The bustling mill town just west of Chapel Hill went through a relative flurry of renaming in the early 20th century. The unincorporated area was known locally as West End, a mundane name reflecting its location relative to Chapel Hill. With the establishment of a textile mill there in 1898, the area began to grow and develop an identity of its own separate from Chapel Hill. It was known briefly (and informally) as Lloydsville, after Thomas Lloyd, original owner of the first mill. In 1911, the town was incorporated under the name of Venable, after Francis P. Venable, President of the University of North Carolina.
I have not been able to find any record of why the town leaders chose to honor President Venable. Perhaps, while they were setting up a separate community, they wanted to commemorate their close ties to the University. The only railroad stop in the immediate area was the depot near the mill, meaning that every student and faculty member traveling by train would make their way to Venable. All I have been able to track down so far is what Venable himself thought having the neighboring town named after him: he didn’t like it.
Evidence of Venable’s displeasure is in a very interesting letter we just came across in the University Archives. The letter is from Julian S. Carr, prominent alumnus, and the owner, since 1909, of the West End/Venable mill and neighboring buildings. Given his investment in the business community, Carr would have been a much more likely person to honor with the name of the town. Nobody thought so more than Carr himself.
In a letter dated 20 January 1913, Carr wrote to President Venable:
My Dear Dr. Venable:-
I recall a conversation I had with you some time ago with reference to the naming of Venable, the factory town West of Chapel Hill. If I remember correctly, you were not especially pleased that the town had been named as a compliment to you. Since then my boys and I have purchased the other Tom Lloyd mill, and we now own about all of Westend, otherwise styled Venable, and I am thinking that if I had your consent, I would have the name changed from Venable to Carrsboro. However, I will take no action in this matter until I hear from you. Of course you understand I want your full consent and assent to this proposition, and I will do nothing without it.
Bespeaking your prompt response, I beg to remain,
Yours very truly,
Julian S. Carr
Venable did not mind at all. The following day, Venable’s secretary sent a response: “Dr. Venable directs me to write to you that he is entirely willing to have the name changed and thinks the name suggested by you an excellent one.”
Local histories usually say that the name was changed to honor Carr after he agreed to pay for electricity for the town. While this is true, the majority of the residents of the town at the time were likely Carr’s employees, so his was not a purely philanthropic gesture. Carr was clearly interested in having his family name memorialized on the North Carolina map. He got his wish. Later in 1913, the town name was formally changed and remains Carrboro today.