The Cameron Park Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2012, The Gombach Group.
Cameron Park was an early streetcar suburb, as streetcars ran the length of Hillsborough Street, connecting downtown to North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts, now NCSU. Purchased in 1910 by the North Carolina Trust Company and the Southern Real Estate Company, platted by Riddick and Mann and sold by the Parker-Hunter Realty Company, Cameron Park represents the third major documented, and the most sophisticated, attempt by the city's controlling interests to accommodate the rapidly growing white middle class of early 20th century Raleigh. Located on a beautiful, forested site, cut by streams and provided with the amenities of water, sewer, sidewalks, streetcars and two parks, Cameron Park consistently attracted the upper-middle class. This is reflected in the architectural fabric which is predominantly large colonial, classical revival and neo-Georgian homes with some picturesque bungalows and a smattering of Mission style and Tudor Revival dwellings. With Glenwood and Boylan Heights, Cameron Park offers a great source of information and insight into this historically significant period of urbanization in Raleigh and the State.
On April 25, 1910, the Greensboro-based North Carolina Trust Company and Southern Real Estate Company purchased 110 acres of the old Cameron plantation for $90,000. Almost immediately, work was underway to create Cameron Park, a residential suburban neighborhood just west of the City of Raleigh. Advertisements for the development began soon after the Raleigh firm of Parker-Hunter Realty Company bought a twenty percent share of the venture in June and thereby became sole marketing agent.
Cameron Park Historic District's significance in the development of Raleigh should be considered in the context of the changes that were taking place in 1910. In the first decades of the 20th century, Raleigh experienced a period of unprecedented growth and economic prosperity with a resulting redefinition of traditional social and economic relationships. As one of Raleigh's first suburban neighborhoods, Cameron Park's success was related to the appearance and growth of a new and more affluent middle class made up of businessmen, professionals and state government officials. As a strictly white middle class neighborhood, Cameron Park's development was an early stage in the fragmentation of Raleigh into racially, as well as socio-economically, segregated neighborhoods. Its creation, along with that of Glenwood (1905) and Boylan Heights (1907) [see Boylan Heights Historic District], represents the first step in Raleigh of the flight of the middle class to the suburbs. Though it succeeded both Glenwood and Boylan Heights as an all-white middle class neighborhood, Cameron Park was unique for two reasons. First, it was designed as a solidly upper-middle class neighborhood, whereas both Boylan Heights and Glenwood made provisions for lower as well as upper-middle class residents. Secondly, its developers undertook an intensive advertising campaign in which they made an elaborate appeal to the desires of the upper-middle class of Raleigh for beauty, security and social status.
The unique marketing campaign that was devised to sell Cameron Park to upper-middle class white buyers will be discussed first. The success of the campaign will then be demonstrated with a description to the property sales, the neighborhood and some of the people who moved into Cameron Park. The conclusion will contain a little about Cameron Park's history since the 1920s and a statement about Cameron Park's significance in the general course of Raleigh's history.
Located on land abounding in rolling forested hills and deep ravined streams, Cameron Park was indeed a beautiful place in which to build a home. However, the real key to the success of the development lies in the unique and aggressive marketing campaign undertaken by the Parker-Hunter Realty Company. In its advertising for Cameron Park, Parker-Hunter made an appeal to every facet of middle class aspiration. At one level, this appeal was made in fairly straightforward terms of owning a nice home in an attractive neighborhood. On another level, however, the appeal was directed to more subtle feelings of ambition and insecurity.
Some understanding of the marketing success of Cameron Park may be gained by examining the two men who were partners in the Parker-Hunter Realty Company.
Carey J. Hunter was fourteen years older than Virgil O. Parker when they began their association in 1904. Well-to-do, a member of the country club and on the board of directors of various institutions, Hunter exemplified the successful Raleigh businessman. By 1910, when Cameron Park sales began, he had already achieved considerable success as the agent for North Carolina and Virginia of the Union Central Life Insurance Company of Ohio. It is likely that Hunter's role in the Cameron Park operation was as the model of success for prospective buyers, while Parker, still in his thirties and on his way up, was the partner to whom Cameron Park buyers would relate and with whom they would feel comfortable doing business.
Although their relationship exemplifies a typical American business partnership, Parker and Hunter undertook a marketing campaign that was unique in Raleigh history. Neither Glenwood nor Boylan Heights appears to have employed any such aggressive sales techniques. Throughout the Cameron Park advertising, an appeal was made to the social ambitions of prospective buyers. In its physical design, the neighborhood already contained at least two features that would appeal to status consensus buyers. Proximity to the fashionable neighborhood on Hillsborough Street was one. That section of Hillsborough Street between St. Mary's and downtown was the home of a number of old respected Raleigh families who lived in large and stately mansions.
Another important feature for class conscious buyers was the alley system that was incorporated into the design of Cameron Park. In a densely populated area with houses placed on narrow lots, these alleys served a useful function, allowing easy access to the back doors for residents and service people. In addition, the system held a more subtle appeal as a means of defining class by distinguishing between the front and back doors. As in upper class neighborhoods, social equals used the front door; servants and trades people approached the back door by way of the alley.
These design features were valuable, but more important to Parker-Hunter's advertising campaign were two restrictive covenants written into Cameron Park deeds. The first restriction, which was indefinitely in force, prevented any black people from residing in Cameron Park except as servants. There could be no selling or renting to people of Negro blood. The second covenant required that a minimum of $3,000 be spent on the construction of each Cameron Park residence. Introduced six months after lots in Cameron Park first went on the market, this sum was considerably higher than those for Glenwood and Boylan Heights, both of which had similar restrictive covenants.
Such restrictive covenants were a means of defining the class and racial makeup of the neighborhood. Sales of lots in Glenwood and Boylan Heights were still in progress when Parker-Hunter began marketing Cameron Park in July, 1910. Undoubtedly, the competition was stiff. It might be argued that one reason for Cameron Park's sales success was that its developers learned to use the technique of exclusion to make Cameron Park lots seem more attractive. Cameron Park was sold as a status symbol. The significantly higher cost of owning a home in Cameron Park was sold as a status symbol. The significantly higher cost of owning a home in Cameron Park relative to Boylan Heights and Glenwood appears to have increased sales rather than discouraging them, indicating that status by association. As they claimed in September, 1910, and continued to proclaim throughout their advertising campaign, "We appeal especially to those who wish to buy homes where the best physical and social conditions will be maintained."
The Cameron Park Brochure, printed in 1914, is an elaborate appeal to middle class social and career ambitions. Here the developers drew a very clear connection between where a person lived and his success in society and business. The brochure stated that although it may appear to be cheaper to rent rather than buy a house, one must consider that business standing, social prestige and character are also at stake. "...Business influence, social connections and established character of the homeowner bring about the difference between landlord and tenant." Owning a house (and the implication is one in Cameron Park) develops a man's character. People begin to respect him for advice. As a result, his social standing in the community and his business prosper. References to J. Pierpont Morgan and words such as character, independence and success are used repeatedly to strengthen the association between owning a home in Cameron Park and the fulfillment of buyers' ambitions.
If the advertising for Cameron Park spoke to the aspirations of prospective buyers, it also addressed the darker feelings of insecurity brought on by living in a changing society in which social status was by no means secure and in which job status was becoming increasingly important as a definition of prestige. In this case, the appeal in the brochure became explicit. "Home is the refuge of the soul under stress; the source of strength for the fierce onset in the struggle."
In recognizing and addressing the more emotional reasons for buying a home, Parker-Hunter initiated an apparently new and unique advertising technique. The success of their marketing campaign can be seen in the property sales and in the development of the neighborhood. If, as it seems, the developers intended that Cameron Park be an upper-middle class neighborhood, then they were eminently successful. The lots sold quickly and they sold to the "right" people. Furthermore, the company made a considerable profit on the venture.
Parker-Hunter never resorted to the tactic of giving away prizes or auctioning lots as the companies marketing Glenwood and Boylan Heights had done. In an oblique reference to auction sales in those neighborhoods, Parker-Hunter claimed, "Big prizes are not required to sell our property. If you want a home that will be a satisfaction, buy a Cameron Park Lot." Sales methods for Cameron Park were genteel and uniform. Although lots on Hillsborough Street were more expensive, lot prices beyond that seemed to be based on the size of the lot rather than proximity to any major streets. Unlike the other two developments where lot and house prices varied considerably, the developers never intended to have a cross section of the middle class in Cameron Park. Uniformly high prices for both ensured that the neighborhood would be solidly upper-middle class.
Not until 1920, nearly ten years after Cameron Park had opened, did the company reduce lot prices. Then, apparently in order to divest itself of the project, all lots were reduced to $100 from the original $1,000 to $2,500 range. By then, 150 sales had been made and the company had grossed something in the range of $268,000 after an initial capital investment of $100,000, not counting engineering costs of laying streets and water and sewer lines.
Growth started along Hillsborough Street and progressed northward on all streets. This pattern was probably related to the proximity of the fashionable neighborhood on Hillsborough. In addition, Hillsborough Street was a major boulevard with a streetcar line that ran from downtown to the old fairgrounds near North Carolina State University. Before the advent of the automobile and the nuisance of noisy traffic, it was both fashionable and convenient to live on a major city thoroughfare.
The affluence of the neighborhood can be seen in the houses. The presence of architectural styles such as Colonial Revival, Classical Revival, Mission Style, Tudor Revival and Dutch Colonial, reflects the eclecticism of tastes that was in vogue in the early decades of the 20th century. The use of these styles implies a diversity of construction materials, including wood, stone and brick. This variety of styles and materials indicates some degree of sophistication and wealth on the part of the owners. Further proof of the affluence of Cameron Park families is the presence in many of the houses of steep back stairs and toilets in the basements indicating that the houses were designed to accommodate servants. These houses were contemporary for their time and younger families moved in.
Although a few Cameron Park buyers were professionals, including professors, lawyers and state government officials, the majority of the people who bought and built homes in Cameron Park were involved in business. At least eighteen people who later bought lots in Cameron Park were either featured or mentioned in the 1910 issue of The Raleigh Illustrated published by the Chamber of Commerce. Some, like William L. Wyatt, were presidents of their own companies. Some, like Robert Horton and Thomas Johnson, started out in one company and went on to start their own businesses. Others remained in one company and worked their way up to positions of leadership as James Allison had done. In all cases, they were people on their way up when they moved to Cameron Park. Howard Satterfield, who had started as a professor at the State University, went on to become one of the city's prominent builders after designing a number of the homes in Cameron Park. Joseph B. Cheshire, Jr., became a well-known attorney and civic leader.
There are some apparent connections among the first Cameron Park buyers. Several were involved in the same businesses. Many had moved to Cameron Park from the downtown neighborhood of North Wilmington, North Blount and North Person Streets. This was an area where many of Raleigh's prominent families still lived in fine old houses, but the neighborhood was also mixed with duplexes and boarding houses. The move to Cameron Park was a move to a solidly middle class neighborhood made up of single-family dwellings.
The importance of the neighborhood was further solidified with the location of the new Wiley Grammar School on St. Mary's Street on 1929, and the decision to build the new high school at the junction of Peace and St. Mary's Streets. The location of the latter, in particular, was indicative of the growth of population in the area. In 1929, when Needham Broughton High School was finished, it, with Wiley, gave the neighborhood an implicit security.
Cameron Park continued as a strong and attractive neighborhood into the 1950s. Women often joined neighborhood organizations. Once people moved to Cameron Park, they usually stayed, more often moving away from the city than to another neighborhood with the city. Those who did move within Raleigh usually moved to the newer and fashionable Hayes Barton area.
In the 1950s, Cameron Park entered a period of decline. Older families were dying out and younger families had stopped moving into the neighborhood. This coincided with and may have been the result of the subdivision boom in the areas surrounding the city. Even more threatening to the fabric of the neighborhood were the pressures placed on its perimeter by an expanding city and university. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, a small but active group of residents fought a continuing battle against the spread of offices and institutions into the neighborhood and the conversion of large single-family dwellings into high density boarding and apartment houses. As a result of a rebirth of interest in inner city neighborhoods by young affluent families, the mid-sixties witnessed a reversal of the pattern of decline in Cameron Park. Young families again started moving back in and renovating dilapidated houses.
Cameron Park was a marketing success because of Parker-Hunter's ability to identify a potential market and then address their advertising to the ambitions and desires of potential buyers. Using methods of exclusion and elaborate advertising, they appealed to the upper-middle class of Raleigh by identifying lots in Cameron Park as symbols of social and career achievement. An important result of this campaign, though, was the concentration in this neighborhood of a large portion of the white upper-middle class of the city. The creation of Cameron Park represents the end to racially and socially integrated neighborhoods in Raleigh. After 1910, the trend would be for members of Raleigh's middle and upper classes to move farther and farther from the center of the city into distinct and homogeneous neighborhoods.
Barbee, Jennie M., Historical Sketches of the Raleigh Public Schools, 1876-1941-42. Raleigh: Barbee Pupils Association, 1943.
"Cameron Park, 1910-1914," Raleigh: np, 1914 (?).
Harris, Linda L. and Mary Ann Lee, An Architectural Inventory of Raleigh, North Carolina. Raleigh: City of Raleigh Planning Department and Division of Archives and History, 1978.
Raleigh City Directories, 1907-1930. Raleigh: Hill Directory Company.
Raleigh Evening Times, July-December, 1910.
Raleigh Illustrated, 1910. Raleigh: Edwards and Broughton, 1910.
Wason, Marianne, "Cameron Park," an unpublished study of the development of Cameron Park, notes filed with the National Register Nomination, Survey and Planning Branch, Division of Archives and History, Department of Cultural Resources, State of North Carolina, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Wake County Records, Deeds and Maps, Wake County Courthouse, Raleigh, North Carolina.
† Marilyn Dutton and Dr. Charlotte V. Brown, consultants to the City of Raleigh, Cameron Park, Wake County, NC, nomination document, 1982, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.