Orange County, North Carolina

Coordinates: 36°03′45″N 79°07′12″W / 36.062526°N 79.120034°W / 36.062526; -79.120034
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Orange County
Orange County Courthouse
Orange County Courthouse
Flag of Orange County
Official seal of Orange County
Official logo of Orange County
Map of North Carolina highlighting Orange County
Location within the U.S. state of North Carolina
Map of the United States highlighting North Carolina
North Carolina's location within the U.S.
Coordinates: 36°03′45″N 79°07′12″W / 36.062526°N 79.120034°W / 36.062526; -79.120034
Country United States
State North Carolina
Named forWilliam V of Orange
Largest communityChapel Hill
 • Total400.96 sq mi (1,038.5 km2)
 • Land397.56 sq mi (1,029.7 km2)
 • Water3.40 sq mi (8.8 km2)  0.85%
 • Total148,696
 • Estimate 
 • Density374.02/sq mi (144.41/km2)
Time zoneUTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−4 (EDT)
Congressional district4th

Orange County is a county located in the Piedmont region of the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of the 2020 census, the population was 148,696.[1] Its county seat is Hillsborough.[2]

Orange County is included in the Durham-Chapel Hill, NC Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is also included in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, NC Combined Statistical Area, which had a population of 2,106,463 in 2020.[3]

It is home to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the flagship institution of the University of North Carolina System and the oldest state-supported university in the United States.


The county was formed in 1752 from parts of Bladen, Granville, and Johnston counties. It was named for the infant William V of Orange, whose mother Anne, daughter of King George II of Great Britain, was then regent of the Dutch Republic.

In 1771, Orange County was greatly reduced in area. The western part of it was combined with the eastern part of Rowan County to form Guilford County. Another part was combined with parts of Cumberland County and Johnston County to form Wake County. The southern part of what remained became Chatham County.

In 1777, the northern half of what was left of Orange County became Caswell County. In 1849, the western county became Alamance County. Finally, in 1881, the eastern half of the county's remaining territory was combined with part of Wake County to form Durham County.

Some of the first settlers of the county were English Quakers, who settled along the Haw and Eno rivers.[4] Arguably, the earliest settlers in the county were the Andrews family, which would later intermarry with the Lloyd family.[5]

Colonial period and Revolutionary War[edit]

The Orange County seat of Hillsborough was founded in 1754 on land where the Great Indian Trading Path crossed the Eno River. This area was first owned, surveyed, and mapped by William Churton (a surveyor for Earl Granville). Originally to be named Orange, it was named Corbin Town (for Francis Corbin, a member of the governor's council and one of Granville's land agents), and renamed Childsburgh (in honor of Thomas Child, the attorney general for North Carolina from 1751 to 1760 and another one of Granville's land agents) in 1759. In 1766, it was named Hillsborough, after Wills Hill, then the Earl of Hillsborough, the British secretary of state for the colonies, and a relative of royal Governor William Tryon.

Located in the Piedmont region, Hillsborough was the site of a colonial court, and the scene of some pre-Revolutionary War tensions. In the late 1760s, conflicts between Piedmont farmers and county officers welled up in the Regulator movement, or as it was also known, the War of the Regulation, which had its epicenter in Hillsborough.[6] Several thousand people from North Carolina, mainly from Orange, Anson, and Granville counties in the western region, were extremely dissatisfied with the wealthy colonial officials whom they considered cruel, arbitrary, tyrannical, and corrupt.

With specie scarce, many inland farmers were cash poor and unable to pay their taxes; they resented the consequent seizure of their property. In addition, local sheriffs sometimes kept taxes for their own gain and sometimes charged twice for the same tax. At times, sheriffs would intentionally remove records of their tax collection to further tax citizens. Rowan, Anson, Orange, Granville, and Cumberland counties were said to be most affected by such corruption. It was a struggle of yeomen farmers and other mostly lower-class citizens, who made up the majority of the population of North Carolina, and the wealthy ruling class, who composed about 5% of the population, yet maintained almost total control of the government. Of the 8,000 people living in Orange County at the time, an estimated 6000 - 7000 of them supported the Regulators.

Governor William Tryon's conspicuous consumption in the construction of a new governor's mansion at New Bern fueled resentment of the movement's members. As the western districts were under-represented in the colonial legislature, the farmers could not obtain redress by legislative means. Ultimately, the frustrated farmers took to arms and closed the court in Hillsborough, dragging those they saw as corrupt officials through the streets and cracking the church bell.[6] Tryon sent troops from his militia to the region, and defeated the Regulators at the Battle of Alamance in May 1771.[6] Several trials were held after the war, resulting in the hanging of six Regulators at Hillsborough on June 19, 1771.

An early map of Hillsborough produced in 1768 by Claude J. Sauthier

Hillsborough was used as the home of the North Carolina state legislature during the American Revolution.[7] Hillsborough served as a military base by British General Charles Cornwallis in late February 1781. The United States Constitution, drafted in 1787, was controversial in North Carolina. Delegate meetings at Hillsboro in July 1788 initially voted to reject it for antifederalist reasons. They were persuaded to change their minds partly by the strenuous efforts of James Iredell and William Davie and partly by the prospect of adding a Bill of Rights. The Constitution was later ratified by North Carolina at a convention in Fayetteville.

William Hooper, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was buried in the Presbyterian Church cemetery in October 1790. His remains were later reinterred at Guilford Courthouse Military Battlefield. His original gravestone remains in the town cemetery.

Several large plantations were located in this country in the colonial and antebellum periods, including Green Hill, Ayr Mount, Moorefields, The Elms, Sans Souci, Riverland, Alexander Hogan Plantation, and the Patterson Plantation.

University of North Carolina[edit]

Chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly on December 11, 1789, the University of North Carolina's cornerstone was laid on October 12, 1793, near the ruins of a chapel, chosen for its central location within the state.[8] Beginning instruction of undergraduates in 1795, UNC is the oldest public university in the United States and the only one to award degrees in the 18th century.[9][10]

The Old Well, UNC's most recognized landmark

19th century[edit]

The Reverend Robert and Margaret Anna Burwell[11] founded and ran a school for girls called the Burwell School from 1837 to 1857 in their home on Churton Street in Hillsborough. Families of planters paid to have their daughters educated here.

When the Civil War began, Hillsborough was reluctant to support secession. However, many citizens went off to fight for the Confederacy. During the war, North Carolina Governor David Lowry Swain persuaded Confederate President Jefferson Davis to exempt some UNC students from the draft, so the university was among the few in the Confederacy that managed to stay open.[12] But, Chapel Hill lost more population during the war than any other village in the South. When student numbers did not recover rapidly enough, the university closed for a period during Reconstruction, from December 1, 1870, to September 6, 1875.[13]

In March 1865, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston wintered just outside Hillsborough at the Dickson home. This house now serves as the Hillsborough Welcome Center in downtown (the house was moved from its original site in the early 1980s due to commercial development). The main portion of the Confederate Army of Tennessee was encamped between Hillsborough and Greensboro.

While camped in Raleigh after his March to the Sea, Union General William T. Sherman offered an armistice to Johnston, who agreed to meet to discuss terms of surrender. Johnston, traveling east from Hillsborough, and Sherman, traveling west from Raleigh along the Hillsborough-Raleigh Road, met roughly half-way near present-day Durham (then Durham Station) at the home of James and Nancy Bennett. Their farmhouse is now known as the Bennett Place. The two generals met on April 17, 18, and 26, 1865, negotiating terms of Johnston's surrender. Johnston surrendered 89,270 Southern troops who were active in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. This was the largest surrender of troops during the war, and effectively ended the Civil War.[7]

20th century[edit]

Occoneechee Speedway, just outside Hillsborough, was one of the first two NASCAR tracks to open, and is the only track remaining from that inaugural 1949 season. Bill France and the early founders of NASCAR bought land to build a one-mile oval track at Hillsborough, but opposition from local religious leaders prevented the track from being built in the town and NASCAR officials built the large speedway Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama.[14]

Chapel Hill, along with Durham and Raleigh, makes up one of the three corners of the Research Triangle, so named in 1959 with the creation of Research Triangle Park, a research park between Durham and Raleigh.

The Morehead Planetarium at UNC opened in 1949, when it was one of only a handful of planetariums in the nation. It continues as an important town landmark and destination for Chapel Hill. During the United States' Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, astronauts were trained there.

The intersection of Franklin Street and Columbia Street in Chapel Hill

During the 1960s, the UNC campus was the location of significant political protest. Prior to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, protests about local racial segregation began quietly in Franklin Street restaurants; activists increased in influence and led mass demonstrations and civil disturbance.[15]

Always suspicious of communist influence in the civil rights movement, the legislature passed the 1963 Speaker Ban Law, prohibiting speeches by communists on state campuses in North Carolina.[16] University Chancellor William Brantley Aycock and University President William Friday criticized the law, but it was not reviewed by the North Carolina General Assembly until 1965.[17] Small amendments to allow "infrequent" visits failed to placate the student body, especially when the university's board of trustees overruled new Chancellor Paul Frederick Sharp's decision to allow speaking invitations to Marxist speaker Herbert Aptheker and civil liberties activist Frank Wilkinson. The two speakers came to Chapel Hill anyway. Wilkinson spoke off campus, and more than 1,500 students watched Aptheker's speech across a low campus wall at the edge of campus, christened "Dan Moore's Wall" by The Daily Tar Heel, referring to Governor Dan K. Moore.[18] A group of UNC students, along with Aptheker and Williamson, filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court based on the right to free speech. On February 20, 1968, the Speaker Ban Law was ruled unconstitutional.[19]

In 1968, a year after its public schools became fully integrated, Chapel Hill elected Howard Lee as mayor. This was the first predominantly white municipality in the country to elect an African-American mayor. Lee served from 1969 until 1975. Among other achievements, he helped establish Chapel Hill Transit, the town's bus system.


Interactive map of Orange County

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 400.96 square miles (1,038.5 km2), of which 397.56 square miles (1,029.7 km2) is land and 3.40 square miles (8.8 km2) (0.85%) is water.[20]

The county is drained, in part, by the Eno River.

The city of Chapel Hill, is in the southeastern part of Orange County, as is Carrboro. Hillsborough is in the central part of the county and is the county seat.

State and local protected areas/sites[edit]

Major water bodies[edit]

Adjacent counties[edit]

Major highways[edit]


Historical population
2022 (est.)150,477[22]1.2%
U.S. Decennial Census[23]
1790–1960[24] 1900–1990[25]
1990–2000[26] 2010[27] 2020[22]

2020 census[edit]

Orange County racial composition[28]
Race Number Percentage
White (non-Hispanic) 96,537 64.92%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 15,571 10.47%
Native American 334 0.22%
Asian 12,615 8.48%
Pacific Islander 43 0.03%
Other/Mixed 7,784 5.23%
Hispanic or Latino 15,812 10.63%

As of the 2020 census, there were 148,696 people, 55,259 households, and 32,657 families residing in the county.

2010 census[edit]

At the 2010 census,, there were 133,801 people living in the county. 74.4% were White, 11.9% Black or African American, 6.7% Asian, 0.4% Native American, 4.0% of some other race and 2.5% of two or more races. 8.2% were Hispanic or Latino (of any race).

2000 census[edit]

At the 2000 census,[29] there were 118,227 people, 45,863 households, and 26,141 families living in the county. The population density was 296 people per square mile (114 people/km2). There were 49,289 housing units at an average density of 123 units per square mile (47 units/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 78.05% White, 13.79% Black or African American, 0.39% Native American, 4.10% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 1.96% from other races, and 1.71% from two or more races. 4.46% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 45,863 households, out of which 28.30% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.60% were married couples living together, 9.40% had a female householder with no husband present, and 43.00% were non-families. 28.10% of all households were made up of individuals, and 6.10% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.36 and the average family size was 2.95.

In the county, the age distribution was as follows: 20.30% under the age of 18, 21.00% from 18 to 24, 29.90% from 25 to 44, 20.40% from 45 to 64, and 8.40% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 30 years. For every 100 females there were 90.10 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.70 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $42,372, and the median income for a family was $59,874. Males had a median income of $39,298 versus $31,328 for females. The per capita income for the county was $24,873. About 6.20% of families and 14.10% of the population were below the poverty line, including 9.00% of those under age 18 and 7.40% of those age 65 or over. FY 2008-09 Orange County had the second highest property tax rate in NC at 0.998 per $100 of valuation. For FY 2009-10 after the 2009 Orange County revaluation, the rate is now ninth highest in the state at 0.858 per $100 of valuation.

Law and government[edit]

Orange County is governed by a seven-member board of commissioners. The commissioners are elected to four-year terms by district and at-large in partisan elections, which are held in November of even-numbered years. Orange County is a member of the regional Triangle J Council of Governments.


Orange County has gained a reputation as one of the most liberal counties in North Carolina. The county consistently delivers one of the largest Democratic majorities in the state in presidential, state, and local elections. This trend predates the recent swing toward the Democrats in counties dominated by college towns. The last Republican to win the county at a presidential level was Herbert Hoover in 1928[30] – when opposition to the Catholicism of Democratic nominee Al Smith was a powerful force among voters. It has only supported a Republican two other times since the Civil War–William Howard Taft in 1908 and William McKinley in 1900.[31]

The county seat of Hillsborough, the city of Chapel Hill and the town of Carrboro historically vote for Democratic candidates, while the rural areas of the county favor Republicans.[32]

United States presidential election results for Orange County, North Carolina[33][34]
Year Republican Democratic Third party
No.  % No.  % No.  %
2020 20,176 23.74% 63,594 74.82% 1,227 1.44%
2016 18,557 22.54% 59,923 72.78% 3,860 4.69%
2012 21,539 28.06% 53,901 70.22% 1,317 1.72%
2008 20,266 27.05% 53,806 71.83% 838 1.12%
2004 20,771 32.38% 42,910 66.89% 472 0.74%
2000 17,930 36.34% 30,921 62.66% 493 1.00%
1996 15,053 32.19% 28,674 61.32% 3,038 6.50%
1992 13,009 27.50% 28,595 60.45% 5,696 12.04%
1988 14,503 39.13% 22,326 60.23% 238 0.64%
1984 15,585 42.96% 20,564 56.69% 128 0.35%
1980 9,261 32.39% 15,226 53.26% 4,102 14.35%
1976 9,302 36.87% 15,755 62.46% 169 0.67%
1972 11,632 47.66% 12,634 51.76% 142 0.58%
1968 6,097 33.30% 8,366 45.70% 3,845 21.00%
1964 5,785 38.59% 9,206 61.41% 0 0.00%
1960 5,231 42.15% 7,180 57.85% 0 0.00%
1956 4,396 48.10% 4,743 51.90% 0 0.00%
1952 3,813 42.51% 5,156 57.49% 0 0.00%
1948 1,813 31.03% 3,523 60.29% 507 8.68%
1944 1,467 30.94% 3,274 69.06% 0 0.00%
1940 1,100 23.05% 3,673 76.95% 0 0.00%
1936 1,446 27.25% 3,860 72.75% 0 0.00%
1932 1,114 26.50% 2,924 69.57% 165 3.93%
1928 2,564 58.77% 1,799 41.23% 0 0.00%
1924 1,065 35.38% 1,879 62.43% 66 2.19%
1920 1,737 46.57% 1,993 53.43% 0 0.00%
1916 1,158 48.49% 1,230 51.51% 0 0.00%
1912 172 8.63% 997 50.00% 825 41.37%
1908 1,073 51.29% 1,017 48.61% 2 0.10%
1904 558 37.63% 900 60.69% 25 1.69%
1900 1,280 49.90% 1,275 49.71% 10 0.39%
1896 1,264 42.44% 1,700 57.09% 14 0.47%
1892 936 33.07% 1,117 39.47% 777 27.46%
1888 1,299 44.08% 1,613 54.73% 35 1.19%
1884 1,064 38.83% 1,668 60.88% 8 0.29%
1880 1,902 42.85% 2,537 57.15% 0 0.00%

Chapel Hill and Carrboro have a reputation for being two of the most liberal communities in the Southern United States. Carrboro was the first municipality in North Carolina to elect an openly gay mayor, Mike Nelson (who also served as an Orange County commissioner from 2006 to 2010), and the first municipality in the state to grant domestic-partner benefits to same-sex couples. In October 2002, Carrboro was among the first municipalities in the South to pass resolutions opposing the Iraq War and the USA PATRIOT Act. Orange County voted 78.98% against Amendment 1. This was the highest vote against a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage of any county in the United States, even higher than San Francisco in 2008.[35]


The county is served by 2 school districts:[32]


Orange County is located in the Raleigh-Durham media market for both television and radio. The flagship station for PBS North Carolina, WUNC-TV, is licensed to Chapel Hill.

There are several radio stations located in the county. Stations licensed to Chapel Hill WUNC, WXYC, WCHL, and WLLQ. WQOK and WCOM-LP are licensed to Carrboro.

UNC Chapel Hill's student-run newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, offers extensive coverage of news in Orange County.


Map of Orange County with municipal and township labels


  • Durham (mostly in Durham County)
  • Mebane (mostly in Alamance County)


Census-designated places[edit]


  • Bingham
  • Cedar Grove
  • Chapel Hill
  • Cheeks
  • Eno
  • Hillsborough
  • Little River

Unincorporated communities[edit]

Notable people[edit]

UNC's wooded campus buffers the town center of Chapel Hill

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Orange County, North Carolina". Retrieved April 28, 2022.
  2. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on May 3, 2015. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  3. ^ "County Population Totals and Components of Change: 2010-2020". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved May 25, 2021.
  4. ^ Bishir, Catherine (2005). North Carolina Architecture. UNC Press. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-8078-5624-6.
  5. ^ Cowell, Rebekah (October 22, 2008). "Carrboro's Founders: People You Should Know". Carrboro Free Press. p. 16.
  6. ^ a b c Bishir, Catherine (2005). North Carolina Architecture. UNC Press. pp. 55–56. ISBN 978-0-8078-5624-6.
  7. ^ a b "Minding the museum". Chapel Hill News. July 25, 2007. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved July 30, 2007.
  8. ^ Snider, William D. (1992). Light on the Hill: A History of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press. pp. 13, 16, 20. ISBN 0-8078-2023-7.
  9. ^ Snider, William D. (1992), pp. 29, 35.
  10. ^ "C. Dixon Spangler Jr. named Overseers president for 2003–04". Harvard University Gazette. Cambridge, MA. May 29, 2003. Retrieved April 5, 2008.
  11. ^ "The Burwell School". Retrieved March 17, 2018.
  12. ^ Snider, William D. (1992), p. 67.
  13. ^ Battle, Kemp P. (1912). History of the University of North Carolina: From 1868–1912. Raleigh, NC: Edwards & Broughton Printing Company. pp. 39, 41, 88.
  14. ^ "Racing vs. Religion" (PDF). Historic Hillsborough. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 8, 2007. Retrieved July 16, 2007.
  15. ^ Snider, William D. (1992), p. 269.
  16. ^ Snider, William D. (1992), p. 270.
  17. ^ Snider, William D. (1992), pp. 272–273.
  18. ^ Snider, William D. (1992), pp. 274–275.
  19. ^ Snider, William D. (1992), pp. 267–268.
  20. ^ "2020 County Gazetteer Files – North Carolina". United States Census Bureau. August 23, 2022. Retrieved September 9, 2023.
  21. ^ a b "NCWRC Game Lands". Retrieved March 30, 2023.
  22. ^ a b "QuickFacts: Orange County, North Carolina". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved May 31, 2022.
  23. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  24. ^ "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  25. ^ Forstall, Richard L., ed. (March 27, 1995). "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  26. ^ "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. April 2, 2001. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 27, 2010. Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  27. ^ "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on June 7, 2011. Retrieved October 27, 2013.
  28. ^ "Explore Census Data". Retrieved December 20, 2021.
  29. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  30. ^ Sullivan, Robert David; ‘How the Red and Blue Map Evolved Over the Past Century’; America Magazine in The National Catholic Review; June 29, 2016
  31. ^ The Political Graveyard; Orange County, North Carolina Votes for President
  32. ^ a b Yeoman, Barry (August 7, 2023). "Schoolyard Brawl". The Assembly. Retrieved August 8, 2023.
  33. ^ Leip, David. "Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections". Retrieved March 17, 2018.
  34. ^ "Géographie électorale" [Electoral geography]. (in French). Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  36. ^ "Alice Adams, 72, writer of deft novels". The New York Times. Retrieved January 11, 2013.
  37. ^ Who Was Who in America, Historical Volume, 1607–1896. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who. 1963.

External links[edit]