The Town of Wendell started in the 1850s when tobacco farmers in Granville County were hit with what came to be known as the Granville County Wilt. The tobacco crop failed and farmers from Granville County moved into eastern Wake County looking for fertile land to plant their crops
Ambrose Rhodes donated land for a school to be built. The school would be called the Rhodes School. It was located at the same site as Wendell's present magnet school on Wendell Boulevard. The school continued to grow and in 1891, the name of the school was changed to Wendell Academy.
As this area grew, a small village was forming. The people in this area needed a name for their little town. They asked their schoolteacher, M.A. Griffin, to come up with a name for this area. Mr. Griffin loved the poet Oliver Wendell Holmes. He suggested that they call their town Wendell after the poet. However, the pronunciation of the town is different from the way one normally pronounces Oliver Wendell Holmes. After the train came to town, the porters on the train would call out "WENDELL." They pronounced each syllable with emphasis. The townspeople picked up on this pronunciation, and it continues to this day.
This area obtained a post office in 1891 and this first post office has been restored by the Wendell Historical Society, and it presently sits at the corner of Oakwood and 4th Streets.
The oldest institution in this part of the county was Hephzibah Baptist Church, founded in 1809. The first newspaper for this area did not appear until 1911. The paper was the Wendell Clarion, and was succeeded by the Gold Leaf Farmer.
Wendell was incorporated in 1903. After the town was incorporated, more people and businesses moved into Wendell. Main Street was laid out by a man who drove a horse with a very wide plow up and down the area. That is why the street is so wide today.
In 1911 the county built a new brick school in Wendell. The first graduating class was in 1915.
- By Ray Hinnant