When the North Carolina Railroad was built in the 1850’s, it initiated the creation of many towns. Garner, located in St Mary’s Township, is one such town. Garner got its start with the coming of the railroad through the area beginning in 1847. In that year, after a tie-breaker vote by the Speaker of the State House of Representatives, what is now Garner was chosen as the location of a new station of the North Carolina Railroad that ran between Goldsboro and Charlotte.
Before the railroad tracks traversed the area that would soon become Garner, cotton and tobacco crops, which were vital to the growth of Garner through the twentieth century, dominated the land. The lack of buildings on right-of-way maps from the 1850s illustrates how sparsely populated this area was. Sometime before 1870, the railroad acquired a “wood and water” stop, roughly located in what is now Downtown Garner. Although it wasn’t a depot, the railroad must have contributed to the growth of the settlement as a post ofﬁce was needed by 1878. "Garner's Station" was established with the construction of a post office in 1878 and the Town of Garner's Station incorporated in 1883. Within one year Garner’s Station was a prospering town with several general stores. For unknown reasons, the charter was repealed in 1891. Once the town acquired a railroad depot, it was reincorporated in 1905, this time as “Town of Garner”. The depot, a four room building with a tin roof, quickly became essential to the community, carrying passengers once a day to Raleigh and establishing Garner as a local market and shipping point for cotton. Garner is situated in the St. Mary's Township, which got its name from a Church of the England parish. It is known that there were settlers in the area before the Revolutionary War. There are documented records of a church south of Garner in the Panther Branch Township as far back as 1756. According to the late Parker Rand, a 3,000 acre tract of land was granted his forefathers by King George in 1759. Part of this area later was to be the site of a community known as Rand's Mill. Rand's Mill Pond was later renamed Lake Benson. It was enlarged in 1951 and is now used as a reservoir. Garner has continued to grow and prosper since its early beginnings. The first town officials in 1905 were, J.B. Richardson, mayor; H.D. Rand, J.J. Bagwell, H. Bryan, M.C. Penny, and J.S. Buffaloe, all aldermen. These gentlemen were appointed to serve one year or until their successors were duly elected and qualified.
There are several legends as to how Garner got its name. One story has it that Thomas Bingham named the town. Bingham is said to have combined a general store with handling the mail. Since Webster defines “garner" as a "granary," hence figuratively, a "store," he named the town "Garner."
The late Parker Rand believed that Garner was named for a family that lived in the area and later moved to Texas. Others believe the town was named by Henry Fort, a black cabinetmaker and carpenter who owned some land along the railroad after the Civil War. William S. Powell stated that Garner was named for its founder, H.C. Garner. An article in The State also named H.C. Garner as its founder, but not much information has been found about the man. Garner experienced actual combat in the closing days of the Civil War. Some skirmishes occurred in the area, as witnessed by the carefully preserved bullet holes in Bethel Church and the “Garner” house, which is said to have been used as a hospital for wounded soldiers.
Times immediately after the close of the war must have been difficult, but by 1878 the little community had succeeded in getting a post office established. This was when the name "Garner's Station" originated. Thomas Bingham was the first postmaster.
An old map dated 1887 shows Garner connected with the City of Raleigh by a road, listed as Holloman's Road. This was a typical country road at the time, unpaved until about 1918. Its importance, aside from its serving as a link between the small Garner community and the State Capitol, lay in the fact that it was a small section of what was to become one of the oldest and longest traveled corridors in North Carolina, the Central Highway.
In 1910, the road became jointly known as Number 10 and U.S. 70 on the popular maps of the day. Highway 70 was the first paved road to be built in the state and was financed by the first bonds sold by the state to build highways. The Central Highway from the mountains to the sea was started in 1911. The portion of the highway between Garner and Raleigh was paved around 1916 or 1917. Sam Mitchiner recalls going to W.W.I by way of the muddy dirt road and returning to find it paved. This section of the highway today is known as Garner Road. Farming was the chief source of income for the early settlers of Garner and nearby areas, with cotton the principal crop. Before the turn of the century some small businesses were beginning to be developed. The first business in Garner is said to have been a wood shop owned by Henry Fort. Fort was said to have been a fine cabinetmaker and carpenter, making wardrobes, bureaus, and other pieces of wood furniture still being used by some Garner residents today. One of the first grocery stores in town was owned by Thomas Bennett. Other early businesses included a mercantile business owned by H.D. Rand, a drug store operated by George Montague, and several general stores operated by people such as C.H. Dupree, Jr., R. Garner, J.B. Hobby, and J.R. Williams. In addition to general stores and cotton gins in the area, other businesses such as blacksmith, repair shops, barber shops, livery stables, and boarding houses existed. The first bank was established in Garner in 1910. H.D. Rand was president and J.A. Weathers was the cashier. In 1912, telephone service came to Garner. In a short while, there were as many as 10 subscribers. The first switchboard was operated in the home of Vera Jones. The telephone service closed after two years and then returned in 1924. Electricity came to Garner in 1921. Developments and subdivisions began to appear in Garner in 1923 when, what is today known as Old Garner High School, was constructed. As the town continued to grow and populate, Highway 70 was widened and re-routed to bypass the downtown commercial district. Unfortunately this caused the commercial development to shift away from the downtown area as shopping centers and new subdivisions sprang up around the bypass. While this eventually caused a decline in downtown Garner, recent attempts at revitalization have been successful. The business and residential life of Garner continued to grow steadily throughout the years, with more rapid growth in recent times.
With the increased population and residential growth, Garner has burgeoned in business and service establishments, both within the corporation limits and the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the town. Town officials predict the town will continue to grow at a rapid rate.
*Pictures are courtesy of Kaye Buffaloe Whaley. Much of this historical information was taken from the publication, "History of Garner and Environs, " compiled by the Garner Historical Committee in 1971. Members of the committee included Mrs. W.R. Rand, Mrs. Portia Banks, Mrs. Carson Carmichael, Mrs. Lucile Stevens, Walter Rand, Jr., Sam Powell, and Jack H. Webb.
The recently published book, A History of Garner: Growth & Prosperity, can be purchased in the Finance Department at Town Hall.