Hope Valley



Area of Hope Valley, 1914, showing farmstead owners' names.

I've written previous posts about Durham' early automobile-centric suburbs - Forest Hills and Duke Park, in particular. Book-writing historians have tended to lump these suburbs, along with Rockwood and Duke Forest, together with Hope Valley as one class of development - with some variations as to whether they had golf courses, who the architects were, etc. I see Hope Valley as fundamentally different, and perhaps unique for its time period within a much larger geographic denominator. I would argue that Hope Valley was built as the area's first <i>regional</i> suburb, a branding that wouldn't gain additional adherents until the 1950s. 

The land upon which Hope Valley was built was farmland prior to the 1920s. The road which would become Hope Valley Road does not appear on the 1890s map above, but it does appear on the later, 1914 map. The farm owners through this area - George Shepherd, Jim Beavers, Hugh Markham, Durham Markham, HL Green, etc. - appear on either side of the road on this map. 

Robert J. Mebane (of Greensboro) and Walter E. Sharpe (of Burlington) formed a partnership in 1925 and began planning a development along the road to form the nucleus of a new suburban development that would assume automobile ownership among its intended audience. Real estate developers of the 1920s were acutely aware of the trend in the graphic below (from the 1926 comprehensive plan for Durham) which demonstrated the massive adoption of automobiles over a very short period, and accurately predicted that the adoption rate would continue to increase dramatically. 


1926 Durham Comprensive Plan

But automobiles were still primarily owned by those with some degree of wealth; the other wave that the developers sought to ride was the rise of the professional class, and that the aspirations of that professional class were to attain the trappings of the previous generation of landed gentry. I've profiled the country estates/gentleman farmsteads of EJ Parrish, Julian Carr, BN Duke, RH Wright, etc., built during the late 19th and early 20th century. As lawyers, doctors, etc., the growing professional class had nowhere near the wealth of those industrial giants, and, for the most part, could never have afforded to build their own massive farmsteads with employees/staff, etc. 

The trick of the purveyors of the new park/golf course-centered development was to create and market a product that gave the professional class the sense that what they were purchasing was entry into the exclusive realm of country manse owners - at a price they could actually afford. 

None of this was unique to Hope Valley - it was the model followed by all such developers - create exclusivity and a sense of luxury at a price high enough to dissuade the riff-raff (along with other covenants) but low enough that you didn't need to be a tobacco baron to buy. This pattern had been done before - Hope Valley wasn't the first in Durham, and Mebane had been previously involved with the development of Greensboro's Irving Park in 1914. 

What was unique about Hope Valley was an attempt to create a regional suburb - one that would draw the professional classes from both Durham and Chapel Hill. Most other automobile suburbs were contiguous with earlier development - using twisty little roads, etc. to wall themselves off, but also close enough to hedge their bets on distance from downtown. 

Hope Valley wasn't contiguous with anything. It was located on the road between Chapel Hill and Durham (now Old Chapel Hill Road) and framed itself as accessible from either of these locations. 


From the 1926 Chamber of Commerce book about Durham.

With original plans for a commercial/institutional center along Old Chapel Hill Road (the 'front door' of Hope Valley,) the developers envisioned some degree of self-sufficiency for the development.

HV-An Original Conception.jpg

Mebane and Sharpe advertisement in the Herald-Sun

The plat map below shows this concept in more detail; "Trail 13" would have been Sussex Drive, the entrance the Westminster Church on Chapel Hill Road.


As such, Hope Valley drew more heavily on the influences of the original Garden City movement and preceded development of other 'new towns' such as Radburn, NJ. Unlike most new town conceptions, the developers and architects did not seem to be under the illusion that people would abandon their cars at the periphery and walk around a commercial/institutional center. They correctly anticipated that people would want to take their cars everywhere they would want to go. What good is it purchasing entree into the sphere of wealth if you have to walk?

Mebane and Sharpe proffered in January 1926 that, if citizens could gather together a country club membership of 250 members, they would build a golf course at the center of the development, give the course to the country club, and pay half the cost of construction of a $50,000 clubhouse. In addition, they would sell parcels for residential development to club members at reduced prices. The club organized quickly; the Hope Valley Country Club was incorporated on February 18, 1926.

In March of 1926, July 1926, and August of 1926, Mebane and Sharpe devised development agreements that created a partnership agreement between land owners - including themselves, Piedmont Improvement Co. (headed by H. Smith Richardson,) and LS and Katherine Booker. With First National Bank acting as trustee. The ten year agreement outlined the following conditions: 1) price-$285/acre for land, 2) one fourth of all funds from sales go to land owner, three fourths to HV, Inc., 3) interest at 6% annually on depreciating balance, 4) all unsold property to be returned to land owner in 1936, upon termination of land contract, 5) development and maintenance to be done at expense of HV, Inc. The July agreement codified the relationship between HVCC and the land owners, allowing development of the clubhouse and golf course to move forward on all parties' land.

Mebane and Sharpe hired for success in building their development; they hired Donald Ross, who had designed Pinehurst #2 to acclaim as their golf course designer. They hired Robert B. Cridland of Philadelphia as landscape architect. Cridland had designed the landscape at the Vanderbilt estate in Hyde Park, NY, authored a well-known book ("Practical Landscape Gardening") and designed several neighborhoods. Mebane and Sharpe hired Aymar Embury, II of New York to design the clubhouse. Embury taught architecture at Princeton and had designed houses in New York - he would go on to be involved in the design of a bevy of public projects in New York City, and, interestingly, designed the Distinguished Service Cross and Distinguished Service Medal for the Armed Services while serving in World War I. 

The team put together a development plan featuring curvilinear roadways surrounding an 18 hole golf course. The original development focused on the area between (Old) Chapel Hill Road and Hope Valley Road.

Hope Valley_map.jpg

Development map of Hope Valley

Mebane and Sharpe announced the Hope Valley Country Club Development in a two-page ad in the Durham Morning Herald on May 23, 1926. The development was described as "a country club community for Durham, Duke, and Chapel Hill." In keeping with the exclusivity that they were marketing, they went on to state in the ad- "this annoucement means that Durham in soon to have a country club and suburban residential park - sensibly restricted - completely serviced - and large enough to be protected forever from encroachment by undesirable elements."

The first parcels were put up for sale on June 25, 1926, while the course and roads were still under construction. Embury was working on plans for the clubhouse and the entry gates off Chapel Hill Road by July, 1926.

Mebane moved the George Shepherd farmhouse from the 3700 block of Hope Valley Road to what became 2814 Chelsea Circle. He enlarged and modernized the house, then moved his family from Greensboro and occupied the house.

Mebane and Sharpe hired George Watts Carr, who had gotten his start in Durham designing the clubhouse and houses for the New Hope Realty Company's somewhat similar Forest Hills suburb. Mebane and Sharpe asked Carr to speculatively design at least ten houses for Hope Valley.

By September 1926, Mebane an Sharpe had sold roughly 125 of the 250 building parcels available for purchase. In November, Yancey Milburn, who had taken the helm of Milburn and Heister after the death of his father Frank, was supervising the construction of Embury's clubhouse design (Embury likely lacked a NC architect's license to stamp drawings for construction.) The clubhouse grand opening was July 22, 1927


Hope Valley Country Club, ~1927.

(Courtesy Special Collections at Syracuse University, Aymar Embury Collection, via Tad DeBerry)


Hope Valley Country Club, ~1927.

(Courtesy Special Collections at Syracuse University, Aymar Embury Collection, via Tad DeBerry)


Hope Valley Country Club, ~1927.

(Courtesy Special Collections at Syracuse University, Aymar Embury Collection, via Tad DeBerry)


Hope Valley Country Club, ~1927.

(Courtesy Special Collections at Syracuse University, Aymar Embury Collection, via Tad DeBerry)


Hope Valley Country Club, ~1927.

(Courtesy Special Collections at Syracuse University, Aymar Embury Collection, via Tad DeBerry)


Hope Valley Country Club, ~1927.

(Courtesy Special Collections at Syracuse University, Aymar Embury Collection, via Tad DeBerry)


Hope Valley Country Club, ~1927.

(Courtesy Special Collections at Syracuse University, Aymar Embury Collection, via Tad DeBerry)


Hope Valley Country Club, ~1927.

(Courtesy Special Collections at Syracuse University, Aymar Embury Collection, via Tad DeBerry)


Hope Valley Country Club, ~1927.

(Courtesy Special Collections at Syracuse University, Aymar Embury Collection, via Tad DeBerry)


Hope Valley Country Club, ~1927.

(Courtesy Special Collections at Syracuse University, Aymar Embury Collection, via Tad DeBerry)


Hope Valley Country Club, ~1927.

(Courtesy Special Collections at Syracuse University, Aymar Embury Collection, via Tad DeBerry)


Hope Valley Country Club, ~1927.

(Courtesy Special Collections at Syracuse University, Aymar Embury Collection, via Tad DeBerry)

Despite an extremely aggressive advertising campaign, Mebane and Sharpe were in financial trouble by 1927. Smith Richardson, heir to the Vick Chemical Company in Greensboro, moved from a land investor to a capital investor as well. With Richardson as a partner, Mebane and Sharpe, Inc. became Hope Valley, Inc. 

Hope Valley Inc. continued Mebane and Sharpe's aggressive advertising campaign; the opening of Duke Hospital in 1927 was boon to the development, creating a synergy between a school looking to recruit physicians from other locales (most notably Johns Hopkins) and the newly available Hope Valley product aimed directly at that market. 

One of my all time favorite Mebane and Sharpe advertisements is below; I love it simply because it's so honest in its messaging - it's the same fear that suburban developers are still using to sell gated communities and the like, but no one would ever admit to it, or they'd couch it behind a bunch of implication. 


Although Hope Valley was not designed with public transportation in mind, it was still important enough that the introduction of bus service (replacing the streetcars) in the mid 1920s was a big deal.


Hope Valley bus at Five points, prior to 1930.

Houses were built at a good clip during the late 1920s, although this slowed considerably during the Great Depression. Mebane and Sharpe would not do another real estate development. Mebane eventually moved back to Greensboro and became a salesperson with American Enka, he moved to Beaufort, NC, where he died in 1955. Walter Sharpe moved to Roanoke, VA, where he started an insurance company and died in 1951.

Neither would live to see the next big phase of Hope Valley's development, during the 1950s and 1960s, most notably the development of the so-called "Watts-Norton" section of Hope Valley. 

Hope Valley isn't a Durham neighborhood that I would typically think of as threatened - because it isn't threatened by the same forces at play in, say, East Durham. There isn't economic disinvestment, or abandonment. I don't think NIS cars are circling the fairways. 

But it is threatened by the same forces I highlighted in what is, to date, still my most commented-upon post - Trinity Park, You Have a Teardown Problem. Although this threat has abated a bit with the the recession, there are still, by comparison, relatively modestly sized and styled houses that are being torn down for absolutely ginormous monuments to ostentatious wealth (which unlike their predecessors, aren't even decent architecture.)

So it was good news last year that neighborhood advocates prevailed upon the state historic preservation office and the National Park Service to make Hope Valley a National Register district. As we know from Trinity Park, this doesn't stop anyone from tearing something down. But economic incentive is something.

So much has been built around Hope Valley in the last 50 years, that it's hard to see how unique it was when built - a regional suburb/town/bedroom community out in the middle of farmland between Durham and Chapel Hill. 


Shepherd-Mebane House, 06.09.11, the oldest house in Hope Valley.


Teer House at 2825 Chelsea Circle, 1980




One of two original main entrances off (Old) Chapel Hill Road, at Windsor Way, 06.09.11

The country club has lost a lot of its original exterior charm with additions over the years. It's best from the north side, but pretty ug from the south (golf course) side.


HVCC, looking northeast, 06.09.11


HVCC, looking west, 06.09.11