Why is Ninth Street called Ninth Street? What song writer for Norah Jones was 'born on a kitchen table' near the East Campus wall? Where did Richard Nixon live as a Duke Law student? What's the origin of Walltown? Where did Elvis go to lose weight? Take this self-guided tour and find out.
We'll begin at the opening in the East Campus wall across from Whole Foods Market (Broad & Perry). Your route will follow the gravel path by the East Campus wall (built in 1916) and offer forays into the surrounding neighborhoods. The tour, including a stop on Ninth Street for a drink, will take less than an hour.
Stop #1) Broad & Perry, break in East Campus wall:
Why does the stone wall around East Campus stop for a stretch along Broad Street?
Before West Campus was built in the late 1920s, the Duke (rather, Trinity College) football team played their home games at Hanes Field -- named after the Winston-Salem benefactor who made underwear. A red-brick wall with several ticket windows facing Broad Street stood where the cedar trees now grow tall. When the old wall started to tilt in the 1980s, it was torn down. The field hockey team now plays here and Hanes Field has a new name -- Williams Field.
Across the street is the neighborhood of Old West Durham, a turn-of-the-century mill village that is a national historic district. Today, it is home to Ninth Street, Magnolia Grill, Durham's oldest fire station and oldest pizza restaurant, the Erwin Mills cemetery, and more than 80 different Duke operations.
Walk south along the gravel path inside the wall.
1920 Street Map: Trinity College is shown on the right while the Erwin Cotton Mill is on the left (where the three railroad spurs extend north into the mills). The West Durham mill village is north, west and south of the mills. Walltown and Trinity Heights are north of the college while Trinity Park lies to the east. Courtesy of Durham County Library.
Stop #2) Corner of Broad & West Main:
The large gray houses across the street belonged to managers of the nearby cotton mills. In the early days, living alongside the rail road tracks was considered desirable.
Beyond the gray houses was the African American settlement of Brookstown. A hundred years ago, a brick yard (owned by the Fitzgerald's -- one of Durham's many successful African American families) made bricks for most of the tobacco factories and textile mills. Today, the old brick yard is the site of Duke's Freeman Center. Like Hayti and Hickstown, Brookstown was torn apart when the Durham Freeway was built through the community in the 1970s and 80s.
The hamlet of Pinhook was located near the large pinkish gray Erwin Square tower to the west. Established before 1850 (and before Durham existed), Pinhook was half-way between the old colonial capital in Hillsborough and the new state capital in Raleigh. The camp ground and tavern was a 'roaring old place' where travelers could relax after a long day's walk.
Stop #3) Free-speech tunnel and West Main Street:
From 1887 to 1902, street cars were pulled by mules along tracks on West Main Street (from downtown to Erwin Mills). In 1903, the mules were replaced with electric trolleys. A small loop was built around the southern end of the Ninth Street shopping district and the trolley tracks were extended north up Broad Street and west along Club Blvd.
Across the railroad tracks and through the trees stands Duke's Center for Documentary Studies. The two-story white frame building is dedicated to advancing documentary work and connecting the arts and humanities to fieldwork and community life (via photography, filmmaking, oral history, folklore, and writing).
Stop #4) Main entrance and quad:
Look all the way up the quad to Baldwin Auditorium. This area of East Campus roughly follows the shape of the horse race track that was here before 1892, on the grounds of the old Blackwell Fairgrounds. A horse raised here named Baxter took third place in the Kentucky Derby.
After Meredith College declared it wouldn't locate in a 'rum-soaked mill village' -- Durham business leaders Julian S. Carr and Washington Duke topped Raleigh's offer of Pullen Park and $25,000 with the offer of these 62 acres and $85,000 for buildings and endowment to bring Trinity College to the Bull City in 1892. (Good thing too, Duke historians say the college would likely not have survived the Depression of 1893 had it remained in Randolph County.)
In 1905, President Teddy Roosevelt's train stopped across from the East Campus entrance. His arrival from Raleigh was announced in Durham by the sounds of factory whistles in East Durham. Other industries and locomotives joined the commotion with their whistles. It was all too loud for much of a speech downtown. When he stopped here, Roosevelt extolled the college's recent courageous stand for academic freedom (Bassett Affair) and remarked, "As I came in, gentlemen, I felt as if I was at a football contest."
Just past the rail road tracks is the Smith Warehouse. The largest of the 12 warehouses operated by Liggett & Myers Tobacco Co, it will soon to be transformed into Duke class rooms and offices. Brightleaf Square (old tobacco district) and downtown rise to the east.
Stop #5) Grove of magnolia trees and Sower statue:
The original entrance road onto East Campus ran straight through the grove of magnolia trees. Look back to the grey stone building and you'll see large trees lined up on either side of the old roadway (on either side of the Sower statue).
The Sower, courtesy of Duke Photography
Hidden behind the large magnolia tree in the back is the Ann Roney fountain (ca. 1901). This tribute is important because Ann Roney took care of Washington Duke's two sons after their mother died. The Duke family went on to become the university's major benefactor, building West Campus and changing Trinity's name to Duke. [Today, this fountain has no plaque, no indication of the role Ms. Roney played in Duke's history. Getting a plaque made would be a wonderful project for a student group.]
Stop #6) Corner of Buchanan & Minerva, Trinity Park:
At the small break in the wall, cross Buchanan Blvd and walk up Minerva Ave into the neighborhood of Trinity Park.
Although many of Trinity Park's early settlers were connected with Trinity College, the majority were merchants, businessmen and professionals. In contrast to Durham's late 19th-century neighborhoods, fewer Trinity Park residents were directly associated with tobacco and textiles. They were part of the broader local economy produced by their families' successes in Durham's leading industries. These younger generations chose not to live in the older neighborhoods where they grew up close to Durham's industries.
Local tradition holds that Elvis Presley went through drug rehab in the large red brick house with green roof -- just south of Watts and Minerva.
Turn left on Watts Street and walk up to the playground. Some of the oldest houses here were originally located on campus for Trinity professors and later moved into the neighborhood.
Stop #7) Community park:
In the 1970s, developers tried to build apartments on this corner. Neighbors mobilized, bought the land and built this corner park instead. Farther up the street is George W. Watts Elementary School -- the oldest brick school in Durham (ca. 1919). Gothic hints can be seen in the neoclassical motifs at the entrances and stepped parapets and buttressing on the facade. Turn left at Urban St and walk back to East Campus.
Stop #8) The Ark:
Near the break in the wall is a three-story, white-frame building called the Ark (by the East Campus coffee house). Built of salvaged wood from the grandstands at the old race track, it's called the Ark because students had to walk in pairs to make it up the narrow entranceway. One of the first college basketball games in the state of North Carolina took place here in 1906 (where the sixth man was the iron columns in the middle of the court).
Following a "humdinger" of a Southern Conference tournament in 1928, the Atlanta Journal wrote: "That Duke is going to be a big factor in conference is certain. They have already done enough in basketball, whether they win the title or not, to make their school remembered in Atlanta. In football, wrestling, boxing, baseball and track, the baby member is going to make the old timers look to their laurels. And we don't mean maybe."
Stop #9) Markham & Onslow, Trinity Heights:
Following the path around the bend, walk out through the break in the wall near the Baldwin Auditorium sign. This area of campus still shows the old curves of the horse race track where the ground slopes.
Cross Markham and walk up Onslow Street (to the north). One of the first planned residential developments in Durham, Trinity Heights has traditionally been home for folks from a broad range of backgrounds and interests, including employees and students of Trinity College.
This street is a wonderful example of Duke's recent efforts to build quality in-fill houses in an older neighborhood. Turn left onto Green Street.
Stop #10) Onslow & Green, Walltown:
Across Green Street is the community of Walltown. In 1892, a young African-American man named George Wall followed his job with Trinity College to Durham. Wall bought a wooded plot of land north of what is now East Campus. Walltown became a neighborhood for mostly African American workers moving into the Bull City for jobs in the tobacco industry. The narrow shotgun houses and small residences provided easy access to the tobacco factories.
Walltown's east-west streets were lettered and its north-south streets were numbered. So, you're now standing at what was once 3rd & B streets. (Ninth Street is called Ninth Street because of Walltown.)
The neighborhood is crisscrossed with deep gullies and creeks. When this area of Durham was first developed, wealthy interests purchased the highlands for larger homes -- leaving bottomlands for smaller dwellings in gullies. If you drive along the length of Englewood Avenue, for instance, you'll see larger homes in elevated areas, smaller homes down in the stream valley and bigger houses back at the top of the next hill.
Stop #11) Green & Berkeley:
For many years, the block between Berkeley and Sedgefield was mostly open space. Duke recently developed the land by building homes for university employees.
When Trinity College first began making plans to expand and become Duke University in the 1920s, administrators purchased this land and thought about extending the original campus to the north. When word got out about Duke's plans, real estate prices in Trinity Heights went through the roof. The idea was dropped and school officials bought the Rigsbee farm to the southwest instead.
Had the expansion plans been kept secret, Duke Chapel and the quad might have been located about where you're standing now. Instead, the Blue Devils now face football foes where the Rigsbee family kept their pigs -- on what is now West Campus.
Stop #12) Green & Clarendon:
Take a look down Clarendon, towards East Campus. When he was a Duke law student, Richard Nixon lived in the two-story blue house at 814. This house originally stood a block farther south where the field hockey team plays on East Campus.
Stop #13) Green & Iredell:
Hall of Fame song writer John D. Loudermilk was 'born on a kitchen table' a block north of here on Iredell. Loudermilk wrote some 1500 songs, including 'Tobacco Road' (sung by Lou Rawls) and 'Turn Me On' (sung by nine-time Grammy winner, Norah Jones).
In the early days, the entire area smelled like a Laundromat -- from the hot, soapy water being discharged by the textile mills into what long-time neighbors called the "dye ditch" (because it ran brightly colored when fabric, usually denim, was being dyed). Today, Duke is helping the neighborhood create a quiet urban greenspace along South Ellerbe Creek, near the elementary school.
Stop #14) Green & Ninth:
This is the heart of Old West Durham. Long-time residents recall that a sawmill was placed in the middle of the nearby woods to cut the planks to build the first houses in the mill village. Company housing was modest with coal stoves and running water. Most had electricity. Several Italian stonecutters who helped build Duke's West Campus lived in this neighborhood.
To the right is EK Powe Elementary (a Duke-Durham partnership school). One block north is one Southern Living's best restaurants in the South -- Magnolia Grill (not to be confused with the Mongolian grill across the way). The two-story red brick building on your left is Ninth Street North -- a mix of retail and office that recently replaced a block of old vacant storefronts.
Several Duke student groups have volunteered in Old West Durham -- doing everything from picking up trash along creeks and railroad tracks to fixing up the elementary school gardens and nearby Erwin Mills cemetery.
Turn left and head up Ninth Street. Check out Durham's first Kentucky Fried Chicken at 806 9th Street. The owner asked Colonel Sanders if he could call his franchise, "Pete Rinaldi's Kentucky Fried Chicken." The Colonel agreed -- making this restaurant one of a few KFCs in the nation to carry its owner's name. During his visits to the Duke Rice Diet, the Colonel enjoyed standing next to his life-sized fiberglass likeness (accurate down to the eyeglasses and Rotary pin) at the KFC and startle the beejeezus out of customers. Today, an artist's studio occupies the space.
Stop #15) Ninth & Markham, 9th Street shops:
Just to the west, the Pizza Palace is Durham's oldest pizza restaurant. On the corner, H&K Printing used to be a bakery that elderly residents say, "smelled wonderful and made the best donuts in town". Generations ago, Charlie's Sports Bar was Pender's grocery store -- famous for its wagon that delivered goods to the mill village. Peek-a-Boo Bar & Grill ('Famous since 2003') was the original Ninth Street Bakery.
Established in 1922, McDonald's Drug Store is the oldest business on Ninth St. Dogstar Tattoo, was once West Durham Cash Store which sold dry goods.
The Regulator Bookshop was originally Cheek's Dry Cleaner's. Folks thought the glass blocks were a bit fancy for a mill village shopping district. Books on Ninth and the Blue Corn Cafe were once Rambeau's Barber Shop and nearby was a pool hall -- Ninth Street's roughest spot. Most neighborhood kids were not allowed to pass through its doors.
Stop #16) Erwin Mills:
The long red brick building on the hill across the street seems to be an almost forgotten footnote of history. And yet the Erwin Cotton Mills were the driving force that made Old West Durham what it is today. Started by the Duke family the same year Trinity College came to Durham (1892), the new company bought several adjacent tracts of land and built the mills, picker building, dyehouse, boiler room, and engine house. The steady noise of the mills reverberated throughout the surrounding village. The humming roar so pervaded the workers' consciousness that they noticed it only when it ceased, making Sundays seem unnaturally still.
Past the old mill building, the neighborhood spoke in favor of the development of high-density apartments to help support the shops and restaurants here. Local lore holds that Elvis Presley also lived incognito in a caboose on a railroad spur near Jim's Party Store (Hillsborough Road & Trent) while he was on the Rice Diet in the late 1960s.
Stop #17) Lower Ninth Street:
Vaguely Reminiscent once served as both Kime Barber Shop and the West Durham Beauty Shop. Art Craft Framing was Morgan's Cafe for many years. The night of Martin Luther King's assassination, the front of Morgan's Cafe was hit with a lit gasoline-filled bottle. Farther down, Couch's Furniture Store was burned to the ground.
Native Threads once housed the popular Ruby's Cafe. Campus Florist was Brewer's Drug Store for many years.
Brueggers Bagels is in the old Fidelity Bank. A couple of two-story mill houses stood across Ninth St from the old bank (where Specs is now located). Don Schlitz grew up in one of these houses and went on to compose, "The Gambler" -- the song made famous by Kenny Rogers that was eventually made into a movie.
Stop #18) Ninth & Perry:
In the 1920s, Ninth Street was part of Old NC 10 --the first roadway that crossed the state (going from the Atlantic coast to the Tennessee border).
Beyond the BP on West Main St, you can see a rusty bridge over Ninth. This is the site of the future Ninth Street commuter rail station that will connect this old mill village with RTP and Raleigh.
Turn left onto Perry Street. Once called Hillsboro Ave, Perry connects Ninth Street with East Campus (just ahead). Durham's only bike shop is here as well as one of the nine churches that was started in the mill village.
Congratulations, you're done. Hopefully, this tour will give folks a better sense of place for the neighborhoods beyond the walls and may help open more connections between Duke and the surrounding community. Come back for another visit, you're always welcome!
East Campus, courtesy of Duke Photography
"For each home ground we need new maps, living maps, stories and poems, photographs and paintings, essays and songs. We need to know where we are, so that we may dwell in our place with a full heart."
-Scott Russell Sanders
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