The New South
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
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
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.
For more information...
Neighborhood Guide: Biddleville-Five Points