South and east of the Durham Freeway and Swift was the African American settlement of Brookstown. Some residents worked in the tobacco factory and Erwin Mills while others worked at the Fitzgerald family brickyards – one of Durham's largest Black-owned businesses. Many of Durham's factories and mills were built using Fitzgerald bricks.
From Swift, west to Anderson, was part of the Erwin Mill village called Monkey Bottom. Farther west was the community of Hickstown, near Trent.
The new east-west expressway destroyed hundreds of houses in the three communities. In the 1970s, Duke tore down 450 mill houses to make room for its new Central Campus. (You can see granite curbs, from the old mill village, down by the large pond in Duke Gardens.)
Fitzgerald Family (ca. 1880).
Johnson, William Bolding, and Oather Jones in Brookstown (1932)
Durham Baptist Church Barbecue. ca. 1940
Men and women of Sunday School class enjoy barbecue in a backyard in
Brookstown. Much of the old Brookstown and Hickstown communities were
lost when the Durham Freeway was built.
West Durham Baptist Church. ca. 1890
Tintype of church shows some disrepair -- cardboard in windows, loose
wood on roof. Church was located on Ferrell St. near Swift.
Bolding. ca. 1900
Formal portrait of young man who lived in Brookstown and was employed
by Erwin Cotton Mills .
Mae Winston. ca. 1940
Teenager in bangs and bobby-sox on Thaxton Avenue
(Caswell Street today). Apartment
building at left was used over the years as a lodge, church, cafe, grocery
store, and family dwelling. Today, Ms. Winston lives in Las Vegas and
the hillside behind her is the Swift Street Apartments.
Hot Dog Stand. ca. 1940
Located near present-day Caswell and Swift.
checks weight of live chicken before
purchase at market in Brookstown
and girls in Brookstown. ca. 1940
Long shot of back yard, with five
women and girls behind a house (near present-day Casewell and Powe).
Today, the house is gone and the Durham Freeway now runs just past the
old telephone pole.
The African-American settlement of Brookstown (today, mostly under the freeway and along
either side of Swift Street) was once dotted with dozens of one-story
frame houses. Moses Hester owned a house on West Pettigrew (near Swift)
which served as both a carpenter's shop and a church. Most residents
of Brookstown worked either in the tobacco factories or at Erwin Mills.
Hester Church and House (ca. 1896)
Small square house built on sloped
land has two bells mounted on tall posts -- one bell for Sunday, and
one for weekdays to get to the factory in time.
Others worked at
the Marvin Teer Brickyard located near Swift and Faber streets. The
brickyard was later sold to Samuel Fitzgerald who operated the famous
Fitzgerald Brickyard. According to historian Alice Eley Jones, Erwin
Mills and several other factories in Durham were built using the famous
Fitzgerald bricks. The old brickyard site is now Duke's Freeman Center
for Jewish Life (and if you look in the underbrush you can still see
a brick or two).
End School (ca. 1906)
First-grade class of young children pose with
their teachers on the steps of the West End School, located on Ferrell
Street, near present-day Swift Street.
Farther west stood
the settlement of Hickstown (where Duke's Central Campus stands today).
Hickstown was named after landowner Hawkins Hicks -- whose tombstone
can still be found on the eastern edge of the Erwin Mills cemetery.
In 1978, City and
State leaders sought to push the Durham Freeway through Brookstown and
Hickstown. In response, a coalition of community residents and progressive
whites worked to save Hickstown by rebuilding it behind the VA medical
center. This effort resulted in a $10 million settlement for the Crest
Street community that, for the first time in U.S. history, used highway
relocation funds to benefit an entire neighborhood instead of individual
Today, Hicks Street
(near the St. Francis Animal Hospital) stands as a quiet reminder of
the old community.
Above photographs courtesy of the NC Collection at the Durham County Library