Published by Michael Agelasto at Smashwords
Copyright 2011 Michael Agelasto
If you Google-map “tar heel state,” then click on “terrain,” and finally zoom in three times, you’ll find three cities – Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh – more or less placed centerstate North Carolina. All Carolina (forget the southern one!), like Caesar’s Gaul, is divided into three parts. In this Dixie state’s case the sections are, west to east, sloping down to the sea: Appalachian, Piedmont and coastal plain. The flat, lush rural expanse to the east is agricultural and consequently relatively poor; it is protected from the Atlantic Ocean by a chain of islands known as the Outer Banks. At the state’s other end the mountainous west is a geological component of southern Appalachia, leaving the middle section the Piedmont or “foot of the mountain.” This is where Googling lands you – an urbanized plateau, characterized by rolling hills, smallish sized cities and suburbs, much of its land formerly devoted to tobacco. This terrain was occupied for millennia by its aboriginal natives (their arrow heads can still be found in them thar hills), who co-existed with their hardwood forests, even grasslands and savannas that allowed for settlements and extensive agriculture. Five centuries of mostly European and African occupation, however, have resulted in today’s numerous central business districts, interstate highways, shopping malls, power lines and other vestiges of advanced, some would say failing, civilization.
The center of the Piedmont is a triangle formed by the cities of Raleigh, the state capital, Chapel Hill, the seat of the University of North Carolina, and Durham. This last city is famous for several things, not the least of which is that it contains Bennett Place, where General Joseph E. Johnson of the Confederate States surrendered to General Tecumseh Sherman on April 26th 1865, thus in fact ending the conflict (Lee had surrendered to Grant two weeks earlier; Lincoln having been assassinated in the meantime). Older Durhamites still refer to that forgettable period as the War Between the States, never as the Civil War. Four years after the conflict had ended Durham, with a population of 200, was incorporated into a city. By 1895 it had become a bustling town of over 8,000 souls, thanks principally to one commodity: tobacco. Northern soldiers who had fought in the Piedmont during the war had been introduced to the local sweet leaf and afterwards as decommissioned warriors they helped spread the word; habit and addiction followed; Durham prospered. By 1920 the city was home to more than 20,000 inhabitants. Today, Durham claims a population of nearly one-quarter million people, and the tri-city area itself is seven times that. King Tobacco is less regal today than information technology and the overall service sector.