Moore Square Art District

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Moore Square Art District

The Moore Square Art District mirrors much of Raleigh’s evolution as a community and a city of the South. At the heart of the area is the green space of Moore Square. One of two surviving four-acre parks from Raleigh’s original 1792 plan, the wooded square was originally surrounded by a residential neighborhood. During the early 1800s, the square itself was the site of several small churches; association with one was strong enough that for a time the tree-dotted square was simply known as Baptist Grove.


Following the Civil War, occupying Federal troops billeted in the square. Damages incurred eventually led the state legislature to authorize the city to beautify the state-owned parcel. Later, the city used this power to block the state from selling the land and applying the proceeds toward constructing a new Governor’s Mansion. A subsequent bill permanently entrusted the park’s maintenance to the city.

During the latter part of the 19th century, Raleigh’s population grew rapidly. New neighborhoods and schools sprang up on the edge of town. At the same time, racial segregation passed into law. Although Hargett and Wilmington streets had long been the location of saloons and small shops, Moore Square gradually transformed into a decidedly commercial district. Larger storefronts appeared on nearby Martin and Davie streets, displaying wares of merchants, grocers and artisans.

With the establishment of these types of stores, the Moore Square neighborhood was developing a new, retail-based respectability. Representative of the trend was the 1870 Carolina Boarding House at the corner of Hargett and Wilmington, which was converted into a hotel in 1880 and became a furniture store in 1899 and served that purpose until 2003. It is now undergoing rehabilitation for new uses.

Opposite Moore Square, the Tabernacle Baptist Church was established in 1879. Yet even the church building came to mirror community growth, architecturally evolving over 30 years from a simple frame church to a towering Romanesque building. The early 20th century completed the district’s commercial conversion, as two- and three-story brick storefronts, some with elaborate brickwork, came to dominate the street scape.

Agricultural enterprises also took hold, drawn by the construction of the Mission style City Market in 1914. New bank buildings and the nearby City Auditorium further nurtured commercial activity. By the 1930s, the area was fully part of the city’s business core. Meanwhile, segregation had pushed black entrepreneurs and professionals to consolidate their business activity on Hargett Street. During the 1920s, the area emerged as Raleigh’s “Black Main Street” and a vital part of local economic life.

The fortunes of the district declined after World War II, as the automobile, suburban construction and rise of integration offered new opportunities beyond the city center. During the 1980s, however, the local government initiated a number of programs that have helped bring new life to the area.

City Market has become the focal point of a festival marketplace. Art galleries, restaurants and pubs have replaced pawnshops and car parts stores. Historic designation has fostered widespread rehabilitations. At the same time, new construction (most recently the Exploris Museum complex) has reconfirmed the district’s legacy of economic adaptability and locally innovative architecture.

Intersection of Blount & Martin Sts.
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