On Thursday, July 24, I hope you’ll take a moment to celebrate James Freeland Day.
That’s the date in 1918 when the “Walt Disney of Hillsborough” was born. The modern history of Hillsborough wouldn’t be the same without James Freeland, the man who defined the word Americ-can; the word can’t wasn’t in his dictionary.
During his lifetime, he built more than 700 homes in Hillsborough, including some for people of modest means who otherwise wouldn’t have had a home if it weren’t for James Freeland. He also made sure that no one went without heat even on the coldest night. If that were all he did, that would be enough for one man.
But James Freeland didn’t stop there.
He was a great history enthusiast, and he made tremendous contributions to saving history. He moved at least three houses that I know of to save them from being destroyed forever, including the house that James Hogg lived in and later James Carr, as well as the Dickinson House and the Gatewood House, where George Washington really stayed in Caswell County in 1791. Today, you can visit and dine in that same house. It’s now known as Pueblo Viejo.
James Freeland also received the prestigious Engstrom Award from the Hillsborough Historical Society for his dedication in saving and restoring the historic Whitted House.
He received numerous civic awards, too. He was also the mastermind behind an extraordinary entertainment complex in the early 1960s known as the Daniel Boone Village, named after the legendary frontiersman that James Freeland also knew didn’t just wander through Hillsborough. Boone was employed in colonial times by Hillsborough’s Transylvania Company to open up the part of the country we now call Kentucky.
There is a unique marker in front of the Old Orange County Courthouse in the Historic District that celebrates Daniel Boone’s connection to Hillsborough with metal recovered from the legendary battleship, The Maine, that gave rise to the phrase, “Remember the Maine.”
The Daniel Boone Village in its heyday rivaled Tweetsie Railroad. There was a full-size train and actors, a live zoo that featured real bison, a wax museum, a mega slide that you climbed to go down on burlap bags, an ice skating rink and an amphitheatre that featured major stars like Jerry Lee Lewis and Loretta Lynne. The Daniel Boone Village brought in visitors to Hillsborough long before anyone had formally thought in marketing terms. James Freeland did that naturally.
Again, if that were all, that would be more than enough.
James Freeland also built the largest convention center for Hillsborough, the Big Barn, still being used regularly for wedding receptions, special shows and fairs. James Freeland was also a doting husband, father and grandfather and great neighbor, friend and resident of Hillsborough. He was an entrepreneur before the term was invented, and the Shops at Daniel Boone Village and Boone Square are testimony to his belief in the American dream and his generosity of spirit in encouraging that in others. He was fascinated by technology, and you can still see some of the old cars and more that he collected on display even still at the Shops at Daniel Boone.
It’s hard to imagine how different Hillsborough would be without the vision of James Freeland. On July 24, take a moment to dream a little and imagine impossible things. That’s what James Freeland did, too. In advance, Happy James Freeland Day.