Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hickstown part I


As I mentioned before I'm going to post on Hickstown over the next several days. Most people who have lived in Durham for more than a decade or two will probably know of Hickstown but being relatively new to the area I had no idea there was such a place until I saw it on this map below some months ago (now helpfully available online at UNC)

1895 George F. Cram Atlas (from UNC-CH maps)

Some of the historical basics about the begginings are in Jean Anderson's book but I'll summarize a few. According to Anderson, Hickstown was incorporated as its own town in 1887 in the wake of the city of Durham going dry. There were protests against its incorporation and while I don't know when it un-incorporated, its post office closed in October 1890 (anyone have any old Hickstown, NC postmarks floating around?). The settlement was named after Hawkins Hicks who lived near the NCRR tracks in a residence awarded her in court as the common law wife of Jefferson Browning who was one of the many Browning land owners in what is now western Durham.

Section from 1920 soil map (using 1914 data)

From looking at the 1910 census it looks like the above map underestimates the number of dwellings in Hickstown (two clusters of Hickstown houses highlighted above) but I would point out that on a clearer version of this map you can see a + in that northern cluster which I believe indicates the original New Bethel Baptist Church which is today on Crest st. It was built in 1879 and moved to Crest st. around 1930 with several local black landowners as its first members (and has been at the heart of the community ever since.

Some snippets on early Hickstown seem to suggest that people regarded it as a new pinhook filled with debauchery and drink as well as both black and white residents. While I don't have a good picture of early Hickstown based on the sources I have available, I think it may have been less integrated than suggested. Certainly by 1910, the federal census shows that people who lived on the primary streets of Hickstown were mostly enumerated by the white census taker as black or mixed race. This is not to say that many white families including that of Hawkins Hicks (living on today's Main street near the Food Lion) didn't have houses within close proximity to black families, it just seems to me that Hickstown as a separate entity grew up particularly as a settlement of post-civil war migrants, largely ex-slaves and their families, from elsewhere in North Carolina. This is confirmed both by the report on Hickstown's relocation (which I'll get to in the next post) and in an interesting (though dated) article on the geography of post civil war population movement. The author calls Hickstown "a former Negro agricultural village" and while I'm not sure where he got the "agricultural village" idea,I think he was probably on to something. There was a surge of small farm buying by newly arrived black families in the 1870s and 80s in various areas on the outskirts of what was then Durham and which is now well within the city limits.



1910 plat of the eastern part of Hickstown (click for GEarth overlay). Today largely a parking structure.

However, in a transition that I'll write something about someday many of these black farm owners sold their land around the turn of the century to white landowners and speculators. Some white landowners like W.T. Neal and J.W. Markham had evidently acquired property in the Hickstown area and in 1910 they parceled up some of this land to the west of the NCRR and to the south of the old New Bethel church. Some of the Hickstown street names you see above (and below) have always seemed a bit odd to me (e.g. Cycle, Barnum, Baily) and I can only think that the nearby circus grounds (near where the Kroger on Hillsborough is now) inspired the naming. I don't know the racial politics surrounding the above lot division but I would be more than a little surprised if the Clements land company was interested in selling lots to non-whites.


From 1937 public works map of Durham

While the parceling up of land for houses in 1910 suggests the beggining of the shift, by the time the map above was made agriculture had been replaced in Hickstown as a primary occupation (though farming undoubtedly continued part time on small plots) by industrial and service occupations in rapidly expanding Durham proper. I'm not sure what the state of land tenure was in Hickstown at this point but I imagine it to be concentrated in the hands of landlords as in 1980 only 22% of dwellings were owner occupied. I'll continue soon with some more maps and overlays bringing the story up to the present as well as some discussion of the well covered relocation and transformation of Hickstown in the early 1980s.

1 comment:

John said...

Hawkins Hicks, Hickstown's namesake who lived on Mulberry (now West Main), is buried in the Cedar Hill Cemetery.

To find his marker, enter the old Erwin Mills graveyard from West Pettigrew and walk to the left. Hicks is buried under one of the largest headstones in the section near the New Bethel Cemetery.

~John Schelp