To the casual observer, Maiden Lane doesn't look like anything special. It's a single block that turns off Hillsborough Street, tucked behind the boutique Aloft hotel, across from N.C. State's Memorial Bell Tower. There's history here, but it's the sort that takes extra attention to recognize. Maiden Lane's value resides in the stories of its dozen or so century-old frame houses, which are now in varying states of upkeep, some turned into frat houses, with yards packed with cars, fronted by buckled sidewalks.
And while some folks might scoff at the idea that the easy-to-overlook Maiden Lane, its once gracious, now bedraggled houses filled with renters, deserves its placement on the National Register of Historic Places (which it earned in 2006), its connections to both Raleigh's past and to that of the university to which it is so closely linked are inescapable.
For when today's fraternity men walk those sidewalks, they cross paths with the spirits of eighties punks and the ghosts of N.C. State professors from the turn of the twentieth century.
After all, where else can someone find the mixed traces of D.H. Hill, president of what would become N.C. State from 1908–16, and the crucial Raleigh metal band Corrosion of Conformity?
Come summer, however, all of that will disappear. Heavy construction equipment will show up to reduce Maiden Lane to rubble, along with its 125 years of history and its decades of colorful decline. In its place will go a three-story, fifty-foot-tall apartment complex called Hillstone Cameron Village, making room for 201 more inside-the-Beltline dwellings.
Hillstone's property will reach from Enterprise Street to Oberlin Road, taking out a swath of old Raleigh and replacing it with more of the kind of development associated with the Raleigh of the last decade. The Texas-backed developer spent $11.6 million on property and will, proponents say, further the city's public-policy goals of density, walkability, and access to mass transit.
Still, Raleigh will also lose something of value when Maiden Lane falls. That's clear from a look at the street's first decades as a respectable streetcar suburb and its subsequent years of families, rentals, politics, fraternity bonding, and punk rock lifestyle.
"They're taking character away from N.C. State," says twenty-year-old Maiden Lane resident Austin Conner, a State student and Sigma Chi member who's been told his lease is up in May.
City council member Kay Crowder recently expressed her own fondness for the street, an affection shared by prominent figures such as developer and former Raleigh mayor Smedes York, who lived there while his father, J.W. York, was starting to develop Cameron Village a few blocks away.
"We lived at number thirteen Maiden Lane, and I have many, many memories of it," the seventy-five-year-old York told the INDY recently. "My dad purchased number thirteen on July 1, 1944, and we lived there when I was three, four, and five years old."
In the first half of the twentieth century, horse-drawn wagons brought Pine State milk to Maiden Lane, and kids could ride the streetcar or run all the way to downtown Raleigh to catch a Tom Mix cowboy movie. Former residents often count Maiden Lane as a landmark. For some, it was a place of growing up.
"Maiden Lane is in my district. I've driven it," Crowder said during a January council discussion. She smiled and added, "As a student, I had time over in this area. It was a time. It was a very good time."
Lots of students did.
As the decades passed, most of the houses were divided up to make room for generations of students, rock 'n' rollers, artists, State graduates who couldn't quite manage to leave Raleigh, denizens of the late Sadlack's restaurant, and lots and lots of frat members.
Maiden Lane is one of Raleigh's old places, soon to make way for another new place. There's no denying that the Hillstone complex makes sense from a planning perspective. But there's also no denying that Raleigh is losing another of the offbeat landmarks that made it so attractive in the first place.
And that's something worth remembering as yet another shiny new edifice reaches into the city's skyline.
No one would propose tearing down rows of century-old houses in Cameron Park, founded in 1910, or Boylan Heights, dating from 1907, but those better-known, also historic "streetcar suburbs" followed in the tracks of Maiden Lane, which got its start in 1892. Nearby attractions included the agricultural and engineering school that became N.C. State and the park donated to the city by R. Stanhope Pullen in 1887.
Families were drawn to Maiden Lane, then a rural area outside of the town, because the streetcar line ran west along what was then Hillsboro Road, according to the city's Historic Development Commission. The nearby state fairgrounds, located beginning in 1873 at what is now the Rose Garden, also attracted residents. The whole neighborhood was outside the city limits until 1920, distant enough from downtown that it was known as West Raleigh. Many of the street's early residents worked at the college, which started offering classes in 1889, some holding deanships or other positions that paid well enough to afford a house on Maiden Lane.
D.H. Hill, who served as an English professor and the college's first librarian before his term as the third president of the N.C. College of Agricultural and Mechanical Arts (now N.C. State), lived at 2 Maiden Lane with his mother. The steps on the little rise from Hillsborough Street to the Bell Tower site were said to have been built to accommodate Hill, after whom the college's library was later named, as he walked to his office on campus. (The tower wasn't built until he left office.)
Other prominent Maiden Lane folk included Samuel W. Brewer, an agricultural implements businessman who in about 1900 built the house at 4 Maiden Lane that's occupied today by thirteen Sigma Chi frat members. Architectural engineering professor Howard Ernest Satterfield, known for his high-quality "Satterfield Built" residences, lived on Maiden Lane before building many of the houses in Raleigh's Hayes Barton suburb in the 1920s.
In the 1930s, when Raleigh businessman Zack Bacon was growing up on Maiden Lane, the growing university across the street was an unceasing lure.
"That was just about my home; I could go over there and play," the eighty-eight-year-old Bacon told the INDY recently. "I could go into the gymnasium and play. When I was in the sixth grade, I was the batboy and the water boy for the baseball team. I didn't know any other school. State College to me was the whole world."
From the early part of the twentieth century, Maiden Lane's houses offered rooms to students. In August 1917, rooms at 12 and 14 Maiden Lane cost $20 a month. And as decades passed, more of the old homes were rented, and some were converted to businesses. Just as Cameron Park and Boylan Heights once saw many of their elegant homes broken up for rentals, Maiden Lane's parade of stately beauties took a turn to the commercial as the decades rolled on.
"That's the real shame about it," says Tom Bryan, a Raleigh biologist and musician who played music on Maiden Lane in the seventies and later. "Some places like Boylan Heights—a lot of those neighborhoods went through a decline. In those places, people recognized the glory and restored the houses. But that didn't happen on Maiden Lane."