All around center city Charlotte, there are ring villages, little settlements just outside of uptown.
“African Americans worked in the city, but lived in outer areas,” said Tom Hanchett, consulting historian with Levine Museum of the New South. “Each community had its own personality.”
Biddleville is one of those communities, sitting on the west side of Charlotte with Johnson C. Smith University serving as an anchor with programs and offices in the Davis House and soon to be renovated Mt. Carmel Baptist Church.
And it might be one of Charlotte’s most underrated neighborhoods.
After the Civil War, with a grant from war widow Mrs. Henry Biddle, Biddle Institute was started by the Presbyterian Church. Its purpose was to educate freed slaves, mostly preachers and teachers.
In 1871, the first president of Biddle Institute purchased land across the street so faculty and staff could build homes close to campus. From the beginning, Biddleville residents were African American, and they created a vibrant community.
The streetcars came in 1906 making other parts of Charlotte more accessible. Biddle Institute grew and became Johnson C. Smith University in the 1920’s.
In the late 1900’s, Biddleville suffered from urban renewal that involved tearing down homes. Crime increased, making it a less desirable place to live. The negative west Charlotte stigma took hold.
Biddleville residents are working together to build a strong community once again, 140 years after its start. The residents value a diverse population in terms of socioeconomic differences, ethnic background and age.
“I welcome it. Good neighbors,” said James Turner, a retired Charlotte high school teacher and past president of Biddleville-Smallwood Neighborhood Association. “I like seeing things move for the better.”
Turner and his wife, Evelyn, moved to Biddleville 35 years ago and purchased a then 70-year-old home. It was a fixer-upper and they repaired everything. They both boast about the active neighborhood association’s community cleanups, chili bakes and events at the Five Points Park. Sharing the background of the neighborhood and its history is an important part of the association’s mission.
Just around the block from the Turners, is Elliott Hipp, a Presbyterian preacher. He and his wife, Nell Scudder, moved to a new house more than a year ago.
An 11th generation Charlottean, Hipp grew up in Myers Park and went to school at West Charlotte High. When it came time to choose a place to live in Charlotte, Biddleville was an easy decision.
“I have an appreciation for this side of town, the significance of the African American history,” Hipp explains, “and I see the potential to help build positive diversity.”
Both Turner and Hipp are concerned for the senior citizens who have lived in the community for a long time. As property values increase so do taxes. The university and neighborhood association are working together to find a way to provide grant money to assist with taxes and programs to support the grandparents raising their grandchildren.
As for the housing market in Biddleville, new construction is predominant and gets snatched up fairly quickly. Renovated bungalows on tree-lined streets are warm and welcoming. There were not many “For Sale” signs on older homes.
If you’re looking for homes in the area, being proactive with a realtor or builder may help get you into Biddleville.
Photos: Vanessa Infanzon