Orange County

Chapel Hill revels after being named historically distinct

Its residents know it, and now the National Trust for Historic Preservation agrees: Chapel Hill is distinct.

The town was named one of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations for 2011 by the organization, which highlights 12 places each year that actively preserve their history and offer different attractions than the typical vacation getaway offers.

About 100 people attended a celebration Tuesday at UNC-Chapel Hill’s 87-year-old Carolina Inn, an example of the town’s Southern Colonial architecture.

“We have worked hard to preserve the fabric of our community,” Town Council Member Sally Greene said, accepting the award for the town.

The Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau nominated Chapel Hill for the award and has submitted nominations the past three years. Hillsborough won four years ago.

“Clearly, Chapel Hill is a place that matters; it’s a place that matters to people all over the world,” said John Hildreth, director of the national trust’s Southern regional office.

The town was selected out of thousands across the country, said Laurie Paolicelli, executive director of the visitors bureau. The process required letters from town leaders, strict preservation codes and a detailed description of why Chapel Hill should be chosen, she said.

The award noted Chapel Hill’s tree-lined streets, its seven historic districts three local historic districts and four national historic districts, architecture spanning 400 years and reuse of old buildings into housing, shops, restaurants and galleries. The university, the Horace Williams House, Crook’s Corner, Sutton’s Drug Store and The Carolina Inn received specific mentions.

“This award is a vindication of 40 years of protecting historic landscapes, said Ernest Dollar, executive director of the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill. “It’s an echo of the great soul of this town. ... Today is our day to remind us to keep that spirit alive.”

The award, given out since 2000, will bring tourists to Orange County, said Dave Gephart, chairman of the visitors bureau board of directors. When Hillsborough won, it was a financial boost year-round, he said

“Many people have no idea that this award is a really big economic development tool ... to bring people in from all over the world,” he said.