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The New South Neighborhoods: Biddleville

by Dr. Dan L. Morrill and Nancy B. Thomas

 

 

 

 

"So many white professors had been to Yale Princeton, they shaped it according to what they were accustomed." -- Inez Moore Parker

Biddleville is more than an old streetcar suburb. It's a dream. The neighborhood took its name from Biddle Memorial Institute, named for Major Henry Johnathan Biddle, whose wealthy widow gave a lot of money just after the Civil War to establish a college in Charlotte for blacks Three white Presbyterian ministers obtained the charter for the school, which was issued in March 1866. They were Samuel Carothers Alexander, Willis L. Miller and Sidney S. Murkland.

The first president of Biddle Institute and the man who piloted it toward maturity was Rev. Stephen Mattoon. In addition to being a missionary of international renown, who spent many years in Siam, Mattoon had a majestic and wonderful white beard. But his job in Charlotte was to put Biddle Institute on the map. He succeeded. In 1873, he obtained a hill top about a mile west of town and started raising the money that would let him move the campus to this prominent place. Classes began on the hill top on Beatties Ford Rd. soon thereafter.

In the early years, Biddleville was little more than a cluster of homes for the professors who taught at the college. The old Victorian house that Johnson C. Smith University uses as its infirmary is a remnant of that era. The most impressive structure was Biddle Hall, completed in 1883. This massive brick building, classroom facility, dining hall and dormitory all in one, served as a sentinel for the black residents of Charlotte and the surrounding countryside. Charlotte's most stately clock tower, soaring far above the trees, summoned the children of former slaves to enlightenment and intellectual liberation. Biddle Hall, still dominating the western skyline, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

 


Biddle Hall

A new day for Biddleville dawned on April 25, 1903, when the Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company opened its trolley line to the neighborhood. It now became possible for blacks to move to the suburbs. Some residents of Biddleville began calling it "New Dilworth" because many of the houses there, especially on W. Trade St. just beyond the college, resembled the bungalows in that fashionable white suburb on the other side of town. But Biddleville had the unique advantage of being nurtured by black culture. Mt. Carmel Baptist Church on Campus St., for example, possessed attributes and qualities that no white congregation could attain. Where else but in Biddleville could you hear the roar of hundreds of roller skates on Christmas morning? Biddle University became Johnson C. Smith University in 1923. The dream goes on.

 

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Neighborhood Guide: Biddleville-Five Points