28 miles W of Raleigh; 12 miles SW of Durham
The third point of the Research Triangle area is Chapel Hill, a small city that has managed to hold on to its village atmosphere in spite of the presence of a university that annually enrolls more than 25,000 students. Chapel Hill is the University of North Carolina (UNC) and has been in existence since 1795, when it was the first state university in the country. The 2,000-acre campus holds 125 buildings, ranging from Old East, the oldest state university building in the country (its cornerstone was laid in 1793), to the Morehead Planetarium, which was an astronaut-training center in the early days of the U.S. space program.
Just before the Civil War erupted, the student body was the second largest in the country, after Yale's. Then the fighting started, and most of UNC's undergraduates and faculty left for the battlefield. The school closed down from 1868 to 1875.
The university has consistently been a leader in American education -- Chapel Hill has the highest concentrations of Ph.D.'s in the United States -- and a center of liberal intellectualism in a generally conservative state. It is estimated that the residents of Chapel Hill purchase more books per capita than anybody else in North Carolina. They also write them. Lee Smith, author of 11 novels about the South, lives in the area, as does Allan Gurganus, author of the prizewinning novel Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All: A Novel.
Schedule your visit ideally in spring to see the dogwoods and crape myrtle burst into bloom. At any time, you can wander past the stately pillared houses of Franklin Street and -- surprise -- find an espresso outlet on virtually every street corner, just as you can in Seattle.