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Today, Apex is known as the 'peak' of good living – but many people have no idea the historic downtown is built overtop a lost pond that holds secrets to the town's little-known origins.
Each time you sit down to eat in the alleyway between the Apex Fire Department and The Peak on Salem, you're sitting right on top of one of the most important sites in the town's history: The Log Pond.
Very little remains of that pond today; however, without that pond, Apex may not have ever existed at all.
"If you look at maps of Wake County prior to the Civil War, you will see places like Holly Springs and a number of communities all around modern day Apex, but you don't see Apex on the map at all," said Toby Holleman, a historian who specializes in the town's history.
That's because 'Apex' didn't exist. The little community had a different name: Log Pond.
Why was 'Log Pond' changed to 'Apex?'
It may seem hard to believe a little pond could have such an impact on a town's growth, but the small body of water served as a refueling station for the steam engines that came through on the Chatham Railroad. Without that pond, the railroad may never have come through the tiny community – and that railroad was a primary reason Apex exists today.
"The railroad was completed 1869," said Holleman. "Until then, there was no Apex."
Prior to 1869, Holleman says travelers who stopped to water their horses may have seen a little lumber business or a mill, as well as a country store and maybe a farm house or two.
"Very little there, not even enough to call a community," he said.
The 'log pond' was maybe 100 feet long or so, and was so named because railroad workers would toss the wooden railroad ties into the pond, giving it the appearance of being filled with logs.
Steam engine trains needed plenty of water, so the pond served as a replenishing reservoir. As the community became a prominent stop for trains, railroad workers began referring to Log Pond as the 'Apex of the Grade.'
The name 'Apex of the Grade' was critically important to railroad workers because it let everyone on the tracks know that this stop was the highest point, the apex or the peak, of the Chatham County Railroad.
"Trains would come up the hill from Haywood. That climb is 15 miles, and for a little steam engine pulling a long train of cars, it needed water by the time it reached the top of the hill. That's where the log pond was," he said. "It would refill at the 'apex' of the grade then proceed on to Cary, and downhill to Raleigh."
Holleman says it was common for communities at the 'peak' of a railroad line to be named in recognition of that:
Engineers named the community Apex, and within a year the first post office was established.
"The United States Postal Service called it the Apex post office," he said.
What happened to the critically important log pond?
Train tracks still carry trains right past the historic Depot in downtown Apex.
But no one knows exactly what happened to the original log pond, according to Holleman.
" We surmise that it vanished as the town began to grow," he said. "Probably by 1900 it could no longer be seen."
Main Street and Old US-1 Hwy ran through right where the pond sat, so a flooding pond could have created a mess. The town inserted culverts to drain it – possibly represented today in the name Culvert Street just behind the train depot.
"Those drains still work today. I can remember as a kid seeing the drain on the east side. So much water tends to accumulate in that spot. It’s a tiny little valley on the ridge, and you can see how the water could come down and settle in that little spot where the Log Pond was," he said.
A map of Log Pond drawn by Staley Smith shows the outline of the pond's old site, as well as the flow of the culvert and direction the water drained. From the drawing, you can see the pond sat directly next to the train tracks along Seaboard St., just a stone's throw away from the historic depot building still sitting by the tracks today.
Smith created that map in 2009.
Precious few photos actually show the Log Pond – and there may only be one in existence.
Holleman's brother Warren, also an Apex historian, shared one of these photos in the book Pluck, Perseverance, and Paint: Apex, North Carolina: Beginnings to 1941. Below is a close-up of that image, restored by Marty Allen and provided by the Apex Volunteer Fire Department collection.
Today, visitors can sit on top of the former site of the log pond and eat lunch – in a little alleyway running alongside the fire station.
Where is the 'apex' of Apex?
Atop a slight hill, just behind the old railroad tracks, sits a historic home known as the Tunstall house – right on the peak of the very highest point in Apex, according to Kerrin Cox, communications coordinator for the Town of Apex.
The historic home sits on the Apex Town Campus, which also includes the town hall, senior center and community center.
As the town prepares to celebrate 150 years of history at their Party in the Peak event on Sept. 23, they're highlighting some of these incredible lost stories as part of an exhibit right there on the town campus – allowing visitors to learn about the town's hidden history while walking around on the very peak of Apex itself.
On September 23 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the campus will become an interactive museum showcasing Apex’s past, present, and future.
“We have interviewed nearly 100 community members so far, and their stories will be part of the celebration in our Present exhibit,” said Cox. “We’ve covered topics like Black history, women’s history, indigenous history, and more - all of which have been curated by community champions.”
The event has more than just history. There will be 10 food trucks with special Apex 150th menu items. They're also hosting live music, Apex youth performances, kids activities, and storytellers on stage sharing tales from Apex's past.
For those who love Apex history, many historic photos and stories are collected in the Holleman brothers' history book, which is available at ELK Local Foods and Sixpence Accents in downtown. Toby Holleman is also providing a virtual tour of Apex history on October 15 at Eva Perry Library.
For those who love exploring hidden history themselves, the town has worked with historians from several Apex communities – Green Level, Friendship, New Hill, Olive Chapel and more – to create interactive maps to 'lost places' that once played a critical role in making the town what it is today.
Podcast: Explore hidden history from towns all across the Triangle
Hidden History reporter Heather Leah is a seventh-generation North Carolinian who loves sharing all the history hiding just beneath your feet. Scroll to listen to her podcast series about everything from enchanted castles to secret underwater ghost towns to abandoned tunnels leading to forgotten history.
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