The Raleigh Naturalist

July 15, 2008

From Hwy 50 Horses to Gresham Lake’s Paul Bunyan: Person Street


Straight Streets: nature drives with a Raleigh road theme

     With some finessing, but no turns, you can drive a thoroughfare through Raleigh from Highway 50 in Garner, straight north through the heart of downtown, out to Gresham’s Lake at Capital and 540.  The middle of this 15 mile stretch is called Person Street, and when I was a kid my Dad told me this:

   Son, this piece of asphalt you’re looking at goes from Florida to Maine.  It’s part of one of the country’s great highways – and one of the first.  Indians may have used this path before Columbus came.  This is business US 1.

 Person Street was a big part of my childhood, and now I live on it.  It is the address of the church in which I grew up, Tabernacle Baptist, the Krispy Kreme, a beloved landmark long before they went public, and the Mordecai House, a genuine bridge to another time.  It has been made one way now, so we can count Blount Street as its southbound lane.  It has been extended to the north as Atlantic Avenue, which we will follow out.  But it also has been cut off from its old extension, Wake Forest Road, as seen above, and yet this all intertwines in interesting ways in north Raleigh.


      Let’s start at the farthest extensions southward: Person becomes Hammond, which becomes Timber Drive at 70.  Timber crosses 70 and curves under  the south edge of Garner,ending in a horse pasture just past 50.  Reverse your direction, and you are looking at 3 miles of new suburban projects and shopping centers.  The funny thing is, it all exists in what is recognizably old farm fields with mature trees in the lowlands and various stages of pine plantation everywhere else.  There are loblollies everywhere!

      young pine stand –        juvenile loblollies    –    thinned adults    –    mature stand with crowd
please remember to click and enlarge 

   The drive traverses four watersheds: Swift  Creek in Garner, Walnut Creek at 40 and Hammond, Crabtree over the crest at New Bern Avenue, and the Neuse after the Char-Grill on Atlantic.  Below is Wildcat Creek, a north bearing tributary of Walnut, as it crosses Hammond.  This stretch just south of downtown is still heavily wooded, with side lots and a very large swale bordered by the Lake Wheeler Road offshoots.  There are some trash dumps, plenty of kudzu and microstegia, but really some nice spots.


     Proceeding north through downtown, one encounters many fascinating examples of human nature along Person Street.  After sniffing the pet food factory at the transition from Hammond to Person, you cross Bragg Street, one of the most policed streets in Raleigh, but also some nicely renovated homes and parks, as well as the No Hand King at Person and MLK Blvd. – one of the coolest flag-bearers you will ever see.  Moore Square, the Imax at my old church, the Governor’s Mansion – all are just preludes to the real star of Person Street – THE KRISPY KREME!  The Raleigh Naturalist lives across the street.




     As you leave downtown, you pass the Mordecai House and its spring, garden, and historic building collection.  It will have its own post soon.  At the bottom of the hill, Person hits an old cowpath of an intersection whose traffic patterns have changed many times in my lifetime.  Brookside, Old Louisburg, Capital, Wake Forest (which is now what Person is named) and Atlantic all crisscross.  Atlantic Ave. is new, but The Circus (originally a Dairy Queen, I believe), and Watkins Grill are ancient and revered blue collar eateries.  Each of them has to watch Pigeon House Creek, which crosses here, very carefully after  heavy rains.  You could take the straightest lane and head up US 1 to Maine.  But let’s do as the city’s design suggests, and take the relatively new Atlantic Avenue north.  On your left, you will see the cut off RR underpass where Person used to merge with Wake Forest Road.  Atlantic rises over the railroad line in a tremendous arc which is achieved by a bridge whose shortsighted design is a travesty and an affront to any biker or pedestrian in this part of the city.  There is a guardrail that forces everyone into the same lanes up in midair, and looks and feels just plain dangerous.


     The view above is approaching south from Whitaker Mill, but the other side is just as bad.  At the bottom of this imposing hill, back to the north, you hit Hodges Road which is one of the more versatile spots in all of Raleigh to begin a greenway trek.  Buckeye beckons to the east, this Middle creek section carries you to Lassiter Mill westward, and several interesting bike trails lead other directions. Below is the north side of Atlantic with the underpass, and the marsh on the south side that leaks its water and is fast becoming a scrub bog.


     The drive through northeast Raleigh from here is pretty boring.  There is a huge meadow full of bugs and birds behind and across from the police substation, but both are surely doomed.   Here is the shift from Marsh and Crabtree water to dry hills edging the Neuse drainage.  After Spring Forest, bearing right puts you on Old Wake Forest Road, part of the original route from downtown Raleigh, which leads you directly to – Triangle Town Center!! – no fitting fate for a nature drive.  So finesse to the left and begin your u-turn on Gresham’s Lake Road, which will take you to Litchford, where you can finish your u-turn by turning left and continue in a straight path south all the way back to Garner.   Gresham’s Lake used to be a popular swimming and picnic spot.  It’s eastern end is now part of a quarry operation.  At it’s edge, you can see the huge Paul Bunyan that used to look out from a field on 401.  The Bradshers gave up that property for the Wake Tech campus and moved ole Paul to their landscape business at Gresham’s.

More Person Street another time.  It’s a rich straight street!

 Photo tour of Person Street


December 27, 2007

Six Forks starts my Straight Streets

Filed under: Geographic Areas, Nature Lore, North Raleigh, Straight Streets — Tags: , , — raleighnaturalist @ 5:01 pm
 Straight Streets is a category for posts that sketch toward an essay (as do most posts on this blog) about Raleigh streets that can tell a story in their sequence.  Martin Street, Hammond/Person/Atlantic, and Hillsborough Street are all obvious candidates.  What follows below will activate the category for now, but I will return to Six Forks again, I’m sure.


Longbranch to Falls: Six Forks Low to High 

   Six Forks dead ends right into Crabtree Creek on the south, and dead-ends right into Fall Lake northward. Along the way it takes you from Crabtree’s muddiest, most ditch-like stretch to a state park.  Above is the best spot on the tour – an upper tributary of Shelley lake just off Six Forks at the northern top of the greenway (aside from 2 isolated sections at Lake Lynn and Durant Park).  Below is a fairly ironic juxtaposition (a theme of this blog) – the back of the Longbranch saloon, edged by the greenway.


From a parking spot at the plumbing supply at Atlantic Avenue and Hodges Road, you can hop on to the greenway, or you can stop at the southern dead-end and check out the dried-up wetland parallel to Atlantic.  The map below shows the area – don’t forget to try the satellite view! Also, an image of the southern dead-end is below that.

Map of Briggs Hardware:919-832-2025 2533 Atlantic Ave Raleigh, NC 27604, US

This end of Six Forks boasts a Bojangles, Briggs, and a townhouse development that began the process of replacing an old creekside farm with development. The doomed wooded hillsides are currently used by guerilla mountain bikers for amazing and terrifying structures (more on that another post- the site is edged by the greenway). Just behind Briggs you can check out a nice outcrop of Raleigh gneiss.  As you start driving north on Six Forks, you pass through Raleigh’s second-most famous floodplain – the old K-Mart used to flood every ten years or so, and the car dealerships still move their entire stock uphill after threatening rains.  With the super Kroger’s on your left, you cross Big Branch just before it joins Crabtree behind Southern States.  Upstream of this spot, Big Branch carves away the southernmost “North Hill” with a vengeance, creating a soil profile that represents thousands of years of accretion.


At the top of the hill is the beltline crossing and North Hills, including Mr. Kane’s new project.  You have left central Raleigh (and the floodplain) and entered former farmlands.  The soil is clay, the houses used to be exclusive, but have been superceded to the north and west, and are fairly diverse in value and inhabitants. Small parks dot the neighborhoods, and traffic is horrible on weekdays. Beyond North Hills, you are in the heart of Raleigh’s steady northward population shift.  There are some atrocities and some gems (again, we will return to this Straight Street soon). For now we will end with a treat just north of 540 – an old-fashioned country gas-n-deli with 200 kinds of wine and live bait!  A reason to love living in Raleigh, indeed.  Six Forks used to go right up to Creedmoor, but now dead-ends into the Falls Lake State Park administrative facility.  We will come back to this complex sequence soon.

a photo tour of Six Forks Road

Blog at