Roads To Erwin Mills

Road to Erwin Mills

Durham-Raleigh Road in 1924: Motorcycles, convertibles and an inter-city bus travel the two-lane paved road.

Erwin Mills stood at the cross roads: The old Erwin Road approached from Chapel Hill and crossed old NC 10 where the railroad bridge crosses Ninth Street -- near the street car terminus on West Main.

NC 10 (Central Highway) was the first highway to cross the state. Its route followed the ridge between the Neuse River and Cape Fear River basins (from Beaufort to Murphy). Folks said you could walk along NC 10 and never get your feet wet. In Durham, NC 10 followed West Main, turned up Ninth Street and went out Hillsboro Road -- towards other cotton mills in Hillsborough, Haw River, and Salisbury.

When the US started designating national highways in 1927, the "magnificent state route number 10" became US 70. Sections of NC 10 can still be found in western Durham County (near Route 751 and Duke Forest).

Ralph "Hap" Dennis and Bannie Chesnutt standing in front of Haps Atlantic Gasoline Service Station, at the corner of Ninth and Markham. Note the "NC 10" sign. The large "L" indicted left turn. In the early years, the state also used "R" signs for right turns. Today, the old brick building is Barnes Supply (ca. 1926). Photo courtesy of Ralph and Joyce Dennis.

Old road on the outskirts of West Durham (1913).

      1923 AAA map of the Triangle area.


    John Guy Eubanks sitting on his hood, Erwin Road (so named because it ended at Erwin Mills). John and his wife, Eula, lived at 402 Case Street (the only house still standing on Case Street, next to Duke School for Children).

    "We would watch the cars go up and down Erwin Road. This was great for me at 13. These cars were mainly on their way to "the Blue Light" on Erwin Road. This was a popular hang out for boys! I was certainly in heaven." -Holly Marlow Hall (grew up in Old West Durham)

    Old pump station northwest of the mill village. When Erwin Mills was built, Fire Station No. 2 was moved to Ninth Street.

    To diversify its tobacco holdings, the Duke family invested in the Erwin Cotton Mills -- near its tobacco factories, also on West Main Street. Like its other operations, the Duke's built their mills near the rail road tracks.

    All roads lead downtown. Durham was booming by 1910 (view towards the tobacco district and Erwin Mills).

    The old Elf Motel on Erwin Road. Today a large Duke parking deck stands here, across the street from the Medical Center and the state's busiest heliport. A regional rail station is proposed for the area around Elf, Elder and Elba streets. Times have changed.

    "They had turned away from the centre of the dreary tobacco town. For a quarter of an hour they had walked briskly through drab autumnal streets, descending finally a long rutted hill that led them, past a thinning squalor of cheap houses, almost to the outskirts. It was three weeks before Christmas: the foggy air was full if chill menace. There was a brooding quietness, broken by far small sounds. They turned into a sordid little road, unpaved, littered on both sides... it was a road of rickets."

    --Thomas Wolfe, writing in his autobiographical novel, 'Look Homeward Angel' -- describing his walk through West Durham on his way to Chapel Hill.

    Did you know? Chapel Hill's Carolina Inn opened in
    1924 and was donated to the University in 1935 by
    Erwin Mills. Nearby, the Chapel of the Cross was the
    gift of William A. Erwin, first manager of the mills
    on Ninth Street.

    Old NC 10

    In the 1950s, the bridges along old NC 10 (between Hillsborough and NC 751) were the original, one-lane "Cameron Morrison" models of the early 1920s. Historian David Southern recalls thrilling trips down that road with its hairpin turns, railroad trestles, and narrow bridge over Stone's Creek.

    Route from West Durham to Charlotte, including Old NC 10 to Yadkin River. (1926 Mixer's Road Guide)

    Calendar from Branch-King Cigar Co. in Durham.

    That Beauty Passes Like a Dream from West Durham Winter, by George Zabriskie (Knopf, 1941)

    On turning axle creaks the year, the old machinery
    Of lithographed and gilded calendars the milkman
    Brings, the grocer sends: their art and compliments
    To grace the home throughout the year where spring
    And summers are but numbers now when on the wall
    The people hang chronologies of shifting shuttles, reels
    Unwinding in the mills...

    And they shall hear each day
    The trains and whistles, engines shifting cars
    Inside the factory yard, and know these link them surely
    To worlds they do not know...

    The trees shall bear again
    The bursting bud, the greening leaf; the roads
    Shall dry, bear dust again, and men shall not be cold

    On U.S. Seventy, how many cars shall pass, and trucks
    Shall toil up little grades, with whining gears before
    The summer comes, how many miles of cloth shall leave
    The mills to prove their lives are repetitious and enslaved?
    The census takers come, and make the world statistical,
    But do not change it: here is no revolt but death,
    And even that is ineffectual; the cheap coffin borne
    In the crawling hearse, followed by dirty ancient cars
    Is witless proof, and standard gravestones add the sin
    Of final ugliness.
    Here thought has lost its sting,
    And song is standardized.
    Yet ineluctable as noise,
    Tall leafing trees will hide the houses in the spring.