Ninth Street


1920s view of Old West Durham's business district on the east side of Ninth Street. It includes the Bank of West Durham and, just to the left, McDonald's Drug store, built in 1918 and still standing with an altered facade. (Courtesy of the Historic Preservation Society of Durham)

Ninth Street in 1938. Old brick, two-story Post Office rises next to the mill pond. The smaller building on the side was a shoe shop (Pud's Repair) run by Pud Pendergrass. Corner gas station across the street is where the BP station is today. Bagels are now sold in the West Durham Bank (upper-right).

Before the gas station, this corner was home to the West Durham Methodist church. The original chapel was built in 1896 (left) and the larger church was added as membership grew.

An aerial shot from the northwest of the Ninth Street area and Erwin Cotton Mills. (Courtesy of the Historic Preservation Society of Durham)

Ernest Cheek (Cheek's Cleaners), Angus McDonald (McDonald's Drug Store) and John Dailey (Dailey's Hardware & Appliance Store) survey the new parking lot on the west side Ninth Street circa 1960. (Photo courtesy of Jim Eubanks)

Brewer's Pharmacy: Now Ninth Street Florist and the Toy Store. As a child, Lois Wistrand remembers going to the Union Hall over Brewer's Drug Store. Someone was always posted outside. The shades and curtains were always pulled. During worker strikes, the union gave out bags of flour, sugar and lard.

Old bank that is now a popular bagel shop.

    The West Durham Post Office stood at the corner of Main and Ninth Street, occupying part of Erwin Mills. It was torn down in 1961 (below).

    This was taken on Ninth Street in 1964. The mill village stretched right up to the edge of Erwin Mills. This old mill house was taken down to make room for the parking lot on Ninth Street. According to one long-time merchant, William Erwin would take kids who misbehaved to the top of this mill tower (later shortened) and have a little heart-to-heart. Photos courtesy of John McDonald.

    Did you know that, for many years, the sidewalk in front of the Ninth Street shops was covered with a metal awning? In February 1987, a vicious ice storm toppled most of the awnings. The last segment of the old metal awning was removed when Charlie's Bar & Grill arrived on Ninth Street in 2001.

    Ninth Street, February 1987. There were few businesses open on Ninth during this time period.

    Ninth Street Myth
    from West Durham Winter, by George Zabriskie (Knopf, 1941)

    The gaunt houses line the street in a desolate mill row.
    Grey and yellow identical boxes under impersonal trees

    Grown skeletal from autumn, and behind them the mill,
    A great horizontal-blocking wall, red bricked and solidly
    Blue windowed, its phallic stacks erect in mouse grey sky,
    A blanket of cancerous sound, the loom noise dumbly covers
    The neighborhood, extinguishing the voices in the streets.
    Starkly, sterile December dulls the bony landscape
    In sensitive tinted twilight. Not the hard frozen
    Earth of the north, where soil rings with bootsteps,
    But a slow dry land, chilled to grass roots only,
    Its side roads still dusty, and night still bearable,
    Leaving the ears unstung, the cheeks still flexible,
    Blue mill windows, house windows lighted slowly,
    Watch blankly and utterly the street and people, holding
    The hanging faces mirrored in our dreams. The stores
    Are cheapjack tinsel paradise; walk here, gaping
    With the rest at light and warmth inside the bright
    Paragon, the Pender Store, Daily's, priced for the trade
    Of faces pressed to glass, those mill touched eyes
    Narrowed by prospects of familiar walls and streets.

    Eyeing the ten cent toys, but buying fat back, loafing
    In the pool room, the lunch stand where the truckers
    Stop to eat, the people are in sluggish circulation and
    By the corner drug store, the "U.S. Seventy" sign under
    The arc light is symbol of their linkage to the land.

    Frost cracks this world apart, streets limit it:
    And was it by desire ever infinite, the time
    Has passed; leaves, papers in the gutters, mills
    Delineate this life. In small and soiled houses
    Existence grows to huge unspoken weariness

    Like a simple empty alley, this Ninth Street has an end,
    And yet from there it is unending, stretching to some
    Unlimited autumn fading into winter, a dead suspended
    Land where people surely move like joyless ghosts
    Tending the pretty machinery that governs life; invisible
    And untiring beyond the weariness of flesh and mind,
    Learning in strange hypnotic dreams to hold themselves
    From joy or tragedy, like insects dulled by winter.
    The trees jutting like raw fingers, and even the grass

    Grey as molded straw, a silent fungus world where peace
    Is real, not relative, a vast suspended act of death.

    Special thanks to Tom Campbell at the
    Regulator Bookshop for sharing this old poem with us.