Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hickstown part II

Hickstown looking west from near NCRR (from DOT report)

While the picture above was most likely taken in the late 1970s or early 1980s it probably doesn't differ too much from what the area looked like in the 1950s (except for the VA hospital in the background). Most roads in the community were unpaved like the one above (Barnum?) and many of the lots from the plat on the previous post remained vacant throughout the period.

1953 Sanborn Map (click to enlarge)

This Sanborn map from 1953 only shows the section of Hickstown to the west of the tracks but the section to the east has kept its general street pattern and some original dwellings. Notice the number of streets listed as unpaved as well as the Hickstown School to the extreme left on Crest st. From what I gather there had been a school for the black children of Hickstown on that site for several decades before it was rebuilt as part of the Rosenwald school plan (note the description "heat-stoves"). It was later rebuilt after integration as Crest st. Elementary and is still there today in the form of a senior center. Just off the map to the west next to the school was the Hickstown cemetery where over 1000 mostly black members of Hickstown and Durham were buried.

Hickstown Cemetery plan (illegible in original- list of graves)

However the cemetery is now no longer there and the majority of the houses and streets in the 1953 plan have been completely destroyed. Most people are probably familar with the story of the destruction of Hayti in the 1960s and 70s but the saga of the Durham freeway didn't end once it got to Chapel Hill st. Highway plans called for a linkup between the freeway and I-85 and the chosen route went directly through Hickstown. However, those who do know the history of Hayti will be suprised by the outcome of the confrontation between Hickstown and the transportation department. The best description of how the residents of Hickstown managed to reach an accomodation with the state and federal governments and shape their own relocation is in this official summary. While it is a bit of a triumphalist account I think it gives a good sense of the enormous amounts of time and energy that went into the accomodation. It also serves as an important reminder of the power of tightly knit neighborhoods in the face of seemingly inevitable state plans. I'd also add that if you're ever in need of a good trivia question - I believe that disputes over attorney's fees in the moving of the neighborhood led to the most recent appearance of a Durham issue in the US Supreme Court.
Hickstown top and Crest St. Community Bottom (from DOT report)

As you can read in the report various government agencies paid to rebuild Hickstown as the new Crest st. neighborhood. All but two original Hickstown structures (see map) were destroyed and entirely new culs-de-sac, houses, and facilities were built to the west of Fulton st. The massive Hickstown cemetery was completely disinterred (google earth overlay of the cemetery on today's map) and some graves were moved to a cemetery further out in Durham county while the bulk were reinterred just across the highway at New Bethel memorial gardens. I've been to through Crest st. a number of times and talked to a couple of folks there including the very hospitable pastor of New Bethel church and it seems like the intense neighborhood pride and tight network of social connections remains to this day. My one complaint with the layout of the neighborhood neccesitated by the highway is how the neighborhood has been sequestered in a corner of development with pretty much only two ways in or out. All in all, Hickstown's story is definitley worth sharing and I'd like to see its narrative more part of discussions on Durham's history. I know there are hundreds of stories about Hickstown floating around and I'd love to hear what people know.


Jacob said...

Another telling of the fight over the final part of the Expressway is told in Paul Luebke, "Activists and Asphault: A Successful Anti-Expressway Movement in a 'New South City,'", Human Organization 40:3 (1980): 256-263.

Yes, that Paul Luebke.

In Duke's library there's also a bound version of the transcripts of the DOT's hearings on the proposal. It makes for some fascinating reading.

Mitch said...

Thanks Jacob! I didn't know about the transcripts at Duke.

Specious said...

I attempted to draw Hickstown on WikiMapia based on your two posts, though I'm pretty sure I didn't get it quite right. I've recently begun reading your blog with great interest. Thanks for all the info!

Jacob said...

Had to check an old bibliography, but I wanted to actually provide a citation for the DOT hearing transcript I mentioned.

North Carolina. Department of Transportation. Highway Design Branch. Official Public Hearing Transcript, Projects 9.8050557 and 9.8050560 U-71 and U-77, East – West Expressway in Durham. E.K. Powe School. 30 November 1978.

If any of you are interested in this topic, you can find the book in the Duke catalogue here. While I was trying to find the entry in the catalogue, I discovered that there are several other government documents about the project that I haven't seen, including a Federal environmental impact statement. I'd also be happy to email any interested people a pdf of the Leubke article.

Probably no one is interested in this, but I think it would make a great local history article, seminar paper, or undergrad senior thesis topic.