The Steele Creek Historical and Genealogical Society
Of the Old Steele Creek Township
Mecklenburg County, North Carolina
The Browhill Community
| Browhill |
-Gone Forever -
(The following was written by J. Bruce Brown, our member who passed away in
April of 1996. He was writing the history of Browhill at the time of his death
and so this history does not have an ending. Because of the length of the
writing, it covered several issues of Gleanings, but is covered in its entirety
here. This was an important writing for Steele Creek as few people now living in
the area have any knowledge of Browhill's existence. The airport and new
building around the airport facility have covered Browhill and left no traces of
it. **No part of this story may be reprinted without the permission of the J.
Bruce Brown family or Steele Creek Historical & Genealogical Society.**)
Margaret Mitchell's immortal story portrayed a complete and abrupt change in
the life style of the people in the Old South. The economical, political and
social customs vanished, as it were, with the wind. However, those fortunate
enough to survive the war returned to their land, and with their friends and
families began earnestly to rebuild the New South.
In contract, Browhill, the neighborhood in which I was born and lived virtually my entire life, has gone forever - physically-completely. The people are gone. The buildings and homes are gone. The land has been pushed, pulled, mounded-up and dug into. Roads have vanished and new ones built. New structures have been built, and trees and undergrowth have swallowed up the undeveloped land. Indeed, only a few of us who have remained in this area could locate a particular location within a hundred yards of the exact spot. Within 25 years, few people will know the neighborhood ever existed.
"A Pity!", I say. So, I've decided to write down some of the recollections of my early life in this neighborhood. Browhill's existence and my own are almost exactly the same. I was born July 24, 1924 at home. Except for 2 ½ years in the service and approximately 2 years living in an apartment, I've lived my entire life (Till now, of course. I hope for many more years) on part of the old homeplace. I was the last person to move out of the boundaries of the old neighborhood in January, 1992. So, I feel as qualified as anyone to expound upon some of the earlier happenings in the neighborhood.
I haven't done any deep research. I've only picked a few older minds and those closer to some of the places and events. Many of the dates are exact and others are correct within a couple of years. (Heck, the political polls, with all their computers, are no more accurate than that.)
I'm not going to spend the time or effort to make sure the sentences are grammatically correct or punctuated properly. Even the spelling can't stand scrutiny. I'm going to write pretty much how I talk. The narrative will be rambling recollections because I may follow a train of thought, before I forget it, that is completely foreign to the subject at hand. I don't plan to do a lot of revisions to put things in their proper order.
Some will argue the real neighborhood only lasted a scant 20 years. It's true that the central focal point of activities ceased to exist in the mid-40s. However, as a tribute to those of us who, through continuing encroachment, held on for another 50 years, I insist the neighborhood drew its last breath in the Spring of 1992.
Browhill was located in upper Steele Creek. The Steele Creek section of Mecklenburg County extended from the Charlotte city limits to the Catawba River and roughly from Dowd Road to York Rd. I've heard of upper and lower Steele Creek all my life, but never knew where the accepted boundary was. I assume lower Steele Creek began at the southern limits of the Shopton community. I've always imagined lower Steele Creek and the "Blackjacks" were synonymous. The "Blackjacks" being the endearing term given to the land in that area. If you had asked someone in my neighborhood in the early 1920s where they lived, they would certainly have replied, "Dixie". The heart of Dixie was some 1 ½ miles on down Dixie Road from my home-about half way to Steele Creek Church. Both Shopton and Dixie were old, established communities, dating certainly to the mid-19th century. Oh!, how I would love to know the early history of these two communities. Dixie was once a U. S. Post Office. Both communities had schools; the High School at Dixie existed until Berryhill High School opened in the fall of 1926.
The geographical center of Browhill was where Piney Top and Wilmount Roads terminated into Dixie Road. Of course, they weren't named Piney Top and Wilmount then. Few secondary roads in the county had names until after World War II. As I recall, the road we will call Wilmount for identification purposes was named Wilmount from the prison camp to Charlotte. That name was extended back to "Ma" Duncan's restaurant years later with the coming of West Blvd. into our area. If any event, this road started at Dixie road and went all the way to Charlotte over virtually the same route it takes today.
Piney Top was exactly as it exists today, except a few curves were straightened when Paul Brown Road was built. Both Wilmount and Piney Top were "sand-clay" early on and crushed stone later. They terminated at Dixie Road at a single point. They approached Dixie Road at an angle and converged into a single road some fifty feet from the intersection. (What a traffic problem this would be today.) Dixie Road was Browhill's "Main Street". Of course, Dixie Road was already identified because it went through (where else) Dixie. In fact, Dixie Road was one of the county's main arteries. It was macadamized (tar and crushed stone) early in the century and served the heart of the Steele Creek area. Dixie Road began at what is now Wilkinson Blvd. Early on, it was Dowd Road. Dowd Road was re-routed and widened in 1928 and named Wilkinson Blvd. We'll discuss this later in a section concerning the development of the neighborhood.
From Wilkinson Blvd., Dixie Road took the same route as present day Morris Field Drive. At the intersection of what I believe they currently call Airport Drive, it continued straight ahead, past the Air Nation Guard complex and after a large curve to the left, ran down through the old airport terminal (really the intermediate one, as we shall see later) and into our neighborhood. Of course, none of the aforementioned structures were there. There wasn't even and airport. (Can you imagine??!!) It was roughly 2 ½ miles from Wilkinson Blvd. to Browhill and, as I mentioned earlier, Dixie was about 1 ½ miles further south. Dixie Road ran through Browhill on a slight upgrade, beginning from the south at Coffey Creek (I didn't know the name of this creek either, until years later when it began appearing on county maps) It crested some ½ mile beyond Browhill store. Just before the crest, the Juneau Road began, extending westward to Juneau, about 1 ½ miles away. Juneau was located on Old Dowd Road on the main Southern Railway line. It had a depot and at this time, you could "catch" a train to and from Charlotte.
It's hard to determine the exact boundaries of the neighborhood. If you considered people who bought groceries and supplies at the store with some regularity, you might extend the boundary on Dixie Road to present day Billy Graham Parkway and to Byrum Drive on Wilmount Road. However, realistically, I would place the boundary on Dixie Road from Coffee Creek to Juneau Road; on Piney Top to the creek (same creek) and on Wilmount Road to the original termination of Paul Brown Road. So, you see, the neighborhood was not a large one.
Of course, Browhill did not suddenly appear overnight, even though, it may seem so. There were several old family houses scattered throughout the area, but not many. At the end of World War I, there were only thre houses on Dixie Road between Coffee Creek and Juneau Road - F.Bruce Brown's (Willis Brown/my home) was located about ½ mile north of Coffee Creek; Mr. Charlie Cathey's about where the old Airport terminal building is and Mr. Reece Berryhill's another couple of hundred yards further north. Incidently, between Coffee Creek and Dixie Store were only two houses - Miss Nanny Price's (about half-way) and Mr. Arthur Byrum's (James Biggers). Most people remember these houses, because Piney Top was the last to go. On Wilmount Road, Mr. Isaac Griffith's (Earl Sing) was located opposite the present National Guard complex. Wilmount Road had an abrupt curve to the right about where it later terminated into West Blvd. Just beyond the curve, Mr. Will Bigham's (Grier Bigham) driveway was on the left. The house was located at least ¼ mile over a rise, just about in the middle of the recent West Blvd. re-route. Mr. Lester Brown's house was also located a considerable distance off the road, at the end of present day Horse-Shoe Lane. Proceeding further down Wilmount Road, there were three more houses before present day Byrum Drive. Just beyond Mr. Lester Brown's driveway was Mr. Tom Spratt's (This was the old Spratt home place). Further on the left was a house where Mrs. Betty Abernathy and Miss Minnie Blair lived. (They were sisters of Mr. Sam Porter's wife, Essie). This was the house the Dixons (Warren's family) later lived in. Sam Porter's house was on the right at about where the medical supply business is (was) located. There were only three houses on Byrum Drive. Mr. Ed Byrum's (still their today -Francis) (ed. note: No longer there - 2003), Tom Stilwell's (his driveway was on the left before you got to the Byrums and the house was a considerable distance off the road), and Mr. Parks Brown's (Wallace) was located about where the "Man-From-Mars" apparatus has been built at the end of the runway. (Something about wind sheer detection, I think).
If my Grandfather had jotted down such trivia as this in his later life, I'm sure he would have placed other family names to some of these houses. Except for two or three that were built early in this century, these houses dated to the middle of the last century and some much earlier.
You will note that I referred to the above persons as "mister", but it was most difficult not to call them "cousins". I was kin to virtually everybody in the whole area. I had a score or more of uncles and aunts and dozens and dozens of cousins. I only had one Uncle - Uncle Charlie Freeman (mother's brother- and one Aunt - Aunt Ora Williamson (Daddy's sister). I had only four 1st cousins - Cuncle Charlie's children - Nancy, Grace Marie, Charles and Patricia. However, Daddy's mother wa a Bigham and mother was a Freeman. A couple of generations prior to mine, the Browns, Freemans, and Bighams were large familes. So, Mother and Daddy had bushels of 1st cousins. I hesitate to add, Browns married Bighams, Bigham married Browns, Browns married Freemans, Freemans married Browns and Freemans married Bighams. There wree a number of "double 1st cousins" around. Of course, any in these clans married into other prominent Steel Creek families of equally large numbers. Never mind that Jim Byrum calls me "Bruce" and my Terry call Bobby Byrum "Babe", when I was young, if you were kin to someone, and he/she was of a respectful age, it was cousin so-in-so. It was Cousin Grier and Rob Bigham (Daddy's 1st cousins) but Charlie and Joe Bigham (same kin) was just "Charlie " and "Joe". No respect!!
The neighborhood area was slow to develop and expand. There was a reason for this. These people were farmers, and farming required a considerable amount of land. There was simply no land available to establish additional farms. The boys remained on the farms, often times with their own wives and families, or moved a considerable distance away where land was available. The close of World War I brought an end to this. The "boys" came home, dreaming of leaving the farm and working in the city. There was, also, an improved economy which normally occurs during and for a period following a major war. Thus, people were now seeking relative small amounts of land to establish homesteads and the landowners were willing to oblige.
The expansion began in 1919-1920, when Mr. John W. Berryhill bought some land and built a house on Dixie Road at approximately the present location of the Dobbs House complex. Whether or not Mr. John had an idea or dream of someday becoming a dairyman is not known, but we do know that he worked for Wearn Lumber Co. at the time and for several additional years. (His mother, Mrs. Cora was a Wearn.)
Mr. John W's parents, Mr. John A. and Mrs. Cora, returned from Florida in 1921, where (as James puts it) they were seeking the Berryhill fame and fortune. Mr. John C. bought an acre or two of land from my grandfather in the triangle formed by the confluence of Dixie Road and the dirt road that ran from Wilmount Road. (As I mentioned earlier, the dirt road followed virtually the route as the later airport terminal road.) In 1922, the Berryhills built a store building at this location, facing north toward the points of the triangle. The first three letters of Brown and the last three of Berryhill were taken to form the word "Browhill", thus the store was named the BROWHILL MERCANTILE COMPANY, which was emblazoned on a large sign across the front of the store. A smaller sign in the rear of the building depicted the store as "A City Store In The Country".
Raiford Winchester, who was married to Irma Berryhill - Mr. John W.'s sister and the John A.'s daughter, bought a larger section of land, just south of the above location on the opposite (west) side of Dixie Road. His house was probably built at the same time as the store. The sides of both structures were covered with brown stained cedar shingles.
Also, in 1922, Dixie Road received a new surface; this time asphalt!! - hard, smooth and slick as glass. (Perfect for roller-skating.) It was till only a comfortable single lane wide. An additional lane of crushed stone was provided on one side or the other of the paved lane. (This land was provided at alternate intervals to allow equal access to the paved land while passing.) A new steel bridge was also provided over Coffee Creek below my home. It is reported that people from miles around (especially on weekends) would travel Dixie Road to enjoy the smooth surface.
Shortly after this time, probably 1923, Mr. Bob Porter built a house a hundred feet or so north of the store on the other side (east) of the dirt road. At about the same time, his brother, Mr. Fed Porter built a house just beyond the sharp curve on Wilmont Road, almost across the road from Mr. Will Bigham's driveway. Mr. Fed died shortly after, and I understand the Earl Sings lived there for awhile. However, at my earliest recollection, the Carmichaels were living there. For me, the Sings were always at home at the Isaac Griffiths. (Mrs. Ola's parents.)
In 1923-24, Mr. Winchester built a house on the southern end of his property near the intersection of Wilmont and Piney Top with Dixie Road for the Nick Arringtons. (Frances Arrington was Mr. Winchester's niece.)
Sometime during this period, Mr. Wood built a house across Dixie Road about half-way between Mr. Charlie Cathey and Mr. Reece Berryhill.
Mr. John A. Berryhill "ran" Browhill Store from 1922 until his death in 1925. Mr. John W. Berryhill took over the store for a short while, but did not find it to his liking. I'm sure, at this time, certainly Mr. John W. was seriously planning to begin his dairy farm. In 1926, Mrs. Cora Berryhill built a house two hundred feet or so behind the store facing Dixie Road. She rented (or leased) this house and the store to Mr. Peyton Davenport. So, from 1926, during all of my "growing up" years, Mr. Peyton and Mrs. Mary Davenport were the proprietors of the Browhill Mercantile Co. Mr. John W. Berryhill began developing his dairy farm and during the decade of the '30sd the John W. Berryhill Dairy, though not the largest, was probably the most modern, innovative, and efficient dairy in the county.
Of course, the name "Browhill" was not immediately adopted by the neighborhood upon completion of the store. Probably phrases such as, "I live on Dixie Road just below Browhill store", began being used. Or, someone from several miles away would say, "I'm going over to Browhill to pick up some sugar." In any event, by the late 1920s, "Browhill" had become accepted by the neighborhood. The phrase, "I love in Browhill", had become commonplace.
While it had little effect on the neighborhood, a happening in 1928 is worth relating. Charlotte received one of the first four-lane highways in the state. Dowd Road was widened and re-routed from Morehead Street to the Catawba River. The new highway was named "Wilkinson Boulevard". I don't know who Mr. Wilkinson was, but he must surely have been a former Mayor. (I've learned later that he was the project engineer).
In 1929, the Grier Bighams (Grier, Jr. & Dick) moved from Charlotte into the neighborhood - right uptown in Mr. Bob Porter's house. (Mr. Bob had moved into an apartment.)
The end of the 1920s brought a flurry of construction activity. Were it not for this, my earliest recollections might not have been so vivid. Mr. Charlie Freeman built a house a hundred yards or so down on the south side of Piney Top in 1929-30. In 1930-31, Loy Brown built a house directly across from the intersection of Piney Top and Wilmont with Dixie Road. (Adjacent to the Arringtons). In 1931032, Mr. Winchester bought additional lad from my grandfather, across the road from his lower driveway and built a duplex for Mrs. Willie Winchester (his mother) and Mrs. Anna Bell McCall (his sister and Frances Arrington's mother). The adjacent side of the duplex was initially occupied by the __Byrums (Mildred Neel). At home there, subsequently, were the Palmers (who owned a Printing Co.) and the Earl Boomershines (car salesman, who later lived below the Ed Byrums on Byrum Drive). Incidentally, years later, Mr. Boomershine opened a major automobile dealership in Atlanta.
In 1931, The Charlie Freemans moved to Greensboro for a short while and on to Ruffin, N.C. and lived with the Griffiths. Uncle Charlie ran an auto repair shop and Aunt Lib taught school. The Grier Bighams, who had moved from the Bob Porter house to live with Mrs. Minnie Berryhill after Mr. Reece died, moved into the Charlie Freeman house. So for awhile, Dick and Grier were my close neighbors. After about a year and a half, the Grier Bighams moved back to the old homeplace. (the Will Bigham house) The Charlie Elliotts (daughter Harriet Ann)moved into the Freeman house. (He owned a dry-cleaning business). Charlie Freemans moved back into their house during the summer of 1934. In 1935, the Warren Niells (Jim) arrived in the neighborhood - renting Mr. Bob Porters house near the store.
A couple of hundred yards up Wilmont RToad from it's termination with Dixie Road, there was a sharp curve to the left. About half-way between this curve and the beginning of the dirt road (at an old Locust Tree) that ran beside Browhill store, Mr. John W. Berryhill bought some land from my Dad in 1936 and built a house for the Fred McCaritys, who had come to work at the dairy.
The George Browns (Mack & Buddy) moved into the neighborhood in 1936. They moved into the Will McGinn house on Piney Top Drive with Laura and Mrs. Blanche McGinn. Laura was Mrs. George Brown's sister and Mrs. Blanche was her mother.
THE GATHERING STORM!!
Yep, in the mid 1930s, a City Council Search Committee started looking for a location for a new Charlotte Airport. The city was served at the time by the Cannon Airport off of Ashley Road. Of course, there wasn't a Freedom Drive at that time. The airport facility was located between Ashley Road and Tuckaseegee Road, covering the area now occupied by the Freedom Mall and the Freedom Village Shopping Center. I remember being at the Cannon Airport several times on special occasions. I had a close-up look at the silver Ford Tri-engine mail plane. I also saw Amelia Earhart land in a plane with a Beech-Nut Gum advertisement on the side of the plane. I remember, she was late and we had to wait around for several hours. She handed out picture postcards of her standing beside the plane.
The Honorable Mayor Ben Douglas spearheaded the search committee and insisted from the very first, that the new airport be located in our area. This of course, endeared him to everyone in this part of the county!!! That's a joke, son! He incurred the wrath of everybody in the area. They blamed him, singularly, for the whole project. To make matters worse, after the project was completed, his name was given to the airport. This has served as a grim reminder of his actions for over half a century.
There were those who would argue that had the airport been located in another section of the county, our section would have enjoyed a faster residential growth than the East and Southeast. The geographic features of this area for residential growth included a beautiful rolling county-side, close proximity to the Catawba River and Lake Wiley, and an area served by a new four-lane highway. Alas! It was this new highway that sealed our doom. There were numerous areas of the county whose population was less dense than ours, but no other area could offer the new Wilkinson Blvd. to provide excellent access to the proposed airport.
The new facility consisted of only one runway. This runway was constructed almost exactly atop the Juneau Road. This road was virtually straight and approximately one mile long. The runway began at Juneau, on the southeast side of the railroad, of course, and ended a full ¼ mile from Dixie Road. (This created the first "Harbor Lights" area, many of which would follow upon subsequent airport expansions and alterations. To the uninitiated, "Harbor Lights" was a place couples went to supposedly watch airplanes, (similar to those who go to drive-ins to supposedly watch the movies). This runway was part of the same runway that was extended to the new West Blvd. at the beginning of WWII and is now being further extended. There were less than a half dozen houses on Juneau Road, so few people were uprooted because of the runway. Mr. Will McCoy (Bubba, Bill & Knell) had to move. So did the Milliard Montgomery's. A Deeps family, who lived in the old Berryhill house, had to move. The Southern Railway had a house for the Section Chief over near the railroad, which I suppose was moved. I think Mr. Wall was Section Chief at that time. The Terminal building was located barely a stones throw from the present complex. It was located on that end of the runway because of closer access to Wilkinson Blvd. The exact location of the Terminal Building was beyond and to the left of the area just over the railroad bridge at the end of Harlee Ave., where people have parked for years to watch the airplanes. The Terminal had a small restaurant, which was a favorite place to go after basketball practices and games. I think the first Eastern Airlines plane landed at the new airport in the fall of 1936. I'm sure half the students from Berryhill School were there for the occasion.
As you can see, the initial airport installation had little impact on our neighborhood. But, some of the older citizens grumbled that Ben Douglas' folly would result in an end to our neighborhood and a disruption of the Steele Creek Community. It has and it has ..
(This is the end of "Browhill - Gone Forever" by Bruce Brown. He passed away while he was writing this and we do regret that he did not have time to finish.) His style of writing was so appealing and it did make you feel as if you were sitting in front of him and he was telling this story. We will be forever grateful that he was able to record the above so the history of that area of Steele Creek has been preserved. The airport expansions have indeed taken the Browhill community into extinction and with the new expansion which has started (2002) most of the Berryhill, Dixie and upper part of Steele Creek area is now erased from Mecklenburg County.
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