Strolling through the Flint Hill neighborhood

Feb. 11, 2013 @ 06:22 PM

Kenneth Gooch is proud of his neighborhood, and happy to walk through it any day, welcoming friends and perhaps meeting some new people.

He spent his childhood in Henderson, and it was the unique friendliness and openness of the neighborhood people that drew him back after years away.

“I think this is the only neighborhood in Henderson where people will walk in the streets of the neighborhood, and they will talk with each other,” Gooch said. “That doesn’t happen anywhere else in Henderson that I know of. That’s something I just love about Flint Hill.”

Gooch is not blind to the problems of the downtown area known more for its crimes and dangers. But he says there are also neighbors along Arch and Champion streets, friendly people living on Chavasse Avenue, active churches reaching out to people on College and Davis streets, and there is good being done.

Charlie Thorne found his way to a spot on Flint Hill. Born in Mecklenburg, Va., and having lived in Kittrell for several decades, the former employee of a local elementary school found a sturdy house closer to family in the area.

“It was time for me to move, and I moved,” Thorne said.

He and Gooch speculated that problems come from a few younger people, but that most, 80 percent even, who are new to the Flint Hill area will open up and become better neighbors over time.

Annie Batchelor agreed that there is a violence problem because of the careless anger of some young people.

“There used to be respect for older folks, and if young people acted up, they’d get their whipping,” Batchelor said. “Now nobody does any disciplining.”

Thorne said that a fixture on the outside of his house was struck by gunfire recently. Left as a conversation piece for neighbors was a small bullet hole in a metal panel. The incident illustrates the mixture of danger and friendly conversation that is Flint Hill.

“I think there was animosity toward the house on the corner, and someone took a shot at that house,” Gooch said.

Gooch likes to tell a good story on a neighbor when he can: like when Batchelor served one of her home-cooked dinners to practically everyone on her block.

“I don’t talk to a lot of people around here most of the time,” Batchelor said in her own defense. “Well, I rather people have it instead of it going to the trash or dogs to eat.”

Thorne will mow a neighbor’s lawn, and pitch in on projects just to help.

“If I can see something that I can help, I’ll help if I can. I do that just for me,” Thorne said. “I’ll cut some grass — that’s just neighbors.”

A home like Johnnie Sanders’ might seem out of place with its well-tended lawn, shrubs and plants, colorful year-round with red holly berries in February. But the 99-year-old definitely belongs.

“I was born in this spot, but not in this house,” Sanders said. “The original house burned down in 1932, then my father rebuilt, building this one.”

Sanders recalls the Youngs, “my family” she said, her complete name being Johnnie Young Mims Sanders. “We used to have family all along both sides of the street here, oh, for a number of years.”

There are some cousins still nearby, family members living around the outskirts of Henderson.

“I think I’m the only family member still left on the hill,” Sanders said. “Everyone else has either moved on or gone to heaven.”

Gooch said that he has a reverential respect for Sanders, proud of the Shiloh Baptist Church’s construction about 10 years ago of the fellowship hall that bears her name.

Gooch, 64, remembers the Flint Hill of the 1950s and early 1960s as also having problems, some of them shared with the city as a whole. For a time, instead of gunfire at night, the noise of violence might be a stick of dynamite as the textile union conflict played out.

But back then, the young people hanging out would band together perhaps for a bike ride somewhere to play basketball, baseball or football.

“Playing football together was the most violence any of us were into,” Gooch said.

There was a time before the dominating influence of outlaw drugs when it was bootleg liquor trading through the neighborhood.

“That corn liquor was part of the economy of Flint Hill,” he said.

He told the story of himself and several friends getting about three gallons of corn liquor from a shed one day, and they made their own special lemonade concoction for sale.

“We spiked the lemonade at our stand, and made a killing that day,” Gooch said.

He also remembers Rev. Alfred Daye, describing him as an activist and instrumental in steering Gooch toward employment with the Henderson Fire Department, breaking color barriers to do so back in the days of Chief Ranger Wilkerson.

It was The Rogers Group Inc.’s gift of a property to Area Christians Together Serving that resulted in Gooch becoming a Flint Hill homeowner.

“They traded the deed to me,” Gooch said. “I have painted the house and fixed the roof. If people own the houses, people will have a vested interest in the neighborhood.”

Like Gooch does, showing people a brighter side of Flint Hill.

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.