Named one of CNN’s Top 10 Coolest Small Towns in America 2015, historic Hillsborough is the place for home buyers looking for a small-town feel (population around 7,000) with easy access to both Chapel Hill and Durham for work and big-city amenities.
Surrounded by natural beauty and the Eno River, Hillsborough is known for its wide range of eclectic shopping boutiques, remarkable dining with a focus on local flavors, and art galleries that feature every medium imaginable and showcases work from artisans and creatives who call Hillsborough home.
The Wall Street Journal has described Hillsborough as “America’s Little Literary Town,” recognizing the number of authors who have made their homes here. The locally-owned bookstore, Purple Crow, is the literary meeting place in town and features regular book signings and community events for book-minded folks.
The town's economy relies heavily on tourism, so there are many unique places for residents of Hillsborough to work and play.
Residents enjoy easy access to four major cities. Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Burlington NC are all within 40 miles of Hillsborough. People from these cities are frequently drawn to Hillsborough by its small town charm. Visit and you'll see why!
Let’s look at key characteristics that make this small town so special.
Historic Downtown Hillsborough
Downtown historic Hillsborough is featured on the National Register of Historic Places. Here, you’ll find homes, churches, and other buildings from the late 18th and 19th centuries as you stop to read approximately two dozen historic markers found around town. If you are looking to buy a historic home you will have plenty of options in Hillsborough!
History buffs will also enjoy the many historic sites open to the public, including the Alexander Dickson House, which was the last headquarters of the Confederacy and now serves as the Visitors Center. Local hikers flock to the grounds of Ayr Mount, a sprawling 17th century estate that features a mile-long trail that winds through meadows and historical ruins.
Many of the historical cemeteries are open for the public to walk through and although there are no private homes open for tour, you can glimpse some of the finer houses from Hillsborough’s tree-lined streets. The picturesque setting of the downtown streets, with brick storefronts and large shop windows, gives a nice small-town feel to the area.
A different kind of history can be found in the Occoneechee Speedway, the only surviving dirt speedway from NASCAR’s inaugural 1949 season.
Good food with local flavor and lots of “heart”
There is a common theme to many of Hillsborough’s restaurants and that is a focus on local food and local providers.
Aaron Vandemark, owner of fine dining gem Panciuto, is a six-time James Beard Award Semifinalist, Best Chefs in America. Panciuto’s website credits “people - farmers and friends - who supply us with virtually all of our food, the plates on which we eat, and the table at which we sit. If our food has radiance, it's because of this collective.”
Other favorite downtown restaurants are:
Weaver Street Market is a co-op and institution in the greater Triangle area. You can pick up prepared foods and shop for weekly groceries. Weaver Street Markets celebrate local and seasonal food and you can shop there without being a member of the co-op.
Want to cook at home? Join one of the CSAs offered by organic, sustainable farms in the area so you can order and get regular deliveries of fresh produce and other artisan products. Shop at one of the two great farmers markets, the Hillsborough Farmers Market and the Eno River Farmers Market.
Riverwalk and the great outdoors
Just steps from downtown is the majestic Eno River, front and center to daily life in Hillsborough. Riverwalk is a paved and accessible 1.8-mile greenway, part of a statewide series of trails called NC Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Fresh air and the shade from mature trees make Riverwalk popular with families out for leisurely strolls as well as joggers and cyclists.
The Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area is another place where Hillsborough residents can find an escape into nature. Covering 190 acres of land, three miles of trail wind through riverside forests of mountain laurel and rhododendron with options for fishing and picnics.
West Hillsborough grew up in the shadow of two mills, the Bellevue Manufacturing Company and the Eno Cotton Mill. Most workers lived in company housing near the mills and a small village grew up around them, with its own store, barbershop, café, and movie theatre.
Though the mills are long gone, some of the traditional mill houses remain in this cozy neighborhood. The two historic textile mills have been renovated into interesting lofts and business spaces.
West Hillsborough today is a friendly and diverse neighborhood, home to a mix of families, entrepreneurs, retirees, and professionals who commute into the greater Triangle area. West Hillsborough is great since you're close to downtown, but the homes for sale are much cheaper than in the traditional historic district. Along with the downtown area, west Hillsborough also features the area’s best shopping and dining experiences.
Orange County Schools serve the area with seven elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools. The most recent state test results showed Orange County students performed at or above the state average in both reading and math. Durham Technical Community College, located in nearby Durham, runs a charter school for Hillsborough high school students interested in dual credit courses.
The University of North Carolina is about 20 minutes to the south in Chapel Hill while archrival Duke University is about the same distance to Durham.
Something for every income: Homes for sale in Hillsborough
Hillsborough real estate features a wide range of options for all budgets, from condos and townhomes to single-family homes; much of the area is rural with lots of horse farms, but nothing is too far away from the central downtown area. Contemporary shopping centers and brand-new homes mix easily with the town’s historic sites and the more established neighborhoods.
Here are a few links to neighborhoods to get you started on your Hillsborough home search:
If you're interested in moving to this charming town, contact us today and we would be happy to work with you as your realtor.
Listings provided courtesy of Triangle MLS, Inc. of NC, Internet Data Exchange Database. Information deemed reliable but not guaranteed. © 2023 Triangle MLS, Inc. of North Carolina. Data last updated .