Orange County, NC is home to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an institution of the University of North Carolina System and the oldest state-supported university in the United States. Chapel Hill boasts a year round population of over 55,000 residents. The community revolves around the university which allows for a great mix of cultural activities and entertainment opportunities usually only enjoyed in much larger and more population dense communities. The “village on the hill” is known as the Southern Part of Heaven and along with Carrboro make up one of the greener communities in North Carolina.
The county was formed in 1752 from parts of Bladen County, Granville County, and Johnston County. 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. Hillsborough is the county seat and was founded in 1754, on land where the Great Indian Trading Path crossed the Eno River.
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 due to its central location within the state. 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. The Morehead Planetarium at UNC when it opened in 1949, was one of only a handful of planetariums in the nation, and it has remained an important town landmark for Chapel Hill. During the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, astronauts were trained there.
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 instead.
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.