Historic Durham

In 1852, Dr. Bartlett Snipes Durham sold four acres to the NC Railroad Co. for a train depot east of Pinhook (on the line connecting Goldsboro and Charlotte). While the train station has been torn down, Durham still radiates from the railroad tracks which were its reason for being and its lifeblood for 100 years.

Corner of Main & Roxboro streets in Durham (ca. 1880)

Malbourne Hotel: northwest corner of Main and Roxboro Streets (razed in 1967). Judicial building now stands at the site.

Downtown Durham in 1925. Left to right: courthouse, Union Station with railroad yards, and St. Joseph's AME Church (far right).

Biltmore Hotel and the Regal Theater on Hayti's Pettigrew Street in the 1940's. Hayti was a bustling black business district south of the tracks from downtown Durham. Hayti's demise came at the expense of "progress" -- the Durham Expressway. There were one hundred businesses, including movies, drugstores, a hotel (the Biltmore), restaurants, barber and beauty shops, cleaners, funeral homes, service stations, banks, insurance companies, etc. Unlike other cities in America, Durham was different in that blacks lived in other areas all over Durham. Areas such as Walltown, parts of Bragtown, Pearsontown, North Durham, Hayestown, East Durham, Factory Hill, the West End, the Bottom, College Hill, Brooks Town, Hickstown or Crest Street Community and so on. All these areas had their own blacked-owned businesses also. (source: Marshall Thompson)

Durham, 1891 (Erwin Mills arrived one year later, far left). Click to enlarge.

    "In 50 years, Durham had spread rapidly from a village to a bustling factory center, sucking in the rolling pine country around it. Shacks for factory workers mushroomed in the lowlands between the graded streets. The little communities, which clung precariously to the banks of streams or sat crazily on washed out gullies and were held together by cowpaths or rutted wagon tracks, were called the Bottoms. It was as if the town had swallowed more than it could hold and had regurgitated, for the Bottoms was an odorous conglomeration of trash piles, garbage dumps, cow stalls, pigpens and crowded humanity ...."

    -Pauli Murray ("Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family")

    Saloon on downtown railroad tracks. Before the arrival of Erwin Mills in West Durham, Pinhook was home to several saloons, grog shops and other places of ill-repute. The city voted out saloons in 1902.


    Downtown Durham (looking toward Trinity College and West Durham).

    Durham's City Hall in 1909: public meetings were held on the second floor -- above the sights, smells and sounds of a very active city market. Later, City Hall moved into the old high school (now Durham Arts Council). The old town auditorium moved from here into the Carolina Theatre and the meat market moved to the corner of Foster and Morgan streets. This site is now "Bare Square" (between the CCB tower and the Blue Coffee Company). Today, the City Council meets above the sights, smells and sounds of the City-County Planning Department.

    Early view of Durham's skyline.

    Aerial view of downtown: Opened in 1934, Durham's new post office, white building with green roof in lower-right corner of postcard, was built where two pioneer saloon keepers once kept their homes (Atlas Rigsbee and William Mangum). In the previous decade, the Washington Duke Hotel, tall brown building in middle-right, was built where the old Academy of Music once stood. Just to the left of the hotel stands the familiar CCB tower (white, modernistic 17-story skyscraper which was first know as Durham Bank &


    'Doc' Chapman ran the Owl Pharmacy on West Main Street, near East Campus (ca. 1927). Ad for the pharmacy is below.

    City of Ghosts
    A poem by Joseph Calvin Parrish

    tobacco factory of ancient brick
    and elongated structures that enclose a street
    aroma, sweet, rich, unchanged
    industry and thousands of trees
    like those pictured in history books
    grand homes that sink amongst shrubbery
    new and old side-by-side
    one-room grocery, broken windows
    hiding in forest
    industrial smokestacks that are red with rust
    Durham High draped upon hard soil
    a yellow and brown school
    and the ghosts of my family
    on broken concrete
    in mold and mildew
    and oaks, pines
    screen back porch in the city
    tree roots that cling to clay
    and familiar names: Duke, Gregson, Gary, Miami
    this city
    the monument of my family
    keeper of vaults
    and I see them all
    in its sky and air
    and yellow grass

    Reprinted with permission of the author.


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