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Why do they call it Forest Hills?

Ben Steelman
StarNews

Wilmington’s third major upscale, suburban subdivision — after Carolina Heights (1908) and Winoca Terrace (1911) — Forest Hills came by its name simply. It was forested, with large stands of pines and of native trees, and it had hills. “Build Your Home on a Hillside” read one newspaper advertisement from 1925.

In 1914, the Irving Park Co. of Greensboro began buying up land east of Burnt Mill Creek, just outside Wilmington’s city limits. In 1923, it began laying out a winding main street from the East Wilmington Road (modern-day Market Street) to the Wrightsville Turnpike (Wrightsville Avenue); the following year, New Hanover County Commissioners christened this route “Forest Hills Drive.”

Eventually, the neighborhood would cover 25 blocks, or about 176 acres, bordered by Market Street to the north, Wrightsville Avenue to the south, Mercer Avenue to the east, and the old Delgado Mills property (around the site of the present Creek Apartments) and the Brookwood subdivision to the west.

In 1924, the first part of the development, from Burnt Mill Creek to Market Street, was subdivided. The second half, from the creek to Wrightsville Avenue, was subdivided in 1926. That same year, Irving Park Co. and the North Carolina Trust donated 8.9 acres to the New Hanover County Board of Education, This tract would eventually become the site of Forest Hills School — which quickly became one of the top selling points in ads for the development.

In April 1925, Tidewater Power Co. announced plans to extend gas lines to Forest Hills, Kenmore and Brookwood; by the end of June, the lines to Forest Hills were completed. Also in 1925, the Forest Hills Development Co. — a local subsidiary of Irving Park — began opening model homes in the subdivision. The Morning Star and other Wilmington newspapers devoted considerable space to open houses for Colonial Revival, Dutch Colonial and Tudor homes in the subdivision along Market Street, Guilford Avenue and Colonial Drive. (Cape Cod and English Regency houses can also be found in the neighborhood.)

Forest Hills was a restricted development. In addition to the usual strictures of the 1920s (owners were forbidden by contract to resell the property to African Americans), property holders were required to meet certain standards. For example, houses built on the lots had to cost at least $5,000. (By the 1940s, construction bills in Forest Hills often ran to $9,500.) Lots were generally 100 by 250 feet, or about one-quarter of a standard city block, although larger tracts were available. In 1928, homesite prices started at $1,500, although in the mid-1930s, these same lots were sometimes offered for as little as $800. In a progressive move for the times, developers tried to preserve as many of the native trees and shrubs as possible, leaving Forest Hills an exceptionally green neighborhood.

Early on, Forest Hills developed a reputation as home ot Wilmington’s movers and shakers. The city annexed the neighborhood in 1945.

In 1953, St. John’s Episcopal Church relocated to a new building, in a neo-Gothic style, at 1209 Forest Hills Drive, Wilmington [Map this]. The new church would become a frequent setting for television productions including “Dawson’s Creek.”

In the 1980s and ’90s, speeding on residential streets and the overflow of traffic outside the neighborhood were major issues for Forest Hills residents. The city responded with several experiments to slow speeders down, including three-way stop signs (1988), “chokers” (narrowed curbsides, 1994) and speed humps on Forest Hills Drive and Colonial Drive (1995).

In 2002, Forest Hills was the focus of the Old Wilmington by Candlelight Tour. Forest Hills properties are regularly featured on the N.C. Azalea Festival’s garden and home tours.

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2 Responses to “ Why do they call it Forest Hills?”

  1. On June 12, 2009 at 2:38 am Office Fan wrote:

    Wow! Fantastic article. Pretty much everything anyone could ever want to know about Forest Hills…thank you.

    One thing that would make these articles on the history of Wilmington even better would be some photos from the county library, Randall Library or Star News archives to show these locations before they were developed.

    Thanks again for an informative and superbly written article.

  2. On June 12, 2009 at 8:56 am Vaughn Hagerty wrote:

    Thanks for the compliment and the suggestion about photos. You’re right and it’s one of the things we plan to start doing. I can’t promise you when, though, mainly because we’re so busy answering great questions like the one that led to this post by Ben!



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