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Carrboro is a town in Orange County in the U.S. state of North Carolina. The population was 16,782 at the 2000 census, with a 2007 estimated population of 17,931.The town, which is part of the Durham-Chapel Hill metropolitan statistical area, was named after North Carolina industrialist Julian Shakespeare Carr.
Located near Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina, Carrboro has a reputation as one of the most liberal communities in the Southern United States. It was the first municipality in North Carolina to elect an openly gay mayor, Mike Nelson, in 1995 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 adopt resolutions opposing the Iraq War and the USA PATRIOT Act.
Known originally as West End because of its location west of Chapel Hill, Carrboro was settled in 1882 around the State University Railroad. The railroad stop was located about a mile west of the University of North Carolina (UNC) campus in order not to disturb the local population and to make it more difficult for students to leave campus by train.
Settlement in West End increased after Thomas F. Lloyd of Chapel Hill built the Alberta Cotton Mill next to the railroad depot in 1898. Julian Shakespeare Carr bought this and other nearby buildings in 1909, adding them to the network of mills that became the Durham Hosiery Mills. West End was incorporated in 1911 and renamed Venable in honor of chemistry professor and UNC president Francis Preston Venable. Just two years later, the town was renamed Carrboro, after Carr began providing streets and electric power to the community and expanding the mill buildings. The original mill changed hands several times over the succeeding decades. The Carrboro Board of Aldermen intended to have it demolished in 1975 until a community petition and fund-raising effort provided for its restoration as Carr Mill Mall. The railroad depot in Carrboro also served the local lumber industry, and Carrboro became a major hub in the hardwood cross-tie market.
Carrboro was home to the Melba Movie Theatre, built in the 1920s, and located at either 118 or 120 E. Main Street. Patrons viewed movies on cane bottom kitchen chairs. Films were accompanied by live piano music. Citizens also frequented Joe Sparrow's Pool located behind his home off Old Pittsboro Road. The large natural spring public pool was eventually closed because of tensions arising from race and gender segregation.
Some of the most distinctive architectural treasures of Carrboro are its approximately 150 mill houses constructed in the 1910s-30s. Many of these homes have been restored, yet numerous ones have been razed. The homes were originally built by Lloyd and Carr for their workers and their families.
In the early 1990s, a sizable influx of Latino immigrants began moving to Carrboro, attracted by jobs in the building and service trades. The Hispanic population of Carrboro increased by 936% between 1990 and 2003, to 12% of the Carrboro population. As these immigrants settled in Carrboro, they brought the foods and cultures of their native countries to the town. Carrboro is now home to three Latino tiendas (grocery stores). Other businesses, including national grocery chains like Food Lion, adapted to the change in demographics by stocking a wider variety of Central and South American food products.
Carrboro's nickname, "The Paris of the Piedmont," stems from a sarcastic comment by John Martin, a reporter for the now-defunct Chapel Hill Weekly. In 1970, Nyle Frank, now a musician but then a graduate student in political science at the nearby University of North Carolina, organized an alternative "Invisible University," and announced plans to have himself crowned as the institution's new "King" in Carrboro. Martin commented, "I can see it now -- The Paris of the Piedmont."