Hillsborough Plans Its Future by Preserving Its Past


By Laurie Paolicelli

Churton Street, Hillsborough.

We live in a world where progress and preservation are understood as ideas competing against one another, and that coexistence between them may be impossible. But consider this: can an organization whose goal it is to retain and maintain aspects of the past into the present be seen as a progressive organization? The answer is flat-out yes.

The Preservation Fund of Hillsborough (PFH) was established in 1980 as a revolving fund with support from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, and other donors, whose goal is “to direct attention to sites, buildings, residences, and gardens, and other places of historical or architectural interest… and to increase and diffuse knowledge about and appreciation of such places.”

Alexander Dickson House Visitors Center.

The group has advocated for and sponsored several local preservation projects, including the moving and renovation of the Alexander Dickson House and Office (Visitors Center in Hillsborough and Orange County, 1982-84). Preservation Hillsborough also oversaw the moving and renovation of the Hughes Academy, the last remaining one-room schoolhouse in Orange County, to Hillsborough (1997). The restoration of the Cadwallader Jones (Norwood) Law Office on the courthouse square (1997-2001) now serves as a meeting site for the Board.

Great Burnside Icehouse showing octagonal roof and gabled entrance. Photo by Elizabeth Matheson.

In 2007, the restoration and reconstruction of the Great Burnside Icehouse occurred. The foundations were restored and consolidated below ground, and missing portions of its superstructure were entirely reconstructed. Visiting the Icehouse is well worth it. It is exactly what it says it is — a house for ice — but nothing like a walk-in freezer. It’s an example of how restoration allows us to experience the past in a tactile way: the Icehouse is a Time Machine.

This is what the Preservation Hillsborough does. Custodians of the past, their mission is to protect the places that evoke the intimate story of a small southern town and its life and people a century, or two or three centuries, ago.

Burwell School, 319 North Churton Street, Hillsborough.

Members of the original committee included Craufourd Goodwin (May 23, 1934 – 2017) an esteemed Dean of Economics and Duke University who was married to Nancy Goodwin, a noted writer and gardener. In 1977, the Goodwin’s moved to Montrose, a 19th century homestead in Hillsborough once owned by a William Alexander Graham, a former North Carolina governor and US senator. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The last living member of the Preservation Fund Hillsborough’s original board is Myrick Howard who recently announced his retirement after serving 45 years as CEO of Preservation NC.

For more than 40 years, Myrick Howard has dedicated his life to the preservation of North Carolina’s architectural heritage.

“Our group has made tremendous progress on our preservation efforts in Hillsborough, and we continue to morph in our scope and purpose,” said Bill Crowther, board member and former facility manager at Ayr Mount.

Available at local book stores. Eno Publishers Publication date, October 1, 2017.

Crowther said members of the board wrote and funded the publishing of “Hidden Hillsborough, Historic Dependencies and Landscapes in a Small Southern Town,” illustrated with photos taken by Elizabeth Matheson. Writes Callie Connor in the preface: “Hidden Hillsborough hopes to guide the reader to a way of seeing these traces of the historic town in a fuller sense, including and beyond the visual, in a perception of what is present today but whose implications are not immediately apparent—things barely overserved and easily overlooked.”

Dickerson Chapel in Hillsborough is a current focus of Preservation Hillsborough.

The group’s latest project is in collaboration with the members of Dickerson Chapel AME Church in Hillsborough.

The building was the Orange County Courthouse standing on Court Square on King Street. It was built in 1790 to replace an earlier courthouse that had burned down. Since then it has had many incarnations, and it hasn’t even always been in the same spot. In 1841, it was moved from its original location to Churton Street (it took a week to roll it up there) and was a Baptist church for a decade, after which it was used for carpentry, coffin manufacturing and storage. In 1865 it became a Freedman School, educating the formerly enslaved. In 1886, the AME deacons purchased the Freedmen’s school building from the Philadelphia Friends and named it Dickerson Chapel.

Dickerson Chapel Hill has had many pastors and has seen many renovations. In the 20th century, the original frame building was bricked and a steeple and bell were added. Families added stained glass windows. A meeting room, kitchen, and bathroom were added to the south with access to the basement crawlspace where 1790 white plank woodwork can be seen.

Burnside kitchen in Hillsborough. Photo by Elizabeth Matheson.

The assets Preservation Hillsborough helps preserve were never static. A church, a school, a coffin maker – it’s remarkable that a single one building can hold all that history. But it’s not really the preservation of history that this dedicated Group is involved in, because it’s the nature of history that it can’t be. But they can help maintain what history has left behind. Memories dim, and how we lived cannot be understood through mere words on a page. They are preserving a sense of ourselves through time.

May is dedicated to National Preservation Month. Also known as Historic Preservation Month, the month celebrates the nation’s heritage through historic places. Thanks to current Preservation Hillsborough board members including: David Cates, Bill Crowther, Jeff Hopper, Callie Connor, Betty Eidenier, Kate Faherty, Jim Parsley, Mary Ann Peter, Charles Plambeck, Patricia Revels (Chair), Peter Sandbeck, Andy Whitted, Horace Johnson, Rich Shaw and Bob Ward.

For information or to send contributions, contact Pat Revels, Chair.

Photographed and documented in the book are such topics as the town’s street system, remnants of early sidewalks, gardens, well houses, outdoor kitchens and barns.

Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.

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