The story of Knightdale begins with exploration and discovery. As an incorporated town, Knightdale is a relative newcomer to Wake County and North Carolina history. The Knightdale community, which is an area that extends beyond the present day extraterritorial jurisdiction or ETJ, has a recorded heritage that dates back to the colonial era in American history.
In the year 1700, the Lords Proprietor of the Colony, wishing to know what lay in the interior of the land that was called Carolina, hired a young man named John Lawson to explore this vast unknown land. Starting in an area near present day Charleston, South Carolina, Lawson began a trek that covered roughly 1,000 miles through the heart of the Carolina Colony. According to his diary, which was published in England in 1709, Lawson passed through this area sometime in February of 1701. His diary records a meeting with fierce Tuscarora Indians on the banks of the Neuse River. With the help of an Indian interpreter, Lawson made peace with the Tuscarora. Whether or not this event occurred, Lawson is thought to be the first European to explore this part of North Carolina.
During the eighteenth century, people began to be interested in acquiring land in this new frontier. After receiving the report from Lawson, the King of England decided that the time had come to apportion these lands to willing settlers. Around 1730, John Hinton left his home and headed west, finally settling in what would one day be called Knightdale. This hardy woodsman erected the first dwelling built by a white man in the Knightdale area. Although the land that was granted to Hinton extended to what is now Clayton, North Carolina, Hinton settled in an area near the Neuse River, not far from where Hodge Road and Old Faison Road now intersect.
In time more settlers became attracted to this area. As more people moved here, the need for some sort of local government arose. The colonial government appointed Hinton to be the Justice of the Peace for Craven County–Hinton’s land at this time was in Craven County. After forming Johnston County out of Craven County in the 1750’s, the colonial government looked to Hinton to organize a militia. Given the rank of colonel, Hinton formed a small band of militiamen to serve at the wishes of the royal governor in New Bern, North Carolina. Aside from serving as the local police, this militia saw no action until after the County had been divided again. In 1771, Wake County was carved out of Johnston County.
When the American Revolution began, Hinton switched his allegiances to the patriot side. Hinton was called on again to serve as a military leader. Hinton played a key role in the first battle of the American Revolution fought on North Carolina soil. This battle is called Moore’s Creek Bridge, and was fought in February of 1776. Not long after the battle, Hinton was chosen as a delegate to the Fourth Provincial Congress. This Congress passed a resolution known as the Halifax Resolve. Thomas Jefferson used this document as part of the basis for the Declaration of Independence. In this way, in the area that we plan for today played a role in the formation of our nation. Three of the seven Hinton plantations in the Knightdale area are still intact. These are titled: The Oaks, Midway, and Beaver Dam.
After independence, the people of this area went about making a living on the land. Local farmers successfully grew tobacco and cotton. Although not as prominent in this area as the deep south, slavery nonetheless had a foothold in the Knightdale area. Many of these slaves are buried in unmarked grave plots throughout the Knightdale area. Although documentation of grave sites has been lost, the burials remain a significant part of the Knightdale landscape.
As the long and devastating Civil War ended in 1865, many armies traversed this area. The Clay Hill and Midway Plantations saw the greatest damage. According to family tradition, the Hintons actually buried some of their family treasure to keep it out of the hands of the Union forces. After the Civil War, the residents of this area began to rebuild. During this time, the City of Raleigh saw a tremendous population boom. As a result, Wake County redrew the map of the county and divided it into Townships. The area that became Knightdale was located in St. Matthew’s Township, where it still is today. More and more people also found their way to this area.
The Town of Knightdale came about as people began to congregate in an area within the St. Matthew’s Township of Wake County, North Carolina. For many years the area was a crossroads served only by a post office. Most of the people in the area were farmers who grew a variety of crops. Although many farmers grew corn and other vegetables, the gold leaf, tobacco, reigned supreme as the area’s main cash crop. Tobacco helped to unite the little hamlet, bringing people together in a common bond.
Near the end of the nineteenth century, many citizens of this area saw the need to a establish a town. One of these people was Mr. Henry Haywood Knight. Mr. Knight donated some of his vast land holdings in the area to the Norfolk and Southern Railroad Company in the hopes that a railroad would come to the area. The railroad would provide freight and passenger service, and would facilitate the incorporation of the community. Mr. Knight did not live to see the railroad in Knightdale. Not long after his death in 1904, the railroad finally came to the community that would bear his name.
After the coming of the railroad and the depot, life and commerce in this area began to move at a faster pace. The railroad moved timber and farm products to the market and moved people to Raleigh. As the need for more railroad workers increased, Norfolk and Southern moved many families into the community to take care of the railroad. Many of the older homes in Knightdale were built specifically for the use of railroad workers and their families. The railroad stationmaster’s house still exists today along the tracks on Railroad Street.
A New Town is Born
As the community grew so did the demand for services. Knightdale’s first medical doctor, James Roberts Hester, moved to the community in 1910. The new town also had the need for dry goods and hardware. To fill this need, families, like the Robertson’s who opened up a store on First Avenue, built businesses along the primary streets in town. From these stores people bought and sold goods. Along this same time, a bank opened its doors. As a result of the increased activity, Knightdale received its articles of official incorporation from the North Carolina Legislature on March 9, 1927. The first Mayor was Bennett L. Wall. The aldermen were N.G. House, J.F. Keith, L.A. Doub, J.T. Ramsey, and C.L. Robertson.
After incorporation, many businesses moved into town, including a farmer’s cooperative, a barber shop, and several small grills. Robertson’s remained the anchor of the business community. Despite the growth, Knightdale continued to suffer from not having a municipal water system. This shortfall came to a head in 1940. In the early morning hours of February 7, 1940, a fire swept through downtown Knightdale.
Virtually the entire town turned out to fight the flames that engulfed Robertson’s and threatened the entire downtown business district. The citizens formed bucket brigades to try to halt the fire, but to no avail. The fire was not brought under control until trained firefighters arrived from Raleigh with an adequate water supply. This effort arrived too late to save Robertson’s and several other businesses and homes. Soon after the fire, the people of Knightdale went about rebuilding their once proud downtown business district.
Helped along by the baby boom following World War II, the population of Knightdale grew at a steady pace, but Knightdale retained its small town atmosphere. The corner drugstore, the bank, and the barber shop on First Avenue not only served as places of business, but places for social gatherings. Movies were often shown on the wall of the old bank building, which is located at the intersection of First Avenue and Main Street. In 1952 a municipal water system was installed.
As the importance of the railroad diminished in the lives of the people of Knightdale, the importance of the car increased. Since the 1960’s, new businesses in Knightdale have primarily located along Highway 64, which was widened to four lanes in 1970’s. In the late 1980’s the Town, with funding from EPA, the state and some large landowners, built the Mingo Creek sewer outfall, connecting to the City of Raleigh. This sewer opened up development on the south side of Highway 64 including Parkside, Planter’s Walk and Mingo Creek subdivisions. Between 1990 and 2000 Knightdale’s population increased from 1,700 to more than 6,000 residents, making it the seventh fastest growing town in North Carolina.
Although Knightdale continues to grow at a rapid rate, the people and events in Knightdale’s history have left a lasting imprint in the cultural, architectural, and physical landscape of this area.