In “Hidden Hillsborough,” unusual places around town are revealed.
Explanations are given for features such as stone steps leading to nowhere, headstones of people lost to time, berms along Hillsborough streets that seem to have no purpose, and the multitude of small structures still standing in someone’s backyard.
Inspired by these less-obvious historic places in Hillsborough, a collection of authors, a photographer, and a map-maker sought to document these details in a cohesive product.
“Hidden Hillsborough: Historic Dependencies and Landscapes in a Small Southern Town,” published by Eno Publishers in 2017, elegantly displays the coming of age story of Hillsborough, bearing many of its original qualities among a modernized landscape.
In June, “Hidden Hillsborough” was awarded the Bronze IPPY Award for Best Nonfiction Book in the Southeast, an Independent Publishers Book Awards.
“This group has put together a really remarkable book and I’m just so pleased to have been associated with it,” said Elizabeth Woodman, founder and publisher of Eno Publishers. “I’m really glad it received the recognition it did.
“I think people thought it was very innovative and that the writing and photography worked very well together,” Woodman continued. “It explains a lot of the things that are part of our everyday life and that, maybe we’ve thought about it, but we never really understood them. It’s a wonderful tour of the past that lives with us still.”
The book began as a project from the Preservation Fund of Hillsborough, a group founded in 1980 to preserve and document historic buildings and landscapes.
The group has since funded the restoration of the Great Burnside Ice House located behind Cameron Park Elementary School, the relocation of the Hughes Academy and the Alexander Dickson House (now the Hillsborough Visitors Center), the revival of Helen’s Garden (adjacent to the Dickson House), and many more projects.
In 2011, the Preservation Fund Board identified a committee of members to create this book. Along the way, through weekly meetings at St. Matthews Episcopal Church, the group grew. The committee added a photographer, someone to create maps of the various stages of Hillsborough’s growth, and other writers to help discover items and contact local property owners.
Published six years later, the team was diligent to record kitchens, offices, school-related buildings, smokehouses, barns and far more. Perhaps by way of peeking through the hedges or over a fence before contacting property owners, many of these places were uncovered and explored. Not all of the places were out of sight and reach – some stood in plain sight. Features that blended into the everyday scenery were highlighted, requiring imagination to envision its original importance to Hillsborough.
Eight writers contributed to the flowing essays accompanying the notable photography of Elizabeth Matheson, a native of Hillsborough. She has work featured at the NC Museum of Art, Duke, the National Humanities Center, and the Gregg Museum at NC State, and was awarded the North Carolina Award for Excellence in the Arts, the state’s highest civilian honor.
Contributors included Callie Connor, Barbara Hume, Jean B. Anderson, Jim Parsley, Mary Ann Peter, Craufurd D. Goodwin, Ellen C. Weig, and Pip Merrick.
Connor, who sat as the co-chair for the committee, has lived in Hillsborough for 22 years, and is Professor Emerita of Classics at UNC-Chapel Hill. She served on the Preservation Fund of Hillsborough Board, among numerous other boards, and has published extensively in her field of Byzantine Studies.
The map-maker for the book, Stewart Dunaway, is a researcher in North Carolina colonial and Revolutionary War history. Dunaway joined the committee as map-making became an essential part of understanding the “hidden” locations. The book includes maps such as the earliest record of town layout, a list of town lots, and stages of expansion of the town. Dunaway has spent decades transcribing original records from State Archives and publishing them in book form.
“I’ve had several people, new to Hillsborough, who have purchased this book and have used it as a guide to get to know the town,” Woodman said. “It gives them an opportunity to become familiar with the major features which we’re all aware of, but then to look behind the scenes a little bit and see these interesting things.”
On Sunday, Dec. 16, “Hidden Hillsborough” served as a guide during the family-friendly “Hillsborough Passport” series. The Hillsborough/ Orange County Chamber of Commerce used the Candlelight Tour to do a “sneak preview” of the new expanded series, to launch in March.
“Hillsborough Passport” will be a collaborative program with the Burwell School Historic Site, the Orange County Historical Museum, and the Hillsborough Visitors Center. Participants will receive physical passports that will be stamped throughout the tour, which will function similar to a scavenger hunt.
The program will include historical points of interest, outdoor activities, arts culture and the town’s dining scene.
Slated as an annual series, each year will bring a refreshing set of locations to visit.