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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George Watts Hill, January 30, 1986. Interview C-0047. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Family background

Hill talks about his family background. Describing the lives of both of his grandfathers—one from Duplin County and the other from Baltimore—Hill alludes to the importance of family tradition in his life and the precedent for having a strong presence in the community. His recollections of his father as a popular "raconteur" in the community and life in Durham when he was a small child are also revealing of important forces in shaping his life.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George Watts Hill, January 30, 1986. Interview C-0047. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

But my father was a great "racconteur" and he just loved to have somebody come in the house and, after we'd moved to the new house as we called it where the Junior League is now, he just loved to lay back in his chair. He had a chair in the corner with a light, and tell stories. Oh, he was something. And the kids were just pop-eyed listening to him.
JAMES LEUTZE:
Now, did he talk much about his life when he was a young boy?
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
Oh, he talked about everything. There was no subject that he didn't know something about, whether he knew or not, but he told the story anyhow, and the kids just loved it. All kids up to twenty years of age and so on. And they'd just sit spellbound and at the table. He always sat at the head of the table and mother at the foot of the table. We gathered around and we always had dinner in the evening and had a little breakfast room where there was no problem; you could eat when you got damn good and ready. They had servants, three servants - a cook, a butler, and a maid - and a chauffeur. The stable was where the cows were in those days. We had raw milk, and I had to milk them, and always had three cows brought in from the farm.
JAMES LEUTZE:
Now this was in Durham.
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
In Durham. And they had the stable, where we had several horses, and eventually it was turned into a garage, and the horse, a victoria and a town carriage were eliminated.
JAMES LEUTZE:
What is a victoria?
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
A victoria is a great big carriage, the back seat, oh, like an umbrella almost over the back seat but it didn't go over the little dickey seat.
JAMES LEUTZE:
Oh, OK. The driver sat up front.
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
The driver was up on a box up above, and so you couldn't see the horse. Then the town carriage was another straight box. The British taxicab is the nearest thing to it, with the driver up above. We had a bobtailed horse in Durham. The family must have been in fairly good financial circumstances to have those two pieces of equipment that they brought down when they came to Durham. Now how they got them here I don't know, I don't remember.
JAMES LEUTZE:
It must have been by train, I guess, or I guess, some things could have been moved my.
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
Well, I imagine . . Of course, I was, as I remember, three years old when we came down from New York City, and I don't remember anything about that one way or the other. And we lived in this old house that had been moved by my grandfather. My grandfather had built it in 1875 and they moved it down the hill, immediately in front of where the highrise old folks home is now on Duke Street, the southern side of Morehead.
JAMES LEUTZE:
Well, now, let me - your grandfather lived in Duplin County.
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
Grandfather Hill.
JAMES LEUTZE:
Grandfather Hill was born in Duplin County and then he stayed in Duplin County.
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
He stayed in Duplin. Born and raised and died down there.
JAMES LEUTZE:
OK. Who is this who had the house previous to this? Grandfather Watts?
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
Grandfather Watts came from Baltimore. He was the secretary treasurer of the W. Duke Sons and Company, and he built a house. You know what you would expect in '75. And, oh, I don't remember that house being there because he rebuilt and moved the house down the hill for us when we came from New York City. Well, he built a new house, I call it the "pink elephant" in '95. So that was 20 years later, and he built a tremendous thing.
JAMES LEUTZE:
Moving a house at that time must have been quite a project.
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
Well, they moved it wall by wall, room by room. They couldn't move a whole house; they didn't know how to do it, couldn't put it on rollers and take it down hill. Well, there was a big difference, forty or fifty foot, difference in height, and across the street and so on. The street then was Macadam, and eventually it was paved. But I remember vividly the brick paving in Main Street and the Macadam roads around. We used to go out to Lakewood Park as children on the trolley car, eventually in an automobile. But those were great days.