Morrisville, North Carolina, or the Town of Morrisville, is located halfway between Raleigh and Durham. Morrisville is part of the Research Triangle Park metropolitan region. The town limits are for the most part, located within Wake County, with a very small portion being within Durham County. Morrisville is not to be confused with Mooresville, NC which is north of Charlotte.
Morrisville was first chartered as a town by the North Carolina General Assembly on March 3, 1875. The town’s charter was repealed by a vote of the citizens of Morrisville on May 9, 1933. The town was rechartered on April 3, 1947.
The town name comes from the original landowner, Jeremiah Morris. In 1852, Morris donated three acres of land for a water station, woodshed, and for the development of other structures to the North Carolina Railroad. In March of 1852, he established the first post office and became the first postmaster.
April 13 through April 15, 1865, Morrisville was the site of one of the last battles of the Civil War. This battle is known by two different names, The Battle of Morrisville or the Battle at Morrisville Station. The battle occurred during the final stages of Union Major General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Campaign of the Carolinas. This battle was not to the size of force scale found in many Civil War battles, nonetheless this battle was significant. It was significant for two reasons, first, it being the last official battle of the American Civil War between the forces of General Sherman and Confederate Army General Joseph E. Johnston. Second, that the battle took place after Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Court House to Union General Ulysses S. Grant.
Union forces were under direct command of General Judson Kilpatrick. Confederate forces were under the direct command of General Wade Hampton III and General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Wheeler. The battle unfolded as a train loaded with confederate wounded and supplies arrived at Morrisville Station retreating from Raleigh. The retreating Confederate forces were attempting to escape Union forces in Raleigh and reach Greensboro, NC, the last significant Confederate holdout in the region.
Apparently, unbeknownst to these fleeing Confederate troops at Morrisville Station, Union Brigadier General William Palmer’s brigade had already begun destroying rail lines and bridges in the Greensboro area on April 9, 1865. Consequently, at this same time, some of General Palmer’s troops had just missed capturing Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate cabinet members fleeing Greensboro.
Literally as the train loaded with wounded Confederate forces arrived at the Morrisville Station, the Union cavalry attacked the station, while Union General Kilpatrick’s artillery was shelling the town. It has been speculated the Union forces were attempting to capture the train intact. Confederate cavalry repelled the initial attack against the station long enough to allow the uncoupling of the freight cars carrying supplies and allowing the rest of the train with the wounded to escape down the line towards Greensboro. With the Union artillery and Union calvary, ultimately the Confederates forces found their defense of the station untenable and were forced to retreat.
The following evening, April 14, a weary Confederate cavalry soldier bearing a white flag of truce rode into the Union encampment in Morrisville. This soldier’s task was to deliver a letter with a truce proposal and start negotiations on the surrender of all General Johnston’s Confederate forces. This truce letter eventually led to a meeting between General Sherman and General Johnston on April 26 at Bennett Farm in Durham, which led to the largest surrender of the war when Johnston’s 90,000-man force laid down their arms.
The Battle of Morrisville Station was the last battle between the armies of Major General William Tecumseh Sherman and General Joseph E. Johnston. This battle was the last cavalry engagement of the war, and possibly the last exchange of cannon fire in the Civil War.
The post-Civil War economic recovery was slow in North Carolina, but Morrisville recovered as evidenced by the many enterprises that thrived in town. In 1870, Morrisville had six general stores, a hotel, a sawmill, and several churches. At this time, the citizenry of Morrisville could support four doctors, one lawyer, and a cabinetmaker in the community.
The year 1880 was the first year the U.S. Census population was taken for Morrisville. The population growth for Morrisville from 1880 to 1980 is quite unremarkable. The 1880 U.S. Census placed the population at 165. The 1980 U.S. Census placed the population at 251. Only an increase of 86 people. However, the U.S. Census population for 1990 was 1,022. The 2000 U.S. Census was 5,208. The 2010 U.S. Census was 18,576. The 2019 population estimate was 28,846.
This population growth came from the Research Triangle Park and the growth from Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
An atmosphere to reinvent North Carolina’s economy led to academics at North Carolina State University (NCSU) and Duke University developing the concept of a “park” so that both universities could do research together, along with other institutes of higher learning. There are nine other colleges and universities in the area with an abundance of highly skilled workers who would help build on this concept. The Research Triangle Park (RTP) was established in 1959 to accomplish these goals of education and innovation. The “Triangle” in Research Triangle Park comes from the three leading research higher educational institutes in the area, Duke University, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Morrisville is essentially located in the center top of this triangle.
The Research Triangle Park began to gain real traction in the 1980s and this can be observed through the population increases in Morrisville, Cary, Raleigh, Durham, and the other municipalities in and around the Triangle. The Research Triangle Park is the largest research park of its kind in the United States, and one of the largest in the world. RTP is home to more than 200 global companies including SAS Institute, Verizon, Siemens Medical Solutions USA, Met Life, ABB, Inc., HCL American, and American Airlines.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) is located in Morrisville. The following airlines serve Raleigh-Durham: Air Canada Express, Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Air, American Airlines, American Eagle, Delta Air Lines, Delta Connection, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, United Airlines, and United Express. Neighboring town Cary has an Amtrak station with regular service.
Schools, primary and secondary education, are well rated. There are 11 top ranked colleges or universities in the Morrisville area with the majority having sports programs.
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