Hillsborough’s Lot 0 (zero), known as the “Publick Spring Lot,” was one of six public lots that were established in 1754; other public lots included the courthouse, jail, market house, graveyard, and church. The spring was at the head of a feeder creek of Still House Branch, which feeds into the Eno River.
Excerpt of 1768 map of Hillsborough by C. J. Sauthier
Francis Corbin's 1760s description of Hillsborough mentions a "Spring Lane"; early 19th century deeds also refer to Spring Lane, which later became Nash-Kollock Street, and ran east-west from Churton Street.
From an 1891 description of a February 1781 Revolutionary War incident: " ...when Lord Cornwallis
took that 'whig capital,' capturing the Governor
and routing the unfortunate forty-two whigs who were at the public spring getting ready to fight. There Thomas Freeland fell, shot through the head by a tory. The grandfather of Mr. Freeland, coming from Haw river, dug a hole and buried him. He does not say which grandfather, Mr. Strain or the old Elder John Freeland. His grave is on the hill near "Kirkland's old tan yard" [town lot 42]. The incident is also mentioned in the Orange County section of the North Carolina Cemetery Census (see cemeterycensus.com/nc/orng/cem245.htm
). Cornwallis's British troops (numbering just under 2,000) did occupy the high ground on the south side of the Eno River for two days, and had somewhat of a "clear shot" to the public spring, but the 1891 description seems to include some information regarding Loyalist David Fanning's
September 12, 1781 "raid" on Hillsborough (like when Governor Burke was captured). So perhaps this story has become an amalgamation of several incidents and was based more on legend than on fact (i.e. became local folklore) in the 1800s.
The 1869 County Commissioners minutes reported that “the lot known as the Public Spring Lot” and the gates and “convenient pathways” to the spring were maintained. On January 20, 1869, Lot 0 was “leased to John Laws for the term of five years… at the price of five dollars per year.” As a condition of the lease, Laws could not exclude anyone from obtaining water from the spring.
In a deed dated July 19, 1888, the town commissioners sold Lot 0 to John Laws. The deed describes Lot 0 as “…a certain lot in said town of Hillsboro lying on the south side of Margaret Lane, and known as the Public Spring lot bounded on the North by Margaret Lane, on the west by lots of Harvey Clark, James Webb Jr., and Samuel Hinton (col.) on the south by Mrs. Amada Haughawout (known as the Handcock [Samuel Hancock] Lot), and on the east by John Laws and containing one acre more or less… .”
A town well
, located in the middle of Churton Street just north of its intersection with King Street, was established sometime in the 1700s near the courthouse and market house for use by the public (particularly for watering horses and livestock). When the spring on Lot 0 was no longer being used by the public, the town well and pump on Churton Street may have become the only actively-used public water source in Hillsborough. Also by this time, there were more private wells in use by residents, typically located more convenient to their homes and/or work spaces.
It is unknown when the spring fell totally out of use (publicly and/or privately). The spring site was paved over for a parking lot in the mid-1950s when a new Orange County courthouse was constructed. Today, its location is still under a parking lot for the new "Justice Center," but its runoff channel still feeds into the nearby Stillhouse Branch.