Forged in Fire: The Story of Apex

The Town of Apex was incorporated on February 28, 1873. At the time, it measured just one square mile. Today, it’s the Peak of Good Living, a vibrant community that maintains its small-town feel despite more than 70,000 residents calling it home.

Apex celebrated the sesquicentennial during 2023 with its series of Apex 150 events and exhibits documenting the growth of the town and celebrating its vision for the future. As the year of celebration comes to a close, residents and history buffs have one final opportunity to wish the town a happy 150.

Forged in Fire, a play that celebrates the history of Apex, runs March 7–17 at the Halle Cultural Arts Center. We talked to co-directors Catherine Rodgers and Kristin McCormick about the show:  

Describe Forged in Fire in a nutshell.

The Apex story begins a century before the town was born, when farmers, cowboys, and preachers, Free Persons of Color, enslaved Africans, and indigenous Tuscarora struggled just to get along. It continues through the economic boom of the early 20th century and the devastation of “The Great Fire” of 1911. The story concludes with the town’s amazing rebirth, when resilient citizens used “pluck, perseverance, and paint” (and brick!) to build back better than ever.

The play is narrated by two of historic Apex’s leading ladies: Mary Baldwin, who built schools and churches in Apex and whose sons built a Black Wall Street in Martinsville, Virginia; and Julia Montgomery Street, who became one of America’s most beloved authors of children’s fiction.

The play is based on Warren and Toby Holleman’s award-winning book, Pluck, Perseverance, and Paint: Apex, North Carolina: Beginnings to 1941. Byron Pitts, co-anchor of ABC Nightline, praised the book as “a must-read story about community and the can-do spirit of small-town America. This is a triumphant American story.”

How did the play come to be?

The play came into being when Warren Holleman was commissioned by the town of Apex to write a show in order to celebrate the 150th anniversary.  He brought Catherine onboard after he wrote the first draft, and then she was allowed to organize her own team.  That was when Kristin, the musical director, and the designers were hired to help develop the project.

Tell us about the cast and their connections with Apex!

There are several cast members who are citizens of Apex, but there are also actors from the surrounding area.  A few are descendants of some of the founding folks of Apex, and it is very exciting to hear their stories.  It is also wonderful to have the mayor of Apex in the show!

Who will enjoy Forged in Fire the most?

Anyone who enjoys history, learning about communities in the Triangle, and those who want to celebrate original works in our state will enjoy this play.

What have you learned about Apex during the process?

We have learned that Apex has a rich and diverse history, full of interesting people, thriving cultures, and bustling commerce.

Anything else people should know?

Folks should know that tickets are going fast and we are close to selling out so get your tickets in advance.

Interested? Purchase tickets in person at the Halle Cultural Arts Center, by phone at (919) 249-1120, or online at