So much goes on in our lovely small town every day, it’s nigh impossible to capture every event, person, or organization of significance in the course of a year, even just the highlights. So with apologies for worthy events and people I’ve failed to include, here are a few thoughts about the past year in Hillsborough.
The spirit of this town is always evident in the annual rhythm of Hillsborough community events, a recognizable pattern even as it changes and evolves from year to year. MLK walk in January. Last Fridays April through September. Autumn Sundays in Hillsborough concerts. The holiday parade and tree lighting in the first December weekend.
2018 was no exception to this rhythm, and we saw an exceptional parade of events enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. The Hillsborough Historic Half Marathon and TarWheels Bikefest saw amazing turnout with hundreds of participants. The bi-annual Hillsborough Handmade parade delighted young and old with wonderful puppets and creative costumes celebrating the Eno and the arts community. The River Park Concert highlighted exceptional musical talent (tagline: happiness is free in 27278). Thousands registered for the Solstice Lantern Walk, and created a parade of lights that literally filled the entire loop of Riverwalk from the bridge downtown to the bridge at Calvin Street. Celebrating Hillsborough’s wonderful neighborhoods, this year’s Fairview Live outdid itself and set a new standard; 2018 saw the inauguration of the wildly fun Nash Dash soapbox derby.
Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the Hillsborough Garden Club planted poppies throughout town, and joined several organizations hosting informative displays about the local impact of WWI, culminating in a Veteran’s Day bell ringing ceremony at the old courthouse. The Burwell School initiated a year-long commemoration of Elizabeth Keckly’s 200th birthday.
All to say, quite a year! Again!
Amid these wonderful happenings, it was certainly disappointing that Hurricane Florence caused the 2018 cancellation of one of Hillsborough’s most longstanding signature events, Hog Day. Kudos to the Optimist Club for rallying and getting a head start for Hog Day 2019.
Indeed, 2018 brought more than its share of serious storms, flooding or closing Riverwalk and Gold Park on several occasions. (Note: Riverwalk and Gold Park purposefully make use of flood-plain land and are designed to withstand flooding without significant damage, perhaps with the exception of perpetual repairs needed to the dog park fencing.) We fared well compared to other parts of North Carolina, a primary loss being one of the town’s eldest trees, and the most recent snow storm collapsed the roof of the already well-worn tickwork sculpture (the remains of which are to be removed probably in the next few weeks). While we say goodbye to ‘A Sight to Behold’ and the old tree, we can look forward to a new work of public art: the wood of the fallen tree will be used for an artful entrance to Riverwalk at the Calvin Street entrance, just across the street from where the tree stood.
The tree is perhaps symbolic of 2018 changes in many of Hillsborough’s iconic places. The Wooden Nickel Pub moved a few doors up the street to its new space. A longstanding family business, the Carolina Game and Fish shop moved to the Highway 70 location. We said goodbye to Mystery Brewing. We are saying goodbye to Daniel Boone Village - the Big Barn, the Antique Mall, Balloons Over Orange, the blacksmith shop, and others – the property having been purchased earlier in the year with the intention of redevelopment into a new shopping and commercial area. We say hello to the newly opened House at Gatewood, and celebrated the expansion of the Passmore Senior Center.
Of worthy note is the decision to move the Orange County jail from downtown to a new county campus that will also house a new agricultural center.
And early in 2018 one of Hillsborough’s most iconic structures, the Colonial Inn, was purchased by new owners, whose proposal for a hotel, event center, and restaurant has secured all the necessary approvals from the town. They expect renovation construction to begin soon, with plans to open in 2020.
Much of Hillsborough’s town government is focused on day-to-day services: pick up the garbage, make sure the water is flowing, patrol the streets for safety. But another important part of local government are projects initiated to improve or maintain infrastructure, including annually funding of water, sewer, stormwater, and road paving, generally adhering to a replacement schedule of 20 years for roads and 40 years for pipes. Additionally, the town initiates projects that add to or improve town infrastructure; three are of particular note in the last year.
One of the most visible is the West Hillsborough Sidewalk Connections Project, improving vital connections to the Riverwalk greenway and pedestrian safety in the commercial area of South Nash Street. Now nearing completion, the project includes several new sidewalk segments along Calvin and Allison streets, widening sidewalks and reconfiguring the intersection of S Nash and Eno Streets, and completing the paved greenway connecting Allison Street to Gold Park.
Second is the opening of the new Town Hall Annex and meeting room on Corbin Street, with accompanying renovations to Town Hall, the Town Barn, and other facilities. While it’s been charming that the town’s primary meeting room has been in a barn structure, that meeting space has been woefully inadequate for many years and the new meeting space is most welcome. The ‘barn’ and annex also provide much needed office space needed for town staff to be able to serve the public more effectively.
Third is a major project that is out-of-sight for most town residents, but greatly impacts everyone in Hillsborough: the West Fork Reservoir expansion. It is hard to overstate how much “bandwidth” this project has demanded of town staff and resources during 2018, starting with financing the project. An astonishing amount of work occurred early in the year where the town successfully secured a long-term AA rating for a series of revenue bonds sold to finance the reservoir expansion. Construction is proceeding. The expansion is quite costly, but essential to provide Hillsborough with a dependable and clean source of water for decades into the future.
Those Who Serve our Community
We’ve had a significant year, with more happening than I could possibly include in this column, and what is most impressive are the people who make things happen in our town.
The unexpected: 2018 started with a change in the town board with the resignation of long-time commissioner Brian Lowen, due to moving, and the appointment of Matt Hughes from a distinguished field of volunteers ready to serve.
The celebratory: In April, the Town of Hillsborough public information staff received four Excellence in Communications Awards from the N.C. City and County Communicators.
The heartwarming: Hardly a month goes by before the Hillsborough Police Department is again in the news about a fundraiser or how they’ve connected with a local resident in need - and who doesn’t like to follow the escapades of Officer Mercy Meow on Facebook. We welcome K-9 officer Jet. #HillsboroughRocks.
The heartbreaking: In August 2018 our community joined Orange Rural Fire Department and their families in mourning Deputy Chief Jeff Holden, lost in the line of duty.
Consider the astonishing number of volunteers without whose efforts all of our wonderful community events wouldn’t happen; the business owners and employees who pour their heart and soul into local enterprises; our unsung public workers who go the extra mile both to serve us every day and to build infrastructure that will serve us long after they are gone. I am grateful to live and work here, and play a part.
We’ve had quite a journey together through 2018, and no doubt we’ll have another important year in 2019.