Half-century of 'road work' ending

July 15, 1994|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

Arthur E. Hicks Sr. learned to pave his own way to success -- even though his formal education ended after third grade.

He did it in 1945, when he started his own construction business -- and built his first house -- in the Cedar-Villa Heights community in Jessup. And he did it in 1964, when he built his wife's dream home next door to the first house.

And, when Howard County refused take over and develop the private road that serves the Hicks home and about a dozen others, Mr. Hicks learned to pave parts of that, too.

He filled the potholes with gravel and covered them with asphalt and would always make sure the road was safe for travel.

"During the winter time, you would see him out there shoveling snow with his tractor," said James Edward Clark, who for eight years has lived two houses down from Mr. Hicks. "He's good on keeping that road up."

Earlier this week, the county and state announced that Mr. Hicks, now 84, will finally get a break, after nearly 50 years of work on the road where he lives. The road, about a quarter-mile long and now called Hicks Road, is one of two in the Cedar-Villa Heights community due for improvements.

The 100-home, historically African-American community off U.S. 1 will benefit from the road construction to be paid for by a $100,000 federally funded community development block grant, allocated by the state, and by $296,000 from the county.

County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray said Mr. Hicks called him about four years ago, asking for the county to take over the road.

"He's been trying to maintain it to the best of his abilities," Mr. Gray said. "I would say his dedication paid off."

Normally, a developer will build roads and then dedicate them to the county, which maintains them. But improvements were not made to Hicks Road and Franklin Drive.

Starting in the mid-1940s, Mr. Hicks built most of the houses along the road -- some cinder block-style, with flat roofs, and others with shingle roofs and aluminum siding.

And, since 1945, Mr. Hicks has pushed a wheelbarrow full of gravel up and down Hicks Road or carried asphalt to make needed repairs. Then, Tuesday, the county announced that it would take over.

"I guess the county saw me struggling so hard they decided to give me a hand," Mr. Hicks said.

Mr. Hicks moved to Cedar-Villa Heights from Baltimore in 1945 after seeing a sign on U.S. 1 that read, "Lots for sale to coloreds."

At that time, only one house sat on what is now Hicks Road. But Mr. Hicks had a vision to build on that land.

From siblings who owned their own businesses, Mr. Hicks picked up skills in farming, home construction, automobile repair, plumbing and heating, among other things.

"I don't have much schooling, just third grade," said Mr. Hicks, who grew up in Littleton, N.C. "But I can see somebody do things, and then I can do them."

"I always had it in me to do things," he said. "I still like to do things. That's how you learn to do things, by trying. The lord, he'll take two steps. All you have to do is take one."

Mr. Hicks built his first house in about seven months -- a one-level, seven-bedroom house. In 1952, he constructed a building to house an ice cream store that his 14-year-old daughter operated. He later added a beauty salon to the building and a second level for the salon's owner to use as living space.

Three other homes followed, including his wife's dream home, a seven-room, two-bath house. Mr. Hicks rents out the other four houses. In all, he built 12 houses along Hicks Road, as well as engineered the construction of the community church.

His main business is maintaining the five houses he still owns, cutting grass, painting or doing whatever his community might need.

And, Mr. Hicks said. "I haven't retired yet."

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