NINTH STREET BUSINESS DISTRICT

Courtesy of the N.C. Collection, Durham County Library.
Courtesy of the N.C. Collection, Durham County Library.

According to the Durham Herald-Sun, Ninth Street saw its first real boom about 1910. Brick facades replaced old, wood-frame buildings on the eastern side of the street. Two groceries, two drugstores, a general store, a boot maker and watchmaker, filling stations, banks and others served more than 1,600 mill workers by the 1920s.

Farther up Ninth Street (previously called Main Street) stands E.K. Powe Elementary School (formally West Durham Graded School No. 2) and the city's oldest fire station. According to retired fire fighter, Wayne Smith, Fire Station #2 was originally located at the Liggett & Myers Tobacco Factory on West Main. The City moved the station further out to get faster response times to fires in the residential areas and nearby schools and hospitals (Duke and Watts). The Ninth Street property was purchased by the City from the heirs of Mrs. Ida Couch for about $7,000. The colonial-designed fire station was built for $165,000 and was described as "one of the most modern fire stations in the South." The station was formally dedicated on September 28, 1950 by Fire Chief Cosmo Cox.

Firemen, Company 2 (1910): Six firemen in full uniform pose by their horse-drawn hose and ladder wagon in front of Fire Station #2, located on West Main Street, between two Liggett & Myers warehouses. To provide better protection for Erwin Mills, Trinity College and Watts Hospital, Company 2 was eventually moved to its present location at Ninth and Knox.
Firemen, Company 2 (1910): Six firemen in full uniform pose by their horse-drawn hose and ladder wagon in front of Fire Station #2, located on West Main Street, between two Liggett & Myers warehouses. To provide better protection for Erwin Mills, Trinity College and Watts Hospital, Company 2 was eventually moved to its present location at Ninth and Knox.

In 1922, McDonald's Drugstore moved to Ninth Street from downtown. By the 1930s, unpaved Ninth Street -- with its pool halls and underpaid factory workers -- could be a rough place. Fights broke out among laid-off men. People were frustrated and had too much extra time according to the Herald-Sun. During the Depression, the Bank of West Durham, next to McDonald's Drugstore, would close its doors for the last time.

After the post-war boom, the 1960s and 1970s brought further changes according to long-time residents. One week after the Couch furniture store was built on Ninth Street in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated and the new store was burned down. The National Guard was called to Ninth Street. (A brick Couch office building now stands on the site of the old furniture store.)

During the 1970s, Northgate Mall opened -- drawing away shoppers. Then Erwin Cotton Mills merged with Burlington Industries and gradually began closing its factory in West Durham. Times had hit rock-bottom.

In 1976, two friends opened an eclectic bookstore on Ninth Street and people thought they were crazy. More than twenty years later, the Regulator Bookshop is the first destination for many Ninth Street patrons. Other early businesses followed including Wellspring Grocery, Ninth Street Bakery, Vaguely Reminiscent, and Francesca's Ice Cream.

The Independent (the Triangle's favorite alternative weekly) started operating out of a small brick and cinder block building at 2824 Hillsborough Road in 1982. The Old West Durham site was chosen because one co-founder had his typesetting business there and the other lived nearby. The early staff of 15 was crammed into an almost windowless building that was shared with the car radio repair folks who are still there today. In 1986, the Independent moved a block up the street to its current location. Indy staff converted the old duplex into an office by poking holes in a couple of walls and building an addition -- over four weekends of sweat. Today, while there are few residences left on Hillsborough, the Indy's next door neighbors have remained -- along with their wonderful garden out back.

In 1986, much of Old West Durham was designated by the U.S. National Park Service as a National Registry Historic District. Places listed on the Register include historic districts that are significant in American history, architecture, archeology, and culture. In addition, several historic properties in Old West Durham have been recognized by the Historic Preservation Society of Durham for excellence in preserving our built heritage. The E.K. Powe house (1503 West Pettigrew) and the Erwin Mills (Ninth Street) are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. National Register properties are distinguished historic properties worthy of preservation that have been documented to recognize the accomplishments of all peoples who have contributed to the history and heritage of the United States.

Old West Durham recently received local, statewide and national recognition for its efforts to tell the story of its neighborhood history on the Web. OWDNA was honored by the Historic Preservation Society of Durham with the Pyne Preservation Award, by Preservation North Carolina with the Carraway Award and by the U.S. Library of Congress as a "Local Legacy."

Today, the booming Ninth Street area has become one of the Triangle's most popular destinations where visitors, students, and neighbors enjoy a diverse offering of excellent restaurants and eclectic shops in the heart of an old mill village.

Historic Old West Durham remains a collection of quiet, tree-lined streets. Our neighborhood is a place with a colorful past and a bright future. Ours is a place where the front porch is still used for visiting with neighbors, where the train whistle is still appreciated, and where the roses still bloom. This is our home.

Sources: Jean Anderson (author, Durham County), John Ansley (Durham County Library), Debora Antiga (Rome, Italy), Shorty Barnes (Ninth Street), Lois Bennett Ramsey (Blue Light Diner), Paul Bonner (Herald-Sun), Larry Chapman (Watts-Hillandale), Bob Chapman (Trinity Heights) Faye James Cates (long-time resident), Mary Coles (grew up on Ninth Street), Frances Edgerton (Grey Stone Baptist), Betsy Holloway (Watts School),William Erwin & Paul Mangiafico (Duke's Perkins Library), James Eubanks (grew up on Case Street), Nancy Eubanks (Hillsboro Road), Mr. and Mrs. Edward Green (E.K. Powe), Durham Herald-Sun, Holly Marlow Hall (Child of the Mill Village), Duncan Heron (Duke), Tommy Hunt (grew up on Erwin Road), Joe Johnson and Vic Fowler (Erwin Mills No. 2), Alice Eley Jones (Stagville Historic site), Rebecca Dailey Kneedler (Dailey's Store), Bill King (Duke Archives), Linda Lancaster (grew up in West Durham), Irene Maynor (West Durham Pentecostal) John McDonald & Bill Holmes (long-time West Durham business owners), Tom Miller (Historic Preservation Society of Durham), Raleigh News & Observer, Peter Nichol (Boston), John W. Olive (Wilmington, NC), BB Olive (West Durham Airport), E.K. Powe III, Durham Architectural & Historic Inventory (Historic Preservation Society Lynn Richardson (NC Collection, Durham County Library), Pastor Roland Verrico and Janie Baker (West Durham Church of God), Lynn Rumley (Cooleemee Mill Village Museum), Steve Schewel, Wayne Smith (Ninth Street Fire Station), UNC's Southern Historical Collection, David Southern (Duke University Press), Marshall Thompson (Hayti Police), Elizabeth Utley (15th Street). Nadine Wilkins (Alabama Avenue), Lawrence Williams (grew up on Swift Avenue), Jim Wise (News & Observer) Bill Yarbrough (Chesapeake, Virginia)