Bill Houser - One of Brooklyn's Earliest Settlers

MY AIM IN WRITING A SHORT SKETCH of Mr. Houser is to try to present a word picture of him as a worthy citizen, and at the same time, call attention to the length of time that colored people had been landowners in the Brooklyn section of Charlotte.
The deed to our old homestead lot on East Boundary Street which was bought for our grandmother is dated 1884. The yellowed old document shows that this plot of land was bought over eighty years ago from William Houser and his wife. The lot was a portion of a large tract of land that this couple owned in Brooklyn.
The name Boundary Street where Mr. Houser and his family and our family lived has significance because at that time, this street was the boundary line for this southeastern section of Charlotte. It was a street mainly of homeowners and remained so for many, many years.
My supposition is that Mr. Houser must have come into possession of his tract of land at least five or ten years before the date of the lot’s purchase for our grandmother. This probably means that he was one of the earliest landowners in this section.
The date on Mother’s deed, with an allowance of several years for Mr. Houser’s probable previous ownership, verifies the fact that colored people have lived and owned property in Brooklyn close to one hundred years. When we were children, I remember an old square wooden house with a wide porch and high steps that sat in the middle of a large tract of land on the corner of Boundary and Alexander Streets. There was nothing striking about it. It seemed to be just an old house with high ceilings and big square rooms and long windows that once was a comfortable home. Mother always told us that it was the old home of the original Houser family. It was later sold and moved from the middle of the large lot where it first stood and was sandwiched between two rental houses where it still stands, ill-kept and worn from years of neglect and misuse.
Our grandmother and our mother, who was then in her teens, lived for many years in a home built on the land which had been purchased from the Housers. By the time that mother had matured, married and had a family of her own, the members of the old Houser family were grown, had moved to other places and had been forgotten by many people.
When I was quite a little girl, I remember seeing the old father when he moved back again to Charlotte and established another home on Brevard Street. Then he was an old man but very distinguished in appearance. When I think of him now, I am reminded of a picture of the late great orator Frederick Douglass or some old indomitable Indian chief with his weather-beaten bronzed face and strong features. His large massive head was crowned with a thick manlike head of hair which accentuated one’s thinking that Mr. Houser must have been a physically powerful man with enduring strength and convictions.
I remember seeing his signature on my mother’s deed. It is well written and well formed, an indication that he must have had an education comparable with many men of his period. From what I remember of the discussions of various people concerning Mr. Houser, he must have possessed much innate business ability. He was also a skilled artisan.
When we were children, whoever tilled our garden constantly turned deeply imbedded brickbats from the soil. Mother’s explanation of them was that Mr. Houser was said to have operated a brickyard at one time on the land which was purchased for our family homestead. The earth had been dug out of Mother’s lot to a depth much lower than the level of the lot next to it. It seemed very plausible that the earth had once been removed for use in making bricks.
Mr. Houser must have started in the industry not long after freedom. He made and sold bricks that went into the construction of many of the older edifices in Charlotte because brickyards must have been few in number at that early period. Mr. Houser seemed to have had a great interest in operating brickyards. People who knew of his activities say that he later resumed the operation of a brickyard in a section of land which bordered Sugar Creek. From this location he made and sold brick to people all over the town.
Perhaps one of the most important and earliest edifices that he constructed was a large dormitory for young men on the campus of Johnson C. Smith University, formerly called Biddle University. This building, which was well-planned and well-constructed, has given wonderful service for many years. Carter Hall certainly compared favorably with other buildings built during this period, no doubt. Mr. Houser supplied the bricks that were used in this building from his brickyard and looked after its construction.
I have been told that he also built the Friendship Baptist Church, a large edifice that was situated on the corner of Brevard and First streets. It was a well-constructed building that was constantly used by the congregation until it was demolished in the recent so-called slum clearance drive in this section. Many people were saddened to see it torn away. Its demolition meant not only the loss of a place of worship but also the loss of a symbol of the colored man’s progress. The building had been a monument to the skill of William Houser, one of Brooklyn’s earliest settlers and a pioneer in the construction industry.

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