Zebulon Chartered in 1907
Zebulon was born from the advancement of the railroad. Investors in the Raleigh and Pamlico Sound Railroad wanted to establish a path through the eastern portion of North Carolina starting in Raleigh and connecting to Wilson. Its trail would have brought it through the Town of Wakefield, settled since 1826 and incorporated as a town in 1899, but several property owners objected its pathway through the town. So, the connection site was moved south by 1.5 miles and the town of Zebulon was born.
Edgar Barbee and Falconer Arendell, who was born and reared in Wakefield, were partners in the Raleigh and Pamlico Sound Railroad (which was later renamed Norfolk and Southern Railroad.) They were land developers promoting the property along the railroad line. They brought the railroad through town after buying 90 acres carved out of two local farms of prominent landowners. Martha Horton sold 41 acres of the family farmland for $2056, and Frances T. Whitley sold 49 acres for $1470. Edgar Barbee and Falconer Arendell organized the Zebulon Company and platted out the town on these 90 acres, as leaders in land development selling plots of land for homes and businesses. The town received its charter on February 17, 1907.
North of this newly platted land, Dr. George M. Bell owned hundreds of acres north of the Horton and Whitley land. In 1907 he platted it, and actively sold the land between 1907 and the 1930s and northward development quickly ensued, and Dr. Bell’s land is known as Wakelon Heights. After he platted his land for the new expanding Town, Dr. Bell gave 10 acres of land in 1907 and money to build Wakelon School, which served both Zebulon and Wakefield and is an amalgamation of both names. This school was erected and opened in 1908 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. The school ceased operations in the 1980s and after ownership and usage from Glaxo, it was sold and renovated and now serves as Zebulon’s Town Hall.
Zebulon was named for NC’s governor, Zebulon B. Vance. Zebulon boasted a tobacco market that opened in 1917 and helped spur the growth of the Town until it closed in the 1930s during the Depression. Both Zebulon and its local neighbor Wendell were known for having the best soil to grow tobacco in Eastern North Carolina.
Zebulon saw strong growth. Electricity and lighting came to the town in 1916 and by 1919 the Town approved constructing a water system. Its first fire truck manned by volunteer fire fighters arrived in 1923. Other growth in Town by the mid-1920s included a cotton seed oil plant, several mercantile businesses, farm suppliers, grocers, stables, blacksmiths, a theater, doctor and dentist offices, a drug store, and several furniture stores.
Zebulon’s Birth Caused the Demise of Wakefield
The area now known as Wakefield was settled in the early 1820s by Peter Foster, who gave land to his son Augustus J. Foster to build a plantation on 1,143 acres. A.J. Foster’s plantation included a large home, a store, and a tavern on crossroads from Tarboro to Raleigh – where it was also a stagecoach stop. The plantation had slaves, saw and grist mills and a cotton gin. In 1826 Foster’s store had a Post office established and another one in 1874 at Foster’s Mill (which later became known as Moore’s Mill.) A.J. Foster sold his plantation and into was divided into plats and smaller farms and houses and businesses were constructed. In 1891 there were 250 people living in Wakefield, and it incorporated as a Town in 1899.
Once Zebulon was established 1.5 miles south, many of Wakefield’s residents and businesses left and moved to Zebulon. With loss of its population, Wakefield lost its town charter and in 1997 it was annexed by Zebulon.
By MaryBeth Carpenter, Executive Director, Preservation Zebulon