Located near Duke's East Campus and Ninth Street, Old West Durham is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the Bull City. Previously known as Pin Hook, the area was settled before Durham itself.
Pin Hook began as a tiny settlement that served as a traveler's rest before the railroad town of Durham was established in the early 1850s. Pin Hookers were folks who bought tobacco leaf that went unsold at auction, repackaged the product, and sold it for a tiny profit. Jean Anderson provides wonderful accounts of Pin Hook in her outstanding book on Durham history... In the early days, the shiftless of society, usually addicted to vices of one sort or another, tended to congregate in Pin Hook, attracting others of their kind.
The settlement included a lodging house, camping grove, brothels, grog shops, and a well for drinking water for passing travelers. In spite of the dirt and noise caused by the railroad that ran through Pin Hook, people gradually settled near the Hillsborough Road with its easy access to Durham.
A story in the Hillsborough newspaper in 1871 described the early character of the neighborhood. "There is a place called Pin Hook... and it is remarkable for a race that was run there many years ago by a man and a woman. They wore no clothes and ran for a quart of liquor."
Because of Pin Hook's harsh reputation, Meredith College decided not to locate in the area. And, Trinity College almost decided to go elsewhere. It was not until the early 1890s, and the building of the Erwin Cotton Mills that Pin Hook would transform itself into the mill village of West Durham.