New Hill, with deep rural roots, prepares for growth

aramos@newsobserver.comApril 11, 2014 

  • A changing New Hill

    The Apex Town Council is considering a proposal to rezone more than 400 acres along Old U.S. 1 in the New Hill community from residential to mixed-use. A mixed-use designation would allow for a variety of growth, including homes, townhomes, apartments, offices, retail and commercial.

    The New Hill Community Association will discuss the possible rezoning at its April 24 meeting. For more information about the New Hill Community Association, go to www.newhillca.org.

— In its heyday, the Troy’s Motor Court tearoom hosted the likes of baseball great Babe Ruth on his way to training camp in Florida. And, if rumors can be trusted, the cabins once served as a brief pit stop for bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.

The luster and shine have long worn off from those years in the 1920s through the ’60s. Now, the white-washed cabins of the inn at the intersection of U.S. 1 and Holleman Road sit vacant.

The cabins are one of New Hill’s remaining relics at a time when residents are struggling to hold on to their rural way of life amid the pressures of growth.

The unincorporated community of about 1,900 people, situated less than 10 miles from downtown Apex, has been in a tug of war between maintaining its own identity and meeting the needs of Wake County’s growth since the 1970s.

Decade by decade, residents have watched acres slip away, first for the Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant, then for a regional sewage-treatment facility.

And now residential growth is coming. Apex recently approved plans for a 300-acre subdivision.

Some New Hill residents say it’s only a matter of time before their community disappears completely into Apex or Holly Springs, whose borders continue to expand.

“You are not immune to growth anywhere,” said Glynn Weiner, who lives in New Hill and serves as the area’s mail carrier. “It will find you.”

The Western Wake Water Reclamation Facility that is set to open this summer will likely lead to more growth. The $330 million plant is a partnership between Cary, Apex and Morrisville to increase sewer capacity, which will ultimately allow the towns to grow.

“Once you get the water going, it’s the basis for growth,” Weiner said. “I don’t have a problem with any of it as long as it’s well maintained.”

Weiner moved to New Hill from Apex in 2001 to fulfill his wife’s dream of owning horses. The couple needed more space.

“It’s like country living with big-city convenience,” he said.

But that country living is at risk of disappearing, making way instead for new homes and commercial growth.

The Jordan Pointe subdivision is set to add up to 440 homes off of Old U.S. 1 and Horton Road. Construction is set to start within the year.

The development, which the Apex Town Council annexed into town limits, will add about 1,250 new residents to the New Hill community.

Jordan Pointe will bring with it the community’s first traffic light, at the intersection of Old U.S. 1 and New Hill Olive Chapel/New Hill Holleman roads.

Retired IBM electrical engineer Randel Sink has lived in New Hill since 1974 and has seen the area change.

“It was a remote area out in the country,” he said. “It’s grown up a lot. When I first went to buy my property I couldn’t get a conventional loan. The banks said it was a remote undeveloped area and they weren’t willing to take a chance.”

Sink used money from his GI Bill to finance the land.

“I remember when on the four-mile stretch of New Hill Olive Chapel Road there were about six houses,” he said. “Mostly farms. We’ve seen a big increase in traffic. We’ve gotten a lot of nice neighbors.

“Developments just like Jordan Pointe, that kind of thing will continue to happen,” Sink said. “As tax values continue to escalate, people won’t be able to hold on to the land.”

When Sink bought his property, he said, its tax value was about $1,000 per acre. Now he said it’s about $100,000 per acre.

‘An important gathering place’

New Hill’s roots date back to the mid-19th century, when it got its first post office. After the Civil War, what is now known as the Chatham Railroad built a train depot in the area.

By the 1880s, New Hill had a post office, sawmill, turpentine distillery, several general stores and a cider mill. The community was thriving and was incorporated in 1907, according to records filed with the National Register of Historic Places.

Incorporation didn’t last long after the local economy saw a downturn, and the town charter was repealed in 1917.

The paving of Old U.S. 1 in 1928 brought more development, like Troy’s Motor Court. But it too felt the effects of progress and went by the wayside with the construction of U.S. 64. in 1964.

In 2001, New Hill’s Historic District was established for about 282 acres off of Old U.S. 1, covering about 62 buildings, homes and other structures.

“The crossroads community remains an important gathering place for the local citizens to pick up a few groceries, get their mail and catch up on the local news. While suburban development is transforming the countryside nearby, New Hill remains essentially unchanged,” the application to become a historic district stated.

Judy Tysmans isn’t willing to let New Hill’s history disappear.

Tysmans, a retiree and historian who lives in Apex, interviewed more than 20 longtime New Hill residents and compiled their stories into a book. “Remembering New Hill: Oral Histories” has been released in two editions, in 2007 and 2010.

The sewage-treatment plant inspired Tysmans’ project. Residents rallied in 2005 and created the New Hill Community Association to try to fight off Cary’s efforts to build the plant.

Tysmans, who lives less than three miles from the community, joined in the fight led by Paul Barth.

“We didn’t want our air polluted,” said Tysmans, who suffers from asthma. “It was a community-building experience. There were barbecues, fundraisers. We didn’t have the resources that Cary does, but the longer we could put it off the better. We held them off for six years.”

Getting to know her neighbors piqued her interest in New Hill.

“I thought, ‘I live here,’ ” Tysmans said. “I’ve been driving through the four corners and looking at these stores and wondering, why are they closed? These are my neighbors, these are people who have gown up here and they should have their stories documented.”

Among those she researched was W.T. Roundy Jr., a well-known figure in the New Hill community for his forgiving nature when it came to customers’ tabs at his Farmers Supply store.

Roundy also owned Troy’s Motor Court, which his father opened in the 1920s.

The Farmers Supply store, which opened in 1928 and was the center for town gossip and groceries, closed in 2002 after Roundy’s health started to fail.

‘A way of life that is gone’

The once-vibrant crossroads at New Hill Olive Chapel Road and New Hill Holleman Road is no more.

In its stead is a rubble of brick where a general store once stood, along with Roundy’s shuttered store and vacant cabins.

One of the few bustling locations is the New Hill post office, which still sees a steady stream of business.

Tysmans said the changes are exactly why oral history is so important.

“It’s important to document a way of life that is gone,” she said.

Ramos: 919-460-2609; Twitter: @AlianaCaryNews

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