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The first European to explore “Carolina” was a young Englishman named John Lawson. Hired by the Lords Proprietor of the Colony, Lawson set out in 1701 from what is now Charleston, South Carolina on his inland trek of exploration. His diary records a meeting with fierce Tuscarora Indians on the banks of what was to be called the Neuse River. After receiving the report from Lawson, the King of England decided that the time had come to apportion these lands to willing settlers. Sometime around 1730, John Hinton erected the first dwelling built by a white man in what was to be called Knightdale. Hinton settled near the Neuse River not far from where Hodge Road and Old Faison Road now intersect. Through his loyalty to the King, Hinton was appointed Justice of the Peace, formed a militia and was given the rank of colonel. His small band of militiamen served at the wishes of the royal governor in New Bern, North Carolina.
When the American Revolution began Hinton switched his allegiances to the patriot side and played a key role in the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge on the Cape Fear River, first battle on North Carolina soil in 1776. Not long after the battle Hinton was chosen as a delegate to the Fourth Provincial Congress and helped pass a resolution known as the Halifax Resolve, a precursor to the Declaration of Independence. Hinton and his descendants settled in this area and built several plantation homes, some are still intact.
After the Civil War ended in 1865 residents of the area set to rebuilding what had been pillaged during the war years. The city of Raleigh saw a tremendous surge in its population and 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. For many years thereafter Knightdale was a crossroads served only by a post office.
Most of the people in the area were farmers who grew a variety of crops, including corn and other vegetables, but gold leaf tobacco was the main cash crop and it helped unite the people of the area, bringing them together for the common good.
Near the end of the nineteenth century, many citizens of this area saw the need to 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.
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.
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. Between 1990 and 2000 Knightdales’s population increased from 1,700 to more than 6,000 residents, making it the 13th fastest growing town in North Carolina.
In the summer of 2005 the US Highway 64 Bypass opened and rerouted regional traffic around Knightdale opening what is now called Knighdale Boulevard to the needs of local citizens and businesses. Futhermore, Knightdale has been reshaped by the opening of the I540 Outer Loop, which passes through the corporate limits of the town. Knightdale also having merged utility systems with the City of Raleigh will continue to grow and provide infrastructure to the surrounding areas.
Knightdale is an attractive, thriving community. It is a destination all its own with the easygoing qualities of a small town and a superb quality of life that welcomes newcomers and visitors alike. Citizens enjoy the comfort and security of living within a small community but yet are able to take advantage of the benefits of living close to the major metropolitan Triangle area. The future is bright, but the people and events in Knightdale’s history have left a lasting imprint in the cultural, architectural, and physical landscape of this area.