Orange County, North Carolina historic information cache - the flagstones of Hillsborough
The flagstones of Hillsborough
According to local tradition, the intersection of King Street and Churton Street in downtown Hillsborough is said to have been paved with stone by British troops under the command of General Charles Cornwallis during their stay in town in late February 1781 (towards the end of the Revolutionary War).
West King Street, looking east towards Churton Street, circa 1890     West King Street, looking east towards Churton Street, circa 1900
However, the stones we see today quite possibly may have been emplaced as part of a United States Federal Civil Works Administration (CWA), Federal Emergency Relief Administration (ERA), and the North Carolina Emergency Relief Administration (NCERA) project in the early 1930s.

The Orange County courthouse renovation was one of the repair projects undertaken by the ERA (project No. 68-B4-3, at a total cost of $19,583.94). According to ERA records, the "old" (19th century) two-story (stone) jail and "town building" (mayor's office), which was located on the courthouse square (the jail was at the southeast corner of Margaret Lane and Court Street), was "torn down so that a proper setting could be provided for the courthouse. The demolition of the old jail was followed with much interest as it was rumored that the ancient hanging pit would be brought to light--but no trace of it was found. The walls of the old jail, which were thirty-two inches thick, made of flagstone laid in clay, provided the material for all the flagstone sidewalks built on the square."
excerpt from the 1924 Sanborn map of Hillsborough, showing the jail and mayor's office
So it is obvious from this account that the "flagstone" sidewalks around the old courthouse were put in place in 1935, but perhaps the stones that can be found along west King Street (east of Wake Street) were put in place by the NCERA/ERA/CWA projects. NCERA records do list three separate projects involving improvements ("surfacing") to the streets of Hillsborough, at a total cost of $14,850.04. (The "Confederate Memorial Public Library," by the way, was also constructed as an NCERA/ERA/CWA project at this time, at a total cost of $15,466.10.)
the Confederate Memorial Public Library, 1934
The stones that were once used to pave King and Churton streets, however, were in place by the early 1900s, so perhaps there is some truth to the "Cornwallis myth," or perhaps they were placed there in the 1800s, but were thought to have dated to colonial times, much like the Colonial Inn. Francis Nash, in his 1903 book about Hillsborough, stated that in 1781, General Cornwallis and his British troops "did the only permanently beneficial work that has ever been done" to Hillsborough's streets. Cornwallis "made his men collect stones from the neighboring fields and lots and place them in these streets for one hundred and fifty yards north and south and east and west, and there they remain to this day, making, it is true, not a model or up-to-date highway, but one that is free from mud, or if not, one that is passable in wet weather." Additionally, I've come across Hillsborough town regulations from the late 1700s that state that every citizen had to surface the street in front of one's own property with stone or brick. Who knows? Perhaps some definitive (and factual) information one day will come to light.
Flagstones in front of the Colonial Inn     Flagstones as stairs, north side of King Street
Flagstones (curbstones) bordering sidewalk, south side of King Street     Flagstones as retaining wall, west side of Churton Street
Elizabeth Collins recalled in a 1994 history presentation in Hillsborough that in the 1920s, King and Churton streets were paved for the first time: "We only had dirt streets... someone said they were to pave Churton and King... . They blocked it off and then it had to season. It was going to take about two weeks with no traffic allowed on it but they let all the children in town roller skate as soon as they got done." Fellow presenter Joe Rosemond also recalled that "the only two paved streets at that time were Churton, the main street from Winston to Raleigh, and King Street, paved... out to the depot, and in front of the courthouse."

Even today, city/county workers doing water and sewer improvements to King Street west of Churton Street still uncover flagstones under the road and sidewalks. And recent water pipe replacement on King Street exposed the original, 1920s concrete-paved surface.

Ireland, Robert E. (ed). Games We Played When We Were Young: an Oral History of Hillsborough in the 1920s. Hillsborough Historical Journal, Vol. 4, No. 1, September 2001.

Kirk, J.S., Walter A. Cutter, and Thomas W. Morse (eds.). Emergency Relief in North Carolina. A Record of the Development and the Activities of the North Carolina Emergency Relief Administration, 1932-1935. The North Carolina Emergency Relief Administration. Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton, 1936.

Lloyd, Allen A. and Pauline O. The History of the Town of Hillsborough, 1754-1966. Hillsborough: self-published, 1966.

Nash, Francis. Hillsboro, Colonial and Revolutionary. Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton, 1903.
[Page created: 22 December 2007; Last updated: 19 August 2008]