The Apex downtown reflects the town's rich historical beginning. Apex was first settled around 1867 and was incorporated in 1873. The name "Apex" was adopted because the community was the highest point on the Chatham Railroad between Richmond, Virginia and Jacksonville, Florida.
The Apex railroad station was first chartered in 1854 "for the purpose of affecting a communication between the North Carolina Railroad Company (at Raleigh) and the coal fields of Chatham County." Because of the war and problems with Reconstruction, the first locomotive did not pass through Apex until 1869. Since the Apex station was located in the heart of a vast pine forest, it became a shipping point for forest products such as tar, turpentine and lumber.
A community soon developed around the station. Stores and warehouses were built and many of the large forests in the area were converted to farmlands. Before long, Apex became an active trading and shopping center. When the disease known as the Granville Wilt ran many tobacco farmers out of Person and Granville counties at the turn of the century, these farmers found land around Apex to be equally suitable for tobacco production and settled here. The first Wake County tobacco auction market was established in Apex in 1905.
The Apex town motto, "Peak of Good Living" is appropriate for a number of historical reasons. Not only was the town named for being the highest point on the Chatham Railroad, but in places along the main street of Apex, water which falls on one side of the street flows to the Neuse River, and on the other side flows to the Cape Fear River.