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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 >>

Building up Research Triangle Park

Hill discusses his business endeavors in North Carolina following his return from World War II. Having established himself as a powerhouse in banking and insurance prior to the war, Hill was enlisted by Luther Hodges to help establish the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. He describes the establishment of the Research Triangle Foundation and the rapid development of business and industry under the guidance of himself and other economic leaders.

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

JAMES LEUTZE:
So, 1945 comes, you come back from Europe, the war is over in the Fall of 1945. What activities did you get involved in? What did you want to do?
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
I had gotten involved before I went to Washington. My father asked me - well, I went to work for $250 a month. After I got married and came back, Fall of '25, and he asked me to build a store building, which I did. It was occupied by Rose on Main Street, next to what's now the First Union Bank Building. That was the first architectural project that I had full authority on. Then I organized Blue Cross with Dr. Davidson in '33, and we started that. I gave Blue Cross an office in the Trust Building; that was the old office building. Eventually they went on to the mezzanine floor in the Trust Building. We had rebuilt it. That was the Hospital Care which became Blue Cross when it merged with Hospital Savings. The same year, it was a big year, I organized the Central Carolina Farmers Exchange. That was all in '33. When I came back, in '45, there were some other things. I was vice-president of the bank, which had grown some. In '37 we built the office building, the present CCB building, and reorganized the name. That was before the war. I went to war because Dave Bruce asked me to, and I came back, and I don't remember anything particular. I worked with the bank. And Luther Hodges, whom I had barely known, asked me in '55, I think it was, to take over as the treasurer of the Research Triangle Study Committee, a proposed program, that Brandon Hodges, who had been State Treasurer, had been handling for Luther. Brandon Hodges died; there was no relationship. So George Simpson came into the picture. He was Odum's protege. Professor Odum had been a great friend of my father's. I had known him as Rural Sociologist, and I think I may have commented that George came and talked to me about the Research Triangle. He'd been working under Brandon Hodges. We leased an office down in Raleigh opposite the Revenue Building; it's gone now. First there was a hundred acres. He came back a month later and we talked about a thousand acres. Then we started scratching at the damn thing and for three years I raised the money that paid for George Simpson's study and Mrs. Aycock as his secretary. Mrs. Aycock now considers herself "Miss Research Triangle." There was at the same time a committee composed of representatives from three University units, Paul Gross, Marcus Hobbs, Bill Little, two boys from State, the names will come to me. They were making a study, and they found eight hundred and fifty people doing research in the three University units, very few knew each other, even on the individual campuses. But they started to bring them together. I got the legal work done in Washington and I told you the story about that. Bob Hanes had become president of the Research Triangle Foundation, non-profit. We had a big to-do at the Sir Walter Hotel up on the mezzanine floor, some big luncheon party. Bob Hanes was sick at the time and died about a month later. Looked like hell. This was the announcement for the Institute and the Foundation. Archie Davis was brought in by Governor Hodges in another year and a half or two years. But Hodges raised, I helped him a little bit, around a million and a half dollars from ninety-seven different individuals and corporations. As I said, I think, nobody knew what the hell he was doing. Just put it up for Hodges, the insurance companies and banks and all because it was Hodges.
JAMES LEUTZE:
I was going to ask you, what did you have in mind, what was your idea of what this might become?
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
Well, by that time, Simpson had gone to Stanford, and knew all about Stanford Research Institute, and he was particularly concerned with the Institute, much more so than the Foundation. Romeo Guest had come into the picture from Greensboro, and his friend Robins at Aberdeen had put up some money and they had bought acreage after we organized it. After Archie Davis raised around a million and a quarter or something in about thirty days (surprising) we bought out Robins, paid him back. There were a lot of holes - I've got a map at the office I'll bring over here - that shows them; it's all spotty. Slowly we kept building them up. I had a forester, Mangam, that kept working on the land with Romeo. Romeo and myself worked very closely together. And we were trying to get some acreage down in the old cut over pine land. It wasn't worth a damn for anything. Septic tanks couldn't be used because it was non-permeable. About the cheapest land that there was in this whole area. We didn't pay much for it.
JAMES LEUTZE:
Were there any small communities near there?
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
Well, Lowes Grove was on the west side. And there was a filling station on the east side. I think that was all. And there was a little stuff on the north end, a school up there, near Old 70. We got a bank out there recently. But it slowly developed and they used the Southern railroad as a eastern border basically, and Alston Avenue is the western border. Didn't quite make either one of them. And they bought some land in Wake County, a thousand acres I reckon in Wake County. They ended up with around fifty-two hundred acres all told. And they bought it in Wake County so it would bring Wake County into the picture, psychologically. That's just like this, Dean McKinney and his boys are working out a plan for the use of the whole business; all construction and sales have been north of 54 until the National Institute of Environmental Sciences came in and we gave them five hundred acres.
JAMES LEUTZE:
I gather you were quite instrumental in that.
GEORGE WATTS HILL:
Yes, well, we had worked it out. I was acting as secretary to the Foundation. I served for twenty-three something years, through Archie Davis, through Luther Hodges as chairman, and Archie as president. Archie had become president of the Bankers' Association for a year and he was the high knocker in Wachovia Bank and then retired. Archie has hearing trouble. He's deaf as a post in one ear. He wasn't too well then, and it's been up and down. Then Luther died and Archie took over. And Acres Moore from Raleigh, who considered himself a great friend of Luther's, but Luther just kind of looked at it. Well he became vice-president, and head of the Research Triangle Service Center which was a hundred acre area just north of 54. And it was leased to a little Teer company for it to build, as it did, the Governor's Inn, and started building an office building, a post office, and leased to the banks and so forth, and slowly developed. It's just been sold as of the thirtieth of December '85, to a big consortium up in the North. Seventy some odd million dollars eventually, twenty million cash. But the Foundation was able to get all kinds of problems settled in the negotiations that took place. I didn't have anything to do with that. I just listened, I was out of office by that time. I'm still on the Board but all the Board was until the last two or three years when they reorganized it, had representatives from the three Universities, a small group of people, basically businessmen, whereas the Institute was the reverse, more University people and a few business people, which is good. I was chairman of the Institute from the beginning and still am, twenty-seven years I realized yesterday. The Foundation has sold off - they don't use the word 'sell' - they have 'liquidated" enough land in the Park to IBM. That was the story I think I mentioned; Luther was responsible for bringing Chemstrand and bringing IBM in. Foundation has now four or five million dollars in Money Market funds.