Our History

Early History

  • The early history of Apex stems from a railroad station that was chartered in 1854, although the first train did not pass through town until 1869.
  • The first settlers came to the area in the 1860’s, and the town was incorporated in 1873.
  • Our community is situated at the highest point along a 30-mile section of the Chatham Railroad, hence the name ’Apex’. Steam engines would stop at the top of this climb to replenish their water supply on the way to Raleigh.
  • Another justification for the name Apex comes from the fact that water which falls on one side of Salem Street flows to the Neuse River, while water falling on the other side of the street flows to the Cape Fear River.

Town Development

A small community developed around the railroad station and the dense forests in the area were cleared for farm land. As one of the first towns to develop around the state capital of Raleigh, Apex became an active trading and shopping center. Since the train station was located in the heart of a vast pine forest, Apex became a shipping point for such products as lumber, tar and turpentine.

By the turn of the 20th century, the little town of Apex boasted a population of 349.

Tobacco Farming

Tobacco farming became an important part of the local economy in the early 1900s when a plant disease forced many tobacco farmers in Person and Granville counties to relocate. Many of the farmers discovered that the land around Apex produced excellent tobacco crops and decided to move to the area. The first tobacco auction market in Wake County was established in Apex in 1905.

Early Disasters

The town’s early growth was shaped by 2 disastrous fires in the early 1900s.

  • In February 1905, a fire destroyed a number of frame commercial buildings in the town.
  • A second fire on June 12, 1911 destroyed much of the business district, including Many of the old frame stores, the Merchants and Farmer’s Bank, and the postmaster’s house.

The fires provided merchants with a strong incentive to replace the old frame structures with fireproof brick buildings.

Historic Downtown Apex

  • Downtown Apex, considered one of the most intact turn-of-the-century railroad towns in the area, received official designation as a Historic District in 1994.
  • The Downtown Historic District has commercial/residential buildings dating back to the late 1800s, which represent a large variety of architectural styles. Many buildings are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
  • The Depot, built sometime between 1867 and 1873, is designated as a Wake County landmark. This location marked the highest point on the old Chatham Railroad. An old caboose has been added to the site and serves as a historical museum. Once serving as a working railroad depot station, this building is now home to Town of Apex Economic Development staff, as well as the Apex Chamber of Commerce.

Walking Tour

For information about a walking tour highlighting the Historic Downtown District, contact the Apex Historical Society.

Apex Town Hall

In 1912, the Apex Town Hall was built on the Corner of Salem and Templeton. The building served many needs over the years including housing the 2nd floor gathering place for teenagers to meet and dance, farmer’s market, firehouse (in the rear), jail, police station, and ticket office.

By 1913, the 100 block of Salem Street was rebuilt with pressed-brick front stores and, in 1914, the Union Depot was rebuilt.

The current Town Hall is located at 73 Hunter Street.


The population of Apex had grown to 1,000 by 1920, but the tobacco market declined during the 1920s. By the 1930 census, the population had dropped to 863. The great economic depression of the 1930s hit Apex hard and, by 1934, only 4 train stops were made at the Apex depot.

The population of Apex has grown from 5,000 people in 1990 to more than 60,000 people today. Current population information can be found in the Apex Development Report (PDF).

Research Triangle Park

Apex remained a sleepy little town into the early 1960s when the nearby Research Triangle Park was established and began to attract high-tech firms from throughout the world. Apex began to boom, along with the rest of the Triangle, and by 1990 the population reached 5,000. The town experienced unprecedented growth during the 1990s as technology-driven industry continued to move into the area.


  • Money Magazine named Apex as the #1 Best Place to Live in America in 2015.
  • The town has also received a number of accolades across quality of life, environment, finance, planning, public safety, and utilities categories.

Protecting our Small Town Character

  • The Small Town Character Overlay Zoning District passed in 2006 to help maintain the character of the heart of Apex, the Downtown and surrounding residential neighborhoods.
  • The town offers façade grants and a reduction of capacity fees for businesses locating in the Central Business District.
  • A major streetscape renovation project has restored Apex’s downtown and recaptured its historic flavor. The old Town Hall was renovated and has become the award-winning Halle Cultural Arts Center.
  • The downtown and surrounding neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as one of the best examples of an intact turn-of-the-century railroad town in North Carolina. The National Register Historic District has commercial and residential buildings that date to the late 1800’s and represent a wide variety of architectural styles.