River, and portions of Falls Lake and Jordan Lake.
Granville County – north
Franklin County – northeast
Nash County – east
Johnston County – southeast
Harnett County – southwest
Chatham County – west
Durham County – northwest
Wake County enjoys a moderate subtropical climate, with moderate temperatures in the spring, fall, and winter. Summers are typically hot with high humidity. Winter highs generally range in the low 50s°F (10 to 13 °C) with lows in the low-to-mid 30s°F (?2 to 2 °C), although an occasional 60 °F (15 °C) or warmer winter day is not uncommon. Spring and fall days usually reach the low-to-mid 70s°F (low 20s°C), with lows at night in the lower 50s°F (10 to 14 °C). Summer daytime highs often reach the upper 80s to low 90s°F (29 to 35 °C). The rainiest months are July and August.
The county, at the National Weather Service in Raleigh, receives on average 7 inches (180 mm) of snow in the winter. Freezing rain and sleet occur most winters, and occasionally the area experiences a major damaging ice storm.
Census Pop. %±
1790 10,192 —
1800 13,437 31.8%
1810 17,096 27.2%
1820 20,102 17.6%
1830 20,398 1.5%
1840 21,118 3.5%
1850 24,888 17.9%
1860 28,627 15.0%
1870 35,617 24.4%
1880 47,939 34.6%
1890 49,207 2.6%
1900 54,626 11.0%
1910 63,229 15.7%
1920 75,155 18.9%
1930 94,757 26.1%
1940 109,544 15.6%
1950 136,450 24.6%
1960 169,082 23.9%
1970 228,453 35.1%
1980 301,327 31.9%
1990 423,380 40.5%
2000 627,846 48.3%
2010 900,993 43.5%
Est. 2019 1,111,761 23.4%
U.S. Decennial Census
As of the census of 2018, there were 1,092,776 people, 421,265 households, and 276,363 families residing in the county. The population density was 1308.72 people per square mile (505.91/km?). There were 458,953 housing units at an average density of 311 per square mile (120/km?). The racial makeup of the county was 59.40% White, 14.29% Black or African American, 9.24% Hispanic or Latin of any race, 12.84% Asian, 4.04% from other races, 3.13% from two or more races, 0.16% Native American, and 0.03% Pacific Islander.
There were 242,040 households out of which 34.00% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.50% were married couples living together, 9.80% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.40% were non-families. 25.70% of all households were made up of individuals and 5.10% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.51 and the average family size was 3.06.
In the county, the population was spread out with 25.10% under the age of 18, 10.70% from 18 to 24, 36.50% from 25 to 44, 20.40% from 45 to 64, and 7.40% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females, there were 98.40 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.50 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $54,988, and the median income for a family was $67,149. Males had a median income of $44,472 versus $31,579 for females. The per capita income for the county was $27,004. About 4.90% of families and 7.80% of the population were below the poverty line, including 8.60% of those under age 18 and 8.90% of those age 65 or over.
In Wake County, 29% of the population is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, 22% are affiliated with the Catholic Church, 17% are affiliated with the United Methodist Church, 6% are affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA), and 27% are religiously affiliated with other denominations or religions, or are not religiously affiliated.
Wake County's unemployment rate is much lower than the national unemployment rate as of July 2010.
Wake County's economy is heavily influenced by the Research Triangle Park (RTP), located between Durham and Raleigh. RTP is the country's largest industrial park and a primary center in the United States for high-tech and biotech research, as well as textile development. The park is home to more than 160 companies employing over 50,000 people. The largest employers in the Park include IBM (11,000 employees), GlaxoSmithKline (6,400 employees), and Cisco Systems (3,400 employees).
Wake County's industrial base includes electrical, medical, electronic and telecommunications equipment; clothing and apparel; food processing; paper products; and pharmaceuticals. The agriculture industry is visible in rural areas of the county, with tobacco, cotton, wheat, soybeans, and corn being the most common products grown.
SAS Institute, one of the largest privately held software companies in the world, is located in Cary. Other major companies based in Wake County include Advance Auto Parts, A10 Networks, Verizon, 3Dsolve, Carquest, Butterball, Cotton Incorporated, Epic Games, Lord Corporation, Lenovo Group (U.S. headquarters), Tekelec, Red Hat, Golden Corral and Martin Marietta Materials.
In 2007, Forbes magazine listed Raleigh and Cary among the best cities to find jobs in the United States, as well as being the area ranked as the best place for business and careers. Also in 2007, CNN ranked the region has the 3rd best area for job growth, the top region for technology workers, and Bizjournals.com ranked it as the 4th best place for young adult job seekers.
Memorial Bell Tower at North Carolina State University
Wake County is home to eight institutions of higher learning. They include Meredith College, North Carolina State University, Campbell University's Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law, Peace College, Saint Augustine's College, Shaw University, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Wake Technical Community College.
The State Library of North Carolina is an institution which serves North Carolina libraries, state government employees, genealogists, and the citizens of North Carolina. There are two locations in Raleigh.
Primary and secondary education
Public education in Wake County is administered by the Wake County Public School System, the 15th largest public school district in the country with over 155,000 students. There are 27 high schools, 33 middle schools, 104 elementary schools, and 8 specialized schools. In addition, nine charter schools and 31 private schools are located in the county.
The Wake County Public Library system operates 22 branches throughout the county. There are 11 facilities in Raleigh. Cary and Apex each have two facilities. Holly Springs, Fuquay-Varina, Garner, Wake Forest, Zebulon, Knightdale and Wendell each have one library facility. The Wake County library system keeps books, periodicals, and audio books and has recently expanded the selection to include downloadable e-books.
North Carolina Museum of Art
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
North Carolina Museum of History
City of Raleigh Museum
Marbles Kid's Museum
J.C. Raulston Arboretum
Joel Lane House
North Carolina Railroad Museum
Pope House Museum
North Carolina Contemporary Art Museum
The Walnut Creek Amphitheatre hosts major international touring acts, along with the Red Hat Amphitheatre and the PNC Arena. The Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts complex houses the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, the Fletcher Opera Theater, the Kennedy Theatre, and the Meymandi Concert Hall. During the North Carolina State Fair, Dorton Arena hosts headline acts. Theater performances are also offered at the Raleigh Little Theatre, Theatre in the Park and Stewart Theater at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Applause! Cary Youth Theatre, Cary Players Community Theatre, Sertoma Amphitheater at Bond Park, and Koka Booth Amphitheatre are located in Cary. Other theaters and performing arts locations include The Halle Cultural Arts Center in Apex and Garner Historic Auditorium in Garner. Local colleges and universities add to the options available for viewing live performances.
Wake County is home to several professional arts organizations, including the North Carolina Symphony, the Opera Company of North Carolina, the North Carolina Theatre, and Carolina Ballet.
The North Carolina Museum of Art, occupying a large suburban campus on Blue Ridge Road near the State Fairgrounds, houses one of the premier public art collections between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. In addition to collections of American art, European art, African Art, and ancient art, the museum recently has hosted major exhibitions featuring Auguste Rodin (in 2000) and Claude Monet (in 2006–07), each attracting more than 200,000 visitors. The museum is currently hosting a special exhibition of contemporary installation art called You Are Here: Light, Color, and Sound Experiences. Unlike most public museums, the North Carolina Museum of Art acquired a large number of the works in its permanent collection through purchases with public funds. The museum's outdoor park is one of the largest such art parks in the country.
The National Hockey League's Carolina Hurricanes franchise moved to Raleigh in 1999 from their temporary home of Greensboro, after having departed Hartford, Connecticut, in 1997. Their home arena, the PNC Arena, also hosts concerts and other public events. The Hurricanes are the only major league (NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB) professional sports team in North Carolina to have won a championship, winning the Stanley Cup in 2006, over the Edmonton Oilers.
North Carolina FC of the United Soccer League and the affiliated women's team North Carolina Courage of the National Women's Soccer League are located in Cary and play at the WakeMed Soccer Park. The Courage is the reigning NWSL Shield Winner and NWSL Champion, breaking the NWSL season record for most wins, points, and goals in the process.
The Carolina Mudcats are a minor league baseball team located in eastern Wake County. Their ballpark, Five County Stadium, is located in Zebulon.
The Research Triangle region has hosted the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) Nationwide Tour Rex Hospital Open since 1994, with the current location of play at Raleigh's Wakefield Plantation.
Carolina Hurricanes hockey game at the RBC Center, now (PNC Arena)
North Carolina State University, which is a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I, plays their home basketball games at the PNC Arena and home football games at Carter–Finley Stadium.
Other institutions of higher learning that compete in competitive sports include St. Augustine's College (NCAA Division II, Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA)), Meredith College (NCAA Division III and USA South Athletic Conference), Peace College (NCAA Division III, USA South Athletic Conference), Shaw University Division II, Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA)), and Wake Technical Community College (NJCAA).
The Raleigh C? Chulainn, which includes a Hurling team and a Gaelic football team, is based in Wake County. The football team won the 2014 Men's Junior Championship in North American Gaelic Athletic Association competition.
The North Carolina Tigers, an Australian Rules football club in the United States Australian Football League (USAFL) and competing in the Eastern Australian Football League (EAFL), are based in Raleigh.
Wake County is also home to the Carolina Rollergirls, an all-women flat-track roller derby team that is a competing member of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). The Carolina Rollergirls compete at the North Carolina State Fairground's Dorton Arena.
Because of the area's many billiards rooms, Raleigh is home to one of the largest amateur league franchises for playing pool, the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill American Poolplayers Association. There are leagues available in eight-ball, nine-ball, and Masters formats for players of any skill level.
The USA Baseball National Training Complex is located in Cary.
Home of the Capital City Steelers three time national champions of Pop Warner Football.
Also featured in Raleigh/Durham is the Carolina Phoenix, Women's Professional Tackle Football team.
An American Airlines Boeing 777 landing at Raleigh-Durham International Airport
Air: Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) is located in northwestern Wake county off I-40. The airport offers service to more than 35 domestic and international destinations. The airport currently serves more than 9 million passengers a year.
Wake County is served by Amtrak with facilities in Raleigh and Cary.
Local bus: The Triangle Transit Authority operates buses that serve the region and connect to municipal bus systems in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.
Regional Rail – Plans are being made for a light rail system that would be built over the next 10 to 20 years.
I-40 is the only major Interstate Highway that runs through the county. It offers direct access to RDU International Airport, Morrisville, Cary, Raleigh and Garner. It has two auxiliary routes in Wake County:
I-440 is the northern, western and eastern portion of the "Beltline" that encircles most of central Raleigh. The southern portion of the Beltline is I-40.
I-540 / NC 540 is a 66-mile (106 km) partially-completed loop that currently connects the satellite towns of Knightdale, Cary, Morrisville, Apex and Holly Springs. The completed portion in northern Wake County is called the Northern Wake Expressway (I-540). It continues as a non-Interstate route, NC 540, in western Wake County, almost all of which is a toll road. The remaining segments to be constructed will also be designated as NC 540 and will be tolled.
I-87 will eventually connect I-40 to Norfolk, Virginia. Its Wake County section is concurrent with U.S. 64. The highway is currently signed as I-87 only where it already meets Interstate standards: along the Raleigh Beltline (where its southern terminus is at I-440's Exit 16 and I-40's Exit 301) and along the Knightdale Bypass, which runs from I-440 to the Business 64 exit between Knightdale and Wendell. East of this point, the road is a controlled-access freeway but does not meet interstate standards, so it is marked with "Future" I-87 signs. The "future" designation will be removed as the road is eventually upgraded by improving the road's shoulders, which are currently too narrow to qualify for an Interstate Highway designation. There is no timetable for these improvements. Interstate 87 will run along the same routing, and will eventually will be extended along US 64, US 17 and other roads (some yet to be built) to Norfolk.
Major U.S. highways that run through Wake County include
Major state highways include
The "mountains-to-the-sea" North Carolina Bicycle Route 2 travels through Wake County, as does the Maine-to-Florida U.S. Bicycle Route 1. North Carolina Bicycle Route 5, the "Cape Fear run", connects Apex to the coastal city of Wilmington, North Carolina.
Parks and recreation
Wake County is home to three state parks: Falls Lake State Recreation Area, William B. Umstead State Park, and the Jordan Lake State Recreation Area. Falls Lake Park is located in northern Wake County and contains the 12,000-acre (49 km2) Falls Lake and 26,000 acres (110 km2) of woodlands. Umstead Park is situated between Raleigh and Cary near RDU. Located right off I-40, it is divided into two sections, Crabtree Creek and Reedy Creek, and contains 5,579 acres (22.58 km2) of woodlands. Jordan Lake Park, which is partially located in Wake County near Apex, contains 13,940-acre (56.4 km2) Jordan Lake and 46,768 acres (189.26 km2) of woodlands. This park is known for being home to bald eagles.
County parks and recreation centers
There are 152 county parks, city parks, public swimming and public tennis facilities in Wake County. In addition, there are 53 community centers. Notable parks include Pullen Park and Yates Mill Park. The American Tobacco Trail is a 22-mile (35 km) rail trail project that is located in the Research Triangle Park region. Fifteen miles of the trail is located in Wake County and is open to pedestrians, cyclists, equestrians (in non-urban sections), and other non-motorized users.
Wake County is served by three hospitals systems: Rex Hospital, WakeMed, and Duke Raleigh Hospital.
In addition to WakeMed's primary facility, the hospital also operates eight satellite locations throughout the county. These locations include North Raleigh, Cary, Fuquay-Varina, Garner, Wake Forest, Apex, Wake Forest Road, and Brier Creek.
Map of Wake County, North Carolina with municipal and township labels
Durham (small part, mostly in Durham County)
Raleigh (county seat) (most, small part in Durham County)
Angier (small part, mostly in Harnett County)
Cary (most, small part in Chatham County)
Morrisville (most, small part in Durham County)
Wake Forest (most, small part in Franklin County)
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