History & Walking Tour

Gibsonville History

Gibsonville is and always has been a “between” location. 

In 1855, it was a newly built stop for the North Carolina Railroad on Highway 100 (the main east-west road across NC at that time).  This transpired on the land and through the advocacy of Joseph Gibson.  In 1871 the town formally took the name Gibsonville in honor of Mr. Gibson.  Mr. Gibson had had no male children to carry forth the Gibson name and desired to be remembered for the town he worked so hard to build.  See the Gibson house to the right.

Gibsonville had its heyday between the 1880s – 1920’s.  During this time, its downtown and numerous mills were built.  Railroad traffic paired with activity from area roadways allowed for solid industrial and residential growth in “crossroads” Gibsonville. By 1901, records show that Gibsonville had 80 homes, two cotton mills, three or four merchandise establishments, and about 500 persons.  By 1920, the town doubled its population and had an estimated 1,302 persons.

While industry built our downtown and other physical structures, this area was also defined by education.  Gibsonville’s commercial district was surrounded by Elon University (established 1889), the Whitsett Institute (a prestigious private college preparatory school which operated between 1884 and 1919), and Palmer Memorial Institute (a nationally recognized African American School from 1904 – 1970).   Staff, students, and visitors would come into Gibsonville’s train station and be shuttled to these nearby educational locations.

Gibsonville stayed a small town throughout the 1900’s.  Traffic shifted away from the town in the 1930’s when Highway 70 was built as a bypass road outside of the city.   Population trends stayed stable but showed limited growth during the World Wars.  (To the left is the corner of Main Street and Piedmont Avenue in the 1940’s.  The current location of Reno’s Pizza would be in the far right of this photo.)  During the 1960’s, Interstate 40 was built; this regional roadway continued to move traffic away from our small town.  For many years, Gibsonville was known for its Cone plant.  This large textile operation provided primary employment to many in town.  This mill had opened in the late 1880’s and provided continuous employment until the 1980’s.   In the 1980’s, this manufacturing location and the town’s railway stop closed.  At this time approximately 2,000 people lived in Gibsonville.

Despite the above developments, Gibsonville continued to see growth regardless.  By 2000, there were 4,372 people, 1,707 households, and 1,206 families in Gibsonville, per the Census.  In only thirty years, the town doubled it’s population again.  By 2016, there is an estimated 7,029 persons in city limits.  Our location between Greensboro (NC’s 3rd largest city) and Durham / Chapel Hill (NC’s 4th / 15th largest cities) has allowed continued relevance without the loss of our small town identity.  This is similar to the crossroads fundamentals that built this town in the 1880’s – 1920’s.  In this way, Gibsonville’s “between” location has defined its character for the last 150+ years.


Elon History

The town of Elon and the college / university have been interconnected since the 1880’s. 

Before the 1880’s: The area is known for its location near Gibsonville and Burlington.

1881: The town received its own train depot.  Early on the North Carolina Rail Road system referred to the station as “Mill Point.”  This was to be a shipping point for the many cotton mills around the countryside.  Locals simply knew the intersection as “Boon’s Crossing.”

1888: The town built its post office in order to establish a more permanent municipality and solidified community.

1889: The N.C. Legislature issues charter for Elon College as a four-year coeducational institution.  This was founded by the Christian Church with William S. Long as the school’s first president.  Initial enrollment was 76 students.  Initial construction was a relocated school known as “Graham Normal College” put in a heavily wooded area full of large oak trees. The founders understood that “Elon” was the Hebrew name for oak; hence, Elon College.

1893: The Town of Elon College is formally incorporated.

1905: Emmett L. Moffitt (Elon University’s 3rd president) installs central heat, electricity, running water and indoor plumbing.  Electric lights are turned on for the first time on New Year’s Day, 1907.

1918: Senior class of Elon College shrinks from 46 to 30 as men enlist to fight in WWI.

1923: Fire destroys Elon College’s main building, including school records, classrooms, library and chapel; trustees immediately vote to rebuild; Alamance Building opens in Fall 1923.  Within the next year, Whitley Auditorium, Carlton Library and Duke Building open; citizens of Alamance County are active in fundraising for rebuilding efforts following the disastrous 1923 fire.

1930’s: In 1931, Leon Edgar Smith is named Elon College’s 5th president, beginning a 25-year term as the longest-serving president.  Enrollment declines to 87 students due to the effects of the Great Depression  By the mid 1930’s, the college faces the risk of financial collapse.  President Smith persuades creditors to accept partial payments, convinces faculty to compromise on delinquent salaries, and launches a new fund drive.

1943: 672 pilots are trained on Elon College’s campus for WWII duty in the U.S. Army Air Corps; their enrollment provides critical financial stability.  By 1946, WWII GIs increase enrollment to nearly 700 students.

1955: Elon College’s enrollment exceeds 1,000.

1961: Elon’s railroad station, once the primary means of transportation for students and faculty, is dismantled.

1969: Eugene E. Perry is the first African-American graduate; Elon awards its 5,000th degree.

1983: Elon awards its 10,000th degree ninety four years after its creation (1889).

1985: Martha and Spencer Love School of Business is established with the first $1 million gift in Elon history.

2000: The Phoenix is adopted as the new athletics identity (with sports programs no longer known as the Fighting Christians).  Elon awards its 20,000th degree.  The population of Elon is 6,748 persons, per census.gov.

2001: Elon Vision campaign concludes, raising $46.7 million; former President George Bush speaks on campus; Elon College becomes Elon University; Town of Elon College becomes Town of Elon; Rhodes Stadium opens.

2006: Elon University School of Law opens in downtown Greensboro, N.C. with a charter class of 115 students; the school is formally dedicated by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.  The Ernest A. Koury Sr. Business Center opens; former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell delivers Convocation for Honors address.

2010: Elon trustees approve the establishment of the 56-acre Elon University Forest (off of Power Line Road north of University Drive).  This property is one of the few remaining land areas with the trademark 100+ year old Oak Trees the school is named after.

2013: Elon celebrates its 125th anniversary year.

2016: The town’s population is 10,147, per census.gov.  The majority of those who live in town are related to Elon University as students or staff.

Historical information sources from Elon University’s website (www.elon.edu) and the town’s website (www.elonnc.com).